Taking a break from writing on this Mardi Gras to watch a little New Orleans royalty.
Always so mysterious to me, even as an adult. The vast, polished white floor and dim lighting, images that were burned into my mind as a child while watching it on late-night PBS on Mardi Gras eve with my parents. This is what the rest of the country needs to see when we boast proudly about our special Tuesdays once a year.
“Jaws” was one of those movies that as a kid I couldn’t shake due to a certain imagery, but it wasn’t the imagery of the shark. We barely got to see the shark thanks to the prop reportedly never working correctly during the production, and this has been argued to be the reason why the shark was so scary in the first place. It was because we couldn’t see it, couldn’t take any long stares at the thing, leaving what we remembered of it really just memories that we created using our own fears as fuel.
But glimpses of the shark are not the images I’m referring to here. It was instead that one scene, the one scene that I remember being so affected by as a child that it sent me off to draw pictures of it, to re-enact it using my Star Wars action figures and any number of rubber sharks bought for me during road trips to Florida. It was Quint, and it was the image of him sliding into the mouth of that shark, screaming and kicking at the teeth of the thing, trying desperately to sway its intentions by stabbing it on the nose over and over again. And then it was that close-up of Robert Shaw spitting blood out from between his teeth, and that agonizing scream, never having seen the teeth penetrate mind you, but hearing it. That was it. That’s what defined “Jaws” for me.
And I’ll be damned if when that scene happened during this past viewing, I felt that same sense of horror, that same visceral reaction that I’m guessing the less sophisticated audiences of 1975 had when they first saw it. It was what made “Jaws” one of the first blockbusters in cinema history, that reaction, and it was done so masterfully by then wunderkind Steven Spielberg that even now it’s up there with any of the more gruesome, leave-nothing-to-the-imagination computer effects of today. I thought about what it would be like to be inside of that animal, and it was because of that scene right there, that one that made my toes curl in a bad way.
I've gone on record before the release of "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" as saying that I was worried, worried that the film and the entire Star Wars franchise was about to take a dangerous turn, quite possibly jeopardizing it past the point of recovery. And I was basing this entirely on gut instinct, that feeling of impending doom when I read stories about the choices that were being made, about the overwhelming effort that the filmmakers were making, that to me, seemed to reflect a certain insecurity with the project on a whole. Of course I had no real proof to back this up, nothing to point to and say, "See, that right there might be a problem."
Dare I say, I just had a "bad feeling about this."
But I know I wasn't alone. It was as if there was a secret that all of us knew, including Lucasfilm, a secret that we knew but were too afraid to admit, and that secret was that this movie might have been put into the wrong hands. First and foremost to me was the $10,000.00 question, the elephant in the room that I think most Star Wars fans were just too puzzled by the decision itself to even acknowledge: "Who was this Rian Johnson chap?" I joked with a friend of mine that this decision had to have come about by someone standing in the pre-production meeting and declaring, "Bring me the 'Looper' guy!"
Yes, this young exec said, they wanted the guy that directed the series finale of "Breaking Bad" to take the helm of this all-important middle installment of a trilogy with literally decades of anticipation riding on it. Be damned that George Lucas was nowhere in sight, and who cares that it would seem this Rian Johnson fellow was being left in a hotel room with a typewriter ala Barton Fink and then just told to go! It seemed to me a decision made by the maverick new guard at Disney, the ones given this new plaything called Star Wars to try on for size, and all they wanted to do to it was change-change-change.
Even the trailer gave me a bad taste to the point that I began referring to the movie as "Star Wars: The Red Album," which made it obvious to all that I had pretty much had dismissed the idea of having any new hope at all.
But that same friend I was confiding in told me to keep something rather important in mind, and it was a comforting thought that sort of began my push towards the other side, and it was that Disney was going to have to put their name on this thing. And not just their name but also their theme parks, their toy merchandising and brand recognition, and they were going to do this with every cog in their Disney machine whirling at full speed. Yes, someone you never heard of may be writing this dissertation, but in the end it would still have to pass the approval of the professors.
And so on the Thursday before opening night, I was treated to an advance screening of the movie, and damned if I didn't find it to be "a triumph" as they say in the biz. The movie hit all the right spots for me, and I posted on social media that same night that in a way it was "infuriating" to me because it had taken almost 30 years to get it right. Of course, I was referring not just to "The Force Awakens," but also to the mire of prequels that we were all forced to wallow through in order to get here.
Then the strangest thing happened … the film grew to be called a "divisive" one, and this in spite of all the glorious praise by both critics and fans alike. What the hell was going on? I mean, an actual petition was started to remove the movie from the official Star Wars cannon altogether, I shit you not.
But then I thought to myself, "Wait, I think I get it."
And now I must address you, the naysayers, the ones who actually had the nerve to walk out of this movie "disappointed." You are all entitled to your opinion, of course, but know that all of your opinions are wrong. This is not a perfect movie, but … wait, you know what? Yes, it is a perfect movie.
(The above was a bit of satire meant to reflect the divisive aspect of … ah, never mind.)
I would like to invite everyone who went to this "Star Wars" movie to explain to me how this was not a "Star Wars" movie. Or at least, how is it that it was so much not what you expected that you walked out shaking your head? I wonder what it was you were expecting to see.
I know what I expected to see, and that was the grandeur of "Star Wars," the epic space battles and a good story where everyone was motivated to save the day. I wanted to see good versus evil, regardless of which one triumphed. I wanted to squirm with excitement and giggle when I saw something I'd never seen before, like, I don't know like a certain controversial scene involving a jump to hyperspace followed by 10 seconds of silence.
I wanted to see the intermingling of the old cast with the new, knowing that there was such a thing called time which tends to move forward as opposed to say, back to 1977.
I know, I know: the characters are just as important as the action, or at least, that's always been the supposed charm of these movies. Well, to that I would say yes, in the past R2-D2 and C-3PO were great comic relief, and Yoda and Chewbacca and the machine-half of Darth Vader was mesmerizing. But I dare you to tell me that the human characters had any less emotional resonance now than they ever did from 1977 to 2005.
I quote Harrison Ford's comment to George Lucas regarding his original scripts: "George, you can type this shit, but you can't say it!"
The result of such writing was what gave that sense of comfortable familiarity with Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia … and that was okay. These characters were speaking in a barrage of clichés, and they were applying it all to what George Lucas thought was at the heart of his movies. And it worked, of course, it really worked.
But weren't you really just waiting for them to get on with the space battles and the lightsabers?
I know that the five and the eight and the eleven-year-old versions of me were waiting for the fireworks, and who were these movies really for anyway? I saw that Star Destroyer like every other kid did, chasing that small rebel ship that was carrying the plans to the Death Star, and I saw it pass right over my head! From that moment on, I just wanted more of that, preferably two or even eight more movies about them wars up in the stars.
Take that away and you've got nothing, or at least, nothing to define Star Wars or anything of merit even close on which to build such a tremendous fan base. If you had a problem with the direction that the story of "The Last Jedi" took with these characters, and if that alone was enough to make you thumb your nose at this movie, then you might want to re-examine why you consider yourself a Star Wars fan in the first place. Take away the spectacle, and you have a bad cable-access play at best, and you always have.
I suggest that J.J. Abrams find a way to work a time machine into the plot of Episode IX, shooting everyone back to the time where Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher were all still young lads fighting the Empire, but without using too much of that realistic fancy talk. Maybe this could be a way for Disney to do a crossover with Star Wars and a reboot of the "Back to the Future" franchise. But please let's keep Doc Brown the old spastic guy, because I really don't care to go back any further than when he was standing on his toilet hanging that clock, and then falling to hit his head to have his subsequent visions of the Flux Capacitor.