Saturday, December 5, 2015

Mentally Rewatching the Star Wars Movies: Episodes 4-6

In the spirit of troubleshooting the DVD’s I finally consented to Windows 10. They still won’t play.

So I am going to mentally re-watch the Star Wars movies, while commenting on them. This will be interesting because it will only include the parts I remember, and it’s been at least a decade since my last sit-down-and-watch-them-all-the-way-through. 

Episode Four – From Memory:

I got to see everything up to the garbage compactor scene before the discs crapped out, so let’s see, what comes next. They fight the tentacle beast and nearly get compacted; Leia displays some body outline while Han looks sweaty and distressed, and a hint of that brilliant editing happens as Threepio uses social engineering on some Imperials, as befits a protocol droid.

I can’t even remember the sequence here – but I remember some more killer editing.  Obi Wan shuts down the tractor beam, which was a little cartoon of an actual tractor in the parody film Hardware Wars.  Luke and Leia split away from Han and Chewie for some reason I don’t recall, exchange a kiss, and swing across a pit together. Obi Wan and Vader fight, Luke yells “noooooo” and they run away while exchanging fire.

Then we get to actually see the Millenium Falcon’s gun turret with its targeting squares and exciting swivel action.  Yeehaw!  Being in a space gunfight is exactly like a carnival ride!  And here comes hyperspace again, whoa!

They all head to a Mayan pyramid and group around display screens while talking heads speechify, and then it’s time for the best editing sequence of them all. Stay on target! STAY ON TARGET!!

Okay, all done, we win, tremendous flood of joyous brain chemicals as medals are handed out and fanfare plays.  Woohoo! Time to get in a vehicle and exceed speed limits! I’ll bet a lot of people exceeded speed limits on the way home from Star Wars. 

What a great movie, and during my mental rewatch, I noticed that the intense editing stuff crops up whenever we’re on the Death Star, then builds up to the Millenium Falcon’s space fight, then peaks/overloads during the Death Star fight. It’s hard to notice that when you’re actually watching the movie, engrossed in it. 

Vaguely Recollecting Episode Five: The Empire Strikes Back

We had an all-desert planet, now it’s time for an all-snow planet. I remember really liking the Tauntauns initially. They kind of won my heart and dragged me into the movie, with their ridiculous kangaroo gait. I felt sorry for the dead one.

A space yeti comes along to mess up Luke’s face and provide a canon explanation for the plastic surgery between Episodes 4-5, when Hamill crashed his Vette and required extensive reconstruction.  In the future, they insert you directly into the IV bottle. 

Next we have some bickering with Han and Leia, along with the introduction of the Third Star Wars Female.  First was Aunt Beru, second was Leia herself, and now we have an anonymous girl with loopy braids operating something that looks like an old telephone operator’s console.  The enhanced editions added all kinds of people to the background scenes, but until the introduction of SWF3 I was starting to wonder about the extent of cloning in this world, given the absence of female presence.

OMG! Snow fight! Walkers! Vader!  Millenium Falcon! We’re back home in the Star Wars galaxy. 

Han and Leia split off, to bicker, mostly. This is kind of interesting because the first movie seemed to show a little spark between Luke and Leia, and we don’t know they’re siblings yet, but here’s Luke leaving her with the untrustworthy Han on his quest for Jedihood, like he’s taking vows. Leia doesn’t seem pleased with this, and sure enough, she’s flirting with the next man she meets, Lando Calrissian.

In Lando’s city is my absolute all-time favorite Star Wars character: Lobot. A bald-headed guy with a computer thing that wraps around the back of his head, making sharp gestures. I’ve read various backstory explanations for Lobot being a criminal forced to wear the brain gear as punishment, and that it gives him magical telepathic powers. He’s basically a cyborg jedi. He gestures and stuff happens (because robots do it). He’s at one with the mainframe. Although we never see him in a crunch, contemplate that Lobot doesn’t even have to fight. Lights go out, door slams shut, hallway depressurizes, thousands of droids converge on you.

Lobot is one with the powers of digital information. He has thousands of Reddit accounts and Facebook pages. He comments everywhere. He has no ego that would lead him to want to control the galaxy. If he wants to control things, he could probably just mentally login to the network, say, and send an internet request, to some other cyborg (or perhaps directly to droids and spaceships), in machine language, to accidentally crash a spaceshipload of giant piranha fish into Gungan City. Lobot could do that. Instead, he works as mech liaison in a space mine because he’s humble, and lacks ambition. Maybe he studies philosophy, or art history, or whatever you’d call anthropology in a non-anthropomorphic setting. 

After lots of high drama and colorful yet moody lighting in the Lobot-related scenes, we move to the grungy swamp of Dagobah, where Luke hangs with a muppet named Yoda. Yoda was a serious muppet. He didn’t move with the little hop that characterizes Kermit and Miss Piggy, he waddled on his own legs, except when he was riding around on Luke’s back.

Gurus were popular in California at that time, in the late seventies. It was quite an industry, with all kinds of unqualified nutbags vying for peoples’ attention as they sold their unique ways of obtaining spiritual/magical powers. These days there’s just a little whiff of exploitativeness about the idea that a student can only receive a true education when in an intimate one-on-one relationship with an older man. That’s because a lot of those ‘80s gurus turned out to be exploiters. Yoda doesn’t even mention the paternity secret, coming at Luke with some Jedi relativism instead.

I didn’t really like Yoda, even though I was gobstopped at the technical wizardry that made him seem real and alien and non-muppety.  Probably it’s because I don’t trust gurus. I don’t think the movie trusts them either, since Luke finally has enough swamp platitudes and announces that dad is picking on his sister again, even though Yoda has failed to mention she’s his sister.

Luke gets back in his spaceship and heads to a stunningly atmospheric room of blues and yellows and pluming steam, where Vader turns Han into a coffee table, and the amazing Boba Fett speaks his line. And stands next to the bounty hunter Bossq, a Trandoshan lizardman and my second favorite incidental character in this movie. Right after Lobot.

Then the paternity disclosure. And Luke’s arm is off. And he’s nearly dead. He’s losing, big time, even though he’s still alive. The story ends with him and Leia standing on a big nurturing-looking spaceship, gazing out into the stars and looking perplexed. 

What kind of science fiction ending is that, I ask you? The hero lost the swashbuckling fight! There was no triumphant explosion! One of the best characters just got turned into a coffee table! Where is the requisite affirmation that the hero is an awesome guy who always wins????

That’s why I fell in love with this movie. Epic science fiction where the heroic engineer of sorts doesn’t get the babe (because she’s his sister) and loses the big fight? Inconceivable! That would never happen to Kirk, nor would it happen to any of those other square-jawed white guys with serious government jobs that seemed to rule science fiction back then. I didn’t like those guys. They were The Man, man.

I consider myself as being in the generation just after the baby boomers, and I grew up watching their exuberant revolution. Creativity, peace, love, understanding, just as soon as we overthrow The Man.  Then they ran into the concept that The Man was their father, and was part of them, and wasn’t so easily eliminated. Science fiction is still arguing about that, with some fans wanting to bring back more of The Man’s traditions, and others wanting him to retreat even further into the shadows. Empire was about slamming that realization into everyone’s face: the problem’s within you, no guru is going to help you, there’s nothing to be gained by railing against daddy.

What’s left to do is roll up your sleeves and try to fix it. Luke does in fact roll up his sleeve, showing his new cyborg arm. Ready to get to work and fix it.

That sentiment can still move me. I tend to get impatient with people who are stuck in Episode 4, exploding with rage, fighting against moving along to Episode 5, acknowledging the enemy is internal and requires more nuanced strategy, and a strong dose of self-awareness, and getting to work.    

Although it’s Saturday, and I’m not even going to think about work. Say, this vaguely recollecting is nearly as much fun as actually watching movies. I’m going to refill my coffee cup and move on to Episode 6.

Reminiscing Nostalgically about Episode 6: Return of the Jedi.

I stood in a long line for Episode 6, and got brutally sunburned, and I didn’t even notice it until after the movie ended. At that time, I felt more relief than exuberance.

Everything on the checklist had been provided. Another Death Star battle. More hyperspace. More Tattooine. Less dismemberment. More persons of color and women – meet Mon Mothma, rebel official. We also establish that rebels (unlike the empire) are not racist toward aliens, with General “It’s a trap!” Ackbar. 

In the big long opening scene at Jabba’s Palace, we are introduced to the Twi’leks, my favorite type of Star Wars alien. They are one of the few kinds of aliens shown in multiple genders/bodytypes, and even different races within their species (there are pink and blue Twi’leks).  Twi’leks are seen in crowd scenes in the prequel trilogy, but this was their first official appearance. First there’s a red-eyed majordomo, then two exotic dancers, one skinny, one chubby.

Elements that don’t time travel well include Sy Snootles and her band, and Salacious Crumb, who are more like Muppet Show muppets than the non-muppety Yoda. Jabba does time travel well, and looks much better on his throne than his awkward digital appearance inserted after-the-fact into episode 4.

Leia wears her famous slave bikini in this scene. Did it feel like pandering at the time? Yes, it did, and it was kind of embarrassing to have T&A surface in the first female-friendly science fiction most people had encountered, especially given the way Star Wars initially went out of its way to be non-sexy. But there was a point to it, in that Leia did not dress this way willingly, and in fact, she strangled the disgusting slimy slug that made her wear it with her own shackles. That’s a uniquely feminine manifestation of badassery right there. 

Sarlaac pit! Boba the Fett meets with doom, Luke has grown up to be a dashing badboy with a green lightsaber, and soon our heroes are on their way to the next space fight. There is a giant memory hole here; I know they chill with Admiral Ackbar and possibly Mon Mothma, and Luke heads back to the swamp for Yoda’s death scene while Han/Leia … what do they do again?

Oh right. I’m blocking it out. The Ewoks. 

Originally Lucas wanted the story to end up with the wookiees of Kashyyk overthrowing the Empire in a very organic, low-tech, indigenous, Whole Foods sort of way. The wookiees of Kashyyk were deemed too expensive, so we got the cuddly teddybear Ewoks.

I think the Ewoks are at least fifty times as sexist as Leia’s bikini.  “Oh, in case you girls didn’t like the gratuitous cheesecake we threw in for the guys/lesbians, here’s some cute fluffy animals because we know that’s what girls like!  Because this movie aims to please everybody! Also, wanna buy a teddybear? Because we sold all kinds of action figures to the boys, and it’s your turn now.”

So even though the Ewoks look like huggable Shih Tzus, I don’t want to hug them, even though I would hug an actual Shih Tzu in a red hot minute, assuming it was friendly.  They’re violent little marketing bots that eat people, easily manipulated via superstition, and I don’t like them. In fact, I’m kind of glad I’m not actually watching this movie again, because then I’d have to see them and experience my conflicted emotions about them. 

I like the redwood forest where they live, though. It’s near where I live.  It’s a good thing to include in a science fiction movie.  Meanwhile, these trees here have seen it all. 

Luke, meanwhile, is doing climactic battle with dad. And (spiritual) grand dad – although when I typed that, I started wondering whether Senator Palpatine and Senator Amidala were related given that she seemed to regard him as a wise old uncle while being the sort of person who kept most of the world far beyond her entourage.

Luke wins by convincing Anakin to help him slay the evil from prior generations that tainted them both, and after enjoying his thirty seconds of moral redemption, Anakin finally expires, concluding the operatic saga of his life.  I’m not sure whether my DVD is the version that shows the final ghost as the dying Anakin or the Episode 3 Anakin, so it’s probably a good thing that I’m not watching it.

And finally, there is much rejoicing throughout the galaxy, as enhanced considerably in the expanded edition. Before it was just the Ewoks and their little yubnub song. OMG, since I’m not actually watching the movie I don’t have to listen to it.  Seriously, I’d rather listen to a few rounds of “It’s a Small World” than hear the yubnub song again. 

If I had run out to buy an HDTV and hooked it up and watched these movies in HD, I would be listening to the yubnub song right now, while gritting my teeth and quivering with buyer’s remorse.  Simplicity lifestyle and miserly cheapskate attitude for the win once again, woohoo!  I really do not need to see hairy Ewok faces in HD.

The (real) trilogy all end on separate notes. The first one ends with an exhilirating fight, the second in reflection following loss, and the third aims for a relieved sense of happily ever after. They touch lots of emotions along the way.

Reflecting on them gives me enough emotional distance to like them, while appreciating them distantly. Without having to actually see them again. Although I’m glad I’ve already seen them, multiple times, and have devoted a sufficient number of the precious total minutes of my lifetime to this activity to be happy with never watching them again, unless there’s a good reason, or I’m re-watching them while doing something else.

On to the new! I just read that Abrams is looking for more women to write/direct future Star Wars movies, and Disneyland is putting in a whole new Star Wars land, at which Darth Vader cupcakes will be sold. I consider these to be positive developments. Just a couple more weeks until The Force Awakens!

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