4 Things That Make the Star Wars Saga Stand Out

Ever since 1977, the Star Wars films have captured the public’s imagination in a way that other studios and moviemakers have tried to recreate time and time again. As someone who studies fiction for a living, I can’t say I claim to have the answers myself, but I do notice a few consistent traits that almost each Star Wars movie and spinoff media has going for it (that is, if you don’t count the prequel trilogy from the early 2000’s). I think what makes Star Wars so memorable is the way it gives the audience a sense of just how big its universe is.

Here are 4 things that the whole saga exemplifies, from the Seventies to today.

1. War on a galactic scale

Copyright © 1983 by Lucasfilm Ltd.
Copyright © 1983 by Lucasfilm Ltd.

Sounds obvious, I know, but Star Wars is very much a space opera when it comes to the scale and style of its battles. You don’t get just dogfights in outer space, but plucky freighters outrunning giant Star Destroyers or rebel troops going toe-to-toe with massive, four-legged Imperial tanks. You get trench runs through the sides of planet-sized space stations, as pilots execute daredevil maneuvers through a storm of cannonfire. Lightsaber battles are iconic to the saga, but just as thrilling to the imagination are the space and ground battles between resistance fighters and the Empire’s soldiers.

2. Life on the frontier

Copyright © 1977 by Lucasfilm Ltd.
Copyright © 1977 by Lucasfilm Ltd.

For all the grandeur that a galaxy-spanning empire conjures up, it’s amazing how often the saga takes place in small, backwater worlds like Tatooine, Hoth, and Jakku. For me, it brings up what I like to call the “Hobbit effect.” In laymen’s terms, if you want to see how big a fictional setting is, show us through the eyes of the smallest people. When we see how farmers like Luke and scavengers like Rey get by on these out-of-the-way planets, we can only go up from there.

There’s also the appeal of outlaws like Han Solo and bounty hunters like Boba Fett, who give us a sense of how gritty and violent life under the Empire can be. It’s an element that clashes with the “cleaner” perspective of Jedi Knights and Rebel heroes.

3. Mythology that comes alive

Copyright © 1977 by Lucasfilm Ltd.
Copyright © 1977 by Lucasfilm Ltd.

As big an impact as Darth Vader had when he first appeared onscreen, audiences were still ready for a classic sci-fi epic like Flash Gordon. But everything changes when we first met Obi-Wan Kenobi. We learn about the Jedi Knights, the Force, and the lure of the dark side that turns good men like Anakin Skywalker into vicious monsters like Vader.

Lucas might’ve tried to explain the Force with later additions like the midi-chlorians (ugh), but there’s always something mystical and otherworldly about the Force. It borrows from the Zen philosophy that many samurai followed, from which the Jedi Knights were mostly based on. And it clashes with the technologies that both the Empire and the Rebellion use. For all the starships and laser sword duels we get to see, it’s the mystical bonds of the Force that drives everything from behind the scenes.

4. Good vs. Evil clashing onscreen

Copyright © 1980 Lucasfilm Ltd.
Copyright © 1980 Lucasfilm Ltd.

Compared to a science fiction franchise like Star Trek, which features the moral relativism of human beings encountering alien cultures, Star Wars has always been a little simpler in its conflicts. We get Good vs. Evil writ large. Fresh-faced, motley heroes fighting legions of faceless, armored shock troops. A ragtag, broken-down space freighter trading laser blasts with screaming starfighters and angular Star Destroyers. A young man with a blue laser sword fighting against a black-armored warrior with a red blade.

Even though every Star Wars film begins with an opening series of text to provide exposition, there’s almost no need. We can tell what’s happening just by the visual language alone.

So what else does Star Wars have that makes you love it? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below. And, as always, thanks for reading.

Playing the Steins;Gate Visual Novel

Copyright © 2009 by 5pb. and Nitroplus
Copyright © 2009 by 5pb. and Nitroplus

So, a few years ago, I wrote a review for the Steins;Gate anime, and then later I did a compare and contrast post between the anime and the video game Life is Strange (because time travel!). Then, thanks to a helpful comment, I was informed that the original Steins;Gate visual novel was a far different experience and why wasn’t I playing it already?

Which brings us to today. At the time of this writing, I’ve imported, installed, played, and completed the visual novel. Now I want to see how it holds up after all the hype.

Honestly, for the first few segments, both the game and the anime adaptation are in perfect sync. Sure, the VN has one or two additional pieces of dialogue or character interaction in its opening, but otherwise, it feels a lot like the anime, except slower.

I’ll also admit (and this is a nitpick on my part) that I was a bit thrown with some of the translation choices. Having watched the anime first, I know the shrine maiden character by their Romanized name Urushibara Ruka, but in the game and other sources, the name reads as “Luka.” I get that the Japanese language has a thing about switching L’s and R’s in English (it’s actually based on this phonetic issue based on how the letters sound in actual Japanese), but it was weird for me because I’m so used to thinking of this character as Ruka and not Luka because I watched the anime first.

I also have to admit that I like the expansion of several scenes and character traits that we only got part of with the anime. In the visual novel, for example, we see just how in-depth Kurisu’s knowledge of time travel theory is and how big of a chuunibyou (a.k.a. adolescent dreamer) Okabe is. Like, you might think he does the “fake conversation on his phone” bit a lot in the anime, but that’s nothing compared to the breadth of those conversations in the game.

Finally, there’s a great element of suspense and horror that seeps through the game as I played it. At one point, Okabe has this long, eerie nightmare where the disembodied voice of Kurisu narrates him falling through the event horizon of a black hole. It’s an out-of-nowhere moment that’s like nothing else in the anime, and it does highlight the mortal terror of what their world’s version of time travel can do to the human body. There are lots of little additions and surprises to this visual novel that I know the anime couldn’t have made time for in any other way.

So, did I enjoy the visual novel more or less than the show? Well, it’s hard to say. I enjoyed the overall experience of the game, and I can see why so many people prefer it to the anime. But having said that, I do enjoy the clean runthrough of a story that the anime offers. Not to mention the fact that I can never stop thinking of J. Michael Tatum’s voice as Okabe’s voice, regardless of how Japanese he’s supposed to be.

But then, that’s only my opinion. I encourage the rest of you to track down a copy and play it for yourselves.

The English-language version of Steins;Gate is available to purchase on SteamAmazon, and its official website.

Bibliography: Steins;Gate (visual novel). Developed by 5pb. and Nitroplus. Published by 5pb and JAST USA (PC). Designed by Chiyomaru Shikura. Art by Huke. Xbox 360; Microsoft Windows; PlayStation Portable; iOS; PlayStation 3; PlayStation Vita; Android; PlayStation 4 (platform). Original release date: October 15, 2009.


I’m Writing a Podcast This Year!

Photo Credit: Erica Zabowski (Flickr)

Hey, gang! Good news: In this Year of our Lord, 2017, I’ve decided to get off the mat and work on my very own podcast. To be specific, I’ve written a pilot script for an audio drama series called Magic Hunters.

What is Magic Hunters, you ask? It’s an urban fantasy series, set in the fictional small town of Atlas City. We meet two teenagers, Chris and Rebecca, who find themselves in waaaay over their heads when they uncover a world of monsters and dangerous magic. Fortunately, they’ve got an ally: Sunny, the tall, blonde elf warrior and expert monster hunter. She’s sworn an oath to protect every world from such terrors, and she’ll take any help she can get.

So, how can you help? Well, in any number of ways, of course! I’ve got a script ready, and I’ve experimented with audio editing software like Audacity. You can hear my not-so-great vocal and music test track on YouTube.

However, this isn’t a project I can put together by myself. At this time, I’m putting out a call for the following interested people:

  • People with experience recording and editing voice actors and SFX
  • Voice actors of all ages and genders
  • Artists who can help me come up with a distinctive logo
  • Writers who want to contribute to a modern-day fantasy series

If you’re interested, please email me at rhapsodistchat@gmail.com. We can discuss rates, compensation, and scheduling from there.

It’s been an interesting year so far. Here’s to making it a little more pleasant and meaningful with creative works like this.

And, as always, thanks for reading.

How to Write Your Mythology

Woman reading a few books on the floor

Pick any major franchise you can think of, and I’ll show you the original myths and fairytales that inspired them.

Are you a fan of Dragon Ball? Then look at Journey to the West, with a little kung fu thrown in. Enjoy reading about the adventures of Batman? The Caped Crusader owes his roots to the likes of Zorro and Sherlock Holmes. Are you keeping up on the latest Star Wars movies? George Lucas got his ideas from Flash Gordon serials and Akira Kurosawa movies, along with pieces of Taoist literature. All these colorful and creative storylines borrow, if not outright copy, from even older tales and legends. Like the Good Book says, “There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

So whenever I hear people complain that there’s nothing “original” anymore, or whenever I hear a fellow writer worry that they’re not “creative” enough, I can’t help but laugh. By those standards, none of us are or ever will be.

But where does that say that we can’t tell good stories? It just means that we have to reinvent our mythologies.

I don’t mean “mythology” like creation myths or Greco-Roman tales of heroism. Well, I do, but not in the way you might be thinking. See, a myth is a story that a culture uses to explain something. Some of these are stories that ancient cultures used to explain scientific phenomenon (e.g., the myth of Demeter and Persephone to explain the changing seasons). Other myths, however, are tales woven around real-life people and made to fit what we already think about them (e.g., George Washington and the myth of the cherry tree). Every story we tell is a way to explain something that happened long ago, something that’s happening now, or something that could happen in the future. It doesn’t even have to be true or accurate, so long as it all makes sense to the audience.

We’ll break down how to create mythology in 3 easy steps.

A Trip Back to When We Were Young

Ask yourself this: “What were my favorite stories as a kid?”

We can’t escape the stories we grew up with, for better or for worse. I grew up with Batman comics and cartoons, Power Rangers, Star Wars, Sherlock Holmes, and Calvin and Hobbes. Try as I might, those stories will always have an impact on the kind of tales I’ll be telling today. I’ll have a perspective that favors brave and/or clever heroes going toe-to-toe with villains who have twisted minds, usually not of a cosmic nature.

By the same token, our real-life experiences shape the stories we tell. This is true of both people who’ve had reasonably happy childhoods and people who’ve faced loss or despair at an early age. What happened in the past finds its way into the stories we tell now. Arthur Conan Doyle had fond memories of a professor by the name of Dr. Joseph Bell, and some of those memories found their way into his writing in the form of the world’s most famous detective. Virginia Woolf suffered from a series of nervous breakdowns, beginning at age 13 when her mother died, and her experiences influenced her lyrical and experimental prose as an author.

Writing Stories for the Modern Age

Ask yourself this: “What’s the most important issue we’re facing today?”

Maybe your biggest worry is the impact of climate change. Maybe you’re afraid of terrorism or a spike in crime. Maybe you’re LGBT and you’re concerned about the backlash against your community in conservative parts of the world. Whatever holds a high place in your mind, write about it. Chances are, whatever concerns you the most today is something that you can write authentically about. It’ll shine through in your fiction, and your audience will appreciate that.

Keeping One Eye on What’s Ahead

Ask yourself this: “What would I want my kids to learn?”

None of us knows what the future will bring, and many of us won’t live to see certain dramatic shifts in our world. But each writer has a secret gift to fling a light into the waiting darkness. Some, like science fiction writers, will try to imagine how life might change in the years to come. Others will try to speak directly to future generations, as Dr. Seuss once did when he wrote a beloved story called The Lorax.

This, of course, ties back into how we create our recurring myths from our past and our present. We remember what we’ve lived through and we try to impart the lessons of those times to people we’ll never meet.

Now, it’s your turn, readers. What were your favorite stories, fairy tales, or legends when you were growing up? Share your memories in the comments below.

Flash Fiction: “Those Woods Up North”

Another story, fresh off the presses. Hope you like regional accents! Also, just in case, apologies to anyone from the East Coast if this sounds mangled to you.

Those Woods Up North,

by Alexander Paul Willging

Word Count: 681

Nothing about today made any sense. I was sure of that much. I mean, c’mon, things was weird enough last week. Nutty little Frank still swears he saw a unicorn in the woods. Yeah, right, buddy. But this?

This was just… I don’t even know, man.

Alright, so get this. I’m out with my crew from Lauterpacht Lumber, yeah? We got to go and find these here trees for cuttin’ all the way in upstate New York. Like, all the way past Albany, y’know? So I says, “Sure thing, boss. Grab a few maples, no problem.”

But wouldn’t ya know it, there’s a problem. Hoo boy, there’s a problem with those woods up north…

Now, it’s eight in the morning. Me an’ the boys, we drive up and scope the forest out. We break out the saws n’ the trucks n’ everything. I mean, we start going to town, alright? I figure we’d be done by noon and call it a day. Easiest check we ever made in six months.

And then, he shows up.

This, uh, big brown bear? He comes sprinting up to the truck, yeah? And, like, this fella’s huge. Like a big, mean ol’ grizzly.

I tell my guy, y’know, stay back, I got this, blah blah blah. I get this big stick outta the truck, the kind we use to shoo off deer and whatnot. And right as this bear’s about to charge me, I give ’em a real good whack. Right between the eyes!

Ok, now, here’s the real weird fuggen part.

The bear goes, “Ow!”

No, I mean it. He straight up says, “Ow!” an’ he starts falling to his knees an’ moaning. And I’m like, “What the hell?” And I’m thinkin’ to myself, “Hey, uh, when did bears fall to their knees like that? Pretty sure they never did that before.”

And then it hits me. This ain’t no bear. It’s some clown in a bear costume.

And this guy, this friggen guy, he starts wailing n’ saying “I’m gonna sue! I’m gonna sue you!” Now I hear his voice and I swear, like, I know this guy. I know his voice, but from where?

So I go n’ help him to his feet. I brush off the leaves from his costume, try to be friendly with this nutjob. Hey, no hard feelings, am I right? Honest mistake, sure. But this kid, he ain’t havin’ it. He’s still whining. He’s, like, puffing out his chest and going, “Why you gotta do that? I was just making a point here!”

And then it hits me. Right between the eyes.

“Dave?” I say to him. “Holy… Dave, is that you?

Sure enough, it’s Dave Cotton outta Trenton. He’s one of these leftie Save-the-Earth types. I don’t know, poor kid thinks he can talk to trees or something. Musta drank one too many fruit juices or something like that.

“Oh, you’ve done it now!” he shouts at me. Like, he’s trying to be this big deal, but I mean, c’mon. He’s still wearing this bear costume. I’m almost laughing my ass off, and I can hear the boys behind me doin’ just that.

“Yeah, yeah!” says Dave. “You’re all gonna be sorry! ’Cause you gone and messed with Mother Nature!”

“Yeah?” I look around, and I’m like this close to cracking up. “She gonna spank us good or…?”

And I tell ya, I don’t believe what I see next. Like, I’m five beers in now, and I can still hear ’em.

They, uh, came up behind Dave. Like, one atta time. Couple of birds, couple of squirrels n’ whatnot. Bunch of little critters rushing into the woods like something outta Disney. But then they just keep comin’. Like, the next thing we know, there’s bears and wolves. I mean, real bears and real wolves. Ain’t no more costumes anymore. This here’s the real thing. And brother, you’d believe they’re all real mad.

So we take off. We run. We don’t get paid that day. And I gotta say, ya couldn’t pay me to go back there.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.