I’m watching a lot of what’s swirling around with Star Wars right now with some real fear and even disappointment. I watched Last Jedi when it first came out and, on a whole, loved it. I’m not a big Star Wars fan at all (Live Long and Prosper), but I do love the franchise. I even found some merit in a few spots in the Prequel Trilogies. Like damn-near everyone in the modern world, I grew up on these movies and the story of Darth Vader, Luke and Leia Skywalker, and Han Solo, is formative to me.
What I don’t get is why these news movies are a problem. Force Awakens was a delightful return to form and Last Jedi was, as ‘Movie’ Bob Chipman put it, ‘an earnest love letter to Star Wars fans’. Seriously, if you aren’t watching his stuff, go check it out. Yet many a fan of the franchise takes umbridge with whole swaths of it, if not flat-out renouncing it. There’s a petition to have it stricken from canon. There’s even an edited version that cuts out all the female characters (I refuse to refer to it as a fan-edit; no fan could make something like that). Insanity.
As a Transformers fan, I get it. I watched the live-action movies steal much of my beloved franchise away. Before Revenge of the Fallen, a ‘Prime’ was a military rank or perhaps even just a last name. Now, a Prime is some sort of pseudo-religious and/or societal designation separating Optimus (and whomever else) apart from ‘the rest’. Of that, I am not a fan.
But I also don’t want Transformers Prime or some of the later works to be stricken from the series. I don’t even want the live action movies stricken from the canon. They aren’t without merit (I point you towards Lindsay Ellis’ brilliance for more on that) and they are also something people love. There is a whole generation of Transformers fans out there, for whom Dark of the Moon is their favorite movie. There are people who look at the live-action Optimus and say ‘that’s MY Optimus Prime’. Good for them!
Nothing about my love of the classic Gen-1 extended continuity (Generation One and Beast Wars) is harmed by their love of Age of Extinction. Quite the opposite, it gives us a commonality to discuss the franchise. Debating which one is ‘better’ is part of the fan of being a fan. Debating who would win, bionic vs kung fu, Thor vs Hulk, Superman vs Green Lantern, fish sticks vs chicken nuggets, is part and parcel of being a nerd, a fan, and a nerdy fan.
So then why are Star Wars fans so mad about Last Jedi? I’ve watched it and I enjoyed it. I saw it as reaffirming of most everything the fans could have wanted, but also creating something true unto itself, and something that can and will endure. I’m not sure I could have imagined a more perfect balancing act for all the expectations placed upon it. Yet, there seem to be those who would throw out the whole thing. Seems a shame, really.
With my own eye towards Hollywood, franchises, and whatnot, I grow worried for my own series. The release of RocKaiju and Proton this passed month gives me great worry. Some of the vitriol aimed at Last Jedi is unabashed sexism, plain and simple, so having female-centric stories is certainly a problem. But the world is moving past the silliness of ‘no girls’ aloud’ and all franchises should lead the way.
But stories like the Rhest series (like Rhest for the Wicked and the short stories) seems ripe for being made into movies. I’ve often patterned the Rhest stories after Conan by Robert Howard, with an almost deliberate lack of cohesion between tales and character details often omitted except for their most base descriptions. That’s quite deliberate. While, yes, the face on the front of Rhest for the Wicked is inspired by Hank Azaria (no, not Bruce Campbell but I’ll take it), Rhest is meant to me relatively indistinct. Not so that the viewer can insert themselves into his shoes and experiences (lord no; who would want to be this joker?). Rhest is ambiguously described so he can be freely cast in movies and television.
Is Rhest blonde or brunette? Depends on what the casting director wants. Is Rhest 5’8” or 6’3”? Depends on what the casting director wants. Rhest is whatever will facilitate the telling of the story. But it gets more open than that.
Rhest isn’t white.
The face on the cover of Rhest for the Wicked and the 2017 Short Story Anthology is most white, with very European features. When I write Rhest, I envision him as a white guy. But when the Sci-Fi Channel is making the 11th Rhest movie-of-the-week, and they want to cast some Korean dude? That’s perfectly fine. That’s not just fine; it’s appropriate. Why WOULDN’T you cast a Korean dude to play Rhest? Or black? Or Indian? Or First Nation?
Rhest is an adventure story, and the person playing the role should be whoever will facility adventure. Full Stop.
I fear for stories that get bogged down in canonicity and legacy debates and even timelines. I weep for Star Wars and the fans arguing over whether movie Luke is being true to…earlier movie Luke. Or to Luke in the novels…or the comic books…or the video games. I feel bad for the Doctor Who fans who have been denied a black doctor or a Pacific Islander doctor to date (thank goodness they/we are finally getting a female doctor). I want my stories, when their time comes, to be treated with the reverence of James Bond or my beloved Conan: surprisingly little. And for the record, Idris Elba would have made an amazing James Bond. Would have and still can. And while we’re on the topic, Naomie Harris as Moneypenny is positively perfect and anyone who says otherwise hates fun. That’s what I want for Rhest. I want him to facilitate fun and adventure, not stymie it.
Timelines in long-running series especially can become really problematic and they simply shouldn’t be. ‘In Rhest for the Wicked, Rhest has cellulomuscular charges that allow him to have superhuman strength for a single boost but he doesn’t use them in book 78? Does this mean book 78 takes place before Rhest for the Wicked’? No, it means Rhest forgot about the charges. Or I, the author, forgot about the charges. Or he had them removed. Or they weren’t working. Or a wizard did it.
It’s neat to keep track of all the minutiae of a franchise. That is genuinely part of what makes fandom fun, all the little details and nitty-gritty. Getting points in time that give us something to hang our enjoyment on, to foreshadow and call back to, it’s all great. But no movie should have required reading. And loyalty to a franchise should never overshadow the importance of the movie in the now. Likewise, loyalty to the fans who were here yesterday shouldn’t overshadow the ones who are sitting here today.
Fans and fandom should be inviting and welcoming. And there’s little that’s more welcoming than a generous casting option. Rhest was patterned after Hank Azaria and I envision him that way. But when the time comes to cast Rhest, I don’t want race anywhere on the requirements list. Half-black, half-Cambodian, and you look aboriginal? Well of course you can audition! Why wouldn’t you?!
Let’s enjoy this.
Let’s enjoy this together.
PS: the correct answers are kung fu, Hulk, Superman, and chicken nuggets. Come at me.