Cyrus R. K. Patell

November 25, 2021

Happy Turkey Day, otherwise known as US Thanksgiving. Today, Jamie Uy will tell us why it isn't okay to east roast Porg at your holiday feast, and Amrita Anand will explore “The Elder,” the seventh episode of the series Star Wars Visions. But, first, some thoughts about another shared universe in anticipation of the release of Spider-Man: No Way Home on December 17.

Periodically in this newsletter, we’ll be talking about other shared universes in addition to the Star Wars universe. Perhaps the best known these days is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has just entered what it calls “Phase Four.” I like the MCU, but I prefer Star Wars. I think that preference has to do with the fact that Star Wars expands its storytelling by exploring history, whereas Marvel Comics and now the MCU have tended to be more interested in parallel realities, what the MCU now calls the “multiverse.” Star Wars has been invested in the idea of history from its opening image, the title card that read, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” Right now, the Star Wars universe is in the midst of a publishing project called “The High Republic,” focusing on a period that begins roughly two centuries before the prequel trilogy.
In contrast, superhero storytelling has tended to retell its heroes’ stories over and over with variations: witness the various incarnations of Batman and Spider-man on film. The multiverse concept allows the MCU to bind variations together so that they represent not mutually exclusive alternatives, but rather aspects of a single overarching whole, a confederation of realities. And then, having established such a concept, who could resist blurring the boundaries and having elements from one reality cross over into another? The original Star Trek did it with its “mirror universe,” a concept introduced in the iconic episode “Mirror, Mirror” and revived recently in Star Trek Discovery. 
The MCU introduced the idea of the multiverse in Doctor Strange, when the Ancient One (played by Tilda Swinton) explains the idea of parallel realities to Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). Strange will play an important role in the MCU’s expansion of the multiverse idea in two upcoming films, this year’s Spider-Man: No Way Home and next year’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
In the teaser trailer below for Spider-Man: No Way Home, Strange says, “The multiverse is a concept about which we know frighteningly little.”
The build-up to these films has taken place in several of the television shows that premiered this year on Disney+. WandaVision shows us Avenger Wanda Maximov’s evolution into Scarlet Witch, and she will play a role in the next Strange movie. Loki introduced us to the idea of “variants” whose existence threaten the integrity of “the sacred timeline.” The Loki variant (played by Tom Hiddleston) who is the protagonist of the series is the result of a comic moment involving time travel in Avengers: Endgame (2019).
It’s in the animated series What If …? (2021), however, that the MCU really starts to play with the idea of the multiverse. This series draws on the idea of alternative history, a genre of speculative fiction exemplified by novels like Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle (1962) and Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America (2004), both of which present alternative histories of the Second World War in which events and outcomes are different from the history that we know. (Dick’s novel cleverly finds a way to embed the history we know into his alternative history.)
What If …? shows us universes in which some crucial aspects of the stories told in the first three Phases of the MCU (basically the Avengers arc that begins with Iron Man in 2008 and concludes with Endgame) are changed. For example, the premise of the first episode in the series is: “What if Captain Carter were the first Avenger.” It’s not much of a spoiler to say that although the series seems at first to be an anthology of alternative reality stories, it turns out to be something else in the end.
I’m going to end with a what-if question of my own: What if the blockbuster space fantasy of the 1970s wasn’t Star Wars, but rather the adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune that the Chilean-French avant-garde director Alejandro Jodorowsky was seeking to make?
We’ll explore the ramifications of that question—and the history behind it—in the next newsletter.

The feast is the heart of the Thanksgiving holiday in the US. For many of those who celebrate “Turkey Day,” roast turkey with stuffing and cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, green beans, and pumpkin pie are de rigueur.
In the Star Wars universe, many planets celebrate harvest festivals. For example, Endor hosts the Harvest Moon Feast (starring a rainbow berry pie), Black Spire Outpost celebrates the Batuuan Harvest Festival (featuring Golden Lichen dishes), and Tatooine observes the Harvest Day (marking, in sparse Mos Eisley fashion, the annual collection of water). Food may not feature so prominently in the plot of the Star Wars film saga, save for the shocking Darth Vader appearance at the Cloud City banquet (revenge is a dish best served cold!), but who eats what reveals a lot about the relationships between alien races.
The Last Jedi features a curious "vegan moment" where Chewbacca refuses to eat the “chicken-like carcass” of porgs, the native amphibian creatures of Ahch-To, and “befriends ... the space birds” instead (VegNews). Although The Last Jedi shows the Wookiee about to hungrily tuck into spit-roasted porg meat, Chewbacca changes his mind after a family of porgs squak and shiver in front of the bonfire, watching him with sad eyes. The film cuts to an extreme close-up of porg's face front and center, with the burning remains reflected in the porg's enormous eyes.
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Of course, it doesn’t help that the porgs are so darn cute—the trailer for The Last Jedi alone made the “internet go wild” for their seal-like, endearing expressions (Forbes). At some point in the movie, the porgs even start nesting in the Millennium Falcon, imitating the furry tribbles populating the Enterprise in Star Trek. According to Wookiepedia, the porgs’ signature caws and cries were sound-mixed from recordings of “doves, chickens, and turkeys,” and Skywalker Sound sampled human “imitations of a turkey call” performed by an intern. 
Here’s a suggestion for this year’s Thanksgiving: try  the non-traditional, but animal-friendly (and planet-friendly) Tofurky. In any case, may the fork be with you this holiday season!

The Elder,” the seventh episode of the television series Star Wars Visions, depicts a galaxy in which the Sith are still a part of the distant past. On a mission to the Outer Rim, Jedi Master Tajin Crosser and his Padawan, Dan G’Vash, discover an individual who once belonged to this Dark Order. The ensuing defeat of this unnamed elder at the hands of Tajin is accredited not to Tajin’s own prowess with the lightsaber or his presence in the Force, but the inevitable decay caused by time. With its discussions of both mortality and the temporary nature of power, this subtle episode proves to be the most philosophical of the first season of Star Wars: Visions.
If Visions acts as a mirror for certain aspects of Star Wars, “The Elder” makes the difference between the Jedi and the Sith clear in their contrasting views of power and life. Tajin, keenly aware of his aging body, expects whatever strength he has to decline eventually and acknowledges that as Dan passes through his youth into adulthood, he is likely to grow more powerful.
The Jedi do not invite death, but consider it a natural part of the life cycle. “Death, yet the Force” is part of a mantra taught to them in childhood, and the Clone Wars episode “Destiny” (S06E12) states that in death, “life passes from the Living Force into the Cosmic Force and becomes one with it.” In line with their teaching to accept change in all forms, the Jedi appreciate life while they live it, but are not so attached to it as to prolong it the way Palpatine attempts to do in The Rise of Skywalker.
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[Source: Kanan #1 (Marvel Comics, 2015–16)] 
The Sith, by coveting power, meanwhile, ultimately destroyed their own Order, leading to the establishment of the “Rule of Two,” as George Lucas called it in an interview about The Phantom Menace. “There can’t be any more [than two, a master and an apprentice,] because they kill each other. They’re not smart enough to realize that if they do that, they’re going to wipe themselves out. Which is exactly what they did.” In other words, the constant infighting and betrayal was, ultimately, their downfall.

For further discussion of Star Wars and my book Lucasfilm: Filmmaking, Philosophy, and the Star Wars Universe (Bloomsbury), check out the following:
The Way Podcast, hosted by Bill Troveski; Galina Limorenko's interview with me for the New Books Network; and my session with Skeptics in the Pub Online.

Next Issue: UAE National Day

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