Being Luke Skywalker: Transmedia Play and the Adaptation of the Trench Run

Creator's Statement

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 - 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 journalMediaCommons, Senses of Cinema, and Studies in Comics. His video essay work has appeared on MediaScapePress 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.  

The key strength to me of this essay is how it uses the videographic form to engage deeply with the materiality of specific transmedia adaptations. This video essay maps various incarnations of Star Wars transmedia play onto one another in ways that reveal the continuities and transformations of the Star Wars spaces and narratives in different game adaptations. Moreover, through the type of audiovisual exploration arguably only available to videographic criticism, this essay reveals the interconnections between ludic play and narrative play. We see how the Star Wars films and video games created narrative through invocation of familiar Star Wars spaces. The essay clearly demonstrates how Star Wars games have historically invited users to enter the spaces of Star Wars through narrative, and, conversely, to experience the narrative of Star Wars through spatial exploration. In addition, I especially appreciate the way this video essay frames its close analysis of video games within larger contexts of transmedia and specifically Star Wars transmedia play through Legos, cosplay, and the like. Through its thoughtful close analysis coupled with its creative use of game footage and user generated footage, this work productively connects game studies, transmedia studies, and fan studies. I hope that in the future we will see more of this type of dynamic, close, interdisciplinary study of transmedia production and engagement. 

One of the primary challenges facing scholars who wish to theorize or teach courses in transmedia storytelling is how deeply individualized the experience of the form can be. The opening moments of Drew Morton’s video essay, “Being Luke Skywalker: Transmedia Play and the Adaptation of the Trench Run,” allude to the autoethnographic dimensions of this work, not just with regard to fan studies’ “autobiographical impulse,” but in how we map the invariably personalized experience of transmedia objects. 

These issues are compounded when we approach video games as an interactive form of transmedia extension, leaving one of the most agentic and phenomenologically rich media within these textual networks perilously under theorized. Morton’s video essay works to capture and explicate the elusive, and often intertextually complex, experience of play. “Immersion,” while a core concept within game studies, is an experience that can defy description in text alone. By focusing on the unique forms of remediation of a classic Star Wars set piece, Luke Skywalker’s trench run, across an array of licensed video games over time, Morton deftly explicates the performative and experiential dimensions of transmedia play.

In particular, Morton’s attentiveness to formal functionality of point-of-view, and the use of split screen throughout to expose the aesthetic overlaps (and, occasionally, dissonance) between trench run gameplay across games, exposes the ways in which increased player choice and customizability in more recent gamic incarnations evokes rather than adapts the cinematic set piece. This emphasis on the more visceral and affective, rather than purely narratological, pleasures of transmedia, not only gestures to the need for more nuanced consideration of transmedia play and performance, but also articulates the power of audiovisual forms of argumentation to accomplish this work.

What Morton has crafted here is, fittingly, a transmedia extension of his own scholarly work, and in the process affirms one of the central tenets of transmedia storytelling: namely, that each medium brings particular formal strengths that can be wielded to reach new audiences or tell a story in dynamic new ways.