Sunday, August 7, 2011
34 BBY: The Monster
I’m not suggesting that Lucas creates only one-dimensional characters – he doesn’t. But with that being said it’s understandable that Lucas needs to create some one-dimensional characters to further along a plot. But this is what I love about the Star Wars universe: that some other author or artist can come along, take Lucas’ relatively flat creation, and flush out a rich and multifaceted backstory to this cardboard archetype so that the next time we engage with him we regard him in a different and deeper light. The Monster, a story about Captain Panaka, does just this.
There are a bunch of really interesting elements going off in this story, the first being Panaka’s introduction to the tale. At the start of the narrative I thought I was reading some 1970’s-Dirty-Harry-gritty-cop-drama, complete with a running gunfight in the spattered darkness of some abandoned warehouse. Attempting to ‘nail the perp’, Panaka gets into a good ‘ol fashioned fist fight with the bad-guy (a Gungan – and who knew Gungans were so strong?), and takes him down one head-butt at a time. Brilliant! But it gets even better!
Leaving the confines of gritty cop drama, we switch gears to ironic social commentary by Wallace. Taking the bad guy back to the station, Panaka proceeds to interrogate the Gungan, asking him about accomplices and such: “Panaka shot back. “Crimes were committed during the same period. Most people would peg you as the likely suspect." The Gungan laughed. "To dem, mesa only crime tis bein a Gungan." Panaka shook his head. Typical” (2). The irony of this scene is just too good. Here we have the captured gungan, the Star Wars stand in for the black suspect, coupled with Panaka’s words ringing with an air of racism, or in the Star Wars universe, speciesism.
Where do I begin? Is Wallace having fun here, pointing out in an ironic manner the real-world racist backdrop of the Gungans by simply following the lead set by George Lucas, the man responsible for introducing such a racist caricature into the Star Wars universe to begin with? Is Wallace simply taking Lucas’ coon-caricature brain-child and running with, going ‘well George, he’s what you’ve done!’ Is the Gungan in this story simply another “Rastafarian Stepin Fetchit on platform hooves”, to quote Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal, but less of a “bumbling dimwitted amphibian-like creature who speaks Caribbean-accented pidgin English” but still with “ears that suggest dreadlocks and wearing bell-bottom pants and a vest”? Is the Gungan in this story the big and strong jungle Gungan, the one to be feared by nice hardworking Naboo? I don’t know, but I do honestly believe that Wallace is lampooning Lucas’ racist creation here by pointing out in his own tale that the Gungan’s are victims of speciesism in the Star Wars universe. It’s absolutely brilliant – and all of this coming from Panaka! Genius!
I don’t know, maybe I’m reading way too much into this scene. But please, someone convince me that Jar Jar Binks was not the latest in Black cinematic stereotyping, whether Lucas meant it or not.
Anyway, I think I’ve taken this post in a negative direction and have pulled the fun out of an otherwise totally awesome piece of literary fantasy.
So, putting aside my comments of racial caricaturing, it’s true to say that Dan Wallace hit this one out of the park, again.
Like Ryder Windham, Dan Wallace’s understanding and knowledge of Star Wars is encyclopedic and deep. If for some reason Lucas decided to walk away from Star Wars, Dan Wallace, and others of his ilk like Windham, Hidalgo, or Pena (just to name a few Star Wars artists I respect and admire), are folk I would want to step in as the director of this universe because I know the mythology created and the history written would be in good hands. Dan Wallace loves Star Wars, and it shows in his work.
What I also like about Wallace’s work, and the same could be said of JJM’s, is that it is helpful to have wookieepedia open as I read, as I imagine that these writers also have wookieepedia open as they write. It’s nice to have a visual of some alien species I’ve never heard of, or have an image of some linguistic reference. In The Monster, I looked up futhark script, which I learned was the formal form of writing on Naboo, and was the lettering found on a door that Panaka had to walk through.
Getting back to the short story however, what I also liked about The Monster was that Dan Wallace built up some narrative around two interesting and awesome creatures featured in The Phantom Menace: the Opee and the Sando aqua monster. The Sando aqua monster is a creature I can see the ancient Naboo telling stories about around a campfire – the mysterious white whale of Nabooian sailor stories. Funny enough, I was so immersed in the tale, as the Monster beached itself and flayed around, I thought that such a rare occurrence would be a goldmine of information to Nabooian marine biologists. Why didn’t anyone call a scientist to come and examine the creature? If it didn’t live it could have been stuffed and placed in a natural history museum somewhere on Naboo or even off-world. That’s how into the story I was!
Like I alluded to before, The Monster is a gritty cop drama planted into the Star Wars universe. Instead of Dirty Harry and his .44 magnum we have Lieutenant Panaka and his S-5 Royal Naboo security pistol. Not only do we have a tough protagonist with a big gun, he even uncovers a conspiracy at the highest level of government, centering on some sensitive information about either Senator Palpatine or King Veruna or both. As is the case in all gritty cop dramas, the superior officer, in this case Captain Magneta, tells her subordinate, Lieutenant Panaka, that he’s barking up the wrong tree, and that “everything is taken care of”. And everything is taken care of, as Captain Magneta has all evidence of the possible conspiracy erased with the blast from a Naboo fighter’s laser cannons.
The Monster was a fantastic read.
Before I sign off I’ll offer this story to anyone who wants it. Drop me a line at either theforce.net forums, my handle there is JarenJade, or at the swtor forums, my handle there is Iscariot. Send me your e-mail address and I let me know you’d like the story.
For my next post I’m going to move ahead a few more years in Star Wars history to 35 BBY to the WOTC RPG scenario Swim Meet. Until then my friends, may the Force be with you.