My first thought was: Well, I guess I’m done with this whole series now. That was my state of mind after taking in the strange social phenomenon/debacle now known as The Last Jedi. What’s makes it even more weird is the Disney studio insists on behaving as if it all had something to do with the series of films, and various assorted novels, short stories, and video games known as Star Wars.
The good news is, my thoughts have evolved since that initial first reaction. For anyone else out there seriously pondering whether or to remain a fan, or just renege on the whole deal, perhaps this post can provide a few reasons not to stow away the old childhood memories in the attic trunk just yet.
If nothing else, the most positive fallout TLJ is that it can serve an opportunity for fans and aficionados to pause take stock of SW, not just as a franchise, but as a phenomenon with a history that includes more than just the films, but also its relation to Science fiction as a whole.
There are a lot of SW fans out there who might have found my take on TLJ to something of a letdown. My opinions on the matter were agreeable, just a lot less substantial than anyone might have liked. Why didn’t I go into more detail about certain plot elements, or into the portrayal (or lack thereof) of all the major legacy characters? My reasons for that are interesting. In the first place, by the time I managed to get those essays down on paper, I’d spent hours doing the same as others fans, pouring over countless YouTube videos by disgruntled fans and online critics, each of them more than willing to take the Disney franchise apart one detail at a time. In this regard, some of them were able to do better than anything I could. I’d especially like to single out reviewers like Mauler, theMisanthrope, along with EU expert Matt Wilkins, and Joseph Choi for both his essay and video of same essay on the Character Assassination of the one figure who I’d have to argue is has really been the main focus of the series all along.
With this in mind, I’ve sort of found it easier to build a case against what I prefer to think of as the “Disney Franchise” by examining both the Original Trilogy as well as the Expanded Universe. I’d like to examine both topics in relation to the ever-present question of just what is supposed to be canon, anyway? I’d like to make a case that even before Disney acquired the property, what was done with the EU was more than enough. The EU had just enough inspiration in all the stories it needed in order to stand on its own legs. I’d also like to argue that right now, the old EU is the closest offer fans are likely to get in the way of artistic compensation as well as satisfactory form of imaginative consolation.
In order to do this, there are several elements of the OT we’ll have to examine. We need to look at what kind of characters we’re dealing with. It also helps if we stop and try to dig as much as possible into the nature of the archetypes that ultimately stand behind and support both the OT and, I’d argue, the EU.
If I’m being honest, my goal here is a lot less grand than it sounds. The only reason for this essay is just to help sort out my own thinking, and at least try to gain something close to a coherent perspective on the whole mess. I’ve had time enough to get at least some thinking done about the matter. I’m not just talking about Disney’s own Heaven’s Gate. I’m also considering whether or not such a spectacularly bad film has any claim to validity, either as Canon, or as art. Because of that, I want to focus on just what is the right perspective to view Star Wars.
In other words, when is the story on the right track, and when does it go off the rails. What kind of story is Stars Wars? Is it like an endless serial on par with the business model of DC or Marvel Comics? Or is it meant to more along the lines of a traditional narrative, with a definitive beginning, middle, and an irrevocable end? Who gets to decide all this stuff, anyway? Who’s in charge of piloting this whole thing?
I think there are answers to these questions. The irony lies in whichever circuitous paths this quest for answers may wind up leading us down. So far, I think the best answer can be found in asking the following question:
How was the original idea written down? In other words, is there any grand design behind the scenes as so may fans claim, or is the story something else?
What is the exact nature of the Star Wars story? This question is related to the one above. The difference lies in one of perspective. The first question asked is more concerned with the nature of the composition of the Original Trilogy. This question is concerned with what precise kind of story is the finished product? Specifically, I want to know, regardless of any stated design, whether or not there is any creative idea underlying the first three films. This could be important for a number of reasons, all of which lead to the last point.
If there was a genuine creative idea behind the inspiration of Star Wars, finding out just what that idea is may be able to give us a clue not just to how we should view the nature of the films, but also how far it could go in terms of an over-arching narrative. This will help determine my final talking point: the question of Cannon.
This has become a touchy subject, with the fanbase splitting up into basically two warring camps. My focus has been to follow the logic of my own thinking on the matter. I think a definitive answer as to which Star Wars, the old Expanded Universe or the Disney version, should be considered canonical can be found. The trick is laying out a solid enough case for it.
We’ll also have to take the plunge and examine the curiosity that is The Last Jedi, in order to determine what kind of story it is, and what, if any, narrative validity it has (maybe it got lost somewhere between the couch cushions or something).
What follows are just the insights I’ve been able to glean from what will probably go down as one of the great cinematic debacles of Hollywood history. In order to make my points clear, I’ll have to examine the actual creative process behind the Original Trilogy, and how it differs from the current Disney product.
After a lot of reading around, I’d have to say that the best source to trust for the truth behind the making of the OT is Michael Kaminski’s The Secret History of Star Wars. It is the one text that tries to look past all the hype and legacy and get an understanding of the actual facts behind the making of the first three films. The value of Kaminski’s book lies in the ultimate picture it paints about the films. While Kaminski’s text is essential, it is not without it’s flaws. The good news is that all the flaws seem to be minor, and don’t interfere too much with the final idea suggested in how study. The irony is that, while all of the evidence the author assembles points to one inescapable conclusion, it is one he seems reluctant to arrive at. It also, for better or worse, the only conclusion left based on all the materials shown over the course of the book.
Kaminski’s big reveal is that the whole thing was pretty much made up on the fly from beginning to end. It is true to say that it was Lucas who came up with an initial idea, Star Wars as a tentative working title. The full truth however is that the full fleshing out of any ideas he came up with, such elements as the names, personality traits for now familiar characters, and even the eventual direction of the narrative was always carried out others. It was the people Lucas surrounded himself with who are responsible for the finished product.
In particular, two people seem to stand out as the main driving forces for getting Lucas to make and value certain creative choices over others. Their names are Gary Kurtz and Marcia Lucas. It is in his dealings with Kurtz’s contribution to the series that Kaminski’s faults are on display. At the precise moment where he should assert the objectivity required of a critic, Kaminski instead let’s his own personal investment get the better of him. His own emotional response to the saga leads him to being more of a partisan apologist for Lucas than is perhaps necessary.
That Kurtz, along with others may have misremembered minor details doesn’t take away from the fact that the OT is an example of one of those rare cases where the producer seemed to know at least a bit more than the director. It’s curious in that the ultimate truth of the making of Star Wars is that is seems almost to be . The irony is in the old saying: too many cooks spoil the broth. The punchline seems to be that the OT is the one exception that just might prove that old rule. However, one element Kaminski does get right is how pivotal Marcia Lucas was to the basic tone we now identify with the series.
“Mark Hamill remember her being severely underestimated influence in her husband’s films and whom was responsible for providing their warmth and emotion:
“You can see a huge difference in the films that he does now and the films that he did when he was married. I know for a fact that Marcia was responsible for convincing him to keep that little ‘kiss for luck’ before Carrie (Fisher) and I swing across the chasm in the first film: ‘Oh, I don’t like it, people laugh in the previews,’ and she said, ‘George, they’re laughing because it’s so sweet and unexpected’ – and her influence was such that if she wanted to keep it, it was in. When the little mouse robot comes up when Harrison and I are delivering Chewbacca to the prison and he roars at it and it screams, sort of, and runs away, George wanted to cut that and Marcia insisted he keep it. She was really the warmth and heart of those films, a good person he could talk to, bounce ideas off of (276)”. Kaminski later went into further details in an on the contributions of Marcia Lucas.
Kaminski sums up the big takeaway as follows:
“A common explanation is merely that "Lucas lost his touch" --he made two great films and one good film (the original trilogy), plus the masterpieces of American Graffiti and Raiders of the Lost Ark and the overlooked gem of THX 1138, but now he's past his prime. While this is ostensibly part of the explanation, it is too simple a view. The research enacted for my monograph on the screenwriting of the Star Wars franchise, however, afforded me the availability of a number of facts which outlined a distinct division in the processes used to construct the six films which comprise the series, especially where the screenplays were concerned. To put it succinctly, Lucas never really had "the touch" to begin with in this sense. This is not to argue that he was untalented and that the original films should be credited to everyone but him. However, on his own, Lucas is incapable of constructing a plot-and-character-based film which emotionally grabs the audience; he is not a Lawrence Kasdan or a Francis Coppola, two writers he is often connected with. One can observe that the films that are considered his best--Graffiti, Star Wars, Empire, and Raiders--were the most collaborative, in fact highly collaborative, in terms of the script, and the films that are his worst--namely the prequels, and to a lesser degree Jedi--were the least collaborative. There is a very observable correlation between the methods Lucas used to construct the screenplays and the popular opinion of their quality.
“The films of George Lucas have had a wide range of reception, but it is quite conspicuous that his earliest efforts have received so much acclaim, while his second phase of films--the prequel trilogy--faced an equal amount of slander. These criticisms are rarely articulated in terms of historical processes, beyond vague sentiments that Lucas "lost his magic." Inquiries into the construction and methodology of the writing process of his films, however, reveal corresponding consistencies that show that the concept of collaboration, above all else, was responsible for those successes, caught in a larger matrix of social integration and power-checking that, once fallen away, led to the critical failures…with the prequels ()”.
So, what does this leave us with? What is the big takeaway from all this? I think there are several conclusions to be made.
In terms of grand design, the original Star Wars movies seem to have none. Instead, the OT is similar to most other works of fiction in that the author(s) just made the whole thing up as they went along. The three films are a literal hodge-podge of influences and inspirations coming together to form a whole that still manages to work, more or less. There still remains the question of what kind of story is the result of this shoot-from-the-hip creative process. We also still need to address the question of canonicity.
If the first films are a hodge-podge, then the fact that they are still a success remains to be examined. I think the ultimate reason for their success can be found answering just what kind of stories we’re dealing with in these films. There are two aspects to these stories that make-up their basic nature as narratives. I’ll as close a look as possible at both. However, this will have to be the subject of a future essay.
Before we can get to that though, we’ll have to take the bitter before the sweet. I’m afraid I’ll have to give two cents on a cinematic anomaly. I’ll have to examine the finished product known as Last Jedi in terms of certain story points, and why there’s something strange about it that no one seems to notice. This is all for the next post. In the meantime, how am I doing so far? Drop a word below and tell me what you think. Just remember to keep it civil. Any troll or bot will get blocked automatically. Till next time.