Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Disney Just Beat the Star Wars Expanded Universe in Its Testicles With A Shoe

I have discussed my thoughts and feelings about the Star Wars franchise at great length here on We Are Respectable Negroes. I am not a casual fan. I consider Lucas' creation a personal gift. Star Wars was a cultural phenomenon during the 1970's and 1980's. Along with hip hop, it defined my childhood and teen years.

Because of that allegiance, I am very worried about what Star Wars has become with the Prequels. Lucas did not "rape" our childhoods. Such talk is silly fan boy blubbering. Lucas did however make some choices about his own creation that many of us disagree with. It is his universe to play with; we just live in it. We also do not have to be pleased with his unfortunate choices.

J.J. Abrams, working for Disney films, will direct and help to write the new Star Wars sequels. He is the best of many bad options for the films. He resuscitated Star Trek as a franchise for the general public. In doing so, Abrams killed Star Trek as serious fans understood it. Abrams has told the media that Star Trek was his promotional reel for getting the Star Wars job. The latter is Abrams' true love--so he claims. However, I worry that we often do wrong by those we deeply care for. I am practical. If I were hiring a chef, I would not accept his poorly prepared dish of filet mignon and a promise that he will do better in the future as grounds to give him a job running my flagship restaurant.

The last few days have brought a flurry of news about the new Star Wars trilogies. If one believes the leaks posted online, Obi-wan Kenobi may have a secret love child who is a young person of color. Hugo Weaving, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberpatch, and 12 Years a Slave's Chiwetel Ejioforare are also supposedly being considered for roles in the new Star Wars films.

Hugo Weaving is a natural fit. Fassbender could work too. Chiwetel Ejioforare? Benedict Cumberpatch? We shall see.

I am more struck by the announcement that the original script will be rewritten. Instead of a cast of younger actors who are the heirs to Han, Luke, Leia, Lando, and the rest of the Original Trilogy ensemble, Abrams wants the first installment in the new films, Episode VII, to be a homage and send off for the original characters. We have also learned that Disney and Lucasfilm are going to review what is known as the "Expanded Universe"--those novels, comic books, video games, etc.--and the suitability of its various elements for official Star Wars "canon" and lore.

I applaud this long needed decision. Most of the Expanded Universe was/is a money grab. It is generally of poor quality and has caused unnecessary confusion about what constitutes the "official" Star Wars Universe.

The timing of this announcement is very curious to this ghetto nerd's eyes. I sense a disturbance in the Force. The Star Wars script is being rewritten, in a very rushed fashion, for filming that is set to being in several months. Sets have been built. Concept art is approved. Casting is imminent. Episode VII will be released in December of 2015. Star Wars is a licence to print money. Disney will not miss their deadline.

Revisiting and scrubbing the canon is a smart and necessary move that will allow Disney to borrow the few great elements in the Expanded Universe and discard the garbage (for example, stories that featured "zombie" Stormtroopers, as well as Oceans 11 and Usual Suspects inspired novels featuring Han, Chewie, and the other more roguish characters).

Time is of the essence. My suspicion is that the script and screenplay for Episode VII are imperiled. Lucas hit two grand-slams with A New Hope and Empire. Jedi was a triple with runs walked in for the win. Abrams, despite his confidence, is discovering that talking about writing and developing a new Star Wars Trilogy that honors the spirit and energy and story of the Original Trilogy is far easier than it initially seems.

The rebooted canon suggests that Abrams and Disney are going with the obvious choice for the new films.

Despite what supposed insiders such as Supershadow have suggested, Episode VII will feature Grand Admiral Thrawn from the Timothy Zahn novels. If Abrams can mate Thrawn with the Dark Empire graphic novels, Star Wars' newest iteration will be fun and good. Outside of the official films, those two options from the Expanded Universe are the most "Star Wars" in feel and energy. Casual fans will be moved and excited. Real and die hard followers of Lucas' vision will exhale again. Disaster will be averted; a great visionary success akin to Episode IV will not be gifted to them/us.

There is lots of good in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. Echoing what our friend Werner Herzog's Bear wrote on his site, the Expanded Universe was a life preserver that fueled our youthful love of the Trilogies, fleshed out Lucas' worlds, and kept us hungry for the Prequels.

If I had to nominate elements from the Expanded Universe that should be made into canon, they would include the Dark Empire and Crimson Empire graphic novels, The Knights of the Old Republic video games, the novels about Han and Lando's early adventures, Shadows of the Empire, Bounty Hunter Wars, Death Star, Outbound Flight, and Order 66. I would also consult the original West End Star Wars roleplaying game source books and explicitly detail what facts and events are now considered "official".

Do you think Grand Admiral Thrawn is now the default choice for Abrams' Star Wars movie at present? For fans of Star Wars, what elements or characters from the Expanded Universe would you like to see made into official canon?

Are you also worried about the troubles Episode VII is experiencing pre-production? Or are you happy that Abrams is apparently being so very careful with the new Star Wars Trilogy?


Black Sci-Fi said...

I often chafe at the notion that film professionals are more than business professionals. Art, in and of itself, must be a "marketable" commodity in order for the artist to continue to create and for patrons (executive producers) to fund artistic ventures. Certain film professionals are better at making scrambled eggs, perhaps the most popular form of cooked eggs, than crafting a rare souffle'. The sheer volume of J.J. Abrams work would suggest that he's very good in the board room. I have both enjoyed his work, and been angered by the lack of nuance in the message. And I must confess that most of his work has a style that, to me, is as unsatisfying as a lot of Spike Lee's work. The best way to explain my dissatisfaction with some of their work is to say: "Being the first to dramatize an idea comes with the responsibility to elevate it beyond easy generalizations and strive to rise above cliche'." The movie "Gravity" comes to mind because the enormity of the effects (3D et al) were trivialized by the clumsy cliche's written into the script to serve as subtext for Hollywood gender politics. To me, the beautiful filming of the vastness of space and the potential for danger faced by those who are pioneers was overshadowed by a well worn story of a white woman overcoming danger in a formally all-male career. At least "Prometheus" rose above gender politics to tell a well worn, cliche-fest, story. With regard to most films the question I ask, as a consumer, is: "Does Hollywood care if the promotion outstrips the product by a wide margin? Or, is successful marketing their primary goal? But, alas, I think we already know the answer to that question. It may be foolish, as experienced consumers of modern mass market entertainment, to raise our expectations beyond general market criteria. As an African-American, who writes sci-fi as a hobby, I already know that my work will never see the big screen in its original form. I know that my Afrocentric characters will be recast as white characters, if my story is sold to Hollywood. And, I realize that the only way for me to produce my stories without Hollywood is to do so by raising the capital myself , hiring the actors and crew and distribute the final product through the web. If my work is noteworthy enough to gain a sizable audience on the web, without a distribution deal through a major Hollywood vendor, I can look forward to a derivative work being produced by Hollywood and the theft being protected by legal experts specializing in financial attrition as the ultimate arbiter of truth, justice and the way of the world. I should also mention that I applaud the vocational success of both Mr. Abrams and Mr. Lee. I suspect that the sheer volume of their discographies would suggest that there is something contained therein that is the essence of their creative artistic vision, beyond the cliche-ridden offerings that were necessary to meet general market consumer standards. One more thing; the web has many, many astronomy and cosmology websites that true hard sci-fi fans can explore to satisfy their inner craving for science and speculative fiction. Abrams work becomes less interesting of a topic after you've read multiple authors denouncing the veracity of Einstein's Theory of Relativity. To be clear, although it can be quite an exhilarating mental stimulant, it makes for a bad date movie and an even worse water cooler conversation at the office.


DanF said...

I don't think set design is going to be a problem for any re-write:

Sure that's a joke, but not that far from the truth. I'm not worried about a rewrite at this point. I think the people involved have been thinking about this for a long time. My only concern is that they will try to roll too much expanded universe information and muddy up the plot. I hope they go with an Admiral Thrawn type villain and make episode VII analogous to IV - an adventurous romp that establishes the characters and feeds the ecosystem.

I was 12 when Star Wars came out, and it consumed me. The expanded universe stuff started to come out more after I was out of college - I read a couple Timothy Zahn books, but I never got vested in it. When the Prequels came out, I was hugely disappointed (really? a trade war?). However, now I have kids and we watched the movies in the
order in which they came out. My kids loved episodes 4, 5, and 6 - six was their favorite because Ewoks (which ironically was why it was my least favorite of the original three). What surprised me though was that I didn't find episodes 1, 2 and 3 as god-awful as I remembered. Episode 2 is a story-telling mess and is a bad movie by just about any measure, but maybe because I was seeing it through the eyes of a seven and an eleven year old, I wasn't cringing. I have not let my seven year old watch episode three yet because I know the scene where Anakin slaughters the padawans would give her nightmares, but with time and distance, I found Anakin's conversion to the Darth more convincing this time around. The dialog sucked, but the action was compelling and the narrative more plausible. I guess I'm less jaded in my late forties than I was in my early thirties - which gives me A New Hope that I'll enjoy Episode VII.

Serdar (GenjiPress) said...

I have a weird relationship with Star Wars, in big part because after "Jedi" came out, another movie from decades past was re-released on home video and came to my attention by way of Roger Ebert. That movie was Akira Kurosawa's "The Hidden Fortress", which Lucas credited openly with being a massive influence on Star Wars (he had seen it in film school). Ebert's comment was that watching the film was "like visiting the wellspring of the Force." I sought out most everything by Kurosawa -- starting with "Ran", which came out in theaters in 1985 -- and by the time I circled back to Star Wars by way of the prequels, I felt like everything Star Wars had once been for me had been eclipsed by something far larger and more involving.

chauncey devega said...

Lucas borrowed from many films to tell his story. For me, that makes the Trilogy all the more compelling. Why did it do the opposite for you?

chauncey devega said...

Episodes 1 and 2 are a mess that could have been one movie w. lots of the first movie established by the crawl. On the podcast I talk about my other fixes--don't we all have them, so great we are as writers from our couches. Abrams makes movies for the masses that don't say anything. Star Trek 2 was really bad. I happen to like Super 8 very much though. Hopefully Kasdan will fix whatever mistakes Abrams makes.

Serdar (GenjiPress) said...

It's not that his borrowing made them uncompelling. If anything, I was pleased with the diversity of influences he had. It was that once I discovered one of those original influences, I felt like I was in the presence of something far more personally interesting. I didn't *want* the later SW to stink on ice, but stink they did, and that only encouraged me to go back to the well of Japanese cinema (and non-English, non-U.S. cinema in general) and drink all the deeper.

So this is less about SW being bad than me discovering other things later through SW that turned out to be far more fascinating in the long run.

Werner Herzog's Bear said...

Thanks for the shout out. I was hoping that you would offer your opinion on the subject. I too liked Super 8, but also find Abrams' other work rather rote. I just hope that the producers are willing to take some risks, and that they retain Thrawn, who is a fantastic character, and a more complex villain than in any of the films.

Buddy H said...

chauncey devega said...

They are a really talented duo. Some of their work felt flat to me at first. Now I am starting to see their smarts.

GFireflyE said...

This is a hard pill to swallow, but the Prequel trilogy NEEDS to be redone; it should not be canonized. The story itself should align with the original trilogy as well as official canonized works from the EU that Lucas acknowkedged as canon....and then later rejected.
Despite favoring other works as well, IMO, canonical works from the EU that should be included are as follows:
- KOTOR Series (game)
- Darth Bane Trilogy
- Young Han Solo Trilogy
- Young Lando Calrissian series
- Dark Forces (game)
- Tie Figher (game)
- X-Wing Series (first 4 books)
- Thrawn Trilogy
- Jedi Academy Trilogy
- Jedi Knight Series (game)
- Corellian Trilogy
That Lucasfilm has acknowledged a need to canonize the EU is a HUGE step in the right direction. The fact that the prequel movies will be canon...simply because they are VERY disappointing.

CodeRed said...

Ive always loved Star Wars and was very pleased even with the prequels (except for Anakin's casting of course). I didn't get too much into the EU, although I read a couple of the novels and thought they were entertaining there's too much about the EU I've always felt was ridiculous (like Palpatine & Boba Fett coming back to life). And while there were some good stories I felt a majority of them were just making Star Wars mythos bloated.

I think a cleaning up of canon Post-Trilogy is good as long as they don't mess with the pre-trilogy canon. I'm a little worried that they don't have full script even though they started shooting...