09 January 2011

Obligatory "Star Wars" Blu-ray Post

The short version: There will be three box sets released this September.  The Prequel Trilogy and Original Trilogy will be available separately, or you can go whole hog and get The Complete Saga box with all six movies and three(!) bonus discs chock full of 30+ hours of bonus content including a ton of never-before-seen footage.  Fans across the world are already regurgitating the almost-14-year-old gripes about preferring the original Original Trilogy, how the Special Edition alterations "raped" their childhood, how George Lucas exposed himself as a lazy hack in need of supervision with the prequels, etc.

Frankly, I'm exhausted just recapping it, much less participating in it myself.  The bottom line is, I always felt too many fans had an unjustly high opinion of the Original Trilogy in the first place.  If the worst thing to happen to your childhood was that Greedo later shot at Han Solo first, then I say stuff your hyperbole and act like an adult.  Some people actually had real trauma in their childhood, and the only thing you accomplish with this kind of accusation is proving that your life to date has lacked any meaningful perspective.  They're fantasy movies, folks.

Like any half-way committed fan, I can rattle off a list of the running changes to the Original Trilogy that I don't mind and those that baffle me.  In case you were unaware, not only were some scenes altered in 1997 for the Special Edition releases, but in 2004 some further changes were made when the movies were released on DVD.  At this point, I'm not apprehensive that there will be yet more changes for the forthcoming Blu-ray box; I'm actually anticipating them.  For starters, we know that Industrial Light & Magic have had a digital Yoda in the works to replace the unimpressive puppet used in 1999's The Phantom Menace (it was briefly previewed in one of the bonus features on the Revenge of the Sith DVD in 2005).  It'll be interesting, I think, to see what reaction the younger fans have to their trilogy being tinkered with after all these years.  Maybe they'll respond with the same kind of "leave it alone!" mentality that their elders in the geek community have asserted since '97.  We'll see.

In other Star Wars news, I've just found out (even though it was announced in October) that this July will see the publication of a new novel penned by Timothy Zahn.  It's hard to believe, but this is the 20th anniversary of his Heir to the Empire, the novel that (for all intents and purposes) revived Star Wars.  I came to the books a little late, though I had seen them prominently displayed at the Waldenbooks and Hawley-Cooke Booksellers I liked to frequent at the time.  I bought it in paperback and read it in middle school, along with the other two-thirds of that original trilogy, Dark Force Rising and The Last Command.  Hard to believe it's been 20 years.

Anyway, the new novel is Choices of One and is set in the period between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back.  Not surprisingly, the preliminary cover art prominently displays Zahn's primary character Mara Jade (introduced in the aforementioned Heir to the Empire).  For the most part, I quit reading Star Wars novels ages ago.  I know a lot of fans enjoy them, especially the way that they're all structured to build upon one another, but I haven't been compelled to even browse one in more than a decade.  The lone exception is Zahn.  I've read each of his Star Wars novels, finding them largely entertaining.

I appreciate is that, for the most part, his confines his references to either events established in the movies or in his own novels.  I don't feel that I need a reference guide to all the other Star Wars books published since his last novel to understand what I'm reading.  It helps.  I get lost just looking at the back cover synopsis of the average Star Wars novel these days.  I have a very vague idea about Han and Leia's son growing up and turning to the dark side.  I think either he killed his younger brother, or his younger brother killed him or something.  I don't know.  I don't really care, either.  The reason is simple: I feel like these novels exist purely for the sake of letting authors play in the Star Wars sandbox, rather than having a story of their own tell that's actually about something.  Star Wars was never the kind of social allegory that Star Trek was, of course, but it seems to me that beneath the superficial level of name-dropping peripheral characters just to create the image of cohesion is very little actual substance.  If you enjoy them, that's great; they just don't call to me.

That said, I do have an interest in the handful of novels published around the time of the original movies.  There were only ten; seven if you exclude the novelizations of the three movies.  The remaining seven include a trilogy of books by Brian Daley featuring Han Solo, set before Star Wars, a trilogy by L. Neil Smith featuring Lando Calrissian set during his time as owner of the Millennium Falcon and the first ever original Star Wars novel, Alan Dean Foster's Splinter of the Mind's Eye.  What I find most appealing about them is how oblivious they are of anything else Star Wars-related.  Being from that nascent era, there was no over-arching structure to the "Expanded Universe."

You may recall my review of Splinter of the Mind's Eye when I re-read it in 2009, noting how incongruous it is with modern Expanded Universe stories--and even, to a large extent, by The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.  I'm sure most modern readers place an asterisk beside it, noting it for its place in the annals of Star Wars storytelling history, but glossing over it as though it never happened in their current novel continuity.  That's fine, but I favor that novel precisely because it's rough around the edges and doesn't feel like it came off the paperback assembly line.

So, in a nutshell: I'm in the "Get Over It" camp regarding the movies, the "I Like the Old Stories Better" camp regarding the novels and look forward to both the Blu-ray box set and Timothy Zahn's novel.

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