When Disney waterboarded George Lucas with $4 billion until he signed over the complete rights to Star Wars we all knew a glut of new films were coming. They might even be different and unique takes on the universe and with Lucas lost in a tsunami of cash he’d be unable to get his grubby, midiclorian-riddled, fingers on it. Turns out that didn’t happen. But one theme that I hadn’t expected to stink up the new movies up was characters killing themselves. Or at least trying to.
Self-sacrifice, I think, shouldn’t be seen as glorious but tragically out of date. Martyrdom doesn’t exist anymore It is jingoistic suicide. And it tastes like dog shit in my mouth in these Star Wars movies. Or their other move, the old bait-and-switch, where they act like the character is going “for his tea” only to pull out at the last minute. And this is from Disney, the “authors of childhood”, which makes me think they need to have a sitdown with themselves.
A quick, uncomprehensive, rundown from the Disney movies: Force Awakens starts off okay. The following year we got Rogue One and every character wilfully dying for the cause. That’s every single character, from the boring ones to the forgettable ones. The Last Jedi joined the doom cult party next. It started with Rose’s sister, Paige Tico, blowing her ship up to save the resistance, then Holdo outdoes her in the suicide bombing stakes by flying her huge ship to help the cause. Finn tries to join in on the kamikaze action on the salt planet only to be stopped at the last moment. We wonder if perhaps this is the movie reversing its stance but then Luke dies moments later for the cause and the blind patriotism resumes. Next, we had Solo where we get introduced to Thandie Newton’s character Val for a few scenes before she blows herself up for the cause. The “cause” itself is given less explaining in this movie and I’m at a loss what the point was. Then came Rise of the Skywalker where Leia dies, I’m not really sure why except its for the cause, the same with Kylo Ren and Rey. C-3PO also gets given the chance to “pay the ultimate price” by having his brain wiped (although it’s unwiped by the end so what’s the point). There may be more but after Force Awakens I was rolling my eyes near constantly that I may have missed some. Chewbacca was dead and mourned for two seconds before the scene cut and we were relieved to see he was still alive. The quickest bait and switch death in the new Star Wars movies.
There’s plenty of talk out there on the unnecessariness of these five movies. And I agree that we could have done without them all. When the JJ Abrams Star Trek came out, the Gulf War was still deemed newsworthy and I remember reading a sort of collar tugging article about the opening act where the captain’s sacrifice could, in light of the current events, be seen as suicide bombing. Which it was. And I first thought it was an oversight by the writers. They were maybe so chuffed with themselves that they found such high drama to start their movie that they didn’t realise they’d inadvertently had the audience reason and rejoice with suicide bombing. Beyond that article, no one else seemed to have spotted or cared about it. And so more and more lazy writers took the trope as a “writing hack” to ramp up unearned, drama.
It all almost happens without a second thought. Characters are jumping straight to martyrdom the second the odds are against them, instead of pulling out a heroic move that saves themselves and the day. I know that can be hackneyed too. But too often in an action scene, we get the character looking all dew eyed, the music turns soft and dramatic, the enemies allow them to take a final look at their friends, who are shouting “no” before they kill themselves. We’ve seen it too much that, to no surprise, it means nothing to us anymore.
It’s said that it’s always more likely “someone’s stupidity over malice”. And I’d agree, I don’t think there’s an LT Smash style conspiracy by Disney and the US Army to brainwash kids. The prevalence in the new Disney movies of suicide for the cause is most likely hackneyed writing. But it could also be the sands of time have shifted and as a society, we’ve come back around to the idea, subconsciously, that giving our lives for the cause is the highest honour.
Another thing that lightens the weight of the self-sacrifice is that with the runaway cash train of the new saga the outcomes keep proving to be for very little. In Rogue One they all died to stop the death star, but then the Empire built a second, and then another one built in a planet, then one in every ship of Palpatine’s new fleet. So it seems like the Rouges dying was pretty insignificant. Holdo took down a load of Empire ships with her but not the main ones who were still around for the next movie. It all just seems redundant, ya die for the cause but not enough to really make a difference and ultimately more suicides are needed again and again. Both sides are run as death cults. “Who’s turn is it going to be to die gloriously and make a slight dent in the opposing force’s plan today?” If the main motivation for them is that we’ve lost too many to not lose more in the attempt to stop losing more, than what’s the fucking point? Join the Empire and you could die as a neglected grunt. Join the resistance and you could die as a neglected grunt but with the facade of virtue. If I was in this universe I’d tell them both to fuck off and take my chances with hedonism. Let them fight their wars. I’d rather drink spotchka in a beautiful backwoods planet.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is that Disney is being irresponsible and lazy. To paint your movies with the shades of the glory of dying for the cause is smearing patriotic suicide in the eyes of your audience as a heroic goal. If they’d no realization that they’d been glamourizing the merits of suicide bombing then, they’ve run the “trope” into the ground and they’ve cheapened it by overuse, failed bluffs or pointless outcomes.
There’s a hushed voice of Georger Lucas that can be heard under a mountain of Disney’s money whispering about his plans for more wacky aliens and hokey space mysticism. Like space ghosts or tiny sentient microscopic creatures called the Whills. I don’t think it would have been good, but it’d be better than more and more characters having their names etched onto a monolith of soldiers that have fallen for marginal gains in a war that will never stop.