Now that the next Star Wars movie is coming into focus as Star Wars. Episode VII: The Fan Base Gets Monetized, here’s an appropriate excerpt from my new essay collection, Let the Devil Speak:
“As this book goes to press, the Church of Star Wars has grown to encompass old and new testaments comprising the original three films – Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi – and the three prequels: The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith. The original gospels are available in differing forms, or Special Editions, with contradictory details on crucial questions of doctrine: e.g., Did Han Solo or Greedo the bounty hunter take the first shot? Did Luke Skywalker give a girlie-man scream as he tumbled down that airshaft, or did he maintain samurai silence? And there is a separate galaxy’s worth of apocrypha in the form of video games, fan fiction, novelizations, an animated series (The Clone Wars), and scores of ‘expanded universe’ novels, many of them at least equal and in some cases superior to the six canonical works.
“Fortunately, Bill Moyers had the sense to put away the incense and return to valuable journalism and punditry. But, to borrow a phrase from the Firesign Theatre, there’s a seeker born every minute, and after a gap of several years, with only the re-release of the six films in yet another format to stir the congregants, Moyers was succeeded by Camille Paglia, the Auntie Mame of academe, who mercifully eased up on the Campbell references – the better to trowel up her own brand of high-toned gabble.
“Paglia, a self-styled provocateur who lurches after contrarian arguments the way a shyster chases ambulances, proclaimed Lucas ‘the greatest artist of our age’ in her 2012 book Glittering Images: A Journey through Art from Egypt to Star Wars. Having used the book’s introduction to deplore the distracting effect of video games on youth, Paglia celebrated the climactic light-saber duel at the end of Revenge of the Sith, itself little more than a protracted video game battle, with none of the storytelling value of the confrontation in The Empire Strikes Back. (Though Obi-Wan’s big line in the heat of battle – ‘Only a Sith lord speaks in absolutes!’ – showed Lucas’ ear for dialogue had lost none of its cauliflower bloom.) But Paglia was just getting warmed up. ‘No one has closed the gap between art and technology more successfully than George Lucas,’ she proclaimed, then went on to hail the ‘Incredible Cross Sections’ books (diagrams of the various spaceships and accessories cramming every frame of the series) in terms that would have had Joseph Campbell himself fleeing to the magic grove:
The precise draftsmanship, mastery of perspective, and glorification of engineering in these superbly produced books have not been seen since modernist abstraction swept away the great tradition of architectural drawings of the neoclassic Beaux Arts school. In genre, the Cross-Sections books are anatomies, analogous to Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks, with their medical dissections, botanical studies, and military designs for artillery, catapults, tanks, and then-impossible submarines and flying machines.
“The ‘Incredible Cross Sections’ books are indeed lovely productions that induce long periods of staring and musing, especially when they diagram the R.M.S. Titanic and the human body – i.e., real things – but if Camille Paglia can look at these toy-marketing tie-ins and see Leonardo’s notebooks, I’d love to have her free-associate her way through some IKEA assembly instructions.”