Welcome to the first issue of my newsletter about the Star Wars shared universe!
I've just finished a book entitled Lucasfilm: Filmmaking, Philosophy, and the Star Wars Universe for Bloomsbury's “Philosophical Filmmakers” series, and I'm starting this newsletter to help ward off postpartum anxiety. I already miss writing that book, though I've been able to keep my Star Wars work going by leading an undergraduate research seminar and directing a senior capstone project on the franchise this term at NYU Abu Dhabi. (I really do love my job sometimes!)
But that's about to end. So I'm hoping that you'll help me to keep sharing ideas about Star Wars by reading this newsletter and sending me back any thoughts you might have about what's in it.
I'm planning to send out an issue every two weeks until the Lucasfilm book is published in August and then once a month thereafter. I've got lots of ideas and bits of analysis that didn't make it into the book and exciting work from the seminar—which we're calling the NYUAD Star Wars Research Collective—that I want to share with you.
Feel free to unsubscribe any time: you won't hurt my feelings, I promise. Feel even more free to send me ideas about the kinds of things you'd like to see in future issues.
LUCASFILM: FILMMAKING, PHILOSOPHY, AND THE STAR WARS UNIVERSE
A year ago, I announced the impending publication of my forthcoming book on a newly created site called starwars.patell.net. At the time, it was going to be called “Lucasfilm: Filmmaker and Philosopher.” I hoped it would be out later in 2020.
Well, academic publishing is slow at the best of times, let alone during a pandemic!
But now it has a publication date of August 12, 2021, and you can check out the cover (which I think looks pretty cool) at Bloomsbury.com or Amazon.com.
And if you want to know more about the genesis of the book and how it got its revised title, click here.
WHAT IS A “SHARED UNIVERSE” ANYWAY?
George Lucas thought up the Star Wars universe in the mid-1970s, but then he shared it: first with all the people who collaborated him to make the first film; then with fans; then with all the collaborators on subsequent films and television series. Along the way, novelists and comic artists were licensed to tell stories set in Lucas's universe, and today the whole thing is what scholars call a “transmedia” phenomenon.
Adam Rogers wrote a great piece about the Star Wars shared universe for Wired magazine in 2015, and in subsequent newsletters, I'll be thinking more about the concept and the way it might helps to understand what's going on not only in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and J. K. Rowling's "Wizarding World" these days, but also in classical Greek tragedy and the Hollywood Western.
To celebrate International Star Wars Day, I've written my first piece for Medium. It's called “Lessons from a Galaxy Far, Far Away: Star Wars, Biden, and Fallibilism.” I suggest that one of the most refreshing—and promising—aspects of Biden's presidency thus far is his willingness to admit mistakes and learn from them. You can read the piece on Medium here.
Photo credit: Lucasfilm/Disney+
The latest Star Wars television series from Lucasfilm Animation premieres today on Disney+. Set in the aftermath of the events of Revenge of the Sith, The Bad Batch features characters introduced last February at the start of the seventh and final season of The Clone Wars. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly earlier this year, executive producer Dave Filoni revealed that George Lucas wanted to explore the idea of clones who were designed to be different from the standard template: each member of “Clone Force 99” has an enhancement that gives him a special skill set, and together form a team that is uniquely equipped to deal with difficult tactical situations. The trick, according to Filoni, was to avoid making them into superheroes: they belong, after all, to the Star Wars shared universe not the Marvel.
The final trailer featured classic antagonists from the original trilogy—Grand Moff Tarkin and Emperor Palpatine—as well as a new fan-favorite from The Mandalorian—assassin Fennec Shan (with Ming-Na Wen recreating her role)—and what looks to be a preternaturally gifted kid who's the squad's biggest fan. In other words: it's got all the makings of classic Star Wars.
The 70-minute first episode, "Aftermath," which premieres today on Disney+, is also a classic bit of late-model Star Wars storytelling, in which iconic moments from the nine “Skywalker Saga” films are presented from an alternative point of view. Like Claudia Gray's young-adult novel Lost Stars, which presents the events of the original trilogy from the sidelines of the action, or Nnedi Okorafor’s story “The Baptist,” which tells the story of the first film's famous trash compactor scene from the standpoint of the “monster” who menaces Luke, the first episode of The Bad Batch gives us an alternative view of a turning point from the prequel trilogy. Astute fans will also notice cameos from two other characters familiar from beyond the nine-film saga. Using cameos from familiar characters is one of the ways in which in which late-model Star Wars storytelling works “to bind the galaxy together.”
The second episode of The Bad Batch starts streaming on Disney+ on May 7.
GLOBAL TEXT: STAR WARS
That's the name of the course I've been teaching. It follows a model for thinking about the circulation of texts that I developed while thinking about “Global Shakespeare” and have tested out in earlier seminars on Melville's Moby-Dick and Joyce's Ulysses. Here's the official course description for the Star Wars seminar:
Is there such a thing as global cultural heritage? This advanced research seminar uses the Star Wars media phenomenon as a case study in the creation and circulation of a contemporary saga. The course examines the saga’s multicultural influences, from Greco-Roman tragedy to Zen Buddhist philosophy, taking into account the ways that Star Wars has been transformed by fans across the world. Proposing that the Star Wars phenomenon can serve as a public platform for philosophy, the course examines Star Wars as a “cosmos-politan” text engaged with ideas of difference, and poses questions about the interplay between globalization/cultural imperialism and global texts in the age of Disneyfication.
The members of the collective are Lara Abu Dahab, Shamma Alzaabi, Amrita Anand, Bhrigu Bhatra, Harper Cho, Lucas Gomez-Doyle, Daniel Lee, Joanna Orphanide, Isabel Ríos, and Jamie Uy. You'll be hearing from all of them in the coming weeks, with shorter pieces presented here and longer pieces available online at starwars.patell.net or on Medium. Featured below are pieces by Cho and Ríos.
JOIN THE DARK ICE CREAM: STAR WARS MUSICAL PARODIES
By ISABEL RÍOS
Spain has come a long way in its appreciation of Star Wars. Its rocky beginnings are marked by Spanish translators almost calling it “la guerra de las estrellas” because they thought the title referred to celebrities and stardom, but thankfully opting instead for the sci-fi option of “la guerra de las galaxias.” Currently, the Star Wars fan base is large enough to make The Force Awakens (2015) the fifth highest grossing foreign film in terms of Spanish box office revenue as of 2019. Even better: a musical parody, released on YouTube eight days before the premiere of Episode VII, amassed over nine million views (and still counting).
The video “No me gusta Star Wars | El Musical” (“I Don’t Like Star Wars | The Musical”) by the channel Pascu y Rodri ♪ is a 2 minute comedic exploration of the generational divide between parents and children in regards to Star Wars viewership. Not to say that families cannot bond over Star Wars (as Cyrus Patell will tell you in his forthcoming book), but for this fake family it reached new parsecs. The youngling stares at the camera annoyed at his father, dressed in a Star Wars graphic T, lamenting how he is named “Obi-Juan” and praying to George Lucas for answers. Less than a year later, the same creators gave us “STAR WARS El Retorno del Cole | El Musical” (“The Return of the School”), a pun-and-quote-filled answer to the question, What if Darth Vader had actually raised Luke and Leia? Vader scrambles to get the kids to school while wearing a flowery, pink apron. Both videos are carried by little, brilliant moments: when Luke asks what’s for breakfast, Vader responds with “eso es helado oscuro” (“that’s dark [chocolate] ice cream”), a play on “el lado oscuro” (the Dark Side).
The videos, globally available on the YouTube platform, lend themselves to a cosmopolitan reading. As we view the videos, particularly Spanish speakers, we “read” them socially, not only between creators and audience, but audience to audience through the comment section. YouTube prompts immediate connotative associations by suggesting similar videos to the side or below the one you are watching. Although at times a breeding ground for toxic fandom practices, YouTube and its comment sections provide an arena for exercises in cosmopolitan reading and, of course, delightful viewing experiences. Hard to see, the Dark Side is, but not these videos! Join the Dark Ice Cream here.
By HARPER CHO
Two years ago, Globe Telecom in the Philippines released an advertising campaign that had many in tears. Titled “A Star Wars Experience for All,” the ad told a heartwarming tale of two boys on a mission to craft their own X-wing in hopes of making the Star Wars holiday season truly special for everyone. The ad won the hearts of many, including Kathleen Kennedy, for the way it highlighted the universal resonance of the saga’s core themes. Star Wars inspires all, regardless of nationality, age, or ability. What makes this ad campaign truly interesting, however, is its depiction of a distinctly Filipino Star Wars fan experience, one that is not often seen in television. Between sari-sari stores, yema wrappers, and Filipino suburbs, Star Wars is domesticated into the Filipino setting.
It should come as no surprise that Star Wars is a staple of Filipino pop culture. After all, the country was a US colony for nearly fifty years, a period during which Hollywood movies reigned supreme. Even today Western movies dominate Filipino cinemas. Yet this strong Western influence should not be mistaken for a lack of Filipino media identity. Western influences such as Star Wars are constantly being reappropriated and domesticated into the Filipino social fabric, as shown not only in the Globe advertisement, but also in countless other expressions of Star Wars fan culture. From the Philippine Lightsaber Guild to spontaneous Covid Darth Vader cosplays, Star Wars thrives in the hearts of Filipinos, truly testifying that Star Wars is an experience for all.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'd love to hear your ideas and questions about Star Wars, as well as film, philosophy, literature, and cultural studies!