Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Out of the Wilderness

Anyone with even a cursory interest in Star Wars probably has reason to celebrate this month, and it has nothing to do with The Old Republic MMO.  For me, this marks a pivotal moment in the history of the intellectual property.  And ever the optimist that I am, I think this turning point will mark the beginning of a profound upward trajectory when it comes to Star Wars storytelling.

As a brief aside, after the mad frenzy of posting inspired by the Blaugust Challenge, I took a week off from posting to recharge my brain.  My brain felt like a sponge that had been wrung dry, and needed a few days to regain its normal shape.  Now I feel like I haven't posted in months, which signals to me that I'm ready to go again.

Everyone who has a passing familiarity with the Star Wars IP is aware that Lucas sold the rights of the franchise to Disney, and that Disney, in turn, has announced its intention to make new films based in the Star Wars universe.  This is old news, of course, though to me it did signal a subtle change in the alignment of the universe.

To be specific,the Expanded Universe (EU to its friends) was a cheerful and chaotic place, full of rich and sometimes contradictory tales.  And not a few works either. Between the novels, comics and graphic novels, short stories, video and roleplaying games, hundreds of works using the Star Wars property have been produced. Only passing effort was made to reconcile the different characters and elements as each author was forging their own narrative.  Some of it was well done, others were wild flights of fancy that frankly weakened the core concepts.

At that time back in 2013, Kathleen Kennedy, the de facto CEO of all things Star Wars and confidante of George Lucas, established a Star Wars Story Group.  Their job was to be the keeper of the canon, and to establish what was accepted history, and what were Legends. Everything except the six films and the Clone Wars series was set aside - valuable contributions but not part of the Core Canon.

However, Kathleen had no intention of leaving things there.  Just as other properties had done before it, Star Wars indulged in a necessary reboot of the franchise. With the downsizing of the lore behind them, the SWSG began deliberations with several authors to create a new series of works that would be coordinated around the core of the films.

Which brings us to the present.  Early in September (just a few days ago) a new book called Star Wars: a New Dawn was put out in kindle and hardback with the contents endorsed by SWSG to be fully cannon. This is scheduled to be followed at regular two-month intervals, by  
  • James Luceno's Star Wars: Tarkin on Nov. 4,  
  • Kevin Hearne's Star Wars: Heir to the Jedi in Jan. 2015, and
  • Paul Kemp's Star Wars: Lords of the Sith next March.

The first book, A New Dawn is designed by SWSG to be a direct prequel to a new TV series in the style of SW: The Clone Wars called Star Wars Rebels which premiers October 13th.

All of this is in preparation for the new Star Wars movie Episode VII, as yet unnamed,  to be released next December, 2015.

What's Different This Time
From a personal perspective, as someone who is interested in the overarching story of Star Wars, I love the fact that we will still have the plethora of books, comics, games and films but their stories will be coordinated, rather than allowed to run wild.  I've talked elsewhere about how stories are told on three levels, the personal, the people, and the epic world/universe levels.  With this move, the SWSG is shoring up that epic universe level that has never quite made sense before outside the main movies.

Sometimes a franchise reboot gives audiences an entry point, a place to jump on to the moving train so they don't feel like they can never catch up.  After a while, the EU became overwhelming with it's sheer volume. If EU material had begun to dissolve in a tangle, this is the opportunity to climb on just as the train is leaving the station.

Now, provided that the SWSG is up to their rather difficult task, we don't have to worry about weeding out the dross, don't have to engage in fan edits and retcons of the EU timeline.  It will finally be worth while to pay attention to every venture, to follow each narrative, because for the first time it all counts.  Each of these disparate stories will make sense and all of it will be worth the serious SW fan's time.  That is the promise that the Story Group is making.

Third, there is some wishful thinking on my part.  The old narratives are being brought to a close and the focus is on the time directly after Return of the Jedi, the third of the original movie trilogy.  This choice is crucial because it allows the audience, if they wish, to largely ignore disappointing material from the prequel series.

Instead, it returns us to the beloved original characters that captured the essence and excitement of the films that started everything.  Audiences can start with A New Hope, the original Star Wars film, and move directly through those three movies into the new material from the Disney movies, without ever confronting midichlorians or Jar Jar.  This more than anything else shows me that Kathleen knows what she's doing.

I'm struck by the campaign-like structure of this release.   I reminds me very much of the MORPG timelines that we've seen recently.  Starting this month, there will be something new to see and learn in Star Wars every month or two until at least March, with more things undoubtedly planned to bring us up to the film release next December.  This is the kind of pre-planning that more closely resembles a MORPG, and seems designed to immerse the audience in the Star Wars universe - an audience that has been craving immersion for a very long time.

So with that calendar ahead of us, we head into the new era of Star Wars.  And right now we have the opportunity to start from the very beginning.

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