Some of you may have heard the news earlier this week that Disney bought the rights to Lucas Films and effectively the Star Wars franchise. When I saw this announcement it came to me as no surprise, as Disney already own Marvel and owning another franchise is good business sense, especially one with a continual income. However what came to a surprise to me was that they may create a new set of films, which are not based on the Expanded Universe (EU) plotlines but something entirely new.
My first thought was: how are you going to get the old actors together? Mark Hamill would make a very old Luke Skywalker and Harrison Ford would probably demand a ridiculous salary, how hard would it be to get Carrie Fisher back into acting after her effective retirement from health concerns? At an educated guess, the next films could be made as full CGI, or about a different set of characters entirely. There has been some success at both of these within the Star Wars Franchise.
Many people feel that this decision on the part of Disney is a threat to the precious memories of what Star Wars represented to them, or that this is a move that goes into obvious exploitation for consumers. Well, if you have seen the game Star Wars Kinect, or the Mr. Potato Head or Transformer crossover toys, or even the Lego Star Wars games (which themselves form a trilogy), you might think the Star Wars Franchise has already jumped the shark when it comes to naked profit motivation.
So for this post instead of taking you down that argument of ‘is the Disney deal a bad or good thing?’ I thought I would talk about five highlights and five low-lights of the Star Wars Franchise. I will not include the Trilogies, their special Editions or the 1999-2005 Trilogy in these lists.
- Heir to the Empire – This book by Timothy Zahn began a lore and an opportunity to create new stories within the Star Wars Universe. It is certainly true that this wasn’t the first attempt of a story outside of the films (see Splinter of the Minds Eye, Droids tv series), but this was notable in that it had a degree of original development from an already established story to create characters who stood on their own beyond the films, such as Grand Admiral Thrawn and corrupted clone Jedi Joorus C’Boath. Also from a personal perspective, this book among other star wars novels, such as the Truce at Bakura inspired my love of reading when I was a child and teenager.
- Shadows of the Empire – This was a novel by Steve Perry, which became a video game, the game even had a soundtrack, a couple of comics, and created characters (Xizor, Dash Rendar) that were very notable and totally different to the already established Star Wars film characters. Back in 1996, Shadows was described as a multi-media (such a dated phrase!) experience, which in terms of consumption presented lots of ways that people could spend money to enjoy Star Wars. The story was essentially a side-ways look at the events going on in between Episode V and VI, with an original story which involved underground crime lords, genuine sexual tension (to think I read it at 10 years old!) and exciting moments of action. I still have fond memories of playing the game.
- Dark Empire I and II – My favourite Star Wars Character is Palpatine, and when I heard about the 2nd trilogy during the mid 1990s I always imagined there would be some scene where I would finally get to see how truly powerful and skilled with a lightsaber he would be. I was quite satisfied by Iain McDiarmid’s performance in Revenge of the Sith, however it couldn’t really compare with the depiction of Palpatine as a youthful clone who defeated Luke Skywalker in the comic series Dark Empire I and II (with a third part Empire’s End). In this story, Palpatine inexplicably comes back to life after his demise in the Death Star II, and not only does he come back with a bang, he seduces Skywalker to the Dark Side of the force, starts a massive planetary conflict with the ‘World Devastators’ and it looked very bad for the good guys! Dark Horse did an amazing job in the 1990s with the stories that they made within the folklore of the Star Wars films. An honourable mention goes to the comic series Crimson Empire I and II, which I heard has a recent third part.
- Star Wars: Clone Wars (not to be confused with: Star Wars: The Clone Wars). This 2003-2005 animated series consisted of episodes which lasted from about 3 minutes to 20 minutes in length, they were little vignette pieces that introduced the period of time between Episode II and III, depicting the Clone Wars. What I really loved about this series was the artwork by Gendy Tartakovsky, who also worked on Dexter’s Lab (another 1990s staple of my youth [ahh, nostalgia! I’m so sad to be a grown up]). Tartakovsky’s series explored the war from different perspectives, and for the first time we really take the view of the faceless Clone Troopers (who eventually become the Stormtroopers of the original trilogy). Some of the episodes I remember with much fondness, such as the introduction of the elite ARC troopers, the introduction of Durge the invincible bounty hunter and the kidnap of Chancellor Palpatine in the second season, which truly shows both the duplicity of Palpatine’s character as well as the genuine fright that the Jedi had of General Greivous. The second series of Tartakovsky’s series truly captured the darkness of the Clone Wars, in terms of the inevitable betrayal of the clones against the Jedi, and Anakin Skywalker’s flirtation with the dark side.
- Holonet News. Back in 2001 or so there was an alternate reality narrative depicting what was essentially the news channels that existed in the Star Wars universe, presented as if it were a website presenting news. This had a lot of parallels to the media of the time, where online news was but an emerging thing: the Star Wars universe pointed out the ways in which we consume media through their alternate reality, there were big political stories; cover-ups that were obvious; weather reports and bizarre news, as we have bizarre news stories that get popularity. Eventually the news network was shut down because of the Clone Wars (coinciding with the release of Episode 2) and showed one of those blanket ‘we are experiencing technical difficulties’-type placards instead of regular holonet news. The most notable thing about it was the insignia of the ‘Grand Republic’ that was brandished on the ‘technical difficulties’ page: It was the Imperial insignia! In a way this was a political statement of its time, and not just this, but it showed the ways in which viral campaigns (before that was even a term) can be used to garner attention and be artistic as well.
- Star Wars Holiday Special – if you don’t know what this is, please don’t look it up. It is an example of how not to do expanded universe.
- Star Wars product placements. Recently Lucasfilm has allowed advertisers such as Comet, Vodafone and maybe some others, to use Star Wars characters and intellectual property as a prop for advertising their products, and to me that really undermines the kind of value I would attribute to someone like Yoda, the wise sage who appears world weary in Empire Strikes Back; to be advertising about 3G Tariffs and free texts is the meaning of ‘sell-out’ to me.
- Star Wars ‘crossover’ moments: Call me a purist, but I can’t take Darth Vader as Mr. Potato head very seriously. Darth Vader is a character who was once a good man consumed by his own hatred and desire to find immortality, and his suit is a metaphorical and literal symbol of his own imprisonment by his rage. I don’t think a baked potato really captures those aspects too well. Also, its a bit of a morbid thing to advertise to children, however it does make me realise that Darth Vader not as a potato is a bit of a morbid thing to market to children anyway. There are other instances of crossover: Star Wars characters dancing to disco classics and 2010s pop hits. Can you imagine Lando Calrissian dancing to songs in the carbon freezing chamber where he betrayed his friends and compromised his personal values to save his commercial ventures to find ultimately that the deal he made had been altered? When you put these SW characters in different situations it takes away from what they represented. There’s sort of a parallel here with how so many Christians when I was on pilgrimage at Fatima, purchased anything that had images of Jesus or Mary on it, and it bordered on the Obscene.
- Star Wars: Rebel Assault (Series). I have mixed feelings about this one. There are aspects of the gameplay which in a technical sense I very much enjoyed. Rebel Assault had great graphics for its time, and Rebel Assault II was a very playable game, even though it was a rail shooter. I have fond memories of playing it as a game. As a story? It was damned awful! Awful Awful Awful. It didn’t keep to the canon, basically erasing the presence of Luke Skywalker (and Star Wars is nothing without him, even Darth Vader is defined by his relation to Luke Skywalker). In a way the story makes no sense within the canon so should just be ignored.
- Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (Mainly the sequel). I liked some of this game, but it went on for too long. There was a lot that was good about the game and I accept this is a contraversial ‘low-light’. It had a really interesting story, a great gaming interface and a lot of potential, but that was the problem. This game had a lot of potential and hype that it didn’t live up to. The sequel also tried too hard. The first game was too long for me, and ironically the second game was too short. Okay, so maybe I picked this as a fifth choice because Super Bombad racing was too obvious. I loved the DLC but it didnt give enough for a modern game.
Post written by Michael, but the list came from conversations with Antisophie, Sinistre and Sinistre*