Monday, May 13, 2013

A Storm Trooper Detachment

[This entry concerns Star Wars and my connections to it.  It does not -- by any stretch of the imagination in the grand scheme of the world -- matter.  I'm not writing this because I think it is suggestive of some sort of universal trend or a grievous act perpetrated by or on humanity.  It's just me talking about something I remember.

If you have no memory of these things, or have no interest in reading about me being nostalgic at LENGTH, please look away now.]

I love Star Wars.

For almost the entire time I've been able to form thoughts into words, some of those words have been from or related to Star Wars.  I don't really recall seeing any of them in the theater, but I recollect going to a showing of one of them (most likely "Return of the Jedi") where Darth Vader was in the lobby.  Having watched actual physical evidence (on screen) of him doing terrible things to lots of people, there was no chance of getting me to pose with him for a photo.  I remember knowing enough to feel that it probably wasn't possible for him to use the Force on me -- for some reason I didn't fully understand -- but I certainly wasn't going to take my mother's encouragement and get within arms reach of him.  Didn't they remember what happened to the captain from the first one?

Star Wars was a masterpiece of merchandising, and I had some of the toys.  Not all of the toys -- I remember there being a large box for an Ewok village obtained from a cousin (obtained the box, I mean), but never having the actual play set itself.  Also, I'm pretty sure that box is still in my parents attic, filled with old clothes or Christmas decorations.

Mostly I had a mess of figurines.  Luke from the first film, dressed in white.  Luke from the second, in flight gear.  Luke from the third in black robes.  Disassembled C3PO.  Darth Vader, looking pretty much the same.  Bounty hunter figures, droid figures, people who you didn't even know had a name.  Bib Fortuna?  Yep.  IG-88?  Fer sure.  I think we even collected enough Proofs of Purchase to send away for the Emperor, with his super stiff voluminous sleeves forever molded in plastic and so unlike any cloth.

I had other merchandise, too.  I remember C3PO on shortbread cookies, which even to this day I measure all shortbread "taste" against.  I remember a cut-out Luke mask from the back of a cereal box of C3PO's (which is the best name for a Star Wars cereal).  I remember purchasing the Chewbacca-style bandolier that would hold figures, but it was intended for my best friend's birthday party.  I'm still bitter.

Speaking of, that friend and I knew the movies back and forward.  I would be Luke and he would be Han -- largely by virtue of our hair colors -- and we'd save the world by running around the house, running outside the house, turning tree houses into set pieces, and playing with figures.

As I was entering high school, a series of novels were written by Timothy Zahn.  They expanded on the universe I knew from the movies, continuing after the movies and following the characters I knew well.
There was also a hit series of computer games based in the cockpits of ships.

All these things I loved.  Worshiped, even.  It was such a part of my childhood.  I was as familiar with the characters and settings as any real events or historical people.  That was an exciting world where people could wield the Force and didn't have to make their beds.

[At this point, I'm just going to mention the music, which is the reason why I know anything about music.  It spurred me to learn about the piano and the way music could produce emotions.  But that deserves a complete entry, so I just note it in passing.]

I didn't follow the books beyond the original three.  As I went off to college, there were dozens or hundreds of books being written about the further adventures of the "Expanded Universe", but I was busy doing other things and never really paid attention.  It also helps that once I started high school and college, I determined that talking about Star Wars wasn't cool.  So I didn't.  I'd still watch it every now and then, but by 1997, they'd started releasing the Special Editions.  These added new things, changed other things, and while I was generally in favor, I was a little confused.  They were the ones *I* remembered.  What happened to that scratch in one frame that I was so used to seeing?  Gone.  Weird and... not the version that was in my head.

In 1999, Episode I was released.  My college roommate convinced me to go to a midnight screening on the first night.  It remains the first and only film I have attended at a midnight screening.  We took the EL train to Chicago's South Side.  At midnight.  We were the only white faces until we got to the theater.  Then there were nerds.

The film was new and entertaining, but it had an annoying little kid who was going to grow up to be Darth Vader.  It had some good actors, but questionable acting choices.  It had a biological reason for the Force -- apparently, there are these specific cells and if you have more of them, then more Force.  Ehhhhhhhhh... it didn't even make sense then. But this was the age of "CSI: No Colon and Subtitle", so writers thought that giving things rational reasons made for more compelling truth-in-fiction. Weirdly, it's the most "Star Trekkian" thing in the Star Wars franchise: having a character hold up a hand-held detector and in effect say, "My god, these readings are off the charts!"

But it had amazing music and computer effects.  And it had Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor fighting with lightsabers.  So, ok.  (I've since learned that I hate it much less than many other fans do.)

I saw episode 2 in the theater, I think, but I don't remember the time or the place. I want to say it was here in Kansas City with the family of the woman I was dating at the time, but I may be confusing it for a Lord of the Rings movie. The confusion is not ameliorated by Christopher Lee appearing in both films as an oddly-similar version of the same character (secretive once-good guy who is actually a pawn for the shadowy main bad guy backed by an army of impersonal killing machines but makes good moral points about the universe that more simple characters can't fathom, who dies shortly into the third film).

Episode 2 was interesting and was a good use of your token Samuel L. Jackson. But the love story was laughably bad, as was the overwrought character moments that are supposed to show Anakin (the supposed central character of all six movies) slipping to the Dark Side. I just didn't care, and that made me sad and detached. Again, cool explosions and great music, but I just can't bring myself to care about the characters -- not a good sign.

And then came Episode III. And I didn't see it. Still haven't to this day, as a matter of fact. There's a copy of it I received as a Christmas present from one of my brothers years ago, but it has never entered my DVD player.

Part of the reason I never saw it was the waning interest I had for the franchise and its film art. George Lucas has great ideas, but my opinion is that the better films have not been directed by him. He directed all three of the prequels.

But the much bigger reason was that I had already had my dessert and no longer wanted to eat vegetables.

Episodes 4, 5, and 6 had a now-standard film arc. First, introduce everybody. Second, take the heroes to a dark place. Third, the heroes fight back from the dark place and triumph. This structure means that the second film does not exist in a vacuum - its primary function is to establish an unresolved conflict that resolves in the third film.

Episode III is just about creating a crapsack world. The heroes become fractured, bad guys on the ascendant, the forces of order murdered and scattered, and the literal Evil Empire takes over. End credits.

So I knew that I wasn't really sure I wanted to sit for two hours and see the sad destruction of all that is right and good and true. That doesn't sound like a good time. It sounds like going to watch the first hour of "Schindler's List", then stopping the film and trying to go on with your day. If I don't get the resolved ending, I have a feeling it would throw me off. And I have enough time existing with humanity to begin with; I certainly don't need any help to feel disconnected and weird.

Yes, it speaks to a simplistic moral view. I watch films to escape from reality, so I really don't want to come out feeling worse than when I went in. At the extreme ends, such as the previously mentioned "Schindler's List", I come out feeling ennobled and reflective. And that's not necessarily a movie I want to see again in my lifetime. It's part of the reason I have no taste for horror and only a limited interest in thrillers.

And in a very weird way, Episode III is a horror film to me. Everything goes wrong, good people die, and the monsters roam the world freely. I have no desire to see that, especially since I've already seen the "good triumphant" payoff.

Please allow me to state that I don't hate it, or feel that it should never have been made. Many people enjoyed it the most out of the three prequel films. Some people [nerds] I know feel that it alone justifies the whole prequel endeavor. I'm perfectly happy that it exists, but I have no need or desire to see it. Those plot points are largely filled in and I have no need to see the nitty gritty.

But I am sad that I can write those sentences. The fact that there is unwatched Star Wars content that is just waiting to be seen is not something I enjoy. It certainly would horrify me from twenty-five years ago. "Robots and lava and star fighters and the Force and you're NOT SEEING IT!"

And I don't wish to give the impression that any of this matters, though I know that I'm somewhat stymied by choosing to write an entry about it, thereby demonstrating its importance, to a certain degree. Until I started thinking about how to write this entry, I hadn't really given much of it a thought. But I wanted to write this entry to talk a bit more in the future about fans and perceptions of works of pop culture. I write this to set up my own journey with a particular fandom, so that I can make a point of contrast when it comes to the other fandoms I never tarried into (rather like the Superman comics mentioned in the previous entry).

So your homework is to think about things you obsess over and which may or may not have continued to be a force in your life. Get it? Force. Because of know... Jedi... waving hands...

< embarrassed cough>


  1. Wooo!!! Episode I... at midnight. Totally remember it.. only time you saw a midnight movie only time I had been to the south side after 8 pm.

    Complete excitement until the movie was over.. then filled with that sense of wtf. How could a movie with Liam Neeson in it, a Star Wars movie, be that awful?

    Though, it did have the best light sabre duel of the series in it. It was horrific in so many says.

    I too have lost much of the luster for the whole series, due to the prequels, but have seen episode 3. While it is obviously your choice to not watch it, I will say it is the best of the prequels.

    Somewhere I have read that if you are going to show it to star wars virgins ( meaning the one's who haven't seen the movies as opposed to people who are virgins because they are fanatics about star wars) That you should watch them in the order of IV V.. then II III then VI. To keep the idea of Anakin/Darth a secret then learn Anakin's fall.. then his redemption. The first episode being entirely irrelevant and containing most of the annoying aspects. (Kid anakin. Kid anakin builds C3P0, Jar Jar, etc.)

    I haven't watched them in that order, but if my son ever has an interest I think that's how I might do it.

    Welp.. I guess that wasn't really the assignment to rehash thoughts about the Star Wars movies... but it is clearly an obsession of mine as well. As are a number of nerdy pursuits. However, what I think is fascinating is that much of what was considered nerdy in the late 80's mid 90's is pretty main stream now.

    1. That's a good point about the passage of time de-nerdifying things. Multiple "Transformer" movies, video games advertised at the Super Bowl and on the sides of buildings, computers in everyone's pocket; all these things that seemed super nerdy are now just a part of what goes on.