Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Star Wars and the Henson Connection: A Brief Interlude.

It’s hard to tell how many can remember it.  It was a long time ago after all, and the contemporary memory isn’t what it used to be.  It wouldn’t be all that much of a surprise if most people don’t associate what is ostensibly a children’s show with “a galaxy far away” at all.  It still doesn’t change history, or the fact that at one time the worlds of George Lucas and Jim Henson collided during TV’s prime time hour way back in 1980.

On February 21 of that year, four months before the premiere of The Empire Strikes Back, Mark Hamill made an appearance on Henson’s Muppet Show, both as himself and the character of Luke Skywalker.  Joining Hamill for the episode were SW co-stars Anthony Daniels and Peter Mayhew. 

What’s interesting about this episode is the puzzle it presents to viewers and fans of the saga.  Where does it fit into the over-arching narrative that is the original trilogy?  Or does it is even belong there at all.  There are also a question of whether or not it tells us anything about the nature of the Lucas’s characters, especially when they are paired off against Henson’s madcap creations.  Last, yet not least, there is a stylistic element to the nature of how this episode is written that deserves a closer look.  This form of writing isn’t often seen nowadays, yet it used to be as legitimate as the Shakespearian stage.  In fact, this very element I wish to examine provides an intriguing connective thread between Henson and the Bard.  Follow along, if you want, and let’s see if there’s more to unpack in this brief half-hour variety episode than meets the eye.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Star Wars and the Question of Canon 2: Shakespeare in Space.

In my last post I raised the question of what type of story we are dealing with when we talk about Star Wars.  I believe there is an answer to that question, however, it involves a bit of effort to understand it.  The good news is we can use some old, familiar tools to do it.  Perhaps the best place to start is with the text and the author who helped Lucas and Co. structure the outline for the OT, Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces.

Using Campbell’s text as a jumping off point, I’d like to use it to help examine what kind of story the first trilogy really is, and why the answer to that question is so important in terms of the narrative coherence of both the characters, and the overall narrative events they find themselves in.

I’d like to argue that Campbell helps us to understand the characters as archetypes which contain certain literary echoes or resonances as part of their narrative ingredients.  It is precisely the existence of these echoes which accounts for why they seemed so familiar to audiences, even when they were seen for the first time back in 77.  I’d also like to argue that it’s these same resonances which should help determine the way we view the main cast of characters for the first three films.  It makes sense to think of the trio of heroes, and the two villains, as almost a re-shuffle, or recombination of old archetypes that have arranged elements of old, familiar plot devices and narrative twists into something that contains callbacks to works of the past, while still maintaining an artistic identity of its own.  
I’ve decided to focus on the OT and not the prequels.  The reason for this is has to do with a fundamental difference that I believe exists between to two trilogies.  For all the creative effort put into the prequels, they tend to come off more as technical, rather than any artistic achievements.  A lot of it has to do with the shortcomings of Lucas as a storyteller mentioned in a previous post.  The big takeaway there was that it is possible for Lucas to have creative ideas, but he always tends to have a difficult time realizing and fleshing these concepts out unless he has the assistance of other, more skilled minds.  The prequels are the best illustration of this.  Whereas the first trilogy was the result of several skilled talents working together to create something new and yet familiar, the prequels are a textbook example of uninspired invention over Inspiration.  

The idea comes in part from J.R.R. Tolkien, yet Tolkien himself seems to have derived the difference  between literary invention versus Inspiration from Coleridge’s dichotomy between Imagination and Fancy.  If that’s the case, then I would have to say that the difference between Invented Fancy and Inspired Imagination is what separates the bad, competent, or merely good, from the genuine works of art.  The OT qualifies as the latter, while to prequels are stuck in the former.  I also want to argue that just because an archetype in Star Wars may have made an earlier appearance in a work of fiction that is hundreds of years older, that doesn’t make the films uncreative, or mean that they are the same kind of artistic work as the stories they were drawn from.

Like I said, it’s all a bit involved.  However, if you’ll bear with me, it can also be pretty fun to think about.  Let’s start first with Prof. Campbell’s text, shall we?