A LONG TIME AGO, IN A VIDEO STORE, FAR, FAR AWAY…
I love Star Wars. I have since the day my dad came back from the video store with the original trilogy in hand, sat me down and made me watch them all. I was very young, but the experience was indelible. I cannot understate the impact it had on my imagination, if I thought the world unfolding around me was amazing, it was nothing compared to the mind-bending fantasy of the Star Wars universe, it invigorated a passion for sci-fi and fantasy that has never left me.
Something so many Star Wars fans have in common is the giddy desire to exist in that rich and diverse galaxy from a long time ago. We want to be among our heroes, to visit the alien planets of our childhood dreams, we want to learn everything about that magic place, and discover the innumerable mysteries we know still dwell there.
We want this, because there was so much left unanswered by the films. Characters with unknown pasts, places with lands unexplored, and stories yet to be told, with their triumphs and tragedies begging to be heard. There is an entire galaxy to be realised, where everything has a history, just waiting to be imagined.
Star Wars has always under explained itself. It has always thrown out an odd word, bizarre concept, or implausible scenario and let the viewer envision the reason. There’s always been plot holes that needed creative putty, and inconsistencies which required thorough elaboration.
To give one example; early in A New Hope, Obi Wan Kenobi tells Luke while next to the destroyed Sandcrawler that “only Imperial Stormtroopers are so precise” – and from that point on, we see Imperial Stormtroopers hit less than nothing every time they take aim.
On the surface, this appears to be a gaping, Sarlacc-size hole in the plot – but I assure you, it is but one of many. An entire watch-through leaves one with a thousand questions that went unexplored, and a thousand more mysteries yearning for answers. Many have blamed George Lucas himself as the source of these inconsistencies, citing his unnatural dialogue and stilted plot development as evidence, while others claimed outright, he ruined Star Wars.
It is inevitable, with an entire galaxy to fathom that something would be omitted. Yet, it was within those unexplained holes, those fragments of awkward speeches, that imagination conceived, and birthed a vast community of multi-medium art as exciting and as adventurous as anything we’d already seen. And while some still saw Lucas as a bad storyteller, one could see the subtle genius at the core of Star Wars.
Genius is not always purposeful, nor does genius always require a solitary architect, masterfully pulling the strings. Sometimes genius comes from a collective, a hive of imaginations, all building towards one goal. George Lucas may have outlined the Star Wars galaxy, but it was the devoted fans who helped him coloured it in.
Once the films were over, I – like many others – was left empty, as if reality itself had been pulled like a rug out from beneath me. I was dismayed, knowing I’d have to return to my placid, non-Force sensitive self, and live a lifetime of relative banality. It was then I discovered the Expanded Universe (which pre-Disney was known as the EU, and post-Disney as Star Wars: Legends.) The EU consisted of books, comics, and video games – but it was the novels that lured me in. Within their pages, I was hurtled back again to that galaxy far, far away. The stories I knew were expanded, histories were elaborated, new characters were revealed, and different worlds were explored. It was heaven once more.
It appeared the Expanded Universe had set about answering all those myriad questions I’d complied since that day my Dad sat me down. It began with the novelisation of A New Hope, and though there were many questions Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker answered, it raised many more. There were new concepts alluded to, and new names to learn – this book gave us Palpatine, Biggs Darklighter, and a reference to something called a Sith Lord. Myths began growing upon myths, fresh ideas we now take for granted were first introduced, and the tales themselves, were as wild and imaginative as my little mind could envisage.
Piece by piece the inconsistencies disappeared, the plot holes were filled, and every loose end was woven to the twine, it seemed as though the fans were unwilling to let anyone find flaw in their masterpiece. The EU community kept the legend alive even when it languished in mainstream obscurity between Return of the Jedi and A Phantom Menace. From those early days of the internet till this very dawn, friendships are forged on a mutual love, and a dedicated nitpicking of the Star Wars mythos – they’ve even collated numerous explanations for Stormtrooper inaccuracy that are not only anecdotally, but scientifically plausible too.
The community of fans, had collectively set about refining the galaxy George Lucas began back in 1970s, millions of strangers came together to share their love of one artist’s creation. What higher compliment could anyone receive for their art? To have your fans continue your work, expand on your legacy, and even patch your holes, is adulation in the highest form. Few other creative deeds can boast such a rich anthology, and I’m yet to witness anyone paint around the borders of the Mona Lisa.
Of course, one can make a cynical assertion that all this was born of greed. Knowing that Lucas named every character in the galaxy simply to sell us toys, it is tempting to slate all this extra content as a solely commercial enterprise. But the Expanded Universe is more than just the merchandise and the leisures found on the shelves. It is a near evangelical passion that propels its fans to commit countless hours to constructing a world, writing works of fiction, debating theories, and shooting backyard films, all as an homage to a story they love, for not a cent in return.
But does the existence of the Expanded Universe imply that Star Wars is somehow underdone as a creation? Or rather does it speak to the higher purpose of the storyteller: to involve the audience within one’s narrative? To completely immerse the viewer or reader into a world not of their own, and yet one so malleable they can make a story of their own within it?
As a budding storyteller, maybe there are lessons to be taken from the allegedly bad storytelling of George Lucas? Much of the Star Wars lore was developed off screen, and without the inherent inconsistencies and plot holes we may not have the world we know today. Therefore, is ambiguity and the lack of competent explanation really the terrible faux pas we consider it to be – especially if this could be the result?
I wonder if we, as storytellers, are too concerned with meticulous design – perhaps it was the lack of cohesion that lit the fires under some fans as much as the incredible vision of the films did? Do we place too much emphasis on our world building? Should we, when telling our tales always craft every conceivable inch, and furnish our narratives with volumes of methodical appendixes?
I am not criticising this practice, as it is one of the most enjoyable and enthralling parts of the creative process (not to mention, exceedingly impressive) though I wonder if leaving things less explained, or underdeveloped may be advantageous too. Ask yourself, if you took so much pleasure in building this world, how can you steal the opportunity for others to do the same?
Who doesn’t enjoy a little mystery, or the pondering of unanswered questions once a story is done? Is explicatory always the best motif – and is closure always a requirement? Life rarely brings closure. Closure brings an end, a finishing, a completion – no further work needed, and as storytellers, we should endeavour to empower our audiences, allow them make some decisions, as they too, have imaginations of their own.
Perhaps the most important lesson we can learn from Lucas, is that once a story has been told, it lives on in the minds of those were told it. Something he, himself would discover when he released the prequel trilogy.
In attempt to answer one of the greatest of all under explanations, Lucas developed Episodes I – III to show the world, who Anakin Skywalker was, before he became Darth Vader. The backlash he faced upon their screening was unprecedented.
A question always lingers in my mind when I think of those films: would it have mattered what Lucas had produced – would the cries of indignation have been just as spiteful whatever the finished product?
Good films, or bad, they were his additions, to his own creation and upon their release, George Lucas discovered just how much of his own invention existed in the hearts of his fans. Had Star Wars lived there for so long not even its creator could alter what people believed? Had he allowed his audience too much inventive control?
Were his changes too dramatic? Maybe he’d betrayed the idea of what fans thought Star Wars should be. Had his world of narrative holes been packed so tight he could no longer move? With each little piece of added reality to the mythology, whether written, or unwritten became just as real as the last.
Or was it Lucas’ sudden set of new parameters upon a world, which previously held utmost freedom? But would a world, more stable in structure, more definitively defined in its core, which allowed no deviation without proper explanation, have produced films that avoided derision? Perhaps, but the legacy of Star Wars may not have survived in that environment to begin with – the law of the lore, may not have been conducive to building a vast Expanded Universe in the first place.
And maybe they just weren’t great films. But Lucas himself, lamented on the vitriol he received when he sold the rights, and one of Disney’s first orders upon purchase was to declare the entire Star Wars Expanded Universe, non canon – worthless to the future of the franchise.
It was an oddly cruel decision to reject those who were the reason you paid four billion dollars for the films in the first place. But Disney wanted the freedom to explore the galaxy in their own way, but in the eyes of many it was a big slap to the face of fans – far more insulting and demeaning than Jar Jar Binks could ever be.
While it may be easy to lambast the Mouse Kingdom, I must remind myself there are many at the company who want the chance to tell their own Star Wars story as much as the rest of us do. Already, they’ve released one film, explaining another subject the original trilogy left unexplained, and they have plans to bring many more just like it to the screen. They are, as well, expanding the universe, and without those old gaps in narrative that could have once been seen as bad storytelling, we wouldn’t have this enduring franchise to share with each future generation.
Star Wars is eternal, woven so intricately into our cultural tapestry, it will always live on, even when the studios have bleed every dollar from its visual portrayal, it will continue to thrive in the minds of its fans, who will seek out new mediums for it to grow. It resides in our collective experience, and whichever company currently holds claim on its stock, Star Wars has, and always will belong to its fans.
And Star Wars fans will always persevere. They will always tell their stories, canon and non canon alike, either within the Legends mythology, or in the new Star Walt universe, and with every new addition to the lore, they make the original work all the more glorious, and all the more complete, and it seems they aren’t about to leave the galaxy anytime soon.
The lessons of storytelling from Star Wars are simple: have faith in your audience, respect their vision, and understand that once a story has been told, belongs to them as well.
May the Force be with you
. . .
For more of this, meet me