This essay is from Erik Blythe.
Published on March 21, 2001
Star Wars -
Too Much of a Good Thing
(This essay is a response to Dewan Ami's essay "Star Wars - Television or Legend? A Mythologist's Perspective")
"If gold were growing on our lawns, would it still lustre so preciously?" -- Dewan Ami
Dewan makes an excellent point, though I disagree with what he's saying. Yes, an overabundance of a precious metal diminishes its value. However, much of what we've been seeing is not gold.
Allow me to digress for a moment...
Star Wars is truly a multimedia product. There are books, comics, soundtracks, videos, video-games, websites, radio dramas, toys, and of course, films. But this is not exclusive to Star Wars; many other stories have built a similar fan base over the years, such as Star Trek, Babylon 5, Buffy, X-Files, numerous comic book characters, etc.
At the risk of oversimplifying, I believe people become fans when they relate so closely to the characters, events, or settings of the story that they are sorrowful when the story ends. They want to remain in the universe of that story. Let's face it, you don't often get book recommendations where the person said they were glad to finally finish the book.
There's nothing wrong with wanting the story to continue. That's a good thing.
The problem develops when the people who own the story realize they can use the desire of the fans to make more money. In theory, that's fine. It's a simple matter of supply and demand. As long a they can keep supplying the demand, they can keep making money. Yet they don't consider how to keep the demand going.
Over the years, I've found myself involved in many conversations about varying aspects of movies, and one of the most important topics is that of sequels. It often starts out as, "Should they do a sequel?" Or, "What would the story be?" But it almost always ends up going back to one simple point -- sequels are never as good as the original.
Exceptions are always mentioned, and they're always the same. Star Wars. Indiana Jones. Lethal Weapon. A handful of others. So what makes these exceptions different from the norm?
The same thing that makes Star Trek different from Babylon 5. But I'll get to that in a moment...
Beverly Hills Cop was a good movie. Beverly Hills Cop 2 was pretty good, because it was a new story with new ideas and new situations. Beverly Hills Cop 3 was horrible. Why? Because it was merely a reunion between two of the characters, and the story wasn't any good.
Most people I know like Lethal Weapon and Lethal Weapon 2. Fewer people liked Lethal Weapon 3, and aside from Jet Li's character, even fewer liked Lethal Weapon 4. The complaints about the last two are consistent -- "they're just the same old thing."
I could cite many more examples, but it basically boils down to one thing: if you're going to continue making stories based in an established universe, they need to be new stories. People don't want the same old story to be told over and over again.
So back to the topic of television...
It's somewhat unfair to compare Star Wars to Star Trek. Star Wars chronicles the struggle of a small band of rebels against impossible odds. Star Wars started out as a movie trilogy. Star Trek chronicles the governing body of a large portion of the galaxy sending explorers out into space. Star Trek began as a television series.
I like Star Trek. I don't believe in the school of thought that you must like EITHER Star Wars OR Star Trek. Yet for the most part, the original Star Trek series and The Next Generation involved telling the same stories over and over again. And the overall story arc never changed. In each episode, there was a problem at the beginning and a solution at the end, and then everything went back to normal. This changed with the later Deep Space Nine episodes and with Voyager, but by that point the franchise had already been scarred too deeply. Besides, while they finally figured it out and came up with a good concept, the Voyager series, they blew it with poorly written stories. The Star Trek franchise is hardly "gold" though. We're not seeing too much of a good thing, we're seeing too much of a bad thing with little good things interspersed.
Babylon 5, a series that some have referred to as the "anti-Trek," was the perfect example of the way a series should be done. Granted, Babylon 5 had its share of faults, but its beauty was that it had a five-year story arc that had been outlined before the first episode ever premiered. When something happened on the show, it had ramifications throughout the rest of the series.
How does this relate to Star Wars? Since there's no Star Wars television series, let's look at the novels for a moment. There were many excellent Star Wars novels, such as the Timothy Zahn books, but there were also many that seemed to be nothing more than an excuse to reunite the characters and make some money (I won't mention any specific examples). Fortunately, this changed with the current New Jedi Order story line. Much like the movies, there are individual stories, but there's a larger story arc overall. It's not the same old formula.
Franchises dry up when money-making formulas are used instead of the creative magic that attracted the fans in the first place.
Unlike some franchises, the Star Wars universe still has many stories left to tell. These stories could easily be told through television as long as they're not "reunion" stories. No Luke. No Leia. No C-3PO or R2-D2. Instead, have a show focused on any other character, race, or location within the Star Wars universe. The Star Wars universe can accommodate so many different styles of storytelling, it shouldn't be a problem. Remember the old Kung-Fu show? That could fit in Star Wars. The A-Team? It would work. ER? Yes, even that. I'm not condoning the rehashing of old television themes; I'm merely trying to demonstrate the diversity that the Star Wars universe could accommodate.
A friend of mine once recommended a novel to me called The Icarus Hunt by Timothy Zahn. He said it was an excellent Star Wars book, and I'd love it. After reading it, I went back to him and told him that I loved the book, but it took me almost a half hour to convince him it wasn't Star Wars (he finally caved when I pointed out that the Star Wars universe doesn't acknowledge Earth). But it COULD have been Star Wars with just a couple of planet and alien names changed. It was a GOOD STORY, and could have been done as Star Wars.
My point? Fiction isn't like gold. Its value doesn't decrease with its availability. Instead, fiction's value decreases when it's no longer worth recommending to your friends.
Here's my vote for a Rogue Squadron television series, with no mainstream characters.
What do you think. Erik's essay is a response to Dewan Ami's essay, which is in turn a response to Chris Knight's editorial. Have a read of all 3 and tell us what you think. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also tell us what you think and read comments from other fans in this Jedi Council Forum Thread.