Thursday, December 17, 2015

Star Wars Memories 17: May the Fourth Be With You

Film Noir Movies with Star Wars
characters. Yes, please!

I think the best thing that the fans ever did for George Lucas was choosing to ignore him when it came to the goofy stuff falling out of his gourd-like noggin.  People—and weirdly, it wasn’t my crowd—began taking ownership of Star Wars in the same way that the Millennials were claiming Harry Potter and to a lesser extent, Lord of the Rings.

In the absence of movies, Fan Activity took over. People began to re-interpret Star Wars through different lenses and filters. Steampunk Star Wars was the rage for a while. Dark Horse published the original trilogy storyline as classic Manga, complete with all of the storytelling tropes and differences in place. It was a completely new reading of the classic Star Wars text. And it worked. It held up.

Cosplay exploded, and with it came clever re-inventions of the visual architecture of Star Wars. Fan fiction went wild (and of course, we can argue that most of the books published between 1981 and 2010 are just high-end fan fiction), as did gaming. Someone produced a musical. Lots of artwork hit the internet; retro-travel posters to the various planets, minimalist movie posters, you name it. People started posting DIY Lightsaber tutorials, using plumbing and hardware supplies. And then, the fan movies! I can’t forget about those. The Boba Fett films alone are an impressive thing.

Even the new licensed material had a different tone to it. No longer just toys, you could now get chopsticks in the shape of lightsabers. Or my favorite, ice cube trays with Han Solo frozen in Carbonite. I knew we were going to be all right when I first saw those.

A ton of really talented artists, crafter, cosplayers, movie makers—fans, all, really stepped up and made Star Wars fun again. It doesn’t have to be heavy, not all of the time. I don’t need to take Midi-Chlorians seriously. All I need to do to get my Star Wars Fan Activity on is to say, on the appropriate day, “May the Fourth Be With You.” Of course, the only proper response to this is, “And also with you.”

 A Fan-Made Alternate
Empire Strikes Back Poster.
It’s okay to think that the folks who write down “Jedi” under religious affiliation on tax forms and census forms are a little nutty. They are. But they know it, too, and it’s okay. We’ve all got a sliding scale to determine our level of participation. Mine stops at fanfic and cosplay, but I wouldn’t be opposed to dressing up in costume for a single night—the premiere of a new movie, say.

We don’t have to consume the party line. This is, I think, especially important, now that Disney owns Lucasfilm. Disney is a Great Satan, and don’t you forget it. They will slap a Darth Vader mask on Donald Duck the instant Star Wars’ net worth drops below a certain point on their profit/loss matrix. Because they don’t care about Star Wars the way the rest of the world does. It’s like Lucas sold his creation to the Emperor. I know that seems weird, considering I was just praising the people who were doing Star Wars mash-ups with other things, so why does Disney bother me so much? I never liked them as a company. Never cared for their intellectual property. I was always a Warner Brothers guy. I don’t want Disney crossing over into the Marvel Universe, either, for that matter. But for now, they seem to be making smart choices. For now.

So, we’re turning a corner, now. A new Trilogy, the last of Lucas’ original idea. He gets a nod, but not a say, and honestly, that’s the thing that has reinvigorated my interest the most. I’m more excited about this movie than I have been for any project with the Star Wars logo on it since the 20th anniversary editions were announced. This is a great time to be a Star Wars fan, and The Force Awakens is most aptly named.

No one knows what happens after Jedi. They cut loose the Expanded Universe, another smart decision, to bring the focus back to these movies. For the first time ever, fans of the original series and fans of the prequels will get to experience the next chapter in the Star Wars saga at the same time, with no mental baggage hanging over. Like the Force, this trilogy will surrounded us, penetrate us, and bind fandom together again.

The best thing about the movie is something I’ve wanted to see for a long time; namely, what happens next. Lucas could have done that, had he worked on the sequels instead of the prequels. But he didn’t. Including the original actors in support roles as the generals and senators who send the new kids off to war is a powerful statement. Handing off the series to the new kids is exactly the right way to do it. I had an idea for how the story would start, too. A way to involve the original cast and still make it a Star Wars trilogy for a new generation.  Since this plot idea will never be relevant again, I’m going to write it down for posterity. This is how I would have started episode seven.

After the crawl, talking about years of peace and recent rumors of unrest, we open on Han and Leia. Now a senator, Solo is wrestling with something, and Leia asks him if he wants to go through with it.
HAN:  What choice do I have? We’ve got to inform the council, or they will continue to debate the issue. We’ve got to act now.

LEIA:  I know. We need support. But I have a bad feeling about this.

HAN:  It’s been a long time since you’ve said that to me.
They banter for a bit, and the intercom beeps and informs them the Millennium Falcon is approaching. They leave together to meet it.

In the lift, Han says he’ll feel better about what he’s got to do with Chewie beside him. “I miss that old fuzzball,” he says.

The lift door opens and it’s not Chewbacca. It’s a Sith dressed in black. He fires up the lightsaber and Leia force pushes him back as Han draws a blaster. In the background, the Millennium Falcon is landing on the platform and we cut to Chewbacca and Lando flying the ship. Chewie roars and Lando fires up the belly turret. Heavy duty blaster fire rains down on the Sith Lord, and he deflects it all with his blade. Han gets a few shots off, and then his gun is pulled from him with the force and the Sith Lord looks at Leia, looks at Han, and shoots Han with his own blaster.

Han is mortally wounded. They say something nice and he dies in Leia’s arms. Chewie howls in mourning.

Han is buried with full military honors. Leia speaks at his funeral, and explains he was assassinated by an enemy thought to have been wiped out—the Sith. This garners mixed reactions. Most people consider the Sith a myth, or a boogeyman, but she doubles down and takes political heat. The funeral is disrupted by this and Leia, Chewbacca, and Lando are spirited away in the confusion.

Cut to the Jedi Academy, now rebuilt. Leia gets out of the Falcon, which just landed, and a lone figure in black robes greets her. Of course, it’s Luke.
LUKE: I know why you are here.

LEIA:  It’s Han.

LUKE: I felt it. His passing.

LEIA: Then, you know what I am going to ask.

LUKE: Leia, Han was a brother to me. But you cannot ask that of me.

LEIA:  (angry) But why?

LUKE: I can’t investigate his death. I am too close to it. My emotions are strong. Too strong. I would only make things worse.

LEIA:  I can’t do it alone, Luke. I need your help.

LUKE: I can be your council in this matter. As for Han’s assassin...I will send my two best Jedi. They will find out who did this.
So, the new Jedi get on the Falcon, with Chewie and Lando. Inside, they see the droids for the first time. Threepio is as beat-up looking as the ship. Artoo now has a niche cut out for him in the Falcon’s cabin, and he’s tucked into it, connected with tubes. One of the Jedi notices the archaic droids.
LANDO: You’ll go before that Artoo unit goes. He’s earned his place on the Falcon.

CHEWIE: Barks.

LANDO: Chewie says you’ll have to earn your place, too.
So, they pass the torch. The Jedi are quickly separated from the Falcon as they encroach on the Sith’s Master. Lando, Chewie, and Leia battle the politics, and the politicians who have been influenced by the Dark side of the Force, and the by the end we see the tables have been turned. The Sith are now the Rebels, and the Rebellion is now the New Federation—or, the Empire.

It blurs a political line, but I think it’s a dandy opening. Han dying in the first ten minutes galvanizes the audience and gives us a clear mission and plot to kick start the trilogy. Plus, it fulfills a long-standing dream of Harrison Ford in that he wanted Han to die as far back as Jedi. In fact, I’d kill off Lando, and at least one or both of the Droids by the second movie. Blow up the Falcon in the final film. Chewbacca lives. Leia lives. Luke’s alive (maybe). But those are meaningful casualties for a galactic war—another thing we did not get in Jedi, but we’ve since learned, thanks to Harry Potter, is an okay thing to put into a story about war and rebellion.

Well, it’s not going to happen that way, though I have a funny feeling Han will bite the dust in this movie. It’s the only thing that explains why Ford is so happy these days. And I’m okay with it. I’m not one of those people that get mad when they don’t use my ideas in movies I had nothing to do with. I originally came up with the idea as an exercise in re-plotting the Phantom Menace as Episode 7 instead of episode 1, keeping the major set pieces and characters, but reworking the story heavily. How cool would it have been if Darth Maul had assassinated Han Solo? Our heads would have flipped back on their hinge, like a Pez Dispenser.

I like J.J. Abrams. I like him even when other people don’t. I like him when he misfires. I think he’s more entertaining and a better director than George Lucas—ironic since Abrams is a huge Star Wars fan and one of the many working professionals who credits Lucas was his career interests. I think we’re going to see a more sophisticated Star Wars for the next trilogy. I think—I hope—that we’re going to get a more grown-up sensibility. Kids today can handle it. And adults want it. There are now two generations of fans who feel a kinship with this material that they grew up with and made a part of themselves. Frankly, those generations are more important than the kids for whom this will be their Star Wars, because we are already a part of the franchise in both a literal and a figurative sense.

This was something Lucas never really understood about Star Wars. Whenever you make a movie, a book, a TV show, whatever—whenever you make a story, you are giving it away. Our human nature is to take that story and make it our own. At its most personal, a story becomes a part of us. Not just in our memories, or that sense of time and place that it evokes when you re-experience that story, but we shape things in the story to fit our needs. Snape isn’t really evil. Deckard can’t possibly be a replicant. Darth Vader was once an innocent child. Han shot first. Whatever you bring to that story, including your baggage, becomes a part of the story for you. We don’t all experience Star Wars in the same way. Those differences, those small scenes that matter to us, are what makes it so important.

It wasn’t fair for Lucas to try and change that. He told his story. He gave it to us.

And not only did we take in his story and made it our own, we bought into it—quite literally, over the years—to the tune of thousands of dollars’ worth of merchandise. I was by no means a collector, but I’m confident that over the years, I put five grand into Lucas’ pocket, at the very least.

That kind of money may not get me a seat on the board of directors, but it definitely makes me a shareholder in the company. And when Lucas saw the push back on some of his creative decisions, he should have listened to us.

I cannot wait. Can you?
His is now a flawed legacy. Thankfully the money he will make off of the sale of his company—close to four billion dollars when it’s all over—is going to fund education. He’s giving it all back to us. I respect that. And I am going to take back some of the things I said about him over the years. He’ll always be remembered, however, as the creator of Star Wars. And as the man who changed the way Hollywood does business.

It took a while, but we all got what we wanted. Here’s a new Star Wars movie about to drop, and it’s the one I never thought we’d ever see. Best of all, there’s a new director and an old screenwriter (Lawrence Kasdan, who wrote Raiders of the Lost Ark), both of whom I feel are perfect for the job. I like the cast. And I love what bits I’ve seen in the trailers. I’m cautiously optimistic. It’s a good time to be a geek in general, but it’s a great time to be a Star Wars fan.

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