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Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Perils of Transmedia Storytelling in the original Star Wars Trilogy

"Don't shoot!  I won't reveal your secrets!"

After I saw “Star Wars” in the theater, I read the novelization over and over.  After it came out, I followed each reading with Splinter of the Mind’s Eye by Alan Dean Foster, which served as the first literary sequel to the film.  (I’ve since learned that, although credited to George Lucas, Foster also ghost-authored the novel version of "Star Wars").  There were also the comic books I bought, the trading cards I collected, a soundtrack I played on my father’s record player, a twelve-part program I taped off the radio, two board games I played, and all the action figures, toys and models I bought.  I enjoyed all these ways of reliving the “Star Wars” experience: each cross-media experience enhanced my love for George Lucas’ original story. 

I wasn’t the only one who loved “Star Wars” back then, who bought any related merchandise, and who eagerly awaited another movie.  Security was so tight on the set of the sequel, “The Empire Strikes Back,” that cast members only received a copy of their lines shortly before they were scheduled to film a particular scene.  Supposedly, none of the cast members, and few members of the staff, knew the entire story.  The movie’s biggest revelation, that Darth Vader claims to be Luke’s father, was recorded using different dialogue from Vader than appears in the finished film.  Yet, despite all the secrecy involved during the production, novelizations (and other associated merchandise) arrived in stores weeks before the film hit theaters.

While I yearned to see the sequel, I worked hard to avoid learning anything about the movie, as I wanted to experience it afresh.  Yet one day, I was sitting in Art class next to a friend who was reading the novelization of "The Empire Strikes Back."  Another of the guys in my group, who was also reading the novel version, walks over and crouches down beside my friend.  “Can you believe what Darth Vader says?” he asks my friend.  “Do you believe he’s Luke’s father?”

A part of me died right then.

Later (but before I saw the movie), I was in the store, and I noticed that the soundtrack was available.  My mother, knowing my passion for the original film, kindly purchased it for me.  I took it home, opened it up, and found inside a booklet of photos or illustrations from the movie, along with a short description along the bottom.  Okay, I figured, I’ll look at the pictures.  Another piece of me died as I started looking at the scenes, and realized that I was experiencing key sections of the narrative before I had even seen the movie.  But it was in my hands, and I couldn’t stop looking at them!

When the movie finally arrived in theaters, I saw it the day after its release.  While I felt like I was watching it for the second time, instead of experiencing it afresh, I was still blown away by it.  As the man who had taken me there (one of the leaders in my church's youth program) drove back along the freeway, I saw the lights of the passing cars as the glowing engines of the X-wings and other spaceships hurtling ahead of us into the darkness.  That night, I read my copy of the novelization of "The Empire Strikes Back" (written by Donald F. Glut, whom I later met).  Although I did pause the story to grab some sleep, I finished it the next morning.  In so doing, I experienced “The Empire Strikes Back” a third time.

Still, I wish George Lucas hadn’t released any other versions of “The Empire Strikes Back” before the movie came out in theaters.  It would have been nice to have experienced his story afresh, the way he had intended his audience to experience it the first time, without having learned any of the secrets he worked to hard to protect during the movie’s production. 

Dragon Dave

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