I’ve been thinking about the recent shake-up in the Star Wars expanded universe, and it’s taken me some time to really sort out my thoughts both in relation to my emotions and good business sense. I agree with the decision, and believe that it makes sense to do it.
Entertainment Weekly recently posted an exclusive video that announced the return of Darth Maul to the Star Wars universe. For those who either missed or refused to watch the prequels, Maul was a Sith Lord—the same kind of baddie as Darth Vader—who used a double-bladed lightsaber. His first on-screen appearance was in The Phantom Menace in 1999.
In that film, a three-way lightsaber duel ended with Qui-Gon Jinn impaled through the chest and Darth Maul toppling into a deep shaft, deftly cleft in twain by the blade of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Last January, viewers of the cartoon series Star Wars: The Clone Wars were introduced to Maul’s brother Savage Oppress (pronounced in typical Star Wars style as sah-VAHJ OH-press), who was a proposed apprentice to help Count Dooku overthrow his master and take control of the Dark Side of the Force. At the end of that trilogy of episodes, viewers were told that Darth Maul was out there in the incredibly vague somewhere in the galaxy, and Oppress had to go find him.
So, apparently this means that Darth Maul does indeed live and, by some miracle, survived being cut in half by a lightsaber and falling several stories. Insert exasperated sigh here.
Supervising director Dave Filoni told Entertainment Weekly that it makes sense in terms of Star Wars lore:
Fans will note that there is precedent for this kind of resurrection. “The Dark Side of the Force is the pathway to many abilities some consider to be…unnatural,” Darth Sidious says in Revenge of the Sith. Sidious and his master found a way to use the Force to cheat death—that’s how he was able to keep Vader alive after that little swan dive into a lava field. Couldn’t Maul have picked up on some of that too? Says Filoni, “He’s suffered through a lot to keep himself alive and implemented the training of his master to do so.”
There’s also significant financial interest for Lucasfilm in this move. The episode(s) pertaining to Darth Maul will be aired in early 2012, and, by a cosmic coincidence I’m sure, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace in 3-D is premiering February 10, 2012. It goes without saying that I’m annoyed by publicity stunts written into entertainment to drive interest in a related property. Anyone else remember the martial arts episode of Star Trek: Voyager called “Tsunkatse”? WWE Wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a guest star, and both WWE and Voyager were on UPN.
This entire mess—and yes, I’m calling it a mess—brings Star Wars into the realm of pointless character resurrections to drive sales. It also revives the eternal frustrations I have with Star Wars fandom. Since Maul was by far one of the coolest and most bad-ass characters in the prequel trilogy, the news that he would return to the franchise was understandably received with fan praise. At the same time, others started to look at how this affects the overall quality of the franchise and aired their opinions. In response to critical fans, some blogs, including Star Wars Underworld, questioned the “fandom” of people with differing opinions. While I appreciate a discussion on how they plan to resurrect a character and do it well, it’s certainly not the first time that the Star Wars social media sphere has played the card of questioning how someone can be a fan of something while being critical: the hosts of The ForceCast did it numerous times before I stopped listening to the podcast back in May.
While other subsets of science-fiction and fantasy fandom can somewhat easily accept both positive and negative criticism toward the franchise of their choice, some Star Wars fans tend to follow the line of reasoning that if “you’re not with with us, you’re against us.” It’s all fun and games until you disagree with Uncle George and refuse to drink the blue milk, and I’ve already seen backlash from refusing to buy the Star Wars Blu-Rays and my decision not to support the 3-D re-releases. Having intelligent discussions about the positives and negatives of a franchise is one thing, but I cannot support attacking each other for having differing opinions.
The bigger problem I have with this is an issue that has plagued comic book franchises for decades, and that is in the pointless death and resurrection of characters. In real life, religious beliefs aside, death is pretty permanent. In storytelling, death is a result of failure, the completion of a heroic journey, or the motivation to start that journey. In a smaller subset, that death results in a significant change of character dynamics—such as regenerations in Doctor Who, or the evolution of Gandalf in Lord of the Rings or Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars—but those deaths still carry the impact of the end of a journey and how it affects the characters around them.
Simply put, to reverse a death negates that impact and cheapens the victory for the winners.
In The Phantom Menace, Darth Maul’s death marked two important character changes: First, it displayed Obi-Wan Kenobi’s maturity and readiness to be promoted from apprentice to Jedi Knight; second, it marked the beginnings of Anakin’s destined path. The death of Darth Maul was a very important turning point for the Jedi themselves, as they discover that the Sith had indeed returned.
While I look forward to finding out how Filoni and company accomplish this feat, I am very skeptical about the Star Wars franchise as a whole at this point. If Filoni proves me wrong and does this well, I will be quite amazed. On the other hand, if this turns into yet another cheap comic book return—Superman wasn’t dead, after all, he was just resting—to sell tickets to yet another release of the Star Wars movies, then I’m done with The Clone Wars. I have supported the show since it was announced, but for me, it would be that damaging, and since George Lucas has final approval on the show, the blame would lie solely with him.
Come 2012, we shall see.
The debate over the Star Wars Expanded Universe is a tale of us versus them that’s been raging for some time, but only recently has it exploded within fandom. The Expanded Universe (EU) matters greatly to me for reasons I’ve previously discussed, but in particular because the novels were my major gateway into Star Wars fandom. Unfortunately, that segment of my fandom has fallen under attack from people I trusted.
The ForceCast has become the podcast where there is no fan left behind unless they disagree with your particular version of fandom, in which case they will publicly mock and shame you on their program.
That’s why I have no choice but to stop listening.
“The prequels have been made. They exist. There is literally nothing you can do or say to make them go away. They may not be your cup of tea, but let’s remember: YOU can choose not to watch them! You can pretend like they don’t even exist! But being angry about it forever is going to accomplish nothing. Neither is being disrespectful. My father has done absolutely nothing to earn disrespectful tirades and personal attacks. He is a good man. He is not an evil genius plotting to ruin your life. You are entitled to your own opinions–whatever they may be, but be respectful about it. He may have made three movies you personally didn’t care about, but he was also responsible for three movies that inspired you and millions of others. So, do him and I (sic) the courtesy of having a little goddamn respect.”
–Katie Lucas (via Twitter, 4 May 2011)
Last week, podcaster and Chicago radio producer Jimmy Mac covered the topic of being called a nerd on The ForceCast. His position was that the term nerd is derogatory and shouldn’t be used to describe fans of Star Wars. I couldn’t disagree more.
The crowd at Wikipedia have defined “nerd” as “a term that refers to a social perception of a person who avidly pursues intellectual activities, technical or scientific endeavors, esoteric knowledge, or other obscure interests, rather than engaging in more social or conventional activities.” That got me thinking. Based on that, why shouldn’t we embrace the term nerd?
My immediate response was one of apathy. However, after a few hours of thought and sleep, I’ve slightly adjusted my position.
First, in the world of 3-D films, I’ve only been able to see the effect once or twice. The first one that came to mind was during the stellar Space Station 3D IMAX film, which I caught last year. In that documentary, there is a long shot along the axis of the International Space Station that looks out into the depths of space, and that shot stood out very well behind the 3-D glasses. I remember taking off the glasses to look at the screen and get the full effect of what technology was doing. Unfortunately, the only other time the effect returned was when the astronauts were demonstrating weightlessness with a ball, and that was intermittent for me.
The second time I saw a 3-D effect work was at the fun but intellectually vacuous 4-D “ride” based on A Bug’s Life at Disneyworld, and that was during the typical “coming right at you” moments. I tried watching Up in 3-D, mostly because that was the only way our local theater presented it, but nothing ever looked three dimensional. I know there were moments, because the audience was “ooh”-ing and “ahh”-ing at those points.
My second big concern is in the technology side. If a movie is made in 3-D from the ground up, the effects tend to work better than if the movie is 2-D initially and rendered to 3-D later. Unfortunately, the Star Wars saga was born in 2-D, which makes me apprehensive at the quality of the end 3-D result.
I think my problem with 3-D is because I know that it’s a visual trick. In the sparse moments when I’ve forgotten where I am with a 3-D movie, the effects work, but if I’m thinking about the movie and the experience, all I see is a flat screen. So, the next response is, “don’t think about it.” Space Station 3D was a documentary about something I know quite a bit about, and honestly, was a significant chunk of eye candy. Like I’ve already said, A Bug’s Life 4-D was low on substance, lasted about five minutes, and was broken up with the “fourth dimensional” effects of rumbling chairs and blowing air to represent things that happen to the viewer in the show. Both instances involved distraction from thinking too much about the material presented on screen. The problem is that I can’t switch off the analysis during Star Wars movies. They’ve been a big part of my life since I was kid, and it’s hard to separate that.
Now, I don’t want to seem like I complete “Debby Downer” on this. I am excited for the saga to get another big screen release for another generation of children, but if Lucasfilm uses the current 3-D technology, I won’t play. I would love to see the films again with the theater experience, but I don’t want to sully that experience by filtering the imagery with 3-D glasses that don’t work for me. Like any other visual filter, the glasses tend to remove a portion of the vibrancy that I expect on the silver screen. Watching the 3-D films without the glasses is completely out of the question for obvious, headache inducing, reasons.
My opinion is tempered with the fact that George Lucas is an innovator. If anyone can create a method for three-dimensional filmmaking that is revolutionary, it is Lucas, and to paraphrase Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, I’ll be watching the developments on this project with great interest. If it looks like something I can enjoy, my butt will be in the seat for all six films. Until then, I have no choice but to remain cautiously optimistic.
Either way, we all know what the end result will be: A metric Bantha load of money deposited in the Lucasfilm coffers as fans either re-live or discover Star Wars again.