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Video: A whole new ‘Star Wars’

msnbc.com contributor
updated 10/18/2007 3:51:14 PM ET 2007-10-18T19:51:14

Let’s back up 500 years to a long time ago in a studio far, far away. Behold Michelangelo in a bad mood. He was not feeling The Love, either for his former masterpieces or for his current version of a Pietà meant for his own tomb. He barged into his own studio, grabbed a hammer, and started whaling. A cadre of appalled students held him down, but not before Jesus lost a leg and the Blessed Virgin Mary suffered a wardrobe crisis.

One of my readers alerted me to this story after I published yet another article agonizing over the vastly disturbing direction the Star Wars universe has taken since the release of the prequels and the much-maligned Special Apostasy Edition of the original trilogy. He was a missionary in Africa at the time, and he sat down amidst the social unrest, the poverty and the rampant malaria to type very earnestly about the horrible injustice that is the insertion of Gungan celebratory footage in the last scenes of “Return of the Jedi.”

“Personally,” he concluded, “I've decided that George Lucas underwent some sort of serious personality alteration during the 80s that adversely affected his artistic judgment, even to the point of not being the same man. Obviously, the man who invented Indiana Jones was, in some metaphysically substantive way, different from the one who thought that it was a good idea to have Anakin Skywalker use The Force to feed his girlfriend a fakey orange.”

Bear down, my people, and break the emergency glass on the highly cautious optimism, because George Lucas is now working on a “Star Wars” TV series.

If you had told me a decade ago that my reaction to this news would be “Oh. Oh dear,” I’d have lashed you across the face with my plastic lightsaber (but not an action figure, never an action figure; those need to be kept mint in box.) “Star Wars” fans are in an uneasy, perhaps unprecedented place: Many fear that we can’t trust George Lucas with his own universe.

Lucas has indicated that the series will not focus on the main characters normally associated with “Star Wars,” which, at least, bodes well. Most fan outrage at Lucas comes from his decision to befoul those we thought we knew so well in the “Special Edition,” most infamously digitally altering Han Solo’s famous cantina laser-blast scene so that it appeared that his adversary shot first. From point-blank range. And missed. Han Solo 1977:  Heartless smuggler who redeems himself in the final reel. Han Solo 2007: Adopts 14 starving Russian babies and a manatee before finally getting around to business.

George? Put down the hammer, George.

Slideshow: Feel the force What fans saw with the 1997 re-releases should have prepared them for what many regard as the debacle of the prequels, which gifted the world with, among other delights, the deployment of “I hate sand” as a pickup line and He Who Must Not Be Named, But Who Is Addressed By Words Which Rhyme With “Far-Far.” But there were warning flares even earlier that Lucas was willing to, so to speak, pound a few toes off his marble Jesus.

The Lucas-sanctioned Thrawn trilogy novels, published in the mid-‘90’s and set soon after the end of “Return of the Jedi”, kickstarted the “Expanded Universe” in the days when all that was to be found in the way of fan merchandise was a dusty box of plastic Ewok catapults, maybe an Emperor action figure or two in the boy aisle of the Toys R Us. The books were eagerly snatched up, and, at least initially, made sense; Leia and Han were married and installing car seats in the “Millennium Falcon”, Luke was starting a Jedi academy, and Chewbacca hung around roaring every now and then.

And then? As new authors ran short of options to introduce fresh danger and drama, post-original saga novels also went completely round the bend by marrying Luke to a smuggler and killing off Chewbacca by making a planet fall on him. But at least Chewy died knowing that it took an entire freaking planet to kill him, unlike Padme, who simply faded away beneath a pile of hair extensions in “Revenge of the Sith,” dying of, essentially, Opheliaitis.

The most common marker in all of this is Lucas’ apparent loss of fidelity to constructing a complete, on-its-own universe that transcends culture and time. What sent us out into the summer air from the theaters in 1977 and right back into the ticket line to see it all again was his ability to hit on a combination of certain mythological truths so ancient they’re practically embedded in our DNA, and he played that chord with big spaceships exploding in the background. We did not scruple to imagine ourselves bullseyeing womp rats in our T-16’s.

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But today’s Lucas is an entirely Earth-bound Lucas; he’s this grasping stranger who directed Padme to attribute Anakin’s broodiness to the fact that “he’s been under a lot of stress.” Because when you’re dissatisfied with work ever since Master Yoda started getting all up in your grill to put covers on your TPS reports, the very first thing you do is sit around muttering “I’m not the Jedi I should be” as your pupils take on the approximate color of a school bus. People have discovered stress since 1977, you see, and Lucas has apparently decided that it cuts across all galaxies as herd animals fart in the distance. I doubt “Star Wars” would have taken off the way it did had Han Solo draped his head on the cantina table all, “Chewy, go see if my Paxil is ready at Walgreens.”

And so this same Lucas, who has one of his characters describe a major intergalactic war as “a failure to listen,” is now coming to a DVR near you. Will you watch?

I want to. But I’m afraid to.

Mary Beth Ellis runs BlondeChampagne.com from the Washington D.C. area, and plans to exercise her office as godmother by ensuring that her nephews will never see Han Solo walk over Jabba the Hutt’s tail.

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