Brian Kim Stefans’ “Star Wars, One Letter at a Time” is a daunting piece of Electronic Literature, a flash program which retypes the entirety of the original screenplay for “A New Hope” letter by letter. Every single letter of every single famous line of dialogue, every character introduction, every Vader breath and lightsaber activation. Accompanying every flash of letters (and certainly my struggle to recognize and piece together my favorite lines from the movie) is the rhythmic, dependable sound of a typewriter. I don’t think you could really call it “reading”… more “experiencing”, I think. It’s a strange way to experience any type of story, but I definitely think Stefans’ work bounces off of Star Wars’ status as a cultural icon; I was only able to reconstruct certain lines and actually read them is because they’re my favorite lines. Star Wars is such a famous, well known and loves story, and I think that’s why this piece works. I for one don’t need to identify or grow attached to the characters or the story, because I already identify with them. I love these characters, and I love the movie and the story, as do countless people who would stumble across this piece. That is Stefans’ point, he’s not trying to tell a story for the first time, he’s simply making his reader’s experience a oft visited and much loved story in a new way.
While the reader gets so caught up (or, in my case, frustrated) trying to read the script, the sounds of the typewriter become a hypnotic, almost comfortable background noise. I felt it was a way to remind us of the work that goes into writing, hearing the endless tappings and ringings and clackings. There’s energy to the typing, and almost boundless optimism and confidence, which, in many ways, is fitting for a retelling of Star Wars. I also think it’s a way of telling us about George Lucas’ drive to deliver a groundbreaking film. Whether or not one believes Star Wars is actually a groundbreaking film in terms of storytelling, I think that by hearing the story, piece by piece, constructed with such vigor, quietly tells the story of the heart and vision that turned Star Wars into such an icon.
Or course, I do believe the piece is more than a love letter to Star Wars. By trying to read the story in an almost impossible way, the reader becomes lost in the attempt, and almost hypnotized by the building blocks of language and writing. After a time, you forget the story being told, and that the thing is related to Star Wars at all; you get swept into the sound of typing, the sound of creating, and the letter by letter by letter product of that work.
I really enjoyed this piece, and not just because I love the original Star Wars. I respect and love Stefans’ strive to create such a unique, frustrating way to retell a story, and how his attempt really does make you focus on the very DNA of writing a story. “Star Wars, One Letter at a Time” may be exasperating and trying, but it’s such an interesting means of showing the power of language. I loved watching the letters, bit by bit, construct and build the story I love so much, all the while hearing the trustworthy, reliable sound of the writer’s typing.
Here is the link to the work: http://collection.eliterature.org/1/works/stefans__star_wars_one_letter_at_a_time.html