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A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away there was a Republic that was usurped by an Empire. In turn, the Empire was felled by a Rebellion. The warring factions, however, made use of the one tool proven to bolster despots as well as topple political regimes: Archives. Yes, the galaxy is populated by space wizards, space Nazis, and useless bounty hunters named Boba Fett, but it’s a known fact that lightsabers can’t rewrite the public record and a blaster can’t provide the essential plans to take down a moon-sized machine of death. For that, and more, you need a space-archivist and a space-archives.
Interestingly enough, two movies in the Star Wars franchise have made use of the archive as an important setting within the narrative. Not only that, they’ve inadvertently highlighted the importance of archives as institutions of memory and accountability while simultaneously showcasing the shortcomings of archives to protect the people they serve. For such a brief amount of time featured on screen given the expansive nature of the franchise, the archive still manages to make a large impact in the ongoing battle between the Jedi and the Sith. So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at the small yet important relationship between Star Wars and the Archive.
While I’m usually hesitant to mention or even think about the Star Wars prequels for more than a few seconds, it is actually due to the events of the most recent installation of the Star Wars canon, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, that we must travel back to the halcyon days of Episode II: The Clone Wars. A former professor of mine, Randall C. Jimerson, used a pivotal scene in The Clone Wars as an example of the power held within the archives and the power held by archivists. In his Presidential Address to the Society of American Archivists (SAA) in 2005, Jimerson writes:
George Lucas presents a more confident view of archives. In Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Jedi Master Obi Wan Kenobi visits the Jedi Temple Archives seeking the location of the planet Kamino. Archivist Madame Jocasta Nu, a frail elderly woman, provides reference assistance, but Kamino does not appear on the archives’ star charts. She concludes:
“I hate to say it, but it looks like the system you’re searching for doesn’t exist.”
“That’s impossible – perhaps the archives are incomplete.”
“The Archives are comprehensive and totally secure, my young Jedi,” came the imposing response, the Archivist stepping back from her familiarity with Obi-Wan and assuming again the demeanor of archive kingdom ruler.
“One thing you may be absolutely sure of: If an item does not appear in our records, it does not exist.” The two stared at each other for a long moment, Obi-Wan taking note that there wasn’t the slightest tremor of doubt in Jocasta Nu’s declaration.
It turns out, by the way, that the existence of the missing planetary system had been erased, in an act of archival sabotage. The Jedi Archives may seem “comprehensive and totally secure” but even this futuristic vision shows the limits of archival control. The archivist’s pose of omniscience is truly an illusion. However, as Eric Ketelaar points out, the fact that Obi-Wan must physically enter the Jedi Archives in his search shows the power of the archivist, who must mediate “between brain and source.” The role of the archivist is crucial and powerful. [Source: SAA]
It’s a lot to glean from a small scene, but the implications of how much power actually exists within the archives remains important to the Empire’s plans. That Obi-Wan even suggests the record may be incomplete is met with immediate reproach by Jocasta Nu. She’s a woman of age and experience, no doubt, and with that age and experience comes a confidence in the institution she serves. We never learn if there are other archivists serving the Republic, but if we’re to assume Jocasta is the lone archivist, then it makes her complacency and confidence far more worrisome.
An ongoing issue among archivists and users is the assumption that archivists are intimately aware of everything they have in their repository. To put it bluntly: that simply isn’t true. Depending on the institution and the circumstances by which the archives were developed, some archivists don’t learn about the majority of what’s held in their stacks until it’s requested by the user. Time management, low funds, and little manpower are the typical culprits, but it’s still worth noting that even in the highly advanced world of the Old Republic, the archives can still be manipulated. If an archivist is unaware of everything under her purview, then it’s easy to see how information vital to the emerging Empire’s elaborate schemes could disappear without incident.
That doesn’t, however, absolve Jocasta of her role in aiding the Empire. Though she’s confident in the security afforded the records, there’s a distinct lack of scrutiny and curiosity in Jocasta that’s endemic throughout the Republic. It is, therefore, it must be true. Why keep searching when we already know the answer? Oddly enough, this has become true of our current political system.
Turning now to Rogue One, we have the story of how the rebels acquired the plans to the Death Star that jump-started the events of Episode IV: A New Hope. The climax of the film occurs on the planet Scarif where the records and activities of the Empire are housed. There, Jyn Erso, Cassian Andor, and K-2S0 infiltrate the facility to retrieve the plans knowing that Jyn’s father, the Death Star’s architect, left a means by which the planet destroyer could be stopped.
From an archival perspective, there’s a brilliant look at the Scarif facility by David Portman at Preservica. As a digital archivist, he breaks down all the ways the Empire failed at records management, which all but led to their downfall. Of the many errors, Portman cites:
– The failure to replicate critical data to a remote location, preferably a galaxy far far away, which is not effected by a similar death star event
– An authentication system that allowed the hand of a dead archivist to be used to gain entry (not generally recommended by the archiving community)
– No encryption at rest – physical asset could be removed and re-read on another device, without even the need for the dead archivist’s hand
– No metadata to prove the provenance of the plans – how could you be sure you were looking at the right death star plans?
– A file format policy that relied on the Evil Empire and Rebel Alliance using the same software [Source: Preservica]
As Maddy Myers points out in her article covering Preservica’s critique, the blog post is done very tongue-in-cheek, but still manages to point out the importance of digital preservation and the work of archivists to protect born-digital records. That and the Empire seems to have learned nothing from the system they exploited back in Episode II. The assumption remains the same: how could anything possibly go wrong since we’re all super powerful and awesome?
As in the film, so in reality, the archive has long been used as a tool to legitimate tyrannical regimes. Control of knowledge means control of society and powers such as the Empire always go for the public record in order to justify and perpetuate their existence. They also tend to be record hoarders, meticulously documenting every action and decision as more proof of power. That the Empire chose to store all of their records in one facility effectively plays into the paranoia of an illegitimate regime making damn sure no one has a chance to dethrone them. If the knowledge is secure, then so are we. Fitting, then, that the unraveling of the Empire would originate from a monument to their inflated sense of power.
With his latest Animated Adventures trailer for Firefly sparking flames of rekindled love for the short-lived Joss Whedon sci-fi western, artist Stephen Byrne has gotten a bit of a pop culture visibility boost with a multitude of websites praising his work while demanding his trailer become a reality. He takes it well, though, celebrating the outpouring of love with his own earnest gratitude and humility. A man of many fandoms (aren’t we all), Byrne infuses heavy doses of joy and energy into his work, bringing smiles even to the grimdark worlds of some more notable characters we’ve seen grace the big and small screens. I reached out to Byrne recently and he was kind enough to answer some questions about his work, fandom, and the “infamous” kiss.
Maniacal Geek (MG): For those out there who may not be familiar with your work (i.e. those living under rocks and in caves), could you explain a little bit of your background as an artist and animator?
Stephen Byrne (SB): Sure, I studied animation in Ireland at the Irish School of Animation. I’m from Dublin originally. I studied there for 5 years and then did some work in the animation industry, before falling into games and now moving more into the comics industry.
MG: What was the first fandom that inspired you to make fan art? Was it the world itself that inspired you? The characters? Both?
SB: Power Rangers!! I was drawing Power Rangers comics at age 8. I think my tiny brain wanted to draw things and tell stories but didn’t really have the capacity to come up with anything new at the time, so I would draw out Power Ranger comics, which I was obsessed with at the time. I made like 60 of them! Still have them somewhere…
MG: The Animated Adventures of Firefly has gotten a huge response from fans, media outlets, the original cast, etc. What has surprised you the most about this outpouring of love for the trailer?
SB: Maybe Nathan Fillion retweeting? Although I was hoping for that because I know he’s pretty active on social media. Actually more the fact that he sent me a tweet that indicated that he found the whole thing quite meaningful. I look at it as a bit of fun, but the amount of comments and messages I got from people having intensely emotional responses to it was surprising, but that’s down to what Joss Whedon did, not what I did.
MG: You’ve done a few Animated Adventures trailers (and a tease for Harry Potter), but what’s the most difficult aspect of distilling such expansive worlds into videos that last less than a minute? What do you try to focus on?
SB: Uhhhhh it’s kinda all over the shop. I usually have a basic outline of what I want to do overall. I want to put in a few time-consuming shots that will be challenging to do. But then it becomes more like ‘what can I do quickly that will look shiny?’. Because I work full-time, the whole thing is pulled off in evenings and weekends over a long period of time, so it’s easier to do a spaceship with some zoom lines flying past than it is to do River doing acrobatic insanity.
MG: Gushy statement: I love the way you use lighting and bold colors in your work! So much is captured in a page or a headshot with the moods and tones you create. Actual question: Do you like to challenge yourself with technique? Was there ever a project that pushed you to change how you approach your art? Or have your style and methods been pretty solid and steady?
SB: Thanks! Funnily enough, color used to be a trainwreck with me. I was like ‘grass is green, sky is blue’ and it all looked very garish. I was determined to figure it out but it developed over many years and is now probably the thing I get noticed most for. As for challenging myself with technique – always. Every thing I do is an attempt to improve on the last thing I did, in some small way. I’m always looking for improved approaches.
MG: Your fan art comics for Spider-Man, Star Wars, and the DC Trinity have caught a lot of attention as well, the Trinity comic especially for the “surprise” ending. Do you go in with the intention of subverting expectations or do these stories write themselves as you go along?
SB: The ending to Trinity changed halfway through. And it wasn’t even my idea. A friend in work said it would be funny if Batman was actually jealous of Wonder Woman. I was like ‘yep that’s way better’ and rejigged the story from that point, so it became a little longer, but better.
Star Wars Episode 7.5 was all built around the Jar-Jar reveal. That’s the whole reason I did it. I was thinking it would be fun to do something Star Wars-y. I had really enjoyed the new movie. And I was envisioning the story in my mind and I got to the moment when Kylo Ren turns around and I was like ‘wouldn’t it be interesting if it was some else?’. That was the moment I actually decided to go ahead and draw the thing. I have lots of ideas flying through my brain at any given time, but only a limited amount of hours to do them, so yeah, I do pick things that I think will get a reaction.
SB: Naw it wasn’t too bad. There were some commenters that were like ‘WTF? GAY.’ Very astute people. There were only a couple of vitriolic hateful comments, which I will delete or block or whatever. But I enjoy negative responses generally, because they are either rooted in some sort of fan outrage, which means they care about what I’ve done, or they are constructive criticism (less often) which means you can learn from them.
MG: You seem to live and breathe superhero and sci-fi genres with a good portion of your work, but is there a genre you haven’t really tackled that you’d like to?
SB: I’m a superhero comic nerd. That’s my jam. I could see myself doing an indie ‘real world’ comic but I think you can say more about the world and speak more honestly through a genre filter. I may get tired of it but it hasn’t let up in the last 20 years.
MG: Your first of two Green Arrow issues came out last week, so congratulations! What challenges and triumphs do you find working on mainstream books vs indie or creator owned projects? Any other DC characters you’ve always wanted to tackle?
SB: Challenges and triumphs: With mainstream books the schedule is tighter and the money is… Existent. Which is great. Lots of DC characters I would love to draw yes. Watch this space 🙂
SB: Nope I can’t say anything about that at all! Sorry! Except that it is gonna be AWESOME.
I’d just like to say thank you, again, to Stephen Byrne for being gracious with his time despite his busy schedule.
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In news that shocks no one, Star Wars is kind of a big deal again. With the successful billion dollar box office trouncing that is Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, it’s not surprising that the followup projects to the reinvigorated franchise are drawing more attention. Specifically, the young Han Solo movie being written by Empire Strikes Back and Force Awakens co-writer Lawrence Kasdan and his son, Jake, which will be directed by Chris Miller and Phil Lord (The LEGO Movie, 21 Jump Street). While the movie won’t be released until 2018, a shortlist of actors was revealed though the response from fans had about as much excitement as Arthur and his Knights eating Sir Robin’s minstrels. I mean, what’s not to get excited about when you see the same list of young actors from every YA movie adaptation?
Look, I know Han Solo is an iconic character to a lot of people. I get that. I love Harrison Ford and I love the Han Solo he created in the original trilogy and The Force Awakens. But let’s be honest, Han requires about as much backstory as Boba Fett – zero. Han exists within the Star Wars universe as a philosophical foil for Luke (hokey religions and whatnot) and a romantic partner for Leia. He’s a pirate, a ne’er-do-well, a lovable rogue, and an archetypal character of the monomyth. Making a prequel movie feels like it might go the way of X-Men Origins: Wolverine in that Han can’t grow all that much because he needs to be at a certain place in order to match up with A New Hope. That kinda limits you since his character development only happens within the original trilogy and, presumably, the thirty year gap between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. Plus, the upcoming Rogue One, due for release in December of this year, is being described as a heist movie, which kinda takes the wind out of the sails of a movie focusing on a smuggler two years later. Really, the best we can hope for is the movie hinging on Han’s friendship with Chewbacca because if they do a “how Han Solo got the Millennium Falcon” type movie I swear to God I’m putting a blaster to my head.
For my money’s worth, the movie will probably be about the Kessel Run.
My point is that Han’s story is really only of interest when it intersects with the activities of the rebels. His selfishness is paramount to his triumphant return at the end of A New Hope and his “reluctant” yet continuing association with the rebellion throughout Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. The same goes for Luke. He’s drawn into the rebellion through happenstance and thus learns about his true heritage and “destiny,” I guess. But the final member of the heroic trio has been involved with the rebellion for much longer and it’s really because of her that there’s any Star Wars to begin with.
I’m talking about Princess Leia Organa and she deserves a prequel movie more than anyone!
Think about it: Leia is the princess of Alderaan who becomes integral to the rebellion’s survival by the beginning of A New Hope. She’s the one carrying the stolen plans to the Death Star and it’s because of her resourcefulness that R2-D2 gets away to deliver those plans, and her message, to Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker. Without Leia there is no hero’s journey for Luke and there’s definitely no turn-a-new-leaf story for Han.
So what made Leia go from Princess to Rebel Leader? What pushed her into the crosshairs of a war with the Empire? Because that sounds way more compelling than the Smuggler’s Life movie in the works for Han. It’s essentially a coming of age movie that starts the moment Leia is adopted by Bail and Breha Organa and ends with her decision to commit to the rebellion. I mean, if you want an easy way for a movie prequel to tie into the anthology films, then this is it. Rogue One ends with the plans stolen and the Princess Leia film ends with her taking on the role of envoy to ensure the plans make it to the rebellion headquarters. The last shot is of her ship heading towards the beginning of A New Hope.
What ties the whole concept together is the potential character arc of Leia prior to the events of the original trilogy. For one, now that we’ve met Bail and Breha it kinda gives some context for how Leia might have responded to her position as Princess of Alderaan. Thanks to the prequel trilogy, we have a visual of the Organas:
Yeah, Leia had to have known she was adopted by the events of Star Wars, which opens up a lot of storytelling potential. How do the Organa’s explain their new daughter’s appearance? Has the Empire been keeping tabs on Leia the whole time? And since Bail knows Leia’s biological father was a very powerful Jedi, would he take steps to help her should she show signs of Force sensitivity? How would he take steps to help her if the Jedi have gone into hiding?
Leia’s prickly personality would certainly factor into the progression of the story as well. It’s clear, in hindsight, that Leia takes after Anakin more than Luke who tends to have more of Padme’s traits. Leia is strong-willed, stubborn, capable, and headstrong. Yes, she has a nurturing and romantic side, but Leia proves throughout the original trilogy that she’s a force to be reckoned with all on her own. Some of that could stem from being adopted and her sense of self-worth. Joining the rebellion may have given her something of importance to work towards, something that would make her feel like the title of “Princess” wasn’t just handed over but earned. Alternatively, Leia joining the rebellion could be her own act of rebellion. Perhaps Bail and Breha tried to keep a low profile under the thumb of the Empire to protect their daughter, but all Leia sees are her parents being subservient to the Empire’s cruelty. Furious at them, she takes more and more risks while helping the rebels, which puts her on the Empire’s watch list. And as a third option, Leia’s story could easily be about a high-born young woman whose eyes are opened to the truth of the Empire’s rule. She has everything and yet realizes it means nothing in a galaxy where the Empire reigns.
The only prequel idea we’re not doing is the Leia-falls-in-love-with-a-handsome-member-of-the-rebellion-who-makes-her-see-the-truth story. That is the worst possible scenario. Again, blaster to the head. Leia being involved in the rebellion has to be because of her agency, not because a pair of pretty eyes and some abs said, “Hey.”
I’m also aware that Star Wars Rebels will feature a teenage Leia in an upcoming episode, which is fantastic. It’s not surprising given the timeline of Rebels and how close the show is getting to the events of the original trilogy. But if Disney and Lucasfilm want to continue doing anthology films within the Star Wars universe, complete with prequels, then lining up Leia’s story matters just as much, if not more, than Han’s. Besides, Leia’s got a sharp tongue on her as well. You want some real fun? Let’s see what a typical day in the Alderaan court is like when Leia gets political.