Tuesday, March 19, 2013

When You Wish Upon a Death Star*

*Be really, really careful.

In Attack of the Clones in 2002, we all heard Yoda utter the fateful words, “Begun, the Clone Wars have.” And now in 2013, with a press release so incoherent it makes Yoda’s grammar twisting habits sound clear, endeth, the Cone Wars have. Not with the Battle of Coruscant or even Order 66, but rather as part of the hallowed “new direction” that Disney is taking with Lucasfilm.

Like a lot of the show’s fans, it is very difficult not to be heartbroken. The Clone Wars series has not only offered up five years of groundbreaking animation, complex storylines, soulful characters, and opened up an amazing window into some of the most epic and mythic events in that long ago, far away galaxy, it has become the beating heart of the franchise. After seeing the theatrically released film in 2008, my own interest and passion for the Wars was once again rekindled after Revenge of the Sith.

Just think about where the saga would be without The Clone Wars. For one thing, the blog you’re reading right now probably wouldn’t exist. After Episode III, it really did seem that the bright fire reignited by the special editions and the prequels was going to be extinguished, with nothing left to fill the void but the occasional novel, game, or comic book. More dark times were building on the horizon.

But then came Dave Filoni, who won the position of supervising director of the show. Arguably, he took the entire saga to previously unseen heights. Without a doubt, the man bled Star Wars. He was not only bristling with energy and supremely talented, he was one of us, even cosplaying as Plo Koon at Star Wars Celebration II. Whatever doubts the fanbase may have harbored, he soon won almost everyone over with his enthusiasm, knowledge, and sheer love for all things Jedi.

This ushered in a new era for Star Wars. To anyone listening to podcasts or reading blogs over the past few years, the talent of the cast and crew of The Clone Wars has  only been surpassed by their accessibility and openness to the fans. Ashley Eckstein, James Arnold Taylor, Catherine Tabor, Matt Lanter, Tom Kane, Corey Burton, Dee Bradley Baker, Sam Witwer, and all the rest, have been as wonderful and inclusive to us as anyone could have ever expected them to be.

Whether it be James Arnold Taylor co-hosting the Christmas episode of the Forcecast, or Ashley Eckstein launching another branch of Her Universe, or Stephen Stanton interacting with fans on Facebook, or Sam Witwer waxing philosophical about the dark side, or any of them at conventions or celebrations, they have so given of themselves that it’s been incredible. Their passion and commitment to the show was evident and audible in every interview given and every event attended.

Not in the original trilogy era nor in the prequel era have fans ever been so fortunate when it comes to scoring time with the cast and crew of a current Star Wars project.

It’s meant the world to this fan, going a long way toward making our fandom a proud and positive place to be again. They’ve given us more hours of content than anyone thus far and, had it been this way when I was a little kid, I don’t know that my heart could have taken all the excitement.

But as we know, all things come to an end. Otherwise the Jedi ideal of non-attachment wouldn’t make much sense. While fear of loss may be the path to the dark side, it is difficult not to feel some anger and resentment at the sudden news that the show will not be on Cartoon Network this fall, nor even on Disney XD. It is really sad and disheartening that the team who has given Star Wars not only a voice but a heart and soul for years will now be going off to do other projects.

They’ve become part of the family.

On a side note, I don’t get the sudden about-face of many of the fans. Quite a few of them gave Jimmy Mac of Rebel Force Radio a lot of crap for even suggesting that The Clone Wars might be coming to an end. Then when it did, some seem to be operating in a state of cognitive dissonance that it actually didn’t happened.

Bizarre, to say the least.

Also, this whole the-show-was-going-to-end-eventually-anyhow shrug of the shoulders doesn’t work for me. Yes, the show wasn’t going to run indefinitely. No denying that. And newsflash, none of your lives are going to run indefinitely, either. But that doesn’t mean Disney execs should march over to your house and shoot you this afternoon! Come on, guys.

Frankly, this tragedy reaches almost Darth Plageuis levels when one takes into account the fact that season six is basically complete, with episodes from seasons seven and eight also under production. No one knows when or where or really even if this content will be shown or made available. There was an excellent clip shown of an early Order 66 episode that is extremely tantalizing on the infamous Filoni Hostage Video. Disney’s labeling of the rest of The Clone Wars as “bonus content” is baffling, to say the least.

Not even taking into account the more emotional reality of countless sad little girls in Ahsoka hoodies, this is a very, very inauspicious start to Disney’s ownership of the Star Wars franchise.

The constant line we’ve been fed to explain all this is that the company is taking things in a New Direction. Well, okay. New directions can be fresh and exciting and invigorating, and can yield dynamic and unexpected results. But that doesn’t mean in the middle of a full-on race you suddenly veer off track and head over to start another one across town.

Since Disney’s initial purchase of Lucasfilm, the simple fact of the matter is that every project lined up for this year and the years to come has been either cancelled or indefinitely postponed. Every tantalizing teaser we saw at Star Wars Celebration VI has been mothballed or shut down. First it was the 3D re-releases. Then it was the 1313 game. Then it was Detours. But the real slap to the face was The Clone Wars, a show blossoming into some of the best mythic storytelling ever seen on television.

Unless I’ve misunderstood, the deal was we were getting more Star Wars now that Disney is in control, not less. After the initial round of announcements back in October, however, it’s pretty much been all downhill.

Much like Anakin and the Jedi Order, my confidence in Disney has been severely shaken. At the very least this shows our new corporate overlords do not understand the fanbase, nor could they care less about it.

So much venom has been spewed at George Lucas during his thirty plus year reign of Lucasfilm. This goes to show what good hands the company has actually been in all this time. It seems to me that art and innovation were always prized at Lucasfilm, far and above profit and politics. Lucas loved this show, being personally invested in the story and the characters. It never would have been cancelled or treated so shoddily when he was in charge.

It’s difficult to know what to think about his role in all this. It’s amazing to me that Lucas didn’t have some kind of contingency plan for the show. Speculation now leads me to think maybe he doesn’t have as much input as we assumed he would. Maybe the Lucas really is gone from Lucasfilm (Is he feeling a little like Lando “This deal is getting worse all the time” Calrissian right about now?).

And heaven only knows where Kathleen Kennedy is during all this. A reassuring message to the fans would not be amiss here. 

It was hoped, or at least assumed, when the acquisition came that Disney would be creatively hands off with the property. They absorbed Lucasfilm because it was Lucasfilm, not simply to turn it into a vestigial appendage of their own company. Thus far, that hasn’t been the case.

Considering The Clone Wars was successfully both critically and in the ratings, Disney’s stubborn refusal to find a real home for it speaks loud and clear. The board is being cleared for their Star Wars, for better or for worse. Anything that came before is being given the boot, with perhaps the exception of cameos of the original trilogy cast, but that’s probably more an attempt to cash in on the nostalgia factor than any fan service.

Even at the cost of alienating a generation of young fans, they simply don’t care about The Clone Wars or the talent that helped create it week in and week out. This is all about their Star Wars, their way. Maybe great things are to come, but make no mistake, this is not the fandom and the franchise that we’ve enjoyed since 1977.

While I am still hoping for the best with the sequel trilogy, a certain segment of fandom is understandably getting really tired of hearing about Episode VII already. If they’re shutting down production of The Clone Wars to focus on the new movie, that still doesn’t mean they can’t release what they have, polished up or no. And where does it end?

As a friend of mine noted on Facebook, is Disney going to shut down production on The Avengers sequel to work on Episode VII too? Or how about Disney XD? Why not the theme parks while we’re at it? Just allocate all resources to work on the new trilogy.


P.S. Seriously Disney, we are excited about Episode VII, but just don’t turn it into a hose to beat us with while you’re taking away everything we love. It’s not very endearing. Telling us how wonderful the sequel trilogy is going to be while simultaneously holding our faces in the toilet is disingenuous, to say the least. Some of us are going to notice.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Saving the Clone Wars

As many of you have no doubt heard, the future of The Clone Wars isn’t looking that bright - either for the Jedi, or the fans camping out in front of their televisions every Saturday morning.

With the Disney acquisition, many logically assumed the long running animated series would move from Cartoon Network to Disney XD. Sources say that is far from a done deal, with many speculating that Disney is trying to slowly maneuver the franchise from the prequel era into something much closer to the original trilogy.

With the coming of Episode VII, this does make a certain amount of sense. Still, it doesn’t excuse the indefinite postponement of the 3D releases, and certainly not the failure to renew The Clone Wars. After all, this show has been Star Wars for five years running. I am a huge supporter of the series, and have been greatly honored to meet much of the talent behind it.

One of the highlights of Celebration VI last year was my friend and I passing Dave Filoni and Joel Aaron on the sidewalk outside our hotel. While I did have to actually be a fanboy and shake his hand later, at the time I just coolly remarked, “Mr. Filoni, Mr. Aaron.” And Filoni didn’t say a word, just slyly smiled and tilted his trademark hat in my direction. It was beyond epic.

I also had a great chat with James Arnold Taylor after the Closing Ceremonies. He was exhausted from being the main host, but as polite as Obi-Wan and Plo Koon mixed together. He actually stopped with his entourage to talk to me a few minutes after I thanked him for a job well done, and even handed me an autographed cereal box that he voiced the commercial for.

The same is true for Dragoncon. I’ve met the beautiful and talented Ashley Eckstein a number of times, as well as the incomparable Tom Kane. One of the best things about all of them is the kind of amazing ambassadors they’ve been to fandom, granting us an access to the world of the Wars in a way we’ve never had.

I also couldn’t resist handing them a couple of essays, one about Ashoka, and one about Yoda. I’m ashamed to say Ashley asked me two Dragoncons ago to write up an essay on the epic Mortis arc from season three, but I have yet to do so. Shameful, I know.

But alas, business is at hand. While I do want to whip up a post on the season five finale, for now, I’m going to chime in on the campaign to save the show. I don’t want my fandom card revoked, and very reliable sources such as Jimmy Mac of Rebel Force Radio and Bryan Young of Full of Sith are saying now is the time to make our voices heard.

Sigh. Personally, I’ve never had much luck with letter writing campaigns. To this day, I am absolutely convinced that if those clueless executives at FOX had actually bothered to read my five page essay to save the late great Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, the show would have finished its run. Still, I’m doing what I can, and so should you. Be nice, be polite, and voice your support for Filoni and the show. Now is the time, as Disney is cobbling together their fall schedule as I type.

(And the morons have already Order 66’d Tron Uprising, but don’t say I said that)

Personally, I would love to have The Clone Wars on Blu-Ray, but there are a lot of episodes finished and polished and ready to roll, and we don’t want the kids to miss out on their Saturday morning cartoons. And plus it might just disappear for a long time, which would be tragic after that sublime finale.

Actually, if I had my way, we would have a three or four part Clone Wars arc released in the theaters every month or so, but that isn’t going to happen.

This isn’t that great, but this is my letter to Bob Iger, address and all –

Mr. Bob Iger
Disney Studios
500 S. Buena Vista St.
Burbank, CA 91521

Dear Mr. Iger,

I would very much to congratulate you on the acquisition of Lucasfilm. After over thirty years of enjoying Star Wars, it is very reassuring to know that the saga will live on under the Disney banner. I know we all look forward to the stories that are yet to come, particularly the sequel trilogy.

I would also like to take this opportunity to express my support for The Clone Wars animated series. For the last five years, it has become an integral part of that galaxy far, far away. Not only has it brought in an entirely new generation of fans, it has also rejuvenated my own fandom. Particularly at a time when there was no new Star Wars on the horizon. I know countless fans online who feel the same way.

The show has become a landmark television event. Through the superb marriage of storytelling and brilliant visuals, it has truly found its place alongside the very best of the saga. The characters have taken on new dimensions through the medium of the show, as have the Clone Wars themselves. These are the stories fans have been hungering for since we first heard those mysterious words about being a Jedi Knight in the Clone Wars from Ben Kenobi in A New Hope all those decades ago.

The show has also become unique because of the talent that it has amassed under its banner. Supervising Director Dave Filoni has been a brilliant spokesman for Star Wars for years, sharing the passion and energy that we as fans do. As a longtime member of our ranks, he has been tremendously open and gracious to the community, as I found out when I got to meet him at Celebration VI last year. Actually, the entire cast and crew of the show have been tremendous, all serving as sublime ambassadors to the fans, a tradition that I hope to see continue.

In short, The Clone Wars has been a tremendous source of Star Wars, brilliantly executed week in and week out. To fail to renew the show would be a grave disappointment to the fans, and I want to give my support to everything they’ve done and everything they’ve promised to do. Please allow us to see the seasons already planned and filmed, not to mention allow the show-runners to end things on their own terms. Otherwise it would be a terrible disservice to not only those who have worked so hard on the show, but also to the fanbase.

Wishing you the best of luck with all those future Star Wars endeavors,

Paul F. McDonald

P.S. The 3D releases of Episode II and III would also be greatly appreciated.