(OR: Some years , life really gets your goat.)

 

Well, it’s that time again: that time-honored tradition of examining those news stories that slipped through the journalistic cracks over the past twelve months.

As it seems to happen far too often, the year began in JANUARY in South Carolina, when lawmakers proposed legislation requiring students be taught an NRA gun rights course. Gun safety courses were not required, however, until the ratio of teeth-to-people improved. In Florida, George Zimmerman…actually…nevermind. A prominent Republican presidential candidate suggested that judges who promote equality should be removed from office. That candidate was Ben Carson, the sole black Republican in the field of 3,126 candidates. Gwynneth Paltrow got into hot…er…water, when she recommended that women bypass traditional medicine and simply steam clean their vaginas at home. Bissell has yet to call with a lucrative endorsement contract for Paltrow or her vagina. Millionaires and billionaires from around the world flew to Davros (the island, not the leader of the Daleks) in 1,700 private planes to discuss solutions to such global concerns as wage inequality and global warming. During a Republican rally event featuring candidates Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Scott Walker, Sarah Palin’s teleprompter broke mid-speech. Palin continued with her speech, and no one could tell any difference.

The fun shifted just slightly north in FEBRUARY when North Carolina newspaper The Lexington Dispatch was forced to run a correction that clarified to its readers that Barack Obama was not in fact the Antichrist. In an effort to cater to as broad a family dynamic as possible, a California drive-in theater showed The Spongebob Movie and 50 Shades of Grey on their adjacent screens, which can be seen together from any point in the lot. There are probably better ways to teach kids just how absorbent a sponge can be, however. Pete Carroll finally won a Super Bowl for the Patriots. The “Waste Management Phoenix Open” golf tournament lived up to its name when port-a-potties overflowed onto the course during the tournament, cementing the game’s reputation as a crappy way to waste a day. Montana State Representative David Moore tried to make yoga pants illegal because he found them too provocative, prompting opponents to suggest the new motto, “He’d walk a mile from a camel toe.” A poet in the UK organized a gathering for less-endowed men. The Big Small Penis Party was held to give its members a boost of self-confidence, and hopefully a pamphlet about Viagra. Waffle House celebrated 6 years of offering flowers and candles for tables celebrating Valentine’s Day, for couples who like their hashbrowns scattered, smothered, chunked…and covered with divorce papers. Rudy Giuliani found it hard to believe that anyone else was alive during 9/11, much less Barack Obama.

MARCH started with a lovely lesson in irony when an Australian man pulled an axe on his friend for not sharing a bag of Doritos. They live (and I am not making this up) in a town called Darwin. The focus of evolution’s main principal shifted quickly back to the States when, in Ohio, a man called 911 to report his wife had stolen his cocaine. In an effort to make putting fingers in ears and yelling “LALALALALALA!” an actual policy, Florida officials banned the use of the terms “global warming” and “climate change.” Disproving the notion that within plain sight is the best hiding place, a Nebraska man was fined by police when they found marijuana in his car, stored in a container stealthily labeled “not weed.” Police in Akron, Ohio were on the hunt for a man who shat on 19 cars. Yep. Pooped. It was not known if the culprit was a performance artist recreating golf tournaments. In the first positive dick move in history, a South African man received the world’s first penis transplant. Should the procedure ultimately fail, however, there is a support group in England accepting new members. An Akron woman – not related to anyone in Australia – stabbed her boyfriend for eating all of her salsa. In her defense, the spice had long been gone in their relationship.

APRIL got off on the wrong foot when a San Diego man’s bus pass was confiscated by alert police when he could not provide proof of his requiring a disabled bus pass…beyond being confined to a wheelchair. In an effort to thin the number of vermin on his property, A Georgia man shot an armadillo, and the bullet ricocheted off the armadillo, then a fence, and a porch chair before stopping in his mother-in-law’s back. She lived, the armadillo didn’t, and the man still claims the armadillo was his original target. The reputation of the San Diego police continued unchanged when the police detained a trespasser at a high school until the proper authorities could claim the seal, and return it to the zoo. In what can only be seen as a victory for inactive trolling, a Great Falls, Montana man was arrested after police tracked him down with his IP address after the fugitive clicked “like” on the county police’s Facebook page’s post featuring his wanted poster.

In anticipation of a MAY vacation, a man protested the airline overbooking his flight to Jamaica by removing all of his clothes in the terminal. No one was impressed by the North Carolina man’s…conviction. A hospital in China was under scrutiny after misdiagnosing a patient as three months pregnant because of a slight tummy bulge. The recipient of the diagnosis, a Sichuan male, was not punished at work for his pregnant pause. Ohio took the lead over the Carolinas in the WTFolympics when an Ohio teen was arrested by police at the scene of a crime when the teen returned to the scene to retrieve his hat. A male version of Hooters, “Tallywhackers,” opened in Dallas. I could add a joke, but I think it’s best if I just let it hang there.

JUNE started overseas when London police held a prolonged standoff with a venomous snake that turned out to be a lawn ornament. Continuing the network’s long tradition of just not understanding anything, NBC Sports President Mark Lazarus asked the NHL to demand players shave their beards during the playoffs. Oregon newspaper The East Oregonian, perhaps affected by the recent legality of marijuana, reported the Oakland A’s baseball team had debuted a new “amphibious” pitcher who could pitch with both hands. Texas police shut down the lemonade stand of two young girls because they weren’t following restaurant sanitation guidelines and had no permits. It is not known if these officers received the same sensitivity training as San Diego police. Rachel Dolezal proved that not every issue is easily black or white. A Jewish political action committee protested the SCOTUS decision on marriage equality with a long multi-day protest. In an impressive show of their dedication to the cause, the PAC hired a group of Mexican day laborers to hold their signs.

In JULY, Pope Francis was called upon by nuns in California to settle a dispute that was setting off fireworks as the nuns were trying to keep Katy Perry from purchasing an unused convent. Proving just how far we go to protect the ones we love, an audience member climbed onstage during a Broadway show to use an onstage outlet to charge his phone. Dan Boria of Calgary was forced to parachute to safety when his flight went awry after the balloons tied to his lawn chair carried him too high. The lawn chair will be missed. Confirming his Apprentice reality show may actually be the best way for him to pick staffers, Donald Trump offered Sarah Palin a place in his administration because, “she really is somebody that knows what’s happening.” A Dallas man shot at an armadillo in his yard. The bullet ricocheted and hit the shooter in the face. The critter is not related to the armadillo from Georgia or the shooter.

Humanity’s ability to show compassion for lesser beings reached new heights in AUGUST when a robot programmed to hitchhike, after successfully traversing Europe and Canada, was destroyed when it entered Philadelphia. Perhaps hoping to make sure it could again outdo Philly, a New York City judge approved the city’s request to terminate an employee for missing 18 months of work. The employee died in 2014 from cancer, but city officials were not diligent in contacting the employee or family in that time. A man was arrested for shoplifting steaks from a grocery store by storing them in his colostomy bag. He is from…South Carolina. A woman in New York City hid nearly $6,000 in cash in a new toaster oven, which her husband returned. She went to the store in a panic, but was told the clerks had turned the money over to her son. She has no son. A fourth man was killed in Spain during the season of public “Running of the Bulls” events, proving that bulls are creatures of habit, and men are creatures of stupidity.

SEPTEMBER took us once again across the pond when in England, a 61-year-old man held up a bank by taking advantage of modern computerized banking. He demanded the teller transfer 800 pounds into his account at the same bank. A five-way custody battle erupted between three individuals and two rescue groups after a chicken was detained by police for fowling up rush-hour traffic in California. Lost in the struggle were police interrogation records regarding why the chicken was crossing the road. Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards endured an arduous and angry interrogation by Congress that reminded voters why birth control is a good thing. Right-wing outcry over Doritos “Rainbow Chips,” which raised funds for the “It Gets Better” suicide prevention program, proved that the “Haterade” experiment had worked.

Following Pope Francis’ visit to Congress in OCTOBER, Pennsylvania Representative Bob Brady stole the Pope’s water glass, so that he could use the contents to bless his family and staff. Afraid of being wiped off the map by an angry deity, Blount County, Tennessee officials tried to pass a resolution rejecting marriage equality. Textbook publishers McGraw/Hill had to apologize after referring to slaves as “workers” and claiming the “workers” were simply “transported here to work on plantations.” The most fantastically absurd legislation to never make it out of committee was proposed by Florida Representative David Jolley (R) when he put forth a bill forcing Congress to work 40 hours a week. Burger King clearly misunderstood the notion that it’s healthier to go green when their Halloween Whopper turned diners’ poo green. A victory for narcissism happened in Florida when a woman broadcast a live-stream of herself driving home drunk. Police had little trouble tracking her down. New York City’s reputation for tight-knit families was on display when Jennifer Connell sued her 12yo nephew for breaking her wrist during an enthusiastic hug. Hoping to get any notice whatsoever, Playboy announced it would no longer publish nude pictures of women. A South Carolina man was arrested for calling 911 to complain his girlfriend refused him sex. The police statement was simply, “no, you can’t do that.” A Florida man was arrested for leading police on a dangerous high-speed chase. He denied the charges, admitting that his dog was driving. Proving that experience is the best teacher, a Seattle woman, who was doing very well on all of her driver’s education tests, failed the behind-the-wheel final when she drove the car into the school’s lobby. Subway settled a class-action lawsuit acknowledging their foot-long sandwiches were, in fact, only 11 inches long. To be fair, the company is run by men. An Indiana woman, while on a waterfowl hunt, was accidently shot by her hunting companion. The SPCNRA has not yet made a statement regarding the hunter’s companion, her dog…Trigger. Billionaire Sanford Weill rescinded a $20 million donation to struggling Paul Smith College when the college would not rename itself for the donor. Entrepreneurial spirit and parental rejection of hipster children crossed paths in New York when a Brooklyn woman began renting herself out for $40 an hour to hipsters to be their mom, offering shopping, laundry, and cooking services, and guilt-free maternal advice. No word yet on if she has rates covering her taking customers’ places at family gatherings.

With one year left before the next election, NOVEMBER started with members of Ben Carson’s advisory team stating publicly that Carson cannot grasp foreign policy. Apparently, he kept identifying Maryland as the Middle East. A Florida officer being honored for 100 DUI arrests showed up to the ceremony drunk. He was suspended, which gave him more time to plan a political career. Allergan, makers of Botox, and Pfizer, makers of Viagra, merged in a $160 billion dollar deal. Investors from both companies were excited for the deal, but only Pfizer investors visibly so. A Georgia college student forged paperwork to show he was arrested and in jail in order to convince college officials to allow him to retake a missed exam. For the forgery, he was arrested and jailed. And possibly given an Alanis Morrisette CD. Americans bought a record number of firearms on Black Friday. The only joke here is how little Americans value life.

As 2015 wraps up, the beginning of DECEMBER shifts our focus to the Midwest, where Norman, Oklahoma police received a bit of attention when an officer drove a suspect home instead of processing him. The suspect, a donkey, was cited for making an ass of itself. Albemarle County in Virginia shut down all of its schools after phone calls from parents raised concerns for the security of students and teachers after an assignment involving Muslim history and culture was given. Apparently the primary concern was that “learnin’ was happenin’.” The newly christened USS Milwaukee had to be towed to port just 20 days after launch due to a complete lack of propulsion. Seems they were using cheese to grease the engines. Closing out 2015, also known in the Lunar calendar as the Year of the Goat, an Oklahoma City man was arrested while engaged in intimate relations with…you guessed it…a goat. The man was expected to bleat guilty.

Good luck, 2016. You’re gonna need it.

Every Star Wars fan, from the casual to the obsessive, owes a small debt to Dino De Laurentiis. De Laurentiis was the rights holder to a feature film version of Flash Gordon, a project George Lucas always wanted to make. Fortunately for Star Wars fans, De Laurentiis was holding out for Federico Fellini to make his Flash Gordon film when Lucas inquired about the rights. Lucas was rejected, and with his second film project, Apocalypse Now, stagnant, in May of 1973 Lucas decided to start work on his own space opera.

Ten years later, his most successful endeavor would end with something of a whimper, and its creator burned out light so many old lightbulbs. Thirty years after that, Lucas would sell the franchise for more than most country’s GNP. It’s hard to tell, however, who is more conflicted about Star Wars: the fans, or the creator.

I was originally reading about Lucas and the Star Wars series to determine why someone would release a film which would become a global success, and eventually a phenomenon, and then some twenty-five years later go revisit it. And change it, much to the ire of the fan base that made it the phenomenon it grew to be. Star Wars had grown into such a cultural marker that people who have never seen the film sometimes feel the need to apologize.

Why would someone revisit a film and make, what are admittedly just a few changes to the narrative and visual landscape, changes that would radically alter the development of a major character?

The Star Wars Special Editions always bugged me. The cleaned up prints and audio tracks were welcome alterations, but so many of the changes made no sense: doubling the number of rebel snub fighters in their attack on the Death Star, re-inserting a scene in the space port even though later designs of a major participant made such editing awkward, and the biggie, Han Solo and his trigger finger.

The Rebels were a ragtag bunch of freedom fighters, scraping by on what tools and fighters they could get their hands on, and suddenly, thanks to Lucas’ new love of CGI, the Y-Wings and X-Wings of Red and Gold flights were not only cleaner and sleeker…there were twice as many.

Inserting a scene of Jabba visiting Docking Bay 94 to pressure Han about the money Solo owed Jabba comes across more as an exercise in showing off the computer’s abilities than adding anything to the narrative. Jabba works best as an off camera menace to be revealed as he is in Return of the Jedi. The scene in the Special Edition of Star Wars relegates Jabba to more comic relief (especially when Han “steps” on him), and is bookended by a blatant fan service shot of Boba Fett.

And then there is the kicker: Greedo trying to hit Han before Solo shoots him under the table. Lucas has defended this change ever since, with the most recent defense being

“Han Solo was going to marry Leia, and you look back and say, ‘should he be a cold-blooded killer?’ “ – Washington Post, 12/6/2015

Yes.

Luke is following the beats of Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey so perfectly that sight of Han Solo’s development is lost. Solo is not the main character, but he could be. Very little work needs be done to make the smuggler the (pardon the pun) star. Han starts out as a self-centered smuggler who has to do or say whatever he can – including kill – to survive. With that in mind, his shooting Greedo just before Greedo could shoot him is totally within character. Han then gets caught up in something bigger than he ever dealt with, and is swept up into a rebellion ultimately because he has a code of honor…and because he found love. That code and that love led to a different Han Solo, one who has grown beyond the killer he once was. Erasing that from Solo’s history changes Solo completely and negates any impact made by his growth over three films.

Changes made to The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi were also puzzling. Adding extra footage of the Wampa doesn’t exactly follow the idea with monsters in film of “less is more,” and in general, the replacement musical number in Jabba’s palace is just downright awful. The most laugh-inducing change was transforming the Sarlacc Pit from an “angry sand vagina” to Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors.

I also noted that Empire endured the fewest alterations, and I wondered why. I also watched the prequel trilogy, which have never been able to enjoy once the euphoria of “new Star Wars in the theater” wore off. The prequels are the epitome of style-over-substance filmmaking, and created far more questions about Lucas than they answered.

In studying the film series I found themes which I had either simply not noticed, or chose to ignore, that also presented more questions. For example:

Princess Leia is generally regarded as a “badass,” but if you watch her progression carefully, you notice that she starts off strong, but begins to shrink when Han and Luke start to assert themselves. She becomes so domesticated that by the final film, even the actress portraying her wonders if she has become nothing more than a Barbie doll. In Star Wars, Leia is an assertive leader, a smart-under-fire combatant, and a woman of little patience for idiocy. In Empire, she is almost wishy-washy, being assertive only with Han, and only in conversations where he calls her on her feelings for him. She is an easily frightened, demure woman who only regains her assertiveness when Han is gone.

And then there is Jedi, with one of the most infamous costumes in film history: the brass bikini. The outfit that is the fantasy fodder for so many young men, and an exercise in patience for women. Carrie Fisher noted rightly that when she first appears in the outfit, she no longer has any dialogue (save one quick line to a blind Han). She is made silent by her costume, and none of her friends speak directly to her until after she has dispatched of the giant space slug imprisoning her. She spends the rest of the film being Han’s companion or the property of the Ewoks.

Hardly a proper arc of development for a character who is not only an icon to female science fiction fans, but the only female character of note in the entire trilogy. (Note a recent YouTube edit of all of the dialogue spoken by women in the trilogy not by Leia, which clocks in at just over 60 seconds.)

Padme Amidala’s fate is no better, sadly. She also starts off as a strong and smart fighter, and ends the prequel trilogy literally dying of a broken heart moments after giving birth to her children. At least in the prequels there are two or three times as many ancillary female characters (including the inexplicably midriff-baring female Jedi in a halter-top killed by clone troops once they’ve had a few seconds to check her out).

Also in the prequels, People of Color get better representation, but even that is diminished by the many aliens that come across as parody of racial stereotypes abandoned by filmmakers in the 1950s.

The strangest thing I noticed was the arc of Anakin Skywalker. Destined to become Darth Vader, there was little chance for any kind of redemption for him, and short of the Emperor, Anakin was going to be the nastiest character in the trilogy. Watching Phantom Menace, and then Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, I couldn’t help wonder just what I was supposed to think of young Ani.

In Menace, he is constantly hearing, directly or not, that he was the chosen one, that he was special, and that he would be the savior of the Jedi. All of the dialogue about him was eerily similar to what we hear of Millennials on a daily basis, in that they are always told they are ‘special little snowflakes.’ An older Anakin suffers from the resultant sense of entitlement, becoming angry, jealous, and belligerent when things don’t go his way. Moreover, as the final two films progress, Anakin has dialogue that is reminiscent of the “Men’s Rights Activists” that harass women both online and in person, speaking of how his peers are not worthy of his time. Was this commentary by Lucas on the state of young people today?

The most obvious theme throughout the series is religion. In the original trilogy, The Force is a thinly-veiled allegory for faith. The Jedi are clerics or monks who serve the force, and when they pass their energies join with the force in such a way that they maintain individuality and act as guides for their charges. Allegories to Christianty, Buddhism, and even Islam are present, merged with the sensibilities and code of the samurai, mostly observed by Lucas in the films of Akira Kurosawa, many of which lend their plots to the Star Wars stories. The theme becomes ridiculous in Menace when Lucas tried to demystify The Force and made it a function of science with the introduction of midichlorians.

By the time Menace was filmed, “Jedi” had become a popular response on government forms for identifying one’s religion, so much so that in some English-speaking countries it is a state-recognized faith. Lucas may have been trying to put the kibosh on such claims with the introduction of one of the more head-scratching inducing elements of the prequels.

Another element of the process that separates the two trilogies so dramatically is their actual production. The prequels are almost entirely CGI, resulting in an antiseptic, glossy aesthetic. In short, it’s so shiny, the visuals are a distraction. In the original trilogy, the only real CGI were a few screen displays and readouts, and the Death Star graphic on Admiral Ackbar’s ship. There is heft and weight to the effects in the original trilogy lending gravitas to the environment. It feels real because you could actually reach out and touch objects, environs, characters. They exist. In the prequel trilogy, not only do few of the objects exist outside binary code, the acting suffers because the real-life actors have very little to react to in their performances. The CGI characters only stand out when they behave in a way that is absurd, or worse, annoying or offensive.

Lucas often said he couldn’t really tell the story he wanted to because of the limitations of technology at the time he made the original trilogy. CGI allowed him to correct so-called past mistakes, and tell the new trilogy to his liking. This however is a disservice to the stories. One of the aspects of good storytelling is giving the reader or viewer just enough information to allow the imagination to properly fill in the gaps. Again, less is more.

By altering the existing visual narrative for the original trilogy, Lucas is not only in danger of altering the perceptions of our memories of the films, but of suggesting with his enhancements that our memories and imagination are invalid. Thus, our investments in his stories could be rendered moot.

Throughout the production of the original trilogy, constant alterations to the narrative were being made by Lucas. The very first one was while the initial treatment for The Star Wars was being written. Lucas started toying with the idea of one story becoming twelve.

With a series emerging, certain things that were being established had to change. For example, early on Lucas made a note that Luke might be a twin, and a long lost sibling (eventually suggested as a sister) might exist. The idea was brought back from limbo following a car crash that Lucas feared Hamill may not recover from in time to continue as Luke. This would come to fruition in Empire when Lucas changed dialogue between Obi Wan and Yoda from:

OBI WAN

He is our only hope.

YODA

No…we must find another.

To:

OBI WAN

That boy is our last hope.

YODA

No. There is another.

By the time of the earliest notes for the treatment that would become Jedi, a note had been scribbled above Leia’s name, “sister?” that would change the future of the franchise, and also gross out anyone who remembered that kiss Leia planted on Luke early in Empire. There are also notes in the treatments about when and how Luke will kiss Leia.

Other, less “EW!” inducing changes made by Lucas over the course of the trilogy included

  • Having Han simply go away after Empire, not as an ice cube, but simply to “move on” and deal with Jabba (Ford was only contracted for two films initially).
  • Much to the unease of Alec Guinness, Lucas decided midway through filming Star Wars that Kenobi should die. A Jedi’s ability to transcend corporeal form and join with the Force to be an ethereal guide was about placating Guinness who was upset he wouldn’t get a meaningful death scene.
  • Lando was to be introduced as a nameless clone gambler, and he may or may not have offered relief for Chewbacca’s jealousy over the growing relationship between Leia and Han.
  • Leia’s assertion in Jedi that she remembered her mother is based on earlier noted where Kenobi took Luke to Tatooine and Leia went to Alderaan with their mother, who died shortly thereafter.
  • Lando was going to be killed off at some point in Jedi.
  • Luke was supposed to kill Vader, then throw the Emperor down the reactor shaft.
  • Yoda’s name was originally “Buffy.”

There are many references in his notes, and in interviews, which reveal Lucas’ philosophy on film making. What makes these ideas all the more interesting is how, just over twenty years later, Lucas would ignore them completely.

Lucas once complained about writing scenes of people just talking, as they were boring and did nothing to move the story along. In Menace, there are several scenes of deliberations in the Imperial Senate where all that happens are talking scenes.

In story meetings for Jedi, Lucas said

“Why can’t you cut around the whole universe and see every planet celebrating? That’s what we should do, but that’s going to be boring; you just can’t do that.”

He would do precisely that in the Special Edition edits of Jedi, and a similar montage for the end of Sith.

Lucas said of casting, “star value is only an insurance policy for those who don’t trust themselves making films.” While the original trilogy is cast with largely unknowns or “lesser known” names, the prequel trilogy is a “Who’s Who” of late 1990s popular actors mixed with British film icons.

Many have theorized of Lucas’ intentions for the ways in which he structured the trilogies. Was he writing some elaborate poem, with beats and scenes intertwining when juxtaposed against their companion films from the previous trilogy? Or was it simply laziness, banking on the fact that history would repeat itself with regard to all named Skywalker?

However, one quote from Lucas suggests otherwise, and presents a possible answer to all of these questions:

“I’ve never really liked directing. I became a director because I didn’t like directors telling me how to edit, and I became a writer because I had to write something in order to be able to direct something. So, I did everything out of necessity, but what I really like is editing.”

George Lucas grew up in the 1950s California, with a passion for cars and racing…and not much else. He liked tinkering with his car and street racing. His first studio film unrelated to his film school projects was a reflection of that time in his youth, American Graffiti.

Lucas, simply put, was a hot rodder. He took a car, and tinkered with it until it was what he thought the car should be. And then tinkered some more.

He didn’t build a car from scratch, take pride in that creation, and then maintain it with the least amount of work for the most possible value. He took an existing product, and messed with it, and continued to tinker, until he was satisfied at that moment.

That philosophy carried over to Lucas’ filmmaking.

Lucas is not a storyteller, or a writer, or even a director.

He’s a tinkerer.

When you accept that, suddenly Greedo shooting first makes sense. Lucas changed the original trilogy to fit his changing world view, not at the time he initially made the trilogy, but twenty years later. A storyteller would look at his old work, and whether or not he or she liked certain elements, those elements would remain unchanged, and addressed in a different work.

Previous work is left for all to consider as a reflection of the creator at that moment in the creator’s life, not the audience’s.

Not for a tinkerer.

Lucas couldn’t leave Sebastian Shaw to portray Anakin’s ghost in Jedi since he only spent a few moments on screen as Anakin. As Hayden Christensen spent far more time on screen as Anakin, the ghost image was changed to Christensen’s.

Despite not being dangerous enough now to shoot first, Han is incapable of running from a mere six Stormtroopers. When Solo deadends into the troopers during their Death Star escape, CGI added more to bring the number closer to one hundred troops.

Max Rebo’s musical number must have seemed dated, so it was changed to a catchier, more modern,  rock song the kids would love. Oh, and he threw in a few more par-dressed dancers, too.

Not enough blatant callbacks to his past? Let’s add Vader’s weak and ineffective “no” yell from the end of Sith to the end of Jedi.

Much like changing who shot first in the cantina, none of these changes make any sense to the story being told. They’re just tinkers to placate the sensibilities of their creator.

For someone who said he performs “in the shadows,” Lucas can’t seem to stay in those shadows. (It should be noted that there are few changes to Empire, which was directed by a mentor of Lucas’, Irvin Kershner. Empire is the one film in the series where Lucas had the least interference with actual production.)

Reinforcing the notion that he isn’t much of a storyteller are his own comments on story: “I’m not really interested in plots…I find plots boring because they’re so mechanical.”

During the same story conference in which Lucas mentioned not liking writing scenes where people just talk, he also talks about not wanting to kill any characters because it isn’t nice. Harrison Ford backed this up after suggesting several times that Han should die to give the saga some weight, except “George is predisposed to happy endings.” However, later in that same conference, he talked about killing Lando despite not having a good reason for doing so.

Lawrence Kasdan on more than one occasion suggested cutting the Ewoks out of Jedi entirely, an idea firmly rejected by Lucas. When asked why, Lucas admitted that they were cute, and eliminating them meant he would have to write more.

One interesting observation came from Mark Hamill. During the scene where Luke and 3PO find R2, just before we meet Ben, Hamill was having trouble with a reading. Discussing the scene with Lucas, it dawned on Hamill how to act the scene. He acted the scene as Lucas…and it was the take Lucas used. It was then he realized that Star Wars was Lucas’ story, and as it is in the name after all, Luke is Lucas. From then on, Hamill simply mimicked Lucas.

This is further evidence into the idea that Lucas is not really a storyteller, just someone tinkering with his own story, or more accurately, his own fairy tale. After all, the fight between Luke and his Rebel friends against the evil Empire does in many ways parallel Lucas’ battle (with the help of friends like Coppola and Spielberg) against the large Hollywood conglomerates.

Taking all of this into account can’t take away from the magical feelings I experienced as a young child in the theaters over several years as I was transported to a galaxy far, far away. Lucas’ feelings about and treatment of the films since their initial release, and his haphazard creation of supplemental films since then, cannot change the enormous amount of entertainment and fun I have enjoyed watching and revisiting Tatooine, Hoth, Dagobah, Cloud City and Endor.

Lucas may not be a real storyteller, a writer, or a director. He does appear to be someone who cares less about our relationship to his creations, and our feelings about the films, than he does our feelings about him.

And maybe…

Just maybe…

That makes him an artist after all.

Unfortunately, we may never know the answer, as now The Force is with someone else. And it’s time to find out if, after all these years, J. J. Abrams was the other hope Yoda suggested.

 

A note about quotes

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes come from J. W. Rinzler’s books, The Making of Star Wars, The Making of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, and The Making of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, which cull interviews from a variety of sources, but do not offer direct attribution.

How Losing My Job Turned Me Into A Con-Artist

NOTE: If you missed seeing us at any of these shows, you can order all of our books by visiting our web site, Deans Family Productions, and clicking the Store link.

Not long after Heroes Con 2014, but just before the second anniversary of my web comic Crass Fed, I was laid off from my job as manager of a Northern Virginia comic shop, a position I had held for several years. It didn’t pay well at all, but the job afforded me the ability to tailor my schedule to my child’s needs. It also gave me a number of regular customers that I regarded as friends. My position also allowed me to help certain creators with promotions and a chance to broaden their audience.

I was laid off with a Monday morning phone call, and the rest of the day left me slightly stunned. The next day started the inevitable, “what now?”

Late that night, in the shower, “what now” turned into “why not?” (I should explain that, since my back injury made it difficult to stand for longer than a few minutes at a time, I took to showering at night. By showering just before bed, I could recover from any spinal stress during the shower with a hopefully good night’s sleep.)

On the drive to Heroes days earlier, I was doodling while my wife drove the second leg of the trip. I happened to draw my daughter’s favorite toy, a cow, in a space suit.

In the shower, a title came to me like lightning, and an idea began to form into something that could be a very big thing for me. I quickly had ideas for a handful of stories that could be silly for young children, include facts and information from various areas of learning, and feature puns (of course).

Crass Fed Kids was born, and the first book, Moo Thousand and Pun, was forming…quickly.

For the next couple of hours the first draft of the story flowed faster than the coffee that helped me write. I turned in, even though I wasn’t sure I could get to sleep, I was too excited that this could actually be something…worthwhile.

I did manage to get to sleep, and a few hours later I drove Kidlet to camp, and got back home quickly to call my wife and tell her all about my new idea. And, true to her wonderful nature, she simply told me to run with it, because what did I have to lose?

The next few weeks were spent refining the text and working up preliminary art for a basic first draft. I sent copies out to a few friends – both artists and parents – for feedback. My wife kept telling me how good the book was, but she’s biased. My friends all said it was worth doing. One friend expressed that he was impressed because so many people say they are writing a book, and never do it. I had, and done so quickly. Another friend read it to the children she sat as a nanny, and they had made her read it three times. In a row.

With that confidence, I began work on the final version, and research into printers. Between a basic part-time job to help pay bills, caring for Kidlet, and other family stuff, the next few months were quite busy. But, I was able to get lots of research done while also finishing the book.

I also picked the brains of several creators I admired who had also self-published their books, like Bloop creator Steve Conley and Roboy Red & Buzzboy creator John Gallagher, for ideas on what to do next. Unfortunately, nerves set in. Was I wasting my time? Instead of chasing a dream, should I be finding a better paying job?

And, what would I do once I was finally done with the thing?

After Christmas, I started to push more towards getting the book actually made. I started researching Kickstarter, and talking to suppliers about support material to offer as rewards. I ordered proofs from two different printers, and chose the best proof to determine which company would print my book.

The campaign launched on February 19, 2015. In no time at all I had my first backer, and over the next few days, friends and family piled onto the udderly ridiculous bandwagon I was hoping to launch. I even did an interview with the Comics DC blog, and appeared on the children’s variety web-show, The Chris-O-Matic Show, to promote the book and campaign.

The list of folks started with friends and family, but soon complete strangers were backing my vision. A welcom and unexpected re-tweet from Mark Waid led to admired creators backing the book, and several former customers added their support, humbling me with their generosity and faith. One friend, Erica Schultz, went so far as to back the book twice!

It took a lot of self-promotion, but on March 21st, the project was fully funded. I was going to get to launch a cow into space!

Provided I got over the panicky feelings.

Money for the Kickstarter campaign came in and immediately paid for UPC codes, printing of support products, and three versions of the book, including a version just for people who backed the initial campaign which included all of the promotional cartoons and images I created for the campaign.

Our savings were used to buy table space at Awesome Con (D.C. in May) and Heroes Con (Charlotte in June), and signage. We had become regular attendees at Heroes, but Awesome Con would be a test run, not only to see if there was an audience for my ideas, but to test our ideas for displaying and exhibiting at a convention.

While waiting for Moo Thousand And Pun from the printers, I helped my wife organize and print her own book, Con Grub, a cookbook of recipes to be made in advance of attending a convention to provide healthier options than concessions over long and exhausting convention weekends. I also finished up a comic with my Kidlet, The Mighty Hippofartamus. Hippofartamus was an idea she came up with one morning before school, and I helped her structure it into a story, and I did loose layouts for her to ink.

By the end of May, we each had a book to sell at our first convention, less than a year after I lost my job. Awesome Con in D.C. was my first show as exhibitor, and I doubt we will ever look back.

For years I had advocated a philosophy of saving a little of one’s convention budget for trying out, and ultimately supporting the dreams of, new talent. Now, and somewhat suddenly, I was that new talent. (Talent being used with tongue in cheek.)

AWESOME CON, May 2015, Washington, D.C.

For our first show, we were lucky to exhibit close to home. We could Metro in to the show, making travel expenses minimal. And, if we sold a lot we were close to replenishments. We would also have some friends nearby, like Cuddles and Rage, Amy Chu, Jamal Igle, and Carolyn Belefski should we need encouragement or advice.

Awesome Con is a media show first, comic show second. Artist Alley isn’t very structured, but we were lucky to get placed near the stage for Kids Love Comics, a convention-within-a-convention featuring some of the best creators of All-Ages comics. Deftly run by John Gallagher and brothers Mark & Chris Mariano, Kids Love Comics draws a large family crowd that’s usually open to trying new things.

We were situated between two interesting tables: one featuring an artist duo creating prints, mini comics, and pins, the other featuring…well, we weren’t quite sure.

Our neighbor was constantly giving us advice on how to exhibit, and what we should charge. This advice was offered without request between his numerous trips to the concession stand. Based on our observations, our neighbor spent every dollar earned on food. Also, we found out that he had never exhibited before…and Awesome Con was also his first convention ever as attendee. We weren’t giving his advice too much weight, and when we found out his history with conventions, his advice suddenly was carried away with so much hot air.

It didn’t help his case that the clothing item he was selling was being offered to try on to everyone who should stop by his table…without being cleaned or sprayed with disinfectant between wears.

Several of our visitors were friends, but a few strangers came up and checked our stuff out. We only sold two books, both Moo, that first day. However, the very first sale was to Thom Zahler, the creator of Love and Capes and Long Distance, and someone whose work I have enjoyed for years. I had heard that my first sale would be a big deal, but to have it be a creator I admire made it all the more special.

Our friend Sean Von Gorman zipped by like a whirlwind, dropping a small handmade sign onto our table that read “Free Eye Contact and Smiles!” That goofy little sign stopped several people enough for them to take a look at our books. In no small part to that sign, Saturday was huge, with friends and strangers alike buying our books. Several former customers from my shop, who didn’t know we were there, also bought books.

Con Grub was the big seller, with Moo a close second. The ephemera created for the Kickstarter (prints, buttons, coloring books) barely sold.

By the end of the show, we were exhausted and invigorated. And, we had sold enough books to pay for the table, and enough notes to change things a bit for Heroes.

We ordered a couple of different display items, and planned for our trip south.

HEROES CON, June 2015, Charlotte, N.C.

Heroes has become, along with Baltimore and SPX, the family reunions we never want to miss. Our first trip to Heroes had afforded us the chance to finally meet in person two of my favorite people, Kelly Sue DeConnick and Matt Fraction, and spend quality time with other great creators like Corinna Bechko, Gabriel Hardman, Jamie Cosley, Dave McDonald, Todd DeZago, Criag Rousseau, Matt and Suzanne Wieringo, Drew Moss, Bob Frantz, Joey Ellis, Hoyt Silva, and many, many more.

With every visit to Charlotte, our comics family grows larger and more enriching. And now, we were joining the fold. With our car packed to the gills, we set out with hopes that this would be a great show financially as well as a fun family time. The latter would be a given, with the chance to finally meet Evan Shaner in person, and sharing the table with old friend Bob Frantz, tabling for the first time as an all ages creator.

Being farther from home insured that we would get a fair amount of strangers buying our books, especially when the families started shopping. While Moo earned the most money, Hippofartamus was the winner at Heroes, thanks in part to its price point, and part to Kidlet’s marketing throughout the show. Even though the fewest copies sold were of Con Grub, my wife felt she was the winner, as an executive chef of a nearby winery and restaurant bought her cookbook, and upon sampling one of her cookies, said he felt it was good enough to be served in his restaurant.

It took days for my wife to come down off that cloud.

I also drew my first commissions at Heroes, for a father and daughter pair who asked for me to draw Shakes the Cow in their respective sketchbooks. In the father’s book I drew Shakes as the Adam West Batman, hanging from the Batladder in the famous scene with the shark in the 1967 feature film. For his daughter, I drew Shakes as Clark Kent, pulling open her shirt to reveal the iconic “S.”

Unlike Awesome Con, Heroes sales were steady throughout the weekend, with few slow periods for me to take advantage of and go visiting friends.

One friend, Scott Fogg (creator of the upcoming Phileas Reid adventure comic) asked me to take part in a special video presentation for his adorable daughter. By being posted on YouTube, the video made me cooler in Kidlet’s eyes. I think.

Kidlet also got to spend a few minutes with one of my idols, Brian Stelfreeze, as he gave her a quick tutorial on drawing.

As with Awesome Con, prints, buttons and coloring books barely sold. However, we made enough book sales to pay for our table, but Heroes was more valuable for many other things that reinforced it as our favorite time of year.

VIRGINIA COMIC-CON, August 2015, Richmond, VA

I would love to say that my hometown convention was another success. However, in an ironic twist, the convention with the lowest table cost was also the only show at which we did poorly.

Our close friends the Cosleys were our table neighbors, and while they did better than we did, it was a bad day of sales for both. Thankfully, we did the show more to spend time with them, and my godmother who still lives in the area.

We only sold one copy of each book, and none of the extras.

In the weeks between VA and Baltimore, I was able to put the finishing touches on my second book. The Bear From A.U.N.T. is a parody of the 60’s spy genre for the tween set. With influences ranging from the obvious Man From U.N.C.L.E. to James Bond and even Jack Ryan, Bear quickly became a platform for another series. Also, by using the “graphic journal” format popularized by the Wimpy Kid books, I was able to play more with dialogue and longer gag setups than is afforded in a children’s storybook.

I also created more eye-catching signs for our books, and played again with the display setup. We were going to be directly across from the Kids Love Comics pavilion in Baltimore, and at the end of Artist Alley, along one of the main thoroughfares. We had a chance to catch the interest of lots of potential customers.

SPX, September 2015, Bethesda, MD

We didn’t exhibit at SPX, but it gave us the chance to show friends the proof of Bear, and share a meal with a couple of our comics kids Tara O’Connor and Claire Connelly. We also added to our Cuddles and Rage collection, which is about to take over our refrigerator.

BALTIMORE COMIC CON, September 2015, Baltimore, MD

Baltimore is a lot like Heroes. It is focused on the craft more than the marketing, and as such the number and quality of talent at the show is huge. It’s another show that allows us to catch up with friends and is our second family reunion. We got into town Thursday, and had dinner with good friends Nicky Soh and Eryk Donovan, two previous winners of the Wieringo Scholarship at SCAD.

Bear debuted at Baltimore, and it was the first sale of the show. And, as with Awesome Con, my first sale was to an admired creator and friend, this time it was Eryk. Friday ended up being a good day, both for friends and sales. I finally got to meet Ken Marcus (creator of Super Human Resources, a book I championed at my shop when it first released years ago), who just happens to be a mutual friend of Matt Wieringo and Jamie Cosley. I also reconnected with a trio of old customers I had dubbed the Three Amigos, despite their unwillingness to learn the salute.

We also got a welcome visit from Cuddles and Rage, who always brighten our day, whether or not we’re harassing them to sell us more of their stuff.

One of my longtime favorite creators, Jeff Parker (Flash Gordon, Batman 66, Interman) was going to be at the show Saturday and Sunday only, and I was hoping to find time to introduce myself. However, he surprised me completely by swinging by after arriving in Baltimore to introduce himself to me. To say I was flustered is an understatement.

Another Friday highlight was when Tom King, writer of Omega Men and Grayson for DC and Vision for Marvel, stopped by and bought a copy of Kidlet’s Hippofartamus. Being friends, Tom and I chatted for a few minutes about various topics before he left to get back to his own table. After he left, I reminded Kidlet that Tom writes her favorite character, Dick Grayson…and her jaw hit the floor.

Saturday was bizarre, as it was very busy, and very crowded, but with few sales. Thankfully, the carryover from dinner Friday night with the Three Amigos and our friends at Vitamin M Studios and zombisaur Bags was so fun and entertaining that it made up for any feelings of malaise from the lack of sales the following day. (Plus, trading smart-ass texts from across the aisle with our friend Joe Endres didn’t hurt.)

My wife had to return to D.C. Saturday morning for a memorial service, leaving Kidlet and myself alone for much of the day. Visits from a couple of friends, including one of the convention photographers, helped pass the time. Saturday looked bad until the last hour when three quick sales helped us at least equal Friday’s take. A short but enjoyable dinner led to an early evening.

Because of my wife’s trip, I wasn’t able to take Kidlet to see Ming Na Wen’s panel Saturday afternoon. My friend Christy Blanch, moderator of the Wen panel, did thank Wen for me for providing girls like Kidlet with a fantastic role model of a smart, clever, kick-butt female hero to admire. Kidlet was bummed to miss the panel, but when she literally ran into Wen near the restrooms, she forgot all about that.

Sunday was, well, amazing. First, we had an amazing breakfast of low country fare with the Wieringo, Dezago, and Rousseau families. After a slow start, a handful of big sales led to the day almost equaling Friday and Saturday’s sales combined. We also sold books to Mike Rhode of the Comics DC blog, and Cleopatra In Space creator Mike Maihack (who knows a fun cow book when he sees one).

My wife got to have her own brush with celebrity when Paul Blackthorne (Arrow) passed our table while my wife was elsewhere. She returned shortly thereafter, and when I told her she had just missed Blackthorne, she scooted off to “just happen past him” and tell him she loved his work. He smiled at her, said “thank you, Darlin’,” and moved on.

I got to get away from the table to talk with friends, and finally meet the amazing Ramona Fradon, creator of Metamorpho, and a legend in comic art. Unfortunately, Kidlet wasn’t with me and every time Kidlet tried to visit Fradon, she had a line. I was able to get Kidlet a Fradon sketch of Captain America, though.

We had a strong final day, and we not only made enough to make up the table fees, we made enough extra to make up for the shortfall of the Richmond show. Once again, we didn’t sell any prints, but buttons and coloring books were at least more popular items.

As Baltimore wrapped up, I got to spend a few minutes with Christy Blanch and Mark Waid, presenting them both with gifts of Moo and Bear. Christy is a huge Man From U.N.C.L.E. fan, and Mark helped make Moo happen. I then sent my wife over with her cookbook, which also happened thanks to Mark, who was encouraging of the idea at last year’s Heroes.

After packing up, on our way out we ran into Blanch and Waid again, and my wife and Blanch were able to finally meet in person. Much like Heroes, Baltimore began and ended with good friends, and people we still can’t believe have accepted us into the community of creators.

Comics are a fun escape from the world’s problems. An art form combining the best of the written word and the flowing line. Comics can bring a lot of joy to their readers.

But you can never be prepared for the tremendous warmth and encouragement and friendship their creators can bring to your life when they accept you as friends. My wife and I, and even the Kidlet, are only children. And yet, we have found people that we feel have become our children, our siblings, our elders, and have brought us so much happiness that we can only begin to appreciate or reciprocate.

Our first year exhibiting was a roller coaster of stress and joy, made possible and successful by these and many other people far too numerous to mention without forgetting someone.

I can’t imagine we will ever be able to repay all of these amazing people for everything they have done…for everything they have made possible.

Simply put, they allow me to say with conviction that we have one hell of a family. And it is huge, and powerful, and grand.

Thank you all.