Saturday, January 18, 2020

The Book That Almost Was

Grand Army of the Republic: A Complete Visual Reference Guide to Clone Troopers

The book that almost was.

I was a fan of clone troopers since my first viewing of Attack of the Clones in May 2002. Then the Clone Wars micro series and Revenge of the Sith introduced a rich world of clone diversity. Following that, The Clone Wars Movie and TV series, the Expanded Universe, and Hasbro blew the doors clean off. There were so many clones. My personality is wired such that I prefer (and crave), complete, organized lists and catalogs of things. Thus, I wanted something where I could see the different clone troopers all in one place. As I was a big lover of the various Star Wars visual guides and reference books, I figured I'd just make my own guide along those lines. My initial intent was to make a reference guide just for myself, for fun. This was early 2010. However, as I began to write and compile images I realized that others might be interested in having a book like this as well.

Although the book wasn't complete yet I reached out to Lucas Publishing, Del Rey Books, and DK Books. Lucas Publishing told me I needed the publishing deal first, and the two publishers said I needed the licensing agreement first. That was a dead end. But to be fair, I was a no-name author cold-calling places without representation. So I reached out to Star Wars author James Luceno who I had met a couple years prior. He loved the idea and the manuscript, and offered to make a few calls on my behalf. By mid-2012 the book was mostly done and, via James's help, it was looking very promising for getting it published. Then October came...and George Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney. Immediately following the sale, all Star Wars books not already in production and/or slated for release were cancelled until further notice. James was super supportive and followed up with Lucas Publishing periodically. When the news came that Disney and Lucasfilm were cancelling The Clone Wars, killing the Expanded Universe, and re-booting the Star Wars canon, I knew the book was dead. And it was. Hasbro, the EU, and the final [at the time] season of The Clone Wars had introduced some new clones, but I never bothered to go back and add them to my manuscript. I was disappointed and, at the time, had yet to come to grips with how I felt and stood regarding the “new era of Star Wars”.

The book would have been insanely dope though. I envisioned a large, hardcover book (similar to the Visual Dictionary, Cross-Section and Essential Guide books), with great visually imagery. I had done hours of research and was confident in both the information, and the writing. As I’m but a novice when it comes to graphic design, Lucasfilm and the publisher would have needed to provide some assistance in terms of higher quality images and better page graphics, but the end result would have been a hit.

The book covered all clone troopers from:
*Episode II – Attack of the Clones
*Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
*Clone Wars
*The Clone Wars Movie
*The Clone Wars Seasons 1-6
*The Expanded Universe (novels, books, comics, video games)

Here’s a brief breakdown of what the book would have consisted of. This is essentially a scaled down version of the table of contents (longer lists are replaced with a *).

I. Prelude – “An Army of One”
            Battle of Geonosis
            The Clone Wars
            Coruscant and Centax 2
            Order 66
            The Empire

II. Appearances, Armor, and Weaponry

III. Command Structure
            Regular Forces
            Special Forces

IV. Regular Forces
            Command Hierarchy / Rank System
            Operational Variations
                        *Over twenty different sub-sections featured
            Notable Formations
                        *Over twenty five different units featured
            Notable Clones
                        *Over thirty different individual clones featured

V. Special Forces
            Advanced Recon Commandos (ARC Troopers)
                        Command Hierarchy / Rank System
                        ARC Subdivisions *
                        Notable ARCs *
            Clone Commandos
                        Cuy’val Dar and Clone Advisors
                        Notable Commandos *
            *Remaining divisions of Special Forces

VI. Comprehensive Image Gallery

VII. Notes and References

The kicker was the Comprehensive Image Gallery section, which would have featured a photo and title for every clone trooper in existence.

The book would have been around two hundred and fifty pages.

While I was working on Grand Army of the Republic, I became inspired to write some other material. In 2011 I wrote four Star Wars children’s books. The goal was to, after I had one book under my belt, pitch the others. Alas… But regardless of the outcome, it was still fun working on all five projects. And I can kick ass in clone trooper trivia for the remainder of my days. Haha!  

Photo: Mock cover I created for Grand Army of the Republic

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Why Humans from Earth Wouldn't Fare Too Well in the Star Wars Universe

For the past forty two years many a Star Wars fan has fantasized about what it would be like to exist within the Star Wars universe. Day dreaming about living in a fictional universe is typically an exciting and carefree experience with limitless possibilities, and one should always hold tight to that imagination and wonder. However, looking at it from a more logistical perspective, real-life humans of Earth probably wouldn't fare too well if somehow magically transported to the Star Wars universe.

First and foremost, I'd argue that the humans in Star Wars are a different, and slightly advanced, breed of human when compared to us, the humans of Earth. Fictionally speaking, George Lucas and company developed the Star Wars human race to share a plethora of the qualities and characteristics that make us "human". That's a major factor in how/why we as fans relate and gravitate to the characters. They're essentially like us, just living in an amazing space adventure. That's the point from a storytelling point of view. But after watching the movies and TV shows countless times, and especially when reading the Expanded Universe novels, we realize that despite the large pool of fundamental similarities, there's an even bigger ocean of tangible differences. While there are varying degrees of intelligence in both breeds of humans, Star Wars humans appear to have brains capable of both processing and remembering larger, and more complex, amounts of information. Technologically speaking, their entire existence is drastically more advanced than ours, even on the Outer Rim worlds. Granted they do receive a ton of assistance from droids and computers, but said droids/computers had to be designed, built, and programmed to provide such assistance.

The modern humans of Earth have a brief history, only exist on one planet, have a relatively small understanding of the universe at large, and have yet to come in contact with another evolved/intelligent species. In contrast, the humans of Star Wars have a history spanning well over a hundred thousand years, exist on thousands of different planets, possess a greater knowledge of the universe, and have daily interactions with a wide variety of different species. Therefore, the sheer amount of information in existence and available to the humans of Star Wars is staggeringly more immense than we humans can even begin to comprehend. Daily Star Wars-human life, on virtually any world, much less space travel, would far exceed the mental limitations of humans from Earth. Even the non-Force sensitive humans in Star Wars have faster reflexives and response times, both physically and analytically. And despite appearance, they tend to be physically stronger, with a much larger threshold for pain.

There is also a stark contrast on a psychological level. In addition to higher brain functionality, more advanced technology, and a deeper universal understanding, Star Wars-humans have daily experiences utterly foreign to that of Earth-humans. To them, these experiences are simple reality. To us, they would be hard to comprehend and digest. From space travel, hyperspace, non-Earth-like planetary environments and rotation cycles, to natural wonders. From multiple species, creatures, monsters, the Force, witches, healers, insectoids, to changelings and more. While the human spirit is robust, the human psyche is fragile. Thus, if a human from Earth was to suddenly encounter life in the Star Wars universe, it could very well cause a sensory overload and mental breakdown. The Star Wars universe is also a very violent place. While sadly, many on Earth are forced to live in environments where violence is a daily occurrence, most Earthlings would not be prepared to witness violence of a Star Wars caliber. And think about how many humans on Earth have a fear of heights, of flying, a fear of insects, etc. In the Star Wars universe those types of fears would be crippling. We won't even get into the religious, racial, and social implications. As far as language goes, 43% of people on Earth fluently speak two languages, while 13% are fluent in three. That’s not bad, but as 3PO reminds us time and time again, there are over six million forms of communication in the Star Wars universe. And even he, a droid, has been stumped a time or two.

Writing this was just for fun. And though I could explore this topic at novel length, the intent was a short, "something to ponder" type of article. Because both breeds of humans are highly adaptable one could reckon that an Earth-human could potentially learn and experience enough over time to survive. But mere survival would still be a far cry from being on par with the rest of the Star Wars human race. And adapting and evolving is really a separate conversation. We know that the humans of Star Wars evolved from ape-like creatures, the same as us, so to be fair, they’ve had thousands more years of evolution. And of course, all of this is a broad generalization of humans, of both universes. This was more of a first encounter, and human race to human race as-is comparison piece. Still, all things considered, I'd go in a heartbeat! First stop, Coruscant!  

Love the Star Wars You Love, Choose Your Own Canon

Prior to 1999 Star Wars fans were simply just that, 'Star Wars fans'. Star Wars fandom enthusiastically revolved around the Original Trilogy, and everyone was happy. While mixed opinions on the Holiday Special, Droids, Ewoks, and the budding Expanded Universe existed, none of those were widespread enough to really make a difference at the time. Star Wars fandom didn't yet have distinctions. That all changed with the Prequel Trilogy, which divided the fandom for the first time. For many Star Wars fans, their fandom now had an asterisk next to it, which was new territory for the fandom. By the end of 2013, the Clone Wars micro series, The Clone Wars (movie and TV series), and an extremely rich and dynamic Expanded Universe introduced even more various factions of Star Wars fans. However, despite the varying degrees of likes and dislikes, everything available fell under the same canon and chronology. Enter 2014, the year that saw the death of the Expanded Universe and original canon, and the start of the Disney-era canon, beginning with Rebels and The Force Awakens. If Star Wars fandom was splintered before, 2014 absolutely blew it to smithereens. And that was just the beginning. For the next four years (2015 to 2019), fandom continued to fluctuate with every new release. And unless you completely avoided all platforms of social media (or going outside), we are all aware of how vocal, passionate, and in some instances, combative, Star Wars fans can be...on all sides and perspectives. The old cliché, "No one hates Star Wars more than Star Wars fans", couldn't be more accurate for some. 

What’s the point of all this? To illustrate that (as 2020 gets underway), no two Star Wars fans alike. And you know what? There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Shocker, right? But it's true. Whether one only likes the Original Trilogy, likes everything ever made, or any combination in between, its’ okay. Within Star Wars' forty two year history; movies, shows, novels, characters, stories, two canons, etc., every fan has a list of what they love and have emotionally connected with. Star Wars resonates differently with each individual, and has the power to inspire and captive people in a multitude of ways. Consider who Star Wars fans are. They are people of every gender, age, ethnicity, social and economic status, and country of origin. Given that level of diversity, spanning four generations, it would be absolutely absurd to expect everyone to all like the same things. Therein lies the beauty of Star Wars, it truly offers something for everyone.

For the sake of argument let's assume all Star Wars fans are accepting of each fan having a distinct list of his/her 'Star Wars likes'. Sadly that’s probably not the case, but let’s roll with it. Where does that leave the canons? From May 1977 to April 2014 George Lucas and Lucasfilm depicted what was canon. Beginning in May 2014, Disney and Lucasfilm rolled out their new canon. While the two canons do overlap and contradict one another, the best way to view them is as completely separate entities. A prime example is Luke Skywalker. In the original, Lucas-era canon [post-Return of the Jedi] Luke goes on to become arguably the greatest Force user in the history of the galaxy. Disney-era canon also has a Luke Skywalker character, but the events of that character’s life are dramatically different. Same character name, two different characters, two different canons. Star Wars is an insanely powerful force (no pun intended), and fans live and breathe the stories and history at a religious-type level. Because of this fans sometimes forget one crucial factor, it’s all fiction. All of it is fiction. Therefore, just as fans are free to choose which pieces of Star Wars they enjoy, they are also free to choose what they consider, for them, to be canon. Keep in mind that choosing one’s own personal canon will never change what is actually recorded as Lucas-era canon, or Disney-era canon. But if sticking to a particular canon brings you more joy out of Star Wars, then that is your canon. When an artist writes a song, or a poem, or paints a picture, said artist does so with an understanding of what the piece means to him or her. However, when that art is shared with the world, the listeners, readers, and viewers gleam their own interpretations based off how the piece speaks to them. Star Wars is storytelling, and storytelling is an art form.
To be fair, I would not have said this prior to there being two canons. When there was only one canon, it felt more like gospel, and you took the good with the bad, and focused your time on the pieces you enjoyed most. Having two fictional canons in existence changes the game. I love the Original Trilogy, the Prequel Trilogy, Clone Wars, The Clone Wars, and the Expanded Universe. The 1977-April 2014 chronology that put all of that together in a timeline spanning over thirty seven thousand years means the world to me. That is Star Wars to me. Thus, when the Disney-era canon began I was furious. The sequel trilogy and Rebels were taking place in time periods already covered in the EU. And Rogue One and Solo were blatant re-tellings of stories already told in the EU. I wasn’t happy, and I wasn’t enjoying Star Wars anymore. That’s when it hit me, and I realized three important things. One, life is too short to be upset and not taking pleasure in things I like. Two, while Disney/Lucasfilm will go on making their new version of Star Wars, they can never erase or take away the first thirty seven years of Star Wars. Thus, I can forever hold onto and keep my Star Wars, and my Star Wars canon. And lastly, I didn’t want to be another one of those negative Star Wars fans. I will always have my personal feeling about Disney and post-George Lucasfilm, but that has nothing to do with other fans. Just as no one can tell me what my Star Wars is or is not, I have zero desire to depict or influence what Star Wars should be to anyone else. I’m perfectly content just doing me, as other fans should be perfectly content enjoying whichever forms of Star Wars makes them happy.

This change in perspective was huge for me, and not only rekindled my love affair with my Star Wars, but in a sense increased the intensity because I realized how truly precious it is. It only dies if I let it. As the old Jedi proverb goes, “Your focus determines your reality”. And I’d much rather have my attention focused on all the amazing things the OT, PT, CW, TCW, and EU gave us. I have a deep connection with the Lucas-era of Star Wars, and am emotionally invested in those stories, those characters, and that history. In addition, because I do not have a connection with the new canon, I can treat it as I would any other form of fan fiction, thus allowing me to enjoy some of it, just on a different level. My point of view going in is different, therefore there’s zero chance for disappointment, but always a chance I’ll enjoy it. Take The Mandalorian for example, I absolutely loved season one. It will never be my canon, but it was Star Wars I enjoyed and could get excited for. It’s a great balance, for me, to hold onto the Star Wars I love and cherish, but still be able to partake in the new era of Star Wars content.

Obviously that was just my experience, and it won’t hold true for every fan. But I do encourage all Star Wars fans to separate themselves from the negativity and collective voice(s) of the fandom at large. Its’ okay to like what you like, don’t worry about what anyone else is doing, just do you. I’ll end on this last thought. From George Lucas to Timothy Zahn, from Dave Filoni to Troy Denning, and from JJ Abrams to whomever is creating Star Wars content a decade from now, everyone who has ever worked on providing the world with stories from the Star Wars universe has done so with the intention of sharing amazing tales from a galaxy far, far away. But just like any piece of art, it won’t please, impress, or satisfy every fan. That’s an impossible feat. So whatever you choose to be your Star Wars and your Star Wars canon, love and appreciate those for what they mean to you. No two Star Wars fans are alike, but we’re all Star Wars fans in one form or another.

May The Force Be With You!

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Wave 3

I started Versifier Unleashed in January of 2012 in the hopes it would become an alternative writing outlet to my music and poetry. A place where I could share select pieces of non-music or poem related writing on a wider, yet somewhat centralized, range of topics. As someone who is used to only sharing a percentage of my collective writing, a blog made for a good home to post what I felt I wanted out in the world. For example; in over twenty years of making music, I’ve released over three hundred songs, but I’ve written well over five hundred, many of which were never recorded. The blog would essentially just be for me, an archive of certain writing. However, if other’s find, read, and enjoy it, then that’s a welcome bonus.

From January of 2012 to April of 2013 I posted seventy eight pieces. The blog then sat dormant for three and a half years. In December of 2016 I deleted all seventy eight original posts and started from scratch. The second time around I realized the blog would make a great place to post particular things I otherwise did not have a viable platform to house, such as the Ahsoka Tano visual reference guide book I had written, and the Dr. Mickel’s Golden Era Playlist series I had started. Thus, the blog became collective of creative writing, free-writing, articles, list-based posts, and project-based posts. Along those lines I made forty two posts between December of 2016 and August of 2018. Following that was a second period of dormancy. In the later months of 2019 I began jotting down notes/ideas of things I suddenly felt compelled to write about. And I even got some writing done. Enter January 2020, and here we are, in what I’m dubbing “Wave 3”, the third go-round. This time I didn’t completely wipe the slate clean, as I left seventeen of the forty two posts from 2016-2018 up on the blog. And going forward I’m going to keep the same mixture of creative writing, free-writing, articles, list-based posts, and project-based posts. That combination is rather indicative of my personality, so it’s a perfect fit.

Life is obviously too unpredictable to say if the blog will again go into hibernation sometime in the next two years (two year spurts seem to be the track record). But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if it does or not. It’s a fun hobby and outlet for me, and I have zero expectations beyond that.

I did archive the first one hundred and twenty posts, so I’ll always have those even if they are no longer up on the blog (not including the seventeen I left up).

Versifier Unleashed is the blog home for many of the entities I’ve started, created, or built over the years, including;
·         Versifier – Hip Hop emcee, song writer, recording artist, and retired (basically) performer
·         Manifesters – Hip Hop group
~ DayBreakers – side Hip Hop recording duo
~ Oxcyde & Versifier – side Hip Hop recording duo
~ Manifest Life Publishing – music publishing company
·         @AhsokaTanosLife – Ahsoka Tano fan account
·         The Prides of Nexu Museum – home to my personal Star Wars collection
·         The Lost Holocron – my Star Wars Hip Hop music project
·         Dr. Mickel’s Golden Era Playlists – 80’s-90’s Golden Era Hip Hop and R&B playlists
·         TK-9721 – of the 501st Legion
·         Cyphis / Darth Cyphis – my fan-fiction Star Wars character
Thus, I link to the blog from a variety of different sources.

As far as what I have in the works for “Wave 3”, here’s a general, but by no means exclusive, list of topics to expect;
·         Hip Hop
·         Star Wars
·         Star Wars Collecting
·         Ahsoka Tano (character)
·         Ahsoka Tano (fandom)
·         80’s-90’s Golden Era Hip
·         Star Wars Hip Hop
·         Sports
·         Dogs
·         Star Wars Expanded Universe
·         Lucas-Era Star Wars
·         501st Legion
·         80’s-90’s Golden Era R&B
·         Collecting
·         and more