Friday, November 23, 2018

Star Wars and the Question of Canon 1: The Problem of Definition.

If the goal for this series of posts is to define what Star Wars is, in order to gain a better understanding of what it’s not, then it only makes sense to build your case one level at a time.  The last entry helped establish part of the answer by taking a look at the history behind the writing of the Original Trilogy by examining the creative methods of George Lucas.  The big reveal was that Lucas had no method, or rather that he has a hard time both coming up with, and constructing, a well thought out narrative with engaging characters, setups, and resolutions.  The record shows that Lucas has always worked best when he is more the sounding-board from which capable screenwriters are then able to develop and re-shape into a workable form consonant with the format.

When Lucas is left to his own devices, well, we’ve seen the result.  What happens then is that you get the Prequels.     

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Taking Stock of Star Wars: A Question of Canon

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.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

A Very Strange Failure: Some Thoughts on The Last Jedi.

I’m not going to lie.  I never had a really good vibe when I heard they were making more Star Wars sequels.  Part of it is just temperamental, I didn’t think there was much else you could do with the story, or its characters.  All Harrison Ford’s exit from the franchise did was confirm my misgivings.  Because of the personal letdown that was The Force Awakens, I went into The Last Jedi with no great hope that anything would work out.  The whole “this was a bad idea” vibe was still with me even before the sequel came out.  Then there was the movie itself.

What did I think?  Well, I can’t call it a good film in any objective sense.  I know I was letdown.  I wondered (for a time, at least) if I was still a fan of this series.  The irony came later, when I had a chance to really sit down and think about the film as an objective whole.  After giving it a lot of thought, I have just one question.  Did the filmmaker’s actually want the movie to fail?  I know how that sounds, and it’s still the same question I always get drawn back to.
What made me ask in the first place was the growing awareness of the specific type of writing going with The Last Jedi.  It helps to understand what I’m talking about when you remember that the traditional elements in storytelling mostly boil down to just three concepts.  These are: Setup, Conflict, and Resolution.  Modern Hollywood seems uneasy with the last point.  I’ll swear on a stack of Bibles, however, that The Last Jedi is the first film I’ve seen where the writer appears determined to sabotage the narrative at every single step of the way.  The script actually reads as if the screenwriter wanted to ruin his own career by penning the most incomprehensible film in cinematic history.