Saturday, November 3, 2012

It's a Small Galaxy After All

So, some stuff happened since my last post. Galaxy-shattering stuff. Paradigm-shifting, even. An event so momentous it shook the Star Wars franchise to its very core, one that has redefined it for all time. The world changed this week, and it changed forever.

I finished writing my book, and it should now be safely in the hands of McFarland Publishers.

OH - and Disney also bought Lucasfilm and the long rumored Episodes VII-IX are going to be filmed after all. 

After a genuinely trying October, I don't know which of those sentences are harder to believe. Tuesday I finally had a day off, which I was going to devote to peace and relaxation. I never take a nap in the middle of the day, but I did Tuesday. Then my phone started buzzing, afire with texts and Facebook messages. It didn't stop for almost six hours straight, and was quite literally hot in my hands. 

I'll just go on record now as echoing what everyone has been saying interminably since the news broke - this feels like something out of a dream. We all feel about as disoriented as Luke Skywalker when he first got to Dagobah. Still, there is something familiar about where we all are. 

The ever-shifting statements regarding the number of episodes that will make up the saga we know and love (except for those who hate it, of course). Lucas' continued insistence on his ambition to retire and go make small experimental films that no one will want to see. And of course the affiliation of Lucasfilm and Disney. On that score, I can say that the only direct coming together of the two I experienced was Star Tours this summer in Orlando, and if that is any indication of what is to come, we are all in for a treat. 

Of course, when has the fandom itself ever been wholeheartedly willing to set aside its collective ego and embrace something as sweet and tempting as a possible treat? Business goes on as usual, with a certain segment of the community as fired with righteous indignation as on the day they first heard about midichlorians. 

For years, George Lucas refused to give up creative control of Star Wars, which had fans furious. Now that he's finally given all of it up to Kathleen Kennedy and crew, surprise, they're stil furious. For years, the possibility of another trilogy was denied and refused, with fans angrily foaming at the mouth. Now that the new sequel trilogy has been acknowledged and confirmed, surprise, fans are still angrily foaming at the mouth. Situation normal.

But for the rest of us, more or less happy, fans, the news still bowled us over, like a Wookiee barreling through a cantina, drunk on Corellian ale. Even now, several days after the announcement, it still requires some internal adjustment. Merely the idea of a castle with fireworks over it initiating a new film, as opposed to the sublimely familiar Twentieth Century FOX logo, is a lot to assimilate. 

For me, I was a little saddened by the news. After all, despite all the protests about Lucas "selling out," he was in fact about the only person who never did. But alas, as Yoda reminds us, all is impermanent. Even Lucasfilm. And with the Flanneled One himself approaching seventy years old, retirement was imminent. Faced with the possibility of his company's uncertain future after his death, he took the necessary steps to ensure its survival. 

While many laud the move as only a logical progression, it is somewhat sad to think of one of the few independent entertainment companies being gobbled up by yet another ever-inflating corporation. There is no denying that Lucasfilm itself was a corporation in both design and execution but, as so many failed to understand or appreciate, it was also a raised, defiant middle finger to the mega conglomerates now dictating much of what we consume as entertainment. Even after thirty-five years of producing arguably the biggest, most successful franchise in the world, it retained its independence, a stubborn, maverick film company that did things its own way, when the usual trend was to blow with whatever prevailing winds looked to produce the most box office receipts. 

So for that, I'm a little disheartened. On the other hand, Lucas and his company was by and large totally misunderstood, with the filmmaker himself largely being given nothing but grief for filming and financing his artistic visions however he saw fit. Of course, some are seeing this move as a "sell out," despite their insistence that he sold out long ago. It seems prudent to remind some factions that not only did he give half his money to charity a few years ago, lo and behold, he did the same thing all over again with the four billion from the Disney sale. Yes, some people have been so consistently wrong about GL for so long there's really no point in even arguing anymore. 

The good news for those of us no-good, dirty rotten Lucas lovers is that he isn't leaving the game altogether. While that may make some wince, it makes me smile. Thanks to all those conference calls this week, Bob Iger and company have confirmed that Lucas not only has a lot of notes on the trilogy to come, but also extensive treatments for the three films. We can only hope that there were also extensive clauses built into the contract dictating what can and can't be done with the existing films, as well as with the ones to come. Rumor also has it that the Bearded One may at least have as much input into Episode VII as he enjoys on The Clone Wars and had on The Empire Strikes Back.

Speaking of The Clone Wars, I'm not even going to speculate about possible writers and directors and all of that. Just glad it's not my decision to make. I think we as a fan base do feel a special connection and collective trust of Dave Filoni for his work on the franchise for the past few years, so let's hope he has some major input into all this before it's over. And speaking of The Clone Wars, it would be equally intriguing if the long-speculated fate of Ahsoka was actually to star in and launch the new trilogy!

To be sure, the merger does raise some possible red flags about the future of the Wars. Talk now centers around not only Episodes VII-IX, but any number of spin-off movies with Disney now in control. Like the modern Expanded Universe, there is always a potential for over-saturation and the dilution of the saga, with films debuting every couple of years into the foreseeable future. There are any number of things that could go wrong, despite most of us wanting it to go so right. 

Still, Disney has infinitely deeper pockets and resources than Lucasfilm ever did, so much so that the potential does shine brighter than the twin suns of Tatooine. As many like to point out, if Cars gets its own theme park, there is no reason why we shouldn't be walking around Lucasland in a few years, enjoying cups of Jawa Juice and riding around on amusement park-style Podracers. And of course, simply the thought of an older Mark Hamill donning the Jedi robes again, perhaps sporting a beard like his mentor Obi-Wan, and fading in as a blue Force ghost is enough to send most of us into delirious fanboy ecstasy. 

Yet again, even this is a double-edged lightsaber. It has been confirmed that the next three films will be original stories, which begs the question - what will they be about?! Return of the Jedi did have a perfect ending, and a nice symmetry with the prequels. The Emperor was dead, Vader was redeemed, the Force was balanced, and the Ewoks were happy. Not to mention that Lucas has insisted that the story of the Skywalkers was told in the first six films. If we are getting that Luke Skywalker cameo, it may very well be in an older mentor vein, with the lightsabers being passed off to the next generation. 

While I am rather happy to simply let our heroes from the original trilogy simply enjoy retirement, one does have to wonder where the threat will even come from. We obviously aren't going to be seeing any Yuuzhan Vong invasions, and to bring the Sith back would be to partially negate Vader's sacrifice in killing the Emperor. But if not the Sith, then who? The same goes for the Empire which, if the film is taking place forty years in the future as rumored, shouldn't be much of any issue any more. 
Happily, not for me to decide, and if GL has already worked up story notes, then I'm good. Philosophically, however, I get a little more territorial. As has been a topic of discussion among friends for years now, Luke Skywalker tossing his lightsaber away at the end of Return of the Jedi was a paradigm-shifting act. That can't simply be written off. This was the end of a thousand year cycle of Sith violence and darkness.

The progression within the existing trilogies can be helpfully viewed through the lens of the Bible. The old Jedi Order, with their codes and regulations, is largely a religion of law. The actions of Luke Skywalker, and the philosophies passed down by Qui-Gon Jinn, largely establish a religion of love. This movement is vaguely analogous to the transition from the Old Testament to the New, where much the same pattern established itself. 

While the word "wars" is right there in the title, it does seem a little unfortunate for another galaxy-wide conflict to erupt by the time of the next episode. The Force has been balanced, and it would be nice to think of the galaxy as a whole to be a more enlightened place as a result of it. The dark side no longer clouds everything, a fact which probably even filters down into the lives of ordinary beings. Perhaps a galaxy-regulating Republic is no longer even needed, though that is almost certainly a bit more anarchic than Lucas' vision allows. 

The main crux is the Jedi. If Luke does indeed "pass on" what he has learned, he most certainly would have taught Leia. And if he forms a new Jedi Order, then he will imbue it with what he has learned, namely that violence, while sometimes necessary, is simply NOT the answer. This new Order would more likely than not sport lightsabers simply for training and ceremonial purposes, and be organized along the lines of a passive, non-violent resistance movement. 

And this is where the path gets rather razor thin. Love him or hate him, Lucas understands better than anyone on the planet the mythological and philosophical thrust of these movies. Here at The Star Wars Heresies, that is perhaps the primary means of concern. If someone else is to take over the production of these films, then I want to be able to freeze frame my Blu-Ray extras and count the number of Joseph Campbell books on their book shelves.

Yeah, sure, I'm not going to cling to my preconceptions like a Sith witch Force choking a Rodian, but the spiritual core of Star Wars really needs to be understood and protected above all else. This would be the easiest thing to let slip by, and I would hate to see it happen. 

Okay, I guess I should admit that when I throw lines like "the spiritual core of Star Wars" around, I'm really talking about its Buddhist leanings. While the excellent The Dharma Of Star Wars pretty explicitly denies that the saga is a Buddhist allegory or such ... it really is. As George Lucas told TIME magazine during production of the prequels, he does live in Marin County, and "we're all Buddhists up here." Not to mention Irvin Kershner and Lawrence Kasdan were both studying Zen during the time of Empire and Jedi. Matthew Wood of sound design and General Grievous fame was heavily influenced by Alan Watts and is even helping his son Mark put together a documentary about him. Watts of course was not only a friend of Campbell's but one of the primary exporters of Eastern philosophy to the West.

This is rather ingrained in the whole enterprise. The Jedi have a temple, not a church; they don't pray, they meditate; they don't worship the Force, they become one with it. Certainly, it's open to a very broad variety of theological and philosophical interpretations, but Buddhism, particularly Zen, seems very much to be its heart. Ironically, considering Disney had Bernie Glassman working on the script for Tron Legacy, imbuing that film with a strong Zen-born spiritual subtext, Star Wars might get lucky.

And lastly, outside of the film and it's potentials and pitfalls, I have heard a consistent voice echoing across Facebook and forums and podcasts. This one is not concerned with the execution of what is to come, which fandom has very little control of it. Rather, the emphasis has shifted to something we do have some element of control over - namely our freakin' selves. 

If we are to have a new kind of Star Wars, we need a new kind of fan. One that can let go, embrace change, and simply enjoy themselves, as opposed to one that clings to the past, fears every change, and turns the entire event into a stress-filled anxiety attack. I could go William Shatner here and talk about "Getting a Life," but I won't.

Instead, I keep flashing back to Dead Poet's Society. Like one of the guys said, "Are we just guys out here reading a bunch of poems to ourselves, or do we really mean what we say?"  Same freakin' thing. Are we just a bunch of guys sitting around complaining on the Internet, or are we a bunch of potential Jedi ourselves who actually mean what we say? If we love the Force so much, we need to start acting like it, and let the light side flow through us. 

So get ready to take that first step into a larger world, cause Star Wars' future just got a whole lot bigger. 

And if you need some more reading and listening to help you kick your enthusiasm about this new world into hyperdrive, check out all this stuff -

And wow those links won't show up right ....