As I read the articles demanded of me, I kept wondering what I was going to write it on. But after I had finished, I realized quickly what I would write it about. The prolific and game-changing Star Wars: The Clone Wars (TCW), (Filoni, 2008).
I will be answering questions one and four and will be doing so while talking about TCW.
According to Wilcox and Lavery, there are nine main contributing features to quality television (Wilcox and Lavery, 2002). They are as follows:
- A quality pedigree. Regardless of what you may think of his later works, there is no denying that George Lucas has at least been very influential in the worlds of film and television. While he was not a writer or director on TCW he was important to its creation and gave the writers seeming free reign to do as they wished within the Star Wars prequel era. The show was headed up by Dave Filoni who had previously been an art designer on the seminal Avatar: The Last Airbender (Konietzko, DiMartino, & Ehasz, 2005).
- These shows must fight finically and critically to stay afloat initially. Star Wars was at the time a guaranteed money-maker having been shot in the foot by the lukewarm critical reception to the theatrical film that kicked off the series.
- A large ensemble cast. TCW has an entire army of them. The series is named for the grand army of the republic and its army of mass-produced soldiers known as Clone Troopers. Despite all of them sound alike (but not the same thanks to excellent direction, writing and the vocal talents of Dee Bradley Baker) and looking alike, each of them have unique personalities. From Captain Rex’s arc that takes him from a soldier’s soldier who always follows orders and believes wholeheartedly in the propaganda of the republic, to complete disillusion with the republic and the Jedi, eventually going AWOL with Captain Gregor and Commander Wolfe. Or Domino squad made up of Hevy, Cuttup, Droidbait, Echo and Fives, who we are introduced to early in season one and are all killed one by one by season six. Not to mention the several Jedi who were simply background crowd filler in the films, who are given entire personalities and full character arcs in TCW.
- There are consequences between episodes. Despite the episodes not being produced or aired in chronological order if an earlier episode is required to understand this one that episode has already aired. As mentioned above with Domino squad we are introduced to them as rookies on a moon of planet Kamino and simply following Fives we see him lose all of his friends and his eventually his own life as he uncovers the plot to have the clones kill the Jedi in Star Wars Episode III Revenge of the Sith (Lucas, 2005), ultimately costing him his life.
- It mixes genres into something new. The blending of genres at play in TCW is inherited from the Star Wars prequel trilogy, however, in my opinion, is handled much better. It’s a blend of science fiction, fantasy, war and political intrigue. The science fiction and fantasy I feel do no need explanation, you’ve seen at least one Star Wars movie, it’s like that. The war is also in the films, but it is not the focus, we watch ou heroes carve their way through faceless enemies, but that is not their goal. However, in TCW there are entire arcs dedicated to the horrors of war and the toll it takes on the people who fight in it, watch the Umbara arc to see that in full. The Umbara arc being a pivotal moment in Captain Rex’s character arc. The political intrigue is also better, often being shady deals and assassinations
- Quality tv is usually writer based, or literary. While Star Wars is often very open to selling you toys, TCW’s writers understand that the writing must be of high quality in order to make you want to. Thus it puts its characters and stories first and its weapons and vehicles second. It almost feels like a collection of short stories in the Star Wars universe due to its anthology structure.
- Self-conscious. Sort of, because the show doesn’t take place in “the real world” it can’t reference other media beyond Star Wars, but it does that willfully and flagrantly. It takes every opportunity to throw in cute references such as Fives recreating Han Solo’s posing as a stormtrooper (Lucas, 1977). But it also will use to enrich the universe such as taking the opportunity to better seed Anakin Skywalker’s rage and cynicism toward to Jedi, turning his wife Padme’s life is in danger and failure to achieve the rank of Jedi master from the sole incidents that turn him to the dark side and make them the last two straws (Lucas, 2005).
- Controversial subject matters. For what is a basically kids’ cartoon TCW goes to some dark places thematically. Torture for life-saving information, a democratic government using an army of slaves, bio-warfare, political assassinations, corruption, terrorism, and deaths of friends and loved ones, just to name a few.
- Emotional realism. TCW does this excellently, mostly with the character Ahsoka Tano. We watch Anakin’s young apprentice Ahsoka go from a wide-eyed bushy-tailed Jedi learner to a loner, pushed so far as a child soldier that she ultimately leaves the Jedi order entirely after she is wrongly accused and hunted down over crimes she did not commit. And from being such an engaging character she went on to become a fan favourite, having her own novel and returning in Star Wars Rebels to continue her story (Filoni, 2014).
According to Hill there are three potential ways of defining cult TV. These are as follows. Cult TV as authored by the people working on it, cult TV emerging from inter-text surrounding it and cult TV emergent from fan engagement. I believe it is a combination of the people working on it and the audience engagement with the inter-text emerging as a result of the fan engagement (Hills, 2004).
Continuing with my use of TCW as an example, as mentioned above it was run by Dave Filoni and created by George Lucas.
The inter-text is a natural extension of fan engagement and it goes hand in hand that once you have a passionate fanbase the inter-text will follow as fans search for a way to show their appreciation for their series of choice. If you go down a youtube rabbit hole today there are countless videos of people showing off their Lego Star Wars collections that are in many cases based around TCW and little else. Many people have made money on the side by selling custom lego clone troopers painted in original and interesting ways to either recreate characters or create entirely new ones.
This inevitably leads to the new fan-made inter-text of the internet age. Despite TCW having concluded its original run in 2015, there are still to this day people on youtube uploading their fan theories and videos of them watching the series episode by episode and analyzing each episode as they go. Not only that, the series remains so popular that even after having many of its loose ends tied up in Star Wars Rebels, it has been renewed for one final seventh season set to premiere in 2020, five years after the show’s original cancellation and twelve years after the show originally premiered. A renewal and sequel being very rare for shows that were cancelled.
I think overall, while all of these definitions of cult TV are important and relevant, I think for it to truly achieve cult status a show must find a nice midpoint between all of them.
Filoni, D. (Producer). (2008). Star Wars: The Clone Wars [Television series]. Atlanta, GA: Cartoon Network.
Filoni, D. (Producer). (2014). Star Wars: Rebels [Television series]. Burbank, CA: Disney XD.
Hills, M. (2004). Defining cult TV; Texts, inter-texts and fan audiences. The Television Studies Reader. Retrieved from https://blackboard.aut.ac.nz/bbcswebdav/pid-4914230-dt-content-rid-10157821_4/institution/Papers/ENGL602/Publish/Hills%202004.pdf
Konietzko, B., DiMartino, M. D., & Ehasz, A. (Producers). (2005). Avatar: The Last Airbender [Television series]. New York, NY: Nickelodeon.
Lucas, G. (Director). (2005). Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith [Motion picture]. San Francisco, CA: Lucasfilm.
Lucas, G. (Director). (1977). Star wars [Motion picture]. USA: Lucasfilm.
Wilcox, R. V., & Lavery, D. (2002). Fighting the Forces: What’s at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Retrieved from https://blackboard.aut.ac.nz/bbcswebdav/pid-4914230-dt-content-rid-10157823_4/institution/Papers/ENGL602/Publish/Wilcox%20and%20Lavery%202002.pdf
Wilcox, R. V., & Lavery, D. (2002). Introduction. What’s at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Retrieved from https://blackboard.aut.ac.nz/bbcswebdav/pid-4914230-dt-content-rid-10157823_4/institution/Papers/ENGL602/Publish/Wilcox%20and%20Lavery%202002.pdf