‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens,’ ‘Batman v Superman’ and the limits of fan service

So there is this idea in popular culture called fan service.

It dates more or less from anime and manga in the ’70s and early ’80s, when manga artists would include gratuitous sexual images or nudity in material that otherwise did not call for it. Which is to say that in this context, fan service, or giving the fans what they wanted, was cheesecake shots of the female (and in rare cases, male, characters.)

These days, fan service can refer to any act of giving fans what they, the producers of said media (movies, TV, comic books, whatever), know is popular.

For example, if the Flash and Iris West were to hook up on the TV show “The Flash,” that would be fan service, as that is a relationship straight out of the comic books.

The very existence of the Veronica Mars movie is a rather literal case of fan service being as how it was Kickstarted and all.

Which brings us to the trailers for two upcoming blockbusters: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” both of which hit the internet on April 17 or so.

While the first Star Wars trailer was a true tease, all disconnected images flashing by, all of it riffs on old iconic Star Wars characters and objects: A stormtrooper there (whose non-whiteness was an immediate suggestion that this was very much a brand new Star Wars universe), an R2 unit there that ran on a gravity defying trackball, that light saber with the red laser crosspiece, X-Wings skimming across the water.

This new trailer expands some of those images into more detailed content.

It opens with an immense Star Destroyer, the longtime symbol of the original movies’ galaxy-spanning size, crashed on a desert planet.

Again, an icon as we have never seen it before, as are the burnt remains of Darth Vader’s helmet.

An unlit saber is passed to an unseen character. A robot hand, perhaps Luke Skywalker’s, touches R2D2. Tthe Millenium Falcon dodges a TIE fighter.

And then Harrison Ford’s voice says a word we have not heard the actor say in a long, long time: “Chewie.”

And suddenly there they are: Chewbacca holding his bowcaster rifle and Ford in Han’s trademark white shirt and dark jacket, a rickety half-smile on his face.

“We’re home,” he says.

You could practically hear screams of “As are we, Han!”

This is what we all wanted to see.

Well, yes. Very much so.

So much so that one got a funny feeling akin to the creepy shock that comes with getting exactly, but exactly, what one wants.

Make no mistake: I am looking forward to these movies. And I certainly have no love for the prequels, with their airless CGI density, their terrible acting and everything about midi-chlorians.

But at no point did I think that I wasn’t watching EXACTLY what George Lucas intended. That dude made the movies he wanted to make. The scripts were bad and the directing was wooden, but it was all him. There is very little evidence that Lucas gave a flying womprat what anyone desired from the prequels. He had a story to tell, he told it, the end.

When Ford cracked that demi-smirk, all I could think was, “That is the smile of a man knowing exactly how awesome everyone is going to think this is.”

And suddenly I felt a little weird about all of it. And more than a little condescended to.

J.J. Abrams looks to be delivering a movie carefully designed to push all of the right buttons and correct, as it were, for Lucas’ bad taste.

“The Force Awakens” looks to be exactly what everyone wants from a Star Wars movie. We shouldn’t be surprised if that turns out to be less exciting that we might think.

On the other end of fan service is the trailer for the genuinely terrible-looking “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” directed by Zack Snyder, the man responsible for the “Watchmen” movie.

All darker colors and inky blacks, “Dawn of Justice” promises Superman and Batman in the same movie, which fans have been looking forward to since the very first Superman movie in 1979.

After all, they are friends and friendship between an alien who fell from the sky and does only good and a man who dwells in darkness meting out vigilante justice is interesting and cool and weirdly hopeful, right?

Not here. In this trailer, there is nothing but crankiness.

Over clips of voices debating Superman’s existence,  Henry Cavill’s Superman looks weirdly concerned, as you might be if people were both worshiping you as a deity and painting FALSE GOD on a giant statue of you.

There’s a grim Ben Affleck, glaring at his Batman outfit. Then Batman in an armored suit reminiscent of his get-up in Frank Miller’s iconic 1986 graphic novel “The Dark Knight Returns.”

Superman hovers in the sky, while rain pours.

“Tell me,” Batman says to Superman in a digitally processed wheeze, “do you bleed?”

Superman lands with a thud.

“YOU WILL,” Batfleck says.

Oy vey.

In the comic “The Dark Knight Returns,” the battle between Superman and Batman was epic because the characters had been friends for decades.

Here, completely in keeping with the utter lack of fun in recent DC Comics, they look angry by default, fighting each other rather than crime.

Dawn of Justice, my foot. I would not bet on justice from either of these two grumps.

Unlike the “Star Wars” trailer, which has a thin patina of we-dare-you-not-to-love-this smugness to it, “Batman v Superman” looks like the most cynical fan service.

Heroes, fictional or not, are supposed to inspire people to do better and to be better.  Well, here are your heroes, like you wanted, this trailer says. From the looks of it, they serve to inspire little but anger at each other.

Talk about getting served.

Author: Joe Gross

Joe Gross has covered books, movies, music and culture for the American-Statesman since 2002. He tweets at @joegross.

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