Seeing Star Wars with an Eight-Year-Old

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Richard Hershberger

Richard Hershberger is a paralegal working in Maryland. When he isn't doing whatever it is that paralegals do, or taking his daughters to Girl Scouts, he is dedicated to the collection and analysis of useless and unremunerative information.

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  1. Avatar Burt Likko
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    The petulance, unnecessary rebellion, unfocused desire for independence and confidence, inability to control frustration and resulting temper tantrums, and general lack of emotional self-control which so annoy you (and my wife, who reacted the same way) about this character are at the roots of his journey to the Dark Side.

    For myself, I think that Star Wars is first and foremost mythology. Mythology works principally with allegories and archetypes, often in decidedly unnuanced ways. There are heroes and villains. as with all stories that are principally myths, this creates an overt example of a certain kind of behavior and resulting consequence. It’s a bit of a teaching moment. After all, these same sorts of personality traits are found in abundance within a large strain of the adolescent population out here in the real world, where they are in cognate fashion simultaneously tedious and annoying to those around them, and if unchecked for too long, potentially destructive to the incidents of happiness in said adolescent’s life.

    No better allegorical example of this can be imagined than the bridge scene: a loving father approaches the wayward son with open arms and forgiveness, and the adolescent chooses to pursue independence instead, using the obviously incorrect label of “strength,” resulting in the permanent loss of what would otherwise have been a font of love and acceptance. The death of a beloved character like Han Solo is only one reason this is such a pivotal, gut-wrenching moment: the other is that it is an allegory for the dangers of a poorly-managed adolescent assertion of self.

    Son-kills-father is also more than a little bit Oedipal; watch out for a sanitized-to-PG-13 completion of the Oedipal Sin, the act of incest, to be played out in Episode VIII. It’s a PG-13 world, so it won’t be an overt attempt by Kylo Ren to bed Leia, but it’ll be an analogy like a theft or some sort of Force ritual that requires intimate physical proximity. Or maybe we already saw a transferred vision of the Oedipal Sin in his Sith Mind Probe of Rey, who is pretty clearly projected to be Ren’s first cousin and thus within the realm of familial proximity as to render intimate contact between them incestuous; Leia and Rey are identified further as close when they embrace upon Rey’s return from the mission.

    But I digress. Point is, yes, teenage rebellion is distasteful to behold. In the realm of myth, where Star Wars resides, its power and danger are vested in the trappings of cosmic conflict — so as to underline the emotional truth of this facet of the human experience. That we find this aspect of the human experience unpleasant does not make it any less real.Report

  2. Avatar LeeEsq
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    says:

    I haven’t seen The Force Awakens yet but I’m growing increasingly perplexed at the criticism that Abrams just remade Episode IV. Abrams isn’t the most experimental directors and considering the amount of money involved in Star Wars, this is exactly what Disney wanted. They weren’t going to allow any director with ideas for something brand new and interesting potentially lead to a fan backlash and less than maximum revenue. Even if a more creative director than Abrams was hired, Disney was going to keep him or her on a very short leash.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to LeeEsq
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      says:

      Yeah, it’s NOT Abram’s fault. He did an awesome job with what he had to work with.
      (Also,kudos for bashing Ford’s head in until the man decided he had to act. Apparently when to Arnold’s school of acting, where he’s toolazy to act unless the director makes him)Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Kim
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        says:

        I think Harrison Ford is more of a nerd than he lets on. It’s interesting to watch the documentary about the making of Blade Runner, where they have some brief outtakes from Ford’s ADR sessions (which included the notorious voiceover work.) In the early outtakes, Ford is very excited about the movie and the script; he is actually kind of geeking out about the idea of artifical people. Later on, though, after the difficulties of production, he’s clearly in Don’t Give A Hoot mode; the ADR director actually stops and says “Harrison, do you feel all right? Would you rather do this another day?” “Oh no no no, let’s just get this finished.”Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to LeeEsq
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      says:

      Take it as a critique of the process, then, rather than of Abrams individually. Though Abrams seemed not to have any such constraints with Star Trek.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Richard Hershberger
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        says:

        The 1960s liberal optimism of Star Trek:OTS does not fit in well with the modern era.Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to LeeEsq
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          says:

          No, but the next?
          It shall fit in fine there, as we cling to each other to keep our heads above the endless waves.Report

        • Avatar greginak in reply to LeeEsq
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          says:

          Ah yes the optimism of time when the world was split in two competing blocks one which was led by the Soviet Union, hundreds of millions lived under it’s tyranny, hot wars flamed around the world, and nuclear destruction was a real possibility. Now that the SU has long fallen, many of the wildest dreams of the 60’s optimists have come true and the world is getting better in many ways, well, who needs optimism now.Report

          • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to greginak
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            says:

            There was dopey liberal optimism that mankind can progress and find peace and you know it.Report

            • Avatar greginak in reply to LeeEsq
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              says:

              Yeah like the progress we have made what with world wide poverty going down and the evil empire going down and the world being more peaceful then when ST was made.

              Of course we aren’t living in a ST paradise or any paradise. But people were optimistic at a very difficult, scary time of the world when whether the SU or US would win the cold war or even if the planet woldn’t get wiped clean by nuke war. Now the world is better in so many ways and people are phobic about actually being optimisitc.Report

        • Avatar Barry in reply to LeeEsq
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          says:

          “The 1960s liberal optimism of Star Trek:OTS does not fit in well with the modern era.”

          Yes, the sunny Good Old Days of unwinnable quagmire wars (with a corrupt draft system), race riots, massive pollution, all topped with enought nuclear weapons on 30-minute triggers to end civilization.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to LeeEsq
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      says:

      I think you’re right about Abrams being on a short leash, but doesn’t this lead to a sort of weird defense of the movie? i.e. It wasn’t going to be creative, after all, because it’s the product of a mega-conglomerate and constructed to fulfill certain expectations in a formulaic way. That’s the whole point, man!! I mean, that’s certainly true, but don’t we ask for something more from movies? Or, should we just do away with the idea of directors at this point and let focus groups guide the creation of a movie?Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Rufus F.
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        says:

        It depends on the type of movie. There are movies where we expect more because it is a more literary or artistically ambitious type of movie. Stand alone science fiction movies, dramas about relationships, family or politics, or anything more personal. Star Wars is a franchise and part of the collective conscious. Its a movie that people go to with many expectations and also a desire to have fun.Report

        • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to LeeEsq
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          says:

          I don’t think anything you’re saying is wrong in any way. I just wonder if the economics aren’t slanted so heavily towards this kind of movie just in order to keep these conglomerates afloat that the other sorts of films won’t eventually go extinct. I can think of artistically vibrant films of the last decade- I just can’t see why, were I an executive, I’d rather bankroll those films, which rarely make very much money, over a franchise blockbuster, which stands a good chance to turn a decent profit, provided the film “delivers”.Report

          • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Rufus F.
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            says:

            I share the same concern but the key word in the phrase show business is the second one. The artistic gems of Hollywood and their non-American equivalents were always happy accidents. Many of the older ones were also products of a time when cultural ideas at least egged people into eating their cultural vegetables on occasion because it was good for them and for status. These ideals are long gone and intellectuals are partly to blame. Intellectuals made fun of this sort of middle-brow culture harshly and the middle classes eventually just gave it up.Report

            • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to LeeEsq
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              says:

              There were a lot of things going on in the 70s heyday of independent American film making. Part of it was that the studio system wasn’t delivering movies that people really wanted to see in great numbers. The big studio movies already looked outdated. Part of it was that you had some producers, like Bob Rafelson, who were a little nuts. And part of it was you had a generation of directors who absorbed the more experimental movies that came before them and wanted to try different things. And definitely part of it was that the audiences showed up for a few movies that showed it was possible to turn a decent profit on artistic gems. And then Star Wars showed it was possible to make more the highest box office ever on a crowd pleasing popcorn movie and that changed a lot. I don’t know very well what the role of intellectuals was in that climate. I did see an interesting interview with Jack Nicholson in a doc on American International Pictures in which he said he hated Star Wars when it came out because he knew the sort of system he’d come up in was now toast.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Rufus F.
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                says:

                I’m thinking way earlier like during the 1960s and the destruction of Middle-Brow culture. In the first scene in Lolita, Lolita’s mother is trying to impress Humbert Humbert with the high cultural activities she is involved in. This scene was obvious intended to satirize middle-brow culture and how middle class people often tried to appear more educated and erudite than they actually were. Intellectuals hated this and mocked it without mercy. The thing is that this sort of you have to read or watch these things if you have x level of education is what allowed a lot of high culture to flourish. The high culture types bit the hand that fed them.Report

          • Avatar Kim in reply to Rufus F.
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            says:

            Rufus,
            Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me! It’s cheaper to make a film than it is to run a play — and the film will be better too, as you can get the best take. Digital filmography has changed the landscape irrevocably.
            Germany makes movies into “get rich quick” schemes (I am not kidding! make a crappy movie, get tons of subsidies from the gov’t). We aren’t going to lose out on good films, they just may not make it to the blockbuster theaters.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Rufus F.
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        says:

        There was a billion dollars (so far) to be made by not fishing it up. How much more was there to be made by doing something more ambitious that was worth the risk of fishing it up?Report

        • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Mike Schilling
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          says:

          Wouldn’t the profit be the same at this point? It seems like the lesson to have been learned by Lucas supposedly fishing up the first three movies is that he tried a few new things that didn’t work, thus Abrams is a better director because he doesn’t try new things. But, ya know, it’s not like any of these movies lose money- they’ll all make a billion dollars in the end.Report

        • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Mike Schilling
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          says:

          Of course, the irony is that, if George Lucas was trying to get that kind of budget today for something as unique as the first Star Wars movie was in 1977, it wouldn’t stand a chance of being greenlit.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Rufus F.
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        says:

        Rufus,
        God, I wish this had been guided by focus groups!! That was Interstellar’s problem.
        This was guided by “please don’t fail!” from the get-go, and because of that we got a substantially crappier movie than Interstellar (which itself was fatally flawed, but more in a “you needed to tell us that?” sort of “focus groups didn’t get it” sort of way).Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Rufus F.
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        says:

        “I think you’re right about Abrams being on a short leash, but doesn’t this lead to a sort of weird defense of the movie?”

        Even a low bar can be tripped over.Report

    • Avatar Darth Binks in reply to LeeEsq
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      says:

      Unlike most, I don’t fault Abrams especially for recycling old plot elements. I fault him for doing so so incoherently, and more generally for being too impatient with the moments that matter, to get to the next kablooey that don’t. Also…, having an undisciplined self-defeating wannabe almost bad-ass as villain has potential…

      The film has strong foundations; most, or all of its weaknesses can be remediated with a crafty fan edit, which I await eagerly (not having the skills or time to do it myself). If I were to do it myself, I’d get rid of Snokes, that cliched yawning crack of doom, and most of visuals and explanation of that fugly new “death star”Report

      • Avatar Doctor Jay in reply to Darth Binks
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        says:

        I find it interesting that you would refer to Kylo Ren as “undisciplined”. (I’ll sign off on “self-defeating wannabe almost bad-ass”). This is because of his temper tantrums, I suppose.

        It turns out that Darth Vader had temper tantrums. For instance, watch The Empire Strikes Back. “You have failed me for the last time, admiral”, and then he kills the guy, over the vid, while giving instructions to his replacement next to him. He’s calm, so I guess we’d call that “disciplined”? It sure seems like a temper tantrum to me. It isn’t the only time he has that sort of temper tantrum in the film, either.Report

  3. Avatar CK MacLeod
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    says:

    The Star Wars marketing machine is nothing if not efficient. It has been entirely successful at penetrating the elementary school collective consciousness… She watched it intently, with no squirming or pointed inquiries about additional snack runs, and she grabbed my hand during various scary bits. So it definitely held her attention. On the other hand, it didn’t reduce her to a puddle of goo, and she has not broached the subject of seeing it again.

    My sense is that she enjoyed it as part of her cohort’s collective culture, but didn’t have that sense of wonder reaction I did when I was fourteen.

    Seems to me you explain away the conclusion: She was born into the Star Wars world. As you said, she already knew who all of the characters were even before you showed her Ep IV on DVD. It’s like expecting her to experience amazement about your smartphone – which would probably also have been magically awesome to you when you were gooing over the first Star Wars.

    There’s nothing poor ol’ Disney or Abrams can do about no longer being novel except nibble around the edges with new technologies – nor about the fact that, simply in inflation-adjusted domestic box-office dollars, VII still has a long way to go to catch up with IV (or for that matter with GONE WITH THE WIND and around 50 other movies). That’s only one measure, and imperfectly takes changes in the market and the audiences across the history of the movies into account. These days, there’s also much less reason to see it again or again and again and again like people used to do, since everyone expects to have it available forever in sundry high resolution home theater formats anyway…

    I suspect Disney’s more than satisfied with how the whole thing’s gone so far, though I don’t know much the near-sure-thingism of the whole project was already figured into the price they paid.Report

  4. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    This was the best commercial for a movie-related product that I’ve seen since The Lego Movie.
    I am favorably disposed toward the product following the commercial.
    I am inclined to purchase items related to the product, if not for myself, definitely as gifts for others.
    I would go to a theme park with a theme derived from this commercial product, though probably not in the next year.
    I would probably not buy food related to this product.
    I might buy alcohol related to this commercial product, but unless it was really good, only once.
    I would play a video game related to this product.
    I would probably not buy a music album related to this product.Report

  5. Avatar Guy
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    says:

    Well, there is something to be said for making sure all your lead actors are capable of emoting. I’ve lately realized that a great deal of potential in the original trilogy that is wasted on Mark Hamill’s wooden face. I think this movie had less potential than the original, based on the scenarios presented, but the actors and, yes, the director also capitalized on more than in the original.

    A friend (mid twenties) who had never seen any star wars movies recently watched the first three, and her reaction was instructive. She hated the original, thought Empire was ok, and was willing to call Return a real movie. This, I think, is because those three movies are Lucas gradually learning how to actually put a movie on top of his plot – A New Hope is basically just a flat trolley ride through a plot that, frankly, isn’t all that special (though it was more so in the 70s). Steadily Lucas and the others involved in the production grew it into an actual story. But, you know, built on the skeleton of that plot, which he knew how to create, or at least work with. The problem with the prequels wasn’t that Lucas was trying new stuff, it was that he pulled the plot out of the thing and threw it away. And then it fell down into a gross pile of goo, like you’d expect if something that was supposed to have a bit of an internal skeleton suddenly didn’t. The Force Awakens is very clearly a development on the first formula of Star Wars – someone important has been captured, so we rescue them, then we go blow up a big round thing. This is A New Hope, it is Return of the Jedi, and it is The Force Awakens. But there’s also elements of Empire Strikes Back – the protagonists are not into this whole destiny thing, but eventually they get swept up in it anyway, and the second one to do so has an important laser sword fight. Anyway, point is, The Force Awakens is the original trilogy with some meat on its bones, and that meat is made of faces that have emotions and it is delicious.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Guy
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      says:

      Actually, Mark Hamill can act. Rather unfair to judge his acting ability on something that was done forty years ago.
      But yeah, JJ Abrams strength for both Trek and Wars has been “finding good young actors who can act well”Report

  6. Avatar Glyph
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    says:

    Well, I finally saw it today, and while it was a nice tribute and I appreciate the sentiment, I am nonetheless disheartened that JJ Abrams appears to be just as susceptible to the urge to digitally-tweak and retcon prior canon as Lucas was.Report

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