A Day Long Remembered...
In 24 hours from this very moment, I'll be sitting in a theater with my wife settling in and watching the next installment in the Star Wars saga. It goes without saying that I'm very excited.
It's been over three years since it was announced that George Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Walt Disney. And it was obvious from the beginning there were going to be new movies. And I have been thinking about this day quite often, perhaps every day. Looking back over this time though, I've rarely written about it which is surprising even to me. I think because I juggle a plethora of emotions about it... some of them good anticipatory ones, and some of them fearful trepidatious ones. What is going to happen?
Will the movie be great? Impressive, unforgettable, revolutionary, spectacular, endearing?
Will it be horrible? Disappointing, lackluster, boring, predictable?
Of course, I have high hopes and everything looks like it will be amazing. Darn right it will be amazing. But... then I just don't know.
Really, though. Why haven't I been writing about these thoughts and feelings for the past several months? I could have written a few blog posts a week all this time and not covered everything I could likely say. Even at this late hour, I still have about ten different things to say all at once. Prioritizing...
The first thing I want to mention is the lead up to Episode I. And also the reception afterwards. During 1999, I was very busy as I think I've mentioned before. News there would be a new Star Wars and news I would be a dad for the first time came almost simultaneously. And the due date and release date were the same week. "I hope they aren't the same day," I jokingly quipped. "Because I'd hate to miss the birth!" Of course, The Phantom Menace came out on the 19th and firstborn emerged on the 20th so all worked out well there. Worldwide expectations for how awesome the movie would be were high, perhaps too high. But I'll admit that despite everyone's hatred of Jar Jar, I left the theater that evening happy and only a little confused. I liked it, but not as much as I thought I would. For me personally, the days following were filled with baby planning and being a nervous new dad. We were very busy and I had little to no Internet access. What I'm trying to make clear is that it took me a few weeks or months to catch up to the fact that there was a strong bit of backlash against Jar Jar Binks and the whole saga of Star Wars. My own step-brother, whom I considered to be very nearly as big a Star Wars fan as I was, vehemently hated it and vowed not to watch the following prequels. That seemed way harsh to me then and still does. Come to think of it, I don't know that he ever backed down from that. It's possible he'll be avoiding The Force Awakens as well.
I think of that moment in time and I want to say something to fellow fans who might leave the theater tomorrow disappointed. I'm not sure what I'd say. Squelch it? Sit on your disappointment for a bit, or at least keep it out of earshot of little kids or anyone else who might have liked it? I don't know. Maybe all of those things.
The other thing I want to say I think is the most important of all. At the release of this movie, I'll have a bit of a moment of mourning. As these new movies about the further adventures of Luke, Han, Leia and all become canon in the minds and hearts of everyone including me, it means that the final bell will toll for a completely different set of stories that was supposed to be the canonical versions of what happened to our heroes. If you didn't know, starting in 1991, there were a series of books published as part of the Star Wars Expanded Universe. As a ramp up to the prequels that Lucas was working on and potentially to test the waters of fan reception, they hired writers to craft new stories set in the Star Wars universe to share what happened to everyone after the end of Return of the Jedi. Timothy Zahn's initial trilogy was an especially good example, and it was set 5 years later. Han and Leia are married and expecting twins. Luke is planning to rebuild the Jedi Academy. The last few dregs of the once great Galactic Empire are still there, but diminished in power. New enemies emerge --like Grand Admiral Thrawn.
From 1991 on, there were many books and under the careful supervision of Lucasarts and George himself, they were all kept as part of the same continuity. And from a canonical point of view, given the full blessing. This was what was officially happening to these characters in the years after the film ended. And chronologically, they filled up quite a few "years" of fictional time in that universe. Some stories went so far as to follow Luke all the way up into his own marriage, birth of a son and becoming a grand 60 year old Jedi Master.
When it was first announced that they'd be making new movies, many fans like myself wondered where in this set of stories --when in the canonical chronology-- would these new movies take place? Would they make the much loved Timothy Zahn trilogy into movies? Would they pick a different book? Would the movies be new stories that fit BETWEEN the book stories?
Or, as I feared, would Disney take a giant axe to the entire swath of the published --and previously canonical-- Expanded Universe and declare it to be null and void? In the end, that is exactly what they decided to do.
In order to give maximum creative freedom to the filmmakers and also preserve an element of surprise and discovery for the audience, Star Wars Episodes VII-IX will not tell the same story told in the post-Return of the Jedi Expanded Universe. While the universe that readers knew is changing, it is not being discarded. Creators of new Star Wars entertainment have full access to the rich content of the Expanded Universe. For example, elements of the EU are included in Star Wars Rebels. The Inquisitor, the Imperial Security Bureau, and Sienar Fleet Systems are story elements in the new animated series, and all these ideas find their origins in roleplaying game material published in the 1980s.
I loved those books and treasured them close to my heart. And for this reason, I'm sad. These engaging stories that I've spent many hours and days reading and enjoying have been demoted to fanciful, non-official, non-canon, alternate universe stuff. To be fair, I completely understand the decision and admit that if I were in charge at Disney (and I needed to recoup the money that was paid out for the rights to Star Wars) I can't think of any way to make the movies inclusive of the stories in the books. I hate to present an uncomfortable problem I'm unhappy about when I don't have a better solution in mind.
There it is anyway. When the next movie becomes a reality for me, it will mean that the "Legends" stories I read in high school will be less of a reality in some way. Don't get me wrong, I'll ecstatically adore the new film (as I already do), but there's just a tiny bit of sadness to go along with it.
And... That's all I've got time for tonight. Tomorrow night at this point, the whole world will have seen the next Star Wars movie. Here's hoping it will great. May the Force be with you.