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Adams' Analysis: Star Wars' Faith in Benioff and Weiss, Misplaced May Be



I possess a negative thought regarding this.

As the Star Wars films of the 2010s have been either announced or released, there have been a number of concerns expressed. J.J. Abrams will not be visionary, then he made “The Force Awakens” too familiar. “Rogue One” is unnecessary, then it had severe pacing issues (or, in the most ridiculous attempt at criticism, it was too different for the universe). Recently, with “The Last Jedi”, that Rian Johnson made too many out-of-the-box choices and that it failed to conform to expectations.

That is not an exhaustive list, and whether or not you subscribe to any, all, or some of those suggestions is somewhat beside the point: they exist. And this is not to say that thinking these things, or not thinking them, is bad, because everyone can have their own opinion.

So why bring it up?

Disney announced on Tuesday that Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss will write and produce a new trilogy of Star Wars films - separate from the current third trilogy of Skywalker films, and from the planned Rian Johnson trilogy - in upcoming years. At this stage, the existence of backlash is about as predictable as calling the plot twists in a film you have seen a dozen times. Star Wars fans are not exactly known for taking their daily living skills from ninjas and remaining under the radar.

The interesting thing here is not that there has been criticism of the choice, but that some of said criticism is actually justified. It is, of course, worth noting that Benioff and Weiss could knock it out of the park, rendering all of this trepidation moot. But it seems much more likely that they will strike out and end up resembling less Homer winning the Championship Pennant for the Power Plant and more Mr Burns winning a 1997 Pontiac Astrowagon, pelted with pretzels as he parades his prize.

Firstly, irrespective of who is in charge of it, the idea of yet another trilogy is slightly tiresome. There is certainly a market for it - irrespective of your stance on Star Wars, you cannot possibly deny that at this stage it will probably turn a hefty profit inside a week - and even those of us who feel that 12 films (VII-IX, the trio of anthologies - “Rogue One”, “Solo” and an untitled one in 2020, Johnson’s trilogy and now Benioff/Weiss’) in around a decade is too much will still open our wallets without batting an eyelid. But there comes a point where it begins to give the impression not of a beloved film franchise giving its fans another lick of the spoon but pouring an entire bowl of chocolate cake mix down their throats; probably tasty, probably too much at once.

Since Disney took over LucasFilm in October 2012, it has gone all out to appease lovers of its new acquisition’s most successful series. This should be seen as a good thing, assuming that fan appeasement is not the same as fanservice. Divisive as they may be, at least the three most recent releases have given different creative minds the opportunity to rekindle any love lost for Star Wars by the prequels.

In theory, this suggestion could support the idea of a Benioff and Weiss-run trilogy. Managing the biggest - not best, it should be said - television series in the world over the past few years is a mammoth job, and their success doing so would hypothetically warrant a sense of reasonability to this decision. Only the Marvel collection has beaten out Star Wars at the box office in terms of franchises, and despite its global success, is anyone going to really argue that its power within the cinematic world truly rivals that of Star Wars? Second place, sure. But that is as high as it goes, and Star Wars - like it or not - remains king. This is an ideal step up for the writing duo. In theory.

The reality is far harsher. Because although there is a competent argument to suggest they should be given the role, there are also very good arguments against the decision.

One of the most significant is the true hierarchy of Thrones. Benioff and Weiss may be in charge of the series, but until the end of season five they had a very rough guide on what to do with the series, for all they had to do was follow the yellow brick road. Or, rather, follow the “A Song of Ice and Fire” books. Once season six premiered, they were off-book and it enabled us to see how things worked without the overarching guidance of George R.R. Martin.

The result was far from strong. Season five was often a slogathon itself, but the two subsequent seasons - especially the seventh - have suffered major issues in terms of pacing and structure, occasionally lacking a good handle of either. Benioff and Weiss wrote all but five of the 17 off-book hours. It speaks to an idea that their ability to grasp such a major project in our current pop culture is immensely limited. In isolation, you could say that the series’ continued financial and critical success justifies their selection, but the difference in quality - and, as a result, some fan reaction - has been quite stark.

It is not too much a surprise when you consider how small a track record the pair have. Benioff has, at least, written a handful of screenplays, including "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" - although whether that is much to be proud of is at individual discretion - while his producing credits extend only to “When the Nines Roll Over”, a short he wrote and was executive producer of. That is a larger résumé than Weiss, whose writing experience includes a single episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (which he co-wrote with Benioff). Weiss executive produced a British documentary series, The Specials, prior to Thrones, but again that is as far as it goes.

Perhaps, though it is too harsh to dismiss the pair based on this. After all, George Lucas has only two feature writing credits to his name prior to “A New Hope”, and that worked out pretty well. But this would be ignoring two big elephants in the room. The first is that Lucas created the whole thing. Certainly, when it comes to the original film, Lucas had a complete understanding of what it was he wanted and how it would all work. It is for good reason that all of the non-Lucas projects have had collaboration scripts - except, of course, “The Last Jedi”, which Johnson took on himself.

The other important point here is the fact that Benioff and Weiss will be producing themselves. Not executive produce, as they do on Thrones and have done in each of their one previous credit, but produce. Again, it is for good reason that only J.J. Abrams has been a straight producer combined with another role in any of the Star Wars films - irrespective of what you think of his films, he had plenty of experience. Even Lucas dared not do it himself in the original saga. Bringing on Benioff and Weiss to write at least makes some sense; having them produce is a baffling choice.

In light of this news, Variety reported that 96% of those with a creative lead on Star Wars throughout its history - writers, directors, etc. - have been white males, and only Leigh Brackett, co-writing “The Empire Strikes Back”, breaks the trend. There is a very legitimate school of thought that Disney should be hiring more people of colour and more women to these creative roles, especially given that Kathleen Kennedy, as President of LucasFilm, is in charge of running the entire operation. But even amid a quite sexist culture that permeates a substantial portion of the Star Wars fanbase, it feels like we are at the stage where it does not matter to such people if - gasp! - a woman was to make a Star Wars film providing that it was good - essentially, the same as quite literally any film. Or, at least, I would like to hope we are at this stage.

But the wider point is key here. Because even if this was the moment for Star Wars to finally break that ceiling, failing to do so is not inherently a catastrophe. Making the best choice for the future of the series, whoever that may be, is the important thing; it becomes a catastrophe to not break that ceiling and to make the wrong choice in doing that.

And it is difficult to believe there are no better choices - white, black, male, female, alien, insect overlords - than Benioff and Weiss.


 
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