Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Star Wars - The Future, Clouded It Is...

I was alerted to an article this morning from i09's Beth Elderkin, confirming the news that the first film in the new Star Wars trilogy - after December's "Episode 9: The Rise Of Skywalker" - will be helmed by Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff & B.D. Weiss.

screen grab from i09 article by Beth Elderkin (credit i09).

Quoting directly from Disney CEO Bob Iger, who was speaking at a MoffetNathanson Media & Communications summit this week, 

"We did a deal with David Benioff & B.D. Weiss, who are famous for Game of Thrones, and the next movie we release will be theirs," Iger said. "And we're not saying anything more about that." 

Side note - it remains amusing to me that Lucasfilm CEO Kathleen Kennedy remains pretty much invisible from any Star Wars related announcements - although that is not unsurprising these days.

A few things stand out to me in the reading of Elderkin's article.

I've watched the on-line backlash to the current/final season of Game Of Thrones. Criticisms around the overall tone of the final season, narrative choices and the disjointed nature of the characterizations have abounded, with much of that criticism being directed at Benioff & Weiss.

Walt Disney CEO - Bob Iger.

Iger's quote states that the next film in the Star Wars saga will be Benioff & Weiss' - but that's it. He apparently refused to elaborate on the trilogy, which has a planned release schedule every two years, from 2022. Elderkin's article seems to suggest that Iger has only committed to this pair for the first film in the new trilogy. Does that mean that we can expect Benioff & Weiss to helm/write the first film only, with others taking over for the 2nd and 3rd films? Or will they write the trilogy and hand directing duties over to others? 

("Always in motion, is the future..." Yoda).

Elderkin is, perhaps, being a little coy but I do find merit in her suggestion. I wonder if Iger is watching things unfold really closely, assessing the reaction to the Game Of Thrones final season and preparing contingencies for the Star Wars franchise, as production on the new trilogy ramps up. There feels, to me, a lot of ongoing uncertainty in the Star Wars cinematic IP - particularly in the wake of Rian Johnson's disastrous "The Last Jedi" (2017).  

There are positives to take from this announcement though. 

I am heartened by previous statements from Bob Iger that there will be a three year hiatus between Episode 9 and the new cinematic trilogy - which will be a separate narrative from the Skywalker saga. That will give the writers time to properly flesh out the 3 film cycle - a'la *George Lucas* - and they can avoid the terrible narrative mess of the sequel trilogy. 

We need to remember that Benioff & Weiss are showrunners for Game Of Thrones, tasked with wrangling the source material from George R.R. Martin into a cohesive whole for the medium of television. They can't be expected to take full responsibility for the outcome of the presentation nor the response to it.

Freed from the shackles of that property, and the shackles of the Star Wars/Skywalker legacy, Benioff & Weiss have the potential to put together a compelling trilogy, with a strong, *planned* narrative arc and fresh, new, archetypal characters that reflect the best of Lucas' mythology and the Campbellian influences Lucas drew on to create it. 

What Lucasfilm has to focus on lies outside of the cinematic/filmed universe. I am still hopeful for a clean out at the top of Lucasfilm from CEO Kathleen Kennedy, through to the Story Group and those in the customer engagement space, who have behaved appallingly towards a large body of fans since around 2016. 

Kathleen Kennedy has been an abject failure as CEO, mishandling the hiring and firing of directors of Solo: A Star Wars Story and original Episode 9 helmer, Colin Trevorrow. The resulting financial mismanagement of the Star Wars brand is clear - as illustrated by the critical and financial failure of Solo: A Star Wars Story.

(Empress Palpa...I mean Kathleen Kennedy. image credit WhatCulture.com)

Kennedy has presided over a dysfunctional culture at Lucasfilm - most notably in the Lucasfilm Story Group. Storytelling by committee is a terrible form of storytelling for a cinematic IP. That there was no plan for the narrative arc of the sequel trilogy, disunity between certain creators and identities at Lucasfilm and the tacit endorsement of terrible fan engagement from company representatives like like Pablo Hidalgo, (now fired) Kiri Hart, (now fired) Chuck Wendig, (soon to be fired?) Rian Johnson, Matt Martin and others within Lucasfilm have done as much damage to the Star Wars brand as Kennedy's faulty decision making. The lack of discipline and respect by these individuals towards fans and a lack of any form of social media policy that would reign in the behavior of these individuals on-line is perplexing. 

As a writer myself, I have been routinely exposed to fans and critics alike over the years and the one thing I've learned from that is engagement is a one way street. You can only have positive engagement - even when you'd love to stab critics and trolls eyes out.

Star Wars remains a entertainment brand on life support. I remain unconvinced that Episode 9 will be a success at the box office, though I do still hope that J.J. Abrams has been able to do something with film that will erase much of the damage from "The Last Jedi". It remains to be seen how David Benioff & B.D. Weiss will transition from a property like Game of Thrones, which has earned a reputation for blood drenched violence, gore, murder, graphic rape and sex to the family friendly Star Wars franchise.

Regular readers of my blog will know how passionate I have been about Star Wars since I saw "A New Hope" as a four year old with my Dad back in 1977. Hell - Star Wars was the reason I became a writer and pursued my dream of publication. So I don't say these things lightly.

As for the future of Star Wars, beyond Episode 9 - I'll watch and see from the peripheries, how things develop. Star Wars has been in an enjoyment free fall since "The Last Jedi" and it appears the culture at Lucasfilm shows no signs of abating. I remain terminally ambivalent about the future of the cinematic universe.


Saturday, May 4, 2019

The Victorian Trooper - Dedicated Site Now Live.

Now that I've completed my series of articles tracing the life of my great great grandfather, Joseph Ladd Mayes, I'm pleased to announce that I've launched a dedicated website that contains all of the articles I've presented here in a revised and updated form (always trust an author to pepper the first iteration of anything with grammatical flubs!).

The site is located at The Victorian Trooper

This series is designed to be a living document - that is - a document that I will add to or subtract from as new information comes to hand. Already, in the week since the site went live, I've come across new information that I've been able to add to the site, which is really exciting. I've also been in contact with some great people who are closely associated with efforts to bring more stories about the Victorian Police Force and its officers during the 1850's - 1900's forward. So that's been exciting as well. 

For years, many descendants of good and honest police officers have been ignored and treated with antipathy by many who have perpetuated a myth that the Constabulary in Victoria, Australia was a corrupt and evil one, while bushrangers like Ned Kelly were elevated to something akin to Robin Hood status.

It is my hope that my great great grandfather's story and others like him will be given the chance to be reviewed in a new light - that there were many principled and dedicated policemen during that era whose primary motivation was to uphold the law and protect the community.

I hope you can visit this tribute to my great great grandfather and explore the turbulent historical events he was immersed in.


Monday, April 8, 2019

The Victorian Trooper #11 - Legacy & Tapestry: Joseph Ladd Mayes Jr.

Joseph Ladd Mayes Jnr. was born on the 8th December 1886 at the Kyneton Hospital, near Lancefield in Victoria, the fourth child of Joseph Ladd and Eugenie Mayes.

We can only guess at Joseph's childhood but the bulk of it would have been spent in the country town confines of Lancefield, living a tranquil, rural existence as the son of a highly respected policeman. He most likely attended the local Primary School with his older sisters Florence, Dorothy and Eugenie and, being the first young boy sibling they would have experienced, there's a better than even chance the young Joseph Ladd would have been doted on by them.

By the the time of Joseph Ladd's birth, Lancefield was a bustling little rural town servicing many farms in the surrounding district and offering quite a diverse commerical centre. A description from an 1887 edition the Victorian Municipal directory illusrates the town;

It would appear that Lancefield had everything the Mayes family could want and need during those early years and one can only guess that they had a happy existence for the time.

Joseph Jnr. was 9 years old when his father retired from the Force in 1895 and the family decided on a move from Lancefield to the City. I wonder how the move from the country to the relative bustle of suburban Brighton would have affected the young Joseph and his sisters. Where would they have gone to school? Were there regular trips the beach? Visits to the City on the expanding Melbourne tram network?

By the time of his father's death in 1902, Joseph was 15 years old. We know that his first occupation was a laborer for the Victorian Railways and this is where we find him at the outbreak of World War 1 in 1914.
Living with his mother at New Street in Brighton, Joseph Ladd answered the call to arms and enlisted in the AIF on 12th October 1915. It is from his subsequent service record that we are able to glean much information. 

It appears that Joseph Ladd intended following in the footsteps of his father as we see that he served seven months in the Australian Light Horse before his enlistment in the Australian Imperial Force. We currently don't know anything more about this period. 

By early 1916, recruiting in Australia had raised sufficient troops to replace the ANZAC losses. Having completed basic training in Toowoomba in Queensland, Joseph Ladd emabarked for Eygpt on the 31st January 1916 to join the 4 divisions that were amassing there for the push onto Europe's Western Front.

In March 1916, the Australian Imperial Force moved to France, and by July/August, the Australians were heavily involved on the Western Front. As part of the 9th Battalion, (3rd Brigade) of the AIF's 1st Division, Joseph Ladd Mayes was embroiled in the fierce fighting of the Somme offensive at Pozières & Mouquet Farm. Over the course of six weeks, the AIF suffered aproximately 28,000 casualties. 

On the 23rd July, Joseph Ladd Jnr. sustained several gun shot wounds to his left elbow and was shipped to England via Calais. At Cambridge, far from the front, he spent the next five months recuperating. 

Reviewing his Army service record, it is somewhat amusing to note that Joseph Ladd Mayes was absent without leave for a period of 15 days from the 29th December through to the 12th January 1917 for reasons unknown. One wonders whether the New Years festivities might have had a part to play in this little "vacation". It is tempting to think that Joseph Ladd Jnr. might have enjoyed a raucous time, perhaps in Cambridge or London. It is a mystery but, in any case, when he finally turned up, Joseph Ladd Jnr. was immediately charged, found guilty and was fined a total of 33 days pay. 

By May 1917, the Australians were heavily engaged at Bullecourt in the North East of France. His service record entries put Joseph Ladd Jnr. Bullecourt where the Anzacs endured some of the fiercest fighting of the war, facing German machine guns, barbed wire and the trenches of the Hindenburg Line. The Australians suffered some 7000 casualties from the battle.

(A scene in the Hindenburg Line, showing Australians with a Stokes mortar assisting in the operations near Bullecourt (AWM E00457)

One of those casualties was Joseph Ladd Jnr. He sustained severe artillery wounds to his left thigh, pelvis, buttocks and lower spine. Considering the gravity of his injuries, he probably should have been killed. Somehow, Joseph Ladd survived to be shipped to the Southern General Hospital in Birmingham England. Remarkably, Joseph would recover from his injuries but he would never return to active duty.

A rather utilitarian letter was dispatched home to Australia, informing his mother Eugenie of his injuries - no doubt causing her great anxiety until she was able to contact him to ensure he was safe.

Joseph Ladd Jnr. spent the remainder of 1917 in England recovering before returning to Australia - much to the relief of his mother. He was home in Brighton for New Years Day 1918 - as attested to by the precious photographs that found their way into our collection. 

Surprisingly, his greivous injuries appear not to have deterred Joseph Ladd Jnr. from trying to re-enlist in the Army. He tried no less than three times in the period from 1918 through until 1920. Owing to his injuries, however, her was unable to gain much more than a clerical posting and, by 1920 it appears he'd given up on a ongoing career in the military. Discharged from the Army, Joseph Ladd Jnr. returnend the Victorian Railways Department as a clerk, based in the Melbourne suburb of Greensborough. 

Joseph Ladd Jnr. met Gertrude Rose Stock at Greensborough, Victoria and the two married in 1919. Together Joseph and Gertrude would have 9 children starting with John Joseph in 1919 followed by Mavis Jean (1921), Edward George (1923), Allan (1925), Kathleen Jean (1927), Ivan (1929), Donald Gordon (1931), and Margaret (1933).

Joseph Ladd Jnr. suffered declining health, throughout the 1930's, the ongoing result of his war injuries and he retired from the Railways Department. It appears he was in and out of a military hospital at Caulfield, while maintaining a residence at Andrews Sreet in Ringwood. Sometime after the birth of Margaret in 1933, his marriage to Gertrude Rose broke down - most likely due to his war experience and its damaging after effects. She left her husband, raising their children single handedly in a house that was regarded as immaculate. Gertrude Rose herself had a reputation as a outstanding cook and could serve up almost any dish imaginable. Gertrude eventually moved to Warracknabeal in Western Victoria. Joseph Ladd moved to the Anzac Hostel at Brighton.

Previously known as Kamesburgh, the Anzac Hostel became a home for permanently incapacitated WW1 veterans.

From left to right, are: Mr Joseph Mayes, 1st AIF; Mr F Leach, orderly; Mr Albert (Wardie) Ward, 1st AIF, whose bed is in the collection of the Australian War Memorial; and Sister E M Flower, assistant Matron. The patient in the wheeled bed is Mr Harold Wiseman, one of the first residents to arrive at the Hostel when it opened in July 1919. 

Joseph Ladd Jnr. spent his later years at the hostel. A family anecdote tells of his son Edward George Mayes making regular visits to his father and spending time with him. It was Joseph Ladd who introduced his son "George" to one of the Nursing Assistants at the Hostel, the daughter of a farming family from rural Victoria named Dorothy Preston. A romance soon blossomed between the young couple and George and Dorothy Mayes married during the height of WW2.

Taken at the Anzac Hostel, Brighton c. 1940s.

I imagine Joseph Ladd Mayes had a reasonably comfortable life at the Anzac Hostel - as comfortable as 1940's medicine could cater for. It seems to have been a well euipped facility with lovely gardens and set well back from the bustle of the surrounding city. I had the opportunity to take a tour through the former hostel in the early 2000's. By then, it served as a private school, though it retained all of its original character. You could feel the spirits of the past there.

Joseph Ladd Mayes Jnr. died, July 18th, 1955 and was interred at the Springvale necropolis. His estranged wife, Gertrude Rose died in Warracknabeal in 1966 and was buried at the Burwood cemetery.