Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Intruding on private grief…

My usual two hours of shouting abuse at the radio edition of the Daily Mail (a.k.a the Today programme) reached a peak this morning when the producers decided that Disney's purchase of Lucasfilms and decision to flog a horse so dead that its carcass forms the major ingredient of tinned dog food by promising an endless succession of lazy Star Wars sequels merited more coverage than the Coalition's determination to replace our planet-destroying arsenal of nuclear weapons with even bigger nuclear weapons. You know, the nuclear weapons that kept us out of all wars since 1945. As long as you don't count Northern Ireland. Or Suez. Or the decolonisation wars. Or the Malvinas/Falklands conflict. And the Gulf War. And Gulf War 2. Oh, and Afghanistan. Plus the bombing of Libya.

But that's beside the point. I could understand if the Disney takeover merited a mention in the business news headlines, but there's no way that a faded commodity deserves the attention it's getting. I would propose that Disney is the Empire, except that George Lucas's cynical outfit hardly fits the role of heroic upstarts, unless you think doing violence to people's childhood memories in exchange for billions of dollars is a subversive act.

I should admit from the start however that I have not a scintilla of emotional attachment to Star Wars. Unlike most of my friends, I'd never heard of it until I went to university. I guess school chums must have had the toys but I don't recall any discussion of them. My first proper exposure to Star Wars was accompanying friends to a cinema in Rhyl (quite painful enough) in the depths of a freezing winter to sit in a smell cinema and endure the first of the 'prequel' movies. I was bored beyond tears and found the graphics reminiscent of Civilization II, the computer game which filled my supposed study time. Even without being familiar with the original movies, I could tell that this was jaded hack work and as we emerged from the foetid swamp of late adolescent bodies, my friends had the look of veterans who'd seen their comrades die in the trenches for nothing. Their childhoods had been sullied, their faith in Hollywood destroyed. Mine not so much - my parents virtually never took us to the cinema. We queued for ET until my dad got bored, so I only saw that in chunks if I happened to catch it on TV. Cinema was somewhere I went on other people's birthday treats. Particularly horrific are my memories of Howard the Duck - awful, but notable for the first topless scene I'd ever witnessed, albeit a topless duck - and whatever that Michael Jackson film was called. Moon-something?

I should confess too that I'm a (critical) Star Trek fan, particularly of the original series. It's essentially a liberal (though not reliably so) retelling of the exploration of the American West with a side-salad of Cold War politics: early episodes of the show explicitly supported the Vietnam War, while later ones became anti-imperialist. Until we got to the execrably Next Generation, Liberal Interventionism In Space with a slathering of New Age bullshit in the shape of Ship's Counsellors and all that bullshit. It's not enough to Explore: you've got to Emote. Christ. For me, the original Star Trek used familiar plots to explore current political and social concerns in interesting ways. I'd also like to draw the jury's attention to my enjoyment of Space: 1999, a surprisingly gritty European SF drama, to the camp pleasures of Buck Rogers, and above all to the original Battlestar Galactica, which depending on who you're listening to, is either Wagon Train in space, or Virgil's Aeneid in space, which is both ambitious and impressive. I haven't seen the 'rebooted' Battlestar, but I gather that it has 'boldly gone' into the realms of political commentary - especially about the Iraq war - which is exactly what good science fiction does.

Since that awful day in Rhyl, I've caught most of the major scenes of the original films, though I've not seen a single cel of the other prequels, nor would I ever want to. Star Wars: A New Hope dramatised exactly Walter Benjamin's theory of the reproducibility of art in the mechanical age, and Jean Baudrillard's concept of multiple-order simulation. The 'original' Star Wars re-enacted the American myths of the war of independence as a way to recoup that nation's fantasy that it is the eternal underdog battling for truth, justice and freedom ('the American Way'). The Vietnam War, the Cold War and the Watergate saga, plus the United States' enthusiastic support for every fascist state in South America, Africa and Asia were making a few Americans wonder about whether they'd lost their way after 200 years.  In fact, some of them felt a bit like this:

So Star Wars isn't, for me, a joyful celebration of America's natural rebellion: it's a deeply conservative appropriation of liberal values for the purpose of making an Empire feel better about itself. The real rebels - and perhaps you could read Star Wars in its context like this - are the North Vietnamese.

So Disney's plans to treat Star Wars as yet another commodity to be ground at is both unsurprising and not particularly interesting. In Baudrillardian terms, each film is a more faded photocopy of the original, each one trying more desperately to capture the essence and passion of the original, and each one fated to be less and less artistically successful. No doubt rabid fans will turn up in droves, and the publicists will hail each film as a 'reboot', but the concept has long since moved from the category of art to commodity, if there is indeed any separation between them in a capitalist economy (thinking of you, Damien Hirst). I doubt the new films will even have the political significance of the first Star Wars films.

You Star Wars fans can regain your dignity quite easily. Just refuse to acknowledge the existence of the  new films. Behave as though George Lucas is dead to you. He's a greedy old man who cares only for the green. He is, in fact, Han Solo without the redemption, or even Jabba the Hut. He's encased your culture in carbonite (is this right?) and he's sold the corpse to the Emperor - and he's not sorry.

Cherish your childhood memories and seek out pastures new.


ed said...


Iamsamiad said...

I've finally reacquainted myself with your blog. Nice work! Like you, my first experience of Star Wars was a sequal/prequal (whatever) featuring the malcontented red and black object, Darth Maul. As for simulacra, we need look no further than the titles: Clone Wars, I mean, really? The next one should be called The Empire Strikes Back Bac Ba B... Disney will rape the brand for all it's worth. The only vestige of the original (used very loosely) will be a CGI Yoda running through hyperspace gargling "Unsatisfied, is you? Tough shit. Rich, we are!"