Garrett Calcaterra is author of the epic fantasy novel, Dreamwielder, released earlier this month by Diversion Books, and touted by steampunk legend James P. Blaylock as “fast-paced, colorful, and richly detailed.” His previous titles include The Roads to Baldairn Motte and Umbral Visions. In addition to writing, Calcaterra teaches literature and composition at various academic institutions. When not writing or teaching, he enjoys hiking with his two dogs and quaffing good beer.
Epic Fantasy: A Civilization in Peril and the Heroes to Save it
by Garrett Calcaterra
With Disney’s recent purchase of the Star Wars franchise and a new movie looming, everyone seems to be talking about Star Wars. I’ve been no exception. In a guest post at the very cool Inkpunks blog I confessed how the ending of Return of the Jedi inspired me as a young lad to go off and write sprawling stories with multiple viewpoints and climatic endings. More recently, I was a guest on the Defective Geeks podcast where I talked with the delightfully nerdy Gizzy B and Space Pirate Queen about why the original Star Wars trilogy is so much better than the prequels. The consensus among the three of us was that Episodes 1-3 are little more than Star Wars porn-sure we get our fix of exotic planets, light saber duels, and space battles, but the plot premise and characters are about as plausible as a buxom babe inviting a plumber inside to “check her plumbing.”
To me, the most disconcerting aspect of Episodes 1-3 is the fact that in the back of our minds we all know Anakin Skywalker is going to turn into Darth Vader. We all know the Republic will fall and Palpatine will create the Empire. This makes every one of the protagonists-even the most powerful ones like Obi-Wan and Yoda-utterly impotent. They can do nothing to change the fate of their civilization, and therein lies the weakness of the prequels. George Lucas had it right the first time when he started the story with Luke, Leia, and Han: the heroes who actually save the galaxy. But Lucas is hardly the first person to make this mistake. In fact, the grand-daddy of epic fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkien himself, made a similar miscalculation a good 80 years before Lucas.
REVIEW SUMMARY: A unique and interesting resource when looking at history.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Science Fiction tends to be closely linked with contemporary history in more ways than one would expect. In this collection of papers, historians examine the parallels between real-world history and the Star Wars franchise.
PROS: A neat and interesting way of looking at history.
CONS: Oversteps its bounds at points.
BOTTOM LINE: Know a Star Wars fan who’s having trouble with history? This volume might be the best way to get them interested.
When I was in grade school, I had trouble reading early on: the books that I had for my classes weren’t doing it for me, and it wasn’t until my parents gave me a couple of youth mystery novels (Encyclopedia Brown and the Hardy Boys), that my appetite for reading was realized, and I began consuming books with an ever increasing pace. I bring this up because this was the first thing that sprang to mind while reading through this history text: this is THE book for any kid in high school who’s struggling with the basics of history, and simply needs to look at it in a different light.
Star Wars and History examines various types of real-world history by comparing it to the events in the Star Wars franchise, and for the most part it works. As a fan of George Lucas’s franchise and as a professional historian, the mere existence of this book is exciting, because it combines two passions. On the face of it, it looks like a bit of a strange mash up much like those Victorian era novels juxtaposed with zombies or androids. But, the book reaffirms my belief that science fiction is an inherently political and relevant genre at the time of it’s creation: Star Wars being no exception. Cobbled together from a variety of source material, this book links a number of connections between the franchise and the real world. The topics are pretty far reaching, too: subjects such as insurgency and rebellion are covered, women in warfare, the American Civil War, leaders and power, trade and a whole host of others.
In episode 163 of the SF Signal Podcast, Patrick Hester and his rag-tag band of panelists, discuss:
Star Wars, Disney, Marvel, Timothy Zahn, The Thrawn Trilogy, Star Wars: Episode 7, the Star Wars Extended Universe, Star Trek, Pathfinder Tales, Tie-In novels, George Lucas, Stargate, The X-Men, the 501st Legion, Lucasfilm, Disneyland, Family Guy, Robot Chicken, Pixar, Disney Princesses, Disneyland’s overhaul / rebranding of the iconic Submarine Ride as the new “Gungan Undersea Extravaganza’, Marvel Comics, Joe Quesada, Terry Brooks, The Sword of Shannara, Triumph over Tragedy, Attack of the Show, Newsroom, Pirates 101, Baldurs Gate, The Jar-Jar Binks Live Action Generic Non-Traditional Holiday Special with guests Tinkerbell, Wolverine and The Incredibles, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Ship Breaker, The City’s Son, and Reboots…
Welcome to a new column here on SF Signal: …And Another Thing, a weekly commentary on issues and news from the speculative fiction community! We feel that there’s a lot of news that comes flying out from every corner of the internet on a number of issues: the incident at ReaderCon, the extreme popularity of the summertime releases of Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises, to the landing of Curiosity on the surface of Mars. This column will feature a roving band of SF Signal Irregulars and their takes on the world around us.
As John and I were getting ready to launch this, a proverbial earthquake happened: Disney announced that they were purchasing LucasFilm Limited for $4.05 billion dollars in cash and stocks. Almost immediately, my Twitter and Facebook feeds exploded with people excited, freaking out and everything in between. The noise is going to continue for a while, I suspect, and while I was initially skeptical, I realized that this isn’t something that’s unexpected.
By now, you’ve heard the news that LucasFilm, producers of the Star Wars franchise, was purchased by Disney. The bigger news is that George Lucas’ treatments for the legendary third Stars Wars trilogy will likely be coming to theaters within a few years. That’s right, Star Wars: Episode VII is coming.
This sounds like great news for fans (besides the mashup crowd), but is it? It seems everyone has their own opinion, so tell us:
Do you think the Disney/LucasFilm merge is a good one for science fiction fans?
To help you decide, here’s Lucas himself talking about the deal:
“Dad,” asked my 21-year-old son, “do you think she’ll wear the Princess Leia outfit?”
That, in a nutshell, is the now 55-year-old Carrie Fisher’s blessing and curse. My friend Vern admitted he had “serious issues with Princess Leia” from age 13. Ms. Fisher herself tells the story of a man who said he thought of her daily from age 14 to 22…”at least four times a day.”
Our evening with Carrie Fisher, watching her perform Wishful Drinking, her one woman autobiographical sketch of “talking about myself behind my back” was neither as magical as the first time one sees Star Wars as a teenager and probably will not be as memorable (my wife enjoyed it, but even she rated the jazz concert from the previous Friday better entertainment…it was Joe Sample!). Ms. Fisher’s show, which has been running off and on since November 2006, could quickly have turned into celebrity self-indulgent crap (at one point she says “Don’t you hate it when celebrities talk about themselves?”); but through many clever turns of a phrase and an uncanny detachment of talking about tragic parts of her life in humorous fashion, Ms. Fisher made it quite an enjoyable evening. It was comfortable and fun, like exchanging stories while drinking with an old friend.
In this case, the old friend has a Hollywood pedigree, a metal bikini from George Lucas, one ex-husband named Paul Simon and awards for mental illness. And that’s how Carrie Fisher structures her very well written show, in four parts:
- Hollywood Inbreeding 101
- Star Wars
- Two Ex-Husbands
- Mental Illness
If you haven’t seen the show and intend to, some spoilers after the break.