This is kind of a rant, so- you’re forewarned. And yeah, I’m again probably going back over some things I’ve touched on before. So sue me. Anyway:
Why is it that a lot of people seem to equate ‘maturity’ of subject matter with ‘darkness’? In this case, I define ‘darkness’ as: violence, grim/gritty situations, pessimism, hopeless efforts, etc.
It is a trend I have seen in various mediums- usually an ‘updating’ of a subject/setting from years ago (the childhood era of my generation) to a modern day setting. Comic books are probably the best example of this, though movies and even video games play into this as well.
A lot of the notions prevalent in the entertainment of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s were quite simplistic and even ‘kiddified’. I began to notice the trend towards ‘maturity’ during the late 80’s and early 90’s with comics. New ‘dark’ heroes emerged and older, established heroes all seemed to take on a ‘darker’ tone. The Watchmen were a prime example of this- a ‘what if Super Heroes existed in the real world’ thing. But then, I wouldn’t call Alan Moore’s deranged concept of the world ‘real’. Same goes for Frank Miller. In any case, the general idea was that things were horrible and heroes had to be horrible in order to deal with them. Notions of right and wrong (a la Superman) were just foolish and ‘childish’. The idea was that by recognizing how bad the world sucked, heroes were ‘growing up’.
Now, in some ways, I understand the appeal of the growing ‘maturity’ of entertainment subject matter. People who grew up with heroes (or settings) liked to see those heroes (or settings) growing up with them. They wanted stories that had more complexity and nuance. I understand this desire- and have it, myself. There is also the appeal of the ‘shock’ value of re-imagining something ‘kiddiefied’ as suddenly dark and dangerous. Take the death of Robin in the Batman comics for instance. Not only is this shocking to people who grew up with certain ‘rules’ in their comics, there is the whole appeal of being a ‘rebel’- of bucking established trends. That is also part of growing up. I understand that, too.
What I do not understand (or agree with) is the trend in many creators and consumers of entertainment media that equates mature with dark. For instance, I purchased a Thundercats Graphic novel- based partly on the fact I used to like the cartoon and partly on the fact that the artwork was really well done. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that during the time between the TV cartoon and the novel the villain had conquered the world and enslaved or murdered the Thundercats. I am not opposed to this plot-twist in and of itself, but the details of it just kept getting darker and darker. I mean, seriously- they implied (and even partially showed) that one of the Thundercats, Cheetara had been raped by the mutants. And one of the younger female Thundercats is insinuated as having been a sex-slave to the main villain- the undead Mum-raa. Seriously? I mean seriously? Did you HAVE to go this far? It’s like the authors were beating you over the head and screaming: “THIS ISN’T A KIDS CARTOON ANYMORE! IT IS MATURE AND SERIOUS! SEE!? HORRIBLE THINGS HAPPEN! THAT’S SERIOUS! SO WE ARE TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY AS CREATORS!”
Well you know what? It didn’t make me take them seriously, it disgusted me. The authors took a cherished childhood memory and crapped all over it in an attempt to shock people and show how ‘mature’ their subject was now. They completely lost all sense of what the source material ‘felt like’. They didn’t have to do that. Overall, the plot-line was complex enough to be interesting. I didn’t mind that it was a little darker: i.e. the bad guys were in control. That just meant the heroes had to face a lot more challenges. But when you throw sexual assault into the mix (aimed solely at the female characters, it seems) then you’ve gone too far- at least for the subject matter you’ve chosen. Thundercats WAS a kids cartoon- why does it have to be the exact opposite of that to be ‘mature’ in content. Why not just deepen the characterizations of the various leads. Why not rely on more complex storylines and even some morally ‘grey’ areas. You could keep the excitement and adventure of the original source material and just add to it. Instead, the authors in this case went for the ‘cheap’ method of shocking their readers.
The above wasn’t the first example of mature = dark. There were plenty of others (Watchmen, Dark Knight, etc.). Some (the Watchmen) were done quite a bit better than the Thundercats example above. But even so, I never really bought into the whole notion. Yes. The real world sucks at times. Yes, Heroes in the vein of comic book/movie types don’t exist in real life. But the IDEA of them has a lot of appeal and stories about those kind of people aren’t ‘immature’ just because they aren’t ‘realistic’. Most entertainment media is escapism and you know, sometimes I just like my stories to be entertaining- not dreary descents into how terrible things ‘really’ are.
And how does any of this relate to Star Wars? Well the thing that got me thinking about the subject actually was the whole Star Wars: Legacy setting. It is dark and gritty and (therefore) much more 'mature' than its Source Material. Right? Yeah. Right. It doesn't even feel like Star Wars to me. Like so much of the Expanded Universe. Star Wars doesn't need to 'grow up'. It was plenty 'mature' despite its seemingly black and white outlook. Well. That's my opinion anyway.