Saga How SW Reflects Real World Epics

Discussion in 'Star Wars Saga In-Depth' started by Eternal_Hero, Sep 21, 2012.

  1. Eternal_Hero Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Sep 21, 2012
    star 1
    I'm going to try to avoid using the word "myth" since, frankly, no one can really agree on what it means and how to apply it! But for most societies (ancient ones in particular) there is a whopping huge story, usually enshrined in a holy book or national epic, that defines them as a people and contains all of their dearest beliefs and deepest convictions, and also an idealized version of their origin and history. These vast epics are usually hundreds if not thousands of years in the making, gathered from disparate, isolated stories, until they form something imposing and defining.

    Since these epics are often filled with magic, miracles, dense family sagas, deep tragedies and sweeping battles, they attracted science-fiction writers early in the genre's history, and proved an even better model for writers of sword & sorcery or "fantasy", resulting in novels like "Dune" (Frank herbert) and "The Lord of the Rings" (Jrr Tolkien) which read like imitation epics.

    George Lucas wanted to indulge in a little of what is called "world building" to distinguish his movie from traditional American sf/f films, which usually lacked the richly imagined cultures & back histories that made their literary counterparts so impressive. Although GL edited most of what he imagined out of each successive "Star Wars" script, his long process of creation makes for fascinating reading, more like long outlines for a novel than the usual film treatment or draft screenplay.

    What's happened since then has been truly surprising and fascinating and unlike anything else I can think of. Like a true cultural or national epic (and in many ways the U.S. has adopted SW as a kind of pop-cultural central epic) SW has grown into an dauntingly huge & complex web of story that can never be made internally consistent. Flaming wars over "canon" and "continuity" rage over this fact. Yet that is what makes SW so absorbing to me!

    Briefly, here's my attempt to outline the process that has created SW as we know it:

    1. In the beginning...there was only GL and "Star Wars" (1977). That was all we knew. The Marvel Comics adaptation, Alan Dean Foster novelization, and "Art of Star Wars" book expanded our view a little, but essentially, it was one unique film with a very limited history and mythology, in terms of literary detail.

    2. By 1983 there were already divergent continuities. There were the three films, their comic and prose adaptations, two radio plays, two completely different daily newspaper strips, and the ongoing Marvel series. Which of these was canon? Back then, nobody cared. Russ Manning comic strips disagreed with U.K. magazine comics and they all disagreed with the "Lando Calrissian" trilogy. Most people regarded the films as the "real" story and everything else as suspect.

    3. GL didn't stay quiet for long. In 1984-85 he released an official "Droids" animated series based on the adventures of C3P0 and R2D2, an "Ewoks" animated series and 2 "Ewoks" tv movies. Where did these fit into the puzzle? Again, they seemed peripheral at the time, and the 6 year SW drought that followed, which included the cancellation of the Marvel series, seemed to relegate them automatically to the "suspect" file.

    4. Here's where it gets interesting. In 1987 West End Games released their first SW-based role playing manual. This was the beginning of what would be called "The Expanded Universe". These manuals became official source material for the fiction that followed later. GL served as a technical adviser, as he would with EU fiction, giving a simple yes/no approval to content.

    5. 1990-1999 would define the "EU" (Expanded Universe), meant to be an internally consistent alternative universe that would avoid what GL saw as the mistakes made by Marvel Comics and previous authors. The key players were Dark Horse Comics and Bantam Books. This is far too complex to go unto detail about, and most of you know the story, but between "Dark Empire" and the "Thrawn Trilogy" (both of which used the WEG manuals as sources and had to pass through the GL yes/no approval process) Lucasfilm tried to establish a quality alternative to SW movies until GL could get busy on the prequel trilogy. The effort met with initial success but was not without birth-pangs. The juvenile "Jedi Prince" series was quickly swept under the rug & forgotten, replaced by the more successful "Young Jedi Knights" series. The excellent "Tales of the Jedi" remains controversial to this day (not surprisingly there are indications that GL had more than the usual yes/no input with them) and "Dark Empire II" was met with less enthusiasm than the first series. Somewhere along the line the Marvel Comics were reinstated as canon. The daily strips were reprinted. Video games became increasingly narrative. The SW universe was experiencing its own "Cambrian Explosion" which peaked with the release of the "Special Editions" and "The Phantom Menace" (1997-1999).

    It was during this time that the burgeoning internet culture allowed for the formation of a new sector of fandom, one that is reactionary, even angry, concerning what they view as the integrity and purity of the original trilogy and the original "EU". This sector of fandom remains active (mostly online) and vocal and is apparently here to stay.

    6. The initial expansion period (I.E.P. 1990-2005) ended with the release of "Revenge of the Sith", when it seemed that the long marathon begun in 1991 was ended. There would only be books, comics & games to carry on the story now. But it didn't turn out that way. Something far more interesting happened. It seemed that GL, far from being tired of SW, was now more engaged than ever. He took a personal interest in developing canon-challenging games like "The Force Unleashed" and became central to the ongoing "Clone Wars" tv series.

    For me, this is where the story really becomes interesting. Like a naturally occurring epic, and unlike a novel or series, we have the living creator of an huge and ongoing story who has sole power over the property as a whole. At the same time, there is a mass of officially sanctioned narrative content being issued on a monthly basis. What we're seeing, sped up and in miniature, is much like the process that created The Iliad, Ramayana, Gilgamesh etc. GL represents a central tradition, the core values at the heart of the overall narrative. The many writers, editors and artists who are contributing a bulk of the material represent the same who toil over many generations adding to and maintaining a massive and growing body of story centered around one idea. I would say that for SW that idea is the never-ending battle between the Light and Dark sides of the Force. As with a genuine epic, there are artifacts that defy internal continuity:

    1. Characters are made to say and do things that violate their most popular incarnation.
    2. Early, formative versions of events don't fit with later, highly developed versions of the same events.
    3. The overall narrative becomes cluttered with seemingly extraneous side-stories that are often no more than simple jokes or minutia-addressing filler.
    4. There is no consistent tone to the narrative as a whole. Parts are tragic, romantic, comedic, martial etc., but as the narrative expands, there are fewer and fewer long stretches of sustained, balanced portions of story.
    5. As cultures change over time, GL has changed, core elements of the central philosophy have been embellished or altered (to the great frustration of some fans).
    6. The Central Event (for SW I would say this is the conclusion of the Skywalker Saga, Episodes IV-VI) accrues extraordinarily long past and future histories, drowning the C.E. in details that were not relevant or possibly not even created when that part of the story was set down.
    7. Editorial attempts to reconcile these differences cause parts of the audience to disconnect from the story (in genuine epics this will often result in the audience creating their own local version, which has happened to an extent with the advent of home video and expanded consumer options).
    8. As many different voices add to the Epic, characters are reinterpreted and altered over time, sometimes changing their central character in ways that frustrate or alienate sectors of the audience, particularly individuals who develop an intense personal identification with a particular character.

    Those are just some of the observations I've made.

    For me, SW has never been more interesting. The whole thing has developed into a unique creative & social phenomenon.

    As to what is or isn't a part of the story, in my opinion, "everything happened", and we get to choose which parts we like best! Just as we can do with genuine epics, with their seemingly endless array of prequels, sequels, side stories and alternate versions.
    Last edited by Eternal_Hero, Sep 21, 2012
  2. obi-rob-kenobi4 Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Apr 17, 2007
    star 4
    And this is why Star Wars will last for MUCH longer than even its biggest current fans would be willing to admit to. This is also why it is very important to realize that "control" or "influence" of Star Wars never has, will never and should never be "given up" to fans. All the "fans" are is the random, natural, changing generations of peoples that find and experience this thing called Star Wars. And time will go by and they will be replaced by their children (as a lot of them already have) and then their children's children.

    A hundred years from now all that will remain is the 6 films and what the creator has had to say about them when he was alive. A hundred years from now we will still have "The Star Wars Saga". We wont have "the EU". In the big picture the "EU" (at least the way I see it) is simply just the creative reactions/discussions/complements of those peoples who are inspired by George Lucas's Star Wars Saga. I see it as a "current cultural complement" that will be replaced with the next generations complements and thats great. Thats wonderful in fact. But more people need to realize and accept that Star Wars starts and ends with the 6 films and will go down in history as such. I only wish more people would devote even half as much energy to understanding George Lucas's Star Wars Saga (the official version of the 6 films) the way they do with their favorite piece of EU material or current fan gossip. Its not just an american thing and so should not be forced to change and conform to what is currently in the air in this country or any other. Its a multi-generational, multicultural timeless Epic Saga. @};-
    Last edited by obi-rob-kenobi4, Sep 22, 2012
  3. Eternal_Hero Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Sep 21, 2012
    star 1
    I can't imagine that there will be no future interest in The Clone Wars or the EU. The vast web of story spawned by and surrounding the films, the cult of fandom, are both reasons why SW is so interesting. I mean, if you discovered a series of silent films that had hundreds of novels surrounding it and spawned weekend-long fan conventions, you'd probably want to see what the whole thing was about.