Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The force is weak with this one

Would this 'toon have been possible without the Star Wars®™ military-industrial-entertainment complex? No indeedy!
(Reagan on the left, Gorbachev on the right. Ask your parents.)
A new Star Wars®©™ movie is coming soon.

Oh, I'm sorry: Spoiler alert! I think it was supposed to be a surprise.

Merry Christmas!

I was being facetious there. You couldn't miss the advent of Star Wars®™©: The Force Awakens if you tried, and I tried.

Devotion to this mega-movie has been inserted into your DNA already, and at a signal you will storm(troop) the aisles of any and all officially licensed Star Wars©®™makers of branded goods and foodstuffs, forming long and ordered, though slightly tingly, lines at the cash registers, slimging the economy along at warp speed (which may be reference to another space movie, I don't know).

You won't know quite why you're doing this, so I'll tell you now: Thank you for your service (to come).

Hope is still strong in me: I had to go back and look up the official name of the coming movie, so I'm not subject to Star Wars™© mind control just yet. Years ago I became confused about which Star Wars™™®© installment is which, and moments later stopped caring. Episode I®™ is really the fourth movie? What?

When someone refers to a Star Wars™® movie (God help them!) by episode number, I still have to ask what happened in it before I know what she's talking about.

So — Star Wars©®®: The Force Awakens. What, no episode number? It's not (um, let's see here, pulling out the calculator …) Episode 7, or VII? Hey, Powers That Be: You're going to go and confuse me further?

No escaping the Star Wars®™ iconography, there is.
This is the badge I designed for the adult patrol when
our son was a Boy Scout. A Lucasfilm®™ lawyer said,
politely, that we couldn't use it. Now that Disney®™
owns the
Star Wars®®® franchise, better luck I may have,

No matter. Until the nucleotides start rearranging in me, I can assert with confidence I will not see the film. I have become my parents, who at my age decided they didn't like the crowds and sticky floors and the weightlessness of their wallets that watching movies in theaters produced. I thought them mad back then. But this is now.

Especially for a blockbuster movie such as Star Wars™®, a saga for which I had long ago lost interest. Absolutely no desire to share the experience with the madding movie crowd.

This is not to say I have not enjoyed Star Wars©® as entertainment. For some strange reason, I am attracted to a Disney®® computer-generated animation TV show called Star Wars™® Rebels, about a small group of creatures and androids from various worlds (don't know, don't care) who battle the Empire (bad guys) from the outer fringes of somewhere (don't know, don't care).

Maybe it's the perfect storm of a long day and fatigue from channel surfing, but I find landing on a simple half-hour space opera (as I've heard Star Wars©®™ described) scratches the itch. Though the show might have an episodic quality — that is, each show may follow the other in a great story arc — it doesn't really matter. Good guys and bad guys are forever pitching battle, barely moving the line.

The larger truths remain intact whether I tune into the seventh installment or the 37th — truths carried over from the three Star Wars®™® movies I did actually watch, long ago, in a galaxy far away:
  • The good guys are ragtag and poorly outfitted, the odds always stacked against them
  • The bad guys speak in British accents and wear strange caps with bills that must make it hard for them to see — except for some of the top bad guys, who speak with breathy assisted devices or from behind masks or in ssssnaky (British) voices
  • The Imperial Storm Troopers never hit anything they aim at — ever! — with their weapons which shoot out red beams (our son, obviously infected, relays the theory that the guys in white plastic suits are/were trained to miss the good guys, as part of a trap; he also instantaneously named the new bad guy in the new film — looking him up now — Kylo Ren)
  • The good androids bumble around,  "speak" in squawks and zings universally regarded as cute, and once in a while save their good-guy owners (?) from the bad guys
  • The Empire's armored vehicles — the ones that travel on land, anyway — are ridiculously stupid and vulnerable to spectacular destruction
Last month, I also stuck around on YouTube®® one night to watch a nearly 20-minute analysis of a two-minute trailer for the new movie. Why? It was entertaining on two levels (see for yourself). The two guys reverse-engineering the trailer and its portents are fun and funny, for one thing; they are supremely aware of their geeky joy.

For another thing, they are joyful geeks.

The Internet does not lack for other geeks with their own shows, breaking down the new movie's heretofore released nibbles and hints. I scanned a few (for scholarly purposes entirely) to find many a bit too concerned about every hint and micro-hint. (The bad guy made his own light saber! In homage to Darth Vader! Light shoots out the hilt! Why?! Is it an Imperial plot?)

This is the heart of the Star Wars©®© franchise, though — the part that has eluded me.

The Star Wars®™ I know is a Saturday matinee of movie theaters past, way before me, probably even before George Lucas, who created the franchise. It's the serial Hollywood of nearly a century ago would have made had it the time, technology and money.

It's silly. Come on, isn't it silly? And campy. But in a dazzling way. Everyone is a cowboy-pirate, or a Nazi automaton. Everyone swashbuckles.

Our son's girlfriend said the original Star Wars™® movie (now known as Star Wars®©™ Episode IV: A New Hope — see what I mean?!) didn't impress her. But she was born long after it came out, and by the time she saw it, the rest of the cinema world had caught up and surpassed it in technological pyrotechnics, so the first movie can appear lackluster alongside.

It's like watching the Gary Cooper Western High Noon after growing up on a steady diet of Gunsmoke and Bonanza and Every Other TV Western Ever Made, and thinking the lonely showdown on the empty street, bad guy versus embittered good guy, so been there, done that, ad infinitum. Instead, it was the showdown that begat almost all other Western movie and TV duels.

Before the first Star Wars®™, movie-goers put up with imaginative shortfall — the spaceship superimposed on a shaky star background, appearing to shrink and move. All of us in the theater would think, "Oh, the director wants us to think the spaceship is flying away from us into space. OK, we'll pretend."

In Star Wars™®, a real spaceship was moving in real space! The techniques and effects stunned viewers, and ultimately George Lucas should be known more for the effects technology he marshaled to all of movies, than for this movie saga.

The first Star Wars©®™ sort of made sense — ragtag good guys blow up the bad guy Darth Vader's big planet-sized weapon. Luke Skywalker might have a future.

We first learned what has become embedded into our pop-culture DNA — Vader, Yoda, storm troopers, Death Star, light saber, R2 D2, Han Solo, Obi Wan Kenobi, Chewbacca.

I was too old for light sabers, and never could tell a TIE fighter from an AT-AT (had to look them up); I was probably too old to buy the soundtrack too, but I did. Not really the record you want to throw on the turntable when friends come over.

The second movie (Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back®™) spent more time on a compelling story — Skywalker may not be just a gifted kid — and one more everlasting icon, which you don't even have to explain when you say it: "I am your father!" Everyone is a James Earl Jones impersonator.

Then Star Wars®™ Episode VI: Return of the Jedi … something about creatures called Ewoks and the smell of marketing and licensing and plush toys and Legos™®.

I was done.

Somewhere along the way, Star Wars®™ was taken seriously. I mean, really seriously. People began tracing the arc of wars and battles, the relation of planets to one another, creatures to one another, bad guys to one another. They now the weapons, and they geek out about the new ones.

Mythologist Joseph Campbell had expended a great deal of energy on Star Wars'®™ mythic bloodline.

By the time Star Wars®™® Episode I: The Phantom Menace (the fourth movie, duh!) came along, I was willing to give it another try — until Jar Jar Binks opened his mouth, and big-name real-life actors seemed to sleepwalk, daring not blaspheme the gospel of Lucas.

I turned it off, done again.

Enjoy the next installment. It'll muddle along without me. From the 20-minute microanalysis, I get the idea the latest Star Wars®™™ is a retelling of the first — fourth, whatever — anyway. Sour grapes save me $11.75, or whatever movies cost nowdays.

And if you see me in line at the store, spare me the "I told you so's."

Careful where you point your light saber.

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