In 2017, I wrote a chapter for the edited volume Star Wars and the History of Transmedia Storytelling entitled "'You must feel the Force around you!': Transmedia Play and the Death Star Trench Run in Star Wars Video Games.” It was a written article I was never completely happy with, despite the positive notes I received during the review process. I kept feeling like it was missing something in the literature review and that the argument was far more compelling when you could actually see examples from the video games I was citing across nearly 40 years of time. A few months later, when I was approached to contribute to a panel on transmedia the annual Society of Cinema and Media Studies, I asked chair Colin Burnett if he would mind if I took another bite at the apple – or perhaps the better metaphor in this context is to ask for an extra life – and both elaborate upon the written article and adapt it into a videographic work. He agreed and once the panel was accepted, I got to work.
For this accompanying statement, I am less interested in writing about the content of the video (the video itself is firmly rooted in the expository tradition and I feel like the aforementioned written chapter already serves the purpose of elaboration) and more interested in taking a meta approach and talking about my process of adaptation, what challenges I faced, and what advantages came out of the process.
First, I have adapted written scholarship into videographic work many times before, but most of the time the act of adaptation is one simple formal transposition: What’s the perfect visual example I can find to capture these words? How can I try to balance visual examples and let the text “breathe” instead of confining it with voice over narration? In short, how can I do my best to move away from producing a video that feels like an article being read over a clip show and make a piece that functions on its own aesthetic terms? Both the written article and the video begin similarly with an autobiographical anecdote. This form of writing, at least in terms of my scholarly “voice,” is not one I typically take on. However, I thought it was important to foreground transmedia play as a concept that has a subjective element to it and – in videographic terms – wanted to experiment more with an essayistic approach to voice over. This subjective impulse created unique challenges – how could I represent play and a certain aura of personal nostalgia that is deeply personal? I decided to try to find early television commercials for Star Wars toys and intercut them with my modest collection of paraphernalia.
Yet, this approach – and this topic – also created unique challenges along the way. Chiefly, finding suitable video game playthrough footage that could be appropriated successfully. Ripping clips from DVDs and Blu-Rays can be its own hassle, but finding high-res playthrough materials of games from the 1980s initially troubled me. I did not have access to much of this equipment first hand and the few games that I still did own had stopped working on newer operating systems. Fortunately, YouTube had a handful of decent sources and – most significantly – early television marketing materials that assisted in showcasing the materiality of some of these media objects such as Atari Arcade Game cabinet.
Yet, this hunt for gameplay footage also provided an unexpected bonus – the ability to showcase individuals other than myself at play and what different forms it can take. For instance, the cos-players engaging in an elaborate lightsaber battle at the beginning of the video, the great care that The Brick Show’s host takes when swinging Luke Skywalker across a Lego playset, or – most significantly – the enthusiasm of MassiveG as he plays the finale of Battlefront. In addition to a revised and expanded literature review that was partially aided by the one-year gap between writing the article for the book (spring 2017) and the video’s production (in spring 2018), these examples made the argument much more tangible in my opinion. To close, I hope that, by comparing the written article (found here as an open access book - oapen.org/download?type=document&docid=637514) and my video, we can begin to discuss the potential for refinement – both in terms argumentation and aesthetics – in the process of videographic adaptation.
Drew Morton is an Associate Professor of Mass Communication at Texas A&M University-Texarkana. He is co-editor and co-founder of [in]Transition - the first peer-reviewed academic journal of videographic film and moving image studies. His articles have appeared in animation: an interdisciplinary journal, MediaCommons, Senses of Cinema, and Studies in Comics. His video essay work has appeared on MediaScape, Press Play, RogerEbert.com. His book Panel to the Screen: Style, American Film, and Comic Books During the Blockbuster Era was released in 2016 through the University of Mississippi Press.