Sunday, April 19, 2015

You Can't Go Home Again

(But You Kind of Do Anyway)
So this has been a long time coming.

For the first time ever, Star Wars kind of fell out of my life after the Disney acquisition. Some of you know my own personal drama over the past few years. There were some profound shifts in my life, so much so that I even lost the one constant that had been with me since I was born.

Star Wars had been a perpetual source of comfort and inspiration to me, that galaxy far, far away at once as alien and familiar as anything I’d ever known. John Williams’ Force theme just hummed away as the background music for much of my life. The saga itself was always there to wrap up in, a warm little security blanket if ever there was one.

But things changed. 

As for my forays into Star Wars writing, the main thrust of this blog seemed in danger of atrophying. George Lucas finally walked away from it all, retiring to a new life and a new marriage. The saga was now in the hands of many who seemed quite eager to return to form, the original trilogy that we all admittedly loved and idolized, with all its “practical effects” but not a Gungan in sight. Lucasfilm was no longer the maverick little independent studio calling all the shots, with an unprecedented amount of creative control in the hands of one often often misunderstood artist.

So The Star Wars Heresies were slowly but surely fading into irrelevance (though the book of the same title is still quite good and you should all buy a copy immediately). My disconnect from everything that was going on was a very real and tangible thing. Plus, there was honestly lots of real life stuff happening that made going online and arguing over a saga that was about to be reborn into heaven only knows what seem chronically unappealing.

To put it frankly, I had lost a home, albeit a fictitious one existing a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. One populated by Jedi Knights and Sith Lords, accented by the snap-hiss of lightsabers being activated, and forever living and breathing by a mystical energy field known only as the Force. But it truly had been as much home to me as anything, as sure and as true as that familiar feeling forming in the pit of your stomach whenever Tatooine was onscreen. 

And home is a big thing. Maybe the biggest thing. But more on that later.
Without a doubt, the biggest explosion of unparalleled Star Wars goodness for me personally was Celebration VI. In a year that was unbelievably miserable for me personally, those were four or five of the best days of my life. Whether posing in a fake bacta tank or playing chess aboard a mock Millennium Falcon set, watching new Clone Wars episodes or getting a tilt of the hat from none other than Dave Filoni himself, there was no bad there. And getting shot around in hyperspace on Star Tours only added to the utterly immersive experience. 

But honestly, by the time Celebration VII was set to roll around, I wasn’t really even interested. My connection to the Force had been seriously severed. Anytime new content entered my field of vision, I couldn’t really see it. It was kind of like being lost in a snowstorm on Hoth, without a Tauntaun to guide you, or any visions of Jedi to offer up any hope. Perhaps that’s a bit bleak, but you get the point. 
Even hosting a Star Wars Reads Day event at the library I work at didn’t do much to boost my energy, though Star Wars bingo was admittedly a lot of fun.

However, things finally did begin to resonate with me more. For one thing, Dave Filoni was still around, protégé and padawan of George Lucas himself, a man who knew the saga inside and out, and could wax philosophical about the Force as eloquently as any Jedi Master. While more or less unimpressed with the debut of Rebels and the utterly indecipherable schedule the Disney channel had it on, I began to hear encouraging rumblings. I downloaded most of the episodes on the Play Store and, by the time the first season was up, I was hooked. 

While the animation had obviously suffered from Clone Wars, the crew of the Ghost slowly became more than the sum of their parts over the course of the season. This wasn’t simply Firefly with cowboy Jedi. Darth Vader showing up at the end was thrilling as always, and the Rebel Alliance blasting out of hyperspace with Bail Organa in the finale was a moment impossible not to cheer. The amount of gravitas the series built up was surprising, as well as the rare sense of genuine peril that happened when five characters and a droid banded together to thumb their nose at a galactic empire. 
Not to mention the last minute return of a certain beloved female character. The fire of the Rebellion might have been spreading across the galaxy in the story, but the news of a long lost padawan returning spread across the Internet just as fast. “Ashoka Lives” is certainly two of the most reassuring words to come out of the Wars in a while, and they also started healing a lot of old wounds. 


The season two trailer looks even more amazing, and from what I’ve heard, the premiere was well worth the four hour wait at Celebration. If only Hasbro could actually get some toys on the shelf, all would be well on the Lucasfilm animation front. 

It also didn’t hurt that The Star Wars Heresies book got a shout-out in two consecutive issues of the Star Wars Insider magazine. Not only that, but the content in general seemed to have vastly improved. The connecting symbiosis of the Force appears to be flowing much more smoothly between the official channels and fandom. To see friends and fans and fellow writers contributing and posting content in the official magazine, as well as on the blog, never fails to bring a smile to my face. That is new and fresh and extremely gratifying.

Of course, the biggest news is undeniably the launch of a new sequel trilogy, as well as stand alone films debuting once a year. This has been the focus of endless debate and discussion, with the most optimistic in fandom citing the template that has proven so successful for Marvel Studios.

As for me, I’ve been hesitant. My interest level took a long time to be peaked, which is good, especially given the stranglehold of secrecy that has existed around Episode VII. I suppose my biggest concerns have been that all of the mythic weight and depth imbued in the film saga up until now would be largely lost, as well as just the general oversaturation of the market. 

Those concerns still linger, but then we finally scored a title. The Force Awakens. For the record, I do like it, as it does carry a bit of mythic mystery about it. Then we snagged an actual teaser trailer, with John Boyega popping into frame, resembling one really disoriented stormtrooper. For the record, the teaser did capture my attention pretty exclusively, especially the closing shot of the Falcon skimming the desert surface with TIE fighters buzzing by. And yes, I also like the look of the hotly debated crossguard-lightsaber, apparently an ancient Sith relic that looks primitive and dangerous and not entirely stable.

Happily, the new droid BB-8 also seems to imply that a bit of that Lucasfilm whimsy and silly will be left intact, the little robot zooming about like an electronic beach ball.  #DareToBeCute


I suppose I should and perhaps will provide actual commentary on all this stuff, but that will have to be at a later date. 
But guys, it was the second trailer that launched in front of thousands of screaming fans at Celebration VII that finally got me, that whittled away all my defenses. It blew away my skepticism like the Death Star blowing away Alderaan. 

While I was at work Thursday, I knew the JJ Abrams/Kathleen Kennedy panel was taking place in California. Rumblings in the Force indicated that a new trailer might debut, and I am, and probably always will be, a sucker for trailers. Sure enough, I found it online. 

With no ability to wait till I got home, I basically sequestered myself in the middle office at work as soon as I could, closed the door, killed the lights, broke out my earbuds, and proceeded to watch almost two minutes of footage from The Force Awakens. There is so much to be said about the content. 

For now though, I’ll just admit it was one of the most magical viewings of anything ever. Hearing Luke’s voice echo his lines from Return of the Jedi was a borderline religious experience. I watched it two or three times and finally just had to leave the computer. I had to honestly just walk around a bit in an effort to process the images I’d just seen, and the sounds I’d just heard. 
For the rest of that afternoon, screening after screening after screening was held in that middle office, with me making the setting as cinematic as possible. Sadly, no popcorn was on hand.

Let’s be honest, though. We were all essentially reacting like Matthew McConaughey in that viral video from Interstellar. Just as thousands of fans were doing at Celebration Anaheim, so was the rest of the world doing on the internet. There was laughing, cheering, crying, and maybe just a touch of hyperventilation. 

The main thoughts that I personally wanted to express on this post go a little something like this. 

Yes, Lucasfilm as we know it is over. As is Star Wars. Some people are extremely happy about this. Some people are less so. For the past year, I have wrestled with my own feelings or lack thereof. I have tended to fall into the latter category. Part of me would have been okay had Lucas decided to wrap up the saga with a nice, tidy bow, finish the Clone Wars, release all the films in 3D in the cinema, and simply make a graceful exit. No one could have said the run hadn’t been extraordinary.

But you know what? He didn’t. Whatever direction things go in now, that’s the way things are going to go. The Maker could have locked up all those lightsabers and droids and wookiees and troopers and emphatically proclaimed “no more.” But he didn’t. He sold the franchise to Disney, and gave the continuing saga a thumbs up. Even if it didn’t include his creative input.

As Lucas himself has said more than once, Star Wars is about “letting go.” As Shmi Skywalker told Anakin before he left Tatooine to begin his new life as a Jedi, you can’t stop change, any more than you can stop the suns from setting. That really is a profound image, and Lucas demonstrated the reality of it by opening up his galaxy to another set of filmmakers.

And for better or worse, that’s what’s happening.

Yes, I would strongly prefer the sequel trilogy to be based on Lucas’ story treatments. Yes, I would want all six films to be treated with the same level of deference and respect. And yes, I would like it if the new stories to be told dictated the new course at hand, rather than what fans think they may or may not want.

But you know what? If the Maker can let go of all this, maybe it’s time for all of the fans to do the same. Part of what burned me out on the Wars is all the drama and stress and second guessing that goes hand-in-hand with this fandom, like a mynock glued to a power cable. I have no desire to stare down the barrel of fifteen years of “whole saga” fans shouting about how JJ Abrams “raped their middle adulthood” because he thinks of Star Wars as a western or doesn’t like as many digital effects or probably isn’t going to offer any screen time to Jedi discussing midichlorians.

Sometimes, I think our younger fan selves would look at us and declare us legally insane.

Life is far too short not to simply take a minute or two to just enjoy stuff. And that’s what I loved about the new trailer. For the briefest of moments, all our adult posing and posturing was out the window, and we were just united in the joy and wonder and magic of the whole thing all over again. And that’s what it’s all about. 

So if the current trajectory of the saga is to break out the new X-Wings and TIE fighters - as opposed to Naboo starfighters and droid control ships - and have them blast away at each other for a few movies, I can live with that. And if I found myself unable to do so, then it really is time to do what I was kind of planning on doing, and walk away from Star Wars altogether.

But after that trailer, I got my Jedi groove back. No, it may never be what it once was. But that’s just the way of things. The way of the Force. The suns are always going to set.

What interests me most about the trailer is the last line. This was the crowd pleaser. Han Solo and Chewbacca showing up in an older reflection of an iconic pose from A New Hope was the moment that put a tear in many an eye, including my own. This is our childhood, alive and well, and in the Millennium Falcon no less. While I have absolutely no urge to go back to my childhood, this is tugging on some very real, deep, primordial stuff in all of us.

To those who are arguing Abrams is doing some major emotional manipulation here, I can only smile and nod. Of course he is. And I don’t even blame him. Like most of us, maybe he’s just trying to get back to that place where it all started. Whatever his take on the things that came after the original trilogy, I have little doubt the chord he was trying to strike in all of us with that moment honestly exists in him as well.

Quite frankly, he just wanted to go home again.

That place that is as much a promise as a memory, that is as familiar yet as ethereal as the strains of the Star Wars theme itself. For me, it worked. It resonated. Amazingly so. And that he got there in just a two minute trailer is no small feat. It’s at least enough for me to want to follow him wherever he goes, to see how close he can get us to that fabled, holy galaxy that Lucas dreamed up in his imagination in the seventies. 

“Chewie, we’re home.” 
I hope so. It’s a place we’ve all spent a long time looking for.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Podcasting Padawan

Along with the interwebs, this whole podcasting thing seems to be catching on. Indeed, my own Star Wars fandom has largely been guided and inspired by it, starting with the old Forcecast shows.  Things have since progressed with the splintering of that source of the Force into Rebel Force Radio, as well as increasingly popular shows like Full of Sith.

But if there is indeed one podcast that is remarkably in tune with my own approach to that long ago, far away galaxy, it has to be Coffee with Kenobi. It offers a friendly yet analytical approach to all the happenings when it comes to Star Wars, and is hosted by two of the nicest, most intelligent gentlemen in fandom – Dan Zehr and Corey Clubb.

They were kind enough to express interest in having me on as a guest to talk about my book, The Star Wars Heresies. Fortunately, they are far more knowledgeable than I concerning podcasting, and were able to edit together a fine show out of it. As for me, I’m just amazed I got Skype working at all. And I still haven’t listened to the whole thing, basically because I think I sound like an over-caffeinated Ewok or something. At any rate, it does offer a nice look at my work by two generous and enthusiastic professionals.

The entire episode can be found right about here

The second big bit of news I feel necessitates commentary is the decision by Disney and Lucasfilm to finally breathe fresh breath into the modern Expanded Universe, a topic of some controversy online. While it was something of a given that the new owners of the franchise would bring it into the fold of their own publishing empire, it has caused a considerable amount of angst because pretty much everything post-Return of the Jedi is going to be scrapped.  
Since you are reading a blog with Heresies in the title, I’ll be honest. This is the first move Disney has made that has endeared me to them since the cancellation of The Clone Wars. As more than a few fair have pointed out, it’s not that the EU stopped being canon this week, it’s simply that it was never canon to begin with. Personally, all I had to do was read about fifty pages of Timothy Zahn’s beloved Thrawn trilogy to figure that out. It never resonated with my own well-honed fanboy barometer. It wasn’t canon; it wasn’t even Star Wars, and had nothing to do with Star Wars.

It’s like I said at the beginning of my interview, much like Emily Dickinson’s take on separating the wheat from the chaff when it came to distinguishing what’s true poetry and what isn’t, I know it’s Star Wars when I feel as though the top of my head has been taken off. Needless to say, most of the modern EU has barely ruffled my hair. And if I’ve wanted to be particularly snarky, I simply offer my own book as a balm to all the controversy. It’s somewhat sad that I can state without a hint of arrogance that it has far more relevance to the galaxy that George Lucas actually created than half of what has gone on in the ever-expanding Expanded Universe over the past decade or so.

As noted in earlier posts, my main source of contention with the EU is the teeth-clenched dogmatism so many approached it with. It would be easier to pry open the jaws of a rancor than get them to relax their hold on the belief that what was simply started as a series of media tie-in books to be read for fun on rainy afternoons when no new films were on the horizon had become the Gospel According to Star Wars. No and no. The tail does not wag the Tauntaun.

As is my modus operandi, I simply always wheel this whole enterprise back to what it was originally intended to be. It is a mythology, not a religion. As such, whatever version of the story you’re listening to depends largely on whatever village you’re standing in at the time. So frantic arguments about canon and continuity are always somewhat out of place. As Joseph Campbell said, myth changes and evolves and that’s what Lucas has always done with the franchise. Canon debates are only necessary if this is about to evolve into a religion, as some fundamentalist fanboys would no doubt like it to do.

Not to mention it gets really boring and futile trying to fight over what “really” happened in fictitious stories set in a fictitious galaxy.

So maybe this Disney business has some potential after all. If they are really interested in something resembling quality control over this material, then more power them. For me the films were always be paramount over everything else, but I remain cautiously optimistic and willing to let the future reveal itself ...

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Star Wars Heresies

… but were afraid to ask.

Like an aging pop star, I suppose it’s time to drag out some of my greatest blogging hits, or at least ones that I like the most. There are a couple of reasons for this.

One, I have done a lot of work on this thing which the various fans surfing in and out of this site might not be familiar with. Some of this has been published on other sites, but still ...

Two, I also do not really keep producing materials for this blog on a regular basis. My book drained an enormous amount of fuel from my tank when it comes to Star Wars. Not to mention all the reasons I outlined in my previous post on Christmas Eve.

However, not long after I posted I began to hear the Midichlorians whispering in my ear that there was still a considerable amount to say about this franchise, and chances were no one was going to if I didn’t. Those galactic muses are guiding me again, and some big projects may be in the works when it comes to my Star Wars scholasticism. Even now, it doesn't seem possible that I won't - at some point - be writing something interpreting the themes, symbols, and philosophies of Episodes IV, V, and VI. Just flipping through the Star Wars Frames book that I got for Christmas really started inspiring me again, letting me find what was left of my old voice or perhaps invent a new one. 

Peeps, I still absolutely love this stuff. 

Last time, I used a Doctor Who metaphor to talk about my transition, but it was not unlike Ashoka Tano at the end of The Clone Wars. She walked away from a dogmatic and bureaucratic Jedi Order, leaving behind the named and the known, with nothing left to do but carve out a new life for herself. That was very much me, abandoning my comfort zone until not really even being sure I had one anymore. But that’s what life requires of us, and that’s why the Jedi stance on non-attachment in an ever-changing, ever-transforming galaxy makes a fair amount of sense.

 Needless to say, if you enjoy what you read here, my book is the best way to go ….

But in case Amazon is sold out again and you’re not feeling the Force of the e-book, here’s some essays and editorials that I love from this blog. 

Reading The Force – This is basically an introduction to what I do and why I do it, as well as establishing that Star Wars is a language best when poetically interpreted.

Deconstructing Vader – This is a great one that views Star Wars through the lens of Eastern philosophy, specifically Zen Buddhism.

The Saga in a Paragraph – One paragraph from The Hero With a Thousand Faces, a lot of deftly chosen images from Star Wars, and yes, the whole story unfolds

Star Wars According to William Blake - A very similar thesis, only this time juxtaposing images from a galaxy far, far away beside the poetry of William Blake.

How a Jedi Master Makes War - Still mourning the loss of The Clone Wars? Try out this study of the first episode, Ambush.

Slower and Less Intense - Still not enough Clone Wars? This is an analysis of the character Tera Sinube in the episode Lightsaber Lost

 Lucas the Sell Out! - Tired of listening to the endless bashing of who art critic Camille Paglia refers to as the "world's greatest living artist"? Me too. Hint, the article is ironically named.

Lucas Stole All My Money! -  Surprisingly enough, this article was also ironically titled. Think Lucas owes you something? Only from a certain point of view.

Night of the Mindless Lucas Slaves! - After having the phrase "mindless Lucas slave" fired in my direction a number of times over the past decade or so, why not just embrace it? This rounds out the trilogy about why the Notorious GL is still a stand-up dude.

Why Midichlorians Matter - An in depth analysis of why those microscopic little buggers make perfect sense in that galaxy far, far away. Plus one of my most well-punned titles.

The Soul of Star Wars - And finally, some thoughts from me early on concerning the Disney buy out and the future of our saga. Not to mention my own particular take on what it all means to me.

P.S. And if you're int he mood for more reviews, this one courtesy of Bookgasm. The comments section is particularly interesting.

P.P.S. Also check out the brilliantly entertaining Coffee with Kenobi. This episode features not only Kenobi himself, but also a kind listener email concerning my book.