Saturday, March 30, 2019

The Last Heresy

Image result for the phantom menace opening crawl

Here we all stand, but a few weeks away from the twentieth anniversary of that little movie called Episode One: The Phantom Menace. Those mythic days are mythic because, let’s be honest, they were the last days that Star Wars fandom would ever stand strong and united. Back in the late nineties, Star Wars was poised to completely take over the world. From a certain point of view, it did (The trailers alone were some of the most exciting cinematic experiences of my life).

But it also launched a media backlash unlike anything popular culture had seen until that time.

And the rest, as they say, is history. Although it is a history that I still have a hard time believing. So much so that when I wrote a book in praise of that very prequel trilogy the entire culture had once been waiting for, it had to be playfully deemed “heretical.”

That book is amazingly still selling, so thank you. But my own relationship with it has been a bit problematic. I have a new laptop and all, and after checking this blog for the first time in over a year, I feel the need to kind of elaborate.

I’m over forty, and thus able to make certain observations about my life. For one, I have bad timing. For instance, on the very day after I had fired off my final draft of The Star Wars Heresies to be published, one praising not only George Lucas but also his unique creative role in bringing about the franchise as a whole, my phone started buzzing. And it buzzed for hours that afternoon.

In short, I was notified that Lucasfilm was soon going to be without Lucas, because it had been sold. The private, independently owned film studio that had gone a considerable distance in shaping my life was now going to be run by Disney. And no one knew entirely what that meant, apparently even George himself. This was the eve that would completely rewrite our relationship with the entire franchise, and do so in a way I never expected.

That was one of the main reasons why I kind of had to distance myself from Star Wars. The Star Wars I had known and loved throughout my whole life was inevitably going to be changed, and changed far more than any special edition ever could. And that included the Star Wars I had just written a book about. It was a bit of a weird situation, considering the completely tumultuous relationship fans had developed with Lucas since 1999.

The second was personal. By the time my book was published - as many of you who have been dutifully following along on Facebook and such know - my life was going through the same amount of upheaval as Lucasfilm.

I have long since adopted a Doctor Who metaphor to describe it. During 2012-2013, I was basically regenerating. It’s necessary in this life from time to time. I’d gone as far as I could living as I was and thinking as I did. So there was a great deal of reinvention for me, both personally and professionally.

Among other things, actually charting out a career was paramount. In particular, a career in library science. I just passed my seven year mark with my current library system. I was a volunteer coordinator for most of that time, and have moved on to be a teen (and sometimes tween) librarian. It’s been reasonably demanding but I had to get everything on more secure footing. Finances included, because one can only make so much writing books of academic criticism about Star Wars (Crazy, right?).

So venturing out into my new life, I embraced the new Disney Star Wars as much as possible. For the first few years, it was very enjoyable. I have no desire to attend Celebration in Chicago this time, especially if it’s being run by Reed Pop. I had a great time at the last one in Orlando, but by god, it wouldn’t be too much to say that they’re so disorganized they make the current political administration look competent. Or maybe it would be too much to say, but those lines in Florida … wow.

Still, I met Mark Hamill and Ian McDiarmid, not to mention Ashley Eckstein again as well as Freddie Prinze Jr and the indelible Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy still remains my favorite show of all time and I don’t know what will eventually unseat it). And I can’t resist posting some photos though it’s probably best to ignore the third person in the picture but these aren’t the droids you’re looking for.







Moving along, I also unofficially retired from writing. I have managed to complete a genre novel in the YA vein (being a teen rep and all), but it’s been sitting around for four or five months and I’m not sure what I want to do with it. I’ll self-publish if nothing else, but did I mention I will have to write a synopsis and oh yeah that I’ve been incredibly busy? 

It took me three years to write and complete that one book. There have been various and sundry ideas in my head for other nonfiction, genre-related Heresies-style books, but that would mean I would have to do another index, which is the most fun you can have without actually having any fun (It’s about as bad as writing a synopsis for fiction).

As I expressed in an earlier blog, I essentially just wanted to sit back and be a semi-mindless consumer for a change. But Disney’s Star Wars has not made that easy in the long run.

I mean, I tried to be a good sport and roll with the new team. I went to the movies, I bought stuff, I attended conventions, I got autographs, I played the video games, I had fun. But the fact of the matter is, George Lucas really got mistreated when Disney took over, and four movies in and the franchise and fandom is again collapsing in on itself.

If you had told me when the sequel trilogy was announced that the second one would be more divisive than The Phantom Menace, I would have laughed in your face.  But I’ve been wrong before, and would have been again.

Sure, we had lost the Maker, and that was perhaps more of an incalculable loss then even I had wanted to admit, but I had at least thought the new movies would be fun and non-controversial, if somewhat bland and inoffensive and not nearly so imaginative and poetic as the originals were.

What we want from sequels, impossibly or no, is that they be totally the same while being totally different simultaneously. (I say impossible, but the Cobra Kai series has gotten very close with pulling off almost exactly that, which is why it is so loved on YouTube and the Last Jedi is so hated).

In retrospect, The Force Awakens just now strikes me as being totally the same as the originals, while The Last Jedi was just totally different. I would have to start another blog outlining all the problems of these movies, but it’s been talked about ad nauseum. Even Mark Hamill has publicly voiced his problems with the sequels.

In short, Episode VII was problematic, and Episode VIII was such a train wreck in retrospect it derailed much of the good will the former had built up. In point of fact, for all the nonsense about The Last Jedi defying expectations, it did nothing of the kind. Rian Johnson didn’t want to tell the story … he wanted to outsmart the story. And yet, in the end, what are we left with?

Aside from old, sad, or dead legacy characters, we have another Empire, another Rebellion, and on the eve of the saga being completely rebooted, it starts to eat its own tail and becomes the exact same story that has already been told. Why?

Whatever fans may have thought of the prequels, they at least had a very strong and powerful reason for existing. If nothing else, the simple fact that A New Hope was technically billed Episode IV, thus implying the existence of a prequel trilogy for all this time. 

The sequel trilogy comes burdened with the fact that it needs an extremely strong reason for existing at all – namely strong characters and strong stories and strong themes – which it clearly does not have. It comes at us with a blast of hackneyed nostalgia and John Williams, but very little in the way of a plan or a point.

Or so it seems to me and now a lot of other people.

For a moment though, right about the time Han swaggered onto the Falcon with a grumbled “Chewie, we’re home,” most fans were on board. We were all really, really hoping for the Marvel template. But if that was the attempted template, it failed pretty miserably.

Marvel is twenty-odd movies in and it just keeps building and building and I am so ready to pounce on Avengers Endgame tickets Black Panther-style the moment they become available. As for Episode IX, well … at this point I really couldn’t care less. I mean, there really isn’t much of a story left.

The only mystery really hanging over things is whether or not the Resistance/Rebellion/Whatever the Hell it is will triumph over the Empire/First Order/Whatever the Hell it is, and of course they will. So I just saved you fifteen dollars (Sorry for the snark, but the world-building genius of George Lucas is so absent here it truly boggles the mind).

This issue is compounded a hundred times over by the fact that this episode is being billed as the definitive End of the Skywalker saga. Guys, we already had a definitive End of the Skywalker saga. It’s called Return of the Jedi, and for my credits, you can’t just unravel that borderline perfection of an ending for the sprawling, disjointed mess that is the sequel trilogy. Especially now that we charge headfirst into the End of the Skywalker saga with, well, let’s be honest - No Skywalkers At All.

But that honestly doesn’t concern me. For me, the end of the Skywalker saga will always, always, always involve dancing Ewoks, a balanced Force, and smiling blue ghosts. Perhaps that’s why I’ve never been keen on the post-ROTJ Expanded Universe stuff. This is a fairy tale, and our heroes all lived happily ever after, and that’s all anyone needs to know.

Okay, I am curious to see what The Mandalorian is like on that streaming service, but I assume it doesn’t carelessly rewrite the ROTJ ending and, most importantly, it lets our heroes live out there happily ever afters. Plus, you know, Dave Filoni has his hand in the work, the heir apparent who should have been in charge of Star Wars from the beginning after Lucas.

 (Seriously Disney. If you wanted a reboot, set it a hundred years in the future and leave the legacy characters alone. Especially if you’re just going to kill them all anyway. Guarantee you would not be getting the amount of hate you’re generating now)

I also bring all of this up because so many things have come to light about the Disney merger. From what I understand, it was contingent on Iger and company using Lucas’ treatments for the sequel trilogy. I know elements were used and other elements were unfinished, but this was George’s party, and its public knowledge that his invitation was intentionally lost in the mail and he was cut out of the deal. I tried to forgive, but that was really unforgivable, not to mention just tacky and unprofessional. 

After he’d wrapped up this trilogy, then Disney could have done whatever they wanted, but they royally messed up and are now paying the price with shrinking box office receipts. Not to mention a seemingly endless revolving door of writers and directors and so on. All because no one had a plan and refused to use George Lucas'.

For the record, I’m still a fan of Rogue One, and damn it if Solo wasn’t the unexpected most Lucasian movie to come out of the new Lucasfilm-without-Lucas. Unfortunately, so much ill will had been built up over The Last Jedi we had a Star Wars movie failing at the box office with no more new ones continuing the most promising storyline they had.

As for the rest of it, I can only take it for what it really is – just incredibly well-funded fanfiction. Which is okay, I suppose. Fanfiction can be enjoyable, in small doses (in this case, it's arguably better than the theatrical releases). For me, it’s basically what the books and comics and things always were. Just a big - sometimes enjoyable, sometimes not - What If? 

So if you enjoy it, good for you. It apparently just isn’t for me unless things completely turn around. But Force knows, I’m not on the internet trolling fans about it every day. It’s been almost a year since I’ve even posted about Star Wars anywhere. I just felt a rippling in the Force that compelled me to say something after all this time.

If you’re looking for the definitive word of The Star Wars Heresies about canon, that will always include Episodes I-VI, The Clone Wars, and if you squint and stare hard enough, Rebels. Later projects by Dave Filoni will also possibly be up for canon consideration. That’s the place where my Star Wars lives and breathes and, for the first time in a while, where I’m majorly exploring and enjoying again, and being enthused and inspired by how brilliant it all was.

While walking around my local park this beautiful Saturday afternoon, trying to figure out what this post was actually going to address, it occurred to me that all the press that “toxic fandom” is earning today has been alive and well for twenty years. We’ve all heard the stories of Jake Lloyd and Ahmed Best, years before any of the new stars had to leave Twitter. For some of us, it’s a very old talking point. It started some twenty years ago on a talkback, where it was belligerently claimed that George Lucas Raped Someone’s Childhood.

Two decades ago, I never would have believed that would have set the tone for the fandom conversation about Star Wars for so long. How could someone be so vitriolic about this special, amazing thing that had been with us and even helped guide us our entire lives? It still seems slightly surreal to me, even as I listened to a podcast about the same thing now happening in Harry Potter fandom.

But as a wise man once said, “You can’t be a fan of something you hate.” Before the internet, that would have been an irrelevant, even incoherent, statement. But think about all the buzz words circling our culture today like angry bees. “Fake news.” “Victim culture.” “Outrage addiction.” All that didn’t start on social media. It started with George Lucas and the prequel trilogy. While there were obviously other factors, the bullying and toxicity inside the fandom undeniably played a role in retiring the very creative artist who had started the whole thing, and that’s always going to be a mark against us.

But the Last Heresy part of this post involves me personally. As noted earlier, The Star Wars Heresies were published at an odd point not only in my life, but the life of fandom as well. If Lucasfilm had remained under Lucas, I feel I probably would have derived more pleasure and pride from them at the time, despite personal circumstances. But again, the Star Wars I had been writing so passionately about had just … well, kind of seemed over. From a certain point of view, anyway.

As a result, I honestly kind of distanced myself from the whole thing. I dis-identified from it. At times, it felt like someone else had written that book. In truth, they kinda had. After I’ve been given a compliment or two, though, about how my book has gotten a couple of people to interpret life as poetry as opposed to prose and things like that, well, it does make me feel really great. That’s just awesome, and I find it easier now to accept compliments about it than perhaps I originally did.

Yes, that sort of thing makes even writing that damn index worthwhile.

In short, I am proud and grateful I got to make the smallest of marks on the Star Wars phenomenon. It has always played a part in my life, and probably always will, no matter what metamorphosis’ take place. I didn’t always handle fandom well, but we were all learning our footing in this brave new world. And I guess we still are.

Still, The Star Wars Heresies may be a footnote of a footnote of a footnote of a footnote in the cultural legacy of the Wars, but all in all, they said exactly what I wanted them to say, and I’m thankful for anyone who takes the time to read them.

We’ll just end on the heresy that I hope my little book is one of the better and more worthwhile things to come out of fandom in the past twenty years.

MTFBWY




2 comments:

  1. Great post, I have never been so pessimistic about the state of the franchise. The franchise abandoning the Skywalkers is more of a cause of concern than anything to be happy about. The ST's treatment of the past comes off nihilistic. I think it had to be intentional on some level because it is so overt. I also wrote something in honor of episode 1's 20th anniversary, I would be glad to know what you think about it.


    https://ashiusxreviews.wordpress.com/2019/04/13/star-wars-episode-1-the-phantom-menace-top-8-reasons-to-appreciate-it/

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  2. I think that if Disney had stuck with the stand alone films, I could have supported its handling of the franchise. For some reason, the studio and Lucasfilm seemed incapable of creating a well written trilogy. On the other hand, I have enjoyed the stand alone films very much.

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