Counterpoint: Why the New Star Wars Volkswagen Super Bowl Ad Is NOT a Travesty


The end of the cantina scene in the new Volkswagen ad.

It might not always be clear to our readers, but GeekDad’s writers don’t always agree on everything. So, in the interest of demonstrating that, I feel I must comment on Ethan Gilsdorf’s post from this morning about the new Star Wars Volkswagen commercial.

Ethan’s post is a very well-written rant, but I fundamentally disagree with his conclusion. He contends that the commercial is a “travesty,” that it violates Star Wars fans’ memories of the first movie (the real first movie) by recreating the Mos Eisley cantina but diverging from the movie’s story in order to try to sell cars. I think the commercial’s ending is a funny reference to our fond memories of the movie, and in no way disrespects those memories.

I think my point is best made by the part of Ethan’s post where he says:

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So when I watched till the end of 2012′s entry (and yes, you have to watch till the end), to the moment where the pumped-up-dog-chasing-the-car commercial suddenly cuts to a replica Mos Eisley cantina from Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, I chuckled to myself at the whole world-warping, reality-fantasy meta-joke Madison Avenue is playing on us. “Oh, those funny ad folks,” I thought to myself. “Oh, that George Lucas (or, minions of George Lucas).” I felt that surge of geeky glee that only a fan can feel when all of his or her buttons are being pushed, tweaked and twiddled.

“Well done.”

His opinion of the ad changed only when he began to think about it in depth. Now, as a geek, I understand feeling the need to analyze everything you see, but exceptions need to be made now and then. If you really think about the Star Wars movies themselves, you could easily come to the conclusion that most of the creatures and droids and such in the background were put there with the sole purpose of selling action figures. I mean, for example, would anyone really remember Bossk if there hadn’t been an action figure made of him? He appears in one scene in The Empire Strikes Back, for all of a few seconds of screen time, and has no actual lines. I doubt he’d have made it into the Dark Horse comics and several Star Wars video games if there hadn’t been a cool-looking action figure of him to keep kids interested in him.

Pretty much every movie that comes out these days that isn’t a period piece has product placements, and it’s been that way for quite a while. Yet, while we may not exactly like them, few people would contend that they ruin the films they’re in. And it’s not as though George Lucas has gone and put product placements in the Blu-ray releases of the films, right? I mean, few if any fans are happy with the changes he has made, but imagine the uproar there would have been if, say, one of the aliens in the cantina could now be seen drinking a Pepsi. That would have been a travesty, because the original films didn’t have product placements, and it would be nothing but crass commercialism to insert them.

But this isn’t product placement, but rather an ad attempting to be memorable by making a clear and well-made reference to a famous scene from one of the most beloved films of all time. That it isn’t identical to the original scene is actually, in my opinion, a good thing — it keeps the memory of the original scene separate from the memory of the commercial. Sure, the commercial is trying to sell something, but that’s true of last year’s commercial with the Darth Vader-outfitted kid, and every other commercial ever made. So what? It’s not as though the characters in the cantina start discussing the merits of the Volkswagen Beetle, or that someone drives a Beetle through the wall of the cantina, or something like that. The scene has its fun, but deftly avoids the several ways it could have taken it too far.

And, besides, consider that the primary purpose behind any commercial is to be memorable. I think that, whatever your opinion of the ad’s merits, you have to admit it’s done that. So get used to seeing it for a while, because I promise you you will. Why not try to stop thinking about it each time while you still think it’s awesome?

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