Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Heresies Strike Back

In case anyone has enjoyed the content of this blog, or the content of my book, and is looking for the next step in the journey, I cannot hesitate to suggest Bradley Weatherholt's The Prequels Strike Back.

This is a brilliantly crafted film about "a certain point of view" on all things Star Wars. It takes a very in depth look at many subjects which usually only score a casual glance at best.  This isn't just about the prequels. As I have tried to do so often in my work, this is an analysis of Star Wars, fandom, George Lucas, cinema, and just a lot of philosophy and psychology and myth and metaphor in general. It's about art and perception and the various narratives we use to guide our lives. 

The documentary never fails to be honest, insightful, and as objective as anyone can claim to be when evaluating a subject as passionately experienced as Star Wars. It boasts a wonderful gallery of spokesman, probably Mike Kilmo of The Ring Composition fame being the most prominent. Which is wonderful, because he is so knowledgeable about so many things. 

All in all, the film begs the simple question of how much more interesting all of this would be if we looked at things from "a certain point of view." Another point of view. I've heard the director on numerous podcasts, including one of my new favorites, The Cantina Cast. One of his primary mission statements seems to be just positing  how much more interesting the saga gets when one rises about the online fanboy chatter and is willing to take their first step into a larger world of possibility. 

While we're at it, that is just a great stepping off point for just about everything in life. 

As for me, I was graciously offered an interview in The Prequels Strike Back. However, the filmmakers couldn't make it to Atlanta, and I just couldn't make it work at the time either, so I am not physically in the documentary. However, my book is certainly featured, as well as a lot of ideas that I have been shuffling around for over a dozen years now. Maybe it is egocentric and un-Jedi like, but I will say I feel The Star Wars Heresies casts a long shadow over all of this. 

Personally, I'm still enjoying retirement from official fandom, and just kicking back and letting it all be what it is. The transition to Disney has been better than I had anticipated, with a new season of Rebels about to launch, and Rogue One on the horizon. I am absolutely loving those trailers! And yes, my friend and I already have tickets for Star Wars Celebration in Orlando next year. Maybe I will see some of you there, which is always a pleasure.

Perhaps I'll be writing about Star Wars some more before it's all over. I'm working on another YA fiction project, which I didn't think I'd ever do again, but here we all are. My next big Star Wars event will be Star Wars Reads Day at the library I work at. We have registered to win a day with Pablo Hidalgo, and if that happens, I will certainly post about it!

Anyway, The Prequels Strike Back are available on YouTube and Amazon to rent and buy, with the DVD and a big screen release coming next month. If you enjoyed all my stuff, this is clearly the next step, so please go support this film.



Sunday, September 13, 2015

Early Retirement - the Special Edition

So I was at Target this week, back from DragonCon and attempting to soak up some Force Friday fun, albeit a few days late. The decorations are pretty neat, particularly the beeping BB-8 and the roaring Chewbacca who greets you at the entrance. And who doesn’t love the First Order stormtroopers plastered to the front doors that you have to “Force Push” out of the way to enter?

(Although I will note, one Target boasted them on the doors you have to “pull” open as opposed to the ones that operate automatically, thus redefining the phrase “epic fail”)

Anyway, one little boy and his mother were having a fine time posing for pictures with the life-sized Chewbacca stand-up, all smiles and geeked out. It was just a very pure expression of fun and fandom, something often not to be found in our troubled, slightly mad, Internet era.

Likewise, there was none of the drama and politics my last rant and diatribe outlined in the toy aisle or in the Halloween section with all the new kids’ costumes. I doubt a single boy or girl in the toy department excitedly chatting away about the new displays were inwardly wringing their hands and existentially worrying that The Force Awakens is some kind of backhanded attack on the legacy of George Lucas because of the constant emphasis on practical effects in the PR campaign.

Perhaps a belabored point, dear readers, but one I’ve often pondered over the years. Seeing us frantically and angrily typing at each other, and just acting the way we fans do, would it be so hard to imagine that our younger fan selves would label their older incarnations as categorically insane? Have we just lost our way, as surely as the Jedi and the Republic? Is this really what it’s all about?

So I’ve written a book which, according to my publishers at DragonCon, has become a standard fixture at their displays at cons. I’ve shepherded this blog to well over a hundred thousand views (so sincere thanks for all the reading). But still, time for something new.

As Yoda said, twilight is upon us, and soon, light must fall. That is the way of things. The way of the Force.

If you’re wondering why I’m writing this at all, it’s just because there was so much frustration and negativity built into that last post, just as surely as Kylo Ren built a lot of anger and madness into that volatile crossguard lightsaber of his. And despite everything, it seems bad form to go out on such a dark side note. The basics are still intact, the online fandom is still unsalvageable, but hey, the good news is the drama and problems get smaller and smaller the less time one wastes on the Internet.

Still, as usual, I’m going to beat a dead bantha and deconstruct my feelings on this some more. I suppose I do owe at least that.

The Star Wars Heresies were born out of a very specific time and place in the history of George Lucas and Lucasfilm. It originated from the era framed by the special editions and prequels, that so often merrily maligned chapter in the Star Wars saga. Yet how ironic is it that this period – far, far more than the pristine, untouched original original trilogy – created and sustained the world we know today, the world where people began to definitively claim the title of Star Wars Fan? As in, “I am a Star Wars fan, this is my life, hear me roar”?


Maybe I’m still spouting heresy and nonsense, but face it. Before this era, the original trilogy was buried and largely forgotten. Honestly, even for me. This relaunch was largely the origin of it all.

The Star Wars Heresies also sprang largely formed from The Phantom Heresies, all the way back to Episode One. This was my first bit of professional (meaning paid) writing about our favorite galaxy, this long-running series of articles published on Space.com, which offered a fresh, indepth look at the prequel era. That seems like a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

But what an era it was! The special editions broke all box office records. The prequel trilogy did much the same, as well as, yes, win another generation of fans. Then there was the amazing run of The Clone Wars series. It was extraordinary. Star Wars redefined fandom as we know it. The toys. The games. The merchandise. The cosplay. And on my end, the academic criticism.

And it all came down to one man, George Lucas. The Flannelled One. Uncle George. The creator who exclusively owned it, lock, stock, and Tauntaun. It was Lucas Unplugged, an artist with no limit but his imagination and the work of ILM.

Pay attention, kids. It was utterly unique. And in today’s corporate-fueled atmosphere, it may not happen again for a very long time.

But even Lucas couldn’t stop the suns from setting. He sold Lucasfilm to Disney, gave all the money to charity, got remarried, and retired. No, I wasn’t consulted. And no, I can’t call him up and lure him out of said retirement. So the fact remains, there simply is no longer a Lucas to champion, nor his singular vision for the franchise.

For a long time, I felt tempted to retire too. I mean, exclusively, just completely withdraw from that one fixed star in my life. Or rather, that fixed Star Wars. Those were the real dark times, that black hole of secrecy and uncertainty and nothingness in a post-Clone Wars world.

The timing of all this was truly interesting. Keep in mind, not three days after I’d polished and edited and submitted the final copy of The Star Wars Heresies to MacFarland & Co., Disney bought Lucasfilm. Lucas was on his way out. The sequel trilogy was being made without him. The era my book was inspired by was inexorably ending, and with it, a lot of my personal understanding and interpretation of things.

It was big stuff, and most of you know it was a genuinely hard on me as a fan. Okay, it was hard in a lot of other, more important real life ways too, but still. There was a lot of change all the way around.

Yet, as Anakin so tragically failed to understand, as surely as the suns set, they do rise again too. After a year of fanboy soul-searching, I got with the franchise again. That second trailer sealed the deal. Of course, my fandom still occasionally got water-boarded by online arguments and anything concerning the King of Haters, that walking, talking bag of hypocrisy and idiocy, Simon Pegg.

In short, my fandom is still intact, but The Star Wars Heresies really are over, too tied to a time and place that have gone the way of the Old Republic. The problem I’ve struggled with on this blog is that it doesn’t make much sense for me to continue down this path. Plus, there are other things I want to do. And, you know, general busyness.

As Lucas sagely realized, it is sometimes necessary to let go. A lot of my writing of late honestly had very little to do with the original mission statement here. I may chronicle adventures to Star Wars Weekends or the events of the upcoming Star Wars Reads Day I’m orchestrating at my library, but I’m not sure how relevant it all is here, much less how “heretical.”

There is more writing I want to do, though in the teen fiction vein again, something with a sci-fi bent to it. And libraries. Working on it has actually been fun, something that became almost totally divorced from writing for me over the years. And even if I go off and write on Star Wars Rebels, or even the original and sequel trilogies, alas, this obviously isn’t the home for it anymore.

I will say the criticism I’ve produced still holds up. People still respond to it. While it isn’t going to happen due to lots of logistical difficulties on both sides, I was asked to participate in the promising The Prequels Strike Back documentary. At DragonCon, Vanessa Marshall, the voice of Hera Syndulla, was very enthusiastic upon hearing of my book, and even mentioned doing a feature on me in the Star Wars Insider. That probably won’t happen either, but I’m grateful for and honored by the attention. There are still shining points out there.

If I personally can claim any legacy from all this, I will assert the whole current movement recognizing “Star Wars as Poetry” is rooted mainly in my work, being both the impetus for my book, as well as me simply being the first I know of to put it out there.

As for now, I personally will follow Lucas’ lead. Again, he sold the franchise. He had a hand in appointing his successors. While I may not agree with it all, I am going to do my best to enjoy it. And with three months to go before The Force Awakens, I am happy to report, I’m succeeding.

(And for those of you who have a problem with me having fun with The Force Awakens, might I suggest you have far, far deeper issues to deal with than Mickey Mouse and the Force)

True, my DragonCon companion and I came at Force Friday a week late, but we had a blast the following weekend. Very few things make me happier than new Star Wars toys and merchandise. It all started with the action figures for me. I had Luke, Vader, Chewie, and C-3PO in my hand before I’d seen a single frame of any film. And at this point, it’s astonishing Hasbro can get products in the stores at all, but they have!

It remains borderline magical holding brand new action figures in hand after a long bounty hunt in the stores. I’m loving the Black Series Rey and Kylo Ren, even as anything Captain Phasma remains elusive. And that app-controlled BB-8 is frankly off the hook from what I’ve seen of it. God forbid, it’s going to be nice to be a mindless consumer and just geek out awhile.

(On the other hand, I’ve often considered Star Wars action figures the closest we contemporaries can score to the mythic totems and ancient statuettes of gods and saints and heroes. That hasn’t changed. It tugs at that very transrational core of us, much like the inspired rhythms of John Williams)

In closing, it seems to me we have a choice. We can all try to embrace this new era of the Wars, or let it go and leave. Just don’t twist into dark side haters haunting the shadowy corners of the Internet. Life is too short. Those of us who have been with it since the beginning sincerely deserve our enjoyment. Remember that.

So take heart. It you don’t like the current creative regime, that too will pass. Just rest in the knowledge that Star Wars is always going to be bigger than the Abrams’ and the Kennedys, maybe even the Lucas’. As Thomas Carlyle noted, no poet is equal his poem. And Star Wars is a poem, if not the poem.

For some reason, the iconic words of Obi-Wan Kenobi recorded in the holocron in the premiere of Rebels seem very appropriate to launch into hyperspace on one last time …

This is Master Obi-Wan Kenobi. I regret to report that both our Jedi Order and the Republic have fallen – with the dark shadow of the Empire to take their place.

This message is a warning and a reminder for any surviving Jedi: Trust in the Force. Do not return to the temple. That time has passed, and our future is uncertain. Avoid Coruscant, avoid detection, be secret …

But be strong. We will be challenged. Our trust. Our faith. Our friendships. But we must persevere, and in time, I believe a new hope will emerge.

May the Force be with you … always.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Early Retirement

So here's me in the latest issue of Star Wars Insider. Talking all about midichlorians. It was nice. 

And so, here's me also just stepping down from the batshit insanity that Star Wars fandom has devolved into since the Disney sale. It seems impossible to post anything - no matter how bland and non-confrontational - about the Wars these days without getting into endless drama and debate. Enough is enough. Never, even in the summer of 1999, have I seen the online incarnation of this fandom in such a state, where one is attacked for everything they do say, or don't say, or insinuate, or whatever. 

The mantra continues. Life is too short. I have neither the time nor energy nor interest in arguing about The Force Awakens or practical effects or canon until the ghastly hours of the morning. But that is precisely what it now requires. Even if one goes out of their desire to simply state their stance and move on, the conflict that ensues is just absurd. Arguments that chase each other around in circles for hours and hours. People keep wanting me too, but I don't even care at this point. 

I also pretty much refuse to take part in a fandom that even partially insinuates that people like Simon Pegg aren't the problem, but people like myself are. 

My relationship with Star Wars, whatever it will be, will have to be personal. I am going to make a sincere effort to divorce it from social media. But again, I've never seen it this bad, with one incomprehensible argument fired against one with no context whatsoever, and really, who needs it? There is no evidence that it is going to improve. It's merely the slow circling of the drain of a once promising fandom.


Edited: Okay, one more, that's happily coming from a much better place - Early Retirement - The Special Edition


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Square Peggs in Round Holes

So this post isn't going to be anywhere near as long as it originally was going to be. Like a considerable part of the Internet, I feel like I've already written several volumes on the San Diego Comic Con panel. And as always with Star Wars, passions have run pretty high. Enough to make me have to stop and evaluate and remember what I'm actually in all this for to begin with. Or rather why I'm back. 

And it isn't just to spend all day, every day arguing about "CGI" vs. "practical effects."

But I am sympathetic to anyone who feels differently. When someone gets out there praising the production team for - of all things! - actually filming in an actual desert for the new movie, that's a bit much. I mean, sure, we all know the prequels weren't filmed in a real desert, but rather a fake, CGI, air-conditioned one, but come on. 

(What you think that's actual sweat?! No. That was all digitally added later. But argh. It really is sooo easy to let go and rip on this stuff.)

Anyway, there has been some great commentary provided on other sites. If you're on Facebook, where much of my own writing has been, you should check out the Star Wars: The Prequel Trilogy page. As always, the Star Wars Prequel Appreciation Society has weighed in with its characteristic style and wit. There is also a phenomenal video on YouTube that deserves your attention, and I'm just not saying this because my book got a shout-out. 

In short, I agree with the commentators.I hope there's not another online fan war on the horizon. If so, I may just be a conscience objector this time around.  #1999

Oh, I had a lot to say about the Comic Con stuff. The puns and the zingers were going to be off the hook. But enough of that.

For the record, The Star Wars Heresies does think Kennedy is way too in awe of the fanbase and gives them way too much credit, particularly given their online behavior for the past fifteen years. And J.J. Abrams' relentless advocacy of "practical effects" is way too overstated, whatever his actual feelings on the subject. One of the high points was definitely Lawrence Kasdan's shout-out to George Lucas and his "genius," but overall it was a pretty lackluster panel, nothing compared to the stuff at Star Wars Celebration. Which perhaps is somewhat inevitable when everyone is on a panel to talk about a movie no one is actually allowed to talk about.

(Sorry to pimp Doctor Who on here, but that panel was way more fun and lively. Plus a new trailer.)

And may I just say, if you really want a good time, just put Adam Driver alone on stage, and he can stare at seven thousand fans, and they can stare back, thus surely resulting in the most awkward, uncomfortable sixty minutes of anyone's life. 

But come on, I'm sure he's going to be awesome as Kylo Ren. It's a delicate balance, my readers. My own journey to The Force Awakens has been complicated. I have criticisms but I have no urge to let my fandom fall to the dark side of negativity. Plus, it would be so nice just to let go and let the Disney era take care of itself, Jedi-style. 

The one thing I feel that is absolutely inexcusable is the inclusion of Simon Pegg in The Force Awakens footage. His crimes against fandom are too numerous to mention, but the main issue is, as Jason Swank of Rebel Force Radio put it, that he keeps being rewarded for bad behavior. 

I was enjoying the footage, I really was, but if you follow me on Facebook, you know I was ready to slug him through the screen the first time he popped up on the set, basically wetting himself with glee. Then again, Kyle Newman's wife Jamie King has already openly expressed the desire to punch him in the face, so at least I'm in good company. 

So I will offer a very serious challenge to fandom. We all know about the infamous Phantom Edit, where the very fanboys raging about the joys of film preservation deleted footage from Episode I and edited it to their liking. So this is what I want. The Pegg Edit. I basically want Simon Pegg edited out of this otherwise pretty nifty footage. 

If possible, put Jar Jar Binks in his place, or possibly an animated midichlorian. That would be awesome. 

But in the interest of emphasizing the light side, and wanting to be a positive force in fandom, it was indescribably wonderful to have Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford on stage at the same time. Particularly Harrison. A few years ago, it looked as though Mustafar would have to freeze over before that guy would ever be on a stage at Comic Con talking about Star Wars. And looking as though he were actually enjoying himself, which so many of us struggle with sometimes. 

 That's about all I have to say on the subject. I could go on and on and on about this, that, and the other, but life is too short. And again, I just don't have time to spend on this stuff day in and day out. 

I love Star Wars. I love George Lucas. I still think The Force Awakens will be a fun, entertaining addition to the saga. The new books, comics, and television series have provided some great content thus far. I just wish being a fan wasn't so exhausting sometimes. 

May the Force be with You.