The Star Wars cultural phenomenon continues this December, with episode nine of what’s now being called “The Skywalker Saga.” How The Rise of Skywalker will cap the original series — the nature of which (thank you, George Lucas) is constantly in a state of flux — has yet to be revealed. But fans are gearing up for something epic. And frankly, given the stakes, the movie will be jaw-dropping, either for good or (please, no) for bad.
Such is the power of Star Wars that it can shift the focus of even a nationally recognized podcast like The Storm, which is usually firmly rooted in Game of Thrones and Lost discussions. But this Thursday, The Storm will convene at the Boulder Public Library to record a live show for the podcast that instead includes nothing but Star Wars, from the ’70s and ’80s originals all the way up to, well, today.
We caught up with Dave Gonzales, the Colorado member of The Storm team, to talk about the upcoming taping, as well as Star Wars, Game of Thrones, and all things nerdalicious a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
Westword: The Storm team [including Joanna Robinson, Dave Gonzales and Neil Miller] is taping a special episode of its nationally recognized podcast at the Boulder Public Library on November 21. How did it come to land there?
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Dave Gonzales: I was contacted by Anne Ledford from the Boulder Public Library through Twitter, and she asked if I was at all interested in doing something with podcasting with the Boulder Public Library’s Teen Space, since she had been a fan of the podcast back when we were a Game of Thrones-centric podcast called Storm of Spoilers. I grew up in Louisville, and we had done live versions of the Game of Thrones podcast where my other two co-hosts lived (Joanna Robinson in San Francisco and Neil Miller in Austin), so when Annie brought up the idea of doing a live Storm podcast in Boulder, we were pretty instantly on board.
The Storm usually deals with Game of Thrones and re-watching episodes of Lost, but this time it's turning its attentions to the end of the Skywalker saga. Any previews as to how you will be dealing with the Star Wars canon? Any insights, teasers, things to turn the Internet up to eleven?
We all love Star Wars. Earlier in the year, we were in the middle of a big season of endings; both Game of Thrones and Avengers: Endgame were in the same month. It was apparent even back then that this was a year for endings, and Rise of Skywalker was coming out at the end of the year. We wanted to do something similar to our Game of Thrones coverage, which is why we decided to cover Lost — another TV series with a very divisive ending — episode by episode, but we didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to cover the end of "The Skywalker Saga" as a cultural event. How do you bring a story this long to an end? What exactly is ending when we know there's going to be more Star Wars in the future? Does Star Wars really rhyme and echo against itself over three trilogies? We thought doing a live podcast on the original trilogy would be a fun time to revisit media without doing a detailed re-watch like we do with TV shows. We’ll have some trivia, some bigger topics, and discuss some key moments in Luke’s trilogy, where he got to be the Chosen One. We’re also going to end with a Q&A. And Joanna, Neil, and I all cover Star Wars professionally for other national outlets, so we’ll be doing our best to answer any Rise of Skywalker and The Mandalorian questions with the most up-to-date information possible.
How do you think Star Wars, as a phenomenon, compares to the cultural touchstone that Game of Thrones became? Will we still be talking about GoT in forty-plus years?
I think eventually we’ll revisit and revere Game of Thrones as a key point in television history, and if George R.R. Martin ever finishes his series, the show and the books will be linked in a way where hopefully interest in one leads to interest in the other. The Game of Thrones fandom is still battered from the final season, but all the interactions we’ve had with fans personally have been great. Game of Thrones and Star Wars both have core fandoms that are built on positivity, even in debate and disagreement. Be it dragon riders and ice spiders or space knights and puppet sages, there’s a core group of passionate people out there who weave these narratives into their own lives and use it to create positive interactions. It seems like no amount of city-burning or Jar Jar Binks can deter them from what drew them to the show or movies in the first place. I hope those parts of both fandoms live on after we’re done telling stories about it. Also, I’m being very pessimistic about any Game of Thrones prequel series at the moment, but when they show up, they’ll renew interest in the World of Ice and Fire. I'd just like them to be good.
One of the great strengths of Star Wars has always been its merchandising. Favorite Star Wars action figure? Playset?
I got into the Expanded Universe of Star Wars through the X-Wing and Tie-Fighter PC Games back in the 1990s, and my middle school friends and I would talk about what fighters had strategic advantages against others. The A-wing is more maneuverable than the Y-wing, for instance, but doesn’t have as much on-board weaponry. So vehicles were sort of my way in. My favorite Star Wars vehicle is the Black Series First Order TIE Fighter Hasbro released for The Force Awakens. It’s huge and looms over my apartment. Action figure-wise, when they released the toys for Phantom Menace in 1999, there were four variants of the battle droids. We thought Battle Droids would be the new Stormtroopers, so I remember kids buying multiple battle droids, but I could only find the same two: the lightsaber damaged one and the blaster damaged one. I was never able to find or trade for a clean one or a dirty one, the other two variants, and it really frustrated me. Now that I am an adult and a professional, I have all four variants still in their boxes hanging on the wall behind my desk next to a Dash Rendar action figure from the Shadows of the Empire line in the mid-’90s. I like to look at them and remember how happy they would have made me in high school.
Did Game of Thrones gallop past a huge pile of money by not issuing action figures? Who wouldn't want a complete phalanx of a Dothraki Horde or Unsullied Army? The Littlefinger Brothel playset alone would sell in the millions of units. And there were a few Lost action figures, weren't there?
I think there are Game of Thrones action figures, but I don’t know how extensive the collection is besides the very nice ones on the official HBO shop. I do know that Joanna Robinson has a Jorah Mormont action figure that watches over her workspace, protecting her like a Khaleesi. There were Lost action figures around Season Three made by McFarlane toys. The world of Lost is a bit harder to merchandize. I should probably own a DHARMA Jumpsuit in the next couple of years. I think the problem with Lost action figures is how many it would take to complete a set. Like in Star Wars, you get a Jedi and a Stormtrooper, you have a whole story. With Lost, you need all the survivors, right? What am I going to do with just a Charlie action figure?
From what perspectives does The Storm team come from in terms of Star Wars? Which movie did you each cut your sci-fi teeth on?
Joanna and Neil are both old-school Star Wars fans, but I know my relationship with it seems ever-present. I think all three of us were raised on the VHS version of the original trilogy. Then there was this gap where there weren’t new Star Wars movies, but the then-called “Expanded Universe” was happening with the Heir the Empire Timothy Zahn novel and various video games. There was the Shadows of the Empire release, which was basically a Star Wars movie but in a novel, a Nintendo64 game and comic books. All of that was incredibly interesting to me as a way of doing storytelling beyond the movies. I got to see the original trilogy in theaters when the Special Editions were released and stood in line for the midnight show for each one. I remember buying tickets to Meet Joe Black just to see the Phantom Menace trailer in theaters for the first time. The prequels finished up when I was in college, and it seemed like that was going to be it for Star Wars. It was done. I was pretty skeptical sitting down for The Force Awakens in 2015, because I’d been through the relative disappointment that was the prequels and the reaction to the Special Editions, but Kathleen Kennedy, JJ Abrams and Disney really managed to reinvigorate the franchise. The Last Jedi is constantly moving around in my top three Star Wars movies of all time, depending on how recently I’ve watched Empire and A New Hope. I’ve also come around to the prequels more and more. I still wouldn't classify them as "good movies" or "cinema," if I had to be Martin Scorsese about it, but luckily I don't.
What's your reaction to the new edit on the Han/Greedo cantina scene? Maclunkey, right?
The reality of the Han/Greedo scene is they realized they couldn’t use the Jabba stuff they shot with Harrison Ford in the movie, so they needed to convey that Han owed money to the Hutts and was a wanted man. That’s “what happened” in canon, not specifically who shot first. Greedo is dead and Han is wanted. As for the exact details, they’re up to interpretation. George Lucas keeps changing the scene, because it was imperfect in his mind in the original cut. But “Maclunkey” is just a gift. It’s the ridiculous cherry on the Greedo sundae. "Maclunkey" should be the sarcastic response to "May the Force be with you...always." "Yeah, well…Maclunkey."
But, really, Han shot first. Can we agree on this, George Lucas aside?
If we want to talk real crimes against Han Solo’s character, we should be talking about how he trapped his best friend’s robot girlfriend in the Millennium Falcon and stole the ship by cheating in a card game. Every time in the original trilogy Han’s talking to the Falcon, like, “Hear me, baby, hold together." He’s talking to a sentient person trapped in the ship’s hyper-drive. And the Falcon is pissed at Han most of the time. I absolutely believe L3 inside the Falcon keeps killing the hyperdrive in Empire so the Falcon is forced to return to Lando in the Anoat system. What’s the result of Han going to Cloud City? Lando pilots the Falcon against Death Star II in Return of the Jedi. That’s the biggest crime against Han Solo: His hero film sours the whole idea that he and the Falcon are made for each other. The Falcon doesn’t want to be there. Solo is a cautionary tale to everyone who wants to know everything about the Star Wars universe. Like, I never thought I'd feel bad for the Millennium Falcon, but here I am.
Do you think this is really the end of the Skywalker saga?
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For movies, yes. We still have the Obi-Wan Kenobi Disney+ series, and that has to be at least Skywalker-Saga adjacent. But the hope is that Rian Johnson and Kevin Feige’s Star Wars projects are still in the vein of Star Wars without having to do with the Skywalker line. The Mandalorian, so far, is a good example of how Star Wars can be something besides a big space opera.
What in Colorado best fits within the Star Wars context?
Each one of us in The Storm comes from an original trilogy planet, if you think about it. Austin, Texas, isn’t a straight-up desert, but it’s Tatooine-like. Joanna’s from northern California, where they shot the scenes for the Forest Moon of Endor in Return of the Jedi. I’ll always remember the first snow day of the blizzard of 1997 here in Colorado. Shadows of the Empire had come out on N64 the previous Christmas, and that was the first video game where you could fly in the Battle of Hoth from the beginning of Empire Strikes Back in 3-D. That day, video game and Empire on my mind, I dug some battle trenches in the blizzard snow, and I remember coming in the house from my own local Hoth, pulling down the scarf covering my face and sighing: “I thought they smelled bad...on the outside.”
Dave Gonzales joins his fellow The Storm podcasters for a Star Wars-themed live taping from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, November 21, at the Canyon Theatre at the Boulder Public Library, 1001 Arapahoe Avenue, in Boulder. Register at the Boulder Public Library website.