What's the value of Brian Wood writing an interstitial Star Wars tale (between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back), nearly 40 years on? Perhaps more than we can realize…
Previously, I wrote about narrative similarities between the current Batman and pro wrestling. In that analysis, I was dancing around an idea about perpetual fiction or a perpetual narrative. Pro wrestling does not have an offseason. 52 weeks a year there is wrestling and each week a wrestling storyline is moved forward. Whether the story progresses or regresses is debatable. Batman and most major comicbook superheroes are also in a state of perpetual storytelling. There is always something Batman--movies, TV shows, and especially comicbooks. Similarly, entertainment franchise properties like Star Trek and Star Wars are locked into this concept. They haven’t ended since their initial births, save for a few gap years, perpetuated by the insatiable thirst of popculture to always have more.
I’m focused on Star Wars to examine this notion of never ending fiction for two reasons. Last week, it was confirmed that producer and director JJ Abrams would take the reins and develop a new Star Wars film. (This also brings in Star Trek and its perpetual stories if only connected to that same producer-director). While at the same time a new Star Wars comic from writer Brian Wood, added to the many Star Wars titles currently published, attempts to tell stories between the times of the original Star Wars film, now called A New Hope, and its sequel The Empire Strikes Back. They illuminate perpetual fiction, if only because of their high publicity, but also shows us that the stories we want, the stories that grip our imaginations and our wallets will never end, as long as there is paying demand.
To continue, I must admit one flaw with the concept of perpetual fiction. The word perpetual denotatively says something never ends and never changes. We can see that entertainment franchises like Batman, Star Wars and Star Trek do change, if only in themes and subtext. A good example of this is JJ Abrams’ Star Trek. While creator Gene Roddenberry in the Original series and the Next Generation series pushed themes of social and political consciousness and moral consequences, Abrams’ 2009 film dealt more with the relationships between fathers and sons.
The larger world, while still prevalent, is pushed to the background as the personal and familial relationships take center stage. At the same time, the cleverness of science fiction to commentate on present social and political dilemmas is diluted in favor of more robust action and adventure. While this conflict with the notion of perpetual is but a minor concern–this is not a scientific concept–it does reveal my own unease with Abrams taking the helm of both Star Trek and Star Wars. It’s media consolidation to the point of imagination subversion when one voice shepherds two vastly different science fiction properties.
While Star Wars is not on the same level of Star Trek in terms of social and political commentary, the film, TV show, book, comicbook and video game franchise certainly has things to say about the nature of imperialism and fascism, religion and spirituality, if not the nature of the hero's journey and fantasy stories. Star Wars and Star Trek are two war flags, and fantasy and science fiction fans are often forced to pick between the two. Of course the Abrams development, and other dilutions of popculture battle lines, certainly eases the divide.
In terms of the comicbooks, Star Wars has been part of the medium since the initial film’s release in 1977. Wood’s new series, simply called Star Wars more than likely because it is a direct continuation of the first movie, continues a tradition of never ending stories. The past, present and future of the Star Wars world have been explored and detailed for over 30 years. It's seemingly this force of popculture that invented the prequel. Wood’s series acts similarly, telling the story of the Rebel Alliance after the first destruction of the Death Star.
The quality of the book produced by Wood and artists Carlos D’Anda and Gabe Eltaeb aside, it is very good. It pushes forward that for franchises like Star Wars, the stories will never end, and not in the form of remakes or reworks, but in the forms of new original stories. Every gap in time between the major tent pole pieces–the films–and the time before and the time after are available for creators and storytellers to expand upon, not to mention side adventures and offshoots of main narratives. The story or universe is ever expanding without end.
The delight is for fans to forever be enjoying stories from the franchise they love. It also enables new generations born after the initial films to become engaged. It’s a cycle already seen by two generations of fans.
The problem is that it also dominates a market that is slow to embrace other would be franchises, and as a consequence limits the number of new creations. Further the perpetual development of narratives tends to dilute whatever comes after. Themes of the original piece are hard to carry over or carry forward. So new themes must be incorporated and those new themes may or may not express the core of the property.
But that’s something of speculation and the case can be made that the quality of a continued narrative is solely in the hands of the creators behind it. Wood and D’Anda’s Star Wars has a premise that many new to the Star Wars comics world can find interesting. It’s the characters that have become mythic, that have become archetypes in their own rights. It expands the back story that informs The Empire Strikes Back, a back story that has been hinted at but not explored at this level.
As we approach ideas like transmedia, also the ever expansion of various fictional media, and properties expand beyond their initial incarnations into things like digital comics, video games, Web videos, etc, we see perpetual fiction in new and unrestrained terms. But while many transmedia properties utilize development strategies franchises like Star Wars have embraced, there is a definitive ending–exceptions being TV shows like Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Smallville, both of which have found continuation in comic form.
Much of the perpetual narratives rely on original creators conceding a certain amount of creative development to other creators and developers, and in certain cases corporations. This brings us back to Abrams, Wood and those like them in various positions of power.
The thirst of popculture to ruminate in what we love is perhaps the strongest motivator for perpetual fiction. As long as there is an audience and economics are sound so that those involved profit, there will always be a Star Wars or the like comic, book, TV show, movie or video game. And while pop culture is always progressing forward, that doesn’t mean the nostalgia we feel for what we loved and still love won’t be taken into consideration. Add to that the constant arrival of newer and newer generations, those who consume these narratives and those that want to create these narratives, then the never ending has no reason to end.