Comics, Movies

Life After Star Wars

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The point at which the story ends for me. Art by Al Williamson, text by Archie Goodwin.

Alec Guiness liked to tell a story that has become legendary or infamous, depending upon your take. This kid came up to him somewhere and told him that he had seen Star Wars over a hundred times, and asked for his autograph. Sir Alec’s response:

“Well, do you think you could promise never to see Star Wars again?”

The boy burst into tears and his mother took him away after scolding the erstwhile Obi Wan that he had done an awful thing. In later reflections, Guinness said “Maybe she was right, but I just hope the lad, now in his thirties, is not living in a fantasy world of secondhand, childish banalities.”

Full disclosure- I’m a lad, now in my thirties, and I kinda do live in a fantasy world of secondhand, childish banalities. I might be at some stage of recovery, however, and it’s all because of one simple, horrible fact:

I absolutely hated The Force Awakens.

Now listen, before you light something in your immediate vicinity on fire or e-mail me a virus, let me just say that I get it. Star Wars does weird shit to people. Ragging on it is like criticizing your family members, many of whom I personally have much less feeling about than this series of deliberately (?) corny fantasy movies. I was one of those people (or maybe just that person) who looked for merits in the prequels, found them, and resent that I’m expected to apologize for that to people who don’t have my level of emotional investment in these stupid fucking things.

I won’t bore or trouble you with a critique of the film, because there’s plenty of that everywhere on the internet, and it’s actually really beside the point for me. As I detailed in A Long Time Ago,  the narrative of the story as I’ve always understood it is that strict adherence to dogma leads to trouble (1-3), where the love of a group of friends in a found-family can set things right (4-6). This was a really big aspect of what formed my particular set of values from an early age, and I thought as fans we were all in agreement about this. It’s bummed me out more than I am comfortable with that most of us feel like a movie in which the main characters’ world turned to absolute shit, primarily because they failed miserably to collectively raise a kid to be something besides a merciless psychopath, is a fun thrill-ride. I’m puzzled by this, and it’s made my promotion of the book a bit dicey. Not to mention just navigating being around people that mean a lot to me who are into it, when I very much am not.

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Taking it too seriously? Yeah, definitely. I need to get a goddamn grip. When you hate something, and that’s not a feeling I often have, you give it a certain pull over you. Things you hate can control you. It’s rarely healthy, especially so when it’s just a movie.

Add to that- being a fan of genre entertainment is much like being a connoisseur of fast food. A steady diet of it is not healthy, and you probably don’t need to spend too much more time contemplating Star Wars than you would the McRib. And yet, I seem to have a Jones for doing just that, and I’m not alone.

Here’s Jim Steranko from a Rolling Stone interview:

“Comic books are trash. But that TV set is trash, and so much of music trash. And books like Peyton Place and Gone with the Wind and The Power of Positive Thinking and The Love Machine. It’s all trash.” I asked if he considered the stuff he did to be trash. “Of course,” he said. “So you like trash?” “Well, yeah, of course I like trash. Of course, human flesh is trash, too.”

Well, that’s the nail on the head. But we get into things, and we like to know everything we can about them and talk to other enthusiasts about them and compare and contrast, and that’s a beautiful thing. However, this gets really ugly when we inevitably turn hypercritical, when it starts to matter a tad too much to us. We scratch at ourselves, and tear at things we should probably just embrace, accept, or ignore. It’s escapism, after all.

An anecdote I often tell- Once I was at a comic shop (Comic Book World, for those familiar with Louisville) and there was a guy -kind of a goober, but he meant no harm- that we’ll call Fanboy Type A. He was very excited about Wrestlemania, which had occurred over the previous weekend. He couldn’t wait to tell us all about the Undertaker’s new look and the way the stage was set when he came out. Apparently it was as if the Gates Of Hell had opened and unleashed a powerful warrior, and it was the greatest thing this guy had ever seen.

This showing of enthusiasm did not sit well with a gentleman across the room that we can call Fanboy Type B, and it seemed as if he had absolutely no recourse but to piss on the parade. The indictment came on quickly and furiously. The stage looked fake. Undertaker is fat. He’s too old to be out there. And in the ultimate kick to the downed opponent, his hat looked stupid. Now, keep in mind that nobody asked this guy.

Type A blanched, looked at his shoes, and muttered “Well….I thought it was kinda cool…” He had actually allowed the Type B to steal his joy on something as mundane as the validity of a professional wrestler.

This sort of thing happens every second of every day on every subject imaginable on the internet, where the effect above is the same, only on a much larger scale. On no subject is this more true than Star Wars, which no living person seems to have no opinion of. The dissenting voice is always the loudest and the effect is always destructive. The greatest thing about the internet is that it gives just about everyone an equal voice, but the worst thing about the internet is that it gives just about everybody an equal voice.

Too many of those thirtysomething lads with their secondhand, banal fantasies aren’t even enjoying them, either because they’ve allowed them to be ruined by malcontents or they are or have become malcontents themselves. I can sense that I’m in danger of becoming a Type B, and so I’ll need to make a concentrated effort to refocus and flip the script. If you dug The Force Awakens, please don’t stop on my account. My issues are my own.

Star Wars Family

Family Values: The Star Wars gang of tight friends and my own.

I always enjoyed that the story was finite. It spoke to a certain eye towards quality control that the story had an ending. A legit “saga” must have a definite finale. You could criticize Lucas for pimping out the merchandise rights, but the product that he constructed was always sacrosanct. Now, there will be a movie every year from now on, a multi-billion dollar enterprise that keeps coming, like McDonald’s cheeseburgers. I also think part of what sticks me is that I don’t feel like any one of us who grew up applying our imaginations using the tools seen above should get to definitively say what happens next to any of these characters. It belonged to George Lucas first and if not him, then it should be Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson.

When you see drawings of Star Wars stuff on shirts, skirts, pajamas, posters, clocks, cups, or any other thing, you’re almost always looking at the art of Al Williamson. He drew the daily Star Wars comic strip (Written by Archie, his frequent collaborator) for most of its run, as well as the comic adaptations of Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi. Their stuff in the daily papers took place between the first two movies, and then they did a couple of issues of the monthly Marvel comic. It was work for hire, so they got paid once when the work was printed the first time and then not since, and his name is nowhere to be found on any of the mountains of merch at Target and Walmart. But now you know, if you bothered to read this far.

I’m glad Mr.Williamson’s work is out there. But of course, I wish he got credit. I wish I could talk to more people about it. It’s pitch perfect Star Wars– the story beats are such that a new dramtic flourish happens about every three panels, and Archie had an ear for that hammy dialogue that crackled right. If someone told me I either had to never watch any Star Wars movie again or never see Williamson’s art again, it would be no contest. I’d keep Al every time out. This is selfish, pretentious, and whatever else you might call it, but  it is at least partially because stuff like Al Williamson’s art hasn’t been exploited, exposed, and picked apart to Hell and back again. It still belongs to those of us who go Deep Geek. Who cares to talk about how weird it is that Leia frenched her brother when you can talk about how Williamson made it look like it was painted in the Sistine Chapel, but he did it with a pencil and ink? I’m talking about writing an academic essay for a book about Star Wars level shit, here.

Sadly, Al and Archie are no longer with us, so I feel like the next of kin is all of us fans, to decide and do with as we please. I tend to only engage with Star Wars on my own terms, anyway- I like the fan edits of the prequels,  the Gendy Tartakovsky Clone Wars series that has been erased from “canon,” the pre-Special Edition versions of the movies that I grew up with, and my own elaborate daydreams. You can do whatever you wish, and tell your own stories, if only to yourself. As long as you aren’t turning profit, Disney probably won’t call you. Of course, they would have to find you first.

Stormtrooper love

Banksy has the right idea.

 

But then, although it’s never going to get Star Wars huge (which is probably a fate worse than death for any creator, anyway), maybe we would all be well served to take inspiration and build new things. One of the best new comics is Saga, created by Brian K. Vaughn. He once said something that I found brilliant:

“I realized that making comics and making babies were kind of the same thing and if I could combine the two, it would be less boring if I set it in a crazy sci-fi fantasy universe and not just have anecdotes about diaper bags … I didn’t want to tell a Star Wars adventure with these noble heroes fighting an empire. These are people on the outskirts of the story who want out of this never-ending galactic war … I’m part of the generation that all we do is complain about the prequels and how they let us down … And if every one of us who complained about how the prequels didn’t live up to our expectations just would make our own sci-fi fantasy, then it would be a much better use of our time.”

Lucas only conceived Star Wars because he couldn’t get the rights to Flash Gordon. I can’t get the rights to Nick Fury: Agent Of SHIELD, so I conceived Ben Venice. It’s time to be more active than reactive, and that’s the lesson I’ve learned.

 

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Movies, Pop Culture

May The Fourth Be With You: The Commercials Of The Star Wars Holiday Special

A few years ago I took one for the team and watched the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special. Despite the presence of all the major actors and the buzz of having just made the biggest grossing movie to that time, somehow this thing is virtually unwatchable by anyone’s estimation. It’s not an opinion that it’s bad. It’s a fact. Time stands still when you watch it, I don’t know if it’s an hour or four. Lucas famously said if he had the time and resources he’d find every copy and smash it with a hammer. Poor George. Now it’s “viral.” All over. It does still have it’s charm as it represents a time when this movie was a fun free for all and not a geeky dead end.

Anyway, I decided the only way to survive the experience, as well as the only way to talk about about the thing in a manner no one had before, was to just focus on the commercials. Commercials offer subtle signals about the culture of the moment -any moment- you won’t find anywhere else. After all, someone sizing you up to sell you something knows truths about you that you might never understand.

I used some blue language in this, so do look away if you’re squeamish.

The Star Wars Holiday Special is horrendous.

But you already knew that. It’s a well documented fact. Chewie has a family that’s so annoying that you completely understand why he stays so far away from them. His dad watches virtual reality porn featuring Diane Carol. Art Carney, Roger Corman, and Bea Arthur are in it for some fucking reason. So is Jefferson Starship… before Grace Slick came back, so they really suck. Boba Fett is introduced in a herky-jerky cartoon segment that drops the word “friend” about 38 times in five minutes. Carrie Fisher is high on cocaine and singing a song about “Life Day,” and Mark Hamill is wearing eye shadow. The show opens with like ten solid minutes of Wookie mime. The special effects are either cut directly from the movie or Land of the Lost-level bad. It’s a surreal extravaganza of cheese.

But you knew that.

What you didn’t know, or don’t remember, is that commercials, like the ones that ran during this special, used to be batshit insane.

Here’s proof, baby:

FIRST COMMERCIAL BREAK:

Willie Rawls: Utility Man. He’s not tied down to one job at GM. He has a bunch. But soldering is the best: it takes skill. But he’s just killing time until he can get his pimp threads out of his locker and hit the bricks. This is a commercial for General Motors which features how it’s a good place to work with plenty of camaraderie and support. Willie Rawls is an actual dude. He’s kind of a homely cat who, presumably, actually worked at GM. How often do actual dudes show up in commercials anymore? And how often do corporations advertise that their employees aren’t miserable?

Kenner used to make a toy car that would go wherever you drew a line. It was called the Trail Tracker. Remember when toys used to come out that didn’t have to be attached to some property? Even as you watch the Holiday Special you know that Star Wars is crushing these kinds of toys and relegating them to Dollar Store status with the other generic and anonymous cavemen, spacemen, pirates, and cowboys.

Hey, I want a rolling Millennium Falcon that goes wherever I draw a line.

SECOND COMMERCIAL BREAK:

60 Minutes will come on tomorrow night, followed by Alice, Lucy Goes to Nashville (and meets Ronnie Milsap in an outfit no sighted man would wear), and then Dallas, starting at “7 PM Central time, 8 o’clock Mountain.” Remember when they used to talk about Mountain Time? Somebody explain this shit to me. What mountains? The Rocky Mountains?

A husband and wife have separate sides of a medicine cabinet. The husband loses: she has COMTREX!

What happens next is straight out of John Waters: a dude with wrecked up teeth, a comb over, and a peach shirt is lamenting the lack of work in the International Women’s Garment Industry. These jobs are being farmed out to other countries and his family can’t get the things “all Americans want.” Then a bunch of ugly people come out and sing “Look for the Union Label.”

Ugly people used to get on TV with a lot more regularity than today.

The Saturday movie is “The Bible” which looks like what I saw the second time I ate shrooms, which I have since called “The bad trip I took on shrooms.” There’s a part where this broad has eyeballs on her hands.

I used to just lay in bed and trip and then go to school the next day. It ruled.

A mustachioed newsman of the celebrated type they just don’t make anymore pops on and says “Fighting the frizzies, at 11.”

I have no clue what that means.

THIRD COMMERCIAL BREAK:

James Rock also enjoys working at GM. He wears a helmet. Made of hair.

Marilyn Makela switched her Duncan Hines yellow cake to Pillsbury and to prove it she slowly sucks a piece of cake off a fork. It looks even better in rewind: she spits a perfectly formed piece of cake out.

“Hongry! Hongry Jack!” Hungry Jack is a gigantic hillbilly who forces his mom to keep cooking biscuits or he will smash her with his massive hands and feet.

In a sobering CBS Update, it’s reported that Soviet President Brezhnev has told US Authorities that Russia has tested a Neutron Bomb. “That’s the kind of bomb that kills people but leaves buildings standing” the news bitch bitches. Cold blooded. To add insult to injury, a CIA agent has just been busted selling secrets to the Russians. This makes you wonder though, all this stuff we worry about now with North Korea and Al Qaeda, they worried about the same shit like 30 years ago, and they got out alright.

Right?

After this extremely sobering newsbreak, Valerie Bertinelli lets us know about Bobby Vinton’s “Rock Around the Clock Extravaganza!” It’s like Grease on wheels! Featuring Penny Marshall, Fabian, and… wait for it… Erik Estrada! It’s from the producers of Donnie and Marie!

Bet that was awesome.

I’m only kind of joking.

Another generic-ass toy, this one with a funked-out Soul theme song that sounds like Sam Moore of Sam and Dave (and very easily could’ve been, as the 70’s weren’t so kind to Sam and Dave)

“Phaser firin’!
It’s time to go!
You must stop that!
UFO!”

McDonaldland Glasses! Collect them! It’s fun! There’s more than just one! This week, it’s Captain Crook!

Anybody remember Captain Crook? He was this Pirate who wanted to eat Big Macs on his boat. They should bring him back since everybody is all gay for Pirates now.

It’s fighting the frizzies at 11 again! Is this linked to the bomb?

FOURTH COMMERCIAL BREAK:

You watch enough of this shit it feels like your brain has been taken out and put back in backwards, I swear to God.

Another non-tie in toy: Tobor, the Telesonic Robot. He’s under your control. You tell him to circle and go forward. You tell him to pick up the Tobor Module. And bring it to you. It ends with a bombshell.

Hold on to your ass.

“Tobor is ‘Robot’ spelled backwards.”

No. Fucking. Way.

Chicks put on blush!

BLUSH!

Girls orgasmically wiggle around as they apply bright red, whorish make-up to their faces. One sticks her head in some water and comes up throwing water around wildly but with her face un-mussed.

A Whirlpool ad airs featuring a bald eagle swooping down and pulling fish out of water. A forceful announcer voices over about how America was founded on a commitment to excellence, but now it’s slipping away due to a growing willingness to accept second rate items from foreigners.

Commercials can tell us a lot about the societies they advertise to and can betray things that history books don’t recall. There’s this mix of post-pill/pre-aids open and innocent sexuality crashing into paranoid Patriotism without the super advanced product peddling of today’s world, where no free dollar is left blowing around un-snatched. I was just being born, but I wish I could’ve partied with Tobor, man. I’d like to party with some hot young girls in bright red blush who won’t bust out cryin’ if I mention that I have a deep seated resentment and intolerance for people from other countries, because a nuclear bomb is gonna blow us all away any goddamn minute now.

Bea Arthur danced with Greedo and my brain shut down for like 30 seconds because it automatically does when I see something that fucked up.

FIFTH COMMERCIAL BREAK:

Glad it started up again in time for this commercial for strong (yet safe) Anacin. This was about the time people started ODing and accidentally killing kids with Aspirin.

Sheer Indulgence Pantyhose make girls shake their asses.

There’s more in the middle of an Egg McMuffin than an egg in the middle of a muffin, and that whole concept is more than a couple of hillbillies can handle.

Schneider introduces a promotional spot for an entirely forgotten show about airline stewardesses called Flying High coming on next that I’m pretty sorry isn’t on the tape. “The girls take it off and Pam has a great Layover!” I’m nostalgic about this, but it seems like sex was more of a party at this point in our history than today and man, I wish I was there for it. Paco Ignacious III said that “We feel nostalgic for the things we have not seen, the parties we have not been to, the pots we have not drank from, the women we have not slept with.” Now it seems like we’re more uptight, even though sex permeates everything now it’s not like this fun thing. It’s super serious, it’s girls who are very young so it’s sinister, it’s fetishistic and weird, and it’s this big deal. In the day, or on TV commercials at least, it was like “Hey, let’s take our clothes off and roll around, it’ll be cool.” Women were becoming empowered and you didn’t have to count on a tiny goulash to keep from knocking a broad up anymore. Everything was opening up… and then AIDS.

Thanks a lot, AIDS.

After that the mood changes with this Sweathog Reject talking about how he loves fun, his friends, and milk. I don’t have to think about what to drink if Milk’s the one for me! Like I really sit around thinking about what I want to drink. I could be blown to atoms any second now and this dink is drinking milk so he won’t have to consider if we wants water or soda or what.

An Animal House commercial! Fuck yeah!

… frizzies, at 11.

SIXTH COMMERCIAL BREAK:

A dude in a gold body suit and winged hat delivers flowers to old ladies in hospitals.

If you want to give your man underwear, you want the Fruit of the Loom fruit dudes.

No Nonsense pantyhose make good sense.

Do women wear pantyhose anymore?

God, I hope not.

Then it finally happens. Kenner drops an ad for their tsunami of Star Wars products. This was the Christmas of 1978 and I was 2 months old, but by the time I could hold something in my hand it was the Star Wars figures in this ad.

Not to sugarcoat it too much, because watching the crap wrapped around these sweet commercials has most likely caused me to lose valuable IQ points, but the parts with the actual Star Wars cast have charm to find in them. Harrison Ford especially; when Han is bonding with Chewbacca’s family you almost forget how awful the thing has been in the last hour or so that he hadn’t appeared in. These characters and the actors who played them are like members of a family to me, and I’d assume to everyone who grew up as I did, and at Christmas time especially, in the world Star Wars created. I’ve gotten Star Wars related stuff for Christmas every single year of my life to date. It’s amazing how many of my happiest memories center on Star Wars.

And that’s why Star Wars can survive the Holiday Special.

Which sucks.

It really, truly sucks.

God, it sucks.

Happy Life Day!

>>>>>>>>>
I’ve got a regular named Vince, he’s older than he looks. You’d place him around a healthy 40 something, he’s actually a very healthy 50 something. He wears izod sweaters and a ballcap, keeps his black hair parted and tight, glasses, sharp features. He used to work for Kodak until about 20 years ago he said to hell with it, cashed in his 401k and split. Plays the Stock Market for a living. He comes in with the Wall Street Journal, pours over it in the cafe with a coffee.

He’s an allright guy, comes over and has cool shit to say about whatever. He’s into Chicago and 3 Dog Night, the stuff that was tits and ass when he had his turn to be hip. Alot of it doesn’t rock me, but I can see why he gets down with it.

Tonight I got him on how he partied in the 70s and layed on him what I’d gathered from this hour of commercials. I started to see him light up the same way really old cats do when I spit magic incantations like “Be Bop A Lula” out casually. I knew I was on to something and, and this rarely happens, I was all ears.

First of all, girls are fatter. Fat cells don’t go away once they’re grown, you can only shrink them. He asked me if I knew this, I said sure, I knew that. Back then girls looked like girls, now you see a 14 year old chick with a thong riding out of their flimsy pants and, the sad fact is, she’s probably going to have a potbelly by 19 either made out of fat or a baby.

There weren’t all these fucking gadgets in the 70s, and the gadgets you did have were aimed at partying. You might want to have a Merantz receiver with big speakers, but if you didn’t, it would be just as cool if your buddy did. You take your records over there, you pool your records together, somebody has a sack of dope, somebody knows a girl who has some sisters, you have a party and you get away with whatever the hell you can.

Now you get kids with an ipod, they have every song in the universe on there but they only listen to whatever the hairsplitting genre is their friends listen to, of which there’s thousands of songs that all sound the goddamn same. And they have to have the one ipod, the black one with the red buttons or whatever. Most importantly, they listen to it by themselves, with headphones and a wire that leads to a stick of black and red gum.
You see a commercial, you wanna be the commercial, you go get what you see in the commercial, that exact thing. There’s alot of different styles, but they’re all concentrated in such a way that you go wherever you’re supposed to go and you get that uniform. Old Navy or Abercrombie & Fitch or Hot Topic. You pick one, you go there.

a kid in the 70’s was hobbling together whatever they found at K-Mart or whatever small stores in their city or town had and tried to make something of their own, you went out and shook something out of a tree. I might as well have been a Martian with my apperance in High School, I was a Stone Cold Rocker. That blew people’s minds. You could pick something to be your thing if you want, like me with my deal wouldn’t have been so weird on a kid in the 70’s even though I looked like the 50’s. Vince knew a girl who was into looking like an indian chick, like an Apache broad, and nobody thought it was odd. Everybody just thought it was far out.

Paco Ignacious III was a sharp tack, because man, I wanna make it with a chick dressed like an indian on green shag carpet in the back of a baby shit brown van with a big bright red, white, and blue Bicentinneal Pegasus painted on the side of it so bad that I can taste the Tang.

I just watched this thing on PBS (I’ve decided that PBS is better than Blind Date and Judge _____ shows, I guess I’m all grown up) about how Wal-Mart is taking over the country, sending every fucking possible manufacturing job overseas, employing the largest American workforce possible and paying them competitive minimum wages so when they reach the age of retirement they can rollback their gray and white ass to the front of the compound and say “Welcome To Wal-Mart” 100 million times a week to 19 year old chicks coming in to buy peanut butter, hot dogs, pop tarts, cheetos, diet coke, and baby formula.

The 5 minutes on this dilapidated videotape I have where girls of age celebrate blush with their soft and healthy bodies and look at the gentle viewer like they want to party and then Whirlpool tells us that if we don’t get on the stick with the products buy we’re all fucked feels like a transmission from some lost time from which the Worst Possible Future Scenario came absolutely true.

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