Thursday, April 14, 2011

You Can't Be Serious

During all of this EU canon controversy, a startling thought occurred to me. Alan Watts once remarked that - as "sincere" a philosopher as he was - he simply wasn't a "serious" one.

While the point of these editorials is to provide a counterpoint to the shallow negativity surrounding the saga as well as offer a lot of examples of its significance and depth, I can honestly say I don't take Star Wars that seriously. I don't believe it's meant to be that serious, and perhaps a lot of trouble erupts in fandom because of the teeth-clenched earnestness of those who want to make it so. Instead, Star Wars strikes me as extraordinarily sincere, as does its maker, and maybe the reason I continue to enjoy both so much is that I simply value sincerity over seriousness.

Seriousness implies a certain gravity, a certain weight, a certain necessity. Like when one goes to the doctor and wants to know "Is it serious?" Seriousness inevitably evolves into an almost grim life-or-death struggle because, after all, the stakes are incredibly important. Everything hangs on the outcome when something is deadly serious. This is a remarkably effective way of draining the life, vitality, and energy out of any project, because it must be successful. It has to happen, and we have to make it happen.

On the other hand, sincerity implies a certain open, relaxed honesty to the situation whatever it turns out to be. Someone can be sincere and playful simultaneously, but no one can pull off being both serious and playful at the same time. So, which exactly, is the most applicable attitude to Star Wars? Maybe we've all forgotten, but Star Wars was supposed to be fun, not something you had to go see, or something you had to like.

Star Wars is really all about play. Lucas created a galaxy-wide sandbox, and basically said, "Have fun." To this day, I feel it's the best imaginary playground ever invented. Even here, on this very blog, I'm playing, arranging interesting patterns of words and ideas for amusement and entertainment. As I once stated years ago on Suite101, these essays are written in much the same spirit as a little kid waving a toy lightsaber in the air, while jumping up and down on their bed, and should be read in exactly the same manner.

This is why so many things that drive many fans into a near murderous rage (at least online) pretty much don't bother me at all. I genuinely love Ewoks, and sometimes even speculate what it would be like to be one for a day. I love the prequels, from the corny dialogue to the stylized acting. I even love Jar Jar, and occasionally lapse into Gungan speak (incidentally, all the haters should try this once and awhile - just translate all those rants and see how silly they really do sound). Sure, I may not like Greedo shooting first in the cantina, but I'm not losing sleep over it. As for the people who sit in the theater and anxiously wring their hands while trying to figure out whether or not a scene has too much CGI ... that's utterly baffling to me.

I personally have never watched a Star Wars movie and not had a blast. That's what they're there for, after all. And that's why I'm still here.

But this fandom sometimes seems so completely consumed with its own self-important seriousness that it oftentimes can barely enjoy what it's a fan of. Which, I assume, was the original point. Maybe some people don't have enough to worry about, so they have to use Star Wars to generate their weekly quota of stress and anxiety. Who knows?

Personally, I feel this is missing the mark, although I almost experience twinges of sympathy for those caught in the middle. I admit, I get caught up in the hating and heated arguments in fandom more than I should. Still, that's the only thing about this saga that I don't like or enjoy. So many people don't strike me as sincere fans anymore, only serious ones. Being a fan becomes a kind of morbid duty, a chore, another thing to check off the list of things that must be done, and then they take it out on the rest of us. This even includes the rather dubious attempts to protect the franchise from its own maker.

For the record, I do not have a problem with fans writing a petition to insure the continuity of the Expanded Universe and presenting it to Lucas. To me, this is the most irrelevant thing in the world, and the other fandoms I'm part of seem to feel the same. If someone just likes to connect the dots and retcon all the disparate characters and story elements into a kind of fascinating, enjoyable game, I would personally say that was the way to go. Still, if people feel absolutely compelled to draft elaborate petitions, then they should do so. Here's to lightspeed on their journey.

The part I do have a problem with is the underlying, unstated sentiments of such a proposal. It seems that if you don't tie Lucas down and question him relentlessly regarding the canonicity of Coruscant Nights, even if you couldn't care less, you're not only failing your duty as a fan, but also as a human being. This is the last bit of the Petition of 2000's response to the Forcecast's admittedly harsh reaction to their mandate -

To these people, Lucas cannot, should not, must not be questioned. And that's not a position I can ever get onboard with or even understand. Blind allegiance to an authority figure is one of the great evils of this world, and while its existence in SW fandom is relatively harmless, it's a symptom of a much larger, far less amusing problem.

Taking things maybe a little too seriously there? You think, maybe? Thank the Force it's only "relatively harmless." Maybe we can all band together and limit the cultural damage. And my reply on Facebook, which has yet to be answered -

I still want to know why these petitioners are talking like this. I don't question Lucas' authority, because he doesn't have any. Obviously, the petitioners feel differently. In point of fact, they have imbued Lucas with so much authority that they literally form petitions to win his approval of their point of view. Unlike the rest of us, they can't simply take what they like and ignore the rest, they want to make Lucas to make up their mind for them. The real question is why are they so helplessly dependent on Lucas' imaginary authority that they can't function without it. And then they turn around and accuse his fans of of "blind allegiance to an authority figure."

Again, what is this alleged authority that Lucas has that's so morally imperative to question? If your fandom has evolved to the point that you form petitions to Lucas that mirror the petition that was submitted to the Emperor of the galaxy because you project the same amount of authority on one that the other has, the continuity of the EU is probably the least of your worries. Stop wasting $30 a pop on the interminable "Fate of the Jedi" series, and start saving up for therapy. Lucas isn't controlling you, man. He's not a president, or the pope. You don't have to wait until he exiles or excommunicates you from the fandom. You can walk away any time. So you might want to do so while you still can.

See what happens there? Then I start taking things too seriously. Life is just too short. I still want to know the rationale for projecting all this authority on Lucas, though. As I stated elsewhere, I'm a huge Harry Potter fan too, yet no one accuses me of blind allegiance to JK Rowling's authority (?). But Lucas is always held to a different standard as everyone else. And his fans too, which is sad, because I honestly don't have a clue what, how, or why I'm supposed to question him. The base that whole idea is built on is so faulty I barely no how to respond.

It's not anyone's job to interrogate artists everytime someone encounters their creative work. They can either like it or dislike it, love it or hate it, be inspired by it or not be inspired by it. And again, only in Star Wars fandom would anyone say differently. If I went on an Impressionist website and said I loved Monet, no one would start berating me for not questioning his authority, nor would anyone call me a mindless Monet slave. Yet if the pattern is repeated on a Star Wars forum and I said I loved Lucas, that's precisely what would happen.

It is also worth bringing up that the Petition people cited the "myth" about Lucas being the sole creator of Star Wars. I can't imagine where they got that one from. Only I can, right from my own comments section -Tell me if you feel that Lucas is such a "spiritual, philosophical" storyteller after you read the truth behind the myth in Michael Kaminsky's "The Secret History of Star Wars," which reprints many of Lucas salient interviews over the years. No "fictious portrait" that, but the plain truth.

This book keeps being brought up and it goes to show exactly where fandom's head is at sometimes. I don't know why people keep throwing it up like some kind of a challenge (or better yet, why I take it seriously). While I've only read pieces online and have visited the website, as near as I can tell The Secret History of Star Wars is being touted as some kind of explosive, shocking work featuring never-before-known revelations about Lucas and the saga. Revelations Lucasfilm has gone to elaborate lengths to bury, hide, and suppress.

Perhaps I'm missing something, but if this vast conspiracy is true, Lucasfilm is doing an extraordinarily bad job of keeping it hidden. The site claims Lucas is doing everything possible to suppress the unaltered original trilogy and pretend it never existed, which is odd, because there were plenty of copies of it on DVD the last time I was at Wal-mart. And Target. And Best Buy. And Toys R Us. Then there is the issue of that little book, The Making of Star Wars by the awesome J. W. Rinzler, which perfectly outlines everything that is also allegedly being rewritten and suppressed, out in plain view for anyone with a competent literacy level to read. Oh yeah, and The Making of The Empire Strikes Back too, both of which are officially licensed by Lucasfilm and can be found in fine bookstores everywhere.

Being a sincere Star Wars fan rather than a serious one, I simply don't care about all this stuff, even though people insist on stomping up to me and telling me all about it. None of it strikes me as "secret" so much as just elaborate and complicated. Yes, we all know Star Wars didn't spring fully formed from Lucas' skull like Athena bursting out of Zeus. No one in their right mind has ever claimed such a thing (and sorry, but this goes for the prequels and the Clone Wars as well). One of the sticking points of The Secret History seems to be that Lucas now claims that his saga has always been about the "Tragedy of Darth Vader," and it's a big conspiracy that it wasn't. Actually, I disproved this one with two and a half minutes of research, when I saw that Lucas freely admitted to Vanity Fair in 2005 that he didn't have that part worked out until the late, late nineties. Again, it's not much of a secret if everyone says what's going on.

All the information I've seen from scanning through the book is stuff I pretty much already knew. Unless I'm missing something, it's been out in plain view for the past thirty years for anyone who's taken the time to look for it. Like I said in my last post, that so few people have is precisely the reason why all of it can be erroneously labelled as a "secret." Everyone knows Lucas has changed the number of films from nine or twelve to six and, quite frankly, I couldn't care less. That Lucas has changed his mind in the last thirty years hardly constitutes a conspiracy. I've changed my mind in the last thirty minutes, but I'm not held under the same scrutiny.

Perhaps this book is invaluable for the fan who's desperately trying to convince themselves Gary Kurtz really wrote and directed A New Hope and Lucas was just along for the ride, but I'm not, so it's all kinda superfluous to me. Now that I've gone back and revisited it, the whole affair seems pretty status quo. He'll no doubt have more readers than me when it's all over, but I don't see anything really new or daring going on there. I know it's supposed to be a self-styled "defiance" against the Lucasfilm version of history, but it's really just preaching to the online choir. If you want a real challenge to the status quo, go check out my .The Case for Jar Jar. Now that's daring and subversive.

I would also suggest going online and purchasing a copy of the George Lucas Interviews book, which features some great interviews from the early seventies to the late nineties. Again, I don't have an anti-Lucas agenda but rather a pro- one and so, to me, they all hang together with remarkable consistency. All the interviews I've ever read with the man have increased my respect for him rather than the other way around. If I was flying blind concerning Lucas and his history like most fans apparently are, maybe this "secret" stuff would be blowing me away. But I'm not, and it doesn't (or as another poster put it much better than I could - I read the online version of "Secret History" a while back, and my reaction to it could more or less be compared to Claude Rains in "Casablanca," shocked to discover that there's gambling at Rick's cafe). 

With this taken into account, I hope that in the future those of you who've read The Secret History will refrain from coming up to me and acting like Dan Brown fans who've convinced themselves they're privy to buried truths the rest of the world remains oblivious to. That part is really annoying. Quite frankly, Star Wars has been under the "singular" stewardship of George Lucas for over thirty years and is absolutely blossoming and thriving unlike ever before, with two new generations who love the special editions and the prequels and the Clone Wars as much as we did the originals. So like it or not (not), he is doing something right.

The fact of the matter is, all the myths that have been built up around George Lucas are wide of the mark. Mine, yours, everyone's. Because the real Lucas isn't the myth that fans bash or praise; he's just a guy. He wakes up in the morning, takes a shower, raids his closet for flannel shirts and blue jeans, goes downstairs, eats breakfast, takes his kids to school, and is closer to the rest of us than most will allow him to be. He makes good decisions and bad ones, but so do the rest of us. And I shudder to think what most of our lives would look like when held up to the same relentless scrutiny as his.

A lot of people online seem to labor under the impression that he's become a "money hungry, effects obsessed egomaniac." Other people, including myself, regard him as a "uniquely spiritual, philosophical filmmaker." Again, he's probably neither, or both, but my base is an extremely lucrative one to build on. Amazing things start to happen when Star Wars is viewed with that assumption in mind, as I've helped demonstrate for over a decade. And if I didn't feel that way, I wouldn't be a fan, nor could I possibly enjoy all of it as much as I do.

Everytime I see Lucas during an interview, it's hard not to smile. I look carefully at those eyes, and see the sparkling whimsy in them, and I'm pretty sure he doesn't take any of this that seriously either. At the end of the day, he's just playing with incredibly complicated patterns of light, color, sound, and music on an enormous canvas, and I for one sincerely like to watch him go.

P.S. I'm actually tired of talking. That got a little like work for a minute. I'll try for some actual philosophy next time.


  1. clap........clap.....clap...clap...clap..clap clapclapclapclapclapclapclapclap. Well said. I am a huge star wars fan, but at the end of the day, it's just a story meant to be enjoyed, and if you tie yourself (or Lucas for that matter) with continuity issues or silly things like that, then you're not enjoying it. And if you're not enjoying it, then what's the point of calling yourself a fan if you don't like 80% of what comes out of Lucasfilm these days. Well written Paul. Well written indeed.

  2. *Humble bow*

    Thanks. I agree with you. If you're not enjoying it, what's the point? Particularly the people who haven't "enjoyed it" since 1981. May be time to let go. Just saying.

    Anyway, glad you liked the (admittedly rambling) post.

  3. Very fine essay. I think it all boils down to: if you don't enjoy SW anymore, move the heck on from it.

    The formation of elaborate conspiracy theories to "prove" that Lucas had nothing to do with ESB and that's why it's "the best"; and that ANH "makes it under the wire," even though Lucas wrote and directed it, because he was surrounded by "tough-talking naysayers," amounts to an increasingly tired and desperate justifications for fixating on movies you hate.

    Lucas himself has said, "I just make movies, and if people don't like them, they don't have to watch them."

  4. Lucas himself has said, "I just make movies, and if people don't like them, they don't have to watch them."

    Ah, but SAR, they do. I don't know why they do, but they do. Funny, but it was speculated that the TPM bashers hated that film so much they were basically going to pull up their stakes and leave fandom altogether. Like I said, it seems funny now, because they didn't. They really, really didn't.

    They stayed through Episode 2, Episode 3, now the Clone Wars ... rest assured, they'll be camped out for the 3-D releases so they can go type on the internet how bad they were and how Lucas is once again trying to siphon money out of their bank account. I don't suppose it ever occurred to them that if they REALLY wanted to stop Lucas' money-mad empire, they should just stop handing over their paychecks at every given opportunity.

    I think at this point they HAVE to watch. Like Jason said on the Forcecast, it's become some sort of sick, self-hating thing. As one TPM basher posted back in the day - "I've seen TPM five times now ... and every time, I hate it just a little bit more."

  5. I wouls say that almost ALL movies, except for documentaries, are not serious. After all, movies are classified as entertainment. To me, most movies are just escapist fun, and the Star Wars movies are at the top of that totem pole for me.

    Regarding the "I've seen TPM five times now ... and every time, I hate it just a little bit more." quote, I was just thinking earler today that I like TPM more each time I watch it. I was a bit disappointed when I first saw it in the theater, but having seen it again just yesterday, for probably about the fifth time, I found it more enjoyable than most movies I've watched.

    Like the man said, if you're not enjoying it, then don't watch.