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Editorials

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... thatís 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 weíre anticipating Episode II in May, at this point we should be more stoked about Peter Jacksonís 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 hasnít 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 wonít 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 generalís 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, itís 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 wonít 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 present.

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 victory.

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 Skywalkerís 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.

Itís safe to say that thereís 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 oneís 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.

Chris Knight
TheForce.net Editorial Staff
December 7, 2001

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