The Force Awakens Teaser Observations – Themes & Other Observations (Spoilerish)

Force Awakens

NOTE:  There could be SPOILERS ahead, but this is largely my speculation, so be warned:

Another day, another watching the Star Wars: The Force Awakens teaser trailer another dozen times.  The trailer has really started to grow on me with each subsequent viewing, especially as I started to analyze what the trailer is telling us about the state of the galaxy, and delve a little deeper into thematic elements revealed in this brief 88 second preview.

1. John Boyega – Hero On the Run

As the trailer opens we reveal the desert sands of Tatooine (I don’t buy for one minute that we are going to be introduced to yet ANOTHER desert planet), as ominous music rises and a menacing voice says: “There’s been an awakening… Have you felt it?”  Suddenly, Boyega jumps up in distress, clearly disheveled, and on the run.

WP4Phone_20141129090218One of the reasons I believe this is a revisit to Tatooine is that like many legends, and a number of the world’s major religions, they are all born out of the wilderness; or the desert to be more specific.  In the Star Wars universe, Tatooine is that vast wilderness in which our myth finds its genesis.  The story of Anakin, and later his son Luke, all originate from the desert wastlands of that planet that is farthest from the “bright center” of the universe.  So once again, our hero will emerge from the wilderness to take on his/her task.

I also believe there is a specific reason John Boyega is the first person we meet in the trailer; it will be his “Hero’s Journey” we follow throughout the Sequel Trilogy.  Somehow the Force has chosen to return through him.  As we’ve seen in both the Prequel Trilogy and The Clone Wars, the Force is not simple some inert energy field surrounding all living things which is passive and is simply a tool to be used by someone with a connection to the Force.  It is in fact an active agent; a sentient thing with its own will which it reveals to those who are willing to listen.

Mark HamillSomewhere in the galaxy there is a growing malevolence, as our dire narrator reveals later in the teaser; so it is very like the Force is calling out for a champion to restore balance to the Force once again.  This of course begs the question, where is Luke, the Jedi who restored balance to the Force?  As I speculated in an earlier piece, I believe Luke probably came to some realization that the Jedi way, while noble in its goals, was not necessarily the right way.  The Jedi taught that attachment was forbidden, but Luke’s unconditional love for his father, which is an attachment, ultimately saved the universe.  So clearly, something about the Jedi Code as we know it is amiss.

I never once bought the Expanded Universe notion that Luke would immediately set out to recreate the Jedi Order we saw in the Prequels; he would want to do something different.  Even after Jedi (back when we thought the Empire was destroyed), I wondered if Luke would be more like Sanjuro Kuwabatake, the ronin Samurai we saw in Akira Kurosawa’s classic films Yojimbo and Sanjuro, dispensing justice and defending freedom throughout the galaxy.  He would probably pass on that knowledge to another, like his sister, but would be looking to the galaxy at large, standing up to evil wherever he finds it.  Maybe this is the reason Luke is largely absent during this 30 year period of civil war; there are other injustices in the universe to be fought than a seemingly never ending war.  But this raises more questions…

2.  The Dark Side – They Always Have the Coolest Lightsabers:  

WP4Phone_20141129104649Who exactly is the hooded figure with his red bladed lighsaber longsword (affectionately called “Excalisaber” by Lazy Padawan).  Could he be a fallen pupil of Luke’s? We’ve established in The Clone Wars that there is no life after death for the Sith.  So this is not some resurrected Sith Lord, and if Luke is the last of the Jedi, and the Sith were destroyed in Return of the Jedi, then Luke has to be the catalyst for bringing about the reemergence of the Dark Side in some way.

This of course makes for some classic mythological storytelling, recalling the story of Lucifer and his expulsion from Heaven,  Maybe this dark agent is the son of Luke who has chosen another path, once again echoing the fall of Anakin, but in this case it would be the father who redeems the son.  There are many exciting story telling possibilities here which completely fit in with the type of modern myth George Lucas was trying to tell.

And while I was fairly ambivalent about the villain’s new lightsaber with its mini-saber cross guards, the design has really grown on me in the last few days when I view it in the context of a larger story.  The design is a call back to the classic broadswords/longswords prevalent in Medieval lore.  While Lazy Padawan jokingly referred to it as “Excalisaber” the name is very appropriate.  The sight of the red blade igniting in a wintery forest setting evokes images of knights and castles… a feeling of something ancient; something that was lost to the mists of history, but has been found again.  This Black Knight lies in wait, ready to pounce on our heroes, armed with his sword imbued with the power of some dark magic.  It’s a great visual which really works in the Star Wars setting.

3.  Daisy Ridley… Luke Skywalker was once a girl:  

Luke girlI really love the design aesthetic of Daisy Ridley’s character as it very reminiscent of early Ralph McQuarrie designs for Luke, back when George Lucas was toying with the idea of making his lead a young woman. Daisy jumps on her speeder bike in an outfit which closely resembles some early production paintings, right down to her riding goggles.

What I really love about this sequence is the determined look on her face, and this feeling I get that she is one who is quick to action.  Whether or not she is the child of Han and Leia, I think she serves a similar role as Han, and both literally and figuratively drives John Boyega’s character into the fray, and really kick starts his Hero Journey.

WP4Phone_20141129090235I really do hope she turns out to be Han and Leia’s kid, but even if she’s not she will be a crucial player in the events of the Sequel Trilogy.  But I appreciate the efforts of Abrams and Kennedy to go back and use some of McQuarrie’s discarded designs for inspiration.  To me McQuarrie, John Barry, Norman Reynolds, and Joe Johnston were the key figures who created the visual language of the Saga from a production level.  Their work inspired and informed the work of Gavin Bocquet, Doug Chiang , and Iain McCaig for the Prequel trilogy.

4. Music – How Could I Forget John Williams

One of the aspects of the teaser trailer I forgot to mention in my previous reports was John Williams brilliant music.  There are some wonderful new bits of music for the first minute of the trailer before a new re-recording of the Star Wars theme takes over.  it’s a very interesting mix of an older Williams style from the 70s mixed with a more familiar sound from Williams work over the past two decades.

WilliamsThe trailer begins with dissonant strings playing as we look at the Tatooine skyline.  The piece sounds very similar to a short bit of music he wrote for Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Special Edition during the Gobi Desert sequence.  Then we cut directly into the action with a very busty bit of music which felt like an action piece from the Prequels.  The tone takes an ominous turn with the appearance of our villain.  The Falcon and the Star Wars Main Theme bring us home to a rousing conclusion.

While it was just a short snippet of music, Williams once again demonstrates that his compositions for the Saga are almost like a character unto itself.  It’s the Greek Chorus, informing us how we should feel as an audience, who we should fear, and who we should cheer for.  He has built an enduring legacy with the Saga, and the film composers who take up the baton from this music icon for the spin off films, and future episodes of the Saga will be hard pressed to fill the enormous void his absence will leave.

Overview: That should about wrap it up for my analysis of the trailer for now.  I may take another analytical look as more information about the film is revealed, but for now, until we get a full blown teaser trailer, I’ll just be satisfied watching this teaser a few more times.

May the Force Be With You

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The Force Awakens Teaser Observations – 24 Hours Later

So, like most fans I’ve watched the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens teaser trailer a few dozen times, and I’ve had a full day to process my thoughts about it.  I really enjoy the trailer overall, but there are aspects I’m somewhat ambivalent about.  In retrospect, it’s a nice trailer which generates interest in the film, but I didn’t find particularly earth shattering, or game changing as some fans have called it.  Frankly I found the teaser trailer for Jurassic World a much better tease and definitely has me hyped to see it opening day.  However, there are some really interesting aspects about the trailer I wanted to delve into a little bit closer. So strap yourself in, cause here we go!!!

1. Cinematography:  I’ve always been a fan of the look of J.J. Abrams films.  Sure, he uses shaky cam from time to time, and the lens flares can be a bit much, but his visual style has always been rooted in a Spielberg look (e.g., Super 8) mixed with some modern techniques (e.g., Alias pilot, Mission Impossible III).  I figured  he would stick to a visual style more closely resembling what Lucas, Kershner, and Marquand established in the 6 films of the Star Wars Saga, but there were a couple of shots that really stood out like a sore thumb and bothered me quite a bit.

For example, the first shot we see is a desert skyline; fine looks great.  Then one of our heroes, played by John Boyega, jumps up into frame… no problem.  However, my big problem comes specifically from the lighting of the shot; it is extremely flat, and lacks any depth of field.  For a brief moment I thought someone was pulling a fast one and this was a fan made trailer as it looks like a shot someone had taken with their home video camera.  It’s ironic that Abrams constructed a shot that is so flat it almost looks like it was shot on video, while both Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith were in fact shot on video and never looked like they were.

My other problem comes from the Stormtrooper landing sequence, as Abrams returns to form and makes generous use of shaky cam and a modern blue hue which is commonly found in horror films (he made ample use of this in Super 8).  My problem with both of these is they simply do not fit the visual language of the other six films.  There’s certainly room for creative interpretation in the Saga.  For example, Peter Suschitzky’s camera and lighting work look significantly different than Gil Taylor’s work in A New Hope, or Alec Mills’ in Jedi, but there is still a consistency that looks and feels like the preceding films in the Saga.  However, this is a fairly drastic change.

One could argue that the films need a different look for a different time, and that’s true to a point, but when the films are numerical and are chapters of a continuing story, there should be an effort made to keep the look and style consistent.  If you want to hire Paul Greengrass to make a total shaky cam, documentary film about Clone Commandos in a spin off film, then fine.  The spin offs are certainly an arena where directors should be allowed stretch and see what they can do with the Star Wars genre, but I firmly believe the “Skywalker Saga” should have a consistent approach.  Again, there’s room to explore, and the remaining shots in the trailer look like they came from a traditional Star Wars film, so it may just be this one sequence.

2. Ball Droid:  I love ball droid, or ME-551 as I call him (HINT: change the 5’s into the letter they look like… you’re welcome futbol fan).  He’s adorable, cute, and strange like a lot of Star Wars characters.  I found it extremely amusing that a lot of “fans” who have bemoaned George Lucas adding cute or childish elements to the Saga, had no problem with this droid.  He’s literally a soccer ball with a mini R2 dome attached, and makes all the cute little beeps, moans, and whistles that we’ve grown accustomed to from droids.

Of course some of these fans argued that cute wasn’t part of Star Wars before Jedi and those insufferable Ewoks.  I guess I must have been imagining things when I saw mouse droid in A New Hope, the little bat guy squeal for his drink in the cantina, or watched Chewie cower in fear like a dog after escaping the garbage masher and hear the screams of the Dianoga.  Those scenes all struck me as “cute.”  But what about the fart and poo jokes in Phantom Menace, Yancy?  Well we had belch jokes in both Empire and Jedi, and a cute little fight scene between a little droid and an annoying diminutive green Muppet; so excuse me if I’m not offended by more childish humor in my Star Wars films.  Get over it; cute has always been a part of Star Wars.

3. Daisy Ridley:  I know almost nothing about this character, besides what I’ve read on various spoiler sites, but I love the design of her clothing, her speeder bike, and I love Ridley’s determined look in her brief moment on the screen.  I know I’m going to love Kira (or whatever her name turns out to be), and despite what some rumors are reporting, I have a suspicion she’s Han and Leia’s kid.  She has that same kind of feisty Leia Organa/Padme Amidala vibe to her, and I cannot wait to see Ridley’s performance on the big screen.

The other big stand out moment during this sequence was the reveal of her speeder bike.  It has a great lived in universe look, and feels like something you might find in Mose Eisley, or racing down the streets of Mos Espa (from Episode 1).  It’s a terrific design that looks like one part souped up speeder bike, and one part Magnum Ice Cream bar.

4.  Sith Guy and His Lightsaber Broadsword: 

I really like the look and feel of this entire sequence.  Our Dark Side villain moves in a very stealthy yet aggressive manner as if he were hunting prey.  In a very dynamic shot we follow him/her through a snowy forest, when suddenly the lightsaber is ignited.  It’s a very cool moment that works especially well with the dire sounding narration.  The look of the saber is cool, but I will have to agree with critics that it appears to be fairly impractical.

Ultimately I really have no problem with the design as it’s meant more for visual impact than anything else… after all these are fantasy laser swords we are talking about.  So I’m more than willing to suspend my disbelief here. Even if those little cross guards really would serve no function in “real life” they could make a handy bottle or letter openers

5. CGI… everywhere: 

So we heard a lot of hoopla going into this production that the new Star Wars film was going to be made using “old school” techniques, with less CGI.  Practical sets and miniatures were the new norm (as if the Prequels didn’t use these), and the film might even use stop motion in one scene.  Older fans were all aflutter as they apparently believed that the page was being turned on the CGI-fest of the Prequel Trilogy era, and we were entering a new phase where model makers were going to lovingly craft models (which they did for the Prequels by the way), and use motion control cameras to create shots in camera (they did this in the PTs too) in front of a green screen.  Well the trailer unveils, and what do you know… CGI everywhere.

Ball droid.. yup CGI.  Beautiful X-Wing fighter shot… most of that was constructed in a computer. The glorious, over the top Millennium Falcon flyby… yup, that’s CGI too.  Obviously a model of the Falcon was used, but it was (like most of the PT models) scanned and turned into a computer model enabling FX artists to create much more complex and elaborate effects shots than was possible before.  If any fan honestly believed they were going totally “old school” and would not use the tools available to effects artists today, then you were dreaming.  Industrial Light and Magic is going to use every tool and technique at their disposal whether it’s “old school” or newer CG advances.  Lucasfilm is banking everything on this film, and will leave nothing to chance.

Overview: Reflecting on the trailer after 24 hours has not really changed my opinion.  The Force Awakens is a solid teaser trailer, but I would hesitate to call it spectacular.  There are some terrific moments, but there are also areas that raise concerns for me.  To me this trailer feels more like a preview of a teser, almost like the web exclusive “Breathing” teaser for Attack of the Clones. Hopefully, by the time we get to Celebration a proper teaser will be unveiled that will give us more to sink our teeth into.

May the Force Be With You
 

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

For Your Listening Pleasure… Podcasts

I really enjoy Star Wars podcasts.  I love the discussion, the exchange of ideas, and hearing the latest news about the Saga.  I commute back and forth from work on the bus, and I usually have some time to myself to listen to a show.

I’ve collected a list of some of my favorite programs.  So what are you waiting for?

 

 

RebelForceRebel Force Radio is the grandaddy of Star Wars podcast.  It’s an extremely professional show thanks to production work of co-host Jimmy Mac, and moderation by co-host Jason Swank.  They originally started off as part of the podcasting arm of TheForce.net before launching their own venture with Shotglass Digital.  Great discussion and great interviews with Star Wars insiders.

 

 

 

 

Now this is podcastingJason Ward and the gang at Making Star Wars host this entertaining weekly show.  The vibe is casual and the crew keeps the mood light as they analyze the week in Star Wars news and discuss the latest spoilers.  Just a fun romp through the Star Wars universe.

 

 

 

 

coffee with kenobiCoffee With Kenobi has quickly become one of my favorite podcasts.  Co-hosts Cory Clubb and Dan Zher do a great job dissecting and discussing the broader themes of the Saga in a very down to earth way.  Lots of great topics, and you’ll probably come away with a deeper appreciation of the Saga.  As their tagline says: This IS the podcast you’re looking for…

 

 

 

 

Order66If you are a fan of Fantasy Flight Games’ series of Star Wars roleplaying games, then this is your one stop for discussion, game ideas, and interviews with FFG staff.  GM Phil and GM Dave do a great job hosting this entertaining podcast.

 

 

 

 

WeeklyForceCastLogoThe Weekly Force Cast is one of the longest running shows on the web and is the flagship show of TheForce.net and Rebelscum.com.  Hosts Eric Blythe and Eric Geller are solid moderators and run a tight show filled with news, reviews, and spoiler discussion.

 

 

 

 

Full of SithA great show hosted by longtime podcaster Mike Pilot, megafan and professional author, Bryan Young, and Media Marketing Manager of the Rancho Obi-Wan museum, Consetta Parker.  The gang engages in lively discussion and thoughful analysis about all things Star Wars.

 

 

 

 

Honestly, you can’t go wrong with any one of these shows…

 

May the Force Be With You