Before the Empire, There Was Something Else

This wasn’t a planned post of mine, but it’s amazing how Star Wars makes me do that. Not too long ago, I heard that Disney is shutting LucasArts down. I did grow up with the games that this company made tangentially and it does make me wonder exactly what it is that Disney is planning to do with the Star Wars franchise.

But I don’t really feel like I have much to say on this matter. Yet while LucasArts is currently being dissolved, there is another–perhaps more understated–Star Wars event happening as well. I’m talking about the comics adaptation of George Lucas’ Star Wars film script.

The original draft.

If we go by the theory that the original that a character is based off of has a considerable amount of resonance and power, then these figures will definitely stick to whomever will read this limited edition series.

I won’t go too much into the details of the thing. In fact, if you’d like, you can read some news accounts here or here on the matter. This is not the first time I have heard about or read anything about Lucas’ original script draft. In fact, I’ve seen one or two fanfics take these Star Wars proto-characters and their prototypical universe and make some really interesting things out of them.

But they are, however the writing may be, the root of many of the elements of Star Wars that we recognize today: in the Old Trilogy, in the New, and in a lot of the Expanded Universe.

What we are seeing, in comics form, is an alternate universe in a galaxy far, far away and what was once the providence of fanfiction is now–to some degree–being created and sanctioned by LucasBooks such as it is. It is like finding out that the new J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek alternate universe films were being created in a smaller comics form: save that his alternate universes are his own and not Gene Roddenbery’s.

But what really gets me is looking back on two posts I made on Mythic Bios about Star Wars. I wasn’t really satisfied with Star Wars: Back to the Basics, to be honest, though I do think that my post When You Wish Upon a Star, Far, Far Away does have some merit apart from its rather witty title. I think my issues with the first post were that I had a lot of supposition and hearsay, but not a lot of proof. I wanted to compare Star Wars to Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon: to show that the latter really affected the former from Lucas’ own formative years and that the Prequels were a hearkening back to that original source material. I even had trouble trying to find pictures to make nice parallels: save that at least the “opening crawl” receding into the distance in both the Old and New Trilogies had a parallel with the old Buck Rogers serial introductions.

File:Flash Gordon (1940) - Opening Crawl.jpg

But if you look at the links to the news pages that I attached above with regards to the comics being made from the old script draft, just read how the characters are described and look at the accompanying art work that is being made currently. In my second article, I went into some brief speculation about a Star Wars reboot: much in the way of Star Trek. I doubt this is going to be wide spread and I certainly don’t think the next Episodes will be reboots, but it is worth looking at the fact that in some medium this creator-made “pre-boot?” is being made.

The way this script is described, it not only seems to be closer to the film materials that Lucas was inspired by and are mentioned in the linked articles, but there is something very … Princess of Mars about their aesthetics and attitudes.

If you want to talk about prototypes or preceding archetypes, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ world of Barsoom really influenced a lot of science-fiction: with almost archaic looking costumes, vintage laser weapons, and a lot of emphasis on royalty and nobility even beyond the usual Star Wars: or at least the Star Wars of the Old Trilogy. You can also argue that some of the images in the articles I linked to also look a lot like Buck Rogers aesthetics as well. And Star Wars, while it is epic fantasy, borrows and wears enough of the science-fiction aesthetic to be examined in this manner. I would say that this is an attempt to hearken readers back to a retro-Star Wars, but this “predates” and pre-exists that vintage. A Pre-Boot Pre-Retro? Now, that just sounds bulky to say and I am sure there is a better way to say it.

I think that, in the end, what I find really fascinating about this–in this really simple overview of the matter on my part–is that we are in a time now which is really interested in the retroactive: in Retro itself. For many of us born and grown up in the 70s and 80s, perhaps even the 90s, the present has become the past. I go into it a lot here, but this decision on LucasBooks’ part seems to really feed into that growing niche in popular and geek culture now.

Or this is just a very strange and fascinating look into an experiment that could have been and admittedly has a very limited lifespan: an oddity that has existed for years collecting dust on the shelf and in the recesses of Internet chatrooms and forums which is now really getting acknowledged.

I would never have known about any of this as a child and–indeed–if I had known about either LucasArts’ end and the Original Draft comic coming out a few days ago–on April 1–I would not have believed it. As it was, I read about the Original Draft being adapted to a comic during April Fool’s and didn’t know what to even think about that!

But I like oddities and strange things. I make them all the time. I am making them right now. I thought that the Star Wars Prequels were a hearkening to older space opera shows of the 50s or so, but maybe they were also referencing this older, weirder, prototypical universe: an elder reality. I want to see what will come of this. They would at least make for some interesting toys.

And I don’t know about you, but I want to know if the reptilian Han Solo still shoots first. I’m messed up like that. 😉

Who Watches the Watchers?

I suppose the title of this post is really rhetorical in that the question already has an answer. We do.

In case you were wondering, this article isn’t about Watchmen. Instead, it’s about Watchers. You can find the idea of them in comics, film, television, and various other media. They are depicted as either very powerful enlightened beings, or hidden organizations with more knowledge than most people. You can find them as a race of cosmic beings with large craniums within Marvel Comics, a secret society of men and women that observe Immortals in the Highlander television series, and even the Ascended in the StarGate series.

Aside from their great power and knowledge, Watchers generally have one more thing in common: they have some sort of code that permits them to observe but rarely–if ever–interfere with the existences of those either “beneath” them, or unaware of certain facts of life. This idea can also be found in Star Trek‘s Prime Directive: where by law the Federation cannot interfere with the development of civilizations that are not as advanced or as cognizant as those of their member worlds.

This means that this agreement of “non-interference” not only prevents these powers from abusing their abilities, but also helping others with them as well. Of course, as I’m sure something like TV Tropes will point out, there is always a conflict of some kind with regards to said beings following these codes and also certain “bending” and “tweaking” of the rules from time to time. Certainly, there have been instances in Star Trek itself where more powerful beings have more than interfered with “lower planes of sentience” … and I’m not just talking about Q either. I mean, you could argue that the Enterprise and the Federation it represents have evolved to the point where certain advanced beings can safely–to some degree–interact with them without causing permanent harm, but there is a really fine line there. It’s also not really what I want to talk about.

No, I think this trope of non-interference has always bothered me on a creative geeky level to some degree and I’m going to try to explain why.

Basically, these advanced beings or secret organizations–who dedicate themselves to observation–do not want to harm anyone intentionally or otherwise, or endanger themselves and existence as they understand it by “interfering.” But my issue is three-fold. First of all, if you follow Einstein’s theory that an observer of an event is also a participant–that an experiment is affected by the mere presence of an observer–then these beings “interfere” all the time simply by existing. If you have a certain amount of power–of any kind–or a presence somewhere it will affect your surroundings. I mean, yes, there is a big difference between sitting and doing nothing, and acting in said space but your mere presence changes things just by you existing.

So perhaps, in these various forms of fiction, said beings are aware of the fact that by existing they do change matters so they try to minimize the effects as much as they consciously can. Maybe some of them make a point of not observing: claiming that the material no longer interests them, or is somehow inferior to them but in reality knowing that the temptation to act would be too great or, again, by simply looking they affect matters. Add telepathy and psycho-kinetic powers along with spatial-temporal manipulation to the mix and you can more or less figure out where it can go from there.

Of course, there is the other side of the weird coin which is that perhaps perception itself by these beings determines the material plane’s very existence or, to quote George Berkeley, “To be is to be perceived.” Imagine if said watchers started perceiving a thing in a different way, or began ignoring it entirely. In essence, they could make something cease to exist by diminishing or denying it. Changing someone’s perceptions or having them ignore a thing can definitely change the world as human beings have proved many times in fiction and in reality.

Essentially, you can also say that by actively not looking or paying attention to the rest of the “normal world,” they also affect reality. In the case of the Highlander Watchers, if they stopped observing and went away, a lot of the historical lore and information on the Immortals that pop up among humanity would be lost. I suppose it could said that this wouldn’t hurt anyone–I mean no one would really ever know what was lost or not–but as these plots unfold it is never really as simple as all that. Imagine, for instance, an evil Immortal is gaining power and you know as a Watcher that if he or she continues at this rate, they will rule the world. You have the knowledge to stop them or at least help someone indirectly in doing so. Of course, the rules exist for a reason and the idea of possibly making things worse or revealing your presence to those who don’t understand you or your work are definitely barriers to overcome right there.

This is not the only series where such a moral conundrum happens. In StarGate, there have been Ascended Ancients and even the character of Daniel Jackson that have realized that if they let events continue unimpeded in the material plane, villains like Anubis or Adria will not only cause damage to that plane but potentially their own as well. Yet the argument is that the code exists for a reason. As a result, they can interfere, but only in small plausible ways in that reality: as though they are playing some sort of game or helping to write a novel where continuity has to be maintained (I really like that word, continuity), but then they aren’t really just watchers anymore are they?

There is also another saying, which only recently I realized was created by the philosopher Edmund Burke, he which he states: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

I know that this is a moral argument and that in the case of actual cosmological beings in fiction, they may have a greater understanding of reality and morality than flesh-based beings do. In fact, we can even go as far as to say they would understand the way of things far more than Einstein ever could. It feels like a cop-out to state, but we are also talking about fiction and imagination.

Yet with our limited understanding of things, you can see why it is very hard for an observer to remain perfectly neutral and not affect the reality around them. These beings and orders are still part of the world and the universe. They may be on a different level, but that doesn’t mean they are removed from everything. In fact, the idea that they have limitations–even and especially self-imposed ones–illustrates that they are not all-knowing, all-powerful, or perfect themselves. Is enlightenment recognizing your own limitations along with those of others and acting, or not acting appropriately?

Is not acting a sign of wisdom or a kind of paralysis: a fear of making things worse than they are when–by not interfering–you could be making a situation dire in any case? Also, if an observer is a part of life, then by not acting are they really living?

How many cultures and civilizations in our world would have reached the places they are at now if they did not bother to even meet each other? I mean, yes, there has been a whole history of colonization and imperialism and destroyed ways of life, but there has also been trade, and innovation, and new knowledge. And what is “higher” or “lesser?” Is it that observers are any better than physical beings, or that they are just different and have different constraints?

I guess, as these things go, this is a whole lot of armchair philosophy, but it is something I’ve been thinking about for a while. So in terms of fiction, who watches the watchers? Well, I will say again that we do.

And it can be very entertaining.