Category Archives: Views

Where will 'Star Wars: Episode VII' go?

One of the key questions coming out of Disney buying Lucasfilm and announcing Star Wars: Episode VII is where the next trilogy will go. While Lucas has said he has a full treatment for the next film and at least an outline for the following two episodes, as well as ideas for more, there is still a whole cadre of novels, comics and graphic novels that encompass the Expanded Universe of Star Wars.  However, I don’t see them adapting anything –at least at this time- from the EU. While many love Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy, realistically, it would difficult to adapt those books because they take place just after the events of Return of the Jedi. And with the 2015 release date of Episode VII, that put’s it 32 years after Episode VI. So unless Disney plans to recast all the main actors from Episode 4-6, which would cause the fan base to explode, expect this new trilogy to be set at least three decades after Jedi –ironically, the could do what Paramount and Gene Roddenberry did with the Star Trek franchise, and take “next generation” approach to it.

Unless, of course, they decide to jump even further ahead in time and not bother bringing anyone back.

Staying relatively within a 35 or 40 year gap between Jedi and Episode VII could still have appearances by Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford. That means focusing on the children of Luke, Leia and Han. Someone said the Legacy of the Force series in EU could be used as a jumping off place, as its set about 40 years after Episode VI: A New Hope and deals with Leia and Han’s son Jacen as he is tempted by the dark side of the Force –which is a nice bookend to the entire series, if you think about it. That series contains nine books in all, written by three different authors, which leads to problems on crediting certain elements within those nine books.

There is also an issue of paying authors for their work. While I’m not exactly sure how the contracts work, I’m guessing the authors should get paid for their novels, even if they don’t own the characters (though they probably do own the ones they create for the novels, but again, I’m not clear on that). Over the last few years, while the studios have been adapting novels, they’ve also been trying to adapt books that are in the public domain, which saves them a ton of money. I’m guessing, Disney will steer clear of those EU novels because they’ll have to pay additional fees to the authors they do decide to adapt.

So, for now, I think the EU will remain where they are, safely ensconced as novels, existing in a parallel universe. The only way they may see adaptation is within a potential TV series. It’s been known for a long time that Lucasfilm was working on an expensive live-action series set between Episode III and IV, which would feature other characters- like Boba Fett- within the Star Wars universe. They claimed, as well, to have fifty completed scripts for it, but have also said the cost would be too much for current broadcast network budget plans. Now that Disney has control over it, can we see them working out a way to make it work? They have ABC, the Disney Channel and Disney XD cable net at which to exploit a new series, thus spreading it over a lot of real estate for one initial cost. And it seems logical that we’ll see it sooner than later, as Disney will want to capitalize on franchise fairly quickly in the ancillary area and hopefully draw enthusiasm and excitement for the new trilogy.

Of course, beyond TV where the EU novels might find success, there is (or should be) what comes after Episode VII, VIII, and IX? Then again, maybe we’re just looking too far into the future to assume anything. What we should be thinking is where, how and when the next trilogy will be set. Who will write it, who will direct it? Will they bring back anyone from the original trilogy?

We’ve got time to speculate, kids.

Diversity of Magic in Snow Crash

snow crash coverIn his cyberpunk classic, Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson conjures the neurolinguistic hacker. He, following in the steps of many scholars, supposes that a Sumerian priest/king (or en) named Enki is responsible for a Tower of Babel division of languages. Neurolinguistic hacking is creating a nam-shub: a speech with magical force that goes against a singular mainstream me, or set of social mores. In other words, this hacker diversifies magic.

The history lessons in the novel are an attempt to identify the mother tongue—Sumerian—and, therein, the first magical text: the ur, or proto, grimoire. As noted by Cavendish in A History of Magic, most occult books are amalgamations of other texts. He speaks of the Sefer Yetsirah, or Book of Creation, that “mingles Jewish, gnostic, Pythagorean and possibly Neoplatonist ideas.” In Occult Philosophy, Agrippa cites his sources as the Sefer Yetsirah alongside “books with feigned titles, under the names of Adam, Abel, Enoch, Abraham, Solomon, also Paul, Honorus, Cyprianus, Albertus, Thomas, Hierome, and a certain man of York.” Voodoo, in Robert Farris Thompson’s words, is “a vibrant, sophisticated synthesis of the traditional religions of Dahomey, Yorubaland, and Kongo with an infusion of Roman Catholicism.” Stephenson’s Librarian seeks the root of these grimoires, the one that cites no sources.

This radical search inspires Snow Crash’s Hiro Protagonist to praise the diversity that Enki’s nam-shub created. The eclectic nature of magic—seen in modern incarnations of witchcraft as well as alchemy and voodoo—resists group thought and blind allegiance to me. While critics often condemn paganism for its bastardization of a variety of previous magical traditions, it is this very bastardization that encourages independent thought and personal responsibility. Since the Sumerian mother tongue was split, practitioners of magic have drawn upon diverse sources. Magicians research a variety of nam-shubs to create new grimoires and therein critically examine texts and mores.

Hiro argues that neurolinguistic hacking—creating new nam-shubs—is becoming “a fully conscious human being.” Writing grimoires with diverse citations is the opposite of being virally infected with me. Instead of being disciples to an unquestionable system of rules, magic users, beginning with Enki, are free thinkers.

 

 


Marjorie Jensen holds an MFA from Mills College. She is an educator, writer, and witch.

 

 

Price for 'Next Generation' Blu Ray set revealed

On July 24, Paramount will release Star Trek: The Next Generation season one on Blu Ray. Something we’ve known for a while. What was not revealed until now, was the cost. The retail price is $129.99, but Amazon is offering it for $78.86.

Despite all the work that had to go into transferring it to this format, the pricing is a bit…pricy. The standard DVD sets all retailed for around the same price many moons ago, and while I know some will still pay the money, it’s pretty ballsy of them to do it again.

At this juncture, this set (at least for me) will remain un-purchased.

Gendering War in The Left Hand of Darkness

Ursula Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness explores a world populated by ambisexuals: humanoids that are each male and female. On the planet Winter, people are androgynous except when in kemmer, essentially translated as ‘in heat.’ Their sexual cycle runs around 28 days, like the female menstrual cycle. For around 21 days, the people are both and neither sex. Once in kemmer, their sex is determined mutually with their partner. They become masculine or feminine for the length of a menstrual period: about five days. This ability to switch sex, to be both male and female, makes Winter a planet without war.

The novel poses the idea of war as purely masculine through the notes of an early “Investigator,” Ong Tot Oppong. As one of the first otherworldly visitors to Winter, Ong hypothesizes about the warless planet. She thinks it might have been an experiment by more advanced peoples to eliminate large-scale aggression and killing. Ong wonders if these supposed genetic engineers, “consider war to be a purely masculine displacement-activity, a vast Rape, and therefore in their experiment eliminate the masculinity that rapes and the femininity that is raped” (96). Here war is defined as a male activity—penetrating and taking by force with phallic instruments. The absence of the masculine drive that fuels war creates peace. Whether the engineer was a human or god, the question of sexuality remains: why make ambisexual creatures? If not a purpose, an effect of ambisexuality is a peace the planet enjoys.

The protagonist of the novel, Genly Ai—a human explorer that comes after Ong—witnesses a religious ceremony that involves a female with a sword, a potentially warlike figure. A special group on Winter practices “foretelling,” or answering questions about the future. At the end of the ceremony, Genly sees that “there was no moonlight only darkness, and in the center of all darkness Faxe: the Weaver: a woman, a woman dressed in light. The light was silver, the silver was armor, an armored woman with a sword” (65). The ambisexual Faxe becomes a woman to Foretell; the act of prophecy is feminine. Yet, the woman who sees the future appropriates phallic power: holds a sword. This figure recalls many female knights, like Queen Elizabeth I at Tilbury and the medieval character Silence. Feminine knighthood offers not only male power, but also the ability to sheath the sword, to set aside the masculinity. Ambisexuals, like Faxe, are able to sheath their phallic instruments. The ability to be both male and female in this vision-state as well as in the rest of life keeps the people of Winter from warmongering.

Unlike the ambisexuals, Genly cannot sheath his sword; masculine war-hunger among humans may stem from the weakness of an organ that is permanently external. An ambisexual friend of Genly—Estraven—notes the nakedness of the penis. He writes that Genly has “a frailty about him. He is all unprotected, exposed, vulnerable, even to his sexual organ, which he must always carry outside himself” (227). For Estraven and Faxe, the penis is only revealed during some periods of kemmer; humans like Genly who are continually unsheathed seem frail. The development of other more powerful phallic objects, like swords and guns, is one way of compensating for the delicate nature of the penis, especially the flaccid penis. Virility is proven through the phallic rape of war; swords penetrate while the organ itself lies under armor. Ambisexuals do not feel the vulnerability that Estraven senses in Genly; they do not use war to showcase their phallic power.

Ambisexuals are embodiments of both sides of dichotomies—they are both the sword and the sheath. Peace comes from this completeness, this sense of unity rather than difference. The religious group that the Foretellers are a part of, the Handdarata, is focused on wholeness rather than duality. This concept is articulated in Le Guin’s title, taken from a lay from the Handdarata: “Light is the left hand of darkness / and darkness the right hand of light. / Two are one, life and death, lying / together like lovers in kemmer, / like hands joined together, / like the end and the way” (233).


Marjorie Jensen recently graduated with her MFA from Mills College. She is an educator, writer, and editor.

The Syfy Channel's Spiraling End

Image Courtesy SyFy Sucks on Facebook

As the Syfy Cable net continues to get further away from expensive (well, for them anyways), scripted programming in favor of more and more cheap to produce reality programming (with some mild genre appeal), one wonders why they don’t just drop the whole concept of giving viewers genre shows at all. Much like the Logo (the gay cable network), Syfy has decided to “broaden” their programming sked by doing away with what made people watch them in the first place.

Granted, with multiple platforms for viewers to watch TV shows and movies, the idea of a cable network dedicated to one genre -especially the science fiction, fantasy, horror genre, which has always been considered “cultish,” in nature and offers limited growth potential- is difficult. I can give them a break on that.

But because them and the advertisers want to appeal to one demographic -12-25 year olds (and I will say the 18-49 is fallacy demographic)- any viewer who wants something that is, say deeper than a puddle, is forced to look elsewhere (and let me tell you, there is not much out there even on other cable or broadcast networks). I mean, it’s always been assumed by the studios, the broadcast networks and the advertisers that average American’s have a 12th grade education, and any program with a complex story or metaphor should be kept at a minimum.

But I would argue that science fiction and fantasy fans are actually smarter, more in tuned than the average viewer or reader. Not saying that George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire is great literature, but he does try to create complex characters, with various moral compass issues, and sews in parables and other allegories that gives a deeper meaning to what he’s trying to convey. Is it The Lord of the Rings meets The Sorpranos? Yes, but those two franchises are great ones to be compared to.

I won’t say something similar to Game of Thrones is out of reach for Syfy, but I could not see them delving deeper into the complex world of Martin’s series the way HBO is doing (and granted, HBO runs a completely different financial platform because they don’t have to bow before advertisers, but still). For them, the stories would have to become less dense, less intricate because advertisers don’t want viewers to become overwhelmed with narratives that require any thought process -it might interfere with the product they’re hawking between acts.

As a fan of the genre since I was able to read and understand it -35 to 40 years- I do expect a lot out of what I read and view on TV and the movies. While not a huge fan of the horror genre, I completely enjoyed Cabin in the Woods, mostly because I got what writers Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard were doing with the genre (it made me giggle when a couple left the theater and walked by me and my friend and the guy turned to his girlfriend and said “I don’t get it”). Had Whedon and Goddard approached Syfy with this idea, they would have (like it seems all the major studios) required them to change almost everything about it, including the brilliant ending (because, apparently, everything must have the traditional Hollywood Ending). The fact that MGM initially financed it (before going bankrupt) and then Lionsgate picking it up, indicates that marketing and the hedge fund managers playing CEO’s in the entertainment industry are clueless when it comes to producing movies and, more so, TV shows that break-out of the typical box these products have made in for the last 100 years.

Yes, cost-cutting and streamlining are necessary corporate maneuvers, that I understand. But scaling back scripted fare in favor of reality shows (like these announced today) means fewer ideas, fewer projects that could be breakout or surprise hits on what was once a go-to channel. These type of cutbacks do not create a future for a cable network like Syfy, but institutes a culture of dumbing down the audience in favor of corporate profit.

The fact that you have little regard for viewing audience who actually wants something different than the same old cop show that Dragnet started or the same old comedy that Lucy launched indicates how little you really care about anyone above the age of 25. Yes, reality TV is cheap to produce, does not require a huge audience share, but when you put profit before the product, then you are essentially giving the middle finger to anyone who might wants something that challenges the mind.

Beyond the new reality series announced, I also read that Syfy is considering an adaptation of Stephen King’s fantasy novel The Eyes of the Dragon. While I like the idea, I shudder at the thought of them producing it. First, Stephen King is hard to adapt, even though I believe Michael Taylor is a capable writer, having written for the cable net’s Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Secondly, while not a hugely complex novel, it has some very dark aspects that TV seems to shy away from (I don’t see Syfy approaching horror the same way that AMC has done with The Walking Dead or FX with American Horror Story). Plus, it does share some mythology with King’s Dark Tower series, as well as a particular villain in the name of Randall Flagg, the heavy in King’s much-loved epic, The Stand. I’m assuming that Syfy will negate any connection to the Dark Tower or The Stand much like the film adaptation of Hearts in Atlantis did (and I’ll grant you both properties are currently in development at Warner Bros., but still).

While I know they’ll produce a miniseries version up in Vancouver for cost reasons, being a fantasy movie also means building sets, unless they go the route of virtual sets like they did with Neverland mini last year. While well acted, the cheapness factor of that mini really ruined it, at least for me.

In the end, I’m a frustrated viewer, but I know there are many more of us out there. A lot have just simply given up (which could explain why viewers eyes are vanishing from the TV), because their voices have been lost in the cacophony yes people and hedge fund managers that run Hollywood these days. I once believed creative people were valued there. Sure corporate managers are an instrumental part of running Syfy as well as other aspect of a business, but so are creative visionaries who can deliver the big ideas.

Syfy -and the entertainment industry somewhat- has forgotten that in their current climate of putting quantity and profit above quality and a lasting legacy.