1997-1998 - 1999 - 2000 - 2001 - 2002+
Sic Transit Gloria Mundi
"Is that all there is?"
Peggy Lee crooned that question about thirty years ago, and she was
far from the only one. Frank Zappa asked it too. So have countless
authors and philosophers: the Teacher in Jerusalem (thought to have
been King Solomon) wrote a memorable treatise called Ecclesiastes
about the subject. "There's nothing new under the sun," he
considered, calling the pursuit of things "meaningless... a chasing
after the wind." Everything done by the hand passes away... what thing
lasting can there ever be?
And now it's our turn. Maybe Peggy Lee's hit should be the theme
song for fans as we build up toward 2005. Star Wars has been
the defining story of the past quarter-century. For some of
us, we haven't known anything of its caliber. What more will there
be after the curtain closes on Episode III? We've taken our love of
Star Wars to just about every level conceivable... what happens to
that love after it sinks in that there really won't be any
more films? It's like we're living out that part of "Forrest Gump":
we've followed George Lucas pursue his heart across the landscape.
When he finishes this race and moves on, many of us will be standing
around wondering "NOW what do we do?"
Well, why should it end, at all? By which yardstick are we
going to determine when the fun's over? Lucas is just ending his
part of the storytelling... that?s all. And there should be
an ending to every thing - even this thing - if it's going to have a
purpose. If Star Wars were to go on indefinitely (like (ahem)
some franchises do) it would lose its meaning. Sorta why physical
immortality is a baaaad idea: it looks great on paper, yeah,
but "is that all there is?"
I don't think we've anything to worry about. For the same reason
that, as much as we?re anticipating Episode II in May, at this point
we should be more stoked about Peter Jackson?s adaptation of
"The Fellowship Of The Ring" this Christmas. Ya see, Lord Of The
Rings is the only real benchmark around that Star Wars can be
measured against. It's been down this road before. And it's
succeeded for the same reason that Star Wars will succeed.
So there won't be any more Star Wars films after '05... big deal!
When was the last time J.R.R. Tolkien added anything to his saga?
And that STILL hasn?t stopped the Middle-Earth juggernaut: our
friends at TheOneRing.net and similar sites are proof of that,
it having been some years since Mr. Tolkien published anything this
side of the Sea. "Old Charlie stole the handle" but this train won?t
stop going... no way to slow down.
So why does it seem so lamentable that for Star Wars this, too, shall
pass? Maybe it's because we're looking at these stories from the
way wrong perspective. At the coronation of a new pope, the
dean of the College of Cardinals - the clergy that elects the pope -
calls aloud "Sic transit gloria mundi". The tradition goes
back to Roman times, when victorious generals would parade their
spoils through the city. Amidst the cheering multitudes, a slave
would stand by the general?s side, whispering "Sic transit gloria
mundi" into his ear. The phrase is translated as "thus passes
the glory of the world," or "worldly fame is transitory." For the
one ascending to the Holy See, it?s a reminder that only the office -
and not the man - is immortal. For the general, it was a measure of
temperance: don't be lulled into comfort by something that won?t last.
As much money as Star Wars has made (and for all the money that Lord
Of The Rings will make... and it'll be a wazooload, believe
you me), both have and will stand apart from the moment. Their
makers crafted these tales to be timeless, not to cater to the
But isn't that how this world operates, though? John-Rhys Davis
(Gimli in the Lord Of The Rings films) has commented a few times that
most of today's entertainment tries to satisfy the material... as
opposed to honoring the reality of such things as good and evil.
And when something with so simple a theme as Star Wars or Lord Of The
Rings comes onto the scene, it's STILL viewed as something fresh and
innovative... because that theme is so diametrically opposite of
materialism. This world sees things in the here and now. Most of
the things we do are intended to gain power and glory in the here and
now. And though a deed accomplished with the conscious goal of fame
or wealth might achieve its ends... it's almost always a fleeting
But the real accomplishments - the ones that live on well past
their creators - they weren't fulfilled with glory in mind.
Their makers just wanted to tell a simple story in their own way, and
in doing so created something larger than themselves. Tolkien and
Lucas share something profound: they were both overwhelmed at the
success of their stories, Tolkien perhaps moreso... unless Lucas also
was phoned at 2 in the morning to be asked if Darth Vader was really
Luke Skywalker?s father. Even today, Tolkien's family has kept the
success of their name in perspective. So has Lucas. And Jackson has
apparently exercised extreme humbleness in his task of
bringing Lord Of The Rings to the big screen.
It?s safe to say that there?s a level of competition between die-hard
fans in both camps: to many people, it matters greatly that one movie
earns a higher gross at the box office. Or gets more shelf space at
the local Toys R Us. But in reality there isn't a "zero-sum game"
between anyone. There isn't a finite amount of the pie to go around,
and it's disingenuous to both the creators involved and their works
to have that mindset. Both Lucas and Jackson have wished each other
all the best in their respective productions. And therein lies the
real secret to lasting success in this world: don't be so proud of
one?s own work, but marvel at what others might do also.
I for one would love to meet Lucas and Jackson - and Christopher
Tolkien, heir to his father's legacy - not so much for their stature
in the eyes of the world, but just to listen to their ideas and
thoughts on anything and everything. As Peter S. Beagle wrote of
Tolkien years ago, they are among the true "colonizers of dreams".
They have succeeded in bringing a touch of the Flame Imperishable to
this weary realm... and much is owed to their humble efforts.
December 7, 2001