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Second Look – Fleeing the End: Reboot Strategies

In addition to this week being Eleven-ThirtyEight’s anniversary, a few days ago I got a notification that I’d officially been a member of the Jedi Council Forums for—wait for it—fifteen years.

There aren’t many of us around those parts with registration dates in the 20th century, but staff writer Ben Crofts is a part of that fraternity as well. And while fifteen years for me is almost half my life (and almost the entirety of my Star Wars fandom), Ben had the benefit of already being in his twenties in July of 1999, and of being a SW fan since 1983. What I mean to say is, for all the myriad experiences I’ve tried to bring to bear in my writing here, Ben’s experience trumps mine by a country mile.

So he was uniquely qualified to process fans’ all-too-predictable reactions to the Expanded Universe reboot a couple months ago, and group them into discrete categories as he did in Reboot Strategies, part of his then-ongoing Fleeing the End series. With his characteristic British joie de vivre, Ben calmly laid bare the range of camps us EU fans would be slowly filtering into—even as we were still figuring it out for ourselves—including the so-called “Lebowski Strategy”:

“All the Dude wanted was to keep Luceno’s work in, man! It really tied the EU together! And the Dude has a point. If Luceno, one of the best going at working collaboration, especially in the wake of Allston’s death, gets deemed non-canon, nothing’s safe. For this strategy, a certain laid-back attitude is essential. The Dude may well consider Star Wars: Tarkin an adequate replacement, if he gets it dirt cheap or free or talks Kathleen Kennedy into giving him a free copy, as it really ties the EU together.”

For the record? I’m a Senecan. Find out your own type at the link above and let us know which camp you’re in in the comments below.

Oh, and fifty points to anyone who can explain why I used the above picture.

Second Look – Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V: LucasArts, Inspiration and Appropriation

One of the first casualties of the Disney purchase was perhaps the most predictable one: after years of increasingly-questionable business practices and increasingly-desperate attempts to marry the gaming zeitgeist to a shiny Star Wars veneer (see above photo), LucasArts was officially put out of its misery in April of 2013—less than six months after the new owners moved in, and nine months before Dark Horse officially lost the comics license (though their existing contract may have prolonged that moment beyond what would otherwise have been the case).

Pundits from both the franchise and gaming sides of the tracks were quick to write their own post-mortems—one of the best, for my money, was this piece in Game Informer magazine—and most of those were quick to point to the alleged lack of imagination in even LucasArts’ bigger hits like The Force Unleashed as a sign of their impending demise as an independent game studio. Eleven-ThirtyEight guest writer Ben Wahrman disagreed, however, writing that “Star Wars video games have been derivative and unoriginal in a lot of ways since their very inception, and some of the most popular Star Wars games of all time wear their influences on their sleeves just as brazenly as TOR and TFU do.”

In Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V: LucasArts, Inspiration and Appropriation (and slow clap for that title, am I right?), Ben went on to cite several further examples of copycat games from LucasArts’ more respected years, from Republic Commando‘s Rainbow Six influences all the way back to the X-Wing series and Dark Forces—which you might know by its original title, Doom with Stormtroopers.

So if “appropriation” was part of LucasArts’ Star Wars strategy all along, what ultimately brought it down? Follow the link above for Ben’s take.

Second Look – Senseless Sexism in the Galactic Empire

Part of being what I’ve called a “wonk-friendly” Star Wars fansite is being willing to dive into even the most granular political messages embedded within the story, and trusting readers not just to keep up, but to care.

Those of us who have gotten to know ETE staff writer Jay Shah over at the Jedi Council Forums know him as “Grand Admiral Jello”, a died-in-the-wool Palpatine loyalist who wouldn’t spit on Mon Mothma if she were on fire. Don’t tell him I said this, but in truth, Jay’s as big-hearted as the old Chandrilan herself, and the Grand Admiral shtick is a means to both indulge in his genuine love of imperial pageantry and, I suspect, force people to reconsider a lot of their assumptions about just what the Empire would’ve been like (see: Running on Time, Trains), and what kind of people would’ve been operating within it.

One long-held pet peeve of Jay’s is the Expanded Universe’s hasty assumption, chiefly in the form of Admiral Daala, that since the Empire was a bunch of white guys who discriminate against aliens, they must naturally have discriminated against women, too. In Senseless Sexism in the Galactic Empire, Jay argues that misogyny “never made much sense as being one of those defining traits of the Galactic Empire.” He continued:

“Sexism in fiction generally has two authorial justifications: first, as a reflection of actual historical sexism in the setting of the story and second, as an attempt to engage and criticize contemporary sexism through the lens of a fictional story. Since Star Wars is an invented universe, the first justification is a bit of a reach despite the historical inspirations for the Galactic Empire, and the second justification is unconvincing because of the EU’s failure to adequately address in-universe sexism in a constructive fashion.”

Agree? Disagree? Click the link above for more.

Second Look – Star Wars and Genre

Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of the official launch of Eleven-ThirtyEight. While the newly-redesigned StarWars.com chose to celebrate our anniversary (okay, not really) by adding our site to their Community section (yes really), I decided to give the gang the week off. Some of you may remember that I did this last Christmas, as well, so given that this ended up being a nice opportunity for another break, I think I can go ahead and say Second Look is officially a biannual event from now on—once at Christmas, and once on our anniversary.

If you weren’t around last Christmas, Second Look is just what it sounds like: I’ve pored through the ol’ archives and picked out some of my favorite pieces from the past six months; things that maybe didn’t get as much attention as they deserved, or things that I just liked enough to want to read twice. I’ll be highlighting one such piece for each of the next five days, so stay tuned.

But first, I’m going to cheat a bit and reflect on not just one piece, but an entire series. Eleven-ThirtyEight’s most prolific series to date, in fact—Lucas Jackson’s Star Wars and Genre.

In his introduction to the series (which technically predates even the launch of the site), Lucas explained how genre offers the key to the Star Wars franchise’s near-universal appeal:

“The films demonstrated that the space opera genre was broad enough to encompass other styles of storytelling. The Expanded Universe has run with that breadth, drawing from all kinds of genres. It has even openly dabbled in genre crossovers that more directly and completely place genre stories into the Star Wars setting, such as Joe Schreiber’s zombie horror novels, the “Star Wars Goosebumps” series Galaxy of Fear, and the tragically-canceled “James Bond meets Star Wars” Agent of the Empire series. Since the very beginning of the Expanded Universe, when Han Solo and Chewbacca reenacted the plot of The Magnificent Seven on Aduba-3, only for the climax to involve fighting a giant monster alongside a Don Quixote stand-in, the EU has incorporated a stunning range of other genres into the Star Wars universe.”

While each entry in the series is enlightening on its own, Lucas’ most substantial accomplishment is to have compiled a breadth of topics worthy of Star Wars’ myriad roots. No matter what style of storytelling brought you here, chances are there’s a Star Wars and Genre article to explain it—and maybe even offer a new recommendation or two. Click any of the links below to be taken to a particular article, or click here to view the whole category at once, with the newest articles first.

Second Look – Programmable Souls: On Droids and Narrative

Beyond analyzing the Expanded Universe from a storytelling standpoint, another function I want this site to perform is to scrutinize what Star Wars is about, thematically, from an informed, adult perspective. It’s important to keep in mind that the films function, very deliberately, as children’s entertainment, but one of the great pleasures of SW for me is poking at the edges of that superficial narrative to see what deeper messages and implications can be extracted. When one of the first guest-article pitches I saw, from the inimitable Becca Hughes, was on the role of droids in the films’ explicit man-vs-machine paradigm, I knew I had a winner:

“Droids are magical helpers. Droids are familiars. If this were pure fantasy, Artoo-Detoo might well be Puck. Mechanizing the role is, once again, an easy way to adhere to the decor of the Star Wars universe, but slapping “droid” on both the comedy sidekicks and the faceless minions implies a commonality I don’t actually think is there. The similarities are cosmetic. Thinking of Threepio and Artoo as soulless is, well, soulless, but the movies clearly invite us not to think about battle droids as anything other than automata.”

This might be a purely intellectual exercise, Becca goes on to say, if not for the importance of Darth Vader—and by extension, narrative “warning signs” like Luke’s mechanical hand and the entirety of General Grievous—to the overall message of the story. If Vader’s irredeemability is evidenced by his being “more machine than man”, what does that say for the characters who are all machine? Click here to read what Becca had to say about it.