Thursday, December 14, 2017

What Star Wars got Right

Trey Causey revisited an older post recently, and he's still 100% correct in what he notices.  However, I don't think he gets the whole story.  He correctly notes a few things:
  • European-style swashbuckling action; here he means "Euro-style" in the sense of the Ruritanian romance with princesses, nobles, swordfights, etc.  He specifically references Edgar Rice Burroughs' The Mad King, which was his own take on the Ruritanian romance (and is therefore one of the better ones); he doesn't mean that the authors are necessarily European.  Specifically mentioned both Burroughs and Alex Raymond, who are both Americans—rather, the setting has a kind of romanticized European Old Country charm.
  • The more pulp type of square-jawed science fiction with jet packs and robots and stuff.  The vibe of The Rocketeer or Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (although both post-date Star Wars; maybe the original Buck Rogers stuff is the best analog.  I'm not 100% sure that a clear line can be drawn between works from this oeuvre and the one mentioned above; or maybe he just happens to have examples that often blur the lines (specifically Flash Gordon and Barsoom.)
  • Fun exoticism that takes the elements that made Orientalism and chinoiserie popular, but even more alien; funny-headed aliens speaking Huttese that actually sounds like a real language, for instance.
  • Nostalgia for the Americana that Lucas himself grew up with; many have remarked that there is much more in common between Star Wars and American Graffiti than initially meets the eye.
What he doesn't point out, which I think is also part of it, is that all kinds of other genres get heavily mixed in.  There's a lot of Western influence to the point where the cantina scene is almost exactly a straight up saloon with Han Solo and Greedo as gunfighters.  There's a lot more noir influence than many realize (although it became much more overt over time, especially in certain episodes of the prequels and the Clone Wars series).

The fact that the Star Wars setting can credibly work for everything from Graustark to a train heist to Roman gladiators to steely-eyed gunfighters with tumbleweeds rolling by to walking the plank pirate stories to Raymond Chandler to Godzilla stories to zombie plague stories—and none of it really feels too forced or out of place—is part of the charm.  The original movie trilogy didn't literally use all of those elements, but it used a lot more than some people realize.  They are somewhat subtle, I suppose, and because they're just embedded in our cultural psyche, we don't really think much about them, but Star Wars is basically every single type of romanticized boy's adventure story rolled up into one.

This is also where Star Wars is going to go wrong in the future, to the extent that it isn't already, though.  Those who are making new Star Wars movies have embraced the feminist imperative.  Because the feminist imperative is fundamentally at odds with biology, there's nowhere to go with this but down.  There's a reason that Star Wars is a melange of boy's adventure tales, and making all of the boys bumbling comic relief and making Mary Suewalker act like a boy, except even more capable at anything and everything isn't going to make Star Wars more appealing.

As an aside, I watched the 1981 Clash of the Titans last night while holed up in the house due to lots of falling snow, inability of our infrastructure to clear the roads well, and stuff getting canceled across the board that I would otherwise have been out doing.  It's not a great movie, but I've kind of got a soft spot for those old cheesy sword & sandal movies, especially with the stop-motion mythological monsters.  I imagine most D&D players kind of do.  Now, I might watch the 2010 remake here soon, but even if I don't, I think I can remember well enough why that failed compared to the 1981 version, and much of it comes down to that.
  • In the 2010 version, Perseus is kind of whiny and reluctant.  I hate the trope of the reluctant hero.  Men that women love and other men aspire to be are movers and shakers.  Leading men who are passive, or even worse, surly and whiny, just are incredibly unlikable.  The Perseus of the earlier version, on the other hand, is happy to go find his destiny; he's even impetuous about it, which gives him a kind of youthful charm.
  • In the 2010 version, Andromeda isn't even the love interest.  Oh, she's pretty enough, but she's cold, distant, and there's nothing feminine or charming about her at all.  (For that matter, the same is mostly true of the actual love interest, some new character played by Gemma Aterton.  She's credited as Io, but has absolutely no connection to the mythological Io, so I don't know why.)  Judi Bowker's Andromeda, on the other hand, is everything a young princess should be; full of youthful, virginal sweetness, compassion, femininity, and very, very beautiful.  When she runs off on her horse in front of the guys, it's not because "I'm a manly pseudo-woman in the feminist vein, here me roar!" it's because she's young, impetuous, in love, and it makes her even more cute and more feminine rather than less so.  It's not unlike the famous line from A Princess of Mars; "Fly Sola, Dejah Thoris stays to die with the man she loves."  The men react to it fondly.  But they protect them, even from themselves, and when Andromeda wakes up to find that everyone except old Burgess Meredith has already left and there's nothing for her to do except go back home, it's sad, but not as sad, reckless or foolish as taking the girl you love into harm's way.  These two are where I say that the feminist imperative fights against biology; the story that the feminist imperative would have us tell simply isn't a story that most people are going to react to very well, because it makes men into low-T losers, and it makes women into pseudo-men.  And then to make it worse, these pseudo-men have plot immunity to even minor setbacks, because the shrieking harpies who write this stuff can't bear to see them suffer even that.  So the stories not only feature unbelievable and unlikable characters, but they also feature unlikable, boring plots with no real tension or suspense.
  • Poor Sam Worthington is probably a decent guy, but I've never yet seen him in a movie where he had any charisma or chemistry with the other actors.  Harry Hamlin, on the other hand, isn't a particularly talented actor, but even so, he had a kind of dumb jock charm, and it was credible that Perseus and Andromeda were victims of young love.
  • On the other hand, the 2010 version had much better special effects, and usually better action sequences (although I actually think the Medusa scene works better as a tense horror scene than as an action scene, so 1981's version actually wins there.  By a little bit.)
  • Yes, I admit that my exploration of The Serpent's Skull eventually led me to believe that I did need snake-men instead of merely lizardmen.  And yes, I did gravitate towards making them different by going more with a yuan-ti abomination than with just scaly people with snake heads.  And yes, that led me to Medusa, and proposing a link between Medusa, lesser medusae, and the snake-men.  And yes, that led me to watching Clash of the Titans, mostly to see the Medusa scene all over again.

1 comment:

Desdichado said...

Well... I made a watered down point of the second half of this post on Facebook, regarding the new Star Wars movie, but really just as a generic point, because I'm not seeing The Last Jedi until tomorrow. He was upset... because I was 100% right about The Last Jedi; everything I just discussed there happened in that movie, but he hadn't really thought about it until I pointed it out.

Sigh. This is why we read Galaxy's Edge, right?