Reviews

Using the Force: Creativity, Community and Star Wars Fans by Will Brooker

D. R. Peak

For as much as Lucasfilms would like to be in control over its content, 'Star Wars' has grown too big to fit inside of Lucas' universe anymore. Nearly everyone alive today has a 'Star Wars' story to tell.


Using the Force

Publisher: The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc.
Length: 246
Subtitle: Creativity, Community, and Star Wars Fans
Price: $27.95 (U.S.)
Author: Will Brooker
US publication date: 2002-05
Amazon
"Space isn't remote at all. It's only an hour's drive away if your car could go straight upwards."
— Fred Hoyle, quoted in The Observer

Once upon a time there was a film called Star Wars -- no episode number, no A New Hope -- just Star Wars. Many people throughout the galaxy of movie houses saw this low-budget summer released flick and were enthralled with its special effects, the interesting characters, and the way it took old story archetypes (a young man's quest towards manhood, a valiant knight storming the evil wizard's sanctum to save the princess, good vs. evil -- that sort of stuff . . .) and made them fresh again.

Eventually a second film was released and there was much rejoicing. Fans held conventions and began dressing as their favorite characters from the films. A third film came, seemingly to end the story. But the fans wanted more. Some even went to great lengths, writing their own versions of the stories in the films. This way, they surmised, the story would continue, with or without the guiding hand of George Lucas, creator of their beloved Star Wars.

But unrest came when Lucas and his Empire of lawyers began to crack down on the purveyors of these stories, which were not endorsed by their all-encompassing franchise. The Empire, with bottomless pockets and an endless team of stormtrooper lawyers struck back with lawsuits and threats as they attempted to thwart these rebel upstarts who thought they could fashion their own versions of the story. But there was hope, for the rebels took their fight to the vast reaches of the Internet where they continue, even now, to produce stories -- and even films -- of their own . . .

Fan made films such as Troops, which is a fun parody mixing television's Cops with the original Star Wars; George Lucas In Love an amusing and well thought out story about George Lucas' college days; and the newer Broken Allegiance, which has two apprentice sith escaping Vader's clutches and being pursued by bounty hunters. These films have state of the art special effects and experienced actors; but the only way they're able to fly under Lucasfilms radar is that they're not-for-profit.

Unlike other films such as The Phantom Edit; and Dark Redemption, which do nothing but raise Lucas' ire, causing him to pull the plug on the website for these films (good luck finding these on the net now.) The Phantom Edit is famous for being a version of Episode One: The Phantom Menace, re-edited by some crafty fan to remove the annoyances of Jar Jar Binks' dialogue, while smoothing out some of the editing. Dark Redemption is an Australian fan film set a mere two days before A New Hope and details just how those all-important Death Star plans (possibly one of the greatest uses of Hitchcock's MacGuffin ever) got into the hands of the rebels.

But even this ignominy is nothing compared to the legions of fans who have taken upon themselves to expand the scope of the Star Wars universe by writing what is referred to as "Slash Fiction": stories which utilize the characters in the Star Wars universe in ways not originally intended by George Lucas. Such as tales of forbidden love between Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice, the Padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi. That's right, homosexual love and/or racy sex scenes between these and other characters (Luke and Leia, Han and Luke (???), Leia and Lando, and it just goes on and on...) from the films abound on the net if you know where to look. As fast as Lucasfilms shut these down, others pop up to take their place.

For as much as Lucasfilms would like to be in control over its content, Star Wars has grown too big to fit inside of Lucas' universe anymore. Nearly everyone alive today has a Star Wars story to tell. The first time they saw it, dressing up as the characters on Halloween, standing in long lines to see the films again and again, arguing with their friends over which movie in the series is the best (The Empire Strikes Back is still many fans fave flick of the five out so far . . .), where to find that hard to find and all-important piece of Star Wars memorabilia, and occasionally writing their own stories and sharing them with fellow fans.

After all these years, with millions of people, young and old, becoming fans of the movies, it was only inevitable that Star Wars would become something more than just a series of cult films to these people. It's now a way of life. The Internet has become a haven for fans of all ages -- and ahem, predilections -- to meet and exchange ideas with one another.

You didn't like The Phantom Menace? Edit your own version. Or do what others have and create your own characters, learn how to greenscreen special-effects, produce your film yourself, and put it up on one of the many Internet fansites for other Star Wars fans to see. Interested in what would happen if Princess Leia and the Wookie, Chewbacca, decided to hit it off? Write it down, send it out on the web, and hope George Lucas and his troops never learn your real name.

Curious about what really happened "behind the scenes" in the films? Then write your own story, filling in those gaps between the movies. Which is what anonymous fiction writer Marie's very ingenious and capable "Missing Moments" tales of Princess Leia and Han Solo are; stories that show us much more than the movies ever did about that oh-so-tangled relationship.

These stories and films may be outside of the official realm of what is considered the "real" Star Wars, yet to a fan they can be an important piece of the whole, just another in an endless universe of ideas.

Will Brooker, who in 1977 "hated Star Wars," then after seeing it again in 1978, quickly changed his mind, and now has compiled one of the most extensive studies ever of this worldwide phenomenon. Star Wars fans are some of the most loyal, rabid, discerning, and hard to please fans out there. Brooker gives voice to many of them in his book, without being condescending or churlish. You can tell that he's also a fan of the films, which doesn't deride from his efficient handling of the subject manner in the least.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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Features

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

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