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Star Wars and the Shared Universe

The other day I was chatting with my agent recently, going over our strategy of which publishers to contact for my new book, and she mentioned Disney Hyperion. This of course led us down the trail of how Disney has been buying up a lot of IPs recently and our fears of what may happen to Star Wars. Of course, as I pointed out to her, I’m not sure they can do anymore damage than what Lucas has already done.

Now, let’s step back for a moment and consider how weird that thought really is. Lucas, in the eyes of the fans, damaged the Star Wars brand. How can that be? It’s his creation and we’re all along for the ride. Who are we to dictate to him what is and is not good for Star Wars? Certainly we have the right to not like it and we can disagree with his creative choice, but in the end it’s all his vision.

But is it really?

In the writing community there is a concept of the Shared Universe. It is where several authors get together and co-develop a universe and then go off to write individual stories within it. They’ll confer with one another to make sure things stay consistent — character names, dates, and the like. It is my belief that Star Wars, after RotJ ballooned into such a massive force (ha!) that it became a shared universe without Lucas’s realizing.

There is so much in the Expanded Universe. So much in fact a close friend of mine has several bookshelves dedicated to just Star Wars novels. And within those novels is The Thrawn Trilogy. Which many consider to be episodes 7, 8, and 9. Think on that for a moment. A book series written by another author is elevated to the point of being on par with the original films. That’s saying a lot. In my opinion, that series was the tipping point, moving Star Wars from being George Lucas’s world, to being a shared universe among the fans themselves. It grew bigger than him, and unfortunately people forgot to tell him.

Of course that movement started well before the books with The Empire Strikes Back. Don’t believe me? Hit up IMDB and take a gander at the writer/director for A New Hope. Yeah, as we would expect it’s George Lucas. Now jump over to The Empire Strikes Back and you get a very different picture. There, in the late seventies it had already begun — the transference from a single man’s vision to a shared universe. A new director, new writers, and a sense of co-development between them all.

Which ultimately brings me to the bigger question, what’s a creator to do when their creation becomes bigger than themselves? It’s your work, something you’ve spent years and potentially decades developing, and now a mass of people are telling you what it all means and how it should go. The collective fan base will stamp their feet and yell foul if you take a direction they don’t feel is right. But who are they to dictate that to you, the creator?

It’s a sticky question. Because what is art — in this case Star Wars — without an audience? Without them, it doesn’t mean a thing. So we could argue that the audience does have some amount of ownership. And with that comes a sense that they should have a say in it’s direction. After all, it’s their experience and they want the most out of it.

I wish I had an answer to all of this. With luck, my own series will reach a tenth of Star War’s success. What artist wouldn’t want their work enjoyed on that kind of level?

As for Lucas, well all I know is that he came back to the Star Wars franchise in the 90s and made some terrible fanfiction. So come on Disney, we’re all in this shared universe together, let’s bring back the magic … er … Force.

Book Review: Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN

There are classics that require reading. And I have gone too long without reading them. Recently Barnes & Noble have been putting out these great hard backed copies of a ton of classics for fairly cheap. So for the past birthdays and Christmases I’ve been getting them as presents. As it stands I now own the works of Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy, the complete works of H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe, The Grimm’s Fairytales, and finally Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.”

I had built up quite a backlog of books, but decided to jump into the classic Science Fiction Horror novel.

Man, I can see why this has stayed the test of time. Mary Shelley weaves a fantastic story where she explores the nature of man. In both Frankenstein and his creature, we both sympathize with their plight and shake our heads at their misfortune. Each man fights for what they believe to be true and just, only to find themselves at odds with one another. And you can understand both their points of view. If only the creature had not resorted to vengeance and murder, he would have had his ultimate desire of companionship. If only Frankenstein had stayed true to his word and given the creature a companion, then perhaps he would have lived a happy life.

As I read through her masterful prose, I couldn’t help but become incensed by how Hollywood has twisted her story. They miss the point entirely. Yes, there is a theme that man should not attempt to play god. But there is so much more to this story. Frankenstein’s monster is a vastly intelligent and eloquently spoken being. His tale of despair and longing haunt you. Shunned by the world, he fights to fit in, to find acceptance. but his ghastly appearance sends people fleeing in terror. Who of us has not felt out of place and judged before having the chance to show who we really are?

Please, please read this book if you haven’t. Don’t let the idea of when it was written distract you.

And if any screenwriter in Hollywood happens to read this, let’s get together and write a real script based on the novel. None of this Igor, Bride of Frankenstein, and “It’s alive!” nonsense. Let’s write a script based on real life horrors, of being cast aside by society with no companionship. Of losing your soul and everything you love in the pursuit of a dream, that haunts you for the rest of your days.

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