Ultimate Star Wars – An Encyclopedia For a New Era

Star Wars Hits the Reset

Ultimate Star WarsSince the Star Wars Saga first hit screens, fans have clamored for more and more information about their favorite space fantasy universe. In 1984, Raymond L. Velasco wrote the first Guide to the Star Wars Universe which attempted to detail many of the characters, aliens, and vehicles which were part of the universe; this guide was followed up with two subsequent editions.  Later, Star Wars super collector, author, and one time Director of Fan Relations, Steve Sansweet took up the task of compiling the first Star Wars Encyclopedia which would cover not only the movies, but the massive amount of books, games, and comics that were now part of the rapidly expanding Star Wars Expanded Universe (EU).  The subsequent release of the Prequel Trilogy and even more materials in the EU called for yet another update to the Encyclopedia.  The result was a massive three tome volume which detail everything from Amee to Hoojibs to Darth Revan; if you read about it in a comic, a book, or saw it in the movies, or on Clone Wars, there was a good chance it was in this book.

EncyclopediaWith the 2012 purchase of Star Wars by Disney that was all about to change as Lucasfilm and Disney needed to wrestle control of the massive beast the Expanded Universe had become and decided once and for all, what constituted canon in the Star Wars universe.  What was officially part of the Star Wars lore, and what was not going forward?  That controversial decision was made in 2014 with the announcement that going forward, only the six films of the Saga, and The Clone Wars series were considered the official history of the universe.  Also going forward, all comics, books would be going through the Star Wars Story Group and as a result would be considered canon as well.

To kick off this new era of Star Wars, Lucasfilm enlisted long time Star Wars writers, Ryder Windham, Daniel Wallace, and Adam Bray , along with megafan, blogger, podcaster, and frequent contributor to Star Wars Insider and the Official Site, Tricia Barr assemble a new Star Wars encyclopedia for this new era of Star Wars.

The results are glorious…

Chock Full of Star Wars Goodness

pagesUltimate Star Wars comes in at a sizable 320 pages, beautifully hard bound with a very nice forward by Anthony Daniels (C-3PO).  Every page is densely packed with information about characters, places, vehicles, aliens and creatures from the Star Wars Saga.  Some entries are fairly detailed with some great information for both new fans, as well as veterans of the Saga.  The layout of the entries is extremely organized and easy on the eyes.

The book is extremely well written, and you can tell the authors put a great deal of care and thought into what they were putting down on the page.  This is not some mere quick cash grab, Ultimate Star Wars is a lovingly crafted introduction into the Star Wars universe penned by writers who truly care.  While I’ve leafed through most of the pages and read quite a few of the entries, there is so much information packed inside, I know I will need a few read throughs to pick up on all of the little hints and secrets the authors peppered throughout the book.  There’s certainly enough information to keep the most avid Star Wars fan entertained for weeks,.

Since this book’s source is the Star Wars Story Group, all of the information contained within is considered Star Wars canon.  The nice thing about this release is it finally puts to bed some of the nonsensical rumors started by Lucas and Prequel bashers that Disney was going to retcon a lot of the Star Wars stories and characters from the Prequel Trilogy.  The most frequent rumors swirled around the origins of bounty hunter Boba Fett.

BobaSome fans simply refused to accept the origin story of their favorite villain; that he was the clone “son” of bounty hunter Jango Fett, and he had grudge against the Jedi for the murder of his father at the hands of Jedi Master Mace Windu.  They wanted Boba Fett to be this mysterious figure, a lone gunman in the lawless west of the Star Wars universe, conveniently ignoring the fact that Boba’s origin, as told by Lucas, is quintessentially Western… gunslinger/bounty hunter father gunned down by the law; son vows revenge against the law and takes up his father’s profession.  Thankfully Boba Fett’s entry in Ultimate Star Wars puts that argument to rest forever… Boba Fett is STILL the clone son of Jango Fett.  However, his fate in the belly of the Sarlacc is still left a little open ended for his potential return.

For those who are shaking their fists to the heavens in rage, I hate to break it to you but there are other surprises in store for you…

Quibbles… Master Evan Piell Is a Zabrak???

Master PiellI have a few minor nerdy quibbles with the book, but they certainly didn’t distract me from my overall enjoyment of Ultimate Star Wars.  The first main hiccup is a few errors have made their way into the text, the biggest culprit being the entry of Jedi Master Even Piell from Phantom Menace and featured prominently in an arc of The Clone Wars.  His entry incorrectly identifies his race as Zabrak when in fact he is a Lannik; yes a goof, but this book has been described as the first official encyclopedic Star Wars resource, it could cause confusion in fandom.  Hopefully future printings will correct these errors or they can be revised in a later edition.

And speaking of The Clone Wars I was a little dismayed at the number of pages dedicated to that show and time period.  In total The Clone Wars accounts for about 25 pages worth of entries, but when you consider over 50 plus hours of storytelling was dedicated to that show compared to the movies, I would have to imagine there’s a lot more information that could have been included.  However, to be fair the Clone Wars entires are outstanding and have some little nuggets of information that were not previously revealed, such as the identity of Padawan Ahsoka Tano’s homeworld.

Finally, my biggest gripe is probably the publisher’s decision to release the book when they did.  The book contains almost no references to the current line of Marvel comics which are canon, there are only vague hints from the new novels, and there’s little in the way of hints about the state of the galaxy during The Force Awakens.  Additionally, there are a number of timelines included in the book, but again they are also very vague, no doubt leaving a lot of wiggle room for for future writers and storytellers to be able to come up with engaging adventures that fit within the new canon.  Taking all of this into account I really have to wonder if this release might have been better served happening closer to the release of The Force Awakens, or maybe shortly after it so more information coming from the spin off comics and books could have been included in the release.  Hopefully this book will either be regularly updated, or might have supplementary books released when there’s enough new information to warrant it.

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Yancy, Is It Worth It?

To quote that great fount of wisdom, Napoleon Dynamite: “Heck yeah!!!”

This really is a Star Wars book for everyone.  If you’re new to the Saga, it’s a great primer on the characters, vehicles, aliens, and events surrounding the entire Star Wars Saga to date.  If you are a longtime fan, the first official Star Wars canon encyclopedia is a must.  The presentation is simple gorgeous, and like most of DK Publishing’s Star Wars work, they have been given full access to the Lucasfilm archives, and as a result Ultimate Star Wars is filled with beautiful pictures of costumes, props, and models from the Saga.  Additionally, the writing is outstanding and there are some very informative, and even poignant sidebars (“Anakin’s Choice” in particular comes to mind).

Ultimate Star Wars is a great resource for any fan looking for official information about their favorite characters, starships, gadgets, or aliens from that galaxy far, far away, and it even included a few surprises along the way for me.  So run, don’t walk to your local retail bookstore, or you can find some super deals online.  This is the first must have resource for any Star Wars fanatic.

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Star Wars The Digital Movie Collection – Quick Review

Digital Movie CollectionFor months there had been growing speculation across social media that Star Wars was finally going to make the leap to digital distribution, and be available as a video download.  In fact Kenner recently announced are series of box collections of action figures called the Star Wars Digital Release Commemorative Editions which all but confirmed the release.  Rumors also began to percolate that Disney was taking the Original Trilogy and restoring the films to their pre-Special Edition versions in spite of ample evidence this was not going to be the case.

Finally, about a week before Star Wars Celebration Anaheim, Star Wars The Digital Movie Collection arrived.  After some waffling about whether to buy the release I decided to make the plunge.

So here’s a short review for those that may be considering the purchase:

The Movies:  Contrary to what the Lucas bashers thought these are not new transfers of the film with restored versions of the Original Trilogy.  These are in fact the same transfers from Lowry Digital that were  authorized by Lucas himself for the 2011 blu-ray release.  So if you hate blinking Ewok eyes, Vader’s new “Nooooo,” Han and Greedo shooting simultaneously then this probably isn’t the release for you.  However if you are, like most Star Wars fans, looking for a solid transfer of all six films that you can watch in glorious high definition on your phone, tablet, PC, or gaming device, then this is the release you’e been waiting for.

ANHThe transfers are very good.  Sure there’s the occasional hiccup like Vader’s lightsaber having an overly pinkish hue at times, and Phantom Menace has clearly had Digital Noise Reduction applied to it, but the films have never looked better.  What really surprised me was how well the detail of the image held up via streaming.  The compression used on this release is quite good, and there’s very little artificial noise in the image.  You of course also have the option to download to play directly on your device (I’ve not tried this option).  Sound of course is outstanding as you would expect in a Lucasfilm release.

One interesting tidbit though; this release portends a major change in the Saga going forward.  Gone are the familiar strains of the 20th Century Fox drumroll and fanfare which would introduce each of the films.  Obviously that was going to change going forward for the new films, but what Disney has done however is cobble together a fanfare from the closing credits of The Empire Strikes Back to introduce five of the six films.  A New Hope is still owned by Fox, and for now, will be in perpetuity unless a deal is reached by Disney.  SO the original Star Wars begins with its usual refrain, which I actually found a little odd after getting used to the change.  I suspect John Williams will either compose a new fanfare for Disney’s Star Wars films, or may re-orchestrate the piece from Empire so it flows more smoothly because as it is it’s rather abrupt.

NOTE:  This release is available through multiple video on demand services like Vudu, iTunes, Google Play, Xbox Video, and Amazon Instant Video.  However, be aware that due to rights issues, if you purchase the collection via the Disney Anywhere service, A New Hope is not included in the release so I would probably advise staying away from that service.

BonusBonus Features:   Each of the films also comes with a selection of bonus features.  Most of these are culled from the 2011 blu-ray release, and a handful were exclusive features on starwars.com.  However each movie comes with two short features entitled, Star Wars Discoveries From the Inside which highlight historical Star Wars treasures from the Lucasfilm vaults, and Star Wars: Conversations which feature Star Wars contributors discussing their experiences working on the Saga.  These new features are very good, unfortunately they are also very short.

As a whole the bonus features are a mixed bag.  For example the Prequel bonus features include only some of the deleted scenes completed by Lucas for the DVD release, and these are only presented in pillarboxed 480p which is a big letdown.  Additionally this release was an opportunity to possibly delve into some very good Star Wars documentaries which have never gotten a proper release such as From Star Wars to Jedi the Making of Ep1a Saga, and recent Emmy nominated Star Wars The Legacy Revealed.  Neither release is included, and instead we are presented with a hodgepodge of selections from the DVD and blu-ray releases.  However, let me be clear, it is a good selection, and it’s very nice that many of the Prequel Trilogy bonus features which were left out of the blu-ray release have been included.

Bottom Line:  While it is a nice convenience to have the entire Star Wars Saga available at the tip of one’s fingers via mobile devices, I’m not entirely sure this release warrants the $90 price tag.  The collection of bonus features is certainly a nice value, but there’s approximately only one hour of new bonus content, and while there was clearly some effort put into the new features, there’s nothing particularly revelatory or “new” here.  The bonus materials come across as a “best of” selection of features from the blu-ray set in addition to some starwars.com exclusives.  So for someone like me who has collected nearly every iteration of Star Wars on home video, there’s really not much to recommend about the release unless you are strictly looking at the purchase as a means to have Star Wars on the go, or a completist.  If that’s the case then I highly recommend the Star Wars Digital Collection.  It looks great and the quality of the HD presentation is very good compared to other digitalbonus 2 download movies; and of course like every Star Wars release the sound is top notch.

However, if you are someone who has yet to pick up the blu-ray release of the Saga, or has not made the jump into high definition for your HDTV, then I would definitely recommend this release.  Again, it’s a great presentation, and the bonus features are an extra plus for Star Wars fans who may still be holding on to their DVD collection.
Overall I’m happy with my purchase… sure I might have liked MORE bonus features, but what fan doesn’t.  but it’s nice to have the Saga available for those times I might be waiting in line, or on my lunch break, or away from home.  I’m sure my grandson will get plenty of enjoyment from this release so all in all it was a good buy!

Digital Collection

Star Wars – The Force Awakens Teaser Reaction

So Thursday kicked off the largest gathering of Star Wars fanatics this side of Mos Eisley… Star Wars Celebration.  To open the festivities, director J.J. Abrams, and executive producer Kathleen Kennedy hosted a Force Awakens panel complete with the stars of the films, as well as some behind the scenes people.  They finally concluded the event with what everyone had been waiting for… the new Star Wars The Force Awakens teaser trailer:

The internets went wild as Twitter feeds flooded with reactions to the two minute tease.  The general consensus seems to be overwhelming excitement… My reaction is a little more tempered.  While there are certainly some awesome elements, there are quite a few things that concern me.  Still I really enjoyed the trailer, but something felt… off at the same time.  I decided to give it a few days and watch the trailer a few more dozen times.

There’s Something Familiar About This…

JukuuThe trailer begins with like the original teaser for The Phantom Menace, in a very quiet long establishing shot, as our hero, Rey traverses the desert of Jakku on a speeder bike through a ship graveyard.  It’s a wonderful moment and evokes a very Star Wars otherworldly feel… we fade to black.  Unfortunately the rest of the trailer is hampered by a case of living in the past.

In fact, that’s the whole premise of the trailer… to convince older fans that Star Wars is safe again…

and the last thing Star Wars needs to be is safe…

Vader Helmet Star Wars: The Force AwakensPh: Film Frame©Lucasfilm 2015 Star Wars: The Force AwakensPh: Film Frame©Lucasfilm 2015 X-Wings Trooper Snow PlanetWhile reflecting on the trailer a good couple of days I’ve come to the conclusion that director JJ Abrams is doing his damndest to convince audiences that his new Star Wars film is fresh, while all the time catering to the nostalgia of older fans, and ultimately fails miserably on the first count.  The trailer is little more than a 70s/80s retro fest with nearly shot for shot recreations of the Death Star II exhaust port chase, a recreation of a famous publicity shot, and constant call backs to the Original Trilogy.  Originally I was going to do a point by point breakdown of different shots, and I may at a later date, but to summarize, there’s a lot in the trailer I really like, but there’s a disturbing tendency on JJ’s part to play it safe and simply cater to fans, and that’s not what the Saga needs right now.  What Star Wars needs is a fresh voice with bold ideas who understands what came before and wants to continue telling stories rooted in myth while approaching it from a new angle.

Does JJ “Get” Star Wars?  image

What particularly disturbed me about the Celebration Force Awakens kick off panel were comments uttered by Abrams himself which really made me question whether or not he even understood what Lucas was trying to accomplish with the entire Star Wars Saga, let alone the Original Trilogy. At one point Abrams regurgitated the Prequel basher talking point that Star Wars is really at its heart, a Western, which of course implies that Lucas really doesn’t get Star Wars at all and the appeal of the franchise.  Somehow, Star Wars is a space Western and if Lucas just would have kept Star Wars limited to that box the Prequels wouldn’t have gone off the rails (so the theory goes).  This whole mantra of Star Wars as Western source seems to have begun by a group of Lucas bashers who created, what they call, the “4 Star Wars Rules.”  Apparently on some level Abrams subscribes to this theory.

While talking about his experiences shooting in the desert of Abu Dhabi he said, “Star Wars is as much Western and fairy tale as it is anything else.  One of the things you expect and want to see is these tangible, beautiful John Ford landscapes…”  A nice sentiment JJ, but you are simply talking out of your butt.  Any first year film student will ArtooThreepiotell you the “John Ford look” is all about Monument Valley found at the border of Arizona and Utah.  Monument Valley is an area dominated by sandstone buttes and mesas… not rolling endless sand dunes.   I suppose you could argue he’s talking about the sequences in the valleys of the Jundland Wastes, but that seems a stretch as most people think desert planet when they hear the word Tatooine.  In fact there’s very little in the way of John Ford to be found in A New Hope, but there’s a lot of it found in Attack of the Clones.   Instead what Lucas did in A New Hope is adopt a very David Lean look from Lawrence of Arabia to inform the visuals of the desert planet.  With a big, endless desert framing most of his shots.  However, Lucas clearly channels his inner John Ford in Attack of the Clones:

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(NOTE: Thanks to Mike Klimo of Star Wars Ring Theory for recently posting these screengrabs on his Twitter feed.  They’ve been very illuminating)

Even the plot of A New Hope has almost nothing to do the Western genre.  Sure there are elements of the American Western sprinkled throughout; Han is certainly a space cowboy, Mos Eisley, and especially the cantina have a very Western frontier town feel to them, but they are just elements of the whole.  A New Hope, like Star Wars in general is an amalgam, a pastiche of the influences of Lucas’ youth and interests as a filmmaker, borrowing heavily from sources such as Flash Gordon, Tolkien, Greek myth, Japanese cinema, Medieval adventure tales, layering it all with a spiritual element gleaned from the world’s major religions.  A New Hope has far more in common with Flash Gordon serials (which Lucas originally wanted to adapt) than a Western, and the plot borrows liberally from Akira Kurosawa’s classic samurai film, The Hidden Fortress.

Abrams failure to grasp this raises a whole lot of concerns on my part.  I’m just not sure he really understands the mythology and legacy behind Star Wars.  He certainly understands his feelings of Star Wars as a child, and how that impacted him as a youth, but there’s so much more to the Saga than one’s childhood memories and fantasies.  That’s a large reason that while on the one hand I enjoy the trailer immensely, on the other I worry that The Force Awakens will be little more than a nostalgia fest; something Abrams is intimately familiar with.

Han & ChewieFor a lot of fans, the final shot of Han & Chewie aboard the Millennium Falcon was the “money shot” and sent them over the moon as fanboy/fangirl chills ran up their spines.  The waves of nostalgia washed over them and they were filled with a sense of awe as their dreams were finally realized… George no longer had his hands in the Saga, all of their wildest Star Wars dreams could be realized.  For a brief moment I was even hit with a feeling of being that child who grew up with Star Wars back in 1977, waiting anxiously for the next installment and contenting myself with reading another issue of Marvel’s Star Wars in the meantime.  It was a wonderful moment, but as soon as the screen faded to black I realized that something about it felt very off to me.  I pondered about that shot for a good chunk of time until I realized I had seen all of this before… because I had a poster of it on my wall.

Han & Chewie

JJ was up to his old tricks… The shot is nothing more than a recreation of that iconic poster, and while it’s a nice nod it really speaks volumes about one of Abrams’ biggest weaknesses, and accentuates a growing concern I’ve had for months.

You see, one of the biggest knocks on Abrams has always been his lack of creativity as a filmmaker.  He’s always been involved in projects that on some level are derivative of other works.  Three of his past four motion pictures have been sequels of franchises, with the one exception, Super 8, being a complete knock off of a 1980’s Steven Spielberg film.  Even the TV series he’s produced have borrowed liberally from other works.  One of my favorite shows he produced, Alias, is nothing more than one part The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., one part X-Files, with a heavy dose of Dan Brown mythology.  When you look at the totality of his work there is really nothing there that screams “visionary,” or even suggests an artist who really has the ability to oversee the relaunch of a massive franchise… just look at his very hit and miss results with Star Trek.

JJ ArtooUltimately, his lack of his own creativity is his downfall as a filmmaker.  While Lucas could take all of these wildly divergent elements from myth, pop culture, and religion and massage it into it’s own self contained universe which felt original yet familiar. Abrams, on the other hand, has shown no such ability as an filmmaker.  His work routinely feels like a homage to another artist’s work, or a series of ideas slapped together in an effort to feel original, but wind up coming across as derivative.  This trailer does nothing but reinforce that point as there is no original substance to be found.  The one thing I can say about Lucas was he had an ability to tease you with new locales, strange aliens, and situations in each of the five teaser trailers that followed A New Hope.  Whether it’s battles in the snow, the forest, a high speed race through the deserts of Tatooine, raging storms over a water planet, or a deadly lightsaber duel on an erupting volcano, Lucas was always able to tantalize with new ideas.  JJ’s tease is little more than a complete rehash of the Original Trilogy with a new young trio surrounded by visuals and designs that are all comfortable and familiar.

And that leads to my biggest gripe and concern… I’m not convinced this film will be terribly original, and will in fact be little more than a soft reboot of the Saga, allowing Disney to distance itself from George’s Saga, and move forward, and frankly Disney has found the perfect guy for THAT job. While Abrams talks a lot about “moving the Saga forward” I’m not so certain with this trailer that Lucasfilm is really going to attract interest from young audiences.  The trailer really caters to older Star Wars fans, and if you are a young person who is not already invested in Star Wars there’s little in this trailer to suggest something new or fresh about the Saga.

We’re Going Back… To The Past!!!

Back-to-the-Future-Doc-BrownThere was an alarming exchange midway through the panel in which Katleen Kennedy seemed to suggest that fans reaction is a very important part of the storytelling process.  Of course she added the caveat that Lucasfilm will still tell the stories it wants, but there certainly was a not so subtle subtext running throughout her comments that said, “We’ve heard your cries.”  Well sorry, but fanboys should have pretty much no say so in the future of Star Wars.  Many of these “fans” are the same Lucas bashers who wanted boderline evil Anakin betraying the Jedi and exterminating them in a three arc story, forgetting the wise words of George, “…a monster becoming a monster isn’t a story.”   Storytelling by committee, and more importantly, by consensus is not art, it’s just catering to the mob.  It seems pretty safe to say that JJ’s mandate is to push every fanboy button, and weave a very safe Star Wars film which takes little to no risk, all in the hopes of avoiding controversy.  He will cater to their every whim; in fact JJ appears to be all in…

During his Force Awakens panel Abrams once again began to engage in Star Wars historical revisionism found among Prequel/Lucas bashers suggesting that his films were going to be more “tangible” and “real” because they built sets for the actors to interact with. Of course this is meant to imply that George moved away from this tradition and simply shot all of his films on digital stages in front of green screens.  Of course this completely ignores the dozens of sets and locations used for the filming of the Prequel Trilogy.  Lucas too desired a tangible look for his films, however he had to go another course.  Instead of dealing with a galaxy in the middle of a war he was examining a Republic in a state of decline, that is ultimately pushed over the ledge by Palpatine.  So on the one hand the universe had to be shiny, a little less used looking, while on the other hand still staying true to the rules he established in the universe.  I think he did a pretty darn good job:

imageimageimageimageimageimage

As you can clearly see these are real sets, designed and constructed by a group of talented artists who took weeks, and months to develop designs which could tell the story Lucas was trying to tell.  Each one of the Prequel films is filled with beautiful sets and locations, certainly enhanced with special effects, but if you don’t believe Jjj-abramsJ will be incorporating the same techniques, I’ve got some lovely beach front property in Yuma I can sell you. However, what really grinds my gears is that JJ is so willing to cavalierly dismiss the work on those films, all for the benefit of throwing around a few buzzwords that get fanboy hearts aflutter.

I used to work as an intelligence analyst back in the day with a focus on international politics… so words are really, really important to me, and what’s left unsaid, or implied by the words you are using is as important as what you actually say, or what you meant to say.  During one portion of the interview section of the show JJ states that the mandate he had was to “set a standard” and that everything had to feel real.  That’s a good enough sentiment, but then he takes it a step further; unnecessarily so: “You knew people were in those places.  The way the light interacts with the set.  You want it to be legitimate, and authentic.”  Abrams is clearly separating himself from Lucas here, and is making it clear, although unstated, that he’s going to make a movie for older Star Wars fans who felt burned by the Prequels.  To make matters worse he’s actually implying through his words that what George did in Episodes I-III was “inauthentic” and “illegitimate.” As if Lucas totally dismissed the use of practical sets and locations. I think as I’ve shown in the pictures above that was certainly not the case with the Prequels.

Lucas & DanielsAlso understated in the Force Awakens panel was any mention of Lucas, or even a hint of his involvement in the production. I think George’s name came up a whopping two times in the entire panel, despite the fact Lucas created this large sandbox that all of these people are playing in now. I’m really beginning to suspect that George’s statements from January that Disney had jettisoned his treatments for the Sequel Trilogy and were doing their own thing is true. Early on we were told Lucas and Abrams were meeting regularly, and Lucas’ son even suggested that George and JJ were texting daily. Then Star Wars scribe Michael Arndt, who was writing scripts based on George’s treatments was let go, and then Disney Studios honcho Alan Horn implied in a Q&A that he wasn’t aware of Lucas’ involvement in the project any more. That would certainly explain why Lucas is even barely given a mention at Celebration; even Lucas’ good friend Kathleen Kennedy only mentioned his name in passing while recounting how she became head of Lucasfilm.

imageFrankly, this troubles me a great deal. Much has been made of Abrams ability to weave a mythology in his television shows like Alias and Lost, but in the case of both shows, that mythology became a muddled mess as the shows wore on. Both shows did not find their footing again until AFTER Abrams had left the productions. Add to that his inability to understand the roots of the mythology behind the Star Wars Saga, and there is cause for concern. So excuse me if I have a lot more faith in the guy who actually created the universe, than a sometimes very talented filmmaker (Super 8) who is often prone to make materials that are devoid of real depth and miss the point of the source material (Star Trek Into Darkness).

Again, to be clear, I did enjoy the trailer, with certain reservations. My biggest concerns are not necessarily with the content of the trailer itself, but with Abrams’ apparent inability to grasp the magnitude of the depth of story telling that Lucas presented in his six part Saga. For all of Abrams’ talk of wanting to move the Saga “forward” for “a new generation,” this trailer seemed needlessly mired in the past, and shows little in the way of anything new or fresh. The trailer seems to be catered to a certain subset of fans who are still bitter at George Lucas for not giving them a Prequel Trilogy that had been brewing in their minds for nearly 20 years. Ultimately it feels like a trailer by put together by a marketing group:

Stormtroopers… check
Star Destroyer… check
Millennium Falcon in a fight… check
Vader… check

I really want The Force Awakens to be a film that launches fandom for a whole new generation of fans, but from what I’ve seen it looks like I’m stuck in a 1980’s time warp.

Force Awakens

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

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