Thursday, March 21, 2013

Opinion: The Clone Wars - Not Just Another Show, But An Idea

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By Chris Seekell

The year was 1973. American Graffiti had just hit theaters, but a man named George Lucas had already turned his sights far beyond the streets of Modesto, California. He was busy running from studio to studio, looking for someone to fund a crazy idea. He called it a space opera, not the niche science-fiction of the 1960s, but an epic that hearkened back to the adventure of Buck Rogers and the mythos of classic eastern film. One by one, the giants of Hollywood turned him down.

Finally, 20th Century Fox agreed to back the film, however their special effects department was in disarray, forcing Lucas to create a new subdivision, Industrial Light and Magic, for his independent production company Lucasfilm. The odds were stacked against him, and many expected the project to flop. But Lucas was in control of his own destiny, and was prepared to pull out every stop to see his vision through, even when it came to opposing the Screen Actors Guild over numerous issues like opening credits.

The summer of 1977 came, Star Wars hit theaters, and the world we live in was changed immensely. The ripple effects caused by this phenomenon have penetrated every level of entertainment, art, and pop-culture. All of this happened because one man had an idea, stood against the status quo, and had the courage to alter the course of history.

Now fast-forward three and a half decades. The time: August, 2012. The place: Orlando, Florida. It was a muggy Saturday on the far edge of a tropical storm, but over 35,000 people walked into a convention center. They were men and women, boys and girls, people from all over the world. Why were they there? And why were there more people there than at any previous Star Wars convention? The saga had wrapped up 7 years prior. One would think fandom would have been as dead as it was in 1990.

Some of the parents were there to relive their youth. Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher were on site, but only to make rare appearances and charge an arm and a leg for autographs. But Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, and Hayden Christensen were nowhere to be found. So why were there so many teens and kids there? Why was Star Wars more alive than it had ever been before?

Perhaps it had something to do with another George Lucas idea. In 2005, Revenge of the Sith had just made its way through theaters. But again, George Lucas' mind was looking off to the horizon. Why was the creator of the most successful film saga of all time so jaded that he vowed never to make another Star Wars movie? Why did he finish up one last personally motivated project, Red Tails, and then retire from cinema for good?

Maybe it was indeed all of the hate that the prequels received. Maybe it just wasn't fun for him to make movies. Or maybe he wanted to make something truly new, not another blockbuster or pop-culture phenomenon, but something personal, something that would give him a chance to connect to a new generation of artists and fans that was disconnected from the monotony of Hollywood.

George Lucas, billionaire owner of the vast Star Wars franchise, set-up a new animation studio on the other side of the world, and opened his doors in San Fransisco to a young director named Dave Filoni and a crew of unknown actors. They had no resources and no expectations to meet. But George Lucas saw in them something unique, a passion for their work, and an equal passion for those influenced by it. And thus the Clone Wars was born.

The pilot film was a failure by industry standards, but it was clear financial success was not the goal. Lucas told everyone that he wanted to make 100 episodes, regardless of their success. The first season was well received, but too primitively animated for critical acclaim, and too hidden away on a cartoon cable network for mainstream popularity. But then something began to happen, something new. People started coming together.

A guy named James Arnold Taylor stepped out of the shadow of his voice, and began posting positive messages on Facebook and telling his inpiring story at conventions. Ashley Eckstein, an obscure Disney Channel actress, stood up for female Star Wars fans and launched a clothing brand centered around empowerment and equality. Dave Filoni, once known to a few as the "Plo Koon Guy", turned into the man that everybody had to talk to. Families bonded over the series and spent time together at events like Disney Star Wars Weekends, which grew massively in size. The internet was set ablaze with an army of new fansites, Facebook pages, and podcasts. Captain Rex and Ahsoka Tano became common cosplays. But above all, people discovered that they were not alone.

Joel Aron mentoring young photographers, Stephen Stanton spreading awareness about a baby with an incurable disease, Dave Filoni teaching children how to draw, Ashley Eckstein helping a schoolgirl to stand up to bullies, and Catherine Taber giving video games to veterans —these are the branches that have grown from a very simple idea. Don't make what you think people will want, or what you think will be popular. But make what you are passionate about, and then those who are as passionate as you will come.

George Lucas was not setting out to make the greatest film of all time in 1977. And he certainly was not motivated to make the Clone Wars the next big thing on TV. He just had an idea that he was passionate about and made it a reality, surrounding himself with people who believed in that idea too and merely wanted to use it to make the world a better place.

Why were all of those families in Orlando, Florida that weekend? Because they connected to the core passion of Star Wars, the desire to find who you are and be that person. It wasn't about money or culture, but community and art. Star Wars transcends other temporary pop-culture phenomenons, not just due to its inherent "coolness" or epic scale, but because of its tendency to use imagery to open our minds. It reveals our collective humanity and eliminates our differences, bringing us together.

It all starts with an idea. There is a message behind Star Wars. Wars do not make one great. Do or do not, there is no try. Fear leads to anger, anger to hate, hate to suffering. Luminous beings are we. Find the good in each other. Stay loyal to our friends. Fight for what is right. Good will triumph over evil.

All of this brings us to the current time, a time when the future of the Clone Wars and all of the people behind it is clouded, a time where the franchise itself seems in jeopardy of descending into mediocrity. And the events leading up to now, have made it clear that not just another TV series is at stake, but an idea itself.

Firstly, what does ending the series now do to the overall message of the show? I believe that Lucas' plan with Captain Rex and Ahsoka was to show how some characters can rise above insane circumstances if they stay true to who they are and what is right. But leaving things off here, turns the series into a mere experiment, a disjointed collection of stories that have messages within themselves, but no cohesive essence.

But more importantly, what does disbanding the crew do to the idea of community that will be this show's legacy? Does it say that money is more important than art, popularity more than passion? Does it say that something has to be mainstream for it to have a positive effect? Or does it even say that a positive effect is irrelevant to success?

To me, Disney's decision to downsize the studio and end the show says this. It says they are not going to take risks to challenge the status quo. It says they are going to stick with what is safe and what has been proven to be successful. It says that money is more important than community. It says bringing people's rear ends into theaters is a higher priority than bringing families together. But is Disney killing an idea?

Absolutely not, because an idea cannot be killed. The most important thing for all fans to remember, is that Star Wars is not the idea. We are the idea. Disney can do whatever they want to Star Wars, but they cannot control our concept of family and charity. This is because those things already existed inside us, and Star Wars merely brought them out. There will always be something that will bring out the best in us, that will inspire us to be more creative and passionate people.

Then what is at stake here? Why am I even bothering to talk about this. Because there are two very important points that I need to make. 1. Even if Disney does its best to turn Star Wars into a cold-hearted money-making machine, that does not give us any excuse to cast aside the lessons and connections we have gained from it. And 2. Disney is risking turning Star Wars into just another franchise. It will own the name, it will own the characters, but it will no longer own the spark that has given it longevity. The idea of Star Wars, its essence, will be passed on to something else, whatever that may be, and Star Wars will become frozen in time, a relic of a past cultural movement and not a current one.

So Disney, let it be known that you don't truly own Star Wars, but merely the imagery that perpetuates the idea behind it. If you destroy the imagery, you lose the idea, and the people that it attracts. We will take the Force somewhere else, and you can have your money.

This article is an opinion piece and represents the views of the writer and not the entire Star Wars Underworld organization.

2 comments:

jason farris said...

jason farris said...

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