Sunday, October 1, 2017

your first step into a larger world

I should talk about the merchandising. But, 1) I don't think I'd have much to add that won't be covered by some other stuff I'll say below, and 2) I'd rather start with Artoo. Because I realized something yesterday. When Artoo gets shot at the end of the movie, when they're attacking the Death Star, it's tragic, sure. Artoo is funny... although watching the film again these past few days after not watching in a while, Threepio is funnier. "No, I don't like you either" is a great line, with fantastic delivery. And Luke clearly is attached to him, and a little too attached to Obi-Wan as well--seriously, he grieves for that old guy he met in a cave just--as far as we know the way the movie plays out--this morning, or maybe it was yesterday, more than he grieves for Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen, and maybe Uncle Owen was hard on him, but Aunt Beru seemed like a sweet woman who would always offer up a nice cold glass of (blue) bantha milk when you were thirsty, and she would probably sit down at the table with you and let you complain about life, about your friends running off to be soldiers or rebels. But he mourns for Obi-Wan more and he barely knows the guy. And, when--though I guess the movie only implies this--everybody else resets their droids' memories on a regular basis, Luke wants nothing of it. (In the novels in the early 90s, I remember that detail coming up more than once, setting Artoo up as a big exception to common droid use, but clearly Artoo was already being treated differently before Luke got him, as he specifically mentions being owned by Ben Kenobi. Luke is attached. To be fair, he is the naive kid with big dreams. That he mourns a droid that can just as easily be replaced as repaired is a signal of who Luke is.


But that's not the thing I noticed. See, the Star Wars saga has taken so long, with eight live-action feature films now, plus those two live-action Ewok tv films, several cartoons (though just Clone Wars and Rebels are canon now), all the comics and novels, the experience of Star Wars at any given point between 1977 and now would be significantly different. And, one particular circumstance occurred to me while watching the film last night, and that is this: imagine a kid who grew up on the prequels, who knows Anakin more than Luke, who knows an Artoo who can fly and who has been around for years. When Artoo is shot at the end of this movie and severely damaged, that kid has known Artoo for four films already. The tragedy is huge. (That kid, however, probably wouldn't be particularly attached to Beru and Owen much more than I was watching just this film, because while they do appear in the prequels, they barely do anything.)

That got me thinking. How much worse would Obi-Wan's death be for that kid? How much more triumphant would it be when his voice pops up later to tell Luke to use the force? Assuming that kid isn't put off by the corny dialogue and occasionally awful acting in the prequels, how much bigger is the tragedy of Anakin Skywalker, how much is that kid freaking out because Luke doesn't know that is his father he is fighting? Is it weird that Obi-Wan doesn't remember Artoo or that Vader doesn't recognize Threepio? On that droid note, to be fair, we just get to know these two droids, but Obi-Wan has probably known a lot of astromech droids; unlike Luke, Obi-Wan might be one of those pilots who isn't concerned with his astromech's memory and thus has never been particularly attached to a singular astromech. But Vader built Threepio, Vader lived with Threepio. (And, in a comic (Star Wars Tales #6), Vader does recognize Threepio.) Does that lack of recognition in the films seem even stranger for that kid who grew up on the prequels?

For that matter, what about the kid who sees Rogue One before any of the other Star Wars films? Does that kid have an even greater investment in the throughline of this film? A better sense of the import of those plans?

And the other thing before the big final thought on Star Wars: let's talk about the end credits. A minor thing, but a strange thing. See, the cast credits after the film start out as you might expect:

Starring
MARK HAMILL HARRISON FORD CARRIE FISHER

Three stars, all basically newcomers, equal billing. Makes sense.

PETER CUSHING

Dude has been around. Of course he gets his own screen.

and
ALEC GUINNESS

Yeah, he's been around as well. Also, his role is more important than Tarkin's. Regardless of whatever arrangements his agents made, he deserves that "and".

Then comes the interesting screen:

with
ANTHONY DANIELS KENNY BAKER PETER MAYHEW
DAVID PROWSE JACK PURVIS EDDIE BYRNE

I'll break that down. Anthony Daniels is Threepio. Kenny Baker is Artoo. Peter Mayhew is Chewbacca. That first line is fine. It's that second line that makes things weird. David Prowse is the guy inside Darth Vader (and reportedly he didn't even know his voice was being replaced until he saw the completed film). Jack Purvis--he's fine, a George Lucas staple (he's in all three of the original trilogy of films and he's in Willow, a recognizable face actually. Except, you don't see his face here. You don't even hear him say actual words. He plays "Chief Jawa". Then there's Eddie Byrne, who plays General Willard (I didn't know which general that was until I googled a picture)... And his credit here seems like an agent-arranged thing; his film career began in the 40s (Cushing's started in '39, Guiness' in '57). But, it's still a weird visual after all these years; the fourth cast screen comes up and I'm like 4/6 I know who that guy is, but 2/6, who is that and why is he credited along side those four?

But, what makes that weird brings me to the big thing. Star Wars maybe more than the other films this month (or the ones coming next month) is like a part of me. When a piece of it is, even briefly, foreign, it's strange. But, I mean, consider: I saw Star Wars before my brain was really making permanent memories. Star Wars (as stand-in for all the movies of my early childhood, because it was the one I was most attached to, the one I actively came back to in my teens, and one that still comes back when I sit in the theater and watch a new Star Wars film) is not a film I remember seeing for the first time. No, there is no first memory of Star Wars anymore than there is a first memory of walking, a first memory of eating. Dima Amso, Scientific American, (n.d.), explains the basic differences between the forms of memories--procedural and declarative:

As I type this, I am using procedural memory--a form of motor memory in which my fingers just know how to type. In contrast, declarative memories represent two types of long-term recall--semantic and episodic. Semantic memory allows us to remember general facts--for example, that Alfred Hitchcock directed the film Vertigo; episodic memory encompasses our ability to recall personal experiences or facts--that Vertigo is my favorite film.

I gotta wonder if, like me, you have made a habit of watching movies from before you can remember, and you watch some of those movies time and time again, if the lines between, say, episodic memory and semantic memory blurs, if the line between declarative and procedural memory blurs. (For the record, I don't really know the science here. I'm just using Amso's particular take on the science to explore my own experience and understanding of my own memory.) Amso explains, "Making an episodic memory requires binding together different details of an event--when it happened and where, how we felt and who was there--and retrieving that information later." Dr. Maria Wimber explains in Medical Daily, 16 March 2015, "When you repeatedly recall the same details from a scene over and over again, you will start to forget other details from the same scene." The author of the piece, Susan Scutti elaborates: "Whenever you intentionally recall the past, your brain will suppress competing memories and by doing so forever alter which recollections will remain accessible to you in the future, according to Wimber's research. In storage space terms, your brain sorts through the accumulated memories, chooses one, pushes similar memories to the back, and in this way makes them even harder to reach in the future." The thing with me is--and this is why I am amazing at trivia--I am constantly recalling details that other people might find more useless. The plots of so many films, the actors therein, specific scenes and bits of dialogue. As a kid, I pretended at being a character in Star Wars a lot. Whenever I would watch any of these films again, my memory of the time before would be pulled to the front all over again. Whenever I would buy an action figure, play with an action figure, read a comic, read a novel, Star Wars would be center stage in my mind. (The same sort of thing would happen with all these other movies I'm using to deconstruct my childhood, but Star Wars is the foremost example because of how many different angles I would come at it, because of how many different times pop culture would bring me back to it, because it forty years of continued product making sure that my memories of Star Wars are absolutely never locked.

And, they aren't even real memories to begin with. As I already said, my permanent memories came after my experience of this film. So, essentially, whatever might be my earliest permanent memory of Star Wars is a result of (presumably) multiple viewings of the film already, and any time I recall it today, that recalled memory is altered again by the current experience. Like any film viewing--it is shaped by my memories of every other film, shaped my my experience of the world outside the theater or the tv screen, shaped by what I want from film, what I want from life. And when it comes down to it, something like Star Wars might as well be my typing skill when it comes to the way my memory of it works.

Star Wars helped shape me.

And, in turn, I reshape it every time I come to it.

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