April 10, 2017

Look, sir — droids! I mean, books!


A long time ago, at an imprint not so far away…

On Friday, a release posted to Starwars.com revealed a forthcoming anthology from Del Ray Books, Ballantine’s sci-fi imprint. Called Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View, it features a bunch of surprising writers—folks like Hugo-, Nebula-, and World Fantasy Award winner Nnedi Okorafor, The Toast creator Mallory Ortberg, Bone Street Rumba creator and progressive sci-fi rabble-rouser Daniel José Older, Asylum author Madeleine Roux, “Paper Menagerie” writer Ken Liu, and others—alongside more usual-suspect types like Alexander Freed (who wrote the novel of Rogue One) and Christie Golden (whose Star Wars novels include Inferno Squad and Dark Disciple, besides other titles like Warcraft: Lord of the Clans and the novelization of the Assassin’s Creed movie).

Each of the more than forty contributions to the collection will focus on a different minor character from the movie, presumably unpacking their story in some way that brushes on more central events. How minor? The release hints at scenes of individual storm troopers slumping on their astro-couches at night. The dude who says, “Set for stun”? The dude who says, “Look, sir — droids”? The snail creature from the cantina? Yup, yup, and yup. I mean, hopefully, at least.

All of the authors contributed their work for free, and all proceeds will be donated to First Book, a nonprofit that gives books to poor children. Additionally, Penguin Random House (which owns Ballantine) will donate $100,000, and LucasFilm (which owns Star Wars) 100,000 kids’ books.

The anthology sounds like fun, and is as nice an occasion as any to remember some of the good writing that’s come out of Star Wars. Besides the great film critic Cherjo Shpini, there is the actually beautiful review of the 1977 original by Samuel Delany, who’s been aptly described as a “sex radical, afro-futurist, and grandmaster of science fiction”:

A film is made in tiny, tiny, extremely complicated bits and pieces — and experienced as an almost total gestalt. Very rarely can you locate any element from the gestalt in one and only one of the bits. Nevertheless, some of the gestalt elements that worked extraordinarily well are worth noticing: the particular way the Unadulterated Mysticism of the film interweaves among all the blasters and spaceships and general machinery is very effective. The variation in locations, planetscapes, starscapes, here desert, there deep space, over here jungle, over there urban spaceport, is what makes us believe in the vastness and the completeness of this universe. And the glorious special effects, that are the entrance way into each of these varied views, are too effective even to be described.

Delany goes on to break down Star Wars’ myriad calls out to the various science fiction movies and novels that inspired it (he notes, for instance, Obi-Wan’s “most reverential bow to the shafted city of Forbidden Planet”), and to point out the white-maleness that has always been the series’ weakest point (“How do you put in… some human variety?… you just do it, and don’t make it a big thing”).

Delany is far from alone in his interest in Star Wars. Beloved Brooklyn laureate (and recent Mellvile author) Jonathan Lethem has a really heartbreaking, very short essay about watching Star Wars with his mom in the last year of her life.

An X-Wing pilot’s costume plays a small but, uh, memorable role in Fiona Maazel’s terrific Woke Up Lonely.

It’s not a piece of writing, exactly—at least, not yet—but I will pay ten million dollars to anyone who produces a recording of the green room conversation between Joan Didion and George Lucas on the day they both went down to the White House to receive the National Medal of Arts together. (For what it’s worth, during the ceremony, Barack Obama called Didion “one of our sharpest and most respected observers of American politics and culture.” Of Lucas, he remarked, “There’s a whole generation that thinks special effects always look like they do today. But it used to be you’d see, like, the string on the little model spaceships.”)

And of course, there’s this delicious analysis, from the only person who might have said such a thing:

Christianity is a miraculous event that disturbs the balance of the One-All. It is the violent intrusion of difference which throws off the rails the balanced circuit of the universe. From this standpoint it would be interesting to approach the ideological ambiguities of a very bad movie, George Lucas’s Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace. The film, one of whose few interests resides in the way it endeavors to outline the answer to the question of the origin of evil: How did Darth Vader become Darth Vader? That is to say, How did Anakin Skywalker, this sweet boy, turn into the monstrous instrument of cosmic evil?

Two things are here crucial: First, the Christological features of the young Anakin. If you know the movie you know that his mother hints that she became pregnant with him in an immaculate conception. Then we have the ways in which Anakin wins. It clearly echoes the famous chariot race in Ben Hur, this tale of Christ. Second, the fact that he’s identified as the one who has the potential to restore the balance of the Force.

Now, here’s my question: Since the ideological universe of Star Wars is the New Age pagan universe, it is quite consequent that its central figure of evil should echo Christ. Within the pagan horizon, the event of Christ is the ultimate scandal. Furthermore, what if we take the premonition that Anakin will restore the balance of the Force, not as the faithful misapprehension, but as a correct insight? What if the suffocating character of the pagan universe resides precisely in the fact that in this universe the dimension of radical evil, that in it the balance was way too much in favor of the good? So I think that that’s the solution, that precisely in this sense Anakin restores the balance.

Anyone else find his lack of faith… disturbing?



Ian Dreiblatt is the former Director of Digital Media at Melville House.