Part I of what was supposed to be an extended series of posts is here. Sorry for the delay, guys.
I was reading through the comments on an io9 post about the next Star Wars game when I came across one by a guy who goes by mordicai that I not only agree with, but that crystallizes some things I’ve been thinking:
This is my solution to the Lucas Dilemma. Star Wars is great; we need to free Star Wars by destroying the canon. We need to take whatever we want from Star Wars & leave behind all we don’t want. MORE Star Wars is the answer. Let the expanded universe be good, or even be bad; we just need an ocean of it, enough so that people can pick & choose the details while retaining the core.
The core being “Sweet space ships flying around with robots & aliens while wizard knights with laser swords are all mystical,” I guess.
One of the reasons I’ve been so geeked over the Yuuzhan Vong arc in the Star Wars universe is that it manages to simultaneously preserve and transcend the core narratives and characterizations that make up the franchise.
For the uninitiated, the Yuuzhan Vong arc in the extended Star Wars universe follows the invasion of the galaxy by a race of pain-worshipping humanoids who are immune to the Force. Their arrival poses a number of challenges to the rules George Lucas set up a long time ago in a movie studio far, far away.
First, the story suggests limits to the Force, which contradicts our understanding of its basic nature. That prompts crises of faith for a number of the Jedi characters the arc focuses on, which they respond to in substantially varying ways. But it’s also a direct challenge to readers who are deeply steeped in the Star Wars mythology. Lucas set up a very detailed geopolitical conflict, but the Force was the genius conceptual invention that gave life and consequence to that geopolitical conflict, and elevated it above conventional and short-lived science fiction. Learning that it doesn’t work the way we’ve come to expect forces us to reassess our understanding of a universe in which we’re deeply immersed, and it puts us back on the same footing with Luke Skywalker. As he’s become the head of a large organization and a global leader, Luke’s become more distant from those of us who are just observers of his trajectory. Letting both us and him be confused, afraid, and wondrous together restores some of the magic of the initial trilogy when we were learning along with him.
The Yuuzhan Vong’s arrival also gives us a more detailed and compelling sense of what lies beyond the galaxy, and as a result, helps make the scale of the Empire, and now the Republic. A big Senate chamber on-screen is still finite, no matter how many floating seating boxes a Sith Lord tosses around it in the course of a battle. The universe is small enough that we can feel the emotional impact of the destruction of a single planet. The Yuuzhan Vong destroy many of them, and it’s in the numbing effect of that destruction, and the impotence of characters we’ve come to see as extraordinarily powerful and influential, that it’s possible to grasp the size of this conflict.
And once the magnitude of the threat is clear, there’s a geopolitical shift: the Republic and the Imperial Remnant, the remains of the Empire, which has been living basically separate from the Republic, begin to work together. In a generation, we’ve progressed from a universal order where the leader of one faction was willing to kill his children who participated in the other, to a world where Imperial and Republican alliances aren’t a barrier to cooperation–or love. The Yuuzhan Vong invasion, and the revelations of what the Empire knew about the coming attack, even require a reevaluation of what we knew about the conflict between the Empire and the Rebellion, and the Emperor’s motivations (it’s relatively evil to conclude that he was still an evil sumbitch, but harder to read the whole of geopolitics the same way, I think).
In particular the first and the third developments, I think we’ve truly reached a point where George Lucas’s vision is guiding, but no longer confining to the universe’s expansion and development. And that’s how it should be. Lucas gave fans an enormous gift in his initial trilogy, but he has limits, both as a conceptual designer, and as an executor of the details that make a movie work, something that was painfully obvious in the prequels. But fans have provided a will not to let the universe break, even as it bends and changes. And a host of other authors, continuity-watchers, video game designers, etc., have done a lot of compelling things with that will. Even within the spectrum of fandoms, I think it’s rare to find a fan community that’s able to accept such fundamental shifts in the guiding concepts and laws that govern the universe in which they’ve made their investments. I think that’s a testament, both to our dedication, and to what we’ve been given as a reward for it.