Storytelling Breakdown Blog Entry 027

The Fans’ Temptation To Click Delete – By Ben Clemmer.

I recently watched a new video essay from Patrick H Willems, and it got me thinking about a topic I’ve been wanting to blog about for a while.

While Willems focused on third films of trilogies and how it can be so hard to bring a three film run to a successful and satisfying conclusion, this challenge is really prevalent anytime a work is trying to stick the landing for a previously established fanbase, who have devoured each entry that’s come before and have invested a lot of their time in the stories and characters.

As fans, we’ve likely imagined hundreds of different outcomes for the story being told. We have our own high expectations. Especially if we’ve spent our time playing an RPG set in the universe of a story and this is the reason that example is so specific, we’ve played out so many scenarios and want to see a story that lives up to what inspired us in the first place.

One thing I want to make clear is that I love it when creatives use another universe to express themselves in their medium of choice. Building on what came before leads to so many amazing stories and pieces of artwork in all sorts of mediums.

But there’s one impulse that I wish I could avoid, and that is the temptation to just mentally click delete when an entry in a franchise falls flat.

If you’re a fan of a franchise, you’ve probably done this. I watched another video essay recently where the essayist used The Matrix to describe how amazingly well a certain concept was executed. After heaping praise on the film, one of the essayist’s last comments was something like, “amazing how there were no sequels, right?”

I feel like that illustrates my concept here. If a work is found to be unsatisfying, we just click delete on the entries we don’t like when we think about a franchise.

There’s some obvious examples of this, but let’s start on a smaller scale and with something more recent than The Matrix. I think I can get through most of these without spoiling anything, although on some level how a work makes us feel is a spoiler. I am a huge fan of the comic book series Locke & Key. This temptation to click delete isn’t just limited to new entries in the same medium. When Netflix produced a show based on the comics, I obviously went in with higher expectations than someone who’d never read the source material. Overall, there were parts of the show I liked and elements that I thought could have been improved. There was one episode that ended with events transpiring in a similar way to how they do at the end of the first Locke & Key volume, Welcome to Lovecraft. It was dark, haunting, and overall did a really good job of making me feel how I felt after the end of the first volume when I read it.

Then came the rest of the season.

In my head, I found myself deleting everything that came after the episode I’d enjoyed the most, mainly because some of the decisions the writers made make future book events impossible to bring to the screen, or at least a lot less likely. In doing this though, I’m ignoring not only the contributions of the writers, but every creative who took part in these episodes, from the actors to the Foley artists. When we have a version in our head of where we expect a story to go, it’s easier to encounter sequels and continuations that make the journeys that we’ve taken feel unsatisfying, so again creating a stopping point in our heads where the story still works and feels like it was worth the time and energy is an easy out. Let’s consider another recent and more controversial example, like Game of Thrones.

*I found myself mostly ignoring everything that came after season four. With how panned the eighth season was after the showrunners got so far beyond the source material they had to work with, a letdown seems inevitable in hindsight. Some fans were calling for the eighth season to be remade, but I would argue the quality of the show’s writing started to dip after a certain Lannister left King’s Landing. In my head, I deleted half of the show and kept what I felt was the superior half… yes, with the likely exception of Battle of the Bastards.

Some of my blogs about the DCCU have done this too. Making changes to art we experience is practically a genre in itself. Nando V Movies comes to mind with how many rewrites he’s done over the years. My blogs were similarly a creative exercise, but I did ignore some contributions that until seeing the Snyder Cut, I didn’t have particularly positive feelings about. It’s one thing to write and share a headcanon, but I still clicked delete on several pieces that had creative contributions from more than just those who got the directing credits.

Yeah, we have to address Star Wars. I can’t believe the oldest video goes back almost a decade now, but Belated Media did an excellent series rewriting each of the Star Wars prequels. I saw his changes as huge improvements to The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith. Remember when those films were the most controversial Star Wars trilogy? We have yet to really address the sequel trilogy on the podcast and we’ve mentioned the Disney Star Wars films on the blogs when discussing the Star Wars Expanded Universe. This ground has been covered plenty given the disappointing reaction to The Rise of Skywalker might have actually dwarfed what came after Game of Thrones season eight. As a fan, I’ve consumed some of the content found in other Star Wars media. Stephen has consumed more. The prequels have the support of shows like Star Wars: The Clone Wars and have actually gotten somewhat better with age. Caleb and I looked back on them in our fourth episode and it’s usually easy to look back positively on the media we experienced as kids. 

Due to the way the Disney films isolated themselves from the Star Wars Expanded Universe, it makes it easier for fans like me to just mentally click delete.

And replace them with Timothy Zahn’s trilogy.

I have two parting thoughts. Ultimately, as fans we can rage against the directors, writers, and executives who made decisions we didn’t like, but when we toss aside work we find dissatisfying, we ignore the contributions of artists and creators who were probably over the moon because they were working on a Star Wars property, or something else with years of established storylines that have entertained the masses. The sum of the parts is greater than the whole, for those who did get the opportunity to create in so many capacities that we’ve seen on screen. We see their names when the credits roll as it takes around an average of 500 people to make a movie.

And my last take, the best sequel to include Harrison Ford reprising a role he played in the eighties is Blade Runner 2049. After all, there’s only three Indiana Jones films, right?

I guess I need to keep working on this.

*Thank you to Jacob and Carrie as well as other players in our Fate Core group for the dice tray(s).

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