From hearing the triumphantly blasting opening horns of John Williams’ seminal score to browsing in a book shop and finding a new novel with a Star Destroyer or a lightsaber on the cover, finding something new and Star Wars related used to be a goosebump inducing rarity.
Every franchise as boundless as Star Wars is bound to have its highs and lows, though. From Mark Hamill’s campy appearance on The Muppet Show, to the Droids cartoon series of the mid 80’s, the denizens of the Star Wars Galaxy have never shied away from mingling with other mediums.
We’ll just forget about the Christmas special.
Here’s where this exploration into the pop culture phenomenon really starts, though. In 1991 Timothy Zahn penned the hallmark Heir to the Empire book series and a new era of Star Wars mania was launched that led to renewed media attention for the Star Wars saga, which had been mostly lying low since the Jedi had returned and gone again. This lingering fondness among the collective conciousness of geeks and fanboys around the world spawned a new wave of video games and an unending parade of novels. Such a landmark in Star Wars iconnery was this that in 2011, Del Ray Books plans a 20th year anniversary celebration for the release of the Zahn series that re-started it all.
Another key moment in the 90’s revival was Shadows of the Empire. Star Wars’ first crossover event featured a novel, a video game, and a comic book series which had to each be enjoyed seperately in order for the whole story of what happened between Empire and Jedi to be told. It was a great time to be a fanboy.
So why, now, do those same opening blasts of trumpets and brass induce a new kind of shiver in me? Why is the boyish anticipation of blasters and starfighters that I used to experience with a new entry into the rank and file of Star Wars media now replaced with a sense of dread, as though millions of voices had cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced?
Well… I could say that my tastes were maturing. I’d be lying, though. I still enjoy campy entertainment and comic books and space operas and things that have no relevance to reality more than just about any form of entertainment. (It’s a character flaw. I’ve learned to live with it.) In fact, I may disclose later in this piece that it really isn’t all bad. The problem is that the pop-culture marketplace is oversaturated with Star Wars…
And a lot of it just isn’t good.
Obviously, there were the prequels. No Star Wars fan worth their salt will lie and tell you that they weren’t beside themselves with gleefully child-like anticipation when the aforementioned Star Wars revival of the 1990’s kept right on trucking into the 21st Century, leading our beloved messiah, George Lucas himself, to get on the bandwagon and proudly bless us with the announcement that YES, there would be more Star Wars movies! Sadly, though, many of us were scratching our heads and trying to decipher the confused looks on each others’ faces as we meandered back to our cars after The Phantom Menace.
As the prequels unfolded, it became clearer and clearer that Lucas didn’t care about what was expected of his work. This trait could easily be considered commendable… nay, admirable!… if only the finished product wasn’t so deplorable. Throwing most of what we loved about the classic trilogy right out of the airlock, Lucas proudly served up tripe that told us that Yoda was not the Jedi Master who instructed Obi-Wan: that was Liam Neeson, Anakin Skywalker wasn’t just Luke and Leah’s daddy, but Threepio’s as well, and there was nothing mystical about The Force. The list goes on, but you get the drift.
Lucas contradicted not only his own work while writing the prequels, but also the novel which had quietly restarted his cash-cow franchise for him, Zahn’s Heir to the Empire, which had a completely different take on how The Clone Wars had gone down from how Lucas portrayed them starting in Attack of the Clones.This, arguably, may have bumped Heir to the Empire, and thereby all consecutive novels bearing the Star Wars brand which had used it as a springboard, out of canon and into the shadowy realm of fan-fiction. Just as well, I suppose, since I’d rather not believe that Chewbacca is dead anyway.
The prequels may be the biggest offense, but they weren’t the first. Lucas had already warned us that he might toy with our silly and childlike love for his early work with the re-releases of the original trilogy, starting as far back as 1997. Digitally Mastered: Good. Computer generated X-Wings, Wampas and Dewbacks: Okay. Greedo shooting first: Now hold on a second…
The affrontery didn’t end there though. In fact, Lucas had already become clearly self-indulgant as he also had us sit through a version of Return of the Jedi which featured a complete retooling and overproducing of not one, but two musical sequences: one of which made us cringe for whole new reasons upon revisiting Jabba’s palace and the other transforming the uplifting celebration sequence in the Ewok Village, which had rousingly led into the end credits in the original film, into an underwhelming feeling of “meh” complete with an uncharacteristically clumsy lead-in to those same credits.
But it’s OK because we get to see more Boba Fett and the Sarlacc has a mouth now.
He then went on to alter the Special Editions further in 2004, in order to “fix continuity” between the originals and the prequels. Am I the only one who finds the idea of altering the originals in order to fit with the newer stuff a bit backwards? Shouldn’t the new stuff have been made to fit to begin with?
Then he had the audacity to tell us that these would be the only versions of the films we’d ever get to see again outside of our old and wearing-out VHS copies. Thankfully, he went back on that threat in 2008, allowing us to buy the 2004 special editions with the original films that we cherished included as “bonus content”. Oh, joy and rapture, George Lucas. Thank you, thank you, thank you. You’ve come to your senses and allowed your original brilliance to shine through again. Surely we’ll continue to enjoy the original films, even if they are downgraded to the status of bonus material when the Blu-Rays are released in 2011!
No. We won’t.
I did say earlier that it wasn’t all bad though. And it isn’t. The continuing flood of Star Wars since the films rebooted has also given us 2004’s video game masterpiece: Star Wars: Battlefront. Placing the fanboy gamer in the role of just about any soldier on either side of the battle, be it the Rebels or Imperials of the classic era, or the Republic Army or Confederate Army of the prequel era. The game was so good at thrusting us into famous battles from both sets of trilogies that I almost didn’t mind playing as a Clone Trooper. It was followed up in 2005 with a superior sequel which introduced ship to ship combat and playable “heroes”. What could be better than blasting through the Battle of Hoth as a Rebel trooper? Mowing Rebel troopers down with your lightsaber as Darth Vader, that’s what. These games were mindblowing. My only complaint is that there will be no Battlefront 3. But I digress.
The Cartoon Network series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars is another diamond in the rough. Admittedly I haven’t followed it as closely as I’d like, but the series is alway fun and somehow captures the spirit of what an 80’s kid knows as Star Wars far better than the prequels or special editions have. That’s an odd accoplishment considering what was largely wrong with the prequels and special editions was brought on by CGI, and The Clone Wars is a computer animated show. Incredibly though, it is superior to its modern big screen predecessors in portraying what I expect from that galaxy far, far away. Even more amazing is the fact that it is set in the reviled prequel-era, and somehow makes it endearing. Maybe the prequels weren’t really that bad after all. Maybe I should give them another look.
GAH! What were they thinking? Artoo-Detoo can’t fly! Turn it off! Turn it off!
Now, having examined some of the chunks from the tippy top of the Hoth-sized iceberg of Star Wars goodness and badness that’s come out since the second Death Star first exploded, what does the future hold for fans of the Star Wars mythology?
George Lucas recently announced that he plans to re-re-re-release the Star Wars saga in theaters starting sometime around Valentine’s Day in 2012, this time in eye popping 3D. Really not a bad move, except that if the world ends on schedule, we’ll only get to see The Phantom Menace. Lucas still doesn’t seem to understand that most of us just don’t like the prequels, and he’s intent on subjecting us to them again. Worse yet, if the prequels don’t fair well, we may never see the ones we really do want to see in 3D, even if the world does survive to let us. It’s almost as though we’re being blackmailed into sitting through two and a half hours of “Ani! Ani!” In 3D. I might go just to see the other fanboys in the seats ahead of me taking girly swings at the incorporeal Jar Jar Binks as his 3D likeness taunts them with the impossible notion that he’s standing right in front of them and they can finally punch him in the face.
In other Star Wars related news, actor, writer, producer, and geek guru Seth Green is working on a Star Wars comedy for the small screen. According to Green, the show will be a computer animated comedy focusing on the less serious side of the Star Wars Galaxy. No title or date has been announced yet, but he’s handled the franchise with hilarious results before, so I’m very curious what he has up his sleeve. So far, he’s not saying much.
Mr. Lucas has also been talking for a few years now about a television project. The live action Star Wars television series will fill the gap between the prequels and the originals. The as-yet unnamed project was slated for 2011, but more recent reports have it in TV limbo.
With the glorious history of princesses and Jedi, smugglers and bounty hunters, crime lords and Sith Lords, and all other things Star Wars marred by occasional but high profile bouts of sloppy writing and a general sense of over-exposure, we can now speculate on which of these projects might actually be worth the price of admission.
The easy answer is: the ones that are free. But looking back at what I’ve written here, a pattern has emerged. The best Star Wars projects of recent years have been, I’m sad to say, the ones that George Lucas has stayed far, far away from. With Lucas helming two of the three most high profile projects in the pipeline, I can only come to one conclusion:
Help us, Seth Green. You’re our only hope.