Sunday, April 19, 2015

You Can't Go Home Again

(But You Kind of Do Anyway)
So this has been a long time coming.

For the first time ever, Star Wars kind of fell out of my life after the Disney acquisition. Some of you know my own personal drama over the past few years. There were some profound shifts in my life, so much so that I even lost the one constant that had been with me since I was born.

Star Wars had been a perpetual source of comfort and inspiration to me, that galaxy far, far away at once as alien and familiar as anything I’d ever known. John Williams’ Force theme just hummed away as the background music for much of my life. The saga itself was always there to wrap up in, a warm little security blanket if ever there was one.

But things changed. 

As for my forays into Star Wars writing, the main thrust of this blog seemed in danger of atrophying. George Lucas finally walked away from it all, retiring to a new life and a new marriage. The saga was now in the hands of many who seemed quite eager to return to form, the original trilogy that we all admittedly loved and idolized, with all its “practical effects” but not a Gungan in sight. Lucasfilm was no longer the maverick little independent studio calling all the shots, with an unprecedented amount of creative control in the hands of one often often misunderstood artist.

So The Star Wars Heresies were slowly but surely fading into irrelevance (though the book of the same title is still quite good and you should all buy a copy immediately). My disconnect from everything that was going on was a very real and tangible thing. Plus, there was honestly lots of real life stuff happening that made going online and arguing over a saga that was about to be reborn into heaven only knows what seem chronically unappealing.

To put it frankly, I had lost a home, albeit a fictitious one existing a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. One populated by Jedi Knights and Sith Lords, accented by the snap-hiss of lightsabers being activated, and forever living and breathing by a mystical energy field known only as the Force. But it truly had been as much home to me as anything, as sure and as true as that familiar feeling forming in the pit of your stomach whenever Tatooine was onscreen. 

And home is a big thing. Maybe the biggest thing. But more on that later.
Without a doubt, the biggest explosion of unparalleled Star Wars goodness for me personally was Celebration VI. In a year that was unbelievably miserable for me personally, those were four or five of the best days of my life. Whether posing in a fake bacta tank or playing chess aboard a mock Millennium Falcon set, watching new Clone Wars episodes or getting a tilt of the hat from none other than Dave Filoni himself, there was no bad there. And getting shot around in hyperspace on Star Tours only added to the utterly immersive experience. 

But honestly, by the time Celebration VII was set to roll around, I wasn’t really even interested. My connection to the Force had been seriously severed. Anytime new content entered my field of vision, I couldn’t really see it. It was kind of like being lost in a snowstorm on Hoth, without a Tauntaun to guide you, or any visions of Jedi to offer up any hope. Perhaps that’s a bit bleak, but you get the point. 
Even hosting a Star Wars Reads Day event at the library I work at didn’t do much to boost my energy, though Star Wars bingo was admittedly a lot of fun.

However, things finally did begin to resonate with me more. For one thing, Dave Filoni was still around, protégé and padawan of George Lucas himself, a man who knew the saga inside and out, and could wax philosophical about the Force as eloquently as any Jedi Master. While more or less unimpressed with the debut of Rebels and the utterly indecipherable schedule the Disney channel had it on, I began to hear encouraging rumblings. I downloaded most of the episodes on the Play Store and, by the time the first season was up, I was hooked. 

While the animation had obviously suffered from Clone Wars, the crew of the Ghost slowly became more than the sum of their parts over the course of the season. This wasn’t simply Firefly with cowboy Jedi. Darth Vader showing up at the end was thrilling as always, and the Rebel Alliance blasting out of hyperspace with Bail Organa in the finale was a moment impossible not to cheer. The amount of gravitas the series built up was surprising, as well as the rare sense of genuine peril that happened when five characters and a droid banded together to thumb their nose at a galactic empire. 
Not to mention the last minute return of a certain beloved female character. The fire of the Rebellion might have been spreading across the galaxy in the story, but the news of a long lost padawan returning spread across the Internet just as fast. “Ashoka Lives” is certainly two of the most reassuring words to come out of the Wars in a while, and they also started healing a lot of old wounds. 


The season two trailer looks even more amazing, and from what I’ve heard, the premiere was well worth the four hour wait at Celebration. If only Hasbro could actually get some toys on the shelf, all would be well on the Lucasfilm animation front. 

It also didn’t hurt that The Star Wars Heresies book got a shout-out in two consecutive issues of the Star Wars Insider magazine. Not only that, but the content in general seemed to have vastly improved. The connecting symbiosis of the Force appears to be flowing much more smoothly between the official channels and fandom. To see friends and fans and fellow writers contributing and posting content in the official magazine, as well as on the blog, never fails to bring a smile to my face. That is new and fresh and extremely gratifying.

Of course, the biggest news is undeniably the launch of a new sequel trilogy, as well as stand alone films debuting once a year. This has been the focus of endless debate and discussion, with the most optimistic in fandom citing the template that has proven so successful for Marvel Studios.

As for me, I’ve been hesitant. My interest level took a long time to be peaked, which is good, especially given the stranglehold of secrecy that has existed around Episode VII. I suppose my biggest concerns have been that all of the mythic weight and depth imbued in the film saga up until now would be largely lost, as well as just the general oversaturation of the market. 

Those concerns still linger, but then we finally scored a title. The Force Awakens. For the record, I do like it, as it does carry a bit of mythic mystery about it. Then we snagged an actual teaser trailer, with John Boyega popping into frame, resembling one really disoriented stormtrooper. For the record, the teaser did capture my attention pretty exclusively, especially the closing shot of the Falcon skimming the desert surface with TIE fighters buzzing by. And yes, I also like the look of the hotly debated crossguard-lightsaber, apparently an ancient Sith relic that looks primitive and dangerous and not entirely stable.

Happily, the new droid BB-8 also seems to imply that a bit of that Lucasfilm whimsy and silly will be left intact, the little robot zooming about like an electronic beach ball.  #DareToBeCute


I suppose I should and perhaps will provide actual commentary on all this stuff, but that will have to be at a later date. 
But guys, it was the second trailer that launched in front of thousands of screaming fans at Celebration VII that finally got me, that whittled away all my defenses. It blew away my skepticism like the Death Star blowing away Alderaan. 

While I was at work Thursday, I knew the JJ Abrams/Kathleen Kennedy panel was taking place in California. Rumblings in the Force indicated that a new trailer might debut, and I am, and probably always will be, a sucker for trailers. Sure enough, I found it online. 

With no ability to wait till I got home, I basically sequestered myself in the middle office at work as soon as I could, closed the door, killed the lights, broke out my earbuds, and proceeded to watch almost two minutes of footage from The Force Awakens. There is so much to be said about the content. 

For now though, I’ll just admit it was one of the most magical viewings of anything ever. Hearing Luke’s voice echo his lines from Return of the Jedi was a borderline religious experience. I watched it two or three times and finally just had to leave the computer. I had to honestly just walk around a bit in an effort to process the images I’d just seen, and the sounds I’d just heard. 
For the rest of that afternoon, screening after screening after screening was held in that middle office, with me making the setting as cinematic as possible. Sadly, no popcorn was on hand.

Let’s be honest, though. We were all essentially reacting like Matthew McConaughey in that viral video from Interstellar. Just as thousands of fans were doing at Celebration Anaheim, so was the rest of the world doing on the internet. There was laughing, cheering, crying, and maybe just a touch of hyperventilation. 

The main thoughts that I personally wanted to express on this post go a little something like this. 

Yes, Lucasfilm as we know it is over. As is Star Wars. Some people are extremely happy about this. Some people are less so. For the past year, I have wrestled with my own feelings or lack thereof. I have tended to fall into the latter category. Part of me would have been okay had Lucas decided to wrap up the saga with a nice, tidy bow, finish the Clone Wars, release all the films in 3D in the cinema, and simply make a graceful exit. No one could have said the run hadn’t been extraordinary.

But you know what? He didn’t. Whatever direction things go in now, that’s the way things are going to go. The Maker could have locked up all those lightsabers and droids and wookiees and troopers and emphatically proclaimed “no more.” But he didn’t. He sold the franchise to Disney, and gave the continuing saga a thumbs up. Even if it didn’t include his creative input.

As Lucas himself has said more than once, Star Wars is about “letting go.” As Shmi Skywalker told Anakin before he left Tatooine to begin his new life as a Jedi, you can’t stop change, any more than you can stop the suns from setting. That really is a profound image, and Lucas demonstrated the reality of it by opening up his galaxy to another set of filmmakers.

And for better or worse, that’s what’s happening.

Yes, I would strongly prefer the sequel trilogy to be based on Lucas’ story treatments. Yes, I would want all six films to be treated with the same level of deference and respect. And yes, I would like it if the new stories to be told dictated the new course at hand, rather than what fans think they may or may not want.

But you know what? If the Maker can let go of all this, maybe it’s time for all of the fans to do the same. Part of what burned me out on the Wars is all the drama and stress and second guessing that goes hand-in-hand with this fandom, like a mynock glued to a power cable. I have no desire to stare down the barrel of fifteen years of “whole saga” fans shouting about how JJ Abrams “raped their middle adulthood” because he thinks of Star Wars as a western or doesn’t like as many digital effects or probably isn’t going to offer any screen time to Jedi discussing midichlorians.

Sometimes, I think our younger fan selves would look at us and declare us legally insane.

Life is far too short not to simply take a minute or two to just enjoy stuff. And that’s what I loved about the new trailer. For the briefest of moments, all our adult posing and posturing was out the window, and we were just united in the joy and wonder and magic of the whole thing all over again. And that’s what it’s all about. 

So if the current trajectory of the saga is to break out the new X-Wings and TIE fighters - as opposed to Naboo starfighters and droid control ships - and have them blast away at each other for a few movies, I can live with that. And if I found myself unable to do so, then it really is time to do what I was kind of planning on doing, and walk away from Star Wars altogether.

But after that trailer, I got my Jedi groove back. No, it may never be what it once was. But that’s just the way of things. The way of the Force. The suns are always going to set.

What interests me most about the trailer is the last line. This was the crowd pleaser. Han Solo and Chewbacca showing up in an older reflection of an iconic pose from A New Hope was the moment that put a tear in many an eye, including my own. This is our childhood, alive and well, and in the Millennium Falcon no less. While I have absolutely no urge to go back to my childhood, this is tugging on some very real, deep, primordial stuff in all of us.

To those who are arguing Abrams is doing some major emotional manipulation here, I can only smile and nod. Of course he is. And I don’t even blame him. Like most of us, maybe he’s just trying to get back to that place where it all started. Whatever his take on the things that came after the original trilogy, I have little doubt the chord he was trying to strike in all of us with that moment honestly exists in him as well.

Quite frankly, he just wanted to go home again.

That place that is as much a promise as a memory, that is as familiar yet as ethereal as the strains of the Star Wars theme itself. For me, it worked. It resonated. Amazingly so. And that he got there in just a two minute trailer is no small feat. It’s at least enough for me to want to follow him wherever he goes, to see how close he can get us to that fabled, holy galaxy that Lucas dreamed up in his imagination in the seventies. 

“Chewie, we’re home.” 
I hope so. It’s a place we’ve all spent a long time looking for.