Some random thoughts on recent Star Wars stuff (or not-so-recent Star Wars stuff that is nevertheless new to me:
As Episode VII draws nearer and nearer, we are seeing more groundwork being laid for the fictional state of affairs in the Star Wars universe, with only the new materials being produced from this point on being considered “canon”, along with the original films and the Clone Wars animated series. I assume that Episode VII will be written so as not to assume knowledge of everything that’s already happening, but the non-film media stuff has been essentially rebooted, with a lot of new stuff scheduled to come out soon (or has come out already, in the case of many comics).
The first big release appears to be a novel by Chuck Wendig, called Aftermath. In this book, we apparently get to see the shifting in Galactic politics after the defeat of the Empire at Endor. Starwars.com has released a sample of the new book, and I did read it. My reactions?
Well, it’s definitely well-written. It moves along briskly and sets up some story stuff that I’m curious about pursuing. However, there are a couple of tonal issues I have. The first is pure taste on my part: Wendig writes the novel in present tense, and quite frankly I have never liked present tense in my fiction. It takes some very good writing indeed to pull me into a story that’s been written in present tense. I don’t know why this is, but it’s just the way I’m wired.
Slightly more troubling to me, though, is the tone of the story. We begin with the celebration on Coruscant and the toppling of the Emperor’s statue, which is shown to us at the very end of Return of the Jedi (the Special Edition, that is). In the movie, we cut from this back to the party on Endor. Wendig, though, reveals that while we’re watching friends hug Ewoks, smile at Force ghosts, and then listening to the music as the end credits roll, the remaining forces of the Empire are cracking down and the people have to arm themselves with chunks of stone from the statue to defend themselves. I suppose that’s a logical thing to assume happening, but...I don’t know. There’s something about the tone of Wendig’s excerpt that makes me worry about the grimdarkification of Star Wars. Gritty fighting in the streets amidst political chaos is a fine trope, but I’m just not sure it’s the kind of trope I look for in Star Wars, which is to me about the mythic and the fantastical.
But we’ll see. It’s entirely possible that I’m wrong. It is just a short sample, after all.
And then there’s the video footage that was screened by the Star Wars people at San Diego Comic Con. It amounts to something of a third official trailer for Episode VII, and here it is:
I’m of mixed mind here. I do like what I’m seeing, and I hope that this video is roughly indicative of the overall “look” of Episode VII when it drops. This stuff looks great, and I can’t wait to see it. But something bugs me here, too: this video is a bit heavy on the anti-CGI commentary, constantly coming back to the “Look! Practical effects and models!” mantra, almost like the refrain of a song. I’m generally of the mindset that there is no inherent superiority to practical effects, or to CGI, as long as the story is good and the effects are artfully done. Yes, I’ve seen a lot of bad CGI, where shots are composed for no other reason than to say, “Look what we can do!”, but I’ve seen my share of awful “practical effects” over the years as well.
So why the “Yay! Practical effects!” cheerleading in the video? Well, this is where the conspiracy-theorist in me comes out. I wonder if this isn’t code-speak for Star Wars fans who hated the Prequels. One of the most common complaints about those movies (unfairly, in my mind) is the overreliance on CGI, so I’m wondering if all that talk about practical effects isn’t just the current Star Wars producers’ way of saying to the fans, “It’s OK. We got this. George Lucas isn’t involved. We’re giving you what you want.” I’m getting this faint whiff of this movie, and the Star Wars stuff to come, as being fan service to those who hate pretty much everything since 1980.
Another piece of evidence here? In an interview apparently consisting of yes-no questions, JJ Abrams was asked if there are midichlorians in the new movie. He said “No”. Now, that’s not in itself a bad thing; if there’s no story reason for midichlorians to be mentioned, then they shouldn’t be mentioned. To maintain otherwise would be similar to demanding that every Star Trek story must include Klingons. But many of the articles (case in point) I’ve read on this have taken exactly the tone that bothers me: “It’s OK, we’re going to ignore as much of what George Lucas did as we possibly can.” This might be wishful thinking on the part of the people writing these articles, but JJ Abrams and the rest of the Episode VII crew have not exactly been expending great effort to suggest any admiration for the Prequel Trilogy at all, which reinforces, in my mind, the idea that the goal is to let those films be “out there” but pretty much ignored completely. And that irritates me.
(Besides, people tend to be spectacularly wrong about the damn midichlorians, anyway.)
Let’s see, what else? I watched thirty minutes or so of a documentary called The People vs. George Lucas, which is pretty much what it sounds like: an exercise to air complaints about George Lucas. The first fifteen or twenty minutes are fairly benign, providing something of a background on the degree to which Star Wars has shaped culture the last 38 years. A little of this goes a long way, but there it is. However, about twenty to twenty-five minutes in, we get to the complaints, starting with the Special Editions. After about five minutes of listening to people bitch about Han shooting first, I turned the thing off and didn’t watch the rest. These complaints were just embarrassing to listen to. One guy said something about how it was like George Lucas gave us all the best coloring books as kids but then he showed up and took away our coloring books and...come to think of it, that complaint might well have been when I stopped watching. It was so nonsensically over-the-top, and the tone was so persistently whining, that I just wanted to punch everybody in the movie.
And I agree that Lucas should never have changed that scene.
The degree, though, to which “Han shot first!” has become a shibboleth amongst Star Wars fans is kind of creepy to me, though. Leave me out of it.
So I shut the documentary off, well before it could get to the Prequels.
However, the news is not all bad or troubling! Years ago, when The Phantom Menace first came out, there was a series of articles on Space.com called “The Phantom Heresies”, which delved into that film’s mythic structure (under the assumption that it actually did not suck ). I greatly enjoyed those articles, which shaped a lot of my thinking about the Prequels over the years, including when I wrote the “Fixing the Prequels” series. Well, it turns out that the person who wrote those articles, one Paul Hamilton, has a blog called The Star Wars Heresies. I’ve started dipping into it, and it’s interesting stuff, albeit from a more academic-style viewpoint than I usually take when writing about this stuff. Hamilton also wrote a book on these same types of issues, which I will probably check out at some point. (It’s a bit on the expensive side, even for an ebook, but I’ll get it eventually.) And from his blog I found another, The Star Wars Prequel Appreciation Society, which also seems to be full of interesting stuff. (I’ve not dug much into it yet.)
Let’s see, what else? Not much, really. Just waiting for the new movie and to hear what John Williams does with the music. I hope that the disturbances I’m feeling in The Force come to nothing, but you never know....
Oh, and this is a pretty nifty image (from the international trailer for The Force Awakens):