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Posted on Sun. Nov. 11, 2012 - 12:01 am EDT

Expanded Universe needs Disney touch

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It was, according to a writer for the website ThinkProgress, the “rare bit of news that could blow Hurricane Sandy off the map.”

Whether it actually did blow Hurricane Sandy off the map depended on what map you were using at the time.

Did your map have Staten Island on it? No?

How about the Mos Eisley Space Port?

If you regularly consult a map that depicts any portion of the planet Tatooine, then the news in late October that George Lucas had sold his entertainment company LucasFilm to Disney for $4 billion indubitably blew the hardest.

This deal brought up some immediate questions.

How long would it take for a $4 billion check to clear?

Could a check like that be cashed at Wal-Mart?

If you had $4 billion to spend on scratch-off tickets, would that significantly increase your chances of winning Hoosier Lottery’s Jingle Jackpot?

Also, there were probably some “Star Wars”-related questions.

Many “Star Wars” fans reacted to this news as if they’d been poked with Gaaffi sticks.

Some seemed not to have seen a Disney movie since “The Million Dollar Duck” and therefore were understandably worried that Mark Hamill would be replaced in subsequent “Star Wars” sequels by Tommy Kirk, the Force by Flubber, and Yoda by a mallard.

Others claimed Lucas must have “been seduced by the dark side,” which was just another way of saying that the whole sordid affair made them feel like Woody Harrelson’s character did in “Indecent Proposal” as he watched his wife fly away in a helicopter for a night of illicit passion with an unprincipled tycoon.

They could certainly be excused for nurturing this view, but perhaps there was a more optimistic way of looking at things.

Perhaps, instead of feeling like Padawan Cuckold, they had even more reason to behave as the jubilant Ewok King did at the end of “Return of the Jedi” as he watched his wife fly away in a space skiff for a night of sanctified passion with the beatified Yoda.

Yub nub, indeed.

Lucas has said a lot of things about “Star Wars” over the years, many of them contradictory, and he has done a lot of things to “Star Wars” over the years, many of them counterproductive.

He has been accused of being a money-grubber because of his constant stream of reissues, but Lucas’ principle failing as an entertainer in recent years has been his failure to entertain.

Lucas wanted his prequels to be Important-with-a-capital-I, so he gave everyone dialogue that might have been better suited for delivery as oratory behind a dais.

For all their technological advances, the prequels are as quaint and stilted as silent movies.

They are destined to go down in cinematic history as real curios, the scrapbooks of an eccentric man who has millions of dollars to spend on scrapbooking.

Seeing as Disney’s most recent money-grubbing has tended to produce pretty good movies, maybe some artistic savvy in the service of avarice is exactly what is needed here.

But if Disney wants to make new films, it can’t ignore the Bantha in the room: namely, the Expanded Universe.

Since “Return of the Jedi” came out in 1983, the continuing adventures of Luke and Anakin Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo and Obi Wan Kenobi have been chronicled in hundreds (maybe even thousands) of novels, comic books, TV episodes and games.

Thanks to the Expanded Universe, Darth Maul returned with robot legs, Luke Skywalker had nookie with a ghost, and Chewbacca was given a nephew named Lowbacca (Lowbacca? Why not Bad Bacca, Deliveries In Bacca or Employees Must Enter Through Bacca?).

Chewbacca subsequently died in a novel called “Vector Prime,” although not from the shame of having a nephew named Lowbacca.

I read a lot of “Star Wars” novels until I received a premonition that two vengeful Sith lords were going to rise up from the grave and slay me: namely, Darth Dickens and Emperor Shakespeare.

Reading a lot of “Star Wars” novels is one of those pastimes that seems like a good idea in the moment, and then you get to the end of your life and wonder how you might have done things differently.

I had just enough exposure to the Expanded Universe to be able to detect a force that surrounded it and penetrated it, that bound its vast galaxy together: Tedium.

Luke Skywalker got married and got boring, Princess Leia and Han Solo got married and got boring, and they all had boring kids.

I had always envisioned Luke as a hermit and Han and Leia estranged.

Everybody would be kinda cranky; it would be entertaining.

Fans of the more than 250 Expanded Universe novels wonder how Disney could possibly ignore them and I wonder how Disney could possibly not.

So that’s one hurdle for Disney to negotiate and another is the age of the original cast.

Speaking of venerable franchises, Harrison Ford is now the same age as DeForest Kelly was when he last portrayed Dr. McCoy for the 1991 film “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” (and many critics complained that the cast had gotten too old by that point).

At the risk of coming across as ageist, a septuagenarian Han Solo – married or not – is a creature distinct and separate from a 30-something Han Solo.

Unlike a lot of fans, I am excited at the prospect of a 56-year-old Leia becoming a Disney Princess.

Given Carrie Fisher’s colorful history of bipolar disorder, drug addiction and acid wit, she may be the best thing to happen to Disney’s lucrative princess mill since cheap CGI.

If Tinkerbell thought Wendy caused her headaches, wait until she meets Queen Sarcastica!


Steve Penhollow is an arts and entertainment writer for The Journal Gazette. His column appears Sundays. He appears Fridays on WPTA-TV, Channel 21, WISE-TV, Channel 33, and WBYR, 98.9 FM to talk about area happenings. Email him at spen@jg.net. A Facebook page for “Rants & Raves” can be accessed at www.facebook.com/pages.


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