Secret Pop

May 17, 2005

The Eve of the End

A lot of my friends with various industry connections have already seen Episode III. Cast and crew screenings and the like, filling their lucky calendars while I gather up the scraps of IM and text message they send, assuring me that I will be leveled by Palpatine (which I fully expect to be the case) and that I will be able to love the movie, even though there are parts of it that are shit. I was supposed to go see a midnight screening at the IMAX theater in Valencia tomorrow night, but I am holding off. I bought tickets a while back to one of the Arclight's Friday screenings, and I have learnt the hard way on a number of occasions that I might not actually want to see a movie twice in the same week and will end up either resenting or wasting the tickets I've already got. Also, I am being taken to see Joe Jackson on Wednesday night by my bartender friend Jeff, and that might be a good time. Piggybacked on the necessity of driving down to San Diego to pick up Audrey, who has been living with my parents for five days now and will probably be fat as a tick when I get her back. We've never been apart for this long. And I have to admit that I miss her enormously but that I also cherish the ability to wake up and not immediately have to leave the house to walk her and pick up her leavings with a little plastic bag. Plus, there's a guy that lives across the street from me who always manages to pop out his front door and accost me with overly familiar questions as soon as I leave the house. He's assured me that he's perfect for me and that my parents would be proud to have him as a son-in-law. But I'm pretty sure he's wrong about both of these things. He makes me wish I could be invisible from time to time.

Anyway, so Star Wars, right? Many of my friends will be watching midnight screenings tomorrow, and I envy them in a way. When the special edition re-releases came out, I queued up hours in advance for each of them and watched them on the big screen for the first time ever. And when Episode I finally occurred, I waited in line for twelve hours in a shopping mall with friends, taking turns to go shopping and get refreshments. And by the time midnight came around, we were tired but excited. I was just talking with Martín this weekend about how disrespectful some of the cinema-goers were at the screening of A New Hope, and he agreed and countered with his recollection of how comparatively respectful the audience at The Phantom Menace was. I hypothesized it might have been that they were too exhausted by the weight of their costumery to make much noise.

I don't know what to expect from this week's screenings. Will people be reverent? Wry? Hopeful? Cynical? Will someone yell out a sarcastic exclamation during a moment of relative quiet? Frankly, the product marketing that goes along with this film's release doesn't do much to encourage me about the respect people will have for the franchise. Darth Dew-flavored Slurpees? M&Ms insisting they won't go to "the Dark Side" and then changing their minds and agreeing to be made of dark chocolate before following in Captain Needa's well-asphyxiated footsteps. And what about that creepy face-off between Darth Vader and the Burger King mask? These commercial spots hardly present an attitude of reverence. I lived overseas and wasn't able to watch a lot of television when the original films were being released, so I don't know. Maybe the product tie-ins were just as weenie back then, too. I know they made C-3POs (the breakfast cereal) and stuff. It's not like they were treating it like a religion. Maybe it just seems weirder and more blasphemous now because so much of the character marketing centers around Vader, and maybe before he was the black hat, so kids were more inclined to buy things that were promoted on more lovable faces. I don't know. This is pure conjecture.

I can also offer some strong-ish opinions about the disappointment so many have felt in the continuation of the Star Wars legacy. I don't think it's fair to dismiss it as fanboy overenthusiasm that landed wrong. It's true that people were sorely disappointed in The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones because they had banked so many youth-spanning hopes on the revival of this story arc and the promise of it somehow reconnecting them with a hero's journey that had once packed their boyhood minds with dreams of valor and redemption. But I don't think it's fair to say that people were bummed only because the pedestal was too high. Truly, those first two prequels were pretty awful. I maintain that if you just sit and listen to the dialogue in Attack of the Clones, not bothering to look up at the breathtaking digital landscapes, you won't be able to bear it for long. You'll beg for a chance to reread Silas Marner instead. It's bad. Empirically. Badly written. Badly acted in places. Implausible and plodding. The redeeming factors in both of those movies is that Star Wars films still have some of the best music ever, and George Lucas sure knows how to make fake stuff look real. And that's not nothing. But I don't think you can -- even with the addition of time and perspective -- assess these films and say that the world overreacted when they gave them the raspberries. They're just not nearly as fun to watch as the other films, even if you only want jaunty entertainment out of them and not an elevated sense of the importance and meaning of the universe. I think I can speak to this with candor and accuracy. When The Phantom Menace came out, I didn't have that much riding on it. I loved Star Wars, but I really hadn't gotten to see the whole trilogy until long after it came out. I saw A New Hope for the first time on network television in Guam, with commercial interruptions and everything. And back then, television programming in Guam came from The Mainland via postal service on VHS tapes. It was hardly the finest cinematic reproduction. But we taped it on our Betamax and watched it again and again. Even my dad liked it. Or maybe he was just tired of how many times we had already watched The Wizard of Oz and Quarterback Princess. My point is I never had a Star Wars lunchbox. I never had an R2-D2 trashcan or hamper. I did not know Admiral Akbar's name until I was already able to get into bars legally. And even I was disappointed in the first two prequels. Genuinely disappointed in them as movies. Not as Star Wars movies or as a religious experience but as actual movies. So I don't buy this philosophy that it's only bad because of how much people wanted it to be good. It took some of my other die-hard friends as much as a week to come around and admit that The Phantom Menace was kind of crap. Some as much as a year. Some never did come around, but I secretly believe they never saw it.

All the same, I sincerely want Revenge of the Sith to be awesome. I will not die if it isn't. I am not expecting or demanding transcendence. But I totally do look forward to hearing that music again. And hearing the crowd cheer when the words start scrolling off into the vacuum of space. And maybe I'll even get weepy when the theme plays in the end credits. Maybe.

Looking back on it, that screening of the special edition of A New Hope was among the first two or three times I ever even saw Martín. He came from work, wearing a blue dress shirt, suspenders, and his Tigger tie. He had just recently (and fortunately) cut his hair. I was already in line, having eaten dinner at Taco Bell. And I was wearing a skirt too short for sitting on the ground, but I sat just the same. Now, all these years later, he and I still talk about droids and alien species and ships and blasters. We still argue about whether Return of the Jedi is better than The Empire Strikes Back (note: it isn't). We still feel pity when we pass the Uncle Owen autograph-signing booth at Comic-Con. And I guess I can trace all of that back to San Diego and Noel Coward and hot tub parties and road trips and special edition re-releases. It's not the basis of our friendship, but it certainly poses as underpinning in places. What a long time ago that was.

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