Is Disney pandering to Red Letter Media?

Above: Harry S. Plinkett, Red Letter Media's fictional mascot.

For those of you who do not know, Red Letter Media is the company responsible for the infamous Mr Plinkett reviews of the Star Wars prequels, which have had a vast influence on online film criticism and how we collectively remember those deeply flawed films. But I do wonder whether Red Letter Media has an even greater influence than we realise. Is Disney basing its approach to its new Star Wars films on Red Letter Media's criticism?

In his review of the 2009 film Star Trek, directed by J.J. Abrams, Mr Plinkett suggested that Abrams was the right man to direct Star Wars. Sure enough, a few years later Disney chose Abrams to direct Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and the upcoming Star Wars: Episode IX. Disney also made Star Wars more fast-paced as Plinkett, who decried the prequels for their slow boring direction, recommended, and has included grittier, more realistic, more emotional lightsabre duels thus far as well (what Plinkett, who crticised the prequels for their over-choreographed unemotional unrealistic duels, praised about the original trilogy). As Plinkett lambasted the prequels for their lack of characters with any depth, or any characters one could connect with, Disney's sequel trilogy has thus far included likeable characterful protagonists and (in the form of Kylo Ren) a villain with depth. As Plinkett bemoaned the prequels for looking too clean and not very “Star Warsy”, the Disney Star Wars films have been generally aesthetically more similar to the original trilogy than the prequels, with real sets, puppets, costumes, and props. Plinkett mocks all this himself in his review of The Force Awakens, in which he asks “I recall coming up with a lot of these ideas myself. Where's my paycheck?”. Of course, I'm sure Mike Stoklasa (founder of RLM and creator of the Plinkett reviews) isn't the only person in the world to have held these opinions on the prequels. But his reviews gave voice to the Star Wars fan disappointment with them, so it's ridiculous to think that they didn't have a major effect on what Star Wars fans wanted or expected from the Disney films. And Disney, wishing to make as much money as possible from these fans, complied.

I think it's got a little ridiculous, though. After Mr Plinkett called out The Force Awakens for being a “soft reboot” manufactured by committees of businesspeople for the Disney Corporation (rather than a magical work of art lovingly crafted by an auteur (like the original Star Wars film)), Disney suspiciously then gave near complete control over Star Wars: Episode VIII to (as the Red Letter Media lads put it in their review of the film) just “some guy” who wasn't really that famous for much beforehand. “Some guy” Rian Johnson then set about creating a Star Wars film which was new, which wasn't a soft reboot (although in practice, as I argued in an article upon its release, Episode VIII is just Star Wars rearranged rather than Star Wars reborn - Johnson only changed Star Wars superficially). So, after Red Letter Media called out Disney's Star Wars for being a committee-manufactured product, Disney then give total creative control over Episode VIII to a relatively unknown auteur (as George Lucas was in 1977)? And after Red Letter Media called it out for being a soft reboot, Disney selected a script which was different (to the point where Star Wars fans idiotically revolted, even though the difference was only superficial)? Hilariously, one of the most powerful media corporations in the world is pandering, I suspect, to a tiny media company in Milwaukee.  Even the comical infiltration scene Red Letter Media suggested in its Rogue One review was included in Episode VIII - The Last Jedi.

Don't believe me? How could Disney avoid the Red Letter Media reviews? We know for a fact that actor Simon Pegg, a friend of J.J. Abrams who starred in The Force Awakens, knew about them, and Rian Johnson basically confirmed all that I have written above regarding Episode VIII by tweeting “I love them but I fear them” regarding the Red Letter Media lads, suggesting that Disney really is fearful of their response, as if they are the official mouthpiece of the Star Wars fandom (even though they're Trekkies...).

***

It occurs to me that Disney would do well to abolish many of the unpopular changes George Lucas made to Star Wars in re-releases. This would earn Disney respect from cynical Star Wars fans sceptical of its takeover of the franchise.

Some of George Lucas' edits, such as making Yoda CGI in The Phantom Menace, and including Ian McDiarmid in The Empire Strikes Back (although the Emperor's dialogue should not have been changed in this scene, as it almost gives away a spoiler), are beneficial for the purpose of continuity. Others are just nice additions in their own right, such as the reworking of the ending of Return of the Jedi, which demonstrates that the Empire has fallen across the galaxy, and includes “Victory Celebration”, a beautiful piece of music, representing both victory and mourning for the dead, far superior to the “Ewok Celebration” which preceded it. Other edits are pointless but not really bothersome, such as the altered depiction of Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back. Others I'm really not sure what to think about - I enjoy the sadistic contrast between Oola's grizzly death and the happiness of the song and dance number “Jedi Rocks”, but the CG singers look like Pixar cartoons. And finally, some edits should go. The replacement of Sebastian Shaw with Hayden Christensen in Return of the Jedi was unnecessary; it makes more sense that Anakin/Vader would just appear in the afterlife healed, without his robotics; why would he also become younger? I recently bought a new DVD of Return of the Jedi and watched it, and was shocked by the post-2011 addition of Vader exclaiming “No... no!” in his redemption scene (I had never seen this addition before). This line is cheesy and clich├ęd and takes all the subtlety out of the scene. That DVD is unusable to me now; I simply cannot watch Return with this alteration. It must go, along with others.

What right did Lucas have to edit The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi anyway? While he had a high level of creative control over them he was not their director. Hopefully Disney did not agree to immaculately preserving Lucas' “Special” Editions when they purchased the franchise. If they do decide to reverse some of his decisions then maybe, while they're at it, they could remake the prequels too? It doesn't seem likely to me for the next few years as the prequels are still enjoyed amongst milennials and they are referenced in Disney's sequel films, Rogue One, and Star Wars Rebels. But maybe someday they will be replaced. Perhaps when the copyright on Star Wars expires (and won't that be a crazy era! We will be bombarded by Star Wars remakes, reboots, and fan films left, right, and centre).

***

Spoiler alert for The Last Jedi! If you care at all.

What was the point in the Disney Star Wars character Captain Phasma (played by Gwendoline Christie)? She had no character or depth; her only notable quality was her costume (in fact, that was the entire reason for her existence; this costume was a rejected one for Kylo Ren, but J.J. Abrams liked it so much he had it made into its own character). She was just supposed to look “cool” in the background. But even in this regard she failed; in The Force Awakens she is defeated by a mere shove, like a coward deactivates Starkiller Base's shields (allowing the Resistance to destroy the First Order's greatest asset. She should have been court-martialed for that), and is humiliated by being forced into a rubbish tip. And in The Last Jedi she appears briefly before being burnt alive. Like her predecessor Boba Fett (who died a ridiculous death in the Sarlacc Pit), her “badass” armour only hides her pathetic reality. She also fails at her secondary purpose of being a good toy product, partly because of this, and partly simply because of her gender. Little boys are (outwardly, at least) embarassed by girls and will always be disinclined to want a female toy, even a female action figure. This is my theory as to why Disney Star Wars toys aren't selling.

***

I recently realised that the scene in Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith in which Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi duel Count Dooku is a mirror image of Luke Skywalker's duel with Darth Vader at the end of Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi. Visual similarities such as Palpatine on his throne, being on a space station/ship, etc. aside, each scene is about Palpatine and his Sith apprentice trying to coax Anakin/Luke to the dark side by persuading them to unleash their fear and anger. In each case, the Jedi defeats the Sith apprentice, but while Anakin obeys Palpatine's command to kill the Sith, Luke becomes the better man and refuses. Also, in both scenes Palpatine is secretly in control of the situation - in Revenge he has orchestrated his own kidnapping and in Return the Rebel attack on the Death Star is a trap. The darkness and shadowiness of both scenes are also symbolic of the temptation and influence of the dark side. And I speculate that Anakin's wielding of a red lightsabre (iconic of the Sith Lords, especially of Vader) also represents his transition into the Dark Lord. Other people have probably come up with this before me but I thought it's interesting enough to type here regardless.