Learning to Let Go…

The Star Wars HeresiesGood friend of the blog, Paul F. McDonald, author of the outstanding book, The Star Wars Heresies: Interpreting the Themes, Symbols, and Philosophies of Episodes I-III (I highly recommend this book to any Star Wars fan wishing to explore the deeper meanings of the Saga), recently wrote a brief essay on his site entitled, “You Can’t Go Home Again.”  Paul examines a growing ambivalence he felt regarding Star Wars in a post-Lucas world, but how two things brought him back to full-throated Star Wars fandom: 1) Star Wars Rebels, and 2) the Force Awakens Teaser.  I certainly agreed with him about Rebels, and the news coming out of the Star Wars Anthology: Rogue One panel filled me with excitement.  But I still had a great deal of concern about the future of Star Wars sans George Lucas.  Could Lucasfilm tell the kinds of rich, deeply layer stories George had with the Saga and The Clone Wars.  There was kind of a maddening tug of war going on with the fan within me.  On the one hand there was all kinds of news coming out of Celebration that as a fan really got me jazzed, however, JJ’s statements about the themes of Star Wars and his constant catering to a particular portion of the fanbase still left me deeply troubled.

Qui-Gon and Anakin

But, Paul brought up one great point in his essay that I had to consider… one of the central themes of the Prequel Trilogy is learning to let go of the things we are attached to… and that even included George.  George is gone, and I needed to come to terms with that.  While that is something I’m going to still wrestle with for some time, looking back on the hundreds and hundres of Star Wars stories told in books, comics, and short stories I’ve collected over the years there have been plenty of Star Wars stories told by authors that have the same depth and emotional resonance as George’s Saga.  One book in particular, “Kenobi,” by frequent Star Wars novelist John Jackson Miller, is one of the finest Star Wars tales ever told and would be a worthy addition to the Star Wars film legacy.  Star Wars didn’t just have to be about George and his wishes, and although I still wish George was involved at Lucasfilm, those days are gone.George Lucas

I needed to let go…

I still stand by my earlier criticisms of JJ Abrams, and I still have a lot of concern about the film he will deliver in December.  Not because of Lucas’ absence, but Abrams abilities as filmmaker and storyteller, and his own views of the Saga which I find to be very constrictive.  But overall I have to admit the materials coming out of Lucasfilm since George’s departure  have only honored what came before, and have fit in quite nicely as part of a larger tapestry of the overall Saga.  From the remaining Clone Wars stories, to Rebels, and the books and comics, it’s clear the Star Wars Story Group, led by Kiri Hart, takes its job seriously, and will do their best to deliver quality Star Wars stories that even George would be proud to have his name attached to.

The final piece which really helped me to let go of George and just try to enjoy the Star Wars that was coming was rewatching a special video produced for starwars.com following the release of Revenge of the Sith.  The Journey was a two part video released the Summer of 85 as both a “Thank you” to George, and a “Thank you” to the fans.  While Clone Wars had been announced by George it appeared the cinematic Saga was over and George would soon retire leaving Star Wars to television.  As fans we would no longer share that communal bond in a darkened theater and would have to be content enjoying the Saga, and stories to come, in the comfort of our living rooms…. no longer joined as fans.  Looking at this video as a “goodbye,” from George really helped me say “Farewell,” to him as the guardian of the Star Wars galaxy.

The Journey Part 1

The Journey Part 2

(These videos are only available via starwars.com, but are also included as part of the bonus content for the recent Star Wars Digital Movie Collection)

I’ll still have plenty of things to say about Star Wars coming from Disney, and if I think Disney/Lucasfilm goes off the rails with certain stories I’ll still be posting my criticisms.  But now is the time for me to sit back, and enjoy the ride ahead.  I really need to heed the advise of those paragons of wisdom, once trapped on the Satellite of Love, who famously quipped: “Just repeat to yourself it’s just a show, I should really just relax.”

Mike & the Bots

 

My Hiatus – There and Back Again

I’m back.  It took a while for the bug to return, but I’m back.

While I had promised back in late December to return to regular blogging in a “few weeks” a number of events occurred that legitimately made writing regular updates nearly impossible.  Namely my job situation changed, and for a few weeks over the Holiday season I had to look for a new job.  I found that job in early January, but I felt it was inappropriate to be spending my newly found free time writing about my passion for Star Wars when I needed to find work.  Also during this period I went through a fairly profound change in my faith, and moved closer to a more orthodox Christian tradition.  During this same time I spent a good deal of time in prayer, and reading my Bible.  Again, it was a time to be serious and less focused on something that’s let’s face it… a little frivolous.

georgelucasHowever, something else happened that made me really examine my fandom, and what was happening within the Star Wars fan community, and Disney’s handling of the Saga.

Back in January Cinema Blend interviewed George Lucas for his upcoming animated film, Strange Magic.  In the interview Lucas stated:

“The ones that I sold to Disney, they came up to the decision that they didn’t really want to do those. So they made up their own. So it’s not the ones that I originally wrote.” 

I was floored.  Disney had claimed these films were based on George’s treatments for the Sequel Trilogy.  How in the world could Disney simply discard Lucas’ ideas, and what impact would that ultimately have on Star Wars as a whole?  To me this was akin to a publisher buying the rights to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth sagas, then asking Professor Tolkien, if he were alive, to develop a sequel trilogy to the Lord of the Rings, then he turns in the manuscript, and the publisher says, “Sorry, John, we’ve decided to go a different direction.”

Then follow that up with the announcement that Prequel Trilogy basher and writer of the first Star Wars spinoff fim, Garry Whitta, was being replaced by ANOTHER Lucas basher, Chris Weitz.  Of course this announcement, along with the Lucas interview set the internets ablaze, and once again exposed the seedy underbelly of a small, but vocal minority of Star Wars who insist on bashing Lucas, and fans of the Prequels at any turn.

I realized that I had my fill of this nonsense.  The endless online forums battles, my Twitter feed being filled with garbage from countless geek websites deriding fans of the entire Saga, or once again bashing Disney or Lucas for not giving them the “unaltered” Original Trilogy in high definition.  Unfortunately it appeared the continued segregation of fans between trilogies, by fans was going to continue, and Disney was doing little to foster a sense of welcoming fans of the whole Saga.  Even a casual statement like, “We stand behind George’s vision of the Saga and will continue to honor it going forward,” would be a nice sentiment.  Instead they hire yet another Lucas basher, albeit a little less intense, Chuck Wendig, to write the official story of what happened in the days that followed the Battle of Endor.  Is it really that hard to find creative types who have a love for George’s six-part Saga (Disney here’s a hint there’s a guy you are already employing, his name is Dave Filoni)?godfather3

So I decided to step away from fandom for a while… my passion appeared to be waning. But just when I thought I was, as REM put it, “Losing My Religion,” a few things happened along the way that rekindled it.  Just when I thought I was out, Star Wars pulled me back in.

While all of these negative behind the scenes things were happening on the Disney/Lucasfilm front, the actual products being released were pretty darn good.  Marvel Comics began their stewardship of the Star Wars license, and so far the results have been pretty good.  The Princess Leia mini series, and Kanan: The Last Padawan have been outstanding titles.  Star Wars started strong but has kind of meandered as of late, and the last two issue of Vader have been pretty bad (I’ll be reviewing the four titles in an upcoming post soon), but overall it looks like Marvel has a good handle on the Saga and have incorporated elements of the entire Saga in their story telling.  Meanwhile the official canon has also continued in a series of pretty good novels.  So far Tarkin has been a standout among the new books, but the Rebels prequel novel, A New Dawn was quite good as well.  Unfortunately the Luke Skywalker novel, Heir to the Jedi was hit or miss, but all in all the canon novels appear to be well thought out and have tied into the comics very smoothly.Kanan

In addition to this quality expanded canon coming from Lucasfilm, Disney’s animated series, Star Wars Rebels, ended in a rousing fashion.  After some early missteps, and some ratings confusion, the show found its footing and a regular audience on Disney Channel during reruns.  More adventures await as the second season is set to debut and will have a full order of 22 episodes.  Hopefully, Disney will allow the adventures of the Ghost Crew continue for some time, and introduce new Younglings and Padawans to the Star Wars universe.

While I may have been growing weary of Star Wars fandom, and Disney’s apparent miscues, the canon material coming from Lucasfilm kept my fandom on a low burn.  However, what finally put it over the top to a full boil came from fellow fan Mike Klimo and his brilliant blog Star Wars Ring Theory.  I had known about Mike’s blog for a few months, but recent he has been making the rounds on a number of podcasts and will be featured in a write up in Star Wars Insider.  So what is Star Wars Ring Theory… well as I’ve always suspected, Lucas’ entire Star Wars Saga completes a circle in how it presents itself.  Lucas used a writing technique call “ring composition” to construct all six episodes of the Saga.  Basically Mike did the serious research of going episode by episode, and more importantly, shot by shot, and line by line, showing how together the entire Saga makes up a intricately woven tapestry… Lucas constructed the Saga in a very specific fashion, and while it can be enjoyed on just a basic, almost visceral level; if you dig deeper, there’s something more… a lot more.  Digging deep into Mike’s work, and listening to him speak so passionately about it made me realize how much the Saga meant to me, and I wasn’t about to let a bunch of grumpy fans, or misguided corporate suits take away from my enjoyment of George’s work.Ring Theory

So I’m officially back, and will return to my normal writing schedule.  Thanks to my readers for being patient with me, but rest assured there will be some good stuff coming up in the weeks ahead.

Coming soon: The Most Subversive Star Wars Story Ever… The Phantom Menace

Great Article Celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the Ewok Adventure

Ewok AdventureFriend of the blog, Lazy Padawan has written a terrific piece celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the very first Star Wars spin off film, The Ewok Adventure: Caravan of Courage.  Like Lazy Padawan, I fondly remember sitting down to it on a Sunday night three decades ago, and once again being transported to that far away galaxy.  Sure some of the acting was a little rough, and some of the effects were a little dodgy, but the film was a cute, whimsical little adventure for kids, and still managed to touch on some big thematic elements found in many children’s fairy tales.

Again, I highly recommend you check out Lazy Padawan’s Holocron, as well as her other blog, the Star Wars Prequel Appreciation Society, where she posts some terrific Prequel related news and articles.

Also, in honor of the show’s 30th Anniversary, the Official Site has posted a summary of 9 Things You Never Knew About The Ewok Adventure.  So you might want to give that a read through as well.

Anyway, I’ll be off for the next couple of days celebrating Thanksgiving with the family, and I think I may just give The Ewok Adventure another spin over the holiday, as well as its follow up, The Battle For Endor.

Stay On Target – Observations About The Force Awakens Trailer Roll-Out

Anticipation… Is keepin’ me waitin’

Keep CalmFor weeks rumors had circulated in the fan community that a teaser trailer for Star Wars The Force Awakens was coming soon. John Williams was allegedly in Hollywood secretly recording original music for the trailer, and soon chatter began that suggested the teaser was going to debut in front of the final installment of the Hobbit franchise. Fan fervor grew as details of the trailer began to leak and it appeared a release was imminent.

Finally, our friends at MakingStarWars.net broke the news that the trailer would debut sometime this week to some movie 100 theaters, but the details were a little hazy. The anticipation for the release was reaching a fevered pitch on social media as fans (like myself) refreshed their Twitter feeds, or visited the Official Site for just one morsel of official news. Of course the announcement was bound to disappoint…

Force AwakensThe morning of November 24th, Regal Cinemas jumped the gun and announced they would be featuring the trailer at a number of their theaters; then AMC jumped on board. Finally, around midday, the Official Site broke the news that the trailer would debut at 30 theaters across the US and Canada… the internets blew up.

Here we go again…

The backlash was immediate. Fans across the country complained that many states were excluded from the release, and overseas fans (especially Brits where the film was made) were livid that they were left out as well. Fans could not understand how Disney, a company that had appeared so savvy with the buildup of each Marvel film by using the internet, television and theaters in concert to promote trailers for new Marvel films could now be so tone deaf using “old-school” means for the release of the teaser.

“You got what you wanted tiger. How does it taste?”

planet-of-the-apesThere’s a great moment in the original Planet of the Apes following the crash landing of the astronauts. Taylor (Chuck Heston), the cynical captain of the crew, is goading on the more idealistic Landon who still is trying to maintain traditional customs on their new home, and still views himself as an explorer on a mission. Taylor is having none of it as he is simply views their survival as paramount, and has little interest in scientific research. He sarcastically lays into Landon suggesting that he really got his wish to be a true explorer, but unfortunately there will nobody around to learn about his discoveries. He finishes his verbal tongue lashing of Landon with the classic line, “You got what you wanted tiger. How does it taste?”

I look at this teaser release in the same way. For months we’ve been told over and over again by older fans, and cast and crew that this Star Wars is going to be done using “old school” techniques, like practical effects, miniatures, puppets, and even stop motion animation. The days of the “evil” and “misguided” George Lucas and his obsession with CGI are finally over now that we got some “real” filmmakers in there who know how to tell a story with “real” characters (NOTE: I’m being sarcastic). Now with George gone we can finally wipe the post 1980 Star Wars slate clean (after all, Star Wars really died after Empire don’t ya know?), and begin a new phase of classic, retro Star Wars. Well, this teaser release is certainly retro as it’s only available in a handful of cinemas, and an online release has not been announced yet… how’s that taste?

Back to reality…

sw77The fact of the matter is that Disney is intentionally going a little retro with this release in hopes of building anticipation. Unlike the original limited release of Star Wars in 1977 which was a result of cinemas not wanting to carry the movie and Lucas’ demand for specific theaters equipped with state of the art sound equipment, this release is limited in an effort to generate buzz and compel fans to make the roadtrip to seek out the trailer. It’s actually a pretty smart strategy; yes it’s an annoyance for fans overseas, and for fans outside of states carrying the teaser, but it really is no different than 1977 when moviegoers often had to go out of their way to get to the single cinema in their state that was carrying Star Wars.  It’s still a little odd because even back in 1979 the teaser trailer for The Empire Strikes Back could be found in theaters across the country running in front of diverse films from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, and the Gene Wilder/Harrison Ford comedy, The Frisco Kid.  As an aside, I must have sat through each of those movies a dozen times just to watch the trailer over and over again.

I’ll be honest, the teaser release doesn’t affect me in the least since Tempe Marketplace here in the metro Phoenix area will be showing the teaser and is only 6 miles from my home.But for those fans who are upset about the trailer roll out, they have very valid complaints. It’s not 1977 anymore, and there’s no real reason I can see for delaying access to the trailer to fans… especially the legion of loyal fans who live overseas. You can still build anticipation, and still be fair to those loyal Star Warriors who have longed for just a peek at the latest entry in the Star Wars Saga, or for those older fans who thought that Episodes VII-IX would never happen.

HarkinsTheatresLogo

I understand Disney/Lucasfilm’s desire to be separate and unique from the Marvel brand. You don’t want to simply copy and rehash promotional ideas from that franchise, but there has to be a happy medium that can be found, can’t there? Maybe an exclusive release for this weekend, with a worldwide roll out next week, as well as an online trailer on Monday would be more appropriate. Perhaps an official online release is in the cards after this weekend, otherwise I can see no real benefit to staggering the release like this, as it only builds up animosity in the community (like we need more of that), and resentment towards the new powers that be that run Star Wars.

Anyway, I will be at Tempe Marketplace Friday night to check out the teaser, and I will report back. But in the mean time: Keep Calm and Watch Star Wars!

Harkins1

May the Force Be With You

Star Wars Fandom: The Dark Times – How It Changed My Fandom

To most Star Wars fans, the Dark Times refers to the years between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope when the Empire was ascendant and strengthened its grip on the universe, and powerul Sith like Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader hunted down the last of the Jedi.  It was a period of hopelessness when the balance of the Force tipped toward the Dark Side and the fire of the Jedi was snuffed out… or so many thought.

However, to older fans the Dark Times also refers to those lean years of fandom between 1984 and 1991 when there was little in the way of Star Wars merchandise, and almost no hope of any more Star Wars films.  It appeared that Star Wars had run its course and creator George Lucas was satisfied in pursuing other interests.  The general public appeared to have moved on to other film and TV franchises, but comic, book, and toy sales suggested that Star Wars was simply a slumbering giant that just needed a jolt to awaken.

The fine folks at Full of Sith released the latest episode of their podcast featuring guest Pablo Hidalgo, Star Wars superfan and member of the Lucasfilm Star Wars Story Group.  Pablo and the gang talked about their own experiences during the Dark Times, and what got them through those lean years and how their fandom was affected.  One common thread that emerged was this sense of being an outsider during that time; that society had some how “forgotten” Star Wars and was beginning to view loyal fans as strange, somewhat eccentric oddballs.  Show host Bryan Young even recounted his days in high school being teased for his fandom.

It was a great show, and a fantastic conversation, but something just didn’t click with me.  I’d never experienced anything like that.  Most of my friends still threw out an obscure Star Wars reference here or there, and many of us still engaged in intense geek conversations.  Even in my days in college I was still meeting a lot of fans my age who were more than happy to talk about Star Wars, and I never really experienced any mocking or derision from people who were not fans.  Sure, Star Wars was out of the mainstream, and most of my fandom was relegated to countless session of West End Games’ Star Wars Roleplaying Game, but my experiences during the Dark Times certainly weren’t negative.

I thought about it for a while.  Why were my experiences different than the hosts of the show, or Pablo’s?  Then it dawned on me; it was my age, and the era of the Star Wars phenomenon I grew up in.

I was nine in Summer 1977.  I was there when America went Star Wars mad for a good two years from 1977-1978.  Star Wars was everywhere.. It was regularly referenced on weekly variety shows like Donnie and Marie and Hee Haw, and other TV shows. You could find kids wearing buttons emblazoned with the words “May the Force Be With You,” on school playgrounds without fear of them being labelled as nerds.  Meco Star Wars was a hit on radio and a regular feature of “fast skate” sessions at Skateland and other roller rinks across the country.  Star Wars even became a part of my Sunday school teacher’s lesson plan as he looked for thematic ties between Star Wars and the Bible.

Certainly you still find many of these things today, but it is nowhere near as pervasive and all consuming in the culture.  The nation was gripped by a mania that did not relent.  However,by the time The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi were released most of that mania was already petering out.  Star Wars was no longer this cultural touchstone that the entire country shared for a brief moment like Star Wars.  It was now a part of pop culture; the Star Wars fever broke.  While the movie lines were still long and the toys still sold well, Star Wars was all but a memory for the average movie goer only a year after Jedi’s premiere.  Star Wars had officially passed from pop culture phenomenon to a passing fad, and like most fads (e.g., Hula Hoop, Pet Rock, etc.) there’s a certain amount of derision from people who were caught up in it after it fades.

However, for those Younglings who first experienced Star Wars in Summer of ’77, Star Wars was something much more than a fad, or passing pop culture fancy.  For us, Star Wars was as much a part of myth as were stories of Hercules’ labors, or the adventures of Sinbad, Robin Hood, King Arthur, and Superman.  We shared a common bond and language that was not broken with the passage of time.  I could still talk Star Wars with the friends I grew up with even into the late 80s, and even people in my generation who were only casual fans would smile when I would make the occasional obscure Star Wars reference.  For us, Star Wars was not dead, it was simply on hold.

A change is coming…

Summer of 1983 was over, and the Star Wars Trilogy had concluded.  There were rumors that George Lucas would eventually tell Episodes I-III, or that he would return to the adventures of Luke Skywalker some time in the future.  But for now Star Wars fans would have to content themselves with episodes of the Ewoks and Droids cartoons.  Thanksgiving of 1984 also saw the release of the first Ewok movie, The Caravan of Courage… and that’s when the naysayers, and Lucas critics started coming out of the woodwork…

Suddenly, Star Wars was being criticized for being “too kiddie” and that Lucas was “only interested in selling toys.”  Fans were now suggesting that Lucas was a sellout and only interested in money to further his filmmaking ambitions.  Target number one was the Ewoks, those loveable, but vicious little furballs from Jedi.  Ewoks were equated to stuffed teddy bears, and were now a symbol that somehow Lucas had “lost it” and had ruined Star Wars.

Let me take a quick step back for a minute and recount my first experiences with Ewoks, and Return of the Jedi.

It was May 1983, and I had a big problem.  Gerard Catholic High School had the temerity to actually schedule final exams the week of Jedi’s release!  There was simply no way my parents were going to allow me to go to the big midnight showing at the Kachina Theater in Scottsdale; I would need to come up with an alternate plan.

A group of us decided we would try to make the noon showing at Fiesta Mall’s AMC theater in Mesa.  While the plan worked for most of my friends who only had a single exam that day, it created a logistical issue for me as I had a second exam at 10.  So I did what any other dedicated Star Wars fan would do… I crammed like mad.  Fortunately the exam was in US/Arizona History, a class I was already acing.  I took my seat promptly at 10, and furiously worked my way through the 100 multiple choice questions and minimum 3 paragraph essay on the Cold War… I completed the test in record time (25 minutes), quickly scurried out the exit, got in my buddy’s car and we drove like furies to the theater.

I absolutely loved Return of the Jedi.  I hissed that vile gangster, Jabba the Hutt, thrilled to the speeder bike chase and the fight at the Pit of Carkoon, mourned the loss of Yoda, and cheered Luke’s triumph over the Emperor. It was a big, bold, adventure with dramatic themes and terrific action… and I loved, yes loved, those fierce little furball warriors, the Ewoks.

So color me surprised when not more than a year or two later I’m listening to “fans” hammer the movie, and claim that Lucas was nothing more than a hack director who got lucky with the first film, and his absence was the real reason that Empire was so good. The only good films were the first two “mature” films and Jedi was nothing more than kids stuff.  Even more shocking, I suddenly found myself agreeing with these people, and dismissing Jedi as a bad film that was not worthy of the name Star Wars… As I worked my way through college getting a little bit older, and a little more cynical along the way, I found that I was becoming that most loathsome of creatures… a hipster.

Despite this new found attitude I was still “into” Star Wars to a degree.  I still kept up with the latest Star Wars news through the Official Star Wars Fan Club, which I was a member of; anxiously awaiting each new issue of Bantha Tracks, and later the Lucasfilm Fan Club Magazine, for even a whisper of Star Wars rumors. I even secretly watched and recorded Ewoks: The Battle For Endor, and found myself enjoying it. I played and GM’d in weekly Star Wars Roleplaying Game sessions, creating new stories and new characters to adventure with across the galaxy, fighting the forces of the dreaded Empire.  There was a battle going on inside of me between the innocent, young fan I was in 1977, and the new, cynical hipster fan I was becoming, and that innocent fan was slowly losing the battle.

Fortunately something stopped me…

Redemption and Enlightenment…

I’ll never forget the moment that my fandom was saved and I stopped being that angry, bitter fan, and rekindled that youthful passion I had for Star Wars .  It was 1989, and I was getting ready to finish moving out of my Mom’s home.  I needed to move a number of things into storage, including my Star Wars toy collection I kept at my Grandmother’s house.  I had begun packing up some of my loose figures and play sets when I picked up my Landspeeder, that I would keep in its box for safekeeping.  I looked at the box, fondly recalling the first time I opened it, took the speeder out, and scooted it on the floor of my kitchen. Then I looked at the words printed on the right corner of the box:

“Ages 5 and up”

What?!?!? Wait, Star Wars is for kids?

I had kept Star Wars locked away in a time capsule in my mind.  Star Wars was preserved for me in some cynical twisted sense of nostalgia that was married with my evolving tastes as an adult. Somehow I had lost sight that while I was getting older, Star Wars was not. I was changing, and had lost a lot much of the innocence of that 9 year old boy who had first discovered this universe.  I had forgotten that it was THAT kid that fell in love with Star Wars.  George Lucas made Star Wars for THAT nine year old kid, not for the 22 year old who was clutching this box wondering how he had gotten to this point in his life, still contemplating his future.

GeorgeI realized that Star Wars wasn’t the problem, George Lucas wasn’t the problem; my cynicism and my inability to to separate my worldview as a nine year old and as a twenty-two year old were the problem.  I needed to let go and just enjoy the ride.  Stop over analyzing things and just approach the films with a youthful exuberance… find that inner child that still longed to escape to that far away galaxy and embrace it.

I have carried that attitude since that day I rediscovered my fandom, and what’s even better is that for the past 15 years or so I’ve been able to enjoy my kids’ experience with Star Wars, and have gotten to see the Saga in a whole new light as I watched it through their eyes.  So I don’t get worked up about the comic antics of Jar Jar Binks; my kids loved him.  He was no more silly than some of C-3POs prissy histrionics, or R2s prat falls, or the belch jokes from Empire and Jedi.  I take it all in stride now…

Star Wars is epic story telling with weighty themes, but it is also filled with moments of whimsy.  While there are certainly darker moments that may appeal to older audiences those same moments speak to the fears and concerns of children.  What if I make a bad decision? How do I know good from bad? What is my destiny?  While I may be an older fan now, when I finally came to the realization that I was a fan of a series of children’s movies I became a much happier fan.

So, I’d like to thank the crew at Full of Sith for their thoughtful discussion.  It really brought back a lot of memories, and rekindled memories about what made me the fan I am today.  Hopefully this entry gives my readers a better understanding of how I approach Star Wars as a fan.  There’s a reason I decided to call my blog One Saga, and that was to cement the idea that I view all of Star Wars as one giant tapestry that is part of George’s universe, but he has allowed fans and professionals to add to that tapestry and expand the richness of the Star Wars experience.  Call it the optimist in me, but I hope one day we can move beyond the labels of OT-fan, PT-fan, or EU-fan, and can simply be known as Star Wars fans.

May the Force Be With You

Canon Wars

Expanded Universe1This past April, Lucasfilm announced, via the Official Star Wars website, that going forward, only the six films of George Lucas’ Star Wars Saga, and The Clone Wars television series would be counted as official canon (meaning they are a part of official Star Wars history).  Additionally, all future comics, books, short stories, television projects, and films would now be part of a cohesive whole and conform to that canon.  They also established that all books and comics previously released would now carry the moniker of “Legend” status, and would no longer be considered any part of Star Wars lore.  Lucasfilm was free to use characters, ideas, and stories from those releases for future projects, but from the perspective of the new Star Wars Story Group (responsible for shepherding the Saga going forward), these stories were now apocryphal.

The news was met by fans with a mixture of ambivalence, elation, shock, and horror depending on what side of the Expanded Universe as canon argument you fell on.  Some within fandom saw the announcement as a good thing, giving Lucasfilm and Disney a fresh start to tell new stories without the baggage of previously established stories.  Others saw the announcement as the ultimate betrayal of fans of the Expanded Universe who had loyally followed their favorite characters through hundreds of adventures told in books and comics, and were now being dumped on their heads.Star Wars #7

What became known as the Star Wars Expanded Universe (meaning stories told outside of the movies) began with issue #7 of the Marvel Comics Star Wars series which began to tell stories of what took place to our heoric Star Warriors following the Battle of Yavin.  1978 saw the release of the first spin off novel, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, which was followed shortly by a series of Han Solo novels written by Brain Daley.  A series of Lando Calrissian novels came later after the release of The Empire Strikes Back.

Guide to Star WarsAt the time there was really no need to consider the continuity between the novels and the comics since there were only a handful of stand alone novels which had no bearing on what Marvel was doing with the comics.  However, in 1984, following the conclusion of the Original Trilogy, author Raymond L. Velasco tried to put all of the information collected in the films, novels, and comics into one guide book of the Star Wars Universe.  A Guide to the Star Wars Universe was the first attempt to gather the history, people, and places of that far away galaxy in one place.  But the universe was about to explode in 1987.

For the 10th Anniversary of Star Wars roleplaying design company, West End Games, released the 1st Edition of their Star Wars Roleplaying Game, along with the Star Wars Sourcebook.  The era of the Expanded Universe was born.  In the years that followed West End released books revealing the inner working of the Empire, the Rebel Alliance, and the aliens and planets that made up the universe.  The game became an instant hit with gamers and non gamers, and the Star Wars sourcebooks that were released became required reading for serious fans.  WEG - Star Wars Sourcebook

However, 1991 would go down as probably the most important year in the history of the Expanded Universe with two seminal releases that would change how Star Wars stories were marketed and revive the series among the general public.  Heir to the Empire, written by science fiction author Timothy Zahn, to the story of Han, Luke, and Leia years after their victory at the Battle of Endor.  A New Republic had emerged, and the Star Warriors were once again called to protect the universe from the Empire, under the direction of the evil  Grand Admiral Thrawn.  The book became an instant bestseller, and sparked a wave of more adult novels.  Meanwhile, later that year, Dark Horse Comics secured the Star Wars license and launched their own post-Jedi story, Dark Empire, which saw Luke Skywalker taking on a resurrected clone Emperor Palpatine.  The six issue miniseries (which was originally intended as a Marvel release) became Dark Horse’s best selling title to date, and Dark Horse immediately commissioned new comic titles.

For the next 20 years both Dark Horse and Bantam/Del Rey books released hundreds of stories which all became part of a larger Star Wars experience known as the Expanded Universe.  Lucasfilm tried to keep it all under control ensuring that continuity was maintained between various comics, novels and video games.  Eventually, the company attempted to set some firm rules about what constituted official Star Wars lore, and what was part of the Expanded Universe’s continuity.  Lucasfilm devised a muti-tiered program with the movies, and later The Clone Wars television series being called “G-Level canon,” meaning official Star Wars canon coming directly from creator George Lucas. Comics, most novels, and video games became a separate part of the Expanded Universe’s continuity and were intended not to conflict with each other.  Finally, other projects like The Star Wars Holiday Special, the Ewoks movies and cartoon series, the Droids animated show, and other projects were their own animal.

Zhan Trilogy

The two main continuity lines appeared to live together, but separate for a number of years, rarely intersecting or conflicting with each other.  However, that began to change as The Clone Wars animated series began to explore ideas and characters that creator George Lucas was interested in. Of course with hundreds of books, comics, and short stories telling new adventures, or filling in gaps left by the movies there were bound to be contradictions.  The first big salvo was about to be fired over the backstory of the Mandalorians.Mandalore

Lucas first devised the name Mandalorian when working on The Empire Strikes Back. According to the novelization they were a group of super commandos who hunted down the Jedi Knights.  Following the release of Jedi, it did not appear that Lucas would be revisiting Boba Fett’s backstory, or the history of the Mandalorians, so comic authors and novelists felt safe digging into the mysteries of Boba Fett and the Mandalorian people.  That changed with Attack of the Clones when Lucas first revealed the origins of Boba Fett and his bounty hunter father, Jango Fett.

Following that film’s release, author Karen Traviss authored a series of Clone Trooper books which went into great detail about the Mandalorians, their culture, history, and language.  Her writing on the subject was so in depth that it gave rise to a subculture of the Star Wars fanbase that was dedicated to all things Mando.  Unfortunately, the reality of Star Wars canon and what was considered the “real” history of Star Wars would be at odds with Traviss’ work when Lucas decided it was time to visit Mandalore itself in The Clone Wars.  Instead of a noble warrior culture as Traviss envisioned, Lucas saw Mandalore as a pacifist world that had turned its back on its warrior past and was trying to find peace in a galaxy at war.  In a three-part arc, the current ruler of Mandalore, the Duchess Satine, is trying to quell a rebellion by Death Watch, descendants of the Mandalorian warriors, while trying to keep her homeworld out of the Clone Wars.

SatineNeedless to say, the reaction among fans of Traviss’ Mandalorians was extremely negative.  Some accused Lucas of violating canon and implied that Traviss had created the “official” history of the Mando culture.  Others suggested Lucas was nothing more than a hack, strip mining Traviss’ good ideas, while injecting his own “crappy” ones.  It was at this point that I realized that Lucasfilm was simply in an untenable position.

George Lucas has always been very clear what constitutes official Star Wars canon, and what is considered “part” of the Star Wars universe, but outside of his Saga:

There are two worlds here. There’s my world, which is the movies, and there’s this other world that has been created, which I say is the parallel universe—the licensing world of the books, games and comic books. They don’t intrude on my world, which is a select period of time, [but] they do intrude in between the movies. I don’t get too involved in the parallel universe.” George Lucas Cinemascape, July 2001

Unfortunately the same can’t be said of Lucasilm’s representatives who muddied the waters with statements like this:

We’ve stuck to a very clear branding strategy for the past decade. This is Star Wars. Individual movies come and go, as do TV shows, video games, books. They all contribute to the lore of Star Wars, but in the end it is one saga and that saga is called Star Wars. We’ve wanted to send a clear message to our fans that everything we do is part of that overall saga.”  Howard Roffman, President, Lucas LicensingTales of the Jedi

Lucas Licensing Editor Sue Rostoni tried to elaborate on this, but only added to the confusion:

Canon refers to an authoritative list of books that the Lucas Licensing editors consider an authentic part of the official Star Wars history. Our goal is to present a continuous and unified history of the Star Wars galaxy, insofar as that history does not conflict with, or undermine the meaning of Mr. Lucas’ Star Wars saga of films and screenplays.

Long time fan and contributor to Lucas Online, Pablo Hidalgo and and Lucasfilm Continuity Database Administrator, Leland Chee were tasked with getting the Star Wars licensing behemoth under some sense of structured order.  They made it clear that there were essentially two hierarchies of Star Wars canon; George’s vision of the Star Wars Saga which included his films and The Clone Wars, and and Expanded Universe canon which included the six films. The Clone Wars, and the comics and novels.  Chee further clarified that the only “official” Star Wars story was George’s:

“Anything not in the current version of the films is irrelevant to Film only continuity.

Of course fans would continue to bicker endlessly  about canon and the Expanded Universe’s place in the Star Wars legend.  Some argued that The Clone Wars was not canon, others devised their own hybrid canon including some portions of the EU as part of the “official” Star Wars story.  However, the Disney purchase of the Star Wars license changed everything.

Finally, a definitive answer was given when Lucasfilm announced that going forward all comics, books, and stories would now be part of the official Star Wars timeline and would be supervised by the new Star Wars Story Group.  All Expanded Universe products released in the past would be rebranded as “Legends,” apocryphal stories that were no longer considered canon.  However, Lucasfilm reserved the right to use elements of the old EU in future Star Wars projects.  This outstanding video explains the policy changes:

Unfortunately this announcement was met by a lot of push back.  Fans had become attached to many EU characters like Luke Skywalker’s wife, Mara Jade, or Han and Leia’s children, Jacen, Jaina, and Anakin Solo. Other fans were immersed in the ancient history of Star Wars told in the Old Republic series.  The EU was a rich and diverse universe with many memorable characters of its own, and suddenly being told that these stories “don’t count” had to be a little jarring.  Naturally there was bound to be some disappointment, but some fans took things to a bit of an extreme.

New Jedi OrderFrom my own point of view, I’m happy with the change.  I never really viewed the hundreds of comics and books as having any impact on the stories George Lucas was trying to tell.  I never once considered him sitting down to write the treatment for Episode VII, then reading a copy of  Heir to the Empire and quietly saying to himself, “Dammit, Han and Leia have twins? What am I going to do?” As a long time Star Trek fan who read the comics and most of the novels during the 80s, I was intimately familiar with the concept of canon and ancillary merchandising.

I guess my backgound in film studies helped me grasp the idea that while all of these new characters and adventures can be exciting, in the grand scheme of things they really don’t amount to much to the filmmaker and his creative process; they are nothing more than a revenue stream.  I know it’s a somewhat cynical attitude, but it’s true.  I doubt in the 30 plus years that Lucas controlled the Star Wars empire that he ever cracked open a Star Wars novel or seriously read one of the many comic series.  He simply did not have time for that.

Over the years the sheer volume of books coming out from Bantam/Del Rey had led to a very spotty track record.  For every Kenobi, or I, Jedi, or Allegiance, there were a handful of books which were painful to read.  Concepts like the Yuzzan Vong, a clear attempt to cash in on the Star Trek Borg craze fell flat, and simply didn’t feel much like Star Wars.  Lengthy book series like The New Jedi Order, Legacy of the Force, and Fate of the Jedi were mix of good and awful novels which tested the reader’s patience.Kenobi

Now to be clear, I’m a huge fan of many of the Star Wars novels (I consider John Jackson Miller’s Kenobi to be one of the finest Star Wars stories ever), and I’ve read every issue of the comics produced by Marvel and Dark Horse.  If you even dare to visit the Jedi Council Forums at theforce.net you can find me there posting as Gallandro (a nod to Han Solo’s nemesis, the villainous gunslinger created by Brian Daley).  I LOVE a lot of the EU, but it was time for a change…

And I understand that change is hard; I really sympathize with EU fans who feel betrayed by Lucasfilm/Disney.  There are a lot of fans out there who were introduced to Star Wars through the EU, so these stories hold a special place for them.  To them Jaina Solo is just a vibrant and real as Luke and Leia.  But the reality is these characters aren’t going anywhere, as long as you stay invested in them.  Sure there wont be any new licensed adventures featuring the heroes and villains of the EU, but its clear they are not being totally abandoned.  Del Rey is re-releasing many of the classic EU novels with the new “Legends” banner, and even Marvel will be releasing collections of selected series of Dark Horse Star Wars comics as part of the “Legends” series.  There’s no reason EU fans can’t introduce other Star Wars fans, or non fans to many of these classic stories.  The EU hasn’t gone anywhere… it’s just taking a different path.

A New DawnI would urge any EU fans out there who have given up on the new continuity to give it a chance.  The first official novel released under the new canon, A New Dawn, by longtime Star Wars author John Jackson Miller is an outstanding book (I’ll post a review soon) and a worthy successor to the long line of EU classics.  James Luceno’s Tarkin has also been receiving great advanced reviews. Additionally, a couple of the upcoming Marvel comics sound intriguing like the Kanan spin off comic and the upcoming Leia miniseries.

While the era of the Star Wars Expanded Universe has come to a close, there appears to be a bright future ahead for quality books and comics that fans can enjoy while we wait for the latest big screen Star Wars adventure.

May the Force Be With You