At Some Juncture: Getting Ready for Star Wars: The Force Awakens

starwars-logoAt Some Juncture is Cyphus’ planned semi-regular column series for Defense of the Patience where he muses about all things geek.  For questions about when the next At Some Juncture will be published, please see the title of the column series.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens December 18th and is directed by J.J. Abrams

 

I was six when I first saw Star Wars.  Dating myself a little, that was about 14 years after A New Hope was first released (I’ll let you do the math).  Amidst all the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Looney Tunes and Adam West Batman reruns I was hooked on in my prepubescent years, Star Wars managed to captivate and alter me in ways they couldn’t…and with lasting effects.

I know it’s not a Dota 2 article, or even gaming.  But I felt inspired to share some thoughts on Star Wars  and all that surrounds it as I prepare to see an early showing of The Force Awakens.  Long before Dota, Star Wars was the number one in my life.  As a teenager, it sparked a desire to vastly explore the Star Wars EU (Expanded Universe).  One that, if you’re not familiar with it, was quite vast.

By my count, and I’m sure I’m wrong, there are somewhere around 150 adult novels (I am not counting the young adult novels, e-books, short story collections and “sourcebooks” from the various Star Wars RPGs that exist).  Each one expanded on the Star Wars universe.  They brought to life characters relegated to background roles in the films, expanded and added great depth to the characters we already knew and loved, and added new characters many came to love as much as the old favorites (Corran Horn anyone?).

I’ve read somewhere around 40 of those Star Wars EU novels.  I didn’t know the exact number until writing this article, and am surprised at how high it is, and at how surprisingly little ground I actually ended up covering all things considered.  Later in life, when I discovered the magic of roleplaying games in Dungeons & Dragons and Palladium’s Rifts, I naturally found myself exploring the various Star Wars RPGs as well.

I know the names of way too many alien races.  Characters like Wedge Antilles, a character those who have only seen the movies may not even remember, I have spent perhaps hundreds of hours with as a lead character (see Michael Stackpole’s X-Wing series for a great entrance into the Star Wars EU if you’re interested).  I know that Tycho Celchu, who makes an appearance so brief he may as well be an extra in the original trilogy, is mistreated by the Rebel Alliance turned New Republic.  I know that cold, calculated, art-loving tacticians can be just as deadly at the helm of the Empire as Palpatine was (see the Thrawn series).  And I know that Luke Skywalker has had more than just a brush with the Dark Side.  Obviously, I know too much about Star Wars…and probably should have spent that time doing something a little more useful with life.  And we haven’t even discussed how many times I’ve seen the original trilogy.

Michael A. Stackpole’s X-Wing series is a fantastic read for those interested in the Star Wars EU.

I know I’m not alone.  There are others out there like me.  Some of you brilliant gamers and Dota 2 players are on the verge of delving too deep yourselves and need but a push in the right direction.  You, like me, probably wouldn’t even regret it.  Some are already there.  And understand when I say that I have to see this movie tonight.  Now, obviously, I don’t have to see it, but I hope I’ve outlined a fair argument for how much I have invested in it.

This is a momentous occasion whether the film stinks like a Jar-Jar Binks-shaped pile of fecal matter or Death-Star-style blows the original trilogy away into millions of tiny little pieces like Alderaan.  Star Wars is ramping up.  This is the first in what promises to be a long line of new, Disney-run Star Wars movies that will likely plague or bless us once every other year ad infinitum.  If you’re still a Star Wars fan after the Lucas prequels, this feels big.  And it feels like this film will help determine if Star Wars is on the precipice of becoming just one big joke in the annals of American pop culture history, threatening to destroy the legacy of the originals with the string of trash that followed.

Within me is a mixture of emotions.  My pessimistic side fears it will be terrible: a big, CGI, special-effects-massacre of nonsense that will help Disney perpetuate the franchise as long as possible and sell enough plastic Star Wars toys to overburden landfills for years to come.  For starters, I’m not a huge fan of J.J. Abrams.

I’m admittedly not a Star Trek guy, but his new expansion of the timeline there didn’t do it for me.  And it definitely didn’t have me binge-watching Kirk on Netflix to see what I had missed.  If you’ve forgotten about Cloverfield, let me remind you of the nausea-inducing trash that it was.  Maybe there are some Lost fans out there, but I bailed on that show after they popped that hatch with the perpetual countdown timer that would potentially destroy the world.  From what I hear, the ending was lackluster, which made me thrilled I didn’t waste any more time there.  And I’m usually a completionist when it comes to television.  I try to finish shows, even if I can’t stand them.

It also hurts to see them completely do away with the Star Wars Extended Universe, now called Star Wars Legends.  I know they didn’t want to tell a story that had already been told in the novels.  I understand all of the arguments for why it had to happen and why it shouldn’t matter to me.  But it’s hard to think of the years of work put into those bad boys without feeling the pain.  Teams of authors would meet to discuss and agree on story outlines.  Spoiler alert for this next sentence.  A team of writers, with Lucasarts reps and approval ,made the decision to kill off Chewbacca in one of the early novels in the New Jedi Order timeframe.  A decision that was painful to read as a fan, but so dynamic and innovative that it breathed new life into that universe in a big way.  The change in Han Solo’s personality and demeanor, the feeling that these characters weren’t invincible, and the new storylines it offered were all pretty amazing.  But all of that is no more.

Some will argue it still can be though!  But I’m not so sure.  I think the new novels that will inevitably spring up following the film continuity will only work to confuse new readers.  Two separate timelines will inevitably lead to frustration without some research and investigation.  I believe that new readers will view the word “Legend” on the cover of the Thrawn series and other EU greats as “Fake” even if they do the research, and inevitably turn away from it.  Basically, one fell swoop from Disney turned 25 years’ worth of Star Wars canon into glorified fan fic.  A decision which may even lead to fewer readers of Star Wars novels overall.  I get that this shouldn’t impact my life in any real way.  Some will say Star Wars isn’t good sci-fi (an argument for another day, one that I’d probably have to concede on most points), but it doesn’t mean it isn’t good fiction.  R.A. Salvatore and Michael Stackpole are great authors who told fascinating stories in this universe.  It’s sad to think others are even less likely to find those stories now.

At the same time, with my given understanding as to why they ditched the EU, I’m excited for the new film.  I do actually believe that J.J. Abrams cares about it and wants it to succeed.  I enjoy film as a medium for storytelling, and Star Wars being explored at length in that medium is an exciting prospect after wondering for years as a fan if we’d ever actually see another Star Wars movie featuring the aftermath of the rebellion and the characters from the original trilogy (we were almost quite literally out of time with regards to Harrison Ford at least).

And why do I care if Disney sells toys?  I owned nearly every Star Wars action figure that was made in the early to mid-90’s.  I loved them.  And I hope a new generation of kids gets the same enjoyment out of Star Wars, be it with toys, video games or movies.  Am I just a crotchety old man clinging to his Expanded Universe and nostalgic memories?  Am I just a stereotypical jaded nerd?  I don’t want to be.  I want to believe I will thoroughly enjoy the future of Star Wars.  You know what hate leads to.

As the opening scroll fast approaches, I do find myself more and more optimistic about The Force Awakens.  But expectations still feel all over the map.  Maybe I need to let go of the past.  Maybe I must proverbially burn the Star Wars EU on the funeral pyre alongside Vader and go have a drink with the Ewoks.  Roland’s about their height.

Cyphus is co-host of the Defense of the Patience podcast, an all-around geek, and fan of playing support in Dota 2.  You can find him at www.defenseofthepatience.com on the Monday releases and occasional special episode.  Follow him on Twitter @DotP_Cyphus to tweet about this article or email him at dotpcyphus@gmail.com