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The Cantina as Henry Jenkins's World-building

by Chris Hanson

In his blog post "Transmedia Storytelling 101" (http://henryjenkins.org/2007/03/transmedia_storytelling_101.html), Henry Jenkins identifies "world-building" as a key trait of the transmedia story. A transmedia story is a narrative that unfolds across multiple media platforms (i.e. film, television, book, video game, and/or comics). Each of these textual extensions helps to construct and enrich a broader fictional "world," with the goal of creating a coordinated and cohesive entertainment experience for audiences.  Accordingly, transmedia scholars stress the importance of "worldbuilding" as a central principle of transmedia storytelling. By constructing rich geographical and cultural landscapes from the outset, transmedia storytellers can explore different aspects of the fictional "world" through a range of texts. The "cantina scene" from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope serves as ideal example of how a media text can present a rich cultural geography to explore. The first few shots establish a diverse array of alien creatures and cultures, prompting the viewer to wonder about their origins and customs.  This curiosity about the broader "world" is also formally encouraged through the audience's alignment with Luke Skywalker.  The scene opens with a series of shots of aliens, followed by a shot of Skywalker in the entrance of the cantina gaping at the cantina's inhabitants, and another series of shots of aliens (conceivably from Skywalker's point-of-view).  While the scene functions to frame Skywalker as a farmboy-out-of-water, it similarly introduces the audience to the wide array of alien species in George Lucas' "galaxy far, far away."  The Star Wars franchise is an ideal example of how a rich fictional "world" can prompt the creations of a complex network of transmedia texts.  For example, the 1995 anthology of short stories, Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina, narrativizes the first few shots of this scene, crafting backstories about the bar's inhabitants, many of whom appear on screen for less than five seconds.  

The "Cantina Scene" from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

The "cantina scene" from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977).

from Star Wars (1977)
Creator: George Lucas
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Posted by Chris Hanson
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