A Tremor in the Force - Part 3 of 5

Mark Fordham (Vader) and the 501st with George Lucas

Mark Fordham (Vader) and the 501st with George Lucas

As we re-explore the Star Wars prequels and steel ourselves for the upcoming installments, we need to hear a grounding voice.  A deep, sonorous, awe-inspiring… terrifyingly epic voice.  Sith Lords are notoriously unafraid to state their opinions.

Mark Fordham is an artist, filmmaker, former cop, father of five, husband of a Stormtroopette, seasoned veteran of the 501st Alpine Garrison, and a well-known Darth Vader impersonator.  Mark can be contacted through markfordham.com.  And may I add here that the 501st is much more than an amazing fan and cosplay club.  It is an awesome community service organization that many people (including myself) have benefitted from.

Why do you love Star Wars?

When I first saw Star Wars I connected to it because it was believable.  I grew up watching Star Trek, but it was all so clean and sterile.  Reactors had occasional issues and there seemed to be a recurring shortage of dilithium crystals.  But it wasn’t all that compelling.  In Star Wars, however, there was grease, and dirt, and weathering!  The Millennium Falcon had Hodge-podge paint and bent and broken ventilation louvers.  Things were faded and looked like they had been-there-and-done-that!

Mark takes off the helmet!

Mark takes off the helmet!

Beyond the look of the film were the sounds!  The blasters and lightsabers, and spaceship engines and explosions!  It was all so visceral!  And the soundtrack was unlike anything I had ever heard before.  So mighty and majestic, and hauntingly emotional at times.  Then there were the effects!  Ships flying without strings, plus lightsabers, light-speed…just so much to love!

Then there is the story.  It had great messages and mysteries.  It used an underdog, and we ALL love underdogs.  It was David and Goliath on a galactic scale!  And beyond the main cast, you had so many interesting aliens and lifeforms.  And the droids!  We can’t forget the droids.  But in short, if someone asked me what I liked about Star Wars I’d probably reply, “what’s NOT to like?!”

What is your favorite Star Wars movie and why?

My favorite episode is without question The Empire Strikes Back!  I’ve heard it referred to as the “adult” Star Wars, probably because it’s quite a bit darker and less hero-always-wins.  We see the characters with more depth as they are thrust into complex situations.  And it’s where we get to meet Yoda and really learn what the Force is all about.  Once again, the soundtrack rocks!  Who doesn’t know the Imperial March, right?  Beyond that, we get our first glimpse of Vader under the mask, we learn of the whole ‘father’ thing, but are left wondering if it’s true.  We see the Emperor for the first time (via hologram).  And we get lots of time with our favorite characters and spaceships across a broad variety of landscapes.  It’s just a fabulously well-done film.

Mark (as Vader) and the 501st rocking out on stage with Weird Al Yankovic.

Mark (as Vader) and the 501st rocking out on stage with Weird Al Yankovic.

The Fordhams in my favorite facebook profile picture of all time.

The Fordhams in my favorite facebook profile picture of all time.

How do you feel about the prequels?

Many people are down on the prequels, especially Episode I.  I actually liked Episode I!  Sure, I could have done without Jar Jar.  But we get to see a younger Kenobi, and Qui-Gon is great!  And Darth Maul and his double bladed lightsaber filled the villain role extremely well!  And the prequels are part of the story that has to be told.  Honestly, I think my least favorite is Episode II.  But how can you not like Episode III?  That was the pinnacle of lightsaber fighting!  And we had answered before our eyes the question left by all other episodes; how did the little kid grow from powerful Jedi to Lord of the Sith?  Wouldn’t you know, it was over the love of a woman!  The Force is strong, but I will agree that love is stronger!

How to you feel about the upcoming slate of movies?

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Mark Fordham (as Vader) stealing the show!

I remain cautiously optimistic about the new films.  Honestly, I’m a fan of the original trilogy.  And with each new film, the cartoons, and all the Expanded Universe stuff, I see a dillution of what I grew up calling Star Wars.  So though I am interested to see where the story goes, it will be yet another departure from what Star Wars really is to me.  I am excited to see our old heroes again, and hope to hear more phenomenal music.  But effects wise, I almost feel like it’s all been done.  Maybe J. J. Abrams will break new ground.  But I just don’t feel like this is going to rock the film world the way the original trilogy did.  Geez, listen to me!  I’m showing my age!

Still, it will put Star Wars back in the mainstream and back on the big screen.  It will introduce new generations to Star Wars, and ultimately their journey will include the original movies.  So I see it as all part of the bigger universe, and I guess there’s room in that universe for a lot more Star Wars!

How do you feel about the Expanded Universe, or “Legends”?

I’ve not gotten into the EU myself.  As I mentioned, I feel every tangent distracts from the original movies.  And I don’t feel George’s vision in some of it.  There are some great characters and some interesting stories and back-stories.  But since most mainstream fans aren’t exposed to it, they don’t connect to it or even recognizing it sometimes from a costuming standpoint.  I’ve seen EU costumers do incredible renditions of some great costumes, but then not get the love or recognition from the fans that I think they expect and deserve.

Darth Mark, thank you for your AWESOMELY AUTHENTIC perspective.

Mark mentioned: “And with each new film, the cartoons, and all the Expanded Universe stuff, I see a dilution of what I grew up calling Star Wars.”

There is some haunting truth to this.  The Sith are so good at making ominous statements!

Go to Episode 4, and hear from a very special guest…

Or go back to Episode 2.

A Tremor in the Force - Part 2 of 5

Yoda in  Star Wars: Attack of the Clones

Yoda in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones

SO, what was it that changed me from a Star Wars prequel-hater to a… well… something different?

As I debated “Jessi-Wan Kenobi,” (AKA Jessica the Uberfan) on many occasions, she consistently drew upon Star Wars “stuff” not contained in the films—the Expanded Universe.

Here is the definition of the Expanded Universe (now called “Star Wars Legends”) from Wookiepedia:

The Expanded Universe (or EU for short) encompasses every one of the officially licensed, fictional background stories of the Star Wars universe, outside of the six Star Wars films produced by George Lucas and certain other material such as Star Wars: The Clone Wars, created before April 25, 2014. It is derived from and includes most official Star Wars–related books, comic books, video games, spin-off films, television series, toys, and other media created before the date. This material expands and continues the stories told in the films, taking place anywhere from over 36,000 years before The Phantom Menace to 134 years after Return of the Jedi.

It wasn’t the discovery of the Expanded Universe that helped me gain a new perspective.  (I had actually read an EU book about some lizardly psionic aliens that was quite good.)  What brought me to a new understanding was Jessica’s extremely imaginative Kessel Run.  Her Star Wars universe is much larger than mine—and there are no rules, other than those a fan places upon themselves, that govern how large that universe can be.

In short, I discovered that Star Wars is NOT a gourmet meal served in three courses at the sci-fi-fantasy restaurant at the end of the universe. It is a banquet, with more delicacies than you might imagine. Take what you like and fill up your plate. There’s plenty for all and for all tastes.

(This however is NOT the end of the story, as we will see in the remaining posts…  The magic of the originals still reigns…)

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But let’s hear from this uberfan, shall we?

Jessica Champneys is a novice filmmaker and writer from Utah. She has made several short films and is currently writing a Star Wars fan fiction novel. You can see some of her film work at www.almostreel.com. Also, in her spare time she loves to make Star Wars fan films, which you can see on one of her many YouTube channels: youtube.com/damselindamnation

For the reader’s convenience, she included brief and long answers to my questions.

Why do you love Star Wars?

Brief: Because it’s awesome!

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Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith

Long: I’ve always liked Star Wars. I’ll never forget seeing Phantom Menace in theaters for the first time as a kid, or watching the original trilogy on VHS every other weekend with my family. I’ve always thought Star Wars was cool. With cool ships, cool weapons, cool aliens, cool characters (Darth-freaking-Vader!), cool planets, etc. But I didn’t love Star Wars…until I saw Revenge of the Sith.

From Anakin’s tragic fall to the dark side to the amazing, epic duel on Mustafar, I get chills every time I watch that movie. There is an emotional depth and complexity there that no other Star Wars movie has, and I find myself drawn to that. So, in answer to your question, I think that’s the big reason I love Star Wars: the depth. Specifically, the characters; their stories, their emotions, their internal struggles, and all the crazy plots that tie them all together. Even more specifically, the core reason I love Star Wars, is Anakin Skywalker. It’s so intriguing to me how this 9 year old slave boy from Tatooine – who was so kind and cared so deeply for his family and friends – could go from that to becoming the most feared villain in the galaxy. In many ways I sympathize, and even empathize, with his life-long struggle. It’s so very compelling and I can’t get enough of it. Throw in some Star Destroyers and lightsabers and you have sheer awesomeness! 

How do you feel when someone attacks the prequels?

Brief: Sad.

Long: I feel sad for a couple of different reasons. First of all, the prequels (especially Episode III) are so near and dear to my heart that when I hear someone attacking them, it really hurts. At the same time, I feel sad for them. Because I realize that they can’t see what I see. They don’t get the same feelings I get when I watch the prequels, and I wish they could.

Are people who prefer only the original trilogy still worthy fans?

Brief: Yes!

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Han Solo in Star Wars: A New Hope

Long: Oh, yes! In fact, there’s this meme floating around Facebook right now that says something like “You don’t have to love everything about Star Wars to be a Star Wars fan.” I think that’s very true! Of course, I don’t think you have to hate the prequels to be a fan either, but everyone is entitled to their own opinion. And it’s always going to be that way. As the future of Star Wars continues to unfold and more movies and books and games and TV shows are released, there’s going to be a wide variety of opinions among fans. And that’s okay. Because whether you think that Han shot first or Greedo shot first, you still love Star Wars. You’re still a Star Wars fan. 

Does your general zeal for Star Wars cause you overlook some of the less-than-awesome aspects of the movies?

Brief: Probably.

Long: Probably. But I think I go about it a bit differently. When someone brings up a plot-hole in the story or some sort of problem, I’ll think (if I don’t already have an answer from the Expanded Universe) ‘hmm, you’re right. That doesn’t make sense. So what’s the reason for that? Why is that?” And I’ll really think about it, about the characters, the motives, the what-ifs, and really delve deep. Because that’s another great thing about Star Wars is that there are so many layers. You can watch/read the stories over and over and again and you’ll always get something new out of it. It makes for some really fun discussions. But anyways, I’ll go into my writer mode and break the problem down and oftentimes an answer will hit me and I’ll think “oh my gosh, that makes so much sense!” and suddenly this “problem” that was once a blemish in the story becomes a deeper and more meaningful moment to me than before.

So in short, there are no such things as plot-holes. Only wells of information that you can climb into and find an even deeper, richer story than the one you see on the surface.

How has the expanded universe affected your love for Star Wars?

Brief: The expanded universe has definitely expanded my love for Star Wars!

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A wee stack of Expanded Universe or “Legends” books. Credit: Onceuponageek.com

Long: I love the Star Wars movies. Always have, always will. So it’s so great that the adventures in that galaxy far far away don’t have to end there. There are so many more wonderful stories, with characters old and new, in the EU, and it’s so much fun! On top of that, I feel that the EU also adds more depth to the movies. When you’re watching a movie, you can only see what the characters say and do, you can’t see what they’re thinking. But in a book, you can. And when you have that knowledge it completely changes your Star Wars movie watching experience.

For example: in Revenge of the Sith there was a part that, at first, really confused me. When Anakin learns that Padme is pregnant, he realizes that he will soon be expelled from the Jedi order because of this. Soon after this realization, Palpatine requests that Anakin be made a Jedi Master, but the Council refuses and Anakin becomes very upset. While watching this, my first thought was “Why are you angry? One way or the other, you’re not going to be a Jedi for much longer anyway. So why do you care?”

But then I read Matthew Stover’s Revenge of the Sith novelization (I highly recommend this book! If you aren’t a fan of Episode III, read this book and you will be!) and suddenly this scene that I wasn’t very fond of became one of my absolute favorite parts in the movie! Because in the book you can see what Anakin is thinking. He’s not upset with the Council just because he didn’t get the promotion. He’s upset because he’s been searching and searching the Jedi archives for some way to save Padme and hasn’t found anything. But there are some more promising sections of the archives that he can’t search, because only Masters are allowed to go there. So when Palpatine asks him to be a Master on the Council, Anakin feels he’s just been handed the key to save his wife. He’s so relieved and so euphoric…until the Council pulls the rug out from under him. Thus, he lashes out.

Doesn’t that just make you want to go and watch the Revenge of the Sith again? See how the books give the movies so much more depth? And there are many, many more moments like this throughout the EU! It’s so fascinating!

What’s your fanfic about and why are you writing it?

Brief: An Order 66 survivor joins the Sith and is tasked with finding Luke Skywalker. Why am I writing it? Because I need more Star Wars!

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Concept art for Jessica’s fanfic, by Kayli Champneys

Long: My story is about an Order 66 survivor who, instead of going into hiding or helping the rebellion as many Jedi did, turned her back on the Jedi way and joined the Sith to save herself. Upon the Emperor’s request, she became Darth Vader’s apprentice and is one of the few people allowed to know his true identity. But when she is tasked with finding Vader’s son, Luke Skywalker, nothing goes as planned and her entire world begins to fall apart.

Why am I writing it? Probably the same reason I started reading Expanded Universe novels. I need more Star Wars! I actually started coming up with this story a long time ago as part of a role playing game, and later decided that, with some tweaking, it could make a really great novel. We shall see!

Thank you, Jessica, for your heartfelt and illuminating answers.  I take issue only with the statement: “…there are no such things as plot-holes. Only wells of information that you can climb into and find an even deeper, richer story than the one you see on the surface…”  There are indeed such things as plot holes!  In fact, she has very astutely pointed them out in my own work.  So I think seeing them as wells of magic is a bit nutty.  I believe and her own creative powers have made some stories better than they are.  Which is why I’m very happy she’s writing a fanfic…

But before we all dance to Ewok bongos together, let us check in with a Sith Lord…

A Tremor in the Force - Part 1 of 5

The official title logo for the new movie, with a philosophical edit…

The official title logo for the new movie, with a philosophical edit…

Are you ready for the new Star Wars movies? Were you ready for the prequels? Or does your spacefaring heart beat only for the original trilogy?

You see, something weird happened to me. Something which may cause me to lift the ban preventing the prequel movies from getting within 100 feet of my house.

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And lest you think this is just some tired old rant, this little blog series will include interviews with Bryan Young (recognized guru and Con fixture who writes for starwars.com), Mark Fordham (Darth Vader’s clone), and Jessica Champneys (an uber-UBER-fan). These revelations may greatly affect your adventures—past and future—in that galaxy far far away.

Read on, all ye padawans an jedi alike…

Darth Vader says “Moooooow” from  We Love Fine

Darth Vader says “Moooooow” from We Love Fine

When I first saw The Phantom Menace, I was on an awkward date so I don’t have an unfettered recollection of my feelings about the movie. But I liked the podrace and the duel with Darth Maul. I do remember shivering with disgust and nearly losing my popcorn at the word: midi-chlorians. My experience with Attack of the Clowns is more vivid. At the end of the movie, I got up in the theater and said in a loud voice, “That man has no business making movies!” Thus prepared for Revenge of the Sith, I rolled my eyes and chuckled at the wooden drama, ludicrous motivations, and general impotence as a precursor to one of the greatest movies ever made, Star Wars: A New Hope. I could not help laughing out loud at the epic ineptitude in storytelling art when Darth Vader screams, “Nooooooooo!”

(Please note that I’m talking about the story and silliness of these movies.  I applaud the many hundreds of brilliant artists and technicians who worked on them.)

Now, before I detail my semi-repentance, let me review my credentials as a Star Wars fan.

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I can quote much of the original trilogy from memory.  I was dressing up as Luke for Halloween long before most prequel fans were born. My house is the repository for an arsenal of light sabers. I made a fanfilm 15 years before YouTube was invented (starring as Princess Leia). I credit Star Wars for guiding my career destiny more than almost any other thing, and I revere much of what George Lucas added to the movie industry. I threw a rite-of-passage Star Wars birthday party for my kids that would put hair on a bald Wookie’s chest. I was cast as the star of an ambitious Star Wars fan film. It was never completed, but it was not due to my lack of Jedi training.

Me as the earmuffed Leia. You can sort of see “Vader” standing guard.

Me as the earmuffed Leia. You can sort of see “Vader” standing guard.

Because I invested so much of my heart into the original Star Wars series, I felt terribly betrayed by the prequels. But something has changed…

You see, I’ve been carpooling with a young and impressionable sci-fi and fantasy fan who loves EVERYTHING Star Wars, to the point of dangerous zeal.

Every time I would present a clearly balanced argument of logic about how stupid something was in one of the prequels, she would counter with: “But in the book it makes more sense…” or “Well that really worked for me…” and again “But in the book…”  She bounced along to Star Wars-inspired rock opera as we drove and she reveled in her flights of fancy into something called the “Expanded Universe.”

Suddenly, on my dozenth attempt to rescue her from ignorant bliss, I discovered something. It was like Jabba’s fist smacked me and I saw new stars…