Saturday, May 11, 2013

Only A Sith Deals In Absolutes

One of my absolute favorite podcasts is Rebel Force Radio, hosted by Jason Swank and Jimmy Mac (former hosts of The ForceCast). If there's one thing I greatly dislike about the show, however, it's the hosts' (mostly Jason's) tendency to be very aggressive towards anyone who is not a diehard George Lucas follower or who dislikes the prequel films. More recently, they've gone after Patton Oswalt, who is famous in Star Wars fandom for two things:

Firstly, this is part of his stand-up routine (caution, harsh language after 0:35).
Secondly, he made this cameo on Parks and Recreation recently:

Since Oswalt has now become a minor Star Wars celebrity in response to this cameo, RFR decided to remind Star Wars fandom just how apparently-evil he is by labeling him "Patton 'frickin'' Oswalt," much as they did for Simon Pegg, who has repeatedly spoken out about his intense dislike for the prequel films. Essentially, RFR decided to get their fanbase riled up for a Dathomiri witch hunt. They asked their fans for opinions on whether or not Oswalt deserved the "frickin" title; this was my emailed response:

Patton Oswalt does not deserve "frickin'" status.

One of the things that has consistently confused and dismayed me about Star Wars fandom is its tendency to be at war with itself and with other fandoms. Yes, other fandoms can be hostile as well, but since Star Wars fandom is so large, it tends to be farther-reaching. There've been times where I actually pulled out of Star Wars fandom entirely simply because of all the internal conflict. (the "Karentraversy", the Prequel-haters, et cetera) It doesn't matter to me if you're a die-hard George Lucas follower or a Prequel-critic, I do not want to see my closest friends at war like that. It just makes Star Wars not fun anymore.

How many times have you heard something completely offensive in a comedian's stand-up routine, but didn't let it bother you because you knew it was only meant for an innocent laugh? Why are we now holding Patton Oswalt to a different standard? Sometimes I think Star Wars fans sound as irrational as those groups that insist Harry Potter teaches children witchcraft and video games mold you into a serial murderer. CHILL OUT, PEOPLE. Hope the prequel-critics come around someday, but in the meantime don't make enemies of them. That's only going to make the conflict worse.

And here's the thing: with all the conflict, we are completely missing the point of Star Wars. Let's think back to the endings of Revenge of the Sith and Return of the Jedi.

Anakin: "If you're not with me, you're my enemy!"
Obi-Wan: "Only a Sith deals in absolutes."

Is absolutist black-and-white thinking not precisely the sin that we fans commit when we label one another "Prequel-haters," "kooks," or "people who give Star Wars an F"? Should we not instead follow Luke's example?
Luke chose not to strike down Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith though he was. Instead, he chose to throw aside his saber in an act of selfless love. Yes, it meant putting himself at risk, but it was the right thing to do.

Don't strike down Simon Pegg, Patton Oswalt, or anyone else in anger. Instead, throw aside your lightsaber and invite them to join the light.

May the Force be with you, always.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

It Needs to be Personal

There've been some pretty incredible episodes recently on The Clone Wars. Many fans have noted that the recent Darth Maul/Mandalorian story arc, ending with the super-climactic "The Lawless," is perhaps the best story the show has done yet. With big things happening with Darth Maul, Palpatine, and the entire planet of Mandalore, there are huge implications for the saga as a whole. Many have also noted that the following episode, "Sabotage," featuring Ahsoka in a CSI-style murder mystery, felt lackluster by comparison. Personally, however, I disagree.

For all the Mauldalorian arc's epicness, for all of its direct ties to the primary characters, and for all its major events, much of it felt too impersonal. Some of that is undoubtedly because the story is following villain characters that we're not supposed to relate to anyway. A lot of it, however, is probably due to the rapid-fire pacing of the episodes, which doesn't give the drama time to breathe.

[spoilers for The Clone Wars season 5]

In the span of two episodes, we have the Mandalorian government being overthrown, a civil war breaking out, an A New Hope-style rescue attempt, the deaths of three major characters, and Palpatine coming into physical conflict with Maul and Savage. That is entirely too much for two episodes to handle properly. If the arc added two or three more episodes, more could have been done better. What if one of the episodes focused entirely on Obi-Wan and his quest to save Satine? As it happened, he basically landed on Mandalore, watched Satine die, then left. He didn't appear to actually have any impact on the story whatsoever, and his scenes were almost running in parallel with—instead of intersecting—the main plot. It was a side story, essentially. I'd also like to have seen a Bo-Katan-centric episode, dealing with her struggles to unite the Mandalore-loyal warriors against the now-Maul-led Death Watch. Having her side of the story only seen in glimpses seems odd.

Now, I do think the episodes were still extremely well-done. My gripe is that, in the end, after watching "The Lawless," I felt more like I'd watched an episode than experienced a story. It was hard to entirely get lost in the drama of it all when it was so obviously cut down to its bare bones and left at a cliffhanger. When I first saw "The Lawless," I didn't quite understand why it didn't impact me as much as I thought it should. However, after seeing "Sabotage," it's becoming clearer.

"Sabotage" is paced properly and has epic-scale cinematography that perfectly mimics the films. Because of this, the stage is set better for the actual story. What's more important, however, is the way the episode deals with character. Ahsoka is given the spotlight, clearing most other characters out of the way. Instead of having Maul, Savage, Vizla, Palpatine, Satine, Obi-Wan, and Bo-Katan all fighting for center stage, Ahsoka is allowed to breathe, letting us follow her adventure and live through her in the story itself.

This goes back to the central tenet of the Star Wars original trilogy: the story must be personal in order to be powerful. The prequel films lacked such a character as well as a cinematography crafted to support a character-based narrative. The sequel trilogy absolutely, completely needs a character-based story that feels personal in order to recapture what truly makes Star Wars special.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Star Wars #1

Yesterday, Dark Horse Comics released the first issue in a new comic series titled merely Star Wars. The basic premise is, essentially, "what if today were 1977, and Star Wars had just been released?" Although it doesn't actually contradict previously-established Expanded Universe continuity (it most definitely is part of the EU), this new series doesn't directly deal with it or in any way rely on it either. It's something that anyone who's seen Episode IV can instantly pick up, read, and enjoy.

It's absolutely brilliant. Brian Wood definitely "gets" the entire cast of characters as well as the Star Wars universe itself, easily weaving genuine-feeling character development into a story that's still based in high adventure and action, as any true Star Wars story should be. What's even better is that he takes the character of Princess Leia and actually makes her great. In the films, Leia does little onscreen other than bitch and whine whilst being either kidnapped or rescued by others; she takes very little proactive action herself. In Star Wars #1, we see her on the front lines with Luke and Wedge, leading a scout mission for the Rebellion. In that same moment, we also get a ton of great vocalized character depth from her that we never get from the films at all. Following that, there's a wonderfully-done action scene where Leia once again gets the spotlight, showing just how strong and decisive she can be in battle. For probably the first time, I really, really like Princess Leia.

While Leia is the primary focus of the story, she's not the only one who gets to shine. Luke, Han, Wedge, Mon Mothma, and especially Vader get their turns spotlight as well, each character acting as a fully developed person as well as being perfectly in line with their portrayal in the films. Fortunately, this feels very much in line with The Empire Strikes Back, where a heaping ton of focus is put on the characters as characters—and moreover, as people that you can care about.

Carlos D'Anda's art helps a lot, too. It's extremely dynamic and vivid, with tons of great detail on the tech of Star Wars—lending it that "real-world" feel that makes the Original Trilogy so believable.
On top of all that, the covers by Alex Ross are flat-out amazing, perfectly echoing the original trilogy's unforgettably-iconic posters.

Suffice it to say that if you're a Star Wars fan, you owe it to yourself to be reading this book.