In which the author strains to stay coherent
Like most of my generation, I missed Woodstock, an event frequently submitted as a pinnacle of the Boomer era … but then we screwed it up at Altamont – fucking California … Mediterranean climate, but compared to the French Riviera and Italian Liguria, so angry. No calcium in their drinking water; that’s the problem. And furthermore, um … wait … hmm, I got sidetracked. La la la … hold on a second. Let me reread. Woodstock – check; didn’t go – check; touted as Boomer high point – check. Right, right. So, ok, yeah … but in particular, it was a high point for elder Boomers, someone 21 plus or minus 5 in 1969.
1969. Woof. That was 51 years ago. I mean just think, if you’re 21 now, 1969 is really ancient history. In 1969, 51 years prior to that WWI was just ending, a war in which, at least initially, horses were still used in battle. My father hadn’t been born. Crikey. Ok, sorry. Focus – focus.
Of course, now, 51 years after Woodstock, all Boomers – the elders and the not quite so elderly – have for many years been inundated with floods of exhortations to join AARP and get that annual colonoscopy. The Boomer luster has tarnished. Even their children are likely over 30, so untrustworthy according to their own tenets. Still, we’ll always have Woodstock.
But I won’t, and not merely because I didn’t attend. Even had I attended, I would not really have been in attendance. I am not a party-hearty type, nor one prone to absorption into mass euphoria or hysteria. North Korea will never be asking me to join in on their pre-Olympic ritualized, synchronized dance routines. (Just imagine: 499 people all bizarrely doing exactly the same thing at the same time, and person 500, in the midst of all that, sitting on the grass reading a book. Decaf cappuccino, s’il vous plait. The mind boggles. They’d send me to their version of a gulag for sure.) There’s a spectrum sometimes mentioned that I am on, and if you know what I mean, then enough said. Consider, I saw Jimi Hendrix in concert at Newport, RI. But I drove myself, watched in a solitary manner, then slept alone under the stars that night, a feast for mosquitoes.
What does all this have to do with Star Wars? So far it appears to be semi-rational rambling, akin to speaking in tongues. The lede; where is the lede? Someone get a shovel.
In which the author establishes his bona fides, finally
Still, for someone like me, a math/physics geek and science fiction nerd, there was an event in May, 1977, that surpassed any dream I might have had about Woodstock. (Ok, I admit it, I didn’t have any dreams. I didn’t really care.) I was a student at a Boston area university at the time. Six months prior to May, 1977, I saw an ad in the Boston Globe (probably) about a movie called Star Wars due out in the spring. My Geist registered this information in a very indelible fashion. It wasn’t much of an ad, and it didn’t make much of a splash, but it didn’t have to.
There are many university towns in the world, but I maintain there is no place in the world with the density of colleges and universities one finds in the greater Boston area. Harvard; MIT; Tufts; Northeastern; Brandeis; UMass/Boston; Babson; Bentley; Emerson; Regis; Wellesley; … This is just a few. (At one time I taught mathematics and/or physics at 7 of these institutions, and managed to find a wife at one of those.) Boston is a university city. Naturally, with so many largely high quality institutions, and so many of those excelling in the sciences, my Geist was not alone in registering the coming of The Force. But here’s the thing – a thing that even having experienced it I find mind boggling – I mean, in this age of billion dollar sci fi movies, what happened on May 25, 1977, was truly remarkable. What the hell am I talking about? Ready?
On May 25, 1977, Star Wars opened, showing in 32 theaters nationwide. 32. California, New York and New Jersey accounted for 14 of those 32, leaving 18 theaters for the remaining 47 states of the union.
In New England, a region with 6 states, one of which is Massachusetts, the capital of which is Boston … in that whole region, on opening night, it showed in one cinema, The Charles Street Cinema (Sack) not far from Boston’s North Station. And 2 hours (or was it 3?) before the 7 o’clock show, every sci fi fanatic in the area was sitting on the floor of the cinema’s lobby, tickets in hand, waiting for the theater doors to open. I was one of them, and my life was about to change.
In which the author’s life changes
The hours on the floor waiting were unlike anything I’d ever experienced. There was excited chatter all around me, and some very creative paper planes cruised the lobby for nearly the whole time. I know I said I’m not easily absorbed by mass hysteria, but this was different. Surely you see that. These were people far more my kin than the muddy rock fans at Woodstock. Hysteria was oozing into my mind. I was excited. And then the doors opened, and we all streamed in.
I didn’t really know what to expect, but most of those present likely had a better idea, being more fervent fans of the genre. Some had likely been discussing the upcoming event in small clusters of likeminded friends. If I had likeminded friends, it never occurred to me to discuss the film with them, and on the night I went alone.
So, anyway, the lights dimmed, but the chatter did not abate, and would not throughout the film. This was ok. Booing, hissing, and cheering – it all belonged. And then that amazing script rolls into space giving us some context, followed by a spaceship fleeing something. It is being fired upon. It was all so cool. And then the enemy ship starts to come into view, making an ominous rumbling noise – which of course it wouldn’t have in the vacuum of space, but physics be damned. That was cool too.
Gosh, that ship is big. And we still couldn’t see the back end. And it kept emerging onto the screen. Holy mackerel, it’s huge. So unbelievably cool. But it wasn’t done; it was much bigger still, and by the time it could be seen in its entirety, my mind was breathless.
Boooo! Darth Vader’s first appearance, breathing with threatening severity. Hiss, boo! And then down on the planet, what are those? Jawas. And their big tractor thingies are scruffy. I don’t think I’d ever seen a sci fi machine before that wasn’t gleaming, shiny, and appearing fresh off the sci fi assembly line floor. Everything was scruffy, and looked used … so cool. Even the heroes were scruffy, which is sort of how you knew they were heroic. The Empire’s demands of sartorial nattiness were strict and labeled them right off as anal hardliners. For that, if for nothing else, they needed to go down.
Anyway, you get the idea. Super cool movie, unlike anything I’d ever seen, and a super cool crowd, unlike anything I’d ever experienced. I wanted to experience it again. It was like surfing. If you’re halfway decent at the sport, every good wave well caught produces a kind of addictive euphoria that you want to experience over and over.
Which explains why, as I drove across the country that summer (which may have had something to do with physics), I saw the film again, and again, and … a total of 7 times more. I remember especially Denver, and somewhere in California. I so desperately wanted that feeling again – that first night with excited über-nerds feeling. Alas, …
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.
In Denver and California, and everywhere else I went, the crowds of fellow attendees, relative to that I encountered in Boston on the first night, were lumps. Had they been Star Wars characters, they’d have been crowd extras seen in a distance doing indiscernible things.
This was an important life lesson. Unlike good waves well ridden, for which there is always a realistic hope of repetition, the Boston first night experience was unrepeatable. Woodstock was unrepeatable. And the 1960’s film Ocean’s 11 was unrepeatable, despite a lame attempt by movie moguls 40 years later to recreate the chemistry and pizzazz of the original. Hollywood! Am I right?
So, … sigh. That’s why I feel I am entitled to share my opinion about what happened in the ensuing 42 years. So pay attention.
(Holy crap on a stick … it took 42 years to complete the 9+ film saga? Think of all the early fans who died before the final film. Hmm.)
In which the author’s dreams are fulfilled, then shattered
3 years. It took 3 years before the Empire struck back. That was a long wait, but worth it. Then another 3 years before the Jedi could have their turn at bat. Again, good film, so while not condoned, the wait was eventually forgiven.
And then there were umpteen years before the prequel films, numbers 1,2,3. The original three films, now 4,5,6, took place later in that galaxy far far away. And here’s the thing, where I really start getting to the point of this diatribe: relative to 4,5,6 I remember very little of films 1,2,3.
So … 1,2,3. Something about trade wars (yawn); and some weird alien bureaucrats working for the wrong side of said trade wars, and they had accents that sounded, what, Japanese? Hard to say. And then there was Jar Jar with his pseudo-Jamaican (?) accent. He was painful to watch, and even the Jedi who interacted with him did so with a patronizing forbearance that was also painful to watch. And the spaceships – all gleaming, shinier than Star Trek. Even the heroes had lost their scruff.
In short, Star Wars was being destroyed, beaten down beneath the steel toed boots of The (Hollywood) Empire.
Still, hope remained while we waited for episodes 7,8,9. Hard to say where it would go since the evil baddie of 4,5,6 had died in 6, and the galaxy partied and celebrated like nobody’s business. He’d been a good baddie, sitting ominously in a big ass sci fi throne seat, full of obnoxiously sinister overbearing confidence that he would win.
So, umpteen more years pass, and finally we get episode 7 … or wait, was that just episode 6 with a different title? Big ass sci fi throne – check; sinister baddie filled with overbearing confidence that he would win – check; sinister henchman with black helmet and black flowing robes – check; yet another version of the death star – check; plucky band of rebels fighting against the odds – check. They ripped off everything fine and wonderful from 4,5,6, to that point the only good Star Wars films.
I was there in 1977 that first night in Boston. Did I mention that? This new film was a travesty, as bad as episode 2 of Highlander. You can’t just keep throwing sinister baddies at us speaking down from their big ass thrones with annoying evil certainty. What’s the point of rebelling if every time the rebellion succeeds Evil just restarts the game with a new evil tyrant? Why not just let the Empire win, choosing the least bad evil guy they throw at the galaxy?
In which the author has a plan to defeat The Evil Empire
Ok, episode 8 was not without merit, and now episode 9 has come and gone, and opinions are varied. Palpatine, the evil emperor who dominated 1-6, and “died” in 6, only to be replaced in 7,8 with his uglier twin … anyway, in 9 he was back. Many people felt this was an annoying and disappointing cheat. We saw him die. Still, my biggest disappointment was Palpatine’s successor, #2 of what one could only assume might be an infinite sequence of badness in big ass thrones. So, when it turned out #2 had been “constructed” by Palpatine, and that there had only been one big baddie all along, I was relieved. Palpatine gets vaporized in #9, rebels wash hands, done. Sequence finite.
Meanwhile, in the midst of waiting for 7,8,9 to play out a film appeared that was also a prequel to 4,5,6. Rogue One was actually really good. So good, in fact, that I have a plan, simply stated.
1. Throw out 1,2,3 and merge into one film that I personally might find memorable. This will require a total rewrite.
2. Rogue One should be number 2.
3. 4,5,6 should be 3,4,5, but modify 6 (now 5) so that Palpatine’s survival makes sense.
4. All copies of 7 should be destroyed.
5. The killing of Han Solo was pathetically undramatic. Stop trying to recreate the “No, I am your father” moment. Nobody is buying it.
6. Merge 8,9 into one film. If you must, make it 3 hours, but make me personally derive enjoyment from it. Consult me frequently throughout the process of re-creation.
7. Keep ALL moguls, Hollywood power players and bureaucrats out of the loop. Send them to North Korea … in perpetuity. Get some creatives that understand the wonder of 4,5,6. Do it right, like Serenity was done right.
8. And for gods’ sake, make Ahsoka Tano part of the story, central to the new episode 1.
So there you have it, my Star Wars rant. I was there the first night in Boston in 1977, so …
And it just occurs to me that the entire history of Star Wars coincides precisely with the years during which theoretical physics wandered aimlessly in a decades long stretch of Empire dominated fruitless speculation. In the real world the Empire wins, and the rebels are shunted off to gen-ph. Let that be a lesson to you.
I was there the first night …