Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Star Wars Heresies - The Book

See, there really is a book. Think of this as an early bird post for a June 30th release. Surely Star Wars fans should be comfortable with that concept. Having said that, this may be outside a few comfort zones. This is a book that largely rewrites the book on the Wars, particularly the prequels. Should be interesting when the haters get on there and saddle it with a hundred one star reviews simply for existing. But that's why it's delightfully heretical.

And am I the only one disappointed that Amazon only allows for THIRTY pre-orders? What's up with that? This should be a prerequisite for anyone snagging a liberal arts degree.

P.S. McFarland Books are sometimes textbook expensive due to their affiliation with colleges and libraries, but they are high, high quality. And yes, tit will be available as an e-book as well.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

And Now For Something Totally Different

By now, pretty much everyone is  aware of the tragic news: the future of Star Wars in 3D is uncertain, much like Anakin Skywalker's future in The Phantom Menace. And while that film did see an epic 3D release last year, Episodes II and III have been indefinitely postponed, with no word on the original trilogy whatsoever. Not the best of ways to start the week, to be sure. 

Never fear. The Star Wars Heresies are here for you, brightening your day as swift and as sure as the twin suns of Tatooine. This has been in my brain a long time. It was written well before Christmas, and should have seen the light of day weeks ago. Alas, endless drama and trauma, coupled with dog-sitting in a house with no internet access for ten days, and here we are. But this is as good a day as any to publish it, and better than most.

This is me, writing what I know. A Star Wars web series without an actual series, set in a bookstore. But sit back, read through the episodes, and have a good chuckle.  We all need it after that Disney/Lucasfilm merger mess-up.

"So this is how literacy dies .... with thunderous applause."

Monday, January 21, 2013

One With the Force

My mother died on January 3, 2013.

Having always suffered from asthma, it was eventually pneumonia that settled into her lungs and killed her. The real culprit was mental illness, which she struggled with at least throughout my lifetime, if not the entirety of hers. She was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia a decade or so ago and finally institutionalized the last few years of her life.

There is a lot to be said concerning schizophrenia and the dark side. The most overt example in that long ago, far away galaxy is from the season four finale of The Clone Wars, in which the Sith Lord Darth Maul makes his anticipated return. Not only has he been physically cut in half, but his mind has been severed as well. Show-runner Dave Filoni even referred to his condition in one of the Blu-Ray commentaries as “schizophrenia.”

In 1911, the Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler coined the term schizophrenia, from the Greek words “schizein” meaning “splitting,” and “phren” meaning “mind.” It is quite literally a split mind, a psyche fragmented and dissociated from the rest of the world. It manifests as a kind of cognitive schism, with the sufferer on one side of the abyss, and reality lingering a fair distance away.

Which pretty much sums up Darth Maul, ranting and raving hysterically at the bottom of a pit, which is where his brother Savage Opress finds him. Lending voice to the psychosis, Sam Witwer noted on the Forcecast that this was a visible manifestation of what the Sith were all the time, although usually hidden below the surface. Witwer referred to the dark side as “fear and greed, and madness and despair,” which describes mental illness adequately enough. 

Maul had fallen down a hole, created a fictional reality, and then couldn’t get out again. It usually takes on a less literal form in real life, but the symbolism is on the mark.

As Alan Watts once said, “the lunatic is the most isolated person in the world.” Indeed, one of the tragedies of mental illness is the isolation caused when all the connection and communication with the outside world is severed, with the sufferer barricading themselves behind a wall no one can reach. 

There really isn’t anything quite as gut wrenching than someone being alive, yet as shut out and unreachable as though they were dead. This is what the dark side does too, as Obi-Wan Kenobi found out on the lava drenched world of Mustafar, when he lost an unreasoning Anakin Skywalker to the shadows of the dark.

Even with something like depression, this preoccupation with one’s self is overwhelming, as though no one else in the universe existed at all. This is not unlike the obsessive selfishness of the Sith, though of course not in the way of being morally bad and needing to be punished. This is a selfishness that makes life a veritable hell. 

The holistic way of the Jedi is selflessness, in the sense of an open and sane communion with the rest of life, of a recognition of that symbiont circle which binds everything together. There is no hardened self obstructing one’s view of everyone else. The Jedi are selfless, in some sense one with the galaxy. The Sith are selfish, in that they feel themselves so separate and isolated and disconnected from the galaxy that their only response is to conquer and rule it.

While schizophrenia is not multiple personality disorder, it is worth noting the collective psyche of the Sith is often so shattered more than one personality is born from it, usually sporting a “darth” in front of it. And all of them are so selfish they refuse to die, because then they can’t cling to anything anymore. Their refusal to yield to the natural cycle of one generation dying so the next can be born is perhaps the most obvious form of their madness.

Joseph Campbell once said that perhaps death is the seminal theme of mythology. Maybe it is the most seminal theme in Star Wars. Certainly the character’s differing responses to it speaks volumes about them. Obi-Wan’s sly smile to Darth Vader in the face of it was both sagely and eloquent, as well as Yoda’s serene acceptance on his deathbed. 

As the Dalai Lama himself likes to point out, much of religion and philosophy is simply learning how to smile in the face of the Void. This of course lies in stark contrast to the Sith’s greedy refusal to accept that life and death are part of a greater whole, twin brothers along the same continuum.

Ironically, modern mythologies like Star Wars, Harry Potter, and the like are the only places that death is honestly confronted in this culture. At my mother’s funeral, this was plainly obvious. It is striking how painfully ill-equipped to deal with death this society is – much the same can be said for mental illness, too. 

Not only was the funeral home as staged as a television studio, in one room was my mother’s casket, while in the other people were discussing traffic and what someone’s hair looked like as well as other banalities. Not to mention none of them were around expressing concern or support when she was alive and desperately needed it. Just another bit of that cultural schizophrenia we’re all indoctrinated into accepting as normal, that deep-seated belief that if we all pretend something isn't happening, then it isn't.

While Campbell talked of the big themes as birth and death, George Lucas told Bill Moyers in an interview that he also liked to include our relationship with our parents. 

Mine hasn’t been particularly pleasant, with even a substantial part of the good memories fading into the ether, lost to psychosis and disconnect. I personally gave up on my emotionally and often physically nowhere father years ago during my mother’s institutionalization, which was actually a profoundly positive thing to do. It is worth noting here he never even remotely understood Star Wars.

My mother I of course lost to suffering and madness, try as I did to cope with the situation. It occurs to me now that I’ve actually been grieving and mourning her for years, only without hope of resolution or closure. For the longest time I seemed to be the only member of the family who would even acknowledge what was going on or that she needed help. 

For her part, she always did seem to enjoy Star Wars. We went to all six movies together, particularly A New Hope, over and over again. She bought me a lot of action figures, and even secured an AT-AT Walker for me when it was almost bigger than I was. Most impressive, she even read a George Lucas biography to forge a bit of connection with me, something rather amazing for our family.

At the end of it all, pretty much every Star Wars-loving child raised in traumatic home situations all crave a Return of the Jedi-style reconciliation with their parents, at least deep down. Who doesn’t want to crack open that hard shell separating them from having a deep, meaningful relationship with their mother or father? Who wouldn’t want to have their parents look at them with their “own eyes” and finally see clarity and connection and total understanding reflected there?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen. Sometimes the best we can do is simply throw our lightsabers down just as Luke Skywalker did, and refuse to perpetuate the destructive patterns we were born into. The dramas come in many destructive forms, be they drugs or alcoholism, abuse or insanity. Some would argue madness isn’t much of a choice, but I personally remember consciously and deliberately making one for myself a long time ago not to go there. The highest functioning person I’m not, but I’m also not crazy.

So we always learn from our parents, even if we don’t follow their path. Or perhaps particularly if we don’t.

The Roman poet Ovid noted in Metamorphosis that “Be sure nothing perishes in the whole universe, it does but vary and change form.” This neatly dovetails into Yoda’s speech in Revenge of the Sith, when he proclaims there is no need to mourn or miss those who “transform into the Force.” A little stoic perhaps, but a rather startling thing happened to me the day after my mother was buried which faintly echoes it.

While standing in line at Wendys before a therapist’s appointment about all this, I was ushered ahead by three nice, kindly-looking little old ladies. “Don’t worry,” one told me, “We’ll pretend you’re my son.” 

Shocked, I turned around and looked straight into her eyes. They just smiled back, sane and whole. After telling her my mother’s funeral had been the following day, she even gave me a warm hug. Hard to believe the will of the Force wasn’t flowing that afternoon.

So goodbye, mom. We both did our best. Thanks for all those viewings of A New Hope at the dollar show, they were greatly enjoyed.

Sorry you won’t get to see the next trilogy. Or who knows, maybe you will.