Saturday 26 December 2015

Wilrow Hood and the moral superiority of the Star Wars expanded universe.

A tiresome, overeducated and inherently worthless man wrote a stupid article about Star Wars. 

That doesn't really matter and there is little to say about it but in thinking about how wrong he was I though this and it interested me;

I have to explain about Willrow Hood.

In the cloud city sequence from the Empire Strikes Back, Lando Calrissian takes a second out of his busy day to inform the residents of Bespin that the empire is taking control of the city, everything is fucked and that if they are not into fascism they should probably leave. This is symbolised on film by a number of extras running back and forth in corridors.

One of these extras is a slightly-portly, utterly-average looking black guy with a moustache (Lando made them fashionable) and a (I think its teal?) jumpsuit.

To illustrate that he is doing something emergency-related and that he is living in a technological science-fictional future-past, this gentleman is carrying a smooth, white, circular, technological object somewhere in a hurry. Surely, we think, if we take even in instant to observe him, this low-level functionary of a vast metropolis must be engaged on some seemingly prosaic yet possibly-vital mission. A man in work gear, carrying something technical, running in an emergency, must be doing something important. We know that if an alarm goes off and we see a middle aged gentleman in overalls running past carrying a piece of unknown machinery that that particular tool or item has some quotidian yet subtle purpose vital to the full working of our highly-complex society, especially so in times of danger.

Therefore, if we see this man, and if an alarm is going off, we recognise his purpose and get the fuck out of the way.

So someone, maybe a second AD, saw an extra running and said "hey, maybe you could carry something? Do we have any technical crap left over from the Hoth set? No, not that, its too low-fi and crunchy. Bespin is kind of white and sleek, do we have anything like that?"

And some noble props person or grip comes forth and says "Hey, How about this?"

"Perfect" says the AD, "just grab this and run buddy, remember, don't look at the camera or the main cast".

And that's why Willrow Hood is running through Bespin carrying what we now know to be an ice cream maker.

But he wasn't Willrow Hood yet. That took time. Time and nerds.

A collectable card game give him his name and, his employer and the hint of rebellion contacts.

A fan site goes into more detail. The Ice Cream maker is now a computer data core that Hood is rushing to dump before the imperials arrive.

Then 'The Complete Star Wars Encyclopedia' confirms Hoods secret purpose.

Then a fucking action figure is made.

Wilrow Hood is an ordinary man who ends up in a game of wits with Tian Chyler, an agent of the Galactic Empire. The ice cream maker ('memory core') is full of rebellion contacts and Hood is dumping it before the bad guys take over. After the invasion of Bespin he is interrogated, tortured, refuses to give up anything and is eventually let go. He ultimately manages to turn the disenfranchised Chyler to the rebellion and provides information vital to the re-taking of Bespin. Then he retires to 'take it easy'.
Tian Chyler is a woman who appears for a brief fragment of 'Empire' in a Bespin reaction shot. She doesn't exist in the original film, she was added when Lucas produced his strange new versions drenched in CGI.

So these two utterly unremarkable extras exist in the same film, but were photographed for it about twenty years apart.

Prompted by the utterly ridiculous nature of the ice cream maker (the grit around which the pearl of story is formed) each little fragment of the Wilrow Hood mythos came from different people working on different products, some were fans, some were employees. The fans and employees passed the basic idea back and forth between each other over 20 years and slowly the story accreted.

And it's a wonderful story becasue its about the low-key heroism of an ordinary man in a universe of dramatic heroes and becasue its fucking ridiculous and becasue no other story anywhere or anywhen could be put together like this.

And the people who made him were small, ordinary people. Hood is an average guy in a world of heroes and the people who created him were card-game writers and fans and encyclopedia writers in a world of Lucases and Kadans. He is like them. They are like him, and they made him mainly out of ridiculous joy.

Now an annual event takes place at a con where a bunch of nerds put on fake moustaches and teal jumpsuits, pick up ice cream makers they got specially, and lap the convention hall at a steady jog to the applause of the assembled dorks in re-creation of Hoods heroic act.

There are so many ways to be outside a thing. The article that prompted this response to is the worst way you can ever be outside something. Intellect without penetration. The pretence of pleasure without real joy. Superior in every thought. Snide. Inwardly dead. Experiencing something and feeling the pull of the experience yet neither pushing back or letting go, but flensing the emotion as it is felt.

People who honestly hate Star Wars are more worthy of respect. At least hate is a core emotion. At least its real and deeply felt and if you hate something you honestly acknowledge its power.

(The Puritans and the Sybarites have one thing in common. They truly recognise and respect the transcendent power of beauty, and of the imagination. The Puritans react in fear and the Sybarites in adoration but they are both morally centred in what they feel and think.) 

But Wilrow Hood is the other way to be outside something, or the other way to hold something in your mind, recognise its ridiculousness, its frailty, its fundamental silliness and yet not to forget that even silly, frail, clearly made-up, even carrying an ice-cream maker, the dream has power.

Willrow Hood is a silly idea. Willrow Hood is the heroism of the common man in dangerous circumstances. Wilrow Hood is a palimpsest character, a more radical construction than anything Burroughs could have imagined. A character imagined over twenty years! a character whose main relationship is with a mortal foe, separated in time, whom the original could never have met. A character and story made from card games and internet fans and encyclopedias of imaginary worlds.

And every fucking character in every shot of a star wars film has their own backstory and life story and name and personality and reason for being there. And this was all put there by nerds becasue they like making things. There is a part of that that is sad but it is much more good and joyous and ridiculous and life-imbuing. Its a good thing that people did that.

The Star Wars expanded Universe with all its byzantine accretions of complexity, its derangement and clarifications, its inspiration and mediocrity, its coagulations of inventiveness and low-level aspergers, its silliness and certainty, its cutaways and chronologies, and in all its deep, deep love and attention, is fundamentally superior to anything its critics can say about it. It is a popular cathedral. People made that. 


  1. I think it's pretty easy for people whose life goal is "novelist" to forget creativity and the ability to imagine are functional life skills even when deployed in the service of not-the-great-american-novel.
    They grossly underestimate the polymorphous perversity of human creativity.
    I mean: The Ecstasy of St Teresa is just fan art for the Expanded Jesus Universe and there's nothing particularly special about that story, other than what writers did to it.

    And unless the writer is inherently superior to the starship-designer and the effects people, that is as worthy of respect as any movie.

  2. +1 for expanded Jesus universe

  3. This is a lovely description of the love that people have for the EU.

  4. Damn! This is such a great essay that I really want to see the stupid article that inspired it.