Star Wars and the History of Transmedia Storytelling

 

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EDITED COLLECTION

Sean Guynes and Dan Hassler-Forest, editors
Star Wars and the History of Transmedia Storytelling
Amsterdam University Press, 2017
Transmedia Series


May 25, 1977. Star Wars opens in theatres in the U.S. The space-fantasy about a rag-tag group of rebels defeating a dark lord and his imperial mega-technology with the help of a mysterious “Force” became the highest grossing film for the next five years and firmly established the summer film-going season as one of science-fictional and action-adventure blockbusters. 2017 marks the 40th anniversary of Star Wars’s release, and as such denotes the most recent milestone in the history of a media franchise, since in those forty years the narrative of Star Wars, its characters, and its fictional universe have gone beyond the original film and “spread,” in the terms of Henry Jenkins, across multiple media—including television, books, games, comics, action figures, and even theme parks—to become the most lucrative franchise in the history of media, recently valued by Forbes, following the release of the most recent film entrant, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and estimating returns on future features and tie-in merchandising, at roughly $10 billion.

As a transmedia franchise, Star Wars is also rich in symbolic and cultural capital. To have not seen Star Wars, to not know even the most basic references, is to miss out on a fundamental aspect of contemporary Euro-American culture. The franchise’s impact has been so significant, for example in the United States, that key quotes from the films such as “May the Force be with you” are regularly cited by American politicians in public speeches. Ronald Reagan referenced the line in his unveiling of the (failed) Strategic Defense Initiative, or Star Wars, in 1985; presidential candidate Hillary Clinton used the line to close her remarks during a debate with Bernie Sanders in December 2015, the evening after the U.S. opening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens—both bids to demonstrate the cultural hipness of aging politicians.

Star Wars has reached more than three generations of casual and hardcore fans alike, and as a result many of the producers of franchised Star Wars texts (films, TV, comics, novels, games, and more) over the past four decades have been fans-turned-creators, yet despite its dominant cultural position and in spite of its being a key example of two processes central to contemporary media studies—the media franchise and transmedia storytelling—Star Wars has rarely been the topic of sustained critical work. The proposed volume Star Wars and the History of Transmedia Storytelling offers a corrective to this oversight by curating a range of essays by both established and emerging scholars in order to bring Star Wars and its transmedia narratives more fully into the fold of media and cultural studies.

The essays collected in this volume take Star Wars to be exemplary in the history of media, being at once an exemplar of dominant practices in transmedia and media franchising but also at the leading edge of those practices as they emerged, intensified, and diversified in the era that Jennifer Holt identifies as that of media industry deregulation in the last two decades of the twentieth century, and into the twenty-first, as new “convergent” media practices opened greater possibilities for extending the Star Wars franchise and its narratives across digital platforms. Moreover, the essays fill gaps in the study of media franchises, transmedia storytelling, adaptation, and fandom. The collection places Star Wars at the center of those studies’ projects by examining Star Wars video games, novels, comics, advertising practices, television shows, franchising models, aesthetics and economic decisions, fan and cultural responses, and other aspects of Star Wars and its world-building in their multiple contexts of production, distribution, and reception, attending always to how those contexts have are negotiated among and between individual creators, corporate entities and intellectual property owners, licensees, and audiences.

In emphasizing that Star Wars is both a media franchise and a transmedia text, Star Wars and the History of Transmedia Storytelling demonstrates the ways in which the recent phenomena of transmedia storytelling and the “production logic” of media franchising have developed in concert over the past four decades as multinational corporations have become the central means for subsidizing, profiting from, and selling modes of fantastical imagining to audiences of millions. By taking this dual approach, the collection breaks new ground by pointing to the interconnected nature of corporate production, fan consumption, and transmedia world-building. As such, this collection grapples with the historical, cultural, aesthetic, and political-economic implications of the relationship between media franchising and transmedia storytelling as they are seen at work in the most profitable transmedia franchise: Star Wars.

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Introduction: “‘What Is this Strange World We’ve Come to?”

Foreword: Henry Jenkins and Dan Hassler-Forest, “I Have a Bad Feeling About This”: Introducing the Star Wars Storyworld

Part I. “First Steps into a Larger World”: Establishing the Storyworld

Matthew Freeman, From Sequel to Quasi-Novelization: Splinter of the Mind’s Eye and the 1970s Culture of Transmedia Contingency

Tara Lomax, “Thank the Maker!”: George Lucas, Lucasfilm, and the Legends of Transtextual Authorship across the Star Wars Franchise

Stefan Hall, Franchising Empire: Parker Bros., Atari, and the Rise of LucasArts

Jeremy Webster, Han Leia Shot First: Transmedia Storytelling and the National Public Radio Dramatization of Star Wars

Drew Morton, “You must feel the force around you!”: Death Star Trench Running as Transmedia Play

Thomas van Parys, Another Canon, Another Time: The Novelizations of the Star Wars Films

Part II. “Never Tell Me the Odds”: Expanding the Universe

Lincoln Geraghty, Transmedia Character Building: Tracking Crossovers in the Star Wars Universe

Beatriz Bartolomé Herrera and Philipp Dominik Keidl, How Star Wars Became Museological: Transmedia Storytelling and Imaginary World Building in the Exhibition Space

Sean Guynes, Publishing the New Jedi Order: Media Industries Collaboration and the Franchise Novel

Jonathan Rey Lee, The Digitizing Force of Decipher’s Star Wars: Customizable Card Game

Mark J.P. Wolf, Adapting the Death Star into LEGO: The Case of LEGO Set #10188

Andrew M. Butler, Invoking the Holy Trilogy: Star Wars in in the Askewniverse

Cody Mejeur, Chasing Wild Space: Narrative Outsides and World-Building Frontiers in the Old Republic Video Games

Part III. “More Powerful Than You Can Possibly Imagine”: Consolidating the Franchise

Megen de Bruin-Molé, Space Bitches, Witches, and Kick-Ass Princesses: Star Wars and Popular Feminism

Matt Hills, Transmedia Under One Roof: The Star Wars Celebration as a Convergence Event

Allison Whitney, Formatting Nostalgia: IMAX Expansions of the Star Wars Franchise

Gerry Canavan, Fandom Edits: Rogue One and the New Star Wars

Derek R. Sweet, Some People Call Him a Space Cowboy: Kanan Jarrus, Outer Rim Justice, and the Legitimization of The Obama Doctrine

Heather Urbanski, The Kiss Goodnight from a Galaxy Far, Far Away: Experiencing Star Wars as a Fan-Scholar on Disney Property

Afterword: Will Brooker and Dan Hassler-Forest, “You’ll find I’m Full of Surprises”: The Future of Star Wars