A Tremor in the Force - Part 5 of 5

1977 Star Wars movie poster

1977 Star Wars movie poster

It’s taken me to episode five of this blog series to finally figure out why I was so disappointed by the Star Wars prequels.  Well, I have untied the knots!  The hyperdrive has been repaired in the nick of time!  I feel the Force flowing through me once again…

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So, I re-watched the prequels, from my own couch. (They were previously banned from entering my house.) My mind was eager. My heart was open.

First of all—standing ovation to the artists and technicians of all kinds who made these movies. As a filmmaker, I know something of the epic audio and visual jigsaw puzzle that is moviemaking—and this is moviemaking on a mighty scale. The visual effects of course pushed the craft forward, establishing the state-of-the-art in many instances and in some moments created truly breathtaking visuals. I personally prefer a few more physical sets and practical effects, but the ambition and skill of these people is amazing. The movie credits should be watched and applauded. From the cinematography to the sound design to the imperial army of oft-overlooked but essential facilitators and bean counters—these movies are an extraordinary achievement.

And of course, kudos to George Lucas for being such a pioneering, iconic force in a storytelling medium I love. May I recommend this hilarious tribute to Lucas by another starfaring legend:

Here’s the video link for those of you viewing in an email: https://youtu.be/SLoua3Ge3iY

Now for my “review”:

2 out of 5 stars for the prequels.

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Many consider Empire to be the best of the series… but it might have a bigger plot hole than any of them…

This is the storytelling I’m talking about, not the artistic or technical achievement. And I’m looking at Episodes 1-3 as single entity. (For reference, IV gets a 4.5, V gets a 4.9, VI gets a 4.) There were many interesting, exciting, or otherwise well-wrought scenes (podrace, duel with Darth Maul, Jango vs. Obi-wan, duel on Mustafar, and others). But for me, everything else fell flat.

I mean no disrespect to anyone who loves the prequels!  If they inspire you to make the world a better place–high five!  Let’s jig together to Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes.

Many prequel-haters spend their time nitpicking the various plot inconsistencies, when actually the biggest hole is in my favorite Star Wars movie. (I’m sure you’ve noticed the massive time differential problem in The Empire Strikes Back.) It’s true, there’s no excuse for obvious plot problems, especially when you have access to the best storytelling talent in the world. But these are so many B1 battle droids compared to the imploding Star Destroyers of the three central stories…

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Amazing posters illustrated by Drew Struzan.

 

For me, the prequels boil down to these intertwined tales:

1) A love story.

Anakin and Padme. It’s a love story strong enough to bring down a civilization.

2) A coming-of-age / buddy story.

Anakin and Obi-Wan. Anakin grows up, is trained, and must deal with huge changes/decisions thrust upon him before he’s ready—including to follow or reject his friend/mentor/father figure Obi-Wan.

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Obi-Wan is tragically forced to fight his pupil to the death…

3) A fall-redemption story.

Anakin and Vader. The hero Anakin rises, falls, becomes Vader, and is ultimately redeemed—thanks the to the spark of goodness/love in him finally actuated by his son Luke. (Obviously this is wrapped up in Return of the Jedi, but we spend most of our time with Anakin in the prequels.)

In a nutshell, for me, the prequels simply failed to tell any of these in a believable, impacting way.

Story #2 (Anakin and Obi-Wan) was somewhat redeemed by the heart-wrenching, beautifully rendered duel on Mustafar, given an extra special dose of mojo by Ewan McGregor.

My kids, watching alongside me, had the same impression. Most of the time, I found myself wondering: “Wait– Wha– Huh? Why is he doing that? Why would anyone do that?” These were roads paved by completely unconvincing setups and payoffs. It seemed like George Lucas dreamed up a bunch of really cool scenes, and then yanked the characters on and off the stage to string the story together with wooden exposition.

But even the not-so-awesomely told stories aren’t enough to justify my negative feelings toward the prequels. And I’m not here to bash them anyway. On the contrary, I’m here to “let go of my hate.”

Finally, I had the sense to ask myself: “Tom, if you don’t know what these feelings ARE, then what are they LIKE?”

“Good question, Tom,” I responded to myself. “Basically, I feel like I lost a best friend.”

I was on to something. For so many years before the prequels, Star Wars was my pal. Yeah yeah, they’re just movies, but go with me here for a second. Think of a movie or book or piece of art or piece of pecan pie that you really really love—something that connects or comforts or inspires you.

Like a good friend, Star Wars accepted, reflected, and celebrated so much of what was in my kid-to-teenage heart. We had a lot in common—sense of adventure, sense of humor, love of spaceships, politics, spirituality, imagination, ideas about what made a hero and what redemption was about, the certainty that an obscure kid could grow up and save the galaxy, a love for all things lightsabery. And it was all made “real” by characters and events who existed in a consistent—if fantastical—universe that really existed as long as my frayed Beta tapes existed. More than that, because everyone else seemed to love Star Wars, it was a bridge to the rest of humanity. Here was a non-threatening set of values, art, characters, stories, and sundry coolness that I had in common with millions of other people around the world! I could unabashedly parade around using the Force without getting made fun of, because it was dang cool.

I trusted Star Wars to always be there for me.

(Is this getting too weird?)

For that great gift, thank you George Lucas.

But with the prequels seemed to disavow so much profundity (midi-chlorians, etc.), mangle the basic mechanics of human relations (epic love story based on whining, etc.), and confuse manic depressive paranoid schizophrenia with a character development (pretty much anything Anakin does in relation to the emperor and Padme). (I know, I know, there are prequel defenders ready to bury me in tomes of expanded universe explanations!)

Star Wars—my friend—had suddenly turned its back on me.

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Do I have a right to feel betrayed so melodramatically? Only a little. I think the give and take with Star Wars was consistent enough for a legitimate expectation. It was my job to watch and re-watch Star Wars and buy lightsabers, and it was Star Wars’ job to provide an entertaining, inspiring, spacefaring duel between good and evil. Over and over again it told me what those opening titles meant, and then it suddenly changed its mind.

But in reality, this is Lucas’ baby.  This is his art.

And I exuberantly thank him for what he and his cohorts have brought to life in the original trilogy. I have no right to demand anything. The mega-fans who explain away the weaknesses of the prequel movies actually LESS dysfunctional than I.

Yes, the movies were lame in my opinion. Yes, they trampled some things I felt were special. I can and should express my disappointment.

But I have allowed myself to be personally affronted and let down. Maybe Star Wars was a bad friend, but so was I.

Ok, this is so crazily silly and sappy!!! But true!!!

My bad vibes about the prequels were not about the prequels, they were about me. A good friend (assuming they are not whitewashing abusive behavior in a codependent relationship) forgives the weaknesses of a pal and celebrates the strengths.

Now, to be clear, I don’t believe in watching garbage media and just trying to ignore it by focusing on the good stuff. If you are hanging out in Jabba’s palace and he happens to be poisining you, and you just ignored, well, you still get poisoned.  The prequels are neither garbage nor poison, but I probably won’t be watching them again any time soon. And they will not be readily available to my kids…

But, the veil of the dark side has been lifted. So, Star Wars, ‘ol buddy, let’s forgive each other and move on.

I already have my tickets for Episode VIII, and I am dressing up. Clone Wars is on my Netflix queue.

And TONIGHT (November 19th at 7pm MST) I will be a guest on the STAR WARS SPECTACULAR at Dungeon Crawlers Radio — a fabulous geek podcast — to debate all things Star Wars!

http://www.dungeoncrawlersradio.com/

Here’s a fun final video link for those of you viewing in an email: https://youtu.be/ZbV5hn_ET0U

A Tremor in the Force - Part 4 of 5

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Great screencap of Shatner/Kirk from the original Star Trek

What is Captain Kirk doing in a series on Star Wars?  Well, I personally don’t mind a Shatner cameo anywhere, but it actually has a lot to do with my journey to the ______ side.  (Fill in the blank based on your prequel proclivity.)

WARP SPEED HYPOCRISY

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Patrick Stewart (Picard) plays a flute in an alternate life in the classic TNG Episode Inner Light

My Star-Wars-is-a-banquet-come-as-you-please change of heart actually reveals my own hypocrisy. It’s called (and this term I hereby coin) Warp Speed Hypocrisy.

I love Star Trek. I LOVE Star Trek. Every rerun brings me home to my happy place.  From it’s pinnacles of City on the Edge of Forever, Wrath of Khan, and Inner Light, to its less-than-critically-acclaimed “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” which scene I personally love.  (And a “double dumb-you-know-what” on whoever doesn’t like the whales!)

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Campfire scene from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.

I’ve been disappointed many times, but less-than-awesome Trek never made me angry like the Star Wars prequels did. And I don’t see much polarization in general Trek fandom. Red-faced redshirts don’t seem to be cursing the new movies or a series they don’t prefer. It’s because trekkies and trekkers already see Trek as a banquet.

So why did/do I hold Star Wars to masterpiece standards?  I’ll try to unravel this with my brilliant summation in the upcoming final post!

At the massive Salt Lake Comic Con of 2013, I led a panel discussion in huge, packed room. The topic? The Abrams-ization of Star Trek and Star Wars. What resulted was a spirited debate on old Trek vs. new Trek and classic Star Wars vs. the prequels vs. the specter of the upcoming Abrams films. And there I crossed lightsabers with Bryan Young. (Author James Wymore was also there.  He loves ANYTHING with spaceships!) At that time, I was stunned, shocked even, at Bryan’s defense of and even love for the prequels.  I also asked the audience what their favorite Star Wars movie was.  The originals won out by a show of hands, but many people voted for the prequels, with a special emphasis on Revenge of the Sith.

Our last distinguished guest is a bonafide expert on Star Wars and Star Wars culture.

Bryan Young is a writer and a journalist. He has a regular column on StarWars.Com and is the editor-in-chief of the nerd news and review site Big Shiny Robot! He’s published three novels, with a fourth scheduled for release later this year.

Are there some sort of basic “categories” or “types” of Star Wars fans”?  If so, what are they?

I think there are really two types of fans. The vocal minority who only love the classic trilogy before 1997 and everyone else. And that’s really it. Beyond that you’ll get people who specialize in different things, but there’s a unifying factor: everyone who calls themselves a Star Wars fan loves Star Wars, so even if we have varying degrees of love for different aspects of the universe, we all have some things we can agree on.

Why do you think there is friction between fans who dislike the prequels and fans who like them?  How are the upcoming J.J. Abrams films entering into the debate?

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Me and a groovily awesome Star Wars fan at Dragon*Con one year.

I think the friction comes from an attitude of entitlement on the vocal few who dislike the prequels. They fail to realize that there are far more people who love them than don’t and I would count myself among those who do love them. The friction comes from a place of disrespect, really. I can respect you if you don’t like the prequels, but in my experience there are very few fans who dislike the prequels that will offer that same respect to someone who does.

It’s unfortunate that there isn’t more love for the prequels since they really are such beautiful films that add to the tapestry of Star Wars mythology in very stunning ways. But there’s only a narrow generational band of fans that have that anti-prequel bias and twenty years from now it won’t be an issue and I can’t wait for that day to come.

As far as JJ Abrams films entering into the debate, I’m not sure there’s much of a debate. The prequels ARE. And so too will these new movies be. We can accept them as part of the buffet of Star Wars or not, but you don’t stick your fingers in the mashed potatoes at the buffet table because you didn’t like them. My hope for these movies is that they do much of what Star Wars: Rebels has done, stitch together the fans of the classic trilogy and the prequel trilogy and give us the best of everything Star Wars has to offer.

What is Star Wars “canon” and how has it changed over the years?

Star Wars canon is something that to me has always centered around the films and what George Lucas says goes, and that’s something that continues to this day. There have been many pieces to the expanded universe, whether that’s novels, games, or what have you, but at the end of the day, what is in the movies (and now the cartoons) IS. And everything else is just an interesting story that may or may not be “true.”

What is/are the Star Wars “Legends”?

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Another pic I snapped at Dragon*Con. How’s this for Expanded Universe… Star Wars Bagpipe Brigade!

“Legends” is what they decided to make the Expanded Universe. For many, the stories in that expanded universe WERE the canon, but the Legends designation clearly delineates them from the official canon. And now, everything taken in tandem, shows, books, movies, comics, will be part of THE canon.

So you’ll start to see books with the “Legends” banner, and those are interesting stories, often well told, that occur in a version of the “Star Wars” universe, though not concurrent with the one we’ll be seeing unfold in future movies.

How do “Legends” and the “Expanded Universe” affect Star Wars fandom?  How do they affect your viewing of the movies?

Well, they affect the fandom in ways that are sometimes polarizing, because there are some who think that future installments should be slaves to the books and the previous definitions of canon and others (like myself) who believe that the new Legends designation will free the filmmakers up to tell the best Star Wars stories possible.

As for how they affect me, I’m a fan of the films first and the rest of the stories second, so as long as they serve to heighten my understanding and enjoyment of the films and the overall tapestry of Star Wars myth, then I am very happy and well served.

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…

The Most Underappreciated Work of Fantasy Ever – THE SILMARILLION - Part 1 of 3

Turin faces Glaurung on the bridge of Nargothrond. Illustration by  Kip Rasmussen .

Turin faces Glaurung on the bridge of Nargothrond. Illustration by Kip Rasmussen.

Part one of three? I expect to keep the reader’s attention for three parts? Am I crazy? I probably am. But that has nothing to do with the fact that any self-respecting fantasy fan or “geek” of any kind would do very well to examine this study of one of the great pillars of geekdom…

Circa 2004—

I inched my way through another dreary commute. Heart yearning for something, anything to distract me from the inescapable life-sucking vortex, I fumbled around on the passenger seat for an audiobook. I had just enjoyed a fast-moving tale from the Star Wars extended universe with a great narrator, and I couldn’t afford something that would put me to sleep. The drive was already hypnotizing me with boredom. I grabbed a tape (yes, a cassette tape) from the pile of “books” from the library and popped it in. It was something I had been meaning to read (“listen to”), if only to educate myself, but it was old and long and could lull me dangerously close to a slumber-induced pileup…

Two minutes later, after a long musical introduction but just after the first sentences came out, my jaw dropped.

It literally dropped.

I remember the moment well—where I was, the scenery around me, the sound of Martin Shaw’s delicious accent as he read, the realigning of my mind as the world changed. The tapestry of beauty, import, and imagination instantly entranced me. And the fact that the words were penned by a mere mortal shocked me to the core.  It began like the quiet strokes of a symphony…

There was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Ilúvatar; and he made first the Ainur, the Holy Ones, that were the offspring of his thought, and they were with him before aught else was made. And he spoke to them, propounding to them themes of music; and they sang before him, and he was glad.

Was it just a lofty beginning?  A poetic moment in a world-building prelude that precedes many a fantasy novel? No. Something about its confident simplicity told me otherwise. There was a mastery here… a truth, a depth, a something that went so far beyond the imaginativeyarns of a mere book.  This was something both new and ancient. As it went on, concepts ignited that stretched from deepest mythology to cosmic sci-fi, and characters emerged that complex storylines would breathlessly attempt to chase.

As a fantasy reader, the curtains pulled back to reveal a heaping, exotic banquet of living worlds, teeming magic, and unforgettable inhabitants. As a fantasy writer, I knew that I would be forced to measure anything I would ever write against its towering awesomeness.

This was J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion.

Thingol and Melian meet under the stars in Nan Elmoth, beginning a portentous love story. Illustration by  Kip Rasmussen .

Thingol and Melian meet under the stars in Nan Elmoth, beginning a portentous love story. Illustration by Kip Rasmussen.

 

Some may call The Silmarillion the history of Middle Earth—but how can it be a mere history when it transports you to the plains of Ard-galen, where the dwarf army halts the advance of Glaurung, father of dragons; and to the bridge of Tol Sirion the island fortress, where Luthien Tinuviel, searching for her beloved, strips Sauron’s power with a song of earth-shaking beauty.

Some may call The Silmarillion the foundation of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings—but how can it be just a foundation when it contains those stories and so many more, making them seem almost as footnotes before the grander narrative.

Go I too far? Indulge I overmuch in my slavish devotion to Tolkien? Nay, good friends, nay! Perhaps I gild my prose a bit, but it’s hard not to with epic moments like this running through my head…

…and even as the Moon rose above the darkness in the west, Fingolfin let blow his silver trumpets and began his march into Middle-earth, and the shadows of his host went long and black before them…

A line here and a line there can’t begin convey the epic awesomeness of the stories in The Silmarillion.  The one I quoted above is actually the climactic conclusion of a tale of rebellion, betrayal, tragic love, and heroism set against a clash of cosmic forces.

But here’s the trouble…  Here’s what the naysayers are waiting for…  Here’s why few voices join my cry…

The Silmarillion is hard to read!

The fact is, it reads more like a history book—or the Bible—than a novel.  It’s not something you typically cuddle up with and plow through in a single sitting.  Most fantasy fans and normal humans simply haven’t read it.  But that doesn’t change the fact that The Silmarillion is the most underappreciated work of fiction ever written, and in fact it is one of the mostly underappreciated works in all of literature. How dare I throw around such haphazard superlatives?  How can I make such a grand sweeping statement, without even a corroborating PhD attached to my name? Well, with the mighty strokes of my keys, I just did. But when something so distantly outpaces every other piece of fantasy you’ve read, it deserves some lofty praise.

And I’m not the only madman:

“O Mighty Tolkien! Prince of Fantasists! . . . I have just been reveling in one of the greatest literary privileges and experiences of my life . . . The Silmarillion . . . greater and more satisfying than both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings!” — Richard Adams, author of Watership Down

“A creation of singular beauty . . . magnificent in its best moments.” — Washington Post

The new October 2014 cover of the Silmarillion as found at  Amazon .

The new October 2014 cover of the Silmarillion as found at Amazon.

I will not attempt to disentangle the many arguments for and against my grandiose statements, nor will I attempt tasks far beyond me—such as as filling the tomes required to define “greatness” in fantasy and literature, or listing the countless books and movies that owe their vital organs to Tolkien. I will simply try and persuade Tolkien and non-Tolkien fans alike to read it.

In Part 2, I will tantalize fantasy fans with a Middle Earth appetizer that will make you pause the 900 page sword-and-sorcery tome that has you spellbound with cliffhangers at the end of every chapter.  In Part 3, I will provide the mystical answer of how get into The Silmarillion and love it, even if you’ve tried before (which will include a Silmarillion MOVIE).

Many thanks to Kip Rasmussen for allowing me to use his art in this article.  See more and order prints at KipRasmussen.com.

The Most Underappreciated Work of Fantasy Ever – THE SILMARILLION - Part 2 of 3

So, in Part 1, I unapologetically lavished praise on J. R. R. Tolkien’s masterpiece—a masterpiece among masterpieces, yea a towering feat of literary and fantasy profundity: The Silmarillion.

A few of you chuckled compassionately.  A few of you nodded gravely.  A few of you rolled your eyes.  To all of you I say: read it again!

Ungoliant (ancient ancestor of Shelob) traps Melkor, and demands that he feed her the silmarils–the stolen jewels that contain the last light of Valinor. Illustration by  Kip Rasmussen .

Ungoliant (ancient ancestor of Shelob) traps Melkor, and demands that he feed her the silmarils–the stolen jewels that contain the last light of Valinor. Illustration by Kip Rasmussen.

And now, as promised, I shall tantalize Lord of the Rings fans with a “Did You Know?” apéritif that should get you to order up the main course at your favorite book store.

Did you know…

…That Sauron is second in command to the real Dark Lord?

…That he used to be quite a handsome chap?

…That he abased himself before a distant relative of Aragorn?

…That Aragorn is not exactly… human?

…That the world used to be flat?

…That there are different species of elves?

…That the first dragons had no wings?

…Why the eagles sometimes sweep in miraculously to save the day?  (People like to poke fun at this bit of seeming deus ex machina, but there are good and cool reasons why it happens the way it does…)

(For those of you reading this post in email, click here for the video.)

…Why ents can walk and talk?

…That orcs are afraid of water?

…Who built Saruman’s tower?

…Why Galadriel is so mighty and so haunted, and that she left and returned to Middle Earth thousands of years before even Elrond was born?

…That there are MANY epic female characters in Tolkien’s universe?  (As my bro pointed out to me, props to Jackson ‘n friends for bumping up Arwen and Eowyn’s roles in the movies, etc., but only the uninitiated could be tempted to say that Tolkien’s work is lacking in female characters…  The Silmarillion is full of amazing ladies.  In fact, perhaps the most dynamic character in the entire book—in all of literature—is female.)

…And, perhaps most importantly, do you know what actually lies in the “West” that Frodo sails off to at the end of LOTR?

(For those of you reading this in email, click here for the video.  And you can get that song here.)

Those are just a few of the countless “Did-You-Knows” that should get any LOTR fan worth their lembas to dust off or buy the book…

(You’re welcome to add any others in the comments section below.)

And if you’re still holding back, in Part 3 or 4 (I haven’t decided which) I’ll tell you the surefire way to get into that thick Silmarillion prose and love it.

(And thanks again to Kip Rasmussen for the use of his beautiful artwork in these posts.)

The Most Underappreciated Work of Fantasy Ever – THE SILMARILLION - Part 3 of 3

There’s a Silmarillion movie in this post…  What?  A Silmarillion movie??

Read on, Middle Earth wayfarer…

In Part 1, The Silmarillion was praised and placed in its rightful place as one of the great works of literature.

In Part 2, Lord of the Rings fans were tantalized with some of the deep back stories that bear up Middle Earth, found only in The Silmarillion.

Here, in Part 3, I now SOLVE the problem most people have with the The Silmarillion, that it’s too hard to read.

The answer: don’t read it!  Listen to it.

My very own copy of The Silmarillion audiobook read by Martin Shaw. I listen to the whole thing about once a year…

My very own copy of The Silmarillion audiobook read by Martin Shaw. I listen to the whole thing about once a year…

But, this nice little picture probably won’t help you much.  To give you a really good idea how fabulous it is, I’ve put together a little video with excerpts from the audiobook, and fabulous Silmarillion art by Kip Rasmussen.

(If you’re reading this in email, you might not see the video, click here for the vid.)

ENJOY!

Revisiting Star Trek: Voyager

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May 23, 1994 – a cheer erupted from a house packed with nerdy (and not-so-nerdy) high schoolers as the Riker-commanded three-nacelled Enterprise unapologetically demolished a Klingon bird of prey.  Star Trek: The Next Generation was about to end.  What was next?

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Shortly after, my brother secured a bootleg copy of the Star Trek: Generations movie script, and as TNG went to the big screen, I knew the heady days weren’t over. On November 19th, 1994, (shamefully missing the premiere by 1 day) I shivered with glee as I sat down next to my patient girlfriend and watched Kirk and Picard save the galaxy together.

Obviously, Kes was originally part of the crew, and Seven came in in season 4.

Obviously, Kes was originally part of the crew, and Seven came in in season 4.

Only two months later, something called Star Trek: Voyager came along.

A female captain? What’s this? A funky new ship design? Not even a homage to Alexander Courage in the intro music? And most shocking, no “Space the final frontier…” intro monologue?

But I of course enthusiastically gave it a chance. The pilot episode “Caretaker” was impressive—classic themes with a slick new set of visuals and a gutsy “lost in space” main storyline, far less worrisome than TNG’s cosmic jellyfish premiere. (Though, upon mature reflection, I have come to really like “Encounter at Farpoint.” It gave us Q, and some very interesting sci-fi concepts and aliens.)

(As a side note, I had given up on Deep Space Nine some time earlier. Trek was about exploration, and being stuck on a space station just didn’t do it for me. I have heard many times from high-brow Trekkies that it is the most literary/deep/gusty/dramatic/etc. of all the series, but I couldn’t get into it. Maybe there will be a “Revisiting Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” blog entry some day.)

Back to Voyager.

College, missionary work, poverty, dating, and cleaning toilets to buy ramen and cereal were worthy/necessary distractions from Voyager—but the fact was the series just didn’t grab me. Every time I was on the Enterprise—Constitution, Galaxy, and Sovereign, I felt at home.  As a young man, not even Seven of Nine could keep me aboard the fancy Intrepid-class bio-circuited flying machine in the delta quadrant.

For me, what was missing was that magical something in the relationships of Kirk’s and Picard’s crews.

 

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I diss no one here… I know many felt that even more with Voyager and DS9. But it didn’t click for me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Years passed and I found myself searching for some sci-fi company in lonely moments. I tried a variety, but my heart longed for the steady pulse of a warp engine.

So, over the last few months, I have been watching tons of Voyager.  And, well, I was amazed. I didn’t find the ten-forward camaraderie I had longed for, but I did find some fabulous science fiction.

Beyond visionary things like tricorders and communicators, I don’t think Star Trek in general gets the sci-fi props it deserves—and that is especially true of Voyager.  Episode after episode—well-acted and produced with many notably great moments—seized upon very cool sci-fi concepts.  As a writer and a producer with an actress wife, I feel like I can appreciate the achievement of producing and performing in an incredible 172 episodes of such an ambitious show.  This is touched on by Shatner’s great documentary The Captains.

But what struck me was the science fiction.

(It of course suffers from some of the normal Trek pitfalls—a touch of the dogmatically “progressive” moral agenda, silly applications of the universal translator, and “aliens” that are more human than my neighbor.  (I do actually believe that the universe is populated by many humanoid-ish species, but I don’t think they’d understand my jokes!)  With a few very cool exceptions, Voyager could probably have used a little more weirdness in the dilithium.)

Species 8472

Species 8472

However, Voyager really delivers some great sci-fi.  Here are few examples:

A parasite disguised itself as a memory, with the ability to be contagious. (Flashback – Season 3 Epsiode 2)

A think-tank-for-hire made up of unusual, powerful aliens.. (Think Tank – Season 5 Episode 19)

Space-born telepathic pitcher-plants. (Bliss – Season 5 Episode 14)

 

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A spacecraft that becomes jealously involved with its pilot, and has its own agenda. (Alice – Season 6 Episode 5)

A planet where time passes millions of times faster on the surface. (Blink of an Eye season 6, ep 12)

The exploration of “photonic” lifeforms, especially, The Doctor. (lots of episdes)

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Pushing the limits of already-established coolness—like the 29th-century borg. (“One” – Season 4 Episode 25)

 

 

The temporal prime directive. (Many episodes.)

A crewperson becoming the “muse” of an alien poet. (“Muse” – Season 6 Episode 22)

A time fracture where different parts of the ship are in different time zones. (“Shattered” – Season 7 Episode 11)

A wide variety of FTL travel.  (Many episodes.)

And it was fun to have characters with “unusual” skills—like cooking.  (Neelix in many episodes.)

And much more…

 

I had a fun, funny, and hopefully slightly mind-expanding chat with my oldest kids after watching one of the original Kirk episodes just the other night—discussing the spiritual aspects of some of the sci-fi ideas.  But in so many shows today, the “sci-fi” is just marketable window dressing.  Voyager was surprising, refreshing, and deliberately thought-provoking.  In a few years, and after carefully curating for kid-friendly episodes as I do with other Trek, I’m sure I’ll introduce it to my cadets.

During my revisit, I found myself staying up late many times, and enjoying not only the sci-fi, but the characters who wove it into a story.

Thank you to all the folks who made Voyager happen.

In conclusion, Star Trek: Voyager boldly went.

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