Tag Archives: Star Wars

Back to the Beginning

I want you to come back with me on a trip through time.

Madison TheaterIt’s 1977, in the small town of Huntsville, Arkansas. There’s this little theater on the town square called Madison Theater. This in in the days before the multiplexes, so there’s only one room. The theater runs movies Thursday through Sunday, with matinees on the weekends. The shows are second-, maybe third-run affairs, six months at least past their release dates, especially for the big releases.

And we’re about to go in and see what’s become a big release.

We sit in our seats. There aren’t any cup holders, and the chairs don’t recline. The best seats are usually about halfway down. The walls are covered with curtains, and the floor is sticky from where somebody spilled their soda last showing. Popcorn in one hand, drink in the other, we sit in the cool dimnness, waiting for show time.

There aren’t any commercial PowerPoints going on the screen. In fact, we can’t see the screen yet as there’s a genuine curtain covering it. This is a theater, not a multiplex. There’s no surround sound, though there are multiple speakers, and the only sounds in here for now are those of people talking and laughing. No piped in radio stations that broadcast for this chain because it’s an indie theater, locally owned.

Then, finally, the lights dim and the curtain parts, just like it would for live theater. The screen lights up—maybe off-frame at first, because these aren’t digital projectors we’re talking about here—and then the first preview comes on. Again, no commercials for cars or cell phones or what have you. Just trailers for upcoming movies.

Disco is stronger than ever, thanks to the release of Saturday Night Fever, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind has everyone interested in UFOs and little gray men. Clint Eastwood expends a million rounds in The Gauntlet, and another huge fish terrifies everyone in Orca.

Then the previews are over. The 20th Century Fox logo comes on, with its roving spotlights and heavy music, and the screen goes dark. This is the movie everyone’s been raving about, so there isn’t any talking. Then, there they are, in the middle of the screen, the words that would become world-famous:

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…1127541656

Man, with words like that to open the thing, it must be a good one.

Then the music hits, that sweeping orchestral theme, its big sound hinting at big things to come, and the Star Wars logo swoops into view, receding into a glittering field of stars and the screen crawl starts, tilted away from us and following the logo into the black distance. There’s no chapter heading because this is Star Wars, not A New Hope. This is long before the prequels, long before this setting became the monster it is today, but we don’t know that yet. Science fiction movies, as a rule, aren’t very successful, and those of us who are fans of the genre worry this might be another one of those disappointing things that pale in comparison with the good books we’ve read.

The words scroll on, informing us that it is a period of rebellion in the galaxy. We read them all, enthralled, and watch as they disappear into the depths of space. What’s this Galactic Empire and what is it like? Ooo, what’s a Death Star? That sounds bad. And who is this Princess Leia and what does she look like?

This might actually be good.

The music gets quieter for a moment and the camera pans down. There’s a half-moon of in the distance, then a planet, its atmosphere a blue haze, its surface a mix of dull browns. The music swells again and there’s a sound like we’ve never heard before. A spaceship with multiple thrusters speeds over and away from us, followed by the biggest damn thing we’ve ever seen. It seems to stretch on forever before we see its huge thrusters, easily as large as the ship it pursues. The camera’s angle finally changes and we see this thing dwarfs the first ship, with a huge bridge like one of our battleships sticking up from it. It’s triangular, and it’s firing green laser bolts at the small ship.

We’re caught up now. The camera goes inside the small fleeing ship to show us two robots navigating a corridor. One of them speaking with a clipped British accent, the other with electronic noises we don’t understand. An exterior shot shows the larger ship capturing the small one. Ominous noises ensue, and crewmembers run past the robots—away from the camera—blasters at the ready. When the camera shows us their faces a few moments later, their expressions are grim but determined. They focus on a door at the end of the corridor.

We get their POV. The door’s edges flash, a laser bolt whips through as the door disappears in a shower of sparks, and then soldiers come through, dressed in white armor from head to toe, firing on the ship’s crew without remorse. A short battle follows, one that isn’t good for the rebels, and then…who’s this? He’s dressed all in black: sweeping cape, scary looking face shield, not an inch of his body showing.

star-wars-darth-vader-introThen we hear it: heavy breathing, ominous to say the least. He looks down at the bodies littering the corridor floor for a moment, then moves on.

If you’re a fan—or maybe even if you’re not—you know the footage I’m talking about. But we didn’t then. This is before the prequels, before the Special Editions, before Greedo shooting first, before Han stepping on Jabba’s tail. It’s one movie, and it has us caught up in it already. We have a dark villain, a beautiful princess (even if her hairdo is a bit weird), two robots that remind us of maybe a high-tech Laurel and Hardy, and this world we’re looking at feels real.

Yes, the corridors of the ship are, at first, clean and shiny. But as the movie progresses, we see that this setting has rough edges. The robots are dirty, and everything on Tatooine is pitted and scoured by its sands. We learn about Jawas and Sand People and Mos Eisley and…

The Force. It’s a mysterious energy field that surrounds and binds the galaxy together. That’s it. All the time Luke is learning about the Force, no one, not Obi-Wan (who, in the prequels, tested Luke’s father Anakin), not Yoda, not even Darth Vader or the Emperor, ever made mention of midi-chlorians.

And that was good. We went away from the movie talking about the Force. What was it? Was it magic? Or something else? Ben’s description left a lot of room for speculation, and that’s what made it alluring: it was mysterious, and we didn’t understand it, so we could interpret it in our own way.
This movie was different. We loved it from the start. The world it presented us was real and gritty and we could see ourselves living in it. Luke Skywalker and the possibilitystarwarstrilogy_0 of him falling for Leia was all we talked about for years. And then, when The Empire Strikes Back came out, well, the possibility that Darth Vader was Luke’s father…no, that couldn’t be.

These days, it’s called A New Hope and it’s part of this huge merchandising empire and moneymaking machine owned by Disney. Even George Lucas admitted it changed him from being one of the maverick filmmakers to one of the big corporations he rebelled against. He went from being part of the Rebel Alliance to running the Empire.

It’s been almost forty years since I saw Star Wars the first time (for me, it will always be Star Wars; I’m still uncomfortable calling it A New Hope), but I can still put it in the DVD player—even though I own the Special Edition—and feel a faint echo of the magic I felt the first time I experienced this movie in that little theater in Huntsville, Arkansas when I was twelve years old.

Regardless of what’s happened with the Star Wars Universe since then—and I have to say that not all of it has been good—the original movie, in fact, the original trilogy, was a game changer for me and my friends. It took us somewhere we hadn’t even dreamed of going, and we spent hours talking about it. It meant far more to us than who shot JR Ewing. Who cared? Darth Vader was Luke’s father and Leia was his sister.

And the fate of an Empire rested on Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber blade.

What more could you ask for?


Don’t Throw It Away

The last few weeks, I’ve sort of digressed from the original intent of this blog. I needed to vent a couple of things and I’ve done that. Now it’s time to get back to business. I want to add, though, that I may stray again in the future. I won’t necessarily vent—I never know from week to week just what I’m gonna write about, so I can’t promise anything—but I may get away from writing from time to time.

For one, it’s hard to keep coming up with new things to say about writing without getting either completely boring or repeating myself or both. And for another, writing isn’t separate from life, at least not for me. It’s what I am and what I do. To treat it as if it’s something completely apart from everything else is silly. What happens to me in everyday life affects my writing and sometimes inspires it—especially when it comes to my crime novels.

As an example, a friend of mine (thanks Russell) sent me a story from The New York Times about a sheriff in Ellsinore, Missouri who was arrested for selling and making meth. Naturally, the article’s writer took on the usual Times aloof and arrogant tone when dealing with those not privileged to live in New York City, but the point remains the same: meth is still in the news every day. Add in the stories this week of the huge protest march against the drug wars in Mexico, and my novel Pipeline is still relevant as ever. If you’d like to read the entire article, I don’t have the link, but its title is “Drugs in Ozarks Town Infect Even Sheriff’s Dept.” by A.G. Sulzberger.

Anyway, the theme for this week is just what the title says: don’t throw anything away. I’ve read a similar article by someone else, and I wish I could credit her. She had written something before she got published but didn’t think it was good enough to put on the market. If I remember right, her agent read it and encouraged her to sell it. The point being, I’m reinforcing what she said in that article.

If you’ve read my past few posts, you know I’ve been at something of an impasse since finishing Pipeline. I wasn’t sure whether or not to dive right into writing or to take a break from it. Turns out I’ve made something of a compromise, writing on Spree in fits and starts. I’ll write a day or two, then take two to three days off in between. I’ve made it up over 20,000 words that way, but it’s taken over a month to do it. I’m now convinced that a true break was in order so I could recharge my creative batteries.

I have two and a half fantasy novels I wrote back in the ’90s that have gone from spiral-bound notebooks to word processor (stored on floppy discs) to two or three hard drives, at least, including this one. I thought I’d really written something until I transferred it to Word 2007 and actually bothered to look at the word count. The first one is 69,557 words long, the second 69,875 and the third, unfinished one has 35,554. Writing those first two in notebooks by hand, I thought I’d written novels of pretty respectable lengths. Not quite as long as I might have wanted, maybe, but not bad. And maybe they’re good lengths for what they are: a mix of fantasy and Western.

Over the years, I’ve thought off and on about tackling these novels again, expanding on them or rewriting them, something. But I always had something else on the burner and mostly just looked at them as being learning experiences: those first-novels every writer has that’ll never see the light of day in the sense of being published, but you hang onto them so you can look back occasionally and see how far you’ve come since then. These were my first completed novels, and from what I’ve read, very few authors ever publish their first novels.

But this past week I re-thought my strategy. I started reading Star Wars: The Bounty Hunter Wars by K.W. Jeter. It’s part of the Star Wars canon and it’s centered around Boba Fett, the bounty hunter who transports Han Solo to Jabba the Hutt in the original trilogy. The novels start just after the events in Return of the Jedi where Luke Skywalker and crew rescue Han from Jabba. Boba Fett falls into the Sarlacc, a huge creature that lives underneath the Dune Sea and has for uncounted years. In the movie, there’s little doubt that Boba Fett dies when he falls into the Sarlacc. But the novels differ in some respects from the movies. Authors find little loopholes and exploit them for stories (my favorite is Han Solo’s explanation for how he made the Kessel Run in twelve parsecs, but I’ll leave that for you to discover if you so desire).

In The Bounty Hunter Wars, a creature named Kud’ar Mub’at hires Boba Fett to destroy the Bounty Hunters Guild. The only major movie character that really shows up—in the first novel, anyway—is Darth Vader. I won’t go into all the details, except that he appears in a meeting between him, the Emperor Palpatine and a character from the books named Prince Xizor. Xizor is the one who’s engineering the downfall of the Bounty Hunters Guild, and he hired Boba Fett through Mub’at and—well, it gets kinda involved.

The bottom line is, while I was reading this book, as so often happens, I started wanting to write some kind of similar story. Bounty hunters have always fascinated me, and doing a story about one would meld two of my interests: crime and sf.

That’s when I thought of my old fantasy novels. They’re centered around a guy named Luke Fontaine, who was born into nobility—his father was a baron—but ended up being disowned and eventually became—wait for it—a bounty hunter.

There ya go. There’s the elevator pitch for the first Luke Fontaine novel. Or maybe even the only, depending on publishing. My thought, though, was why not rework the novel and turn it into sf? Probably the only objection I really have to it at present is that sf isn’t selling all that well. Readers, for some reason, want vampires and werewolves, all taking place in some gritty or not-so-gritty urban setting. And hopefully involving lots of sensuous sex scenes that could be tossed out with yesterday’s fish because they’re totally gratuitous. I hate sex scenes that are thrown in solely for the sake of having a sex scene.

In short, readers want fantasy. If it doesn’t involve vampires, etc. in a modern setting, then it needs to involve elves and such in some variation of Middle-earth. Nothing wrong with that, as far as it goes, but sf is still out there, folks, and it’s good reading. A friend of mine thinks no one wants to read sf because we’re no longer sure where science is taking us. With the ending of the space program, who knows how long it’ll be before we get out there in the Great Beyond? The cynical take on this is that we no longer want to look forward, but would rather look back to re-imagined versions of our oldest myths and legends. With lots of gratuitous sex. And Sparkly Ones, or whatever the hell it is Stephanie Meyer calls her vampires. Calling them that sounds to me like an excuse to go clubbing with Katy Perry songs in the background, but to each their own.

>End Rant.

The thought was: why not rewrite the Luke Fontaine stories as sf? Having an entire galaxy to play with would give me a broad canvas, and I’d be able to incorporate all kinds of crime stuff into the story(s). A lot of the world-building—one of the biggest roadblocks for me when it comes to writing speculative fiction—is already done, and it’s not too derivative, as some of my later works are. I can turn the elves into, well, elves, or at least that’s our name for them, taken from our ancient myths. Or I can do away with them altogether, which would probably be the better idea.

Writing them won’t be that hard, either. I’ve been over the first novel so many times that I still have all the major events memorized, though I’m sure I’ll still need to refer to the original from time to time. In fact, I’ve been over the thing so many times that I don’t remember the last time I opened it up and looked at it. Sick of the thing after fifteen years or more of dealing with it.

But it’s material I may be able to use, and that’s the point. My daughter (don’t get mad at me, kiddo), has a habit of writing something and, when it’s finished, deciding it’s the worst thing she’s ever done and it’ll never see the light of day. I’m sure she’s not the only one who sees their own work that way. She gets that penchant from her dad (full disclosure here), so I can’t hold it against her. My urban fantasy, which I’ve been told is a good story, I view as being shallow and incomplete in some way I can’t name. We all have a desire to write the Great American Novel and have our names quoted alongside insert favorite author’s name here in the annals of literature. Our own writings never compare with those of our heroes/inspirations.

But whether they compare or not, don’t throw them away. I talk a lot about Stephen King on this blog because he’s one of my major influences/inspirations. He has been ever since I saw the last half of the ’Salem’s Lot miniseries when it originally aired and wanted to know the rest of the story. I went searching for the book and, years later, was glad I got the rest of the story that way. The miniseries leaves a lot (no pun intended) to be desired.

I don’t compare myself to Stephen King, though. I have no illusions—or allusions—about being the next best-selling author of all time. That’s like forming a band and aspiring to be The Beatles. They were a unique phenomenon that won’t be duplicated. Their records may be surpassed, but that unique thing that made them The Beatles—the combination of John, Paul, George and Ringo—will likely never be copied.

But neither will my writing. I’m not aspiring to be Stephen King. I’m aspiring to be my own author. Influenced and inspired by all those I’ve read, perhaps, but I don’t want to be a copy of any of them. I want my own unique voice, even if it doesn’t mean I’ll be the next best-selling author of all time.

So don’t throw away that old writing. I can’t say how successful my little experiment will be. Maybe it’ll still end up gathering dust. Or maybe it’ll be expanded as fantasy. Maybe as sf. Who knows? I’ll give it a chance, though, and we’ll just have to see what happens. ’Cause that’s how I roll.