Thursday, November 13, 2008

Star Wars: A universe too big for you NOT to find something to like

Not everybody likes stories set in outer space.

Perhaps it's the aliens or spaceships or laser guns that tend to appear in such stories. Maybe it's the often-questionable physics of various people's ideas of space travel, or the impenetrable technobabble that usually goes along with the futuristic technology necessary for survival in space. Or it could be that there just aren't enough elves, dwarves, crime scene investigators, or game show hosts in outer space.

If space isn't your thing, that's okay. But don't give up on Star Wars because of it.

And when I say "Star Wars," I'm not just referring to the 1977 film. I'm referring to all the films. I'm referring to the TV shows, the novels, the toys, the video games, the comics, the tabletop roleplaying games, the fan films and fan fiction, and, if I have to, the Strategic Defense Initiative.

Star Wars is long past its phase as a movie franchise. Star Wars is a universe of its own. It is a way of life for some people. For others, it's just a diversion, or an important fandom, but nothing any more life-consuming than anything else they like.

Regardless of how involved (or not involved!) in Star Wars you are, there's always something more to be experienced, always something more to like.

Heroes. Anti-heroes. Regular, flawed people who just happen to pilot space freighters instead of driving trucks; ordinary folks who struggle with the same internal issues we do who just happen to be in tune with some mystical energy field that allows them to choke a pig without using their hands.

Amusing banter between quirky characters. Brilliant explosions and expertly choreographed duels. Colorful costumes and creative character concepts. Incredible plot twists that have surely already been ruined for you.

Not only does Star Wars consist of an incalculable number of planets and alien races, but it also consists of thousands upon thousands of years of history, with specific time periods such as the Clone Wars and the Old Republic era receiving endless attention. Think about how many stories there are to tell about our little ol' planet Earth in the amount of time it's been around, and then multiply that by roughly a gajillion.

Star Wars has a lot of stories to tell, and while Star Wars tends to have a high quotient of action, adventure, aliens, space, and crazy technology, that doesn't mean that every story is going to be steeped in such things.

That's why you don't need to see any of the movies to be a fan of Star Wars. The movies are just the beginning. But becoming a fan doesn't mean that you need to sleep in Yoda jammies. And you most certainly do not need to put a video of yourself on the Internet making a fool out of yourself in the name of Star Wars.

But, honestly, it's okay if you do. If you're that dedicated a fan, you're entitled to it. I, for one, will do my best to keep my ridicule of you to a minimum.

Now, I firmly believe that Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope) is an essential piece of American cinema that should be required viewing for anyone with a pulse (showing movies to corpses is just weird), along with its sequel, Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.

Regardless of which Star Wars movie is your favorite, I feel that these two films have had the greatest impact on America's movie industry, lexicon, parody genre, and culture in general.

The characters, music, quotes, memorable scenes, and creative concepts introduced in these two movies have become integrated into the American psyche. Not only are these films great entertainment, they are culturally significant.

However, if you keep trying and simply can't sit through any of the movies, or if you've seen the movies and have an insatiable appetite for more, there's hope for you yet.

Let me begin by saying that you can find more information about most anything I bring up here in Wookieepedia, the Star Wars wiki (just beware of spoilers). Onward!

First, there are the comics by Dark Horse and the books. There are almost too many to keep track of:

- stories about the lives of the films' main characters, before, during and after the events of the films
- short stories about Episode V's bounty hunters and the minor characters in Episode IV's cantina scene
- stories about characters who never appeared in the films at all, or about characters and events that happened several thousand years before the events of the films
- detailed encyclopedias of any kind of information you could possibly imagine about the aliens, weapons, clothing, etc. in the Star Wars universe
- books with articulately illustrated cross-sections of spaceships

...And those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head.

Second, there are the video and computer games. Just pick a genre and you'll probably find a Star Wars game that suits you.

Star Wars: Rogue Squadron III: Rebel StrikeFirst-person shooters, roleplaying, racing, real-time strategy, fighting, platformer, and action/adventure games are all represented, and there are surely others I've forgotten.

I'd also like to add that the Star Wars games have a strong track record of critical acclaim. Knights of the Old Republic and the Jedi Knight series are two personal favorites that are frequently cited for their excellence, and the Rogue Squadron series (pictured) is among them as well.

These aren't just great Star Wars games; these are games that are outstanding examples of their respective genres, meaning you don't need to be a Star Wars fan to appreciate their excellence.

Third, there are the "other" movies such as the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special that mysteriously never gained the widespread appeal that the original trilogy did. Lovers of cute, fuzzy forest creatures may like Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure and Ewoks: The Battle for Endor. If you prefer CGI to live action, then The Clone Wars, a "fluff" action-oriented film, might be for you.

Fourth, in the TV realm, you might have heard about the animated adventures of the droids and Ewoks. If these aren't exactly your cup of blue milk, consider the animated or the CGI Clone Wars series (two different series by the same name) that help to bridge the gap between Episode II and Episode III.

However, if droids and Ewoks are for you, I hope you got Mommy's permission to use the Internet today.

Fifth, there are the tabletop roleplaying games, one released by West End Games and one more recently released by Wizards of the Coast. Don't like outer space? Run a game where the characters stay on a planet the whole time. Don't like the way the prequel trilogy turned out? Play in someone's alternate version. And let's not forget the Star Wars Miniatures game, which also falls under our next category...

Sixth: the collectables! Recreate your favorite scenes from the movies with action figures, or send the characters off on new adventures. Or proudly display them in their packages alongside your model TIE fighter to spruce up your room. Make LEGO Darth Vader the king of your LEGO castle. Go outside and have a lightsaber duel with your friends. I've done it. It's great.

Seventh, there are the endless parodies and fan videos. Mel Brooks' Spaceballs is a fantastic spoof of Star Wars that requires no knowledge of anything to enjoy, but is so much better if you've seen the original Star Wars trilogy. Beyond that, you'll find straight-up parodies; crossovers with The Matrix, Star Trek, and even The Crocodile Hunter; fan-created, professional-quality lightsaber battles; and tributes, such as this video of an a cappella tribute to Star Wars and the music of composer John Williams, who did the music for Star Wars.

Whether it's the movies, the books, the games, the TV shows, the collectables, or the parodies and fan films that most appeal to you, I can promise that Star Wars is worth a look.

Star Wars
isn't just Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi. It's not just X-Wings and the Death Star. It's not just Ewoks and Jar-Jar Binks. It's a sprawling universe of creativity that is vast enough to contain at least one gadget, character, planet, or battle that is sure to pique your interest.

If nothing else, you can do dorky things with your lightsabers:

Exfanding Your Horizons logo spelled out with lightsabers...You can never have too many lightsabers.

[Top image from morenoman78's Photobucket album. Rogue Squadron III image from Lightsaber photo by Flashman85. Yes, those are my lightsabers. Thanks to Clive and a certain anonymous poster for comments about things to add. Many Bothans died to bring you this post.]


Anonymous said...

Things that need to be added to this post:

- Parodies such as "Spaceballs"

- Opera Tribute on youtube:

- The non-animated Ewok movies: "Caravan of Courage" and "The Battle for Endor"

- Wookieepedia:

A concerned fangirl

Anonymous said...

There's plenty of fan films out there for fans to dig, and many of them cross over with other franchises, like The Matrix, Trek, The Crocodile Hunter and so forth. If you want to find out more about the world of fan films, you might want to check out my daily fan film blog, Also, for what it's worth, I wrote the first book about the history and future of fan films, Homemade Hollywood, which is coming out at the end of November in bookstores everywhere.

Flashman85 said...

Thank you both; I've integrated your comments into the post.

Clive, I'm also adding your blog to our blogroll. Great stuff.

Who says shameless promotion is a bad thing? ;)