Star Wars is not without its faults. Though being a noteworthy entry into the expanding universe of modern science fiction, continuity problems continue to manifest themselves today, as hosts of underground creatures, confined to their parents’ basement, steadily pick apart the idiosyncrasies of the original trilogy, as well as the later prequels. Published in October of 2001, between the debut of Star Wars Episode I and II, Tag and Bink Are Dead introduced two non-cannonical characters that were revealed to be the catalyst for most of the major events in the Star Wars mythos, and made considerable efforts to clarify major plot inconsistencies within the cannon. The work is satirical in nature, drawing its inspiration from Tom Stoppard’s absurdist, existential tragicomedy Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, and channels other satyric literature and pop-culture figures, with multiple tributes to Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (who died in May 2001) and Mystery Space Silence Theater 3000. The work functioning ad hoc as a retcon adds intriguing caveats, offering profound explanations to how and why certain plot points occurred in the Star Wars franchise. While it is not as heady or overtly philosophical as Stoppard’s work, it retains a handful of his narrative devices employed in the existentialist Shakespearian parody. What appears on the other end of the tunnel is a charming adaptation of the pursuit of meaning and order in the largely random and capricious Star Wars universe.
Originally Rosencrantz and Guildenstern appeared in the prototype sagas that preceded Shakespeare’s Hamlet, found in the Gesta Danorum authored by Saxo Grammaticus in the 12th century, chronicled in the legend of Amleth. Initially appearing as unnamed characters, Shakespeare reintroduced the characters offering them names and identities, though in both Shakespeare and Stoppard’s work they are largely indistinguishable from one another. With each, their existential quandary lies in their inability to cleave themselves from the increasingly chaotic political landscapes surrounding them in the larger universe they inhabit. Though the original Rosencrantz and Guildenstern functioned as witless courtiers in Shakespeare’s tragedy, Stoppard’s latter reinterpretation of the characters in his absurdist play made them profound, and lucidly aware of their coming demise but otherwise incapable of stopping it. For each their agencies are fully enabled, and yet at the same time truncated, emphasizing the paradox of freewill in society. For example, an everyman can consider the likelihood of his being killed in a car accident on the way to work, but in considering the event he will not increase the likelihood of surviving the crash any more than if he had not thought ahead. Fate’s inevitable pull comes to those both suspecting and unsuspecting. This variable is all the more apparent when considering Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s observations of Hamlet’s actions from their inverted perspective. Their miniscule understanding of reality due to the lack of information they receive offers a unique vantage point of the main events of the play, thereby giving it a rushed pace and locked in the inevitability of death. Kevin Rubio’s writing of Tag and Bink Are Dead captures well this sense of aimlessness and absurdity in the events of Star Wars, especially when satirizing the endless marching of the Storm Troopers, which reflect the nature of man’s seeking of meaning in a world restrained and confined by expectation and conformity.
Though hidden between the lines, the debate between their freewill and Tag and Bink’s predetermined deaths is present throughout the entire comic. Their every step in the comic’s primary arc through the events of the original trilogy initiates every major event that occurs in the series while also highlighting, as Stoppard’s play accomplished, how amusingly petty and aimless the fight between the Rebel Alliance and the Empire from their point of view actually is (an anarchistic product of absolute freedom). And yet, even though the Rebellion seeks to free the galaxy from Empire control, Mon Calamari’s hold over Tag and Bink is absolute, thereby negating their freewill and desire to escape the events that hopelessly entangle them. In a way, the Empire and the Rebel Alliance are one and the same entity. At the beginning of the comic, Bink jokingly humors a Storm Trooper’s defense of the Empire’s totalitarian dictatorship, establishing that the peace won by their hold over the galaxy far outweighs the sectarian power struggles seen plaguing the senate on Corusant. The Trooper’s reasoning is synonymous with Stoppard’s philosophy of the impossibility of certainty, riddled throughout Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in such scenes as the opening dialogue over the nature of the coin that continually lands on heads, much to Rosencrantz’s surprise. Truth is relative, and based on power. The Trooper’s reasoning for the power of the empire is based on his blind faith in the Emperor’s regime, which is satirized by the limited range of vision provided by the Trooper’s helmet that immediately betrays him.
The mechanics that Stoppard employs in the play still remain intact in Rubio’s interpretation. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s viewpoint throughout the play is always tailored to their perspectives, so they see the plot of Hamlet ramping up with considerable intensity very quickly throughout the play. To make the pacing and uncertainty of their reality more palpable, Stoppard employs silence and darkness frequently throughout the play, to enhance their deprivation from the logical sense of progression in Shakespeare’s work. This is also a staple of the Theater of the Absurd which is founded on the tenet that human existence has no meaning. Without meaning, communication erodes into irrationality, ultimately ending in silence and nothingness. Tag and Bink’s own misadventures proceed in this fashion, often running into a dark room to find themselves in the next integral moment of the Star Wars continuum or are knocked out through the haphazard and nonsensical actions of the Star Wars cast. In one scene, taking place on Jabba’s flying palace over the sarlac pit, Tag, disguised as Boba Fett, watches Luke Skywalker erratically waving a light saber around, putting Lando Calrisian in danger of falling into the pit and flies to his rescue. Luke, who knows that Tag and Bink are present on the freighter, accidentally knocks Tag into the pit while Bink wounds Luke’s hand with a misplaced blaster shot. All of the imagery is pulled directly from the film, with the two protagonists aiding the logical progression of the event with heightened clarity.
The most puzzling detail of Tag and Bink Are Dead is that the original run of the comic finishes part two without Tag and Bink actually dying. Though it can be argued that their impending death is coming at the hands of Boba Fett by the conclusion of part two, the ending would have been inconsistent with Stoppard’s play. Tag and Bink, who antagonize Boba Fett after incapacitating him, are now hardly to blame for their coming demise; rather, it is to be expected. Yet, five years afterward the series finally gained its anticipated conclusion. The much needed coda of the series helps to solidify the themes of Stoppard’s work that establish the absurd demise of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern at the hands of Hamlet’s meddling as purely circumstantial. Though in Stoppard’s work Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have the choice to not deliver the note to the king that will eventually bring about their deaths, Tag and Bink fall prey to circumstance once again in the final explosion of the Death Star at the conclusion of Return of the Jedi. Even though their end was inescapable, Tag and Bink still retain their analogous relationship with Stoppard’s characters. Their deaths, like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, once again prompt the debate between freewill and determinism. There are many instances in the original two part miniseries in which Tag and Bink are near death but narrowly escape through fortune, and it brings the reader to ponder whether or not Rubio was tantalizing their deaths or, in a feat of tremendous irony, avoiding the subject altogether. Rosencrantz in Stoppard’s work, in discovering the modified note supplied by Hamlet on the ship to England, is incredulous as to why he must die. Earlier in the play he and Guildenstern debate why they are so important to the events of the play that they too must die like the entirety of the Hamlet cast. Eventually they both consign to death, seeing it as inevitable. Conversely, between Tag and Bink, the reader sees the two as destined to die from the very beginning, so it is proper that they would have such a whimsical, meaningless death, after their actions instigated many of the turning points of the Star Wars series.
Since the prequels, as well as the announcement of J.J. Abram’s additions, Star Wars has resurrected itself, and once again is sharing the spotlight in the who’s who of AAA Science Fiction. The franchise is not without its faults, considering that at its conception it was simply another space opera among a sea of competitors. George Lucas’s vision, inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress, took Western film character tropes and reinterpreted them through Kurosawa’s story telling techniques to create something that had never been done before. Using the film to pioneer new implementations of special effects, for the first time in film history, Lucas was able to create a tangible universe. His methods of taking an amalgam of eclectic influences and stringing them together is not unlike Shakespeare’s story crafting, who is known for his drawing on dozens of extant resources to compose his works. Both Shakespeare and Lucas’s creations are unique, but Stoppard’s deconstruction of Shakespeare’s Hamlet offers something similar to what Lucas’s original goal was all along: beholding the epic tale through the eyes of two menial characters. Therefore, Rubio’s satyric treatment of Star Wars, depicting Tag and Bink’s awkward journey through the time line of the franchise is not only an authentic re-rendition of Stoppard’s work, but an appropriate plotting device to return the primary viewpoint of the franchise back to the mundane, insignificant characters that saw the plot unfold at Star Wars’ cosmological conception. The resulting chaos is fresh, cannon-worthy, and the closest thing to the genuine article a fan has been in reach of since 1983.