Thursday, December 16, 2010

Heirs to the Empire: What happens to Star Wars after George Lucas?

I.Where is Star Wars now?

The Star Wars franchise is on the upswing.  While the period between the Original Trilogy and the Prequel Trilogy is often referred to by the in universe moniker of the “Dark Times,” thankfully those days are over.  Before the prequels came around Lucasfilm with the Publisher Bantam Spectra started putting out novels and Dark Horse Comics took over the comic’s license, what became known as the Expanded Universe came into bloom.

Unlike many franchises, it has been Lucasfilm’s stated philosophy to maintain a single continuity across all of its media platforms.  So no matter what format you are consuming Star Wars on, you know that what you are consuming is part of the larger mosaic of the Star Wars story.  This was an ingenious if sometimes difficult to accomplish goal.  But the plus side for fans that have stuck with the franchise is an incredible depth of the Star Wars Universe in which to immerse yourself.  Minor characters or events simply hinted at, lay the seeds for future EU works that just keep expanding the universe farther and farther.  

I have read almost all of the Star Wars novels and I can say that there are times that I can remember the content of stories, but not the book or series it comes from, because I am remembering it in reference to the timeline or effect on an individual character.  This kind of immersion would not be possible with multiple continuities. 

In recent years we have seen Star Wars explode in popularity again with first the Special Edition releases, then the Prequel releases, and more recently the launch of The Clone Wars animated series on Cartoon Network. 

But the momentum isn’t stopping there; we still have recently announced 3D re-release of the 6 films starting in 2012 with Episode I: The Phantom Menace.  We have a currently in development Live Action TV series, the continuation of TCW of which season 5 is being written as we speak, as well as the novels, comics, essential guides, young reader books, video games, etc.  Let’s not forget the explosive popularity of the Star Wars Lego line and other toys/collectibles.

II.Where does Star Wars go in the future? 

Unfortunately mortality catches up with all of us in the end.  Mr. Lucas celebrated his 66th Birthday in May, and while he certainly appears to be in good health (and I certainly hope that continues for many more years), one begins to wonder what happens to the Star Wars franchise down the road when George is no longer there to guide the Star Wars ship.

There are two people stepping to the forefront of Star Wars story telling that appear to be worth successors to the Star Wars storytelling empire. 

Dave Filoni, the multitalented director, artist and writer, is the supervising director of The Clone Wars (TCW) has been working hand in hand with George in creating the new animated series since its inception.  The series not only has told some amazing stories (Landing at Point Rain, The Deserter, ARC Troopers, and Savage Opress) but also has been groundbreaking in its animation.  The quality of animation in this show is beyond what we see in most animated movies.  It works perfectly in the new high definition age and is the most stunningly beautiful material that I have seen on Blu Ray to date.  The phenomenal voice acting talent coupled with an appeal to both kids and adults make this series a real triumph.  Not to take a negative view but look at some of the old Droid or Ewok cartoons and think how far we have come in both the quality of the animation but also the quality of the story telling.  This is truly 22 miniature movies per season. 

Most of all Dave is coming from the perspective of a fan as seen by this Los Angeles Times interview;

"I can't even begin to tell you how strange and wonderful and great it's been," said Filoni, who has an earnest manner and easy laugh. "Just getting to meet George Lucas was pretty amazing, and then working with him and getting to be part of this process . . . it's a great responsibility. I feel like my job is to bring his universe to the screen and make sure it lives up to the standards he's set."

While there has been some angst from fans that worry about the TCW destroying Star Wars continuity, most notably over the Mandalorian controversy.  Dave is in the difficult position of balancing the stories he wants to tell, with the stories George wants to tell, while at the same time respecting as much as is possible the Expanded Universe that fans have come to love and cherish as a part of Star Wars.  Dave has done a very good job striking this balance and while not all episodes of the series have been great, even some of the slower paced political episodes have included very cool moments.  For example the recent Season 3 episode “Pursuit of Peace,” had a great closing scene between Chancellor Palpatine and his chief aide Mas Amedda which gave us a peak at the true face of Palpatine which is hidden for most of the Clone Wars. 

Katie Lucas, one of George Lucas’ children began working on TCW as a freelance writer and has since joined the writing staff for the show.  Her first writing credit is for Season 1 Episode 17 “Jedi Crash,” and she has begun getting more writing credits in Season 3.  Episode 3.4 “Sphere of Influence,” Episode 3.6 “The Academy,” and the forth coming 3 part Savage Opress Story arc, episodes 3.12 “Nightsisters,” 3.13 “Monster,” and 3.14 “Witches of the Mist.”

While there are a number of very talented writers on TCW who have produced many very good episodes, the three episode Savage Opress arc which has recently been screened on a limited basis is the best story that has appeared in the show to date.  It was three episodes edited seamlessly together into a movie that was both captivating and mind blowing.  I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen and I instantly wanted to know what happened next. 

I think that this is on par with the quality of the Star Wars films.  Katie and the rest of the writing staff crafted a story that has two compelling anti-hero leads in Asajj Ventress and Savage Opress.  Ventress finally gets some depth to her character and Savage Opress is not at all what I expected based on the teaser trailers for the episode, a much more complex monster and he has more characterization then Darth Maul ever received in Episode I. 

On top of that, she nailed of the crucial aspects of Star Wars storytelling, humor.  Like Aaron Allston when he writes novels, humor has to be sprinkled into Star Wars storytelling to make it feel right.  I won’t spoil the jokes, but Obi-Wan and Anakin have some jokes that made me laugh out loud at the screening.  It also makes you get a better sense of the complex relationship between these two men that are closer then brothers. 

No matter what the Future of the Star Wars franchise is, it’s been an incredibly fun adventure.  As long as talented people like Dave Filoni and Katie Lucas are taking the lead as creative forces behind the Star Wars franchise fans can be confident that the galaxy far far away is in good hands.
Thank you Dave and Katie, but most of all, thank you George

-Peter Morrison

Some links of interest that I used in researching this column.

Star Wars Insider Interview with Dave Filoni regarding Mandalorians (2010)

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