Academia and Star Wars

Criticisms — or defenses — of Star Wars’s narrative retreading are misguided.

Source: Making Things Right: “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens” – The Los Angeles Review of Books

(Spoiler alert: do not read the linked article if you have yet to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens.)

Yale Professor J.D. Connor has penned a review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens that is composed of a series of astute observations. There is superb grist here for serious students of film or of the Star Wars universe, and his observations about Disney’s handling of the Star Wars “canon” (and that of the Marvel Universe, which it also now owns) make the piece worth the read.

But it should be read only for the occasional enlightening nugget because, unfortunately, the piece is meandering and confusing. He denigrates critics for impugning (or defending) the film’s narrative repetition of Episode IV, only to say that the problem with the film is that “resonance with earlier versions are far too strong.” He deconstructs the film into a series of patterns, very subtly derides it as typical franchise fare, and explains that what made the first movies unique were sound and special effects.

I am sure there was a point to all of this, that Professor Connor did not spend a big chunk of his Winter break away from undergraduates and faculty politics penning this piece for no reason. I cannot discern it. It seemed aught more than an expository vehicle for the author’s use of the toolkit of scholarly critique.

And this is my problem with so much academic criticism of art, literature, music, and film. Having slogged through five thousand words of deconstruction, we do not walk away enlightened, uplifted, or more capable of appreciating art generally or the piece itself. we are left only with the work (or its creator) in pieces at our feet, looking at each other and saying “okay, now what?”

Great criticism instructs, clarifies, and opens new vistas that allow us to appreciate art, an artist’s oeuvre, or a single work. It provides us with the tools to be discerning. It gives us the wherewithal to judge whether a work is worthy of our time and consideration.

Passable criticism at least serves to tell us whether a work is subjectively worth our time and consideration, and then provides a reasonable case to back up the point.

So if you’re a fanboy or a film student, do read Dr. Connor’s essay. Otherwise, give it a pass.

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Author: David Wolf

An adviser to corporations and organizations on strategy, communications, and public affairs, David Wolf has been working and living in Beijing since 1995, and now divides his time between China and California. He also serves as a policy and industry analyst focused on innovative and creative industries, a futurist, and an amateur historian.

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