Monday, December 14, 2015

A New Hope


It was autumn, 2012. And there was a great disturbance in The Force.

The announcement came like an ion cannon blast from the blue: Disney had purchased Lucasfilm from founder George Lucas for a cool $4 billion in Republic Credits with the intention of immediately launching new Star Wars movies.

And with that ... millions of voices suddenly cried out ... and then continued to cry out. Louder and louder. Because the Internet.

As the months passed, the pieces started falling into place. Avowed Original Trilogy fanboy J.J. Abrams stepped behind the camera. Empire and Jedi (not to mention Raiders) screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan set to plinking away at the script. And all the original leads where wheeled out of storage. A reading was held. A picture was taken. Our nerd hearts fluttered.

They were putting the band back together.

"Break a leg," we urged them.

(Well, that didn't go exactly to plan, but no matter.)

There was a palpable electricity in the air! A feeling was starting to grow that had been largely absent from the Star Wars universe since those heady days in the run-up to Phantom Menace.

Hope?

A new one, maybe?

But why?

Well, for the first time in almost 40 years, a certain be-pompadoured, flannel-wrapped man-sausage wouldn't be piloting the ship. George Lucas would no longer be calling the shots in the Star Wars universe.

And this was a good thing.

Potentially a great thing.

Now before I go any further, let me just say this:

It is 1,000,000% true that millions upon millions of Star Wars fans the world over owe George Lucas their bottomless gratitude for creating the galaxy far, far away.

That's just a fact. It is beyond doubt.

As a world-builder, he's in a class all his own.

Untouchable. A true genius.


But ... as a storyteller?

"Eh ... less so?"

To put things politely, the changes made to the Special Editions in the late 90s fell somewhere on the spectrum between "unnecessary" and "cringeworthy."

And the Prequel Trilogy ... well, a majority of movie goers might place those further out toward the "cluster-fuck" end of that spectrum.

To say fandom's (not to mention my own) relationship with Mr. Lucas had become "strained" -- or at the very least "complicated" -- is something of an understatement.

Though, for me personally, the problems didn't start in the late 90s. His track record, in this nerd's opinion, had been in precipitous decline since the first execrable teddy bear yub-nubbed its way out of the underbrush in 1983. But that's a whole other conversation.

(Complete tangent: In 1995 I was talking trash about Ewoks at a bar and nearly got into a fistfight with a fellow who seemed willing to throw down to defend their honor. In retrospect, I almost wish cooler heads hadn't prevailed. Just so one day I could say I'd been in bar fight over Ewoks. The perils of drinking and nerding, I suppose.)

I digress ...

So ... Lucas was stepping aside to let somebody else play in the Star Wars sandbox. This was exciting news. This was a game-changer. The possibilities! The mind raced! (But did NOT pod race. Ever.)

Then more announcements came fast and hard. More directors, more writers, spin-off stand-alone movies ... the possibility of a Star Wars universe movie every year far into the foreseeable future.

And in a surprise to exactly no one, the Internet has churned into a non-stop Hoth-sized blizzard of Star Wars rumor-mongering, thinkpiece-ing, spy reporting, and armchair speculation for the better part of three years. Every trailer, TV spot, photo or toy package is broken down pixel by pixel -- Zapruder style -- in an attempt to unlock its secrets. Who uses a lightsaber? Who's flying what ships? Who's related to who? And would Harrison Ford be able to stay awake through the whole movie or spend it napping grouchily on a giant pile of money?

And so today ... anticipation is at a fever pitch with the film about to be unleashed upon the world. As a nerd on the Internet myself, I believe it to be my solemn obligation to offer a few thoughts on the subject.

It is my understanding that this is compulsory.

So here goes.

(drumroll ...)


5 Ways the New Star Wars Movies Will Probably Be Different Without George Lucas


5. Socio-Economic Mobility?

With someone new plugging coordinates into the saga’s navi-computer, perhaps now, at long last, inhabitants of the galaxy far, far away will no longer be doomed to the same job their parents had.

Maybe Lucas was trying to prevent storylines from getting too complicated. Maybe he intended to echo a simple, fairy tale convention. Or maybe he’s just a big fan of rigid caste systems based on strict Calvanist notions of inescapable predestination. For whatever reason, social mobility in the Star Wars universe doesn't really seem to be a thing. Whatever your mom or dad did for a living, like it or not, that’s the gig you’re gonna get, too.

Even if that job is as microscopically specific as “Telekinetic Plasma-Sword-Wielding Bionic Space Wizard.”

“Oh, quit pouting. Sure, the hours suck, but the health plan is surprisingly comprehensive.”

(For the sake of simplicity, and to mirror what the folks at LucasFilm are doing, I'm not counting any of the expanded universe stuff to be canon here. Just what Lucas himself scribbled into his trapper keeper for the movie scripts.)

When we first meet Luke he’s a moisture farmer, but since that’s not a job his dad ever had, it’s just a matter time before everything goes all handstands and laser swords for young Master Skywalker. Because in George's world, your job history is predetermined. Your resume is already printed in your DNA.

Midichlorians, it turns out, are actually tiny, blood-borne Guidance Counselors.

Which may explain why Luke sucked so hard at moisture farming. Well, I'm assuming he sucked at it. We never once see him harvest a single ... um ... bucket? I guess?

(Look, don’t ask me. I don’t know how it works. My father wasn't a moisture farmer either.)

Fun Fact: Jawa "squeezings" count as moisture!


It’s that same circuitous logic ... one might even call it tortured ... that mandates that since we've established Leia to be a princess, then BY GOD her birth mother MUST have been a queen.

Never mind the fact that we’re talking about two totally different planets.

Planets presumably with different, systems of governance.

And Leia was adopted.

And her adopted father was a Senator, not a King.

And her true identity was supposed to be a secret.

And Luke is never once referred to as a prince.

And Padme technically couldn’t really have been a “queen,” because she was elected and you don’t vote for queens because that’s not how queening works.

Point is, if you are a princess, your mom must have been a queen.

Somehow.

Because shut up is how!

(Not to disparage Naboo, but you have to wonder about a civilization that puts a tween girl in charge of a whole planet. As political systems go, that one seems fraught with peril. The likelihood of hearing the words “Secretary of State Justin Bieber” seems alarmingly high.)

(But what do I know, she’s not my queen. I didn't vote for her.)


Oh, admit it. You were thinking it, too.

And even though Boba Fett is technically a clone of Jango, not a son, that seems close enough for government work as far as George is concerned. Sorry, Boba. So much for your dream getting your MA in Italian Renaissance Poetry. Grab your jet pack. Them space skells ain't gonna disintegrate themselves.

(Though, to be fair, Dog the Bounty Hunter has numerous bleached, sun-damaged progeny who also hunt bounties. So maybe in this case it’s not a Lucas thing but more of a bounty hunter thing.)

Fittingly, the lone outlier might just be Han Solo. It’s never mentioned in either trilogy just what Papa Solo did for a living. We don't know anything about the guy.

But if he wasn't a smuggler, I think there’s a good chance he probably lived an honest life of herding Nerfs. Scruffiness, after all, rarely skips a generation.


4. Fewer Staff Meetings:

George Lucas may have started out as a rebel filmmaker (see what I did there?) with some big ideas and a metric ton of moxie-studded gumption ... but somewhere along the way he ended up growing, almost by accident, into one of the most staggeringly successful business men of the last century.

And when you’re mind-bogglingly successful at running a whole bunch of companies, you probably sit through a shit-ton of meetings in a day. That's gotta be pretty much your life. So in the late 90s, when he got round to penning the scripts for the Prequel Trilogy, maybe he took the old writing axiom: “Write what you know,” a little too literally.

Perhaps this is why the Prequel Trilogy is so liberally larded with scenes of people sitting around jabbering about things they could do – instead of scenes of them actually doing those things.

Depending on how you count them, there are something like TWO DOZEN staff meeting scenes in the Prequel Trilogy.

(And in true corporate style, those meetings usually involve the Jedi Council saying they're going to do something ... before then telling Obi-Wan to go do it for them.)

By contrast, there’s only one real staff meeting in the entire Original Trilogy and Darth Vader spices that one up by totally choking a guy out with his mind.

Which, be honest, is exactly how we wish all staff meetings would end.


"Does anyone have a Ricola?"


3. No More “Special Edition” Fiddling:

Whatever you think of Lucas as a filmmaker, it’s hard to argue that he didn't, on some level, have the authorial right to tweak a few things in the Original Trilogy.

Now the wisdom of tweaking those things? Oh, heavens! We can argue that until the stars burn out. In fact, providing the forum for that very argument was the whole reason Tim Berners-Lee invented the Internet in the first place. Well, that and porn.

But with the saga’s imprimatur now turning over the reins to a voracious corporate behemoth bent on churning out fresh, profitable product for decades to come, it's not likely that any director, writer or producer will emerge with enough clout to continue Lucas' wrong-headed preoccupation of repeatedly reaching back into the three original movies to rearrange the furniture.

Point is, mercifully, this is probably the end of all the Special Editions. From now on, for better or worse, no more changes.

Sadly, that also probably means whoever the last one was to "shoot first" will likely continue to shoot first on into eternity. It’s like winning a game of musical chairs, only with terrible aim and terrible-er CGI.

"Greedo? That guy’s a hell of a shot! Taught me everything I know!"


2. Nobody Will Ever Say “Yippee!” Again:

Ever.

For any reason.

Thank the Maker.

Seriously. Shut the fuck up.

1. Fewer Amputations:

Given that the series will undoubtedly continue to feature the lightsaber as its signature, iconic weapon, it’s a good bet we’ll continue to see a few loose appendages go tumbling bloodlessly out of frame in future episodes. But my guess is, the galaxy far, far away just became a friendlier place for extremities.

Because George Lucas has an amputation fetish.

Okay, maybe “fetish” is too strong a word. But Lordy, he does seem inordinately fond of lopping pieces off his characters.

By my count there are 15 instances of arm, hand or leg amputation over the course of the six films in the Star Wars saga.

If you include decapitations, that raises the total to 18.

That goes up to 19 once you include Darth Maul’s always impressive hemicorporectomy.

And if you count all of C-3PO's various pieces, that goes up to 33.

At this point you might be musing to yourself: “Say, that seems like rather a lot of amputations.”

It sure is.

Now please also consider that after all the fanboy belly-aching over Jar Jar Binks in 1999, Lucas strenuously and repeatedly insisted that these are, in fact, movies intended for small children.

"You know what happens to little boys who don't clean their plate? They get scissored into wet, steaming meat!
Now. Open. Your. Mouth.”

Unsettlingly, George's hunger for limb-lopping seems to grow more ravenous as the Prequel Trilogy rolls along. By the time we get to Episode III, several of the victims in question are now having more than one part sliced off in a sitting.

But if you're just counting lightsaber injuries, by my admittedly unscientific count, a total of 19 body parts are liberated from their owners in the Star Wars hexalogy. (OT: 6 vs. PT: 13.)

FUN FACT: That's 18 more amputations than are in the movie 127 Hours!

And I'm not even counting the amputations that happen off screen that Lucas doesn't even bother show you.

"I miss my leg. Almost as much as I miss that 'wife' I bought.”

And my numbers are actually super low, because I'm also not including in my tally any characters without names or dialogue. So, no Clone Troopers, Sand People or Geonosian bug-men.

But I am counting the Wampa. Because, come on. He’s the friggin' Wampa.

In addition, I'm also not totaling the legions upon legions of Battle Droids who get mercilessly hacked into a bajillion pieces because: A) numbers don’t go that high, and B) let’s face it, those irritating fuckers TOTALLY had it coming.

"Roger, roger?” Seriously?! Who says: “Roger, roger”?! AND WHY IS NOBODY HACKING THIS GODDAMN FLOOR LAMP INTO A THOUSAND PIECES RIGHT NOW?!

So, again, only characters with names and/or dialogue.

I'm also not counting anybody who gets stabbed with a lightsaber. Surprisingly, after six movies and over 14 hours of film, this only happens to two characters. Poor Qui-Gon Jinn, of course, gets his intestines flash boiled by Darth Maul in Episode I. And in Episode III, a Jedi whose name appears to be Agen Kolar (or so the package for his action figure would have us believe) gets gut-lanced by Palpatine in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it "fight" scene that will leave you wondering if it's really all that hard to become a Jedi Knight in the first place.

"Wait! We're starting? No fair! I wasn't ready! While you were leaping 40 feet across the room I was looking up there for some reason!"

(And yes, Yoda does skewer that one Clone Trooper in Episode III, but that guy doesn't have a name, so I'm not counting him. Okay, he might have a name, but we're never told what it is. Was it Carl? It could have been Carl. In any event, I'm not counting him. Sorry. Thoughts and prayers to Carl's family.)

Of all the main characters, C-3PO is the one who gets disarticulated into the most pieces with a whopping 15 chunks -- a total that includes three "hilarious" (read: screechingly unfunny) decapitations in a single sequence in Episode II. However, unlike everybody else, nearly all of his injuries come via blasters. Except that one time in Star Wars when he loses an arm by falling down.

(But then, he was built by a 10-year-old, so ... grain of salt, I guess.)

Tragically, no matter how many times he gets blown to pieces, they never manage to permanently disable the part that allows him to keep bitching.

When it comes to separating folks from their various dangly bits, picking a champion is tricky. If you're counting total bio-mass, Anakin is your clear first ballot hall-of-famer. Particularly if you count the steaming trail of Geonosian bug-men parts he leaves in his wake. But Anakin tends to do a lot indiscriminate mass-chopping among the extras pool, where Obi-Wan goes straight for the featured players. And as I said earlier, I'm only counting characters with names or dialogue.

So going by my methodology, it's Ben who snatches the trophy, lopping off no less than 8 limbs over the course of the six movies. And that's including one spectacularly unlikely three-for-one slash that deprives Anakin of his three remaining meat-limbs at the end of Episode III.

(Seriously? Three? In one chop? That’s gotta be the Warren Commission’s Magic Bullet of the Star Wars universe.)

Ben's total is all the more impressive when you consider that for two-and-a-half of those six movies he’s a ghost with no chopping powers whatsoever! Surely, in the Jedi netherworld Ben and Anakin must be forced to drag around spectral chains of all the limbs they severed in life, Jacob Marley-style.

Not to be outdone, Anakin himself manages a pretty nifty three-fer when he goes all Benihana on poor Count Dooku, slicing off both hands before then scissoring off a defenseless old man's head.

"Oh hi, Insult! Have you met Injury?"
Zzzzwwip!
Thud.

FOR CHILDREN.

THESE MOVIES ARE FOR CHILDREN.


Ultimately though, Lucas' final and most significant Star Wars amputation seems to be himself.

With the sale of Lucasfilm, he's neatly snipped himself off of his lifelong creation/burden, like an errant Jedi appendage.

And by doing so he's given J.J. Abrams two incredibly valuable things.

First, as I've said, he's given him the freedom to play in one of the richest, most iconic and amazingly fun sandboxes in the history of cinema. An opportunity any filmmaker worth their salt would kill for. Especially one like Abrams who came of age in the 70s and 80s simmering in the cinematic bouillabaisse of Lucas and Spielberg.

And second, and perhaps more importantly, he's given Abrams the freedom to totally and utterly fuck it up.

With the Special Editions and the Prequel Trilogy, Lucas has lowered expectations to the point where just about anything Abrams cobbles together will be hailed as a victory. Even if Abrams totally muffs it, his worst, most misguided efforts will still likely be a step up.

That said, it's also plausible this could end up being a legitimately great movie in its own right. Is that a real possibility? I don't know. I'm still a little gunshy. Keeping my expectations reasonable. I'm just hoping for "good."

That would be just fine by me.

That's my new hope.





Till meet we do next ...