Wednesday

On watching star wars for the first time

from 2 years ago:

Ez and I watched star wars - the film, that is - and I have much to report.
Watching her watching the film has given me some fresh insights that, over thirty-odd years of exposure to the star wars universe, I have overlooked.

This event was spurred on by meeting her friend Wilfred in the park, who has been eaten by the franchise to the point of running around the park dressed as a storm trooper.

For comparison, the version watched was the rip of the final VHS release, as this is the only way to watch the film as seen in cinemas (even if the quality is not great). I'm currently downloading Harmy's despecialised editions, but we'll have to wait for that.

Firstly, to get out this out of the way, it is a massive honkysausagefest and that's a real shame. Ez found it hard that, despite Leiagh being a princess and kick arse, she does only have about 10 minutes of screen time in the whole film. I plan on channeling his frustration into a song called 'white space conflict'.

Ez - being under 4, at time of watching -'s attention did wander, but always came back and when asked said she wanted to keep it on.

Firstly, it's full of psychobabble that simply wasn't make to make sense. Words are invented in completely throwaway sentences, in quite a method-acty way; we don't know what the words mean, but we totally get what they mean, if you follow. 

An early example:
"This R2 unit has a bad motivator." 

Well, a motivator is easy enough to process, but do we know what an r2 unit is? Well, yes and no. We can infer very quickly, from context, that it's a particular type of robot, and that from this specificity, there must be lots of other types of robots - like all the ones seen in the jawa's land crawler. They probably all have names and manufacturers too. But we don't need to know. It's just a little glimpse, enough to know there is a big detailed universe here, but actually it hasn't been instantiated yet. In fact, you think, when they need to, they will simply procedurally generate more names and information. 

Another example, same scene: uncle Owen is looking for android that speaks the binary language of moisture compactors (or whatever) and Baachi. I have a strong feeling that no one involved with the making of the film knew or cared what Baachi is. They just needed a word, and that was the word. 

More than the odd word, there are whole lines or short scenes of untranslated alien dialogue. Lucas gets a lot of well-deserved stick for the Star Wars holiday special, starting with the half hour of untranslated wookie-speak. But sections of untranslated dialogue are all over the tattooine section of SW - like the droids in the sandcrawler, or the aliens in the pub. In these contexts, it definitely feels method acty, because although we don't understand the specifics, we get the tone, the intention, and the point, and that's really what they're trying to communicate; as well as the confusion itself, the dizzying strangeness of the unknown.

But even then, it's full of nameless images that are great ideas and haven't yet been nailed down. They never use phrases like 'x wing', 'tie fighter', 'star destroyer'. All of that came later. Let me stress this; a tie fighter in SW is simply an 'imperial fighter', described as being 
short range. TIE of course stands for 'twin ion engine', an imaginary method of propulsion of this craft that looks like it could never fly in atmosphere. But that isn't in SW; in SW, it's just a cool looking space ship.

All of this, as well as the spit-&-polish, cardboard-&-sawdust special effects, gives the film a free-wheeling punk feeling. They've got a classic story, but thickly smeared on top of it is a tonne of spontaneous nonsense. In the time since it's release, all the gaps have been filled in, and I think that's a shame. It detracts from the feeling that there wasn't a master plan here at all - it was just crazy random ideas, and that's a good thing. The film, SW, doesn't pander to viewers by explaining what all these things are - it doesn't know either, but every little made up reference and bit of lingo hints at an as-yet non-existent wider universe. The sense you get is that of being lost in this exciting world without a guide - luke skywalker is the closest thing to one, poking at a falcon's console and asking what the buttons do, but even he talks in the invented references of this galaxy. 

I mean, who cares that a parsec is a unit of distance, not of time? I mean, I do, but I love that they didn't know or care. Like I said, punk, but also my often made point that SW is not sci-fi (or even the more general speculative fiction).

It's not all good news though. The violent 'goodies and baddies' script of the film deeply affected the games she began playing, and I didn't like it - I'd go as far as to say the over-simplified, black and white, good vs evil tone of the film is something that should have been left in the fifties and boys-own stories.

It's not that the film is especially violent by modern standards, but it is very much about the good guys shooting and killing the bad guys (even if it's in self defence). All of this fed into ezme's imagination for some time, although I think she's out of that phase now. It's also more evidence that boyish behaviour is a cultural, rather than genetic, phenomenon.


One more up-shoot of this, that really strikes me, is that in SW, Vader is not Luke's father, and he's definitely not Leiah's dad either. He's just a big baddy (and don't forget, Peter Cushing's Grand Moff Tarkin) was billed above Vader at the time). I will be writing up a quick post in future about the differences between reveals, twists, and retcons, as it's something that irks me when people confuse them, but there is nothing to say that in this film, that was the plot line. 

That's part of the joy of watching something that was sequelled into being less good than it was at the time. I plead with you, parents: When your child asks you any questions about this film, don't fill in with knowledge from after the fact, or the prequels, or the expanded universe. Just relish in the joy of being lost in space.


Confusion and partridge-like geek frustration reigned however, when Mum told Ez that Obi Wan was really Luke's dad. That's one we'll have to shake off when I think she's old enough to watch Star Wars 2 (as I am calling Empire).

edit: SW2 scared her and now she doesn't want to watch any of the films anymore. Fine, say I. Just wait until she's old enough for Mononoke.

One final thought: When I wrote this, you saw kids wearing Star Wars Tshirts all of the time; but 9/10 are Lego Star Wars. Now they're  back to wearin greal star wars; but 9/10 of them are plastered with space nazis. It makes me really uncomfortable that they make the baddies look so merchandisable.