Monday, November 3, 2014

The end of the Star Wars Variations

I just wrote the last installment of the 101 Star Wars Variations.

To get the whole thing finished this year, because I'd gotten too far behind in the pace I should have been maintaining all year (in the early months I wrote about a third of what I should have and then half, and then only by May had I figured that out).  By the end of September, I'd determined to ramp up the process, writing one a day until I was finished in time for November, when I hoped to began my next novel, The Pond War (the name it's taken since the last time I mentioned it; also known as The Cement Pond and Belle York previously).

In a way, that forced me to do something I rarely do, which is follow the old writers adage of actually, you know, writing every day.  It was good practice, or so I figured, at the very least, preparing to write another whole book, something I'd previously learned how to do, of course, during NaNoWriMo, which I tackled for the first time ten years ago.

By the end of the Variations, I'd realized something important.  More important than this whole crazy idea (inspired by a comic book based on George Lucas's original draft, The Star Wars, which features familiar names and situations, but most of it severely jumbled up) being a giant compensation for the fact that I'd loved Star Wars my whole life but had never really written stories about it the way I had with Star Trek over the years.  (I'm more than caught up now, thanks!)  This was about realizing what Star Wars truly was for me, how and why I felt the way I did about it.

You see, I'm one of the fans who actually like the prequels.  I think I've realized why.  I never saw the originals any other way than as a trilogy.  By the time Return of the Jedi was released in theaters, I was all of two years old, far too young to have experienced it the way the first generation of fans had, after being part of the 1977 phenomenon that was the theatrical debut of Star Wars, when it didn't have Episode IV or A New Hope attached to its title, much less the 1980 revelation that was The Empire Strikes Back (in which Darth Vader delivered his shocking news to Luke Skywalker some four months before I was born).

I can appreciate how those first fans experienced the original trilogy.  As part of the second generation, the one that actually yearned for more movies and thought they would probably never happen even though the wait was really only sixteen years (chronologically younger than Luke was when the saga began), the originals stood in approximately the same vacuum, except for one key difference: for me the whole story, such as it was at the time, unfolded at the same time.  I never had a chance to consider any one film on its own but rather all three together, inseparable.  It was all one long arc.

For the first generation, I imagine that most of the fun with the first one was that it was exactly what it seems to be, a terrific science fiction experience, something that had never before been accomplished with such precision and skill, bombast, bravado, mystique...Basically everything you could want in a movie.  It was the birth of a whole new era.  Adventures began to dominate films more than ever before, with new purpose, with something to live up to, something to try and improve on (they're still trying, by the way).

For these fans, although they thrilled to the wild invention, it was the experience as a whole they savored.  They admired the individual components, the things that led to more movies, and it was far easier to differentiate, to prefer, to begin having those pesky...expectations.

Those fans are probably the bulk of the audience that ended up hating the prequels so much.  For second generation fans like me, and as you've no doubt heard repeatedly third generation ones, younger viewers, the prequels were easier to stomach.  The thing is, the prequels make perfect sense for the succeeding generations.  They expand on the story, especially because they're prequels, going backward to show how things began, to visualize things we already knew, the biggest one of them all, in fact: how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader.

For the later fans, it's easier to look at the full scope of it as a family saga.  We never really dwelt on the pesky inconsistencies of Luke and Leia's relationship, because we already knew what they were, that Leia would end up with Han despite their exceedingly contentious relationship, that Luke's journey was really about the redemption of his father rather than the traditional heroic quest meaning, essentially, that Star Wars wasn't really about the Rebellion against the Empire at all, even though that's what destroying a couple of Death Stars along the way represented.

Writing a series of stories exploring these elements, twisting them and turning them and pushing them to their logical limits, I realized more and more that Star Wars wasn't about the adventure at all, but its characters and how they relate to each other, their importance to each other, whether their last name was Skywalker or not.  I had to write exactly what I knew rather than create some other set of characters and some other random adventures, which is what most writers invariably do with Star Wars fiction and what I once read and then became incredibly weary with, because all of that entirely missed the point.  Star Wars is not random at all.  Treat it that way and you lose all perspective.

That first generation of fans, and who knows maybe even traitors from my own and whoever felt like sympathizing along the way, forgot all that.  They only remembered what they wanted to remember about Star Wars.  The romance, if you will, which ironically is also why they hated so many direct romantic gestures in the prequels, a galaxy that was on the verge of collapse.  They became nitpickers.  Nitpicking only exist when you've already made up your mind to hate something.  You will hear from most of those fans that they prefer, in the end, the dirty reality of the originals.  Do anything else with Star Wars and it ends up seeming like just another period drama.  Star Wars fans don't do period dramas.  That's the whole point, right?  They groove on Yoda admonishing Like about the Force, or Han being sarcastic about it, but they don't actually want to see Jedi running around all over the place, don't want to know the real rather than metaphorical source of their powers.  Anything more complicates things.  They had all the complications they wanted in the originals, thank you.  Been there done that.

Immersing myself in something like that, anyway, got me to write a lot of short works, and maybe even got me to think more about what I write.  They call this stuff fan fiction, but I don't like thinking in such terms.  The characters may be familiar, and even the situations, but it's still me doing all the thinking, figuring out where it's all headed.  It takes different shapes, one more than a hundred of them, actually.  That's what writers do all the time.  They reinterpret the world around them, try to make sense out of it, even when it seems other people have done it and done it better before them.  It's a challenge.

Writers ought to like challenges.


  1. I think you summed it up well how the different generations felt about the films. I was a teen when Star Wars came out and remember standing in a huge line to see the film. I did get to experience those films first run, and no, I don't like the third trilogy.

    1. It'll be interesting to see how much J.J. Abrams replicates from the originals and what he does that's new.


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