Editorial: Clarifying J. J. Abrams' Recent Statement On Star Wars Backlash - Star Wars News Net | Star Wars News Net
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Editorial: Clarifying J. J. Abrams’ Recent Statement On Star Wars Backlash

(I have an alternate title for this piece: Reading Comprehension In Reporting And Reading Beyond Misleading Headlines: A Star Wars Story. Doesn’t roll off the tongue as well, so I’ll stick to the first one.)

J. J. Abrams recently made a statement about sexism and backlash against Star Wars that seems to be taking the internet by storm. However, it’s worth looking at the story beyond the headlines and contextualizing his statement to see what he meant, as certain accounts of the story are vastly misleading and are sadly spreading quickly.

 

As we all know by now, The Last Jedi is a contentious Star Wars movie as far as a portion of the actual fandom is concerned (unlike with general audiences, who have been polled scientifically to have liked the film quite a bit). That’s okay, because this franchise has come up with contentious sequels since 1980 (contrary to popular belief, The Empire Strikes Back was not universally-beloved by the fandom upon release, and that film’s reception at the time it was made could very well be compared to The Last Jedi). Another thing that we know is that Abrams is back in the director’s chair after Lucasfilm was unsatisfied with Colin Trevorrow’s vision for Episode IX. Ergo, it’s rather timely to start talking to Abrams as he goes all-in on completing pre-production for the movie in time for production to actually begin this July.

 

 

Let’s make another thing clear: the sexism directed at the Star Wars franchise since Disney bought Lucasfilm is coming from a vocal minority, some of whom never really cared for Star Wars to begin with, but somehow feel compelled to use the film series as a place to whine about how oppressed the movies make them feel because Hollywood’s casting decisions are now reflecting a greater amount of cultures. But since the debate over diversity has become so permeated with the conversation about Star Wars in an age where everything is pointlessly politicized, IndieWire asked Abrams about this in an interview, to which he came to the conclusion that people that hate Star Wars aren’t automatically sexist (as some ridiculous narrative-pushers might have you believe), but that they hate Star Wars on the principle that it runs against their personal beliefs:

Asked by IndieWire about pushback from “Star Wars” fans who decried Rian Johnson’s film for its focus on more female-centric stories (bolstered by the edition of franchise newbies like Laura Dern and Kelly Marie Tran), Abrams was clear:

“Their problem isn’t Star Wars, their problem is being threatened. If you are someone who feels threatened by women and needs to lash out against them, you can probably find an enemy in Star Wars. You can probably look at the first movie that George [Lucas] did [Star Wars: A New Hope] and say that Leia was too outspoken, or she was too tough. Anyone who wants to find a problem with anything can find the problem. The internet seems to be made for that.”

 

In and of itself, this should not be a controversial statement, as this does not paint the majority of actual Star Wars fans in a negative light, but calls attention to the rather unpleasant discourse that has been piling up as of late. (As Abrams noted, if A New Hope had been released now, we never would have heard the end of the “Mary Sue” or “political pandering” accusations about Leia being able to take care of herself.) However, several publications – including IndieWire, inexplicably enough, who just as easily could have run a headline reading “J. J. Abrams Believes Sexists See Star Wars As A Target” – and other vloggers ran headlines to the effect of “J. J. Abrams Thinks Critics Of The Last Jedi Are Sexist”, which is missing the point entirely and misrepresenting his statement, and so here we are.

 

There are a lot of problems with pigeonholing Abrams’ comments here with his alleged discontent with The Last Jedi backlash. For one thing, he does not explicitly mention The Last Jedi at all when describing the new movies, and in spite of the presence of a horribly-edited “Safe Space” fan cut which minimizes the role of women characters in the film, The Force Awakens was arguably hit much harder with sexist backlash over the character of Rey than anything that came out of its sequel. He also does not single out Star Wars fans with his statement, implying that this would likely happen with any major franchise that becomes popular enough. But the biggest issue presented here is that instead of being used as a statement to dismiss the complaints of a few sexist keyboard warriors, it’s being used to paint people who disliked The Last Jedi for other reasons as sexists. And that’s just bad for discourse.

 

 

Politicizing criticism of a movie is a slippery slope to go down, and it’s something that benefits absolutely nobody in the end. We’ve seen these shenanigans overtake a movie once before, with 2016’s Ghostbusters reboot. I thought that the movie was complete garbage from start to finish, but the issues I had with the film – along with many other fans – was that it wasn’t respectful of the source material, and that the movie was lazily-written and really, really unfunny because of that. However, the narrative established by the press – and supported by director Paul Feig and Sony Pictures themselves – was that all of the fans who were irritated with the movie were sexist, which made it impossible to discuss online. What made these accusations more unfounded was the fact that a proper Ghostbusters 3, which had a story element of introducing women to the team in addition to serving as a send-off to the original characters, was actually in development and supported by the fans before the movie was abruptly cancelled and a reboot was handed to a director who had no real experience with genre filmmaking.

 

At the end of the day, nobody gained anything from Ghostbusters, as the movie flopped for the reasons the fans were concerned about from the start, and a fringe minority of people who are actually sexist cite the movie as a reason why there shouldn’t be women-led movies at all (at least until Wonder Woman told them to pound sand merely a year later). The good news here is that Abrams is clearly not interested in following the path that Feig took with Ghostbusters – in fact, he dealt with something similar before. Ahead of the release of the last trailer for The Force Awakens, some opportunistic trolls took to social media to call on people to boycott Star Wars for allegedly being racist against white people and sexist against men (sadly, no, I am not kidding – this is what a very insecure group of people actually believe). They subsequently used the widespread coverage of Star Wars in anticipation for said trailer to spread a message of bigotry. Abrams took the high road and denounced the message while he otherwise avoided drawing attention to the “movement” (which subsequently failed spectacularly for over two billion reasons):

 

#TheForceAwakens #MNF

A post shared by Bad Robot (@bad_robot) on

 

 

And this approach he took in 2015 is no different than the one he’s taking now: the story comes first, and people who you’re never going to please because they’re bigots aren’t worth your time. It’s a shame that the press doesn’t see it that way, because it’s instead going to reinforce the crowd participating in the First World Problems category of the annual Oppression Olympics to act deplorably for the foreseeable future. This, instead of allowing people to actually move on to the next easy target, or to go home and rethink their lives. This kind of stuff contributes to the cycle, which is why it’s so smart for Abrams to not engage in it. Shame that the people writing about it didn’t get that memo.

 

So while this one soundbite blew up portions of the internet, I’d like to bring attention to some of the other comments that Abrams made in his interview that have sadly been ignored. The first of which addresses the fact that there are more male leads in the story of Episode IX than female leads…

“I will say that the story of Rey and Poe and Finn and Kylo Ren — and if you look, there are three men and one woman, to those that are complaining that there are too many women in ‘Star Wars’ — their story continues in a way that I couldn’t be more excited about and cannot wait for people to see.”

 

…And the second of which actually states that there are fans who have every right to dislike The Last Jedi if they so choose, provided that it’s not out of bigotry:

“I think everyone is going to have their point of view. Certainly something I discovered early on in the Star Wars world, is that you’re going to have an incredibly passionate and vocal fanbase, and they’re all going to have a lot of specific opinions.”

 

Both of these points – that there’s still plenty of male characters to focus on and that it’s okay for people to not like things – go against the notion that J. J. Abrams thinks that the only reason anyone disliked The Last Jedi or even The Force Awakens was because they’re sexist racists, which multiple articles perpetuated. Abrams did not at all pull a Paul Feig here, and I think that it’s important to point that out. If we want to stop building up a reactionary culture in which discourse on Star Wars becomes pointlessly political and alienating to audiences like what happened with Ghostbusters, then we need to start by actually presenting statements as they actually appear.

 

 

 

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