Gerry Conway Asks, “Is Comic Book Publishing Doomed?”

by Gerry Conway


EDITOR’S NOTE: We all know how well comic book heroes, villains, and stories are doing on TV and in films these days – they own those media. However, many of us may not know what’s happening with the motherlode, comic books themselves. Gerry Conway’s here to tell us the ironic truth.


Is comic book publishing a doomed enterprise?

Since the days I first entered the business in the late 1960s, one of the perennial fears of creators and industry executives has been the imminent collapse of the retail comic book market.

It’s not an unreasonable fear: in fact, in readership numbers, the market has already collapsed. When I started writing comics fifty years ago, the published sales figures for the solo Superman comic was about 600,000 copies a month. Five years later, sales figures had dropped to about 300,000 a month. By the late 1980s, less than 100,000 a month. [1](http://www.comichron.com/titlespotlights/superman.html) Recent sales of Superman have been in the mid-five figure range. [2](http://www.comicsbeat.com/dc-comics-month-to-month-sales-chart-january-2017-comic-readers-vs-gratuitous-rebirth-one-shots/)

From 600,000 to 60,000– if that isn’t a collapse of readership, I don’t know how else to describe it.

To be fair to Big Blue, and show this isn’t exclusively a DC problem, Spider-Man’s main solo title displays a similar collapse in readership, though its collapse is more recent. [3](http://www.comichron.com/titlespotlights/amazingspiderman.html)

But wait, you’ll say. You’re comparing apples and oranges. Back in 1968, comics were 12 cents each; today they cost an average of $3.44. [4](https://www.statisticbrain.com/comic-book-statistics/)

True enough. In 1968 the median household income was $7,700 annually. [5](https://www2.census.gov/prod2/popscan/p60-065.pdf) In 2016 the median household income was $59,000 (a squishy number with lots of caveats apparently). [6](https://www.thebalance.com/what-is-average-income-in-usa-family-household-history-3306189) Let’s examine all those figures, recognizing that the economic world of 1968 is vastly different from the our world today. (For example, that $7,700 household income was for a one-earner family; today most families are two-earners.)

Let’s take inflation. It’s an eye-opener. $7,700 in 1968 is worth $54,162.42 today [5](http://www.in2013dollars.com/1968-dollars-in-2017?amount=7700), so today’s family is actually ahead by $5,000 a year. (On the other hand that additional $5,000 is worth $725 in 1968 dollars.)

So apparently incomes have more or less kept up with inflation, and in most cases, specifically in the cost of high technology, the price of many items has decreased in real terms since 1968. And many if not most of the things we’ve come to depend on today didn’t even exist in 1968. For example, an RCA color television/phonograph console in 1969 cost $975 for a gigantic 23″ picture [6](http://www.tvhistory.tv/tv-prices.htm)– in 2017 dollars, $6,858.00. Today, you can find an RCA-brand 4K 65″ smart TV for about $590 at Walmart. [7](https://www.walmart.com/ip/RCA-ROKU-4K-65-SMART-UHD-LED-TV/330129369) In 1968 dollars that’s about $100– and nobody in 1968 could even have understood the descriptive terms 4K, 65″, or “smart TV.”

But what about household staples? Haven’t prices skyrocketed for, say, milk?

In 1968 the price of a gallon of milk was $1.07. [8](http://www.the60sofficialsite.com/1968_Economy_and_Prices.html) Today the price is about $3.16. [9](https://www.statista.com/statistics/236854/retail-price-of-milk-in-the-united-states/) That’s less than half the rate of inflation. (Inflation would have put the price of a gallon of milk in 1968 dollars at over $7.)

Cars? Cars in the 1960s ran in price from the low $2000s to the high $5000s, probably averaging around $3500. [10](http://www.thepeoplehistory.com/60scars.html) (My dad bought a Chevy Nova in 1969 for about $2000, if I remember right.) The average price for a new car today is about $33,000 [11](https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/cars/2015/05/04/new-car-transaction-price-3-kbb-kelley-blue-book/26690191/)– or about $10,000 more than inflation alone would predict. What do you get for that additional $10,000? Where to start? Computerized controls, air conditioning standard, safety and convenience and energy conserving features drivers in 1968 would have considered science fiction. So maybe the increase in average price is worth it, especially since many people don’t buy cars anymore– they lease them, something that wasn’t an option in 1968.

So, with all these inflation stats considered, how does the comic book business of today compare to the comic book business of 1968?

In purely inflationary terms, everything else being equal, a comic that cost 12 cents in 1968 should cost 84 cents today. But everything else isn’t equal, of course.

The production quality of today’s comics is vastly superior to those of 1968. The four-color newsprint presses of 1968 produced comics that look barely readable compared to the glossy monthlies we see now. So maybe a doubling of price might be justified sheerly for the increase in production quality. Yet isn’t some of that cost of production offset by the change in the system of distribution? In 1968, almost half of a production run was lost to newstand “returns”– to sell 600,000 copies of Superman, National Periodical Publications printed over 1,000,000. Today’s comics are sold on a no-return basis. No excess copies are printed. (This sometimes results in second print runs on popular new titles, something that would have been inconceivable in the 1960s.) Despite the increased price of quality printing, I have to think technological advances in printing and distribution have kept pace with at least some of the companies’ production costs. Creators certainly aren’t making much more money now than they did in 1968. (Top page rates have barely increased over inflation, and average page rates are probably less than you’d expect in inflationary terms.)

So why do comics cost, on average, almost five times what inflation alone might predict? Why haven’t comics benefited from the deflationary pressures that reduced the price of milk and TVs, not to mention all the technological wonders that didn’t exist in 1968 but which have plummeted in price in real terms since their introduction? (Personal computers, video games, VCRs-into-DVDs-into-streaming media, cell phones, e-readers, etc., etc.)

It’s pretty simple to understand, sadly. The reader base for comic books has almost completely disappeared, which requires each reader to pay more for any individual issue in order to support the company that produces the book. My guess is there are about 400,000 regular comic book readers in America. I base this guess on the following statistics:

The total yearly sales in the direct market are about $418,000,000. The average price of a comic is $3.44. [12](https://www.statisticbrain.com/comic-book-statistics/) Divide those numbers and you get the following: 122,511,628 comics sold a year, or about 10,000,000 comics a month.

According to the best guess of various interested parties [13](https://www.newsarama.com/33006-is-the-average-age-of-comic-book-readers-increasing-retailers-talk-state-of-the-business-2017.html) the average comic book reader is somewhere between 25-35 years old. According to labor statistics, the average salary for people between the ages of 24-34 is $39,000. [14](https://smartasset.com/retirement/the-average-salary-by-age)

A little math shows that this block of readers doesn’t have an inexhaustible amount of disposable income. After taxes, a generous guestimate puts the average comic book readers’ weekly income at about $570. Food, shelter, clothing, and transportation all have to come first before they can devote any spending to their comic book interests. Let’s be optimistic and say they’re dedicated readers who devote 5% of their income to buying comics. That’s $28 a week or about 8 comics a week, 24-26 comics a month.

10,000,000 comics sold a month; 25 sold to each reader; 400,000 readers.

How does 400,000 comic book readers (an optimistic number, I admit) compare to the number of people who’ve seen, say, “Black Panther?”

Recent estimates put “Black Panther”’s domestic box office at about $500,000,000 [15](http://deadline.com/2018/03/black-panther-third-weekend-red-sparrow-death-wish-operation-red-sea-detective-chinatown-2-international-box-office-1202310277/) with an average ticket price of $9 [16](https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/average-price-a-movie-ticket-soars-897-2017-1075458), meaning “Black Panther” has been seen by approximately 55,000,000 people.

Fifty-fifty million comic book movie viewers, versus less than half a million readers.

Even if those numbers are wildly inaccurate at the margins, that’s still a ridiculously significant difference. It points to an inescapable fact: comic book readers are at best a very minor part of “comic book culture.”

This is particularly true when you consider that individual readers each have loyalty to only a handful of characters. If you’re buying 25 titles a month on average, and you’re a Batman fan, probably a fifth of your purchases are Batman-related comics. Which means that Batman’s total readership is less than what might be indicated by the cumulative amount of sales across all titles. If the average Batman title (Batman, All-Star Batman, Detective Comics, Batgirl, Batwoman, Nightwing) sells about 50,000 copies, there’s probably quite a bit of overlap– the same buyer purchasing multiple books. There may, in fact, only be about 50,000 actual Batman readers. Ditto for other characters or character lines (X-Men readers, Avengers readers, Superman readers, etc). It’s entirely possible the figure of 400,000 readers is wildly exaggerated. Dedicated fans may be buying more than 25 comics a month. In which case the actual full-time readership might be vastly smaller– maybe only 100,000 readers.

In any event, what’s clear to me is that the viability of comic book publishing as a way to make money directly is clearly limited by a shrinking, if not fully collapsed, market base.

The question is, where do the publishers go from here? Do they continue to pursue that small base of readers? Is there a way for them to attract the vast number of people obviously attracted to the larger “comic book culture” represented by movies and TV? Or will comics (as I believe likely) become a subsidized form of intellectual property development for the more lucrative and culturally impactful film and television divisions of the corporate entities that own them?

Your guess is as good as mine.


Gerry Conway is one of the Kings of TV and film and comic book writing and also one of our Beloved Leader Larry Brody’s longest-lasting and closest friends. Everybody who comes to TVWriter™ should be reading his insightful blog, where this article first appeared. Learn more about Gerry HERE.

The Film Every Film & TV Writer Should See

Not surprisingly, our headline above refers to The Rewrite, written and directed by Mark Lawrence back in 2014 and starring Hugh Grant and Marisa Tomei. No, we don’t know who rewrote it. But that doesn’t mean a rewrite or three didn’t happen, yeah?

by Pinar Tarhan

Marc Lawrence’s The Rewrite (2014) is absolutely delightful. Of course, your chances of enjoying it are higher if you like Hugh Grant and/or Marisa Tomei, romantic comedies that aren’t like every other romantic comedy and movies about writers. Not to mention, the cast includes J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney. J.K. Simmons’ loving but tough/sentimental (you need to see it) character provides a hilarious contrast to his Oscar-winning, ruthless role in Whiplash.

I’m a fan of the genre, director/writer (Mark Lawrence) and the cast. And as a screenwriter (aspiring, but still), I do have a weakness for movies featuring screenwriters and their world.

Isn’t it also great the 50-something protagonist is only 4 years older than the love interest?

So why do I recommend the movie to (screen)writers in particular? Let’s start with the plot:

The Rewrite Plot Summary

Oscar-winning screenwriter Keith Michaels (Hugh Grant) is far from his glory days. He hasn’t been able to sell something in ages and is forced to take a screenwriting teaching gig in a cloudy, small town to pay the bills.

Moreover, he seems totally wrong for the job: He doesn’t believe great writing can be taught, starts a relationship with a young student (not Marisa Tomei) before his first day and pisses off the head of the ethics committee Mary Weldon (Allison Janney). Not to mention, he doesn’t even read the scripts of the students….

Read it all on Pinar Tarhan’s blog.

Gerry Conway on “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and the Death of the American Middle Class.

by Gerry Conway

There are many reasons to watch this show on Amazon Prime set in 1958 New York City – terrific writing and direction, wonderful and funny performances, and mouth-watering art direction – but one possibly unintended benefit is the view it provides of a vanished American species: the upwardly mobile, culturally secure, highly educated middle class.

Midge Maisel’s father is a professor of mathematics at Columbia University. He earns what I would assume was considered at the time a reasonable middle class salary as a tenured professor (he’s not a department head). With that salary, he put a daughter through Radcliffe College, employs a maid, lives in an expansive Upper West Side apartment, and supports a stay-at-home wife.

I’ve read reviews by younger Generation-X and Millennial writers who apparently think this is a ridiculous fantasy. Sadly, that says more about those writers’ experiences and expectations in post-Reagan America than it does about the realism of a show set in post-World War II boom-time United States.

My first wife’s father was an attorney in New York City in the 1940s, ‘50s and ’60s with a modest one-man practice. He didn’t consider himself particularly successful, just comfortably middle class. He put my wife through college, owned a lovely co-op apartment in Greenwich Village four blocks from Washington Square Park, drove a BMW (which he parked in a private garage), and supported a stay-at-home wife. They enjoyed Broadway theater and Lincoln Center concerts, spent winter holidays skiing in Vermont, and lived the kind of New York lifestyle only investment bankers can afford today on an income in the mid five figures.

What the fuck happened?

Reagan Republicanism is what happened.

Until the 1980s, it was quite possible for a University professor or a solo-practice lawyer (or a professional writer of comic books) to imagine and achieve a lifestyle similar to that of Midge Maisel’s family.

(In 1975 I lived on the Upper West Side in an apartment that wasn’t very different from the apartment Midge Maisel and her erstwhile schlemiel of a husband enjoy in the series. As we were leaving New York, in 1976, the building was about to go co-op, meaning we could have bought our apartment for $50,000; at the time, I was making about $40,000 a year, so it would’ve been easy. Today that apartment is worth upwards of $3,000,000– plus $2000-3000 monthly maintenance.)

It was not inevitable that the dream of the educated, upwardly mobile middle class in America had to end. It was the deliberate consequence of political decisions designed to favor financial industries like banking and investment over creative and artisanal and industrial industries like the arts and manufacturing. Undermining unions, reducing funding for the arts, discouraging philanthropy in favor of familial wealth accumulation, cutting spending on education, aggravating class conflict between blue collar workers and the middle class (Hardhats versus Eggheads) was all part of the right-wing Reagan Revolution plan to crush the ability of educated progressive professionals to oppose the slow gutting of the New Deal social compact that powered postwar American prosperity.

The Reaganites won. They won so thoroughly that a depiction of typical, moderately successful educated middle class life in 1958 seems to contemporary viewers as silly and unrealistic fantasy.

It wasn’t a fantasy then; it shouldn’t be a fantasy now. The fact that many in my children’s generation see that life as unattainable is one of the saddest results of four decades of Republican economic dominance I can imagine.

There are many reasons we can’t and shouldn’t try to recreate the postwar America depicted in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (that postwar social system supported and depended on gender and racial roles that would be anathema to us today) but there’s no reason to believe that as a country we’re doomed to a continuing spiral of downward expectations.

The aspirational, educated upward mobility depicted in “Mrs. Maisel” shouldn’t be perceived as an impossible fantasy. It should be viewed as a stolen birthright.

We know who stole it. Reaganites, Republicans, Investment Bankers, Financial Wizards, Inherited Wealth, Corporations, and the One Percent.

It’s time we took it back.

 

 


Gerry Conway is one of the Kings of TV and film and comic book writing and also one of our Beloved Leader Larry Brody’s longest-lasting and closest friends. Everybody who comes to TVWriter™ should be reading his insightful blog, where this article first appeared. Learn more about Gerry HERE.

Gerry Conway Says It’s Time to talk about “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”

by Gerry Conway


EDITOR’S NOTE: This review is slightly longer and more into cultural-political analysis than the previous review of The Last Jedi on this page. Okay, much longer and more into cultural-political analysis, we admit. But hey, diversity is how we roll over here at TVWriter™. (Uh-oh, we used the D word. Hope the White House won’t mind.) Hope you enjoy both POVs.


Time to talk about “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”

(I’m going to assume that by now, Sunday of opening weekend, you’ve seen the movie, because, if you haven’t, a: what’s wrong with you? and b: why are you reading my blog?)

In a terrific piece for Vulture.com, @abrahamjoseph discusses “Last Jedi” as the first truly populist Star Wars movie. [http://www.vulture.com/2017/12/rey-parents-star-wars-last-jedi-populism.html] I fully agree with Abraham’s reading, but I’d add a further observation: it’s the first story in the Skywalker saga to honestly address tensions between generations– in particular, tensions between the Baby Boom generation and the generations that have come to adulthood since its rise, Generation X, and the Millennials.

George Lucas was the avatar of the Boom generation, and his obsessions, fantasies, political beliefs, life choices, myopias, and sense of destined self-importance are all hallmarks of the generation he embodied and spoke to.

Rian Johnson is a true representative of Generation X, a talented and gifted man whose singular voice has been muffled by the presence of aging giants taking up creative space around him. If Johnson had arrived on the scene in 1972 with a film as smart and accomplished as his debut “Brick,” I could easily imagine him having been embraced as were Lucas or Spielberg or Friedkin, and given the same opportunities they received for far less accomplished debuts. (“THX-1138,” for all its technical achievements, suffers from an intellectual coldness of execution; no one ever has made a case for “Sugarland Express” as other than pleasantly forgettable; and the less said about “The Night They Raided Minsky’s,” the better.) But Johnson, and his fellow Generation-X directors, men and women, came of age as young filmmakers in the early 2000s– an age dominated by Baby Boom filmmakers like Spielberg, Lucas, Cameron, et al. Johnson’s opportunities (and theirs) were diminished. To contrast, in the ten years starting with “Sugarland,” Spielberg made eight films; Johnson made three. Not everyone is a Spielberg, of course, but it’s a fact the Baby Boom generation sucked up most available funding for filmmaking between the mid-1970s and the late 2000s. Talented filmmakers like Rian Johnson (and fellow Generation-X director Patty Jenkins) paid their bills and honed their skills directing television, where they contributed (with other shut-out Generation-X creatives) to an explosion of remarkable narrative experimentation unequaled on the big screen itself.

Ironically, the director of the first new Star Wars film, J.J. Abrams, seems to have more in common with the aesthetic, emotional, and political concerns of the Boomer generation than his fellow Gen-Xers, possibly because, at age 51, his childhood in the late Sixties and early Seventies was surrounded by the Boomers’ cultural triumph. Rian Johnson and Patty Jenkins grew up as the Boomers’ idealized liberal world collapsed into Reaganesque cultural exhaustion.

It’s this ‘80s collapse of the Boomer’s liberal dream into conservative exhaustion that informs Rian Johnson’s aesthetic and narrative approach to “The Last Jedi.”

Episode VIII, unlike Episode VII, recognizes the Boomer fantasy of cultural and political renewal through rebellion and the power of elitist “destiny” actually ended in disappointment, failure, and despair. The Baby Boomer Rebels who fought an Evil Empire that invaded the jungles of Endor and burned Ewok villages (an easy Boomer metaphor for U.S. miltary action in Vietnam) ultimately collapsed into a corrupt generation of disillusioned idealists. Those despairing former idealists then empowered the rise of a new militarism, unopposed by an out-of-touch political establishment so distant from average citizens its destruction is a barely noticeable flicker in the sky.

Rian Johnson deconstructs the myths of the Baby Boom generation that adopted Star Wars as its foundational fiction. The rebellion against the Empire produced not a healthy new Republic but a remote and disconnected government with no productive impact on the lives of its poorest, weakest citizens (Rey and Finn). The heroes of the Rebellion either retreated when confronted by failure to fulfill their “destiny” (Luke), turned back to their previous lack of convictions (Han), or soldiered on in an attempt to reclaim old ideals in the face of diminishing odds (Leia). Thirty years after the death of Emperor Palpatine nothing really has changed in that Galaxy long ago and far away. It’s a bleak recognition the 1960s Boomer Revolution was an utter political failure (but not a cultural failure, since we live in a culture that pretends to realize Boomer ideals).

To be fair, Abrams nods toward these notions in “Force Awakens” but undercuts their impact by hewing closely to the undergirding mythic structure of the original Boomer-fantasy “Star Wars.” The idea that destiny and mysticism will produce ultimate victory is a Boomer trope thoroughly embraced by “Force Awakens” and totally dismantled by “Last Jedi.” At every turn, in this latest film, Rian brings to bear the judgmental eye of a somewhat cynical Generation-Xer– surprisingly, and pointedly, not just upon the self-serving fantasies of Baby Boomers, but on the inexperienced surety of the generation following his own, the Millennials.

Just as Luke, Han, and Leia are revealed as heroes with feet made substantially of clay (Leia comes off best of the three, but again, notably, is out of action when crucial decisions must be made), the four featured Millennials in the story are also subjected to Rian’s cool Gen-X appraisal. Kylo, Rey, Finn, and Rose embody familiar traits of today’s Millennial generation.

With Rey, we are presented with the idealistic Millennial archtype– a passionate young woman who embraces the professed beliefs of an earlier idealistic generation, even when she doesn’t quite understand them. (The Force is a “power that helps you move things.”) She’s hopeful, convinced the old ways can restore justice, even though those old ways failed before. She hasn’t come into her own yet. She still seeks strength and validation from others. She wants to be rescued, but slowly, over the course of the story, realizes she must do the rescuing. Her idealism is as yet untempered by experience, but the disappointments she experiences both with Luke and Kylo finally make her stronger than ever.

With Finn, we find a Millennial beaten into submission by a system that appears impossible to resist. His first instinct is always to escape any way he can– but opposing that instinct, and empowering his initial rejection of the First Order’s ruthless militarism, is a strong sense of empathy. Instinct tells him to run; empathy makes him run toward those in need. The first time he sees Rey, in “Force Awakens,” he thinks she’s in danger and impulsively runs toward her. His first word on waking in “Last Jedi” is “Rey!” Even when he’s about to flee the doomed Resistance fleet, he’s combined his instinct to run with an instinct to protect. Like Rey, at the beginning of “Last Jedi” he isn’t who he will become by the end. He’s conflicted, uncertain, immature, and inexperienced. He learns a lot hanging out with Rose.

Rose, Finn’s new friend, is the most emotionally developed and self-aware Millennial in this group, possibly because she’s had the benefit of a close relationship with an admired older sister. Rose knows who she is and what she believes. She has enough experience in life to understand the structural injustice that underpins the Galactic order, and is dealing with the kind of personal tragedy that gives one perspective. Of all the Millennials in “Last Jedi” she changes the least during the story because she’s already who she will always be: a capable, brave, empowered woman who knows her place in this world– a worker and doer, not a dreamer.

And Kylo. Kylo Ren is the most obviously political figure in “Last Jedi,” the embodiment of alt-right Millennial nihilism. Feeling abandoned by his late-life, self-involved Boomer parents, attacked with suspicion by the substitute parent who became terrified by his potential, embraced and manipulated by a cynical monster, another substitute father– Kylo Ren is Millennial rage incarnate. He embraces anonymity behind a mask while striking out in unbridled anger against all who oppose him (sub-redit, anyone?) and yet, pathetically, yearns for the approval of a woman he scorns. If Rey is the light side of idealism, the promise of hope, Kylo is the dark side of idealism thwarted, the nihilism of despair. Rage is the expression of Kylo’s hopelessness, not its source.

This is a fundamental difference between Lucas’s vision of the dark side of the Force and Johnson’s. To Lucas, the eternal Boomer idealist, the dark side was always incomprehensible– the explanation he provides for Anakin Skywalker’s turn to the dark side in the prequels never feels right. (Tellingly, in the original trilogy, Vader’s origin is never explained.) Because Lucas himself wasn’t thwarted in pursuit of a dream, never faced exclusion from the idealistic fantasies of the Boomer generation, never despaired from lack of hope– he couldn’t articulate what gives the dark side of the Force its bleak alure. “Fear” and “anger” are meaninglessly abstract without personal context. Rey and Finn are often angry and fearful, but is there ever a real question they’ll despair? Even in their darkest moments they cling to hope. Why does Anakin succumb to the dark side? Lucas doesn’t really know, and the manner in which he structures Anakin’s story provides easy answers but not convincing ones.

Rian Johnson, however, the Gen-X filmmaker initially thwarted pursuing a career must understand the seductive lure of despair. He can empathize with Ben Solo, and make his embrace of the dark side comprehensible, in a way Lucas could not with Anakin Skywalker. (Or J.J. Abrams, who portrayed Kylo’s dark side persona as a combination of twisted ancestor-worship and petty father resentment.) Johnson’s approach to Kylo Ren is tempered with sadness and maturity. It’s the sighing judgment of a Gen-X middle manager watching a potentially valuable younger employee destroy himself. Such a waste, but so understandable.

This aspect of the complicated Generation-X perspective brings me to the two Gen-X characters in “Last Jedi,” who, fittingly for Gen-X, may seem less important compared to the colorful and dominant Boomer and Millennial stars, but prove to be the heart and soul of the moral argument at the core of this great movie: Poe Dameron and Vice-Admiral Holdo.

On the surface, Poe Dameron is very much a Han Solo knockoff– the cocky, smart-talking pilot who achieves the impossible with style. In Episode VII, by Boomer-influenced J.J. Abrams, that’s all he was, and apparently, until Oscar Isaac made a case for continuing the character, he wasn’t even intended as more than a one-off. With Rian Johnson at the helm, however, Poe becomes a crucial figure whose character arc encapsulates the lessons Johnson seeks to impart with this film: victory isn’t achieved by miracles, it isn’t only a product of self-sacrificing heroism, it’s hard won, complicated by tough choices, and sometimes what needs to be sacrificed isn’t a life– but the notion of heroism itself. Poe begins the movie believing victory is possible only if you’ll dare to pay the price; by the end, he understands “victory” isn’t victory if the price is life itself. That’s an incredible statement for an American blockbuster to make (a theme underscored by Rose preventing Finn from making the ultimate sacrifice himself). In 2017, after 16 years of America fighting an unending war with no “victory” in sight, it’s as political a statement as the original Star Wars metaphor of Empire trampling the jungles of Vietnam/Endor.

But there’s another side to the Generation-X cynism about war’s futility: , the fact that, despite cynicism, and awareness the battle might not be worth the price, Gen-X is still willing to do what needs to be done. Knowing hope may be unjustified, the Gen-Xer still hopes. This conflict between cynicism and hope is at the heart of the Generation-X dilemma, and at the heart of “Last Jedi.” That conflict, with its ultimate decision in favor of hope, is given form and power in the noble sacrifice of Vice Admiral Holdo.

Vice Admiral Holdo is the older, wiser, unimpressed but still hopeful Generation-X leader who understands the risks of action and so refuses to act recklessly. She didn’t start the war– the Boomers did. She inherited it. She wants to minimize damage and salvage what she can. She knows, when the bill comes due, she’s the one who must pay it– and she does, without hesitation, because that’s what the men and women of her generation always do. She cleans up the mess Leia and the Resistance leaders left behind. She guides the retreat. She does what must be done. Practical and blunt, she has no time for Poe’s heroic bullshit. Because she knows the Resistance may never achieve what the Rebellion tried to accomplish, she understands despair, but she’s too busy dealing with the problems before her to indulge it– or to hope. She does what’s necessary. It’s what Generation-Xers always do. Even if it means flying a cruiser at light speed into a First Order fleet.

Great movies reflect an era through the eyes of artists who embody that era. George Lucas embodied the era of Baby Boom “destiny” and self-conceit (“I’m the most important individual in the Galaxy because of my mystical understanding of reality”). Rian Johnson embodies our era of diminished heroism, cynicism and near despair– tempered by the hope, if we can but learn from our heroes’ mistakes, that somehow, some way, some day, we may yet restore balance to the Force.


Gerry Conway is one of the Kings of TV and film and comic book writing and also one of our Beloved Leader Larry Brody’s longest-lasting and closest friends. Everybody who comes to TVWriter™ should be reading his insightful blog, where this article first appeared. Learn more about Gerry HERE.

Diana Vacc sees “Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi”

by Diana Vaccarelli


EDITOR’S NOTE: The first of two reviews of The Last Jedi on TVWriter™ today because…hey, it’s Star Wars!


—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT—

December 15, 2017, Walt Disney Pictures and Lucasfilm released the eighth film in the Star Wars Saga, Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.  This film centers on Rey (Daisy Ridley) being trained in the ways of the force by Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and demonstrating so much power that Luke (the otherwise fearless Yoda-type character in the new series) becomes frightened by her natural abilities.  Meanwhile, the Resistance prepares for battle against the First Order.

You have to admit, that’s a real handful. Did writer-director Rian Johnson rise to the challenge?

THE GOOD:

  • I was truly impressed by the way Johnson paid his (and Disney’s?) respects to the original trilogy.  The visual effects and battles were epic and even outshone the space scenes that originally made the world embrace the Star Wars Saga and the Skywalker family.
  • I love how Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is written and how he wants to emulate his grandfather Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader and am intrigued by the idea that Kylo’s goal might mean that like Vader Ren too may come back from the dark side of the force to the light.
    Major Spoiler: If he does, it will have to be in the third film in this trilogy because this time around Kylo doesn’t revert back to the light, instead killing his master, Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), and taking over as ruler of the Empire.
  • The lightsaber duels this time around are epic as always.
    Less Major Spoiler: After Kylo kills Snoke, he and Rey team up and kill all the guards surrounding Snoke’s lifeless body.

THE BAD:

  • I was disappointed that we never saw a “force ghost” of Anakin Skywalker.  Hayden Christensen got a lot of criticism for his performance of Anakin Skywalker in Episodes I and II, but I believe Christensen is massively underrated as an actor. All things considered, he was as good as anybody could have been given the terrible dialogue George Lucas gave him back then. I was hoping he would be back to prove his critics wrong and still have my fingers crossed that Christensen will appear in what will be Episode IX.
  • The film’s story structure parallels that of Episode V: The Empire Strike Back and Episode VI: Return of the Jedi in that Rey tries to bring Kylo Ren back to the light and his identity of Ben Solo, just as Luke tried to help his father clean up his act, and also in the way Luke trains her just as Yoda trained him.
  • I was expecting a big reveal about who Rey’s parents were and felt let down when we learned they were not connected at all to the main character line but simple were normal citizens of the galaxy…if we regard anybody who will sell their child for drinks as normal. The reveal does nothing to explain why Rey shows such power or why Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber went to her as it did in The Force Awakens.

THE REST:

If you’re a fan of the Star Wars Saga, this film is for you.  You will enjoy the story and how it brings the films together. If you aren’t a fan, well, I respect that but between us, you’re missing a whole lotta fun!


Diana Vaccarelli is TVWriter™’s Critic-at-Large and a student in the TVWriter™ Online Workshop. Find out more about her HERE