Thursday, June 7, 2012

It's About Time ...

For me to do another blog post. Yes, "Night of the Mindless Lucas Slaves" is still coming. But I am very busy with the book, and plus I had an interesting Memorial Day Weekend at Timegate. Sure, it is a small convention in Atlanta devoted to Doctor Who and Stargate, but since it was the thirty-fifth anniversary of Star Wars, that didn't just slip by unnoticed.

The big event was really the appearance of John Jackson Miller, author of not only the novel Knight Errant, but the comic book series as well.  He also enjoyed a stint on Iron Man, so he led the inevitable panel on The Avengers too. (BTW, how awesome was that movie?!)

But back to the Wars. The first event I went to on Saturday was a panel he led covering the thirty-five year history of Star Wars. It was really interesting and nostalgic, with a few things I didn't know. One of the guys in the audience had actually worked at or help run a theater chain in Atlanta at the time A New Hope debuted. He had an interesting perspective on how booking went back in those days, as well as noting how the Atlanta Journal movie critic Eleanor Ringold changed her turn from a scathing review of the film in 1977 to a glowing one for the Special Edition twenty years later.

As for me, I was really certain I'd seen the film in 1977, but in retrospect that couldn't have been true. I'd already had four action figures that I was toting around before I actually made it to the theater, and we all know about the infamous Early Bird package for Christmas the year the film actually premiered. Seeing as how it took Kenner almost a year to get any action figures out, it had to have been 1975.

Just the action figures had captured my imagination, though. Through a family connection, I had acquired Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, Chewbacca, and C3PO, in case you're interested. I must have carried them around with me everywhere. And as an old family story goes, the minute C-3PO and R2-D2 showed up on the Tantive IV, I slipped down off my father's knee and started wandering toward the screen, saying their names over and over again. Must have been a sight. I was too young to remember any of this and I have no idea where I thought I was going, but I suppose it did put my life on a certain trajectory.

But that was thirty-five years ago. At the panel, Miller noted that after the Marvel comics and Splinter of the Mind's Eye and that stuff, the modern Expanded Universe was born. Starting with Timothy Zahn's Thrawn trilogy, Miller said everything that happened in the books, comics, and games was considered canon, and all were brought under much closer scrutiny by Lucasfilm.

As previously noted, this isn't entirely true. Lucas has said again and again that he is father of the movie universe, then there's the son, the expanded universe, and then there's the fan universe. Furthermore, it doesn't really matter that much anyway. At least not to me.

In the panel I just had to bring up a quote by Joseph Campbell, as I cited him as my default button for establishing what Star Wars is. I didn't have it with me at the time, but fortunately for you, my copy of The Power of Myth is right here:

Mythology is very fluid. Most of the myths are self-contradictory.
You may even find four or five myths in a given culture, all giving
different versions of the same mystery. Then theology comes along
and says it has got to be just this way. Mythology is poetry, and the
poetic language is very flexible.

So there you have it. That's the way I see Star Wars. It changes and adapts like the Special Editions, and there are sometimes multiple interpretations, like in the EU. If you take it and interpret it as what it is and what it has always claimed to be, it just works. It's that simple. It's poetry, it's myth, and that is very fluid.

It isn't until a rigid priesthood rises that canon disputes erupt. Some people call the Star Wars fans who constantly argue and start fights and abhor the prequels and frankly don't really like Star Wars that much Hateboys or Half-Fans ... I just think of them as Star Wars Fundamentalists. Not a perfect analogy, but if we have to draw a real world parallel, it works about as well as anything. The mentality is eerily similiar.

Slightly off topic, but I came across a really fascinating quote in J.W. Rinzler's amazing The Making of Star Wars Revenge of the Sith. As late as 2003, George Lucas told special effects whiz Rob Coleman that "the story of Star Wars is actually recounted by R2-D2 to the Keeper of the Whills, one hundred years after Return of the Jedi." If you will recall, one of the very first ideas back in the seventies involved the mysterious Whills, which were some kind of wiser-than-the-mortal-players entities who were observing that galaxy far, far away from afar. They've always sounded almost hyper-mythic to me, like the Greek Titans or something. 

There is a brief cryptic reference to them in the young reader version of Revenge of the Sith, as Qui-Gon Jinn's spirit allegedly learned some of it's tricks by being trained by some kind of Shaman of the Whills. That was 2005, but I didn't know they were still on George's radar. I personally want to know more about these guys.

And in relation to "canon," there you have it ... this entire story is a narration by R2-D2 to a group of beings we know nothing about. No narration is perfect. It's going to have conflicting reports and points of view. Again, that's just the way it works.

Anyway at Timegate, I was able to talk with John Jackson Miller a few times. I bought the Knight Errant novel and a comic book. We had an interesting discussion. One of the Sith Lords in the novel is so consumed with selfishness he has taken up the philosophy of solipsism, literally believing himself to be the only being in the galaxy who truly exists. This is a really interesting idea to me, very solidly building on the foundation that Lucas has always talked about. Miller also based some of it on egotistical maniacs in charge of various despotic Soviet states, back in the old days of that defunct Union. (Miller ironically received his degree in Soviet studies the week the Soviet Union finally collapsed)

During the panel, he had also dialed back the clock to the seventies. As most people know, Star Wars came along during a particularly troubled era in American history, following on the footsteps of Vietnam and the Watergate Scandal. In many ways, A New Hope really was a new hope for the entire country. The good guys were good and the bad guys were bad and the Death Star blew up and everyone applauded at the end.

In contrast, the prequel films were actually about all the crisis' of the sixties and seventies, laid bare and at the forefront. A staged war, a corrupt politician, good guys losing their moral ground, all of that. It provided such a contrast to what had come before that the trilogy was a real challenge for a lot of people.

Everyone knows to cheer when the Death Star explodes. Not everyone knows quite what to do when Yoda swoops in to save the day in a Geonosian arena ... commanding squads of stormtroopers. And that's the way it had to be. Nonetheless, I bet that's one of the reasons the prequels took such an unfair beating.

Before the day was over, I had the priviledge of meeting Courtland Lewis, one of the editors of Doctor Who and Philosophy (Go buy it, it's awesome). We had a good chat, and I wished I'd had my copy for him to sign. I love that series, and I had considered taking my own book to Open Court. They do know how to distribute their product, no doubt about it. However, the publishing process also moves pretty glacially with them and they are experiencing some money trouble. I personally am just glad to have a book contract, though it was nice to chat with another person writing similiar stuff.

Okay, next time, if you dare ... "Night of the Mindless Lucas Slaves!"

They're coming to git ya!


  1. "It's poetry, it's myth, and that is very fluid."

    And what a great post! :) I agree about the fluid nature of Star Wars, and thanks for the quote and the description of the Memorial Day Weekend! :)

  2. I like the Joseph Campbell quote. Very appropriate, and a good way to look at the different versions of the original trilogy. Certainly, even if the same person tells the same story over and over, there will be slight variations. I hadn't thought of the hateboys being a rigid priesthood, but you may have a point. Too bad for them they don't have the power to convene a council of Nicea and make it so!

    The ambiguous nature of the happenings in the prequels was probably indeed one reason it wasn't well received. It wasn't the pure good vs. evil story of the others. I think that the tremendous expectations were another factor. Nothing could live up to those. The focus of The Phantom Menace on politics probably turned off some people, too.

    1. Except the prequels were well-received, no matter how many times the hateboys or their representatives in the media claim otherwise. Movies that are not well-received do not gross upwards of $300 million domestically (and in Episode I's case, upwards of $400 million domestically), nor do they sell so well on DVD, or on Blu-Ray, or rake in an impressive haul in a 3-D re-release that got almost no promotion. And the politics weren't the "focus" of TPM. They were a means by which the story was told, and the stories of AOTC and ROTS were set up.

    2. I disagree that the prequels were well received, at least relatively speaking. First of all, I like the prequels and am NOT bashing them, just stating facts. Episodes 1 and 2 have roughly average ratings on imdb, rottentomatoes (both user and critic) and metacritic. Of course they made a ton of money, but that does NOT mean that they were well received or well reviewed. I never said that they were commercial failures. That's not what "well received" means, at least not to me.

      No, the "focus" of TPM wasn't politics, but if did spend far more time on politics and economics than any of the original trilogy, and I know for a fact that that turned many people off. That was my point with that statement. I am fully aware that they were a means by which the story was told. I enjoyed the movies and am not criticising the use of politics, I am only attempting to come up with an explanation as to why they get much lower ratings by both the fans and the critics than the original trilogy does.

    3. I couldn't care less what the critics said, and does not represent the moviegoing public. In fact, it represents only a very, very small cross-section: those who a) know exists; b) care that it exists; c) are registered at; and d) have voted on the prequels. I might add that there are plenty of haters who gave the prequels poor ratings just to bring the average rating down. They did the same on with regards to the Blu-Ray set, before the thing was even released. So I'm not impressed by your "facts," dbutler. I've seen that crap posited by countless haters, and stealth haters who say they LIKE the prequels, they really DO, but come ON, you HAVE to admit that they weren't well-received by the critics or the public, and you HAVE to admit that the viewers were turned off by the politics.

      So you "know for a fact" that many people were turned off by the politics. How many people did you talk to? Did you hang out at screenings and pass out questionnaires?

      Oh, and by the way, your precious featured an article showing that the prequels were actually better reviewed than the movies of the Original Trilogy were upon initial release. Don't believe me? See for yourself:

      I like how you ignore anything that doesn't fit in with your worldview. Once again, I'll point out that movies that are poorly received do not gross as much money as the prequels did in the theaters. Nor do they sell as well as the prequels did on DVD. And TPM did very well in its 3-D release, especially considering it was 13 years old, and during that 13 years, the public had repeatedly been told by the hateboys and their representatives in the press that TPM was reviled and hated.

      I left out the Blu-Ray sales this time because I realized that wasn't a fair point. The Blu-Ray set was all-inclusive; even if buyers just wanted the OT on Blu-Ray, they bought the PT by default.

    4. Okay, I've tried to reply like twice here. I don't think anyone here is a "stealth hater." It seems like we're mostly on the same page. And since the prequels are a punchline half the time .... I for one would have to agree that they weren't very well received. This doesn't mean they weren't liked, and liked a lot, by a substantial number of people. And no doubt they would have been liked more had it not been for the rather relentless hate campaign of the last thirteen years. People basically aren't allowed to like them, and that continues to be a problem. I think they pretty successfully won over a new generation of fans, which is no small thing, but they've been so picked apart and beaten down it's hard to say they were that well received .....

  3. The Arthurian legend has changed how many times over the centuries? Whether it's changing the Celtic magic cauldron into the Holy Grail, the post-Norman invasion addition of the Guinevere/Lancelot/Arthur love triangle, Lord Tennyson's version, "Monty Python And The Holy Grail," or the current BBC series "Merlin" (which totally turns the legend on its head), Arthur's story has never been static or consistent.

    As far as I'm concerned, the six Star Wars films are what's "true" in the GFFA. Clone Wars is mostly true. Everything is else is apocrypha and legend.

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