Will's Coffee House

John Dryden, Dramatist, Critic, Poet Laureate, and my ancestor, frequented a coffee house called Will's almost daily, where he would hold forth on sundry subjects with great wit and aplomb. Same deal here, only without the wit or aplomb.

Location: Large Midwestern City, Midwestern State, United States

I am a stranger in a sane land...

Friday, September 03, 2004


I've been asked, by a member of the younger generation, to explain my--my generation's--collective fixation on Return of the Jedi. After all, said young person pointed out, Return of the King was the weakest of the three Lord of the Rings movies, and it didn't mess up the current generation. Accepting this point (which I don't, until I see the full version on DVD where some rather important moments will be included--like the DEATH OF F--KING SARUMAN!!!--I say this because the longer version of Two Towers was significantly better than the theatrical version), I have to say to this member of Generation Y: you just don't get it. Not your fault--I can't think, off hand, of an equivalent cultural--and I mean that in the deepest sense of the term--phenomenon for your generation. The one after you has one, which I'll get to in a moment, and which my shrewder readers will gues right away. (No skipping ahead!)

The fact is, Star Wars hit us when were just in the high prime of childhood--just at the point at which our narrative imaginations were at their most impressionable--and it really took hold of us in ways I can't explain--look at this way: in many ways, it's essentially Kurosawa-lite, ideal for introducing the major themes of life and adventure and the meaning of it all to kids. We just really, really got it. All of it. We were Luke--kids, knowing nothing but just beginning to realize that the world was a big place and we had potential, and that we could fulfil that potential in amazing ways. A comedian--Patton Oswalt, who's brilliant, get his new album -- http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/B0002BO0WG/qid=1094232602/sr=8-1/ref=pd_ka_1/103-6396857-7172620?v=glance&s=music&n=507846 -- said that when you went to see Star Wars, you went in a kid and came out a man. And silly as that sounds, everyone my age will agree on some level. It just affected us on a very primal, Jungian collective way.

The only thing I can compare it to is what hit the generation after Gen Y: Harry Potter. You may have noticed how much kids really, really, really care about Harry Potter. (I think the media may have done one or two stories on this--I can't recall.) How they read and reread and reread again--how they hope, how they speculate, how they project themselves into those books and argue with the movies about not being perfect--kids taking Hollywood to task rather than just lapping it up--that alone is huge--HUGE!!! Now imagine that Rowling, after all this wonderful, generation-enchanting build-up, completely and utterly f--ks up the last book. How, after all this wonder and excitement and delicious/agonizing anticipation about how it will all end, she decides, arbitrarily, to make Harry and Hermione long-lost siblings. Oh, and Voldemort dies by slipping and hitting his head on a coffee-table. And instead of having the victory over evil come at any cost, just have nobody important die (Sirius Black lives! Yay!) and then have Malfoy decide to be a good guy and it all works out happy happy happy--and hey, let's have cute little fuzzy things fight off the Death Eaters by throwing pebbles at them! Yeah! And Snape and Harry hug. And Hermione marries Ron. In other words--have everything that needs to happen for the story to achieve greatness go out the fucking window. Arthur and Mordred never fight each other to the death. The Wagnerian gods never face Gotterdammerung. Achilles decides not to kill Hector and the war ends in peace and harmony. Adam and Eve say--Hey, let's not eat the apple--and Satan sees this and says, Hey, I should apologize! No. No, no, no. Return of the King may have been less than perfectly executed, but it ended the way it was supposed to--Frodo's wound is never really healed, Theoden falls in battle--and worst of all, the elves leave Middle Earth forever--life goes on, but at a terrible price that makes you realize just how much worse losing would have been. The climax of Return of the King is the cataclysmic destruction of a thing of pure evil--a moment that literally shakes the world--and for which the entire 9+ hours of the story has quite pointedly been moving towards--The Crack of Doom is the telos (the 'aim/purpose') of the story--all aspects of the story exist to support the achievement of that moment. So when it happens--and happens in a moment that despite this inevitable lead-up, manages to maintain its tension by having Frodo hesitate at the last second--it feels like a consummation. On The Other Hand--and it's only starting to occur to me how feebly similar this moment is to its equivalent in Lord of the Rings--the climax of Return of the Jedi essentially consists of one evil guy arbitrarily picking up another evil guy and throwing him off a cliff, then saying "I'm sorry." WHAT?! WHAT?!?!?! No. NO. NO! NOOOOOOO!!!



Basically, this was a story that became, for us, a part of who we were--of where we were headed--Star Wars woke us up to hope and possibilties, Empire forced us to realize that the bad guys would sometimes win but that you had to persevere in the face of this--and Jedi just took all of that emotional capital and squandered it on Ewoks. Bad. Very, very bad indeed.
Does any of this make sense? I don't mean to sound like some fucking hippie who, talking about the '60s, always falls back on "You had to be there, man." But there's some truth in it--we just were part of something--or rather, something became part of US, that went really really wrong. Something like that. My apologia for spending your valuable time on this issue, take it or leave it.


Blogger HonEB said...

But isn't the realy point that being a "hero" sucks? I think that's the theme collective of Star Wars, Harry Potter, and The Fellowship of the Ring. However, Frodo experiences what it is to totally loose one's self to evil and never to go back. Lucas tried to make that apparent by contrasting Luke to the teddy bears, but failed in really making life misreble for Luke. In the end Vader does acknoledge his son, and Luke finds his long lost sister, and then Hans and him get knighted and everyone is happy. That's what The Fellowship has, unmitigated pain and sadness. It's too late for Frodo, he can never regain his innosence, the magic leaves Middle Earth, and those that stay must live mortal lives. A true fight against evil is not supposed to end happily, just triumphantly.

1:09 AM  
Blogger graygor said...

I'm oler than you, closer to the true hippie, so I think Return didn't hit me quite as hard. I even remember liking the Ewoks, though they appall me now. So, like the next generation, I am kind of amazed at the intellectual capital spent on what was just some sucky storytelling.

But add the as-you-say-etymologically-challenged prequels, and the betrayal hits even me. Two things I hated: 1) the force is somehow material, or at least materially predictable (the number of--what was it? mitochondria?--in his blood--note that I don't remember wtf he called it because I refuse to see the thing again); and 2) the idiotic antics of the child Anakin (or however it's spelled) blowing up the bad guys by accident at the end of the first.

[Note: this does NOT take into account the list as long as my arm of annoying things--JarJar, killing off the only interesting character (the guy with the funnily painted face) in the first movie, yoda's fight (which I think everyone but me thought awesome), Taco Bell having action figures BEFORE the movie was released, etc..]

Peter Jackson did a great job with LOTR for 2 big reasons: 1) he respected that the story was strong AS WRITTEN (he may have made a few questionable choices, but none of them strike at the heart of the story and may, as Mr. D points out, have been fixed in the long version--I have a new baby and so don't get to watch long versions of anything any more); 2) he respected the audience, going so far as to engage the audience through the internet, listening, making decisions that were his own but that took into account how the audience felt (not always good: I think the Xtreme antics of Legolas- sufring, skiing, snowboarding, whatever, on the Oliphaunt resulted directly from the desire by the audience for more screen time for the cute elf).

But Lucas refused to let the story grow up with his audience. I suppose the desire to keep a young audience--to capture new viewers--explains this. But Ewoks are just one obvious example of catering to young kids--rather than to the audience that had been waiting X years for the sequel. And the "prequels"--well, with the JarJar idiocy at the forefront, but also the whiny young thing Anakin (esp. whiny in the second film--"he never lets me do anything!! waahh!!)--simply continued that trend. And young kids liked it.

But old farts like me feel betrayed. We waited, like, forever, man... and what do we get? Well, enough, or I'll start sounding like Anakin, too....

12:58 PM  
Blogger Yr. Hmbl. & Obdt. said...

Thanks to the respondants. I think HonEB is correct in that being a hero sucks. Of course, the thing about Luke, Frodo, and Harry P. is that they're heroes in the Arthurian tradition (as opposed to the Greek tradition.) Greek heroes are BORN great--Herakles and Theseus and even non-god-sired Odysseus are doing heroic things while still young--they're born and raised KNOWING that They Shall One Day Do Great Things. But Arthur is born and raised in obscurity--he's told from day one that he's an insignificant schmuck, and stumbles (almost literally) across his heroism entirely by accident and well into his development. That makes his heroism seem, well, thrust upon him--not of his own making--something he has to grow into. I read a columnist or two who actually wasted the time lambasting Harry Potter as a 'false hero,' pointing out that Hermione was smarter, a better wizard, and had earned her authority, as opposed to dumb ol' Harry, who was just a rich kid who was good at sports. What such nitwits ignore is the fact that Hermione (and everyone else in Harry's non-Muggle world) has a--what?--9-year jump on Harry in the whole "Being a Wizard" thing. Not to mention the fact that Hermione (bright and indispensible though she is) doesn't have to suffer from being under the world's microscope 24 hours a day the way Harry does. There's a similar quality about Luke which Lucas ignored until the VERY LAST SECOND--a sudden decision to--Oh, right!--make him this hero! Weak, very weak--as Graygor implied--we were growing up, and Luke wasn't, and that really sucked. As for the prequels, Graygor--you know, I liked the Yoda fight when I saw it, but again, it's special effects taking the place of common sense: if Yoda's spry enough to kick Chris Lee's butt, how come he walks with an old man's limp and a cane...? "Shut up," say the folks at LucasArts. "It looks cool!" Sigh. You raise another good point, too, G.--Lucas has this infuriating tendency to create intriguing characters and then shunt them off to the side, ignoring them: Darth Maul, Boba Fett (in the first trilogy), his dad (in the second), and so forth. Instead we get lots and lots of JarJar and Threepio bitching in a very, well, queeny fashion. Someone--Spielberg maybe--needs to take George by the shoulders and just say: "Dude, you're NOT FUNNY. AT ALL. So stop trying to BE funny and play to your STRENGTHS." Does George still have strenths...?

5:32 PM  
Blogger graygor said...

Well, yes, George has strenthgs, but as you say they do not include humor. That's why THX1138 or whatever it was was so fascinating. I'm looking forward to the re-release of that one.

7:22 PM  

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