A couple weeks ago there were a number of stories on movie and entertainment websites sharing reports of what George Lucas originally had in mind for Episodes 7, 8 and 9 in the Star Wars series. Those movies were, according to what was reported, going to focus on the inner-workings of the Force, delving more deeply into midichlorians and possibly even involving characters shrinking down to investigate.
It’s a familiar category of “news” in the entertainment world, the “This Could Have Been” hook. Everyone jumped on comments about how Hereditary originally had a three-hour runtime. We’ve heard endlessly about how J.J. Abrams originally had different ideas for who Rey’s parents were going to be in what wound up being The Last Jedi. And dear God, people won’t shut up about the mythological “Snyder Cut” of Justice League that some people *insist* is a masterpiece that Warner Bros. is withholding for some reason.
These stories are a great example of the kind of cheap, meaningless content that’s easy to produce because all you need is a lack of understanding about how art works, zero desire to do original reporting and an editorial mission devoted to stirring up some form of outrage. Let’s examine each one a bit more:
#1 This Is How Art Works
Somehow, people appear to have come to believe that any editing or revision of a work of art represents a compromised vision or a betrayal of the original intent. I have to wonder if these people have ever tried releasing something original themselves.
Every movie, album, TV show, painting, novel or other artistic moment is the culmination of a chain of events starting with a flash of inspiration that involves multiple changes before it’s put out for the world. Read a single book about art history and you’ll see masterpieces that have hung in museums for centuries but which started with sketches that sometimes look very different than the finished product. Or watch a documentary about a classic album and you’ll hear the talent talk about the songs that were cut entirely or those that were elevated from “OK idea” to “OMG” when the rest of the band contributed to the writer’s demo.
Yes, Abrams may have had a different idea for Rey’s parents. Lucas also had a very different vision for the whole damn thing in his first draft for Star Wars. Joss Whedon may have had a good idea of how he wanted five seasons of “Buffy” to play out, but changes were almost certainly made along the way as new ideas came up and new areas explored. This is how things work. You abandon the outline that seemed so right when you strike a deep, rich vein that takes you in an unexpectedly exciting new creative territory.
#2 It’s Easier Than Reporting
Let’s be honest at the outset and say that, with a few exceptions, a lot of these sites don’t have “original reporting” as their core editorial mission. That’s not a knock necessarily, but it results in a product that values picking up a snippet of someone’s interview on Dutch television simply because it’s what everyone else is doing.
The result is the “viral sameness” that plagues the media industry and which contributes to the commodification of writing and editing talent. You don’t need to be good, you just need to be good enough and literally, anyone can do it. There are a lot of talented writers out there being wasted on making sure that they cover how the writers of Avengers: Infinity War commented on the DC Extended Universe movies.
If you took that content away, though, you have to fill the gap with something in order to maintain the same page-based advertising inventory. That something would have to be either original reporting, which many sites have done and continue to do, or pieces with stronger and more clear perspectives and opinions. The former is hard and not how many of these operations are structured, though, and the latter might mean you’re not going to get invited to the Wonder Woman 1984 set, so no.
#3 Can You Even Believe?
Just as with many other categories of news and media, a good portion of what’s produced is there to reinforce the beliefs and opinions of the audience. Take the Justice League example. Warner Bros. has repeatedly denied the existence of the “Snyder Cut,” reportedly assembled by the director before he left the project because of family issues. Yet there are vast swaths of people who believe WB fired him because they didn’t like that version of the movie and so brought in Whedon to water it down and make it more like The Avengers.
So, because that belief continues to be held, entertainment sites will breathlessly report on any little tidbit about it, hoping to get people’s attention. There’s a built in audience for that topic and we can’t let their clicks go to someone else.
If this sounds familiar it’s because it’s literally the same tactic used by Fox News and other right-wing media. No one ever went broke by playing to the cheap seats, even if that involves propagating rumors that seem true because it’s what you feel in your gut so it must be right.
Statement of Beliefs
I’ll end by stating the following:
I understand that books/movies/shows/albums are edited and revised and don’t care what the first cut looked like. If you want to talk about how your movie/show/novel/album evolved from idea to execution, great. But I’ll promise to judge your art by what is, not what might have been.
I don’t care who was almost cast in a movie or show. This is the least interesting story idea I can think of. Sure, we can look back and laugh at who almost became Han Solo, but Harrison Ford is who played him. Pondering what might have been if someone else had played Jack on “Lost” means engaging in an alternate reality hypothesizing, which I’ll pass on.
I won’t get bogged down in what could have been since it inherently means assigning less value to what actually is and is disrespectful to those who have worked hard to create something new. Art is hard and it’s arrogant and kind of mean to sit there and tell people what they created is secondary to the headcanon you’ve created because a writer says there was a different idea early on in the process.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.