The Pointlessness of Prequels. Again.

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Whoops, take two.

One of the coolest things about the original STAR WARS was that it jumped over all the background stuff and right into the story. At the time, many sci-fi movies used the LOGAN’S RUN pattern: Written prologue (ala SW), slow approach to the location, ten-fifteen minutes of world-building, THEN the story really begins.

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STAR WARS opens in media res, “in the middle of things,” with a spaceship zooming right over our heads, and then a HUGE spaceship in pursuit–the little underdog is trying to escape overwhelming government/military force, firing away with its pop gun laser as it puts up a fight. Using special effects as a storytelling tool, we are immediately IN the story: Plucky rebels vs. overwhelmingly-powerful, clearly unstoppable villains. We waited for the scene where everything is explained to us, and we do get that, but in bits–Leia’s message, Ben’s brief explanation of the Force and the Jedi. The movie never comes to a full stop for lectures about The Bad Old Days, like Peter Ustinov’s scenes in LOGAN’S.

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One reason STAR WARS was such a hit was that for something that was just pure, colorful entertainment, it took the situation AND THE AUDIENCE seriously. The subsequent films didn’t and couldn’t have the impact of the original because of its newness, of course, but they also became more science fiction, more serious about the mythology. STAR WARS wasn’t just for the sci-fi fan but for the sci-fi fan’s brother who liked Han Solo’s cockiness–HE wasn’t taken in, like the cool kids in the audience, BUT he could join in the adventure and fun, too.

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That’s what all this stupid fixation on canon does. It tries to make the story A Legend, A Myth, the way LORD OF THE RINGS is considered serious literature in part because it is rooted in centuries of mythology–it’s, like, kind of REAL, and realism = seriousness.

Right? I mean, doesn’t it?

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Maybe. But why the need to turn every fun thing into something dead and scholarly?

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“I just realized the non-white non-males in the audience can’t possibly be enjoying this. Let’s surrender.”

Like the suitcase with something in it we don’t see in PULP FICTION, not waiting for all that set-up but giving the audience just enough to get what’s going on and then using the visuals to tell the story was a fresh way of telling a story in 1977 cinema. It was a time of great screenwriting and studios trying new things, but it was also about the actor and the screenplay being the center of the movie. THE GODFATHER and JAWS used all the tools of cinema, but they were hard to replicate; disaster movies skimped on the writing and went with special effects shows–years before STAR WARS was slammed as being ‘just effects and noise.’

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I wonder if Bridge on the River Kwai: The Beginning is going to happen.

Getting on with the story had the added benefit of letting our imaginations fill in the blanks for ourselves. What were Han Solo’s and Chewie’s adventures before this? What were those ‘clone wars’? What’s happening in the rest of the empire?

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“My future is important, but not as much as who stole those Death Star plans. THAT story must be REAL interesting!”

Now it’s about crossing every T and dotting every i. “Look, here’s R2 and 3PO’s first meeting!” Wow, that was nothing… “Look, here’s when the republic was safe and boring!” Yeah, it sure is boring. “Oh, WOW, Darth Vader…as a good little boy! Hey, wake up, this is exciting!”

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Can’t wait to stop filming this boring sphere and get on to some COOL villainous death machines.

SOLO is another movie I won’t be seeing. You have fun, though–I mean that. I hope people enjoy these movies the way I enjoyed the original STAR WARS.

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“Well, I tried. At least I’ll make some money on More American Graffiti.” 

 

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I Bitch Some More About PC Art

“Sequel: A filmed deal.” – William Goldman

Movie sequels are made because people want to repeat an experience and a studio wants to make more money.

If you twist a series into something completely alien to what it was created to be, what is the point of making a sequel? In the case of STAR WARS, why not start your own space adventure series with your own values/themes?

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The whole mindset of the rebooting mania we’re living in (which annoys me much more than it should, but I’m having a caffeine headache) reveals that folks praising the PC-ness of the new STAR WARS movies don’t have the courage of their convictions–they want to ‘win,’ to corrupt something someone else made with a William Burroughs-esque idea virus. You want to say royalty is crap? Well, Lucas tried to change course with that very soon after the original SW, to the point where Queen Mammajamma was ELECTED, which isn’t the way royalty works to most minds, but it’s his dumb series, he gets to make the rules. Doesn’t mean I have to like what he does with them.

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The Disney bunch is getting a lot more push-back on STAR WARS than I’ve seen any company get on these ethnic and ethical revisions. Disney is very much about mixing up their casts, which only an idiot or a bigot would care about, as long as the stories and characters are interesting. So why not make a NEW planetary romance series? Lucas sure as hell didn’t invent the genre. The reason, of course, is that Disney wants those Star Wars bucks and know if TFA were called The Space Believers and followed the same exact story with the identifying details changed, it would’ve made John Carter kind of money.

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People defending the radical changes in THE LAST JEDI because ‘people in real life change’ are conveniently forgetting that movie characters are not real people. (Also there is no sound in space, if we’re getting into ‘that’s life.’) If Sherlock Holmes became a zombie hunter and Tarzan a stay-at-home dad, objective analysts would admit the original properties have been perverted.

These are entertainments; the folks denying they are meant to be social justice artifacts are the very ones who approve of them being twisted to their political point of view. I care far too much about this dumb topic.

 

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The First Comic Books I Ever Bought: The Thrilling Conclusion

 

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I got this one during a family vacation on Cape Cod in August of 1974. I was eight and bored so I walked down the highway to the book store. If an eight year old kid walked that far today his parents would be arrested. The story is about Dr. Strange and his girlfriend being among the witnesses to a girl being hit by a train and exploding into light. This is odd even for New York. Dr. Strange learns she was playing a harmonica of destiny or something. The Thing gets involved in the hunt for the witnesses, who are impacted by their being hit with the cosmic glitter from the exploding girl. In the end the Thing and Doc Strange fight a giant rat in The Thing’s old neighborhood. I suspect this is one reason I find cruddy old neighborhoods so interesting; I’ve even worked in some.

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Being in the subway is bad enough without harmonica music.

I did not get the next issue, and was very disappointed when I later learned that Dr. Strange didn’t think the case was important enough to follow it to its conclusion–The Valkyrie takes over in the next issue. The description of  the story I read is not impressive. For one thing, this very moody, nocturnal city story is followed up by one that happens in friggin’ Connecticut in daylight. I think Valkyrie’s old man dies or something. I’m glad I missed it!

This shows you what tricks memory plays on someone who’s always had a cruddy one. I used to think THIS was the first comic book I ever bought. The story fits–bored dude wandering in a strange land, comes upon the magical squeaking rack, heavenly choir, blinding light. But the cover dates tell another story–was I already hooked when I bought this? Did I buy those previous comics at Bookland at the Tri-Town mall in Canton? Is my life a lie?

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No sound effect of the car’s alarm going off?

On the other hand, you kids wouldn’t know that in the olden days, comics were often stocked with indifference, with older issues alongside new ones. They were junk for kids, who cares? Now that the average age of comic books is “trying to recapture a youth you never let go of,” comic books are treated like precious literary objects.

This comic book really made an impression on me. I’ve always been fascinated by stories set in cities at night, with cool characters running around trying to solve a mystery. Also, the melding of crime and the supernatural is something I love even decades later.

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Another issue that really made an impact–night, supernatural, the road and…the desert! Ghost Rider is driving through Arizona and comes upon a phantom Holy Family. Meanwhile, Mr. Fantastic sees a star that indicates something going on in Arizona. The standout of the Baxter Building-set scenes is a Christmas party with all of the characters just hanging out. This is the Marvel style in spades, showing the characters as regular human beings. It’s character stuff in a medium that’s very plot-driven.

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Weak guest list considering they’re friends with every superhero on the planet.

Ghost Rider is treated as just a dude on a motorcycle here, calling The Thing “Mr. Grimm” and being the most white bread motorcycle-ridin’, leather-wearin’, flaming-skulled ‘badass’ ever.

These five comics were the ones I can recall unaided. If I went looking for the boxes of comics I still have after the great purge in 1980 I could reconstruct a continuum, but these made their mark as few other comics did.

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“Silent Night, DEADLY Night” But no one dies.

 

The First Comic Books I Ever Bought

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This may be the very first comic book I ever bought, so get it now before the news gets out and the price soars. You can get it for a buck. My copy, if I still own it, is in a box with a bunch of other comics, mostly X-Men, which would be worth a mint if I kept them in good shape, but they’re probably worth a total of ten bucks now. (I just saw how much my banged-up copy of X-Men 94 would go for in mint condition, but I managed not to get the keyboard wet.)

Werewolf By Night is pretty self-explanatory. The character went in some weird places later, but at this point it was standard stuff: He inherited the curse of lycanthropy, he tries to lock himself up so he doesn’t become a werewolf and run around doing werewolf stuff, but he gets out because otherwise we wouldn’t have a comic book. In this issue, we meet another man with The Curse, this one also involving bloodletting. The curse can be lifted, we learn, but killing another werewolf. Jack, our hero, meets the other werewolf, and they run around, hitting the hot spots–they form a pack of two. How will this story resolve? Which of these two will die?

There’s no suspense, because there is a THIRD werewolf, an evil dude who becomes a wolfman on purpose, using a magic ring so he can go wolf and kill. I wonder, will he be killed by the innocent werewolf, knocking out two werewolves, and leaving our hero still cursed? Even an eight-year-old could figure that out.

It takes place in the city at night, and there are monsters and violence. It’s got that blend of horror and crime that I like.

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What a weird issue of a magazine to start with: The Thing, one of the Fantastic Four, is a BAD GUY in this issue. The Mad Thinker has caused The Thing to blame Mr. Fantastic for his woes. Later, I’d find out this was justified, but on reading this issue Thing came off as just brainwashed. The issue is mostly about Reed Richards and Johnny Storm trying to deal with their buddy turning on them. In the end, Reed turns one of his handy weapons on him. In the final panel, Sue Storm shows up and declares, “Ben! He’s dead!” Which of course he wasn’t.

What still fascinates me about comic books is how they show the world of adults to kids in a fantasy context. How cool would it be to live as an adult with super powers? You can smash stuff, fly, stretch your body, and you get to fight! Fighting is exhilarating to a kid, a physical expression of the anger, rage and frustration kids often have, or just think about. You can DO something about your problems when you’re a superperson. This isn’t an original observation, of course, but while a kid doesn’t understand this when he encounters comics, if he’s powerfully attracted to reading them, he easily becomes addicted because there’s nothing like them.

Well…there WAS nothing like them, at the time. Movies for kids were kid movies. Today, the top movies are almost always comic book, action, adventure and/or science fiction.

The other aspect that made me want to write about this here is the dark edge of this issue. Your best buddy has hidden resentment toward you, and a mad scientist makes that stuff emerge, and your buddy comes for you.

The only thing missing is a moment where Reed says, “I KNEW it! I KNEW you resented me for turning you into a walking pile of dried dung!” Reed has expressed guilt over what his rocket trip did to the group, and as far as I know he never fully resolved it. This issue is about survival, but it’s also about the return of the oppressed feelings Ben Grimm has over his condition in life.

 

This may be the first comic book I ever read, and it was a good introduction, even if I came in in the middle. It isn’t a light story, it isn’t about the fun and camaraderie that is basic to almost all superhero team comics, but what happens when that unit breaks down.

That’s some dark stuff.