Thursday, November 26, 2015

Re-Watching Star Wars: A Disturbance in the Force

My re-watching was disturbed by the fact that my 10-year-old DVDs refuse to play. I got Episode IV to run all the way to the garbage compactor scene, and then my laptop seized up and ever since then all I get is black screen and stuttering soundloops. Apparently this is a plot to make me buy them again, even though I already bought them in VHS, and saw them in theaters, multiple times. Since the prequel trilogy worked just fine, I blame the Sith.

Now I’m enmeshed in indecision. Buy the movies again? Find them on the interwebs? Sit here thinking about them nostalgically? Watch something else? Get on with my Absolute Final Prepublish Edit of One Sunny Night?

Some random precrash thoughts:

Greedo only appeared to shoot first. Han was actually activating a small holograph projector to make it look like Greedo shot first in case anybody who cares was watching. Greedo’s absolute lack of motion toward his pistol before the clumsily-inserted shoot-first frame appears confirms my theory.

The Star Wars franchise does a pretty good job of casting appealing men. Each movie contains at least one dashing jedi, and most of them also throw in a hot space pilot, and badboy Anakin tried to take over both roles, given that he’s a massively insecure control freak.

As far as women, I think Leia is much more appealing than Padme. Padme’s the kind of privileged woman who would be nagging you to sign up for hundreds of charity activities while disapproving of your lunch, while Leia’s lived her life smiling for cameras while secretly leading the resistance. When we meet her, she’s being cool under fire, talking back to Anakin – who has become considerably more grumpy over the last twenty years. She withstands torture, is given a horrendous part in the destruction of Alderaan and scheduled for execution, yet she’s still mentally composed enough to help the boys figure out how to get out of the detention block.

People criticized the first Star Wars film for being about a bunch of white guys; Lucas agreed, noting he was too broke to hire very many actors at the time, and proceeded to cast more women and people of color, increasingly so as the series has continued. No outrage ensued.

The seventies actors move as if they’re not contemplating that each frame will be scrutinzed by fans. It’s a relief to hear them argue and bicker after the tight emotional restraint of the prequel trilogy, where every frame is a carefully composed painting and gestures are more controlled.

The moment I fell in love with Episode 4: it was playing, on a video, in the background, while I was reading or doing something else. I had one of those old VHS players with a digital clock on the front, and I happened to notice that in the death star battle sequence, all the times line up.

This intrigued me, being that I’m familiar with editing, and how to stretch the last ten seconds on some spy’s doomsday clock to half an hour (or squish them into three if that’s what the plot wants).  I watched it, paying attention to the times, trying to figure out if Lucas storyboarded it that way or if he added the time references last, after everything was all pieced together. I watched it again, paying attention to how each little snippet of film was interwoven with the next. 

At that point, something in my brain clicked. This was not really a movie about fighting in space, it was a movie about what all can happen in ten minutes. And not just any ten minutes, but a ten minute period where you feel like you’re on a roller coaster the entire time.  That was George Lucas strutting into my living room, saying “I can put you on the edge of your seat for ten minutes, using nothing but a twenty-year old video that you've already seen a bunch of times.” And me replying, “Wow, I finally see what you did there, and I applaud it.” 

What Star Wars means to me: Many people know I’ve got a nerdly interest in Star Wars. [It’s one of those secret ways we nerds identify each other; normals go “oh, isn’t that a movie with dragons?” while nerds can usually expound on the Star Wars universe at length.]

Within the umbrella of being interested in Star Wars are many subinterests. Some people pay particular attention to the spaceships, or the Joseph Campbell touchstones, or the convoluted Imperial politics. Some have a fascination with the Jedi; I’ve always been vaguely distrustful of the Jedi and their cold, dispassionate religion that leaves them wide open to Sith influence.

I love Star Wars because it was the gateway drug that brought me into science fiction. It led me directly to Ray Bradbury and Larry Niven and George R.R. Martin and so many others, all because the Star Wars movies led directly to a craving for more stuff like that. There was a thriving More Stuff Like That industry at the time, by the way; Battlestar Galactica spawned from it. Most of the MSLT fell short of giving me the same kind of brain jollies as Star Wars, but some of it was pretty decent.

There’s a lot of gatekeeping in science fiction, and sometimes elitism, which put me off science fiction in the first place. There was a lot of dismay in that community about how Star Wars admitted a lot of undesirables to the tent; such as people that didn’t even care that there wouldn’t really be sound effects in space. And that was really the crux of the matter: a band of hairy, unkempt, unsophisticated marginals waging war on the cleancut shiny uniformity of the military industrial corporate complex, and winning. Star Wars is American like Huckleberry Finn, or maybe it’s like the Great Gatsby if you look toward the prequel trilogy. It’s about upstarts challenging the status quo. Crashing sideways into a fairy tale.

When Star Wars first came out, I was too much of a hipster to like it, or science fiction for that matter. Then I discovered science fiction hipsters, who told me I should actually be reading that book about the misunderstood alien who gets it on with lots of babes instead. Then I realized hipsters are silly, and popularity isn’t bad, although sometimes bad things are popular. More science fiction fans isn’t bad; some decent science fiction has come from it. More Star Wars fans isn’t bad; it’s a nice conversational icebreaker. I’ve gotten into some great conversations over Star Wars, in fact, with creative and interesting people.


So to me, Star Wars is about having an open mind, and embracing things that bring you closer to people outside your typical sphere -- and having the guts to like what you like in spite of cultural policing from your peers. 

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