Monday, May 18, 2015

The Bones of Jar Jar Binks

... Abrams asked to pause the scene. With a light pen, he drew a little squiggle on a sand dune.
"I have a thought about putting Jar Jar Binks' bones in the desert there," he said.
Everyone laughed.
Abrams laughed, too, but insisted, "I'm serious!" He pointed out that the shot zips by in a second, if that. "Only three people will notice," he said, "but they'll love it."
"An Empire Reboots," Vanity Fair, June 2015

It was long ago and far away when I last bought a magazine to read about a movie. And since I can count on one hand missing three fingers the times I've bought a Vanity Fair, it was probably not an issue of that magazine. No, more likely it was an issue of a Starlog or Cinefantastique. Those were my main go-to sources for sci-fi movie news and images - especially images - in the "days before the Internet".

There are still plenty of sci-fi entertainment magazines on the stands, but they long ago became too editorially cluttered with frantic adverts, and fantic merchandising for my tastes. In a similar way, I had to give up on Heavy Metal years ago for different reasons. As much as I enjoyed the work of the likes of Jean Giraud (Moebius), Enki Bilal, and Phillipe Druillet, the target readership became increasingly skewed to males much younger.

Of course it was Star Wars on the cover that pulled me back to the glossy pages. The adverts were no less frantic. The merchandising no less fantic. It's Vanity Fair after all. I enjoyed the story while it lasted. Savored the images. Had a Spring Grove root beer.

My first taste of Star Wars came sometime in late 1976 when the novelization appeared in a paperback rack at a grocery store in Champaign, IL. Though described as "a novel by George Lucas" (hey, the THX 1138 guy) the copyright was held by The Star Wars Corporation (Lucas had already cut the merchandising deal upon which he would build the empire he sold to Disney decades later for billions).

It was a science fiction story the back cover promised to "Soon be a spectacular motion picture from Twentieth-Century Fox." Read it in one sitting. Thought it might make a decent movie if they could really put on screen what was on the page.

On May 25, 1977, I saw that they really could. They had me at the star destroyer sliding in from the top of the screen and taking forever to reveal it's full size and shape. Like the Discovery from 2001: A Space Odyssey sliding across the screen in Super Panavision 70 in 1968, I was embraced by spectacle and happy for it.

I don't suppose the original physical effects hold up so well to digitized eyes- which is why later versions of the film applied all the new tech that merchandising and sequels can buy.

Over the years I tracked the progress of the sequels and other sci-fi movies in magazines. Now, I do so online from countless sources curated through sites devoted to devotees. It's because I visit these sites that I know Simon Pegg will say in an interview in Radio Times,
Before Star Wars, the films that were box-office hits were The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Bonnie And Clyde and The French Connection – gritty, amoral art movies. Then suddenly the onus switched over to spectacle and everything changed … I don’t know if that is a good thing.
Pegg thinks we have been "infantilised" by these films. We walk out of the theatre "not thinking about anything, other than the fact that the Hulk just had a fight with a robot."

My first response is why would he say that's a bad thing and also cash the check? But I take his point and give him points for using "infantilised" in an interview. I'm not interested in engaging in some sort of rebuttal. Unlike Pegg who also says, "Sometimes (I) feel like I miss grown-up things," no matter how hard I might dodge, duck, bob, and weave, grown-up things don't miss me. (Besides, The Godfather gives me bad dreams whenever I watch it - no joke, bad Godfather dreams.)

Consider this though from the prologue to the Star Wars novelization:
Aided and abetted by restless, power-hungry individuals within the government and the massive organs of commerce....he declared himself Emperor....and the cries of the people for justice did not reach his ears.
And this from the Introduction to Chris Hedges', Wages of Rebellion, pictured above under the Vanity Fair:
A tiny global oligarchy has amassed obscene wealth, while the engine of unfettered corporate capitalism plunders resources; exploits cheap, unorganized labor; and creates pliable corrupt governments that abandon the common good to serve corporate profit.
I never much thought that Lucas was really embarked on re-telling the hero's journey other than if Joseph Campbell is right about the monomyth Lucas could not do otherwise. (But I do have serious doubts that the Gnosticism of The Matrix films is anything but intended.) Certainly Lucas is no Marcuse or Marx. But, Lucas was telling a story and stories will out and though sometimes a cigar is just a cigar the Death Star is no moon. The Star Wars prequels are replete with "massive organs of commerce".

Still, let me reassure you that I don't leave such films as these thinking about the contradictions of capitalism or stuff like that, but just what Pegg thinks I think about: Hulk just had a fight with a robot.  If I want amoral and gritty, I'll watch the original version of Star Wars before it was just another chapter in a billion dollar franchise. In that version of the film, an amoral and gritty Han Solo shoots first.

And since Lucas has been known to "abandon the common good to serve corporate profit," I'll happily keep an eye out for the bones of Jar Jar Binks.

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