Darth Maul and the Hollowness of Death

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.

Advertisements

The New Project

I’m back on the podcasting bandwagon!  I’ve started working with The Chronic Rift, a pop culture podcast based on a New York public access show of the ‘90s. Every week I’ll be recording The Weekly Podioplex, where I’ll cover the weekend box office results, the week’s upcoming films, the newest DVD and Blu-Ray releases, and a little news too.

The first episode is now live, so please give it a listen and let me know what you think.

See you at the theater.

Star Wars Fandom and The ForceCast

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.

Continue reading

Just a Bit of Harmless Plagiarism?

Ah, the internet. As pointed out on Star Wars news site Club Jade, the vast ethereal series of pipes and tubes is “a wild and crazy place, populated by people who are perhaps a little unknowledgeable about the basics of a civil society.” Of course, one of those basics in civil society is that you shouldn’t exactingly copy someone else’s work without crediting them. From a copyright perspective, it is illegal. From any other perspective, it’s definitely vaults over the party foul line, straight over the “not cool” zone, and lands right smack in the middle of the actions I think should reserve you a place in Shepherd Book’s “special hell.”

I didn’t know about it, but apparently there are folks out there who can’t think originally and leech off other people’s RSS feeds, throw a fancy HTML/CSS skin on them, and call the content their own. But there are others who run sites that physically snag various people’s postings word for word and pass them off as their own. To his/her misfortune, one of these types ran afoul of Dunc, the owner of Club Jade. You see, the owner/operator of SWTORstrategies.com copied at least 17 posts written by Dunc – and numerous posts from other Star Wars blogs – without attributing the work. The posts linked back to Club Jade, but made no mention of the author.

Dunc makes a great point in her post about the function of a “via” or “source” credit, which you see a lot in blog posts. “Via” or “source” is equivalent to a thank you these days, and is not a “written by” credit. It’s where you found the information and wrote your own copy based on that raw data. It’s a very clear distinction.

The “author” at the site, “sQren”, has been somewhat hospitable about removing posts after the source author complains, but this really shouldn’t have been an issue to begin with. Somewhere along the line, people made the leap that everything not directly associated with a big name corporation is fair game for use. Plagiarism is not just limited to copying information from encyclopedias for a term paper. Any time you copy without attribution, it’s wrong.

Some folks in the comment thread on Dunc’s post commented that this violation of intellectual property was akin to the rash of file sharing that has the MPAA and RIAA up in arms. I say yes and no. With file sharing, the participants are gaining content without paying for it. In this case, they are gaining content without paying for it, and passing it off as their own. When you illegally download a Metallica song, you’re typically not claiming that you wrote or performed the song. Here, sQren was indirectly claiming that he/she wrote the original content in each article.

Similarly, another reader pointed out that this strategy does provide more visibility for the people who work on the content.  I contend that such visibility is meaningless if the content is not properly attributed. After all, if I visit SWTORstrategies and read a well-constructed post without attributions, how do I know that Bryan Young or Dunc wrote it originally?  Without attributions, I have no choice but to believe that sQren wrote it.  I would have no reason to visit Big Shiny Robot or Club Jade because everything points to sQren being the final source for everything I need on that topic, which robs those violated by this thief of my patronage. These talents in the blogosphere do this for free and for the passion of their fandom. The only reward they get is the good feeling for helping fellow fans. Because of this, some people claim that this doesn’t really matter. If that’s true, then feel free to write my doctoral thesis for me when I eventually go back to school. It’s the same difference.

It’s not the motivations that I’m concerned about when it comes to plagiarism in the blogosphere. I’m concerned about the hard work writers put forth that is disregarded for someone else’s convenience. Our end goal is to have worked on something for someone else’s enjoyment, whether it’s a blog post, an article for a podcast, or a 50,000+ word novel. Plagiarizers disregard that hard work – let’s not kid ourselves, it’s hard work to write anything coherent; the longer the word count, the harder it gets – and take it as their good fortune that someone else pushed the boulder up the mountain for them.

Now, it looks like SWTORstrategies has started doing their own work instead of copying off their neighbors. Nevertheless, I firmly support Dunc’s efforts to bring these thieves into the light of day via social media. Consider it a little guerrilla-style effort to let the SWTORstragtegies folks know that what they do is not welcome. By Dunc’s suggestion, if you have a Twitter account, you can participate by tweeting the following: “Hey @swtorstrategies, how about you write your own posts? http://bit.ly/bSZSaC / http://bit.ly/brVG40 #plagiarism”.   Just like this.  Is it overkill?  Maybe, but plagiarism is something I’m incredibly sensitive to, so I’m not likely to show them much mercy.  The point is to get it all over their replies feed so that they can see how unwelcome their strategy is.  Hopefully the point will get driven so far into their brains that they never, ever consider it again.

Is it really that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things? Probably not, but as Dunc so eloquently puts it, “[I]t’s not just about copying and pasting – it’s about having the decency to not take someone else’s work and pass it off as your own. And I’m not going to let that fly just ‘because it’s the internet.’ It doesn’t matter what the subject is: There’s no suitable excuse for plagiarism, particularly when it’s this pathetic.”