Visionaries vs. Fan Service

Watching both Alien: Covenant and the new season of Twin Peaks this weekend, my mind returned to a topic that is never far from my mind. Of course, I am talking about the Star Wars prequels. At first glance, there may not be a lot in common among these properties, beyond that two of them are set in space and another pair of them involve strange people sitting in chairs looking at each other. But they are all examples of the same phenomenon.

All three of these are examples of the original creators returning to franchises they kicked off years before. For Lucas, it was only a 16 year gap between Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace. For David Lynch and Mark Frost, it has been 25 years since Fire Walk With Me, and Ridley Scott stepped away from Alien for a whopping 33 years until 2012’s Prometheus. While Twin Peaks lay dormant, other creators stepped into Star Wars and Alien, adding other films, novels, comics, and toys to expand the worlds originating from these visionaries.

And no one should dispute that these three filmmakers, as diverse in style as they are, are all groundbreaking in their own right. But something happens in that gap between these entries. Other creators, and especially fans, start to mutate the idea of what the essence of these properties are. The iconography and the mythology grow in the minds of others, based on the loose ends and scraps of ideas scattered throughout the original. “How did Luke’s father fall to the dark side?” “Where did the xenomorph come from?” “What is going on in the Black Lodge?”

These are all valid questions, and who better to answer them but the original directors? Looking at the Alien franchise, only Resurrection has even a hint of the ideas that Scott would be concerned with in Prometheus. Even other writers and directors had a hard time emulating Lynch’s template during the original run of Twin Peaks. And as well-made and lovable as Force Awakens and Rogue One are, they are all about giving Star Wars fans what they want rather than executing the vision of one person. There isn’t anything in those films that add to what Star Wars is better than the opera scene or the Order 66 montage in Revenge of the Sith.

Because these properties aren’t sacred cows to their original voices. They are able to take risks and make bold choices that can redefine the core of their ideas, and weather the storm of fan reaction.  For better or worse, Ridley Scott has taken the Alien films into a new direction, musing on the nature of life, and the relationship between creator and created. It’s far from the original’s themes of sexual violence and confined spaces, and while Covenant does a better job of combining those two concepts, Prometheus ends up being the stronger work simply because it is trying to tell its own story rather than just bringing back the xenomoprh again.

And imagining a new, non-Lynch Twin Peaks immediately evokes a would be nostalgia trip, filled with black coffee, cherry pie, and a tour of how things have changed in the last 25 years. Rather, based on the first two episodes, Lynch has only teased us with the familiar, and thrown us into a whole show’s worth of new characters, with the action taking place far from the waterfalls and Douglas fur trees of the first series wasn’t what I was looking forward to, but I’m happy to have Lynch and Frost (re)define what Twin Peaks is exactly.

So for any fans grumbling that they aren’t getting what they want from these revisited franchises, I say just go along for the ride. If the creators don’t see the things you love about those ideas the same way you do, isn’t that a good thing? Take off your nostalgia glasses and know that the original thing you love will always be there, same as it ever was. But artists grow and change and develop. Let them, and you might too.

Author: Ryan Silberstein

Ryan has been writing thoughtful film reviews and pop culture commentary on and off for over a decade. He spends his days at a company named one of the best to work for in the Philadelphia area. His other interests include comic books, coffee, experimental beer, discovering new music, and books.

2 comments

  1. words of wisdom! go with the flow, because you cannot stop the current. And to be honest…. one wouldn’t be truly “satisfied” with anything anyway. we forge bonds with things as they are presented to us originally and have instinctual reactions against their being changed. But if you dismantle that expectant machinery, you are better poised to participate with the material. Expectations are the harbingers of doom. Best to be rid of them.

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