Friday, November 11, 2016

Somewhere In An Alternate Universe of Hope: STAR WARS

Preface: I started writing this just before the election results started coming in on Tuesday.  By the time I finished and checked the news, the inspiration for writing this had pretty much fallen to shit.  My first inclination, besides vomiting, was to trash the whole piece.  After thinking about it for a while, I’m posting the entire rambling, painful, embarrassing thing anyway.  As wrong as everything turned out, I still think the underlying message is important, now probably more so.   It’s not much, but it’s what I’m putting out there.  Enjoy it for the deadly irony, at least.

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I was going to write two pieces this week and post the one reflective of our newly elected President on Friday. One would be optimistic and triumphant, the other would be apocalyptic.  But you know what?  Fuck it, I’m just going for the optimistic one.  I’m not hedging my bets.  Plus, I’m very lazy.  

This one is more fun, anyway.  It’s about the most wondrous, impactful, and positive moment in my personal history of cinema.  These recollections are from a five year old me.  No, I'm not going to write as if I were five years old.  That is hack bullshit.  I'm going to interpret from my five year old self.  Totally different kind of hack bullshit.  And yes, I am going to talk STAR WARS (the one from 1977).

The (Long-Ass) Capsule:
In an undetermined location and time period, two robots find themselves in a serious shit storm when their tiny spaceship is swallowed by a bigger, meaner looking one.  One robot is short and whistles instead of talks, but somehow everyone knows what he is saying.  The other one is tall, fussy, and British.  While a bunch of guys in white plastic armor kill everyone, a girl with crazy hair gives the short robot a secret message.  He and his friend escape to a desert planet and are promptly captured by some dwarf junk dealers.  Back on the tiny ship, the dopest villain ever struts around breaking necks and being super badass.  He takes the crazy haired girl prisoner and brings her to see the old guy from those Dracula movies with all the cleavage.  On Desert World, a whiny blond kid buys the robots, but the short one takes off.  Blondie and the fussy robot run after him, because short whistling robots aren’t cheap.  Blondie almost gets killed by a sand mummy, but a well-spoken old dude saves him.  The old guy turns out to be a magician samurai with a laser sword and very good manners.  The short robot plays the secret message for the old dude and he convinces Blondie to go with him on a mission.  Blondie agrees because Desert World is boring and he suddenly has much less familial responsibility.  They run into a scoundrel, who’s kind of a jerk, but kind of cool at the same time, and his ape-bear co-pilot who only growls but somehow everyone can understand him, too.  The old dude hires the scoundrel to fly them in his junky ship to a planet mentioned in the secret message, but Dope Villain and the guy from Dracula have already blown it up with their giant deathball ship.  The junky ship gets pulled into the Deathball and everyone splits up.  The old dude goes to flip the tractor beam power switch, Blondie and the scoundrel score some white plastic armor and go with the ape-bear to rescue the crazy haired girl. The robots stay behind to watch the car.  They rescue the girl, who turns out to be a princess who takes no shit.  They run around, shoot stuff, swing over chasms, Blondie almost gets drowned by an octopus monster, and they are all nearly squashed in a very inefficient trash compactor.  Also, the old dude turns off the tractor beam.  As they are all meeting back up at the junky ship, the old dude gets in a sweet laser sword fight with Dope Villain, then turns into a ghost.  Everyone else gets away and meets up with Princess Crazy Hair’s crew.  Blondie and a bunch of other guys attack the Deathball in space fighter ships that are all named after letters.  The alphabet ships get picked off by the enemy fighters, even though they all have hellacious blind spots and scream when they fly by.  Things look even worse when Dope Villain hits the scene in his custom screamer.  Luckily, the scoundrel, who we thought cut out after being paid, shows up in his junky ship and sends Dope Villain spinning out of control.  Blondie, guided by the old dude’s voice over and The Force, which I didn’t really understand at the time but knew was a cool catchphrase, shoots a rocket down a vent that leads straight to the Deathball’s central explody part.  The Deathball blows up, Dope Villain runs away, and there is a huge party for the heroes.  Everyone gets medals, except the robots, which is hugely unfair because none of that shit would have gone down without them.  They get polished, at least.  Everyone is happy and I didn’t see how there could possibly be any negative consequences down the line.  The End.   

First of all, I’m not specifically equating Hillary Clinton with Princess Leia, or the Democrats with the Rebels (clearly they are more of the Old Republic, but I’m not going down that rabbit hole).  And I’m really not equating Donald Trump with Darth Vader.  Trump only wishes he were that cool.  Plus, Vader has a small chance of redemption.  Trump is more like a certain desert dwelling entrepreneur/slug creature who is disrespectful to women and is choked to death by Princess Leia.  Maybe I am slightly equating Clinton with Princess Leia in this case.  Obviously, personal interpretations may vary.  Some might see Clinton as the Emperor and Trump as Han Solo.  Just kidding, no one is insane enough to think of him as Han Solo. [Ed. Note: slowest, saddest head shake in history] 

No, this isn’t a political statement.  It’s about excitement and enthusiasm.   STAR WARS is the first movie I can remember that I appreciated fully.  I’d seen movies before this, but they were just bits and pieces.  Only certain fragments made any impression on me.  STAR WARS, on the other hand, had me riveted from the first frame to the end, even the talky part in Ben Kenobi’s house where even C3PO goes to sleep.  I went in expecting some kind of PLANET OF THE APES movie, as the only thing I registered from the TV trailers was a big hairy dude.  What I got, within the first few minutes, was more than I imagined possible.  It was the first movie that solidly kicked my ass. It was my moment of magic.

Some of that wonderment fused directly into my DNA.  Unless it’s absurdly hokey, my suspension of disbelief is almost total when dealing with space movies.  I am all in. To this day, in my mind, the actor who played Chewbacca is a real Wookiee.  Intellectually, I know it’s just Peter Mayhew, a regular, if freaky tall, human in a suit.  I’ve seen plenty of pictures of him in the suit with his regular old human head poking out.  Doesn’t’ matter, every time I watch the movie(s), I see a living, breathing, growling alien.  It's cognitive dissonance in the best way, not the crazy way. [Ed. note: Like, say, thinking a billionaire who has never done any kind of public service and doesn't pay taxes will have the back of the working class.]

Sometimes it even surprises me.  When I saw the behind the scene footage of how they made the pen float for the shuttle scene in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, I was floored.  It never rationally occurred to me that Kubrick hadn’t just made the whole thing in space.  Come to think of it, maybe he did fake the moon landing.  I certainly wouldn’t have questioned it.

Not only did STAR WARS color my appreciation of all movies afterward, it affected the way I looked at women in movies, and in real life.  Princess Leia is an incredible character.  She was strong, defiant, and clever.  She stood up to torture and wasn’t even intimidated by Darth freakin' Vader.  She matched Luke’s heroism, Han’s sarcasm, and Chewie’s (real Wookiee) heart.  She may have slid down the ranks of my favorite female characters over time (Ripley will always be #1), but she was the archetype.  Even more importantly, at five years old, I didn’t think of Leia as a strong female character.  She was just part of the gang, as capable as anyone.  Gender was never an issue.  Except that her 12’ action figure came with a goddamned hairbrush instead of a gun.  When did she ever use a hairbrush Mattel?  

It helped that gender wasn’t that big of a deal in the movie itself.  It did have a save the princess trope, but Leia was as much a part of their escape, and their ultimate victory, as anyone.  No one bats an eye that she is a woman in a position of power.  It's never questionedPeter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin (or Grand Moth Tarkin, as I thought, pre-Wookieepedia) preys on her humanity to get information, not her femininity.  Han Solo gets prickly with her because she’s royalty, not because she’s a girl.  And he can be kind of a jerk.  Luke clearly had a crush on her, but she didn’t have time for romance (which was better for everyone, as it turned out).  The fact that she is in a dress does not hold her back.

I’ve seen A LOT of movies since STAR WARS, of all topics and levels of quality.  A good many I’ve appreciated more.  Many have been better written, shot, directed, or acted.  STAR WARS doesn't even make my top ten anymore.  No matter how good or how bad a movie is, though, it will never replace or erase that moment when I was five years old, watching STAR WARS and feeling like anything was possible.  When it’s hard to keep going, that moment is what keeps me moving forward.

P.A.S. (Post-Apocalypse Script):

So Hillary Clinton wasn’t our Princess Leia.  She was our Aunt Beru.  But that’s okay.  Our Princess Leia is still out there.  Maybe she’s one of the four women of color to win (or retain) Senate seats Tuesday.  Maybe she’s a little girl who dressed up as Leia (or more likely Rey, or a Ghostbuster) for Halloween.  It will happen.  

Sure, the way things went down, it feels less like the triumphant end of STAR WARS and more like the downbeat ending of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.  We got our asses handed to us, no doubt.  But like the last scene, it’s time for us to catch our breath, heal up, and make plans to deal with Jabba the Trump.  Don’t worry, it turns out alright in the end.

C Chaka

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