Monday, May 02, 2022

I Grow Tired Of Writing This Article, So It Will Be The Last Time (1)

I want to talk about the last four episodes of Season 6 of ther Clone Wars.

Ther Clone Wars is a Star Wars cartoon series. It originally ran from 2008 to 2014. A final Seventh Season came out in 2020; which led directly into a new cartoon called The Bad Batch .

Season 1 - 6 took place in between Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Season 7 ran more or less alongside Episode III. The Bad Batch takes up the story where Revenge of the Sith leaves off, in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the Republic.

It must always be referred to as Ther Clone Wars to distinguish it from an earlier, 2003 series of animated shorts which was just called Clone Wars.

Nearly everyone agrees that Star Wars Episodes I, II and III ("the prequels") were not very good. The level of not-very-goodness is disputed. Some people think they were a bit of a disappointment and not nearly as much fun as the original trilogy. Some people think that George Lucas raped their childhoods. But everyone with even a passing interest in Star Wars accepts that they are, and I am awfully sorry to use this word, canon.

You may very well think that Phantom Menace spoiled A New Hope and that Jar-Jar Binks was not particularly funny: but if I tell you that in ther Clone Wars the Jedi Council on Coruscant gives Anakin a Padawan named Ashoka, you know what a padawan is, and where Corsucant is, and what I mean by the Jedi Council.

It may be that when Princess Leia says that years ago Obi-Wan served her father in the Clone Wars, you still imagine an army of Jedi Knights fighting against an army of Clones. It may be that you imagine Jedi as Knights in Shining Armour rather than Samurai. It may be that you think that that version of the Clone Wars would have been more fun. But I don't think that anyone who is still interested in Star Wars remotely doubts that Lucas's backstory, clunkily expounded though it might have been, is what really happened.

I grant that this may be a No-True-Scotsman fallacy: everyone who likes Star Wars 'believes in' the prequels, because everyone who doesn't believe in the prequels long ago stopped liking Star Wars. 

Ther Clone Wars went a very long way to reconciling those two contradictory feelings. We might even say that it redeemed the Prequels. Maybe the kid-friendly animated format allowed Lucas to loosen up and offer us what is essentially "Revenge of the Sith, only fun." Or maybe he just sub-contracted his world to creators who were less jaded about it. At any rate, ther Clone Wars gives us a series of heroic, swashbuckling war stories in which Obi-Wan, Anakin and Ashoka fight endless thrilling battles against Christopher Lee and General Greivous, with light-sabre duels and space dogfights and literal cliffhangers, but with a mounting sense that Anakin's destiny is a bit on the Dark Side. 

The cinematic prequels were not movies so much as exercises in back-story management. The cartoon series is much more in the realm of Lucas's original vision -- Flash Gordon with Politics.

A young Republican officer starts talking about the need for authoritarian rule; Obi-Wan says that this is not the Jedi Way, but Anakin thinks he may have a point. The officer's name, is, of course, Tarkin. The Third On The Left in the Jedi Council ("Plo Koon") goes off on missions and quests. A Young Boy falls in first with a group of clones and then with a group of Bounty Hunters: he turns out to be the son of Jango Fett. (This is why Bobba tells Cadd Bane, the gunfighter/bounty hunter in the live action Book of Bobba Fett "I am not a little boy any more".) Darth Maul recovers from his death and briefly becomes dictator of the planet Mandalor. Obi-Wan has a dalliance with a Mandalorian duchess, who meets a tragic end. It may be she first gave him the nick-name Ben.

Some people like this kind of thing; sone people find it a bit annoying. It is not that surprising that a Star Wars cartoon contains references and quotes from the Star Wars movies; but we may not have been expecting Star Wars live-action shows to quote from and refer to the cartoons. I suppose animation is regarded by many people as a junior art-form. For a long time cartoon spin-offs of movies were disposable fare for Saturday morning kids slots. Who now remembers Bill and Teds Excellent Adventures and the Real Ghostbusters? Gene Roddenbury took the animated Star Trek rather seriously, but that didn't stop the BBC putting it in the Scooby Doo slot.

I saw someone complain on Twitter recently that in order to understand the significance of the Dark Sabre in the Mandalorian you first had to watch several hundred hours of cartoons. (In fairness, they may have meant that some Star Wars fans talk as if that was the case.) This is not literally true; you could watch the whole of Clone Wars and Rebels in sixty or seventy hours. And you certainly don't need to go back to the cartoon to follow the live action show. Everything you need is explained right there on screen: the Dark Sabre is a kind of Mandalorian Excalibur. The person with the sword has the right to rule the planet.

Does knowing that there are several other stories about the Dark Sabre that you have not watched necessarily make this one less fun? 

Does having watched several other stories about the Dark Sabre necessarily make this one more fun? 

Is the Lord of the Rings a better book once you have read the Silmarillion and know who Turin and Turgon and Even Beren Himself were? Is it exactly the same book whether you know who they are or not? Or does the reference to off-stage-lore completely ruin the book for you and make you chuck it aside in disgust?

Will I get the jokes in Guards, Guards if I haven't read all forty one Discworld novels? Is there any point in going to see Dune if I haven't read Frank Herbert's son's nineteen prequels? 

Is this, in fact, exactly the same essay I wrote about Doctor Who last week?

What Kind of a Star Wars fan are you?

1: "I didn't realise that this TV show contains references to other TV shows, cartoons and movies."

I have a colleague who remarked that they have been greatly enjoying the Mandalorian despite never having seen a Star War before. She doesn't see it as part of a saga: she's just enjoying it as cowboys in space. 

I see R2 Units and X-Wings and Jawas. She sees, presumably, Robots and Aliens and Space Ships.

2: "I know that this TV show contains references to other TV shows, cartoons and movies, but I don't think that it matters."

I watched Frasier without ever having seen an instalment of Cheers. From time to time a character from the old series turned up in Seattle. It meant there was the odd in-joke I didn't get. I didn't feel the need to go away and watch the previous series (although I understand it's very good) but neither did I say Kelsey Gramer hates me I have to go away and watch two hundred hours of comedy set in a bar before I understand why Dr Crane has a son by previous marriage.

3: "I know that this TV show contains references to other TV shows, cartoons and movies and I think that is all part of the fun: I positively enjoy collecting all the story elements and spotting the connections."

Ooo, Sir, me, me, me, me, me!

4: "I know that this TV show contains references to other TV shows, cartoons and movies and this ruins it for me."

Some people are completists. Some people feel that they can only watch this series if they watch all the other series as well. But they don't want to watch all the other series. So they are cross with this series for mentioning the old shows, and cross with the old shows for existing. And possibly cross with the new show for existing as well. 

People who take this view often pretend that when people talk about ther Clone Wars they are actually talking about the 1980s Droids and Ewoks TV shows. 

It may be a sort of a narrative Fear of Missing Out: if I can't have it ALL, then I want NONE OF IT. It may be a kind of moral principle, that all stories should be self-contained and if a story is not self-contained it is breaking the rules. Some people were cross with ther Batman because it didn't show the origin of Bruce and Commissioner Gordon's friendship, but kind of assumed you already knew.

We should, not of course forget that there is also

5: Somewhere in between.

This category includes nearly everyone reading this, and indeed, nearly everyone in the world. 

There is no doubt that Star Wars has become quite complicated. Before The Force Awakens, Lucasfilms was rather pragmatic about the Universe. All stories were canon, but some were more canon than others. (There was primary canon and secondary canon and tertiary canon, with the movies at the top and the holiday special at the bottom and most of the novels somewhere in between.) Since the reboot, there are only two kinds of story: "happened", and "didn't happen" with everything that did happen fitting into a fairly coherent timeline. 

This creates a rather sprawling narrative architecture: if you took a step back and tried to take it all in with a single glance, your brain would quite probably turn into to processed peas. Perhaps that is the real difference between the Type 4 Star Wars fan (who hates lore and canon) and the Type 3 Star Wars fan (who revels in them.) One prefers a perfectly formed work of art that you can see and appreciate the shape of; the other prefers a huge baroque maze that you will get lost in. Oedipus Rex versus The Faery Queene; The Go-Between versus Ulysses; G Minor Tocata and Fugue over The Ring Cycle. 

It is no secret which side of the fence I come down on.

Perfectly sensible adults who read proper books and watch proper movies have claimed to be confused by the fact that Episodes I, II and III came out after Episodes IV, V and VI. Oh these whacky space fiction fans who don't even count like we do! I wonder how they would cope with the fact that the cartoon, which fills in the big blank space between the fifth and sixth (by which I mean the second and third) movies started twelve months after the second (by which I mean the first) trilogy was complete.

We are not talking about crossovers. There have always been crossovers. Scooby Doo met Batman: amusing people have pointed out that Batman met Alien and Alien met Predator and Predator met Terminator so Terminator and Scooby Doo share a setting. That's neither very interesting nor very funny. Batman gatecrashed Superman's radio show before World War II; and Stan Lee treated the Fantastic Four as part of Spider-Man's supporting cast before Philip Larkin had discovered sexual intercourse. But we are still talking about separate narrative units which happen to allude to each other. No-one was ever really suggesting that the Fantastic Four and Milly the Model made sense as a single narrative. Someone has tried the experiment of reading every Marvel Comic in order and pretending it was one big story. But that was never how they were meant to be read.

Alastair Grey's novel Lanark is divided into four parts: the first part describes the protagonist in a kind of allegorical purgatory; the second and third parts show his realistic life in 1960s Glasgow; the final part resumes his posthumous odyssey. As a kind of jape, the index lists the books as Part 4, part 1, part 2 and part 3, in that order: but he notes in his epilogue (which comes in the middle) that lots of books are intended to be read in one order but eventually though of in a different order. Godfather Part II, which embeds a prequel inside a sequel, springs obviously to mind. There is also a quite good little movie called Citizen Kane.

This is why there is no sensible answer to the question about the correct order in which to read the Narnia books. You should read the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe first, but eventually think of the Magicians Nephew first. The question "What order should I read or watch them in?" only really applies to the very first reading; and there is really no such thing as a first reading. We all know who Luke Skywalker's dad is and what Aslan is an allegory of and who Rosebud was before we start. 

Many years ago I proposed that Star Wars should be thought of, not as a straight narrative line but as a spiral. My idea was that the Prequels to some extent changed the meaning of the Original Trilogy; and that both "meanings" could exist in your head at the same time. When Obi-Wan tells Luke that Vader killed his father, he is both telling the truth and lying; when Luke kisses Leia, it's both a flirtatious snog between two teenagers and a slightly creepy moment between two siblings. 

I expressed that thought as a swirly flow chart in which Star-Wars-Once-You-Have-Seen-Empire-Strikes-Back is a different movie from Star-Wars-Before-You-Have-Seen-Empire-Strikes-Back; and The-Trilogy-Before-You-Have-Seen-The-Prequels is a different set of films from The-Trilogy-After-You-Have-Seen-The-Prequels. 

The addition of more material -- a third trilogy and two stand alone films; four cartoon series; two live action series and more on the way -- turns my elegant spiral into a knotty web. A big ball of wibbly wobbly lore. Mapping out how the cartoons relate to the TV shows would be quite beyond my capacity; and don't even mention the comics...

It is possible to imagine someone watching the entire Star Wars canon, never having seen any of the movies before, in strict chronological order. It is also possible to imagine visiting them in a padded cell once they were finished. First Phantom Menace, then Attack of the Clones, then the first six Seasons of Clone Wars, then Revenge of the Sith, then the Bad Bunch, then Rebels, and then (if you are quick), the original trilogy itself. (If you are not quick, you'll have to squeeze in Obi-Wan after Rebels but before Rogue One.) I suppose a true chronological reading would require you to watch Season Seven of the Clone Wars and Revenge of the Sith simultaneously, via some sort of split-screen effect. Maybe some film school dude could edit them together as a project: I believe there is a linear edit of Citizen Kane in existence, and there was a TV series re-editing the Godfather in historical sequence. I'd rather like to see it again. Don't get me started chronological Bibles.

If you were watching The Whole of Star Wars In Order for the first time, you would come to -- say -- Episode One of The Bad Batch and notice that some attention is given to a young Jedi Padawan who escapes when the Clone Troopers execute Order 66. (His mentor is the lady of Asian appearance who sits on the Jedi council in Phantom Menace.) "I wonder who that character is" you would say "I bet he is going to turn out to be important later on". And you'd be right: he grows up to be Kanan, who teaches Ezra about the Force in Rebels. But this is arguably not how you are meant to view the scene. It is certainly not how most people first experienced it. Bad Batch came out in 2021 and Rebels ended in 2018. So arguably, the "correct" response is "Oh wow -- Kanan when he was a little boy!"

But perhaps "intention" and "chronological readings" break down in this kind of narrative web. Perhaps all that matters is that there are little cross-temporal links between the different formats. Perhaps the fact nearly everyone gets some connections and hardly anyone get all of them is the core fact about the aesthetic. The object of the exercise is not to catechise us about every previous appearance of the Dark Sabre, or to try and remember when Rex transitioned from being a background grunt to being a major character, and if he is going to appear in Obi-Wan. Perhaps the object is that we don't -- can't possibly -- get every reference. Perhaps that is what creates the compelling illusion that what we are watching is not just a story, but also an historical text. 

I: Phantom Menace

II: Attack of the Clones

Clone Wars Seasons 1-5

III: Revenge of the Sith

Clone Wars Season 7

The Bad Batch


?? Obi-Wan


Rogue One

IV: Star Wars

V: The Empire Strikes Back

VI: Return of the Jedi

The Mandalorian

The Book of Boba Fett

VII: The Force Awakens

Resistance Season 1

VIII: The Last Jedi

Resistance Season 2

IX: The Rise of Skywalker


Andrew Ducker said...

"We all know who Luke Skywalker's dad is and what Aslan is an allegory of and who Rosebud was before we start."

My daughter doesn't. And I'm rather hoping to show her the movies before someone at school tells her.

I'm very tempted to follow Machete order. ( But then I'm also very tempted to use the fanedits from ( and ) which tighten things up rather a lot and remove the worst of the humour. So I'm clearly a terrible person!

Andrew Ducker said...

Ooooh, and I've just discovered this, which looks perfect for watching the original movies without Lucas' later additions:

Thomas said...

This essay suggests to me that you might like the Dungeon comics by Joann Sfar & Lewis Trondheim. It's a fantasy series with a story that unfolds at three levels, chronicling the rise, bloom and fall of the eponymous Dungeon, with lots of connections between levels and a publication history that indicates telling this story chronologically was never a concern.


Andrew Ducker said...

Oh, and of course the broadcast order for The Clone Wars is not the same as chronological order:

Achille Talon said...

But everyone with even a passing interest in Star Wars accepts that they are, and I am awfully sorry to use this word, canon.

No they don't!

*waves hand*

I accept that the Original Trilogy are canon *to* them, when it is the Prequels that I am watching, but I am more than capable of shunting them out of mind when I am watching the originals, and attributing an entirely different backstory to them. Indeed, I am very capable — very prone — to watching the 1977 picture in such a way that Anakin Skywalker is really dead, and that the Emperor is a puppet ruler controlled by Tarkin rather than an elderly sorcerer in black robes. I have my own ideas about what the Clone Wars were; I know other people with their own unrelated theories; and I might, on a given viewing, choose to focus on one or the other perspective.

This might seem a little radical of me. But I don't think it is. I think that many Star Wars fans are quite able, when they are watching "Return of the Jedi", to flit back and forth between imagining that Luke will go on to live through this or that EU novel, and that he will go on to live through "The Last Jedi". Neither needs be more real than the other; you are just asked to make room in your brain for two distinct Star Wars Universes, which happen to have events in common in the middle.

Or to put it another way: there aren't just three Star Wars prequel narratives, there are hundreds. Thousands. Millions. Sure, only one of them (which happens to be one of multiple prequel narratives that George Lucas made up) has been frozen in amber in the form of three somewhat bloated Hollywood blockbusters. But why should movies be more real than tales you tell yourself? Fiction is fiction. You decide what goes on in the Star Wars Universe(s) In Your Head, not anyone else.

(It is my view that experiencing fiction, insofar as it is engaged with as fiction, is a creative act, and that this is the soul of the thing. You are invited to build up an imaginary world in your head using the external text as a guide. Some authors may hope that they'll put the world in their head down so vividly, that the world you build up again in your head will be as similar to their own conception as possible; but this never works 100%, and fiction would be a lot less fun if it did.)

SK said...

You decide what goes on in the Star Wars Universe(s) In Your Head, not anyone else.

‘That's not music, Martelli. That's masturbation.’

Achille Talon said...


Mmh. No, I don't accept that. You would maybe have an argument, maybe, if I was talking about ignoring a given story itself; about saying "no, in my head Obi-Wan doesn't say 'I will become more powerful than you could possibly imagine', he says 'goodbye, Darth, and good luck', and in my head Luke Skywalker has curly red hair". That would be breaking the rules of the fiction-game — refusing to abide by the details given in the text you're experiencing.

But I'm not saying that. I'm talking about how, when approaching a given work, you are going to fill out all the gaps left there for your imagination to fill out. Choosing to approach "Return of the Jedi" irrespective of "Revenge of the Sith" (or indeed, "Revenge of the Sith" irrespective of "Ther Clone Wars") seems a deeply different proposition to me from choosing to approach "Return of the Jedi" irrespective of *itself*. The latter would be throwing out the rules of the game to such a degree as to render it meaningless, such that you might as well just be daydreaming in your own head without any handrails. But the former is refusing to let an overgrowth of proliferating handrails drown out the fun of the game.

You want to talk music — well. Suppose you, a pianist, flatly decide that you're not going to play the score as written, then… well, I wouldn't call it masturbation (the Enigma Variations aren't masturbation, are they?), but granted, you've left the realm of interpretation. However, as I see it, choosing to interpret "A New Hope" on its own terms, and ponder what world you can extrapolate from it alone, is more like approaching a given score with fresh eyes, without a care for how previous maestros and musical critics in vogue think it *ought* to be played. Affixing yourself to what Bach wrote, and hanging onto those predetermined notes the emotions and rhythm that *you* think it is most moving and interesting to hang onto them, rather than what Dino Lipatti says is the best way to play it, or indeed, what Bach himself may or may not have written down in his journal on the subject.

This is not judgment on people who cannot conceive of watching "A New Hope" any other way than as part of the specific Star Wars Universe that most resembles what a given Disney bigwig this week says the Lawful Star Wars Universe looks like. But. That is the enterprise which I say ceases to quite be "experiencing fiction" at all. "It's not music, it's a crossword puzzle", you might say.

Also, *I* get dozens of arbitrarily complex fictional worlds that include the Force and Jedi and bounty hunters to play with in my head. You get just the one. And, I suppose, some sort of satisfaction of knowing that yours is one that is approved of by a fairly arbitrary system of “canon” rooted in the demented pettiness of the modern Western copyright system… but I expect I get to have more fun. And isn't that the important thing?

Andrew Rilstone said...

I think we are talking about two things here.

No, I think we are talking about seventeen things.

But two for the minute:

One: Some people, particularly The Young, treat films and books almost as raw material for fan fiction: before the movie has finished they are shipping this and slashing that and deciding that the the fourth stormtrooper on the right, the cute one with a moustache, deserves his own series. I used to do the same with role playing games: almost my first thought about a TV show was "How would I game this". There is nothing wrong with this. There is nothing wrong with sampling music; reinterpreting scores. There is nothing wrong with a production of Shakespeare in which Henry V is a gay black man in the Spanish civil war; there is nothing wrong with a new play about a gay black man in the Spanish civl war which happens to use some of Shakespeare's words but not others. I was about to say "There is nothing wrong with jazz" but that's obviously crazy talk.

However, this is not, in my opinion, reading a text; it's using a text. In the same way that you might very well ski down a mountain on cello, but that doesn't make you a cellist.

Two: Every literary text is absolutely a compromise between "what is on the page" and "what is going on in your head" -- the New Critics were barking up an incorrect tree when you said you have to read what is there and nothing else. Oedipus Rex, for example, pretty much depends for its entire literary and emotional effect on the fact that you know what Oedipus did (or at least one of things he did) before you took your seat in the theatre. So, absolutely, "what I foresee happening next" and "what I imagine happening before" are parts of the experience of watching Star Wars. And indeed, part of the experience of watching Empire Strikes Back is "what I fore-saw happening, and how this differs from it." And part of the experiencing of watching Star Wars then becomes "what I foresaw happening when I first saw this film; and what a Empire Strikes Back depicted as happening, and how they differ". And so on through as many iterations as you like: this was kind of the point I was trying to make about the spiral.

I think that (if you read comic books) it is absolute essential to read the Fantastic Four 48-50 as if it was still 1968 and this is still Kirby's Silver Surfer -- the alien being who doesn't know what it means to eat, doesn't understand that some planets have sentient life on them, and doesn't know what love means. And I also think that it is impossible to read those comics without thinking that they are about Stan Lee's inferior version of the Silver Surfer. What would, I think, be absolutely silly would be to read Dan Slott's (very good) Silver Surfer series and say "This is very strange: the Surfer keeps talking as if he had a girl friend named Shalla Ball on some planet called Zenn La, wheras in fact he didn't know what love was until he met Alicia Masters." (I literally read someone on the internet who was VERY CROSS INDEED because -- according to rumour -- elements from the Sequel Trilogy would be referenced in the forth coming Obi Wan TV Show. But the Sequel Trilogy did not happen, because we all know that Luke would never have pulled a lightsaber on his son and therefore all other Star Wars literature can naturally be expected to ignore that material...)

I don't think copyright quite comes into it: I think that Star Wars is a text. But I agree that you can define the text narrowly and widely.

(Is it possible for anyone in the west to insulate their reading of the Hebrew Bible from Christian interpretations of it which were clearly not what the text "originally meant". Is the American constitution the text, what the people who wrote the text meant the text to mean, or what generations of case law has interpreted the text as meaning? How many seas can a white dove sail before she sleeps on the sand?)

Achille Talon said...

And I also think that it is impossible to read those comics without thinking that they are about Stan Lee's inferior version of the Silver Surfer.

See, that's where I just disagree with you. Perhaps you can't. If so, you have, and I do not mean this to be condescending, my sympathy. But that sort of thing has never troubled me — any more than I am haunted by Martin Freeman when I read “The Hobbit”, let alone when I watch the cartoon. Or indeed, I think (hope?), any more than Tobey Maguire's voice imposes itself on your own imagination, Andrew, when you are reading “Amazing Fantasy” #15. If you can compartmentalize varyingly-unfaithful adaptations away, why not also “sequels” that would seek to transform the original story in equally unexpected ways?

It is very, very easy to *me* to compartmentalize all of these and more as walled-off fictional worlds with traits in common; to mix and match in my mind as I please.

Sure, the thought might occur that these comics *could be read as* being about Stan Lee's Surfer. But this is not, to me, a thought that compels me any further than how fun I find the mental hypothesis. "What if I read this story in light of its retconny sequels" is, to me, a mind-game that is not fundamentally different from "what if I read Sherlock Holmes as if Watson and Holmes were lovers and Watson-the-narrator is doing his best to conceal this". In both cases the ideas are sufficiently well-ingrained that sometimes a turn of phrase might awaken the "oh, if I were playing that game, this would be a good clue to connect to those dots" part of my brain; but unless I'm inclined to play the game, it's quite simple for me to stuff that thought back in its drawer.

I feel like it may come across like I'm bragging, here, and that's not my intent. You may be quite happy responding to fiction as you do, and think my brain sounds shallow and chaotic! I don't mean to *demand* that the world engage with fiction in the way *I* do. I just fear that Andrew is universalizing his personal experience, and making unduly sweeping statements when he speaks about certain ways of looking at fiction being "impossible". There are more things on Heaven and Earth, blah blah blah. I wish the people to whom later stories, if you allow yourself to think of them as "real", *irreversibly* transform your in-universe understanding of earlier ones, all the best with their spiral! But that's just not how it is for me, nor, I think, for many people, and I'd ask that you acknowledge that we have our endless multiple-choice grapevine, and that we have fun with it too.

Achille Talon said...

Also: to clarify, the reason I mentioned copyright is…

Well, it's because copyright is, by now, all that makes this or that novel allegedly “canonical” is that Disney own the Star Wars copyright, and have used an Official Star Wars stamp on this particular book. Back when Lucas was officially running things, there was a possibility of using an appeal to authorial authority to ground canon: George Lucas has a special moral right to dictate what is "real" to the official Star Wars Universe, because he was the one who made up the original stories. Fine. I don't quite believe in this moral right, but it seems like a reasonable thing to talk about and believe in.

But I don't see why that moral right would transfer alongside the commercial rights to make Darth Vader action figures, is the thing. We've left the moral authorial aegis now. The Disney Star Wars Universe is a coherent fictional universe, but I don't see that you can say it has more claim to being the Realest One than this or that unlicensed prose sequel, without appealing to copyright.

(P.S.: I use "unlicensed prose sequel" rather than "fanfiction" to make it clear I am talking, here, about the kind of project that takes the existing movies as read, and simply tries to write what might happen next; rather than the kind which asks "what if Anakin Skywalker never fell" or "what if Luke and Han kissed" or "what if Chewbacca owned a coffee shop in Hogsmeade". Quite a lot of fanfics are written a different spirit from official tie-in novels. But it is perfectly possible for a fanfic to written in more or less that same spirit. "Canon-compliant", is the fanfic slang in common use.)

(P.P.S.: Okay, you can say that having Mark Hamill in them gives the theatrical Disney sequels a "moral authority" that a random fanfic would lack, even if Lucas isn't present. A part of me wants to say that I'll accept this argument if, and only if, you accept that "Devious", that fanfilm where Jon Pertwee agreed to reprise his version of Dr Who, is as canon as the New Series if not moreso. The rest of me says, fine, maybe the Sequel Trilogy gets in that way, but this, again, says nothing about tie-in novels without any actors in them at all.)

“All copyrighted Star Wars” can certainly be treated as *a* text. “The subset of copyrighted Star Wars which is considered canon by the appropriate Disney bigwigs” is another, more coherent one. If you have interesting things to say about either of those texts, as indeed our good host Andrew does, go nuts. But I think the statement “Star Wars is a text” is false. “Star Wars” contains multiple possible texts. "The way Disney defines Star Wars" is a text, "the way George Lucas in 1990 defines Star Wars" is a text, "the way George Lucas in 2010" is a text, "the way Andrew defines Star Wars" is a text. I don't see that, copyrightism and presentism aside, an obvious candidate emerges that deserves the singular title of "the Star Wars text" compared to which all the other permutations are heretical.

Andrew Ducker said...

A useful pair of terms of art regarding fan fiction: "affirmational" and "transformational" - one of which takes the main fiction as "canon" and builds on it, the other spins off into alternate universes.

I discovered it on this discussion of Tolkien and fanfic, originating in 1979:

SK said...

Fan fiction, for all that it is lower than scum, at least understands that fiction is fundamentally a communicative act. It connects us to our fellow human beings. For most of history it was also a communal act: stories were told to groups, perhaps by a single story-teller, perhaps by a group of performers, but always in a shared space where those present entered into a shared experience — a communion, if you will. And when fewer were present the experience became even more intense: perhaps still the most pure distillation of what fiction is for, the thing we are all trying to capture every time we engage with any work of fiction, is a parent making up a story for their child at bedtime.

Even in recent history when it has become possible for the story-teller and the story-receiver to be separated in time and space (and how we forget how recent, how unnatural a development that is!) the point is still communication: the author, or the playwright and the director and their players, reaching out and putting their ideas into the heads of the readers and the audience, making a human connection across miles and years or even centuries.

To turn that inwards, to make it just about what’s going on in your head, to cut oneself off from communication and humanity… well, it’s so solipsistic it is barely human.

Achille Talon said...

I don't think of my position as solipsistic at all. In fact, the point is that I see experiencing fiction as a collaborative act between the storyteller and the listener/reader/etc. The storyteller (physically present or not) gives you something and your imagination, at once, builds on it. It is the idea that receiving fiction should be a wholly passive act which seems to me to miss the fact that it takes two to tango.

Suppose telepathy helmets are ever perfected. Would you want to have mothers beaming wholly-realised fantasies into their children's heads, instead of telling conventional bedtime stories, and leaving the child leave to imagine the Big Bad Wolf in their own way in their own head? I think that would make the experience fundamentally different. And probably less fun and less educational for the child.

SK said...

In fact, the point is that I see experiencing fiction as a collaborative act between the storyteller and the listener/reader/etc

What you're describing isn't collaboration, though, and I don't believe you can ever have collaborated to make such an utterly false comparison. I have collaborated a fair amount, and I can tell you that it's a two-way process: it involves a lot of compromising, a lot of give and take, and a whole whole lot of not getting your own way. It's pretty much the exact opposite of your 'I can do whatever I want and nobody can tell me not to' attitude.

What you're describing isn't a two-way process; it's barely a one-way process, as you've explained that you have no interest at all in what the person telling the story was trying to communicate. You don't want to understand them, or what they are trying to say, at all. All you are interested in, you've made clear, is how you can use whatever they have produced to have your fun, to build whatever you want for your own pleasure. Your fun, your pleasure, and your pleasure alone, is, indeed, your chief goal in all of this.

Well. I think Esteemed Host got it right when he identified this as using, not reading, a text. You're using it as a basis for your fun; and we all know what the word is for material that is meant to be used for solitary pleasure, right? You're treating fiction like it's pornography; and therefore the metaphor I took from the mouth of Mr Sho-sho-sho-shorofsky is perfectly accurate: it's masturbation.

but I expect I get to have more fun. And isn't that the important thing?

No. No, it is not.

Achille Talon said...

Evidently it's not the same kind of collaboration as cowriting. (For the record, I do in fact have quite a lot of experience with cowriting fiction.) That equation strikes me as something of a strawman argument; I never said it was.

Nor, for that matter did I say I had no interest in understanding the storyteller. Throughout this tangent, I have been talking about what I think is the essence of fiction. Engaging with the in-universe aspect of a work of fiction is, of course, only one part of reading it. There is an entirely other level of analysis, wherein which I will indeed wonder what it was that the author intended, and what emotional or philosophical point they may have been trying to convey. There authorial intent is paramount. However:

1) again, if one is capable of switching between mental perspectives with a minimum of fuss, it is not hard to jump from a fanciful in-universe reading to a grounded, authorial-intent-based symbolic one;

2) independent of this first point, I'd like to know how adhering to 21st century retcons will better put me in contact with the authorial intent of the 1977 George Lucas who actually made the first film.

but I expect I get to have more fun. And isn't that the important thing?

No. No, it is not.

I would quite like to hear you say… er, read you write… what you believe to be the important thing, then. I don't mean that having fun is the only important thing in life. But I did not believe it was displaying monstrous hedonism to suggest that, perhaps, one's entertainment might be the preeminent concern when it comes to "being a fan of a series of pulpy adventure movies about space cowboys"; or indeed, more specifically, when it comes to "deciding how you are going to structure your inner sense of how the pulpy space knight's life story goes".

Andrew Rilstone said...


lower than scum


treating fiction like it's pornography


barely human

Well, that escalated quickly.

Andrew Rilstone said...

Earliest written copy of Canterbury Tales 1380 AD
Earliest written copy of Beowulf around 1015 AD
Earliest written copies of Homer 3rd century BC
Surviving written copy of Gilgamesh 12th century BC.

SK said...

Exactly, none older than two millennia. And how long have humans been telling stories?