Apologia Pro Filler

What do you do when the latest issue of a Marvel Star Wars series seems to be too much fluff without much content? Or, how should we react when Rebels does not tell the story we want to see? Ultimately: is filler as big a problem in the Star Wars universe as we expect?

For full disclosure, I tweeted on Saturday night that I was sick of seeing the word filler. I reserve the right to break my own rules.

The Clone Wars was a six season show, with a movie, about, well, the Clone Wars. Using this overarching narrative, the show had freedom to do self-contained arcs. Some of these arcs were one or two episodes long. But as the show progressed, the arcs moved up to about four episodes. Most of these arcs contained an entire story, starting and ending within four episodes. Plots centered on Darth Maul may have transgressed the arc structure and appeared multiple times throughout the series.

On the other hand, we have Star Wars: Rebels. Rather than focusing on arc length stories, Rebels tells an overarching story. Each episode plays a role, to varying degrees, in telling this overarching narrative. Season 2 focused on Ahsoka’s role in the Rebellion. This story ended with her confrontation with Darth Vader on Malachor. The third season chronicles Phoenix Squadron’s struggle against Maul and Grand Admiral Thrawn. Individual episodes add a piece to these stories, without directly mentioning the grander plot.

It seemed as if, every once in a while, the stories would be distracting rather than substantive. Season 2 featured a cameo by Princess Leia. As Leia arrived on Lothal, she devised a plan to steal ships for the Rebellion. Most of us deemed this episode to be filler because it didn’t deal with Ahsoka and Vader. Fans of anime are all too familiar with filler. While we waited for Goku’s fight with the droids, we had to watch him gain a driver’s license instead. What we saw on Rebels was not filter. It would be better defined as world-building, I think, and simply fan service.

Too many of us are desperate for canon details. I am of a special class: I buy everything canon. I budget and scrimp and save to make sure I can pick it all up. Star Wars Insider, Titan’s Rebel magazine, TFA comic adaptation, children’s resource books..you name it, I probably own it. Look deep enough, and I’ve complained about “filler” or “extraneous” Star Wars material. What I am saying here is just as much a challenge to me as it is to anyone else.

Here’s the simple challenge to us: just enjoy the stinkin’ ride, man.

Rebels’ story was crafted as a weekly show. If you factor in the 23 episodes which air a season, there would be a new story every week for half of a year. Not every episode can directly deal with the overarching plot. Wouldn’t that make these stories too bloated? How many times can the crew face off against Grand Admiral Thrawn and still be compelling? We would complain that nothing happened because there were still 18 episodes to go. Take a lot at The Flash: the entirety of season 3 simply cannot deal with Savitar. He will be defeated; do we need every episode to remind us of that? We know that Thrawn will confront the Rebels. Why not enjoy a bit of the ride?

Rather, Rebels has the ability to tell stories other mediums wouldn’t. When else would you see a story about Rebels saving space-whales from abusive miners? Hard to imagine any comic featuring a rip on Gulliver’s Travels. The thing is, we know the TV shows will end up where they need to. There was no doubt that Ahsoka and Vader would face off at the end of Season 2, space whales notwithstanding.

But what these episodes do is embrace the sillier side of Star Wars. They help us to see that the galaxy is bigger than we could have ever imagined. Novels can spend a brief amount of time fleshing out backstories. Wendig spends half of a page describing the background of the Orishen culture in Empire’s End. That’s about it, though, no matter how compelling that story could/would be. Can you imagine a comic being entirely based on a side story? Chewbacca focused on a side story and is widely regarded as one of the worst comic series. (Though, this isn’t entirely without merit…)

So, hey. Star Wars exists to be fun, whether its the struggle with Thrawn or AP-5 singing. Your life won’t change without crucial canon details. If we can’t have fun with the worldbuilding, the canon events are going to stop mattering, anyway. Sometimes it takes a little worldbuilding to get to these crucial details.

Returning to the Princess on Lothal, the episode accomplished nothing in terms of Ahsoka and Vader’s story. The Rebellion simply gained a few Hammerhead-class cruisers. That’s an interesting enough story, anyway! Yet, those who desperately needed canon ideas complained. Turns out, these cruisers would be instrumental in the fight for Scarif during Rogue One.

But honestly, I don’t want to make that point as merely a concession for those who need to be satiated with canon details or promises of canon details. Did we forget to have fun because we were so focused on “plot”? That you were too mad to have fun watching Kanan slice up an AT-AT? Did you take time to enjoy the fact that they ported a ship from Knights of the Old Republic to the screen?

I didn’t. And I regret it now. All of that fun I missed.
So, I’m taking a breather, and enjoying even the filler. Wanna join?

Author: Chris Wermeskerch