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Entertainment Geekly Mailbag: 'Star Wars' edition

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GrabberRaster 0892

Star Wars! Nothing but Star Wars! Gimme those Star Wars! Don’t let them end!

More than 37 years since the first Star Wars opened in theaters—and almost 37 years since Bill Murray swaggered his way through a lounge-singer version of the Star Wars theme—a trailer for the seventh Star Wars movie arrived on the internet. If you’re like me, you watched the teaser for The Force Awakens early Friday morning, still in that post-Thanksgiving daze when everything feels like a food-coma hallucination. In such a state, it sure looked like Force Awakens has everything. They’ve got stormtroopers and lightsabers aplenty, blasters and speeders galore. You want X-Wingamabobs? They’ve got twenty!

But who cares? No big deal. We want more. Specifically, readers wanted to figure out just what, precisely, will be happening in the seventh Star Wars movie, which is still one year away, even though we’ve been talking about it for over two years already. Readers threw out some elaborate plot possibilities, some even crazier than my whole “The Alliance is the new Empire” theory. Let’s dig in!

Darren,

My (long) two cents:

So what if, after Return of the Jedi, Luke was like “The prophecy of my father was to bring balance to force, and since he killed the last Sith Lord, I don’t need to do anything anymore. Essentially, I’ll retire, wait to die, and join my dad, Obi-wan and Yoda as ghosts.”

Balance means one side isn’t wining and pre the Original trilogy the “light side” was winning and during the original trilogy the Dark Side was winning until Vader offed Palpatine.  I  think “The Force Awakening” implies an almost no-Force (almost atheist-like in Jedi-verse) existence is altered by some entity using the Force which then by definition requires a light vs dark dichotomy.

Or maybe I’m just over stuffed with turkey and thinking way too deep on this stuff.

Chris

Sent from my iPhone

Chris wins all the prizes for philosophical density (Jedi atheists!) and for apparently typing all of this on an iPhone. I definitely think he’s on to something with the notion that Luke may have more or less retired after Return of the Jedi. I was a raving Star Wars fan growing up—watched the original trilogy on repeat on VHS, read all the Expanded Universe literature, had one of those Darth Vader action-figure cases, secretly always thought that the B-Wing was so cool that it made an X-Wing look like an A-Wing. So one of the exciting-but-weird aspects of watching the Force Awakens trailer was realizing that the movie might completely run counter to my understanding of “What Happened After Return of the Jedi.”

A quick rundown, for people who didn’t spend their youth reading books based on movies released before they were born: The “Expanded Universe” of Star Wars literature has a few different beginnings. The first Star Wars spinoff book was Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, a strange and strangely compelling Luke-and-Leia adventure. Splinter is one of those early franchise extensions that was made before anyone really had a good notion for how to curate the franchise, and there’s something excitingly non-Star Wars-y about it—it almost feels like a story from an alternate universe, where Star Wars was written by Edgar Rice Burroughs and directed by Roger Corman.

That’s also the general vibe from a series of other early Star Wars books, trilogies that focused on Han Solo and Lando Calrissian. I’m not sure I even ever read any of those books, but the titles linger in my brain from long years spent haunting the Sci-Fi section of bookstores, which is what we used to buy books before Kindle destroyed your youth. Like, come on: Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu. Lando Calrissian and the Flamewind of Oseon. Lando Calrissian and the Starcave of ThonBaka. Starcaves and flamewinds and mindharps, oh my!

But pretty much everyone, when they’re talking about the Expanded Universe, points to one book as the foundation: Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire. The first book of the Thrawn trilogy introduced the basic setting for a whole generation of Star Wars stories. We learned that, post-Return of the Jedi, our heroes were slowly but surely cleaning up the remnants of the Empire. Heir to the Empire introduced what turned out to be the most overrated planet in the Star Wars galaxy—Coruscant, the City Planet, except it’s sort of a City where everything is midtown and nothing ever seems to really happen besides important meetings about cool stuff happening a million miles away.

A key idea of the first wave of Expanded Universe books—which covered roughly the two decades after Return of the Jedi—was that Luke, Leia, and Han Solo were pretty much the most important people in the universe. Or anyhow, they were directly involved in pretty much every major event in the universe. Luke was busy building up a new generation of Jedi knights, and Leia was busy being more or less in charge of the New Republic, and Han Solo…well, Han was there, too!

Not every Expanded Universe story focused on the Power Trio—I always loved Michael A. Stackpole’s run of X-Wing books, which focused on the slightly-more-everyday joes in Rogue Squadron (and which could feature a higher body count than any of the Star Wars movies.) But every story took it for granted that the Skywalker-Solo family spent their post-Return lives being Very Important People. So it’s interesting that the consensus among Star Wars fans—based, remember, on just 88 seconds of footage—is that The Force Awakens will argue that Luke’s post-Return of the Jedi fate was very different. See also:

Hi Darren,

I’m assuming that Luke Skywalker lives on Tatooine, probably as a hermit, maybe in Ben’s old shack.  Much of what was the Empire is still all in one piece, but with the Senate once again reinstated.  It might be called the New Republic, it might be called the Imperial Republic, but it is a republic.  The storm troopers are still around because what is the new government supposed to do, fire thousands, if not millions, of hard working men and women?  Having your first order be putting a planet’s worth of people out of jobs is just bad politics.  The stormtroopers are now a kind of police force, or the Republic’s army. 

When people start to realize that the Force has awakened they travel to Tatooine to find the only Jedi in the galaxy, Luke.  That’s what I’m assuming Boyega’s character is doing.  Maybe Ridley’s too.  And when that evil dude pops up and starts doing Sith stuff, Han and Chewie head to Tatooine as well, seeking Luke’s help in getting rid of the guy.

-Drake

For some reason, I completely agree with Drake’s basic assessment about Luke’s status. I feel like the notion of Luke being a hermit is sort of fan-canon, based on the notion that history repeats itself, so there has to be some old lonely Jedi knight living way out in the wasteland of Tatooine. That would also gibe with the totally awesome original Return of the Jedi ending, where Luke would’ve basically walked off on his own to become the outer-space version of Clint Eastwood in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

However, I find it a little harder to believe that the “New Republic” would have kept the Stormtroopers around and not even forced them to put on new uniforms. Like, we’re talking about a military force that spent a couple decades as the local face of galactic tyranny. I’m definitely intrigued by the idea that the New Republic is basically just the Empire with democracy reinstated, but I still think that the Stormtroopers will be working for some demonstratively “bad” group of people: Most likely Imperial Remnants, scattered around the galaxy and holding tight to whatever remains of their dominion.

Hi Darren,

As soon as John Boyega stood up in the desert of (presumably) Tatooine, a chill went up my spine.  10 views later, I turned to your breakdown and added a few thoughts of my own.  I actually think that Ridley will turn out to be some kind of mechanical whiz kid, a la young Anakin Skywalker.  Also, her character clearly seems to be associated with the shipyard in the trailer.  Therefore, the Falcon fighting on Tatooine could possibly be the result of Ridley’s character maintaining the Falcon as a “project,” and breaking her out when the need presents itself (maybe with “Dad’s” help?).

Also, I agree that we’re in for some hazy allegiances, and that the lines will be blurred a bit between the Alliance (they’re no longer Rebels, correct?) and the Empire.  But the “Big 3” seem to have “felt” this awakening in some way, and are now making a beeline towards its epicenter.

One thing’s for sure, 12/18/15 can’t come soon enough!!

-Rob

Totally, totally, totally—and I’m already stoked by the idea of Daisy Ridley playing this trilogy’s Anakin/Luke character, a cool kid from the boondocks with a penchant for tech-junk. Looking back, there’s something weirdly heteronormative about the six main Star Wars movies. Everyone gives the original trilogy a lot of credit for turning Princess Leia into a character who isn’t just a damsel in distress…but she’s not not a damsel in distress. She’s also pretty much the only female character in the original trilogy. Oh, there’s Aunt Beru (who gets one scene, then dies) and Oola (one scene, no dialogue, dies) and Mon Mothma (one scene, super boring).

The prequel trilogy was a little better, insofar as there were a lot of female Jedi in the background who never got to speak. But the prequels also get all the demerits for Padme Amidala, one of the most incoherent Star Wars characters and one of the worst performances by a good actor ever. There’s a lot to like about Padme in theory, and she seems to be a character who benefited quite a bit from Expanded Universe literature. But in the movies, she’s basically there to fall in love, get pregnant, then die because she was so in love while being pregnant.

To be clear, there are a ton of flat-out awesome female characters throughout the Star Wars canon. Mara Jade, Jaina Solo, a couple key characters in the Clone Wars series. My personal fave is Mirax Terrik, a key figure in the Rogue Squadron sub-mythos who’s sort of a female Han Solo. (The friendship between Wedge Antilles and Mirax Terrik always struck me as something vaguely radical in the Star Wars mythos: A platonic male-female friendship with just a hint of banter-y chemistry.)

Admittedly, Mirax was the damsel-in-distress in one of my favorite Star Wars books. Not everything needs to be a hyper-liberal dream of denormalized gender politics. That being said: I really hope Ridley’s playing the Star Wars universe version of Michelle Rodriguez-in-Fast-&-Furious.

Oh, and not that you asked, but here are my 10 favorite Star Wars Expanded Universe stories ever:

1. The Hutt Gambit, by A.C. Crispin—Young Han Solo, Hutt mafias, a planet of outlaws.

2. I, Jedi by Michael A. Stackpole—Best-non-movie-character Corran Horn in a book that’s half X-Wing action, half Jedi Knight mysticism. Narrated in the first person, unusual for the series.

3. “When the Desert Wind Turns: The Stormtrooper’s Tale” by Doug Beason—Written for Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina, a short story about Davin Felth, a new stormtrooper recruit. Morally ambiguous in a way that the movies never really tried for, with its portrait of an Imperial True Believer experiencing a crisis of faith. Stars Davin Felth, my favorite minor Star Wars character.

4. X-Wing: The Bacta War by Michael A. Stackpole—Or really any Stackpole X-Wing book.

5. Young Jedi Knights: Lightsabers—A YA Series about teen Jedi. This is the book that explains in exacting detail how they build lightsabers. Also a good spotlight for Tenel Ka, a character who’s sort of like a warrior queen from Conan the Barbarian airdropped into a sci-fi universe.

6. “And the Band Played On: The Band’s Tale” by John Gregory Betancourt—I’d watch a whole spinoff TV show about the Max Rebo Band.

7. Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn—THRAWN.

8. “Therefore I Am: The Tale of IG-88” by Kevin J. Anderson—A very weird look at the Droid bounty hunter who appeared for exactly three seconds of screentime in Empire Strikes Back and was the hardest boss in Shadows of the Empire on the Nintendo 64.

9. The Essential Guide to Vehicles and Vessels—Pure fanboy tech-porn.

10. “The Last One Standing: The Tale of Boba Fett” by Daniel Keys Moran—Like “Therefore I Am” from the Tales of the Bounty Hunter collection. One of the strangest stories to ever come out of the Star Wars universe, it sort of imagines Boba Fett and Han Solo with a kind of Joker-Batman, with the mysterious bounty hunter becoming obsessed with Solo during long years of hunting him. No bull, I’ve been haunted by the ending for almost two decades.

Do you have an Expanded Universe top 10? Email me at darren_franich@ew.com! Now, back to Episode VII:

Episode VII trailer wild plot predictions, maybe in chronological order:

The camera focuses on the stormtroopers in the deployment ship. The Millennium Falcon fights the TIE fighters, and then maybe shoots down the troop transport. Boyega crashes, and is worried that the Falcon will return to take them all out, so he runs off (he looks off into the distance, worried). (something happens in the middle). Daisy Ridley is riding from “someplace” (John Boyega?) to a settlement… to get help? Like, “Hey mom & dad (Leia/Han), I just found this cute stormtrooper out in the desert, and he needs our help!” and then Han Solo is like “Yeah, let’s go get him! Muahaha!”

-Chris

Love the image of Han Solo cackling maniacally. The timeline sort of makes sense—except that I can’t for the life of me figure out why Han and Leia would be living in Tatooine. Actually, I can’t imagine why anyone would be living on Tatooine, if they didn’t have to. Maybe Luke, because it’s his home?

Darren,

Thanks for the deep dive into the new Star Wars trailer.  My only observation is that the Millennium Falcon is seen shedding vortices.  Admittedly, it’s not using airfoils for lift, but you’d think that whatever is keeping its non-aerodynamic shape from being slapped around by the atmosphere would also prevent cavitation on trailing edges.  Still, it’s a cool visual that usually is only seen in Air Force recruitment videos of fighter jets. 

Cheers!

Karl

Karl wins all the prizes for bringing a metaphorical gun to a metaphorical knife fight, which is probably how it feels whenever someone who actually understands science watches something happen in Star Wars. We should probably remember that this is an entire mythology built around the notion that a society with the capacity for deep-space travel specifically designs all their spaceships to battle like 1940s-era airplanes. Also, wait, did anyone figure out why the TIE Fighters scream in space? Oh my god guys, is it possible that, in the Star Wars galaxy, there’s actually oxygen in space? That would explain why X-Wing fighters don’t bother wearing any kind of breathing apparatus.

Hi Darren,

I wasn’t sure if you would find this of interest but thought I’d send it your way. When I first saw The Force Awakens trailer I was floored. I directed a fan film that was a finalist in the 2002 official fan film awards. The opening of the film had a gag we came up with featuring a triple-bladed lightsaber. At the time we believed we were the first to come up with such a thing.

I was dumbfounded when I saw the new Star Wars trailer and then I had friends who worked on our fan film come out of the woodwork. Everyone wondered if we planted the seed for the idea that appeared in the new trailer. Normally I might dismiss it but I remembered that our silly mockumentary was screened and judged by George Lucas and other Lucasfilm officials. I’ve gone about trying to find out if our film had any connection to the new lightsaber in The Force Awakens. Here is a link to our 2002 entry. Really you just need to see the first minute to get the idea.

-Erik

Hmmmm…

FlashForward | Demitri felt the only way to try to change a future had him dying in a few months was to find out everything he could…

Well…

I’m guessing that the Force Awakens lightsaber derives entirely from one of J.J. Abrams’ trademark creative moments, when he looks at something that was cool thirty years ago and says “What if we did the same thing, except MORE?” and then Hollywood gives him two hundred million dollars. But to be honest, the triple-bladed lightsaber from Erik’s movie seems way more functional than the laser-handlebar model from Force Awakens.

Also, as far as fan-created-content goes, Erik’s movie is quite a bit better than my own contribution: A comic book I co-wrote with a college buddy of mine, where Davin Felth meets George Lucas. I swear to god, that was a thing that happened. It’s somewhere on the internet.

Darren:

Your article on the Star Wars trailer is hilarious. I’m 43 years old. Grew up of course with the original movies. Didn’t much care for the prequels. Decided to watch the trailer. After googling it, the trailer popped up via the E.T. feed/your article. I’m now super geeked to see this movie. You’re article reminded me how amazing it was to be a kid when the original set of movies came out.

Thanks for making my morning.

Best,

Brian

Glad you enjoyed the deep dive, Brian! And intrigued to see if your reaction is a common one among older Star Wars fans. One of the weirdest things about The Force Awakens is that the movie has a stunning amount of goodwill purely because it’s not another Star Wars prequel. It almost feels a little bit like all the excitement from 1998 about “A NEW STAR WARS MOVIE!” went into suspended hibernation for the last fifteen years, and now all of us who grew up on the original Star Wars are re-excited about a new Star Wars movie where nobody says the word “padawan” and nobody rocks a man-braid.

Actually, I’m sort of intrigued to know what the slightly younger generation of Star Wars fans thinks about The Force Unleashed—like, the people who were born in the mid-90s or later, who grew up with a stunning amount of prequel-era content (including two generally beloved animated spinoffs), and who probably feel a bit miffed that the whole purpose of the Disney Star Wars endeavor is to generally ignore everything that defined Star Wars from 1999-2012.

Like, my big issue with the Star Wars prequels has always been that they’re just not fun as movies—none of the exuberance of Star Wars, none of the witty banter from Empire Strikes Back, not even the fun-with-muppets grotesquerie of Return of the Jedi. But then again, there are plenty of smart people who were adults when the first Star Wars movies came out who flat-out HATED Star Wars. (One of my favorite movie critics is David Thomson, and in his very fun Hollywood history The Whole Equation, he summed up the whole franchise in a line: ‘I have nothing to say about Star Wars.”)

All of which is a roundabout way of saying: Hell, if I were six years old when Attack of the Clones came out, I might love the prequel movies and be totally bored by the original movies. Who can tell? I know a few people who didn’t watch the original Star Wars until they were adults and found the whole series underwhelming. On one hand, this boggles my mind, because Star Wars is mythmaking at the highest order and The Empire Strikes Back is the action-romance-fantasy that every comic book movie wants to be. On the other hand: I’ve tried watching Return of the Jedi as a grown-up, and it’s a tough slog. It’s also the Star Wars movie that feels most explicitly like a kids’ movie: All the wacky creatures, none of the complicated politics of the prequels. (It DOES put Princess Leia in a gold bikini—see also, the discussion of female characters’ troubled onscreen history in Star Wars.)

All of which is a roundabout way of saying: Is Star Wars fundamentally children’s entertainment? Is it weird that grown-ups are shutting down the internet talking about Star Wars so much? On one hand, I’m skeptical of nostalgia; on the other hand, it’s worth remembering that Star Wars itself was a nostalgic property, representing George Lucas’ love of Flash Gordon serials and Akira Kurosawa and his happy memories of being a young bored dude with a sweet ride dreaming of adventure.

This is something I think about all the time. I actually wrote about it three years ago, at a cultural moment when it seemed like Star Wars might be over. And now it seems like Star Wars will never end. Which isn’t a bad thing or a good thing, but it is a thing, and we need to figure out what that means. Maybe by December 18, 2015.