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Far, Far Away

Island Life

I don’t know that I have ever really been a fan of anything, in the sense that I have come to understand fandom anyway. I do remember becoming a Smokey the Bear ranger and getting a bunch of stuff from that club, but I don’t remember why. As it was, I really didn’t like the Beatles that much with all the girl-fan-screaming and the exclusive song releases that happened on a regular basis on WABeatleC out of New York, where they played whatever new song it was of theirs that had just been released about every hour, and constantly announced throughout each spin that “you heard it here first”. I didn’t really like them- the Beatles that is- until Sgt. Peppers hit the scene, and while that changed my mind, I now look back on their Revolver album as being perhaps the most significant rock album of all time with  an array of displays of world music and audio experimentation. This is not a point I would choose to argue about, which is why I have a hard time seeing myself as a fanatic about most anything.

This holds true for the entirety of the Star Wars franchise. You will most likely never find me camping out on a theatre doorstep far in advance of opening night- which would pretty much hold true for anything, not just Star Wars. I doubt I would attend a Star Wars convention or ever get dressed up as any of the characters from that never ending tale, except maybe possibly as Yoda, even though I know that would not work because, well, too big I am. So far as I can recall, I have not really been excited by the films that have followed the first four, and I wasn’t even all that enthused about a couple of those. The latest in the core series- something about the force awakening- was fun, but essentially a rehash of that very first Star Wars- the one that was originally just called Star Wars, and which in a bit of revisionist marketing became Star Wars- the New Hope, episode IV, four years after its original release, which really made no sense at all- to me anyway.

In truth, I went to see Star Wars soon after it was released in the summer of 1977 with the expectation of seeing the first feature length version of another sci-fi space classic- Star Trek. In this time before the Internets, personal computers and cell phones I was also spending this entire summer in the remote reaches of western North Carolina as a work-study student at a craft school where the workshops changed every two to three weeks, and as the population changed, so did the news from the outside world. This is how I first heard of the death of Elvis, and it was at one of these changes of the guard that the talk in the dining hall turned to Star Wars. I had heard before heading off into the wilderness that there was a cinematic Star Trek revival in the works, and so I just assumed that this was what everyone was talking about. On a trip into Asheville one day I saw a theatre where it was playing and decided to see what it was all about, but was confused by the poster displayed outside the theatre which showed some guy with a glowing sword towering over a sultry babe in white, with no sign of Kirk or Spock or Bones or anything remotely resembling a space ship designated as NCC-1701. In many ways it was the perfect situation in which to step into the Star Wars realm, since I was completely clueless as to anything about it.
What I remember most about the experience is being the only one in the less than packed theatre who was laughing- at all. It is true that some parts are not necessarily humorous, but how can you not laugh at an on-screen conversation between a gold robot speaking like an English butler while what passed as a modified, rolling trashcan responded in beeps and whirs, with nothing apparently lost in translation between the two? I think it was at that point too that I gave up any expectation of being in Star Trek Kansas anymore. I think it was also around then that I realized that we had left the galaxy of space odysseys and had arrived at a time where almost anyone with a droid and a light saber could hop in a personal rocket ship for a quantum leap through hyperspace. It was a roadtrip in a muscle car on cheap gas and maybe it was a bit more familiar than alien, and the long ago and far away thing perhaps just gave us a little bit of hope that maybe one day we might find out how to do all that, in spite of whether it was a lost art or a new frontier not yet arrived at.
But then there was the whole Empire thing and the politics and the power that that entails. I think it was also the flashing back and forth and the filling in of details of past and future, when somehow and somewhere in all of that my faint fandom or something resembling that slowly faded away. It had gotten big and flashy and all about loud noises and blowing things up and making money- kind of like Burning Man- and I just didn’t care anymore, until the release of this latest Star Wars story known as ‘Rogue One’. Unlike the first one, I had heard some things about this iteration beforehand, and so I was on the lookout for ways in which this was “darker” than the rest of them, and was curious to see why certain factions of the right wing in these United States felt that the views expressed in this film should be boycotted.
As it turns out, it does seem to have a dark cast to it, both in lighting and in tone. While the colors in many ways are muted, what I found most intriguing was that all of the key, pivotal scenes were rendered in something very close to black and white. There are black sands and a white sky as we are introduced to a younger version of our heroine, there is bright light and a dark space structure as a certain black clad individual with a mechanical breathing issue is reintroduced, and there is the bright light and dark silhouettes of the ending that all mark their places in the storyline. And in reading about the issues that the right, specifically the white supremacist right, have with the film, they seem to be concerned that there is a strong woman at the core of the story, and that a basic premise of that story encourages cooperation amongst individuals with a multitude of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. One does need to be reminded- at least some do- that we are in space here, with many contacts happening between a wide range of worlds. It would seem that to expect that the vastness of the cosmos and the portrayal thereof should be filled only with white skinned, English speakers would suggest that some people, at best, totally skipped the first generation of Star Trek and its spirit of cooperation and multiculturalism as at least one example, in favor of Buck Rogers and the Day the Earth Stood Still. Perhaps though, what may be more threatening to the white right is the message here that multicultural cooperation has power. If you combine that power with talk of rebellion and hope, that could be a force to be reckoned with.
After the movie, we came home in time to catch a panel discussion on the TV on Democracy Now. As sometimes happens, some of what has just been experienced in a theatre can slip out and over into the relative humdrum of everyday life. On this smaller screen and out of their on stage discussion about the current state of affairs, it was civil rights advocate and entertainer Harry Bellafonte who seemed to link with what we had just seen with Rogue One, and summed up in life what we had just seen in fiction in two quotes. These were: “…without the rebellious heart we will always be distracted by the trinkets of capitalism…” and “the real nobility of our existence resides in whether we are willing to die for the cause.” May the force be with you.