This past Saturday, Star Wars Day happened at the BFI at London’s southbank. Here’s a picture of that.
From 11 in the morning until 8:20 in the evening, me and a shiny, fairly new friend watched the original trilogy flicker past. There was that fantastic opening shot that framed the scale of the struggle; that tiny rebel ship pursued by a rumbling, neverending star destroyer. There was Luke being all dramatic, looking off into the horizon at the twin suns setting, longing for adventure, for anywhere but here. That shot stays with me as much, or more, than most others. Simple. Beautiful. And that score by John Williams welling up in the background.
When Greedo shot first, people in the audience booed. I wasn’t sure what to make of that. There were a few boo’s to go along with the cheers. These were the special editions being screened. I don’t remember now if I was one of those, a long time ago, who felt so cheated by Lucas for tinkering with our childhood. Older, now, different, I don’t care. The movies I watched as a child only exist in my mind anyway, and it’s in my mind that I watch them now, seeing not just the films themselves, understanding again how beautiful they are, how superbly edited, how perfectly orchestrated (such a soundscape!), but seeing more–seeing how they sit in culture, in terms of feminism, in terms of people of color, in terms of the dawning age of computers and automation, the eternal struggle between human and machine, and not just machine in terms of electronics, but machines in terms of our own emotions, our bodies sometimes acting like mechanisms of hate and lust and love and fear. The lessons of Star Wars, of Yoda, as simple as they are, as mythic and profound they seemed to me as a child, still matter. I still watch Yoda lift that X-wing out of the swamp and hear Luke say, “I don’t believe it,” and Yoda say, “That is why you fail,” and I know that those are words worth remembering.
There was, before Empire Strikes Back, an introduction from Billy Dee Williams, clearly speaking about the presence of race in Star Wars, of how for some, the first Star Wars existed as a white-washed future in which the only person of color was Darth Vader, and he, just a fashion and a voice, at that. Also, evil. Williams spoke about Lucas wanting to answer those critics, to include a different perspective. And, what was wild and sad and confusing, was how Williams seemed to be avoiding words like race or black in his introduction. I don’t know why. He said he was a person of the world. Which he is. I was sad when some parts of reality were upset that the first face in the The Force Awakens trailer belonged to John Boyega, a person of color.
I hope that in forty years, we remember his face, and these new stories, as fondly as we remembered those first three. I hope, and this is a lot of hope, is that somehow these new films touch on the old new myth of Star Wars, mixing together fairy tales and science fiction in a way that open up a new chapter in the neverending struggle between humans and the mechanisms they design: philosophies, religions, governments, beliefs. I want a new myth from an old story. It’s what I always want, really. I want a new way to see.
When the evening ended, and there was Luke fighting Vader, and Vader as a ghost (and more boo’s) and there was my friend experiencing ridiculous amounts of joy at the Ewoks, I was left feeling as much like myself as I could feel. Which is a strange thing to say, because, how do people ever not feel like themselves, but they do, and there’s not much you can do about it. It happens with time and space. And, if you’re lucky, there are people and stories that remind you who you were at the same time they let you grow. Every time I see Star Wars, I am older than I was, and different, and the same boy who stared at the setting suns and wanted more. Much as the films themselves.
They’re just stories, of course. But so is everything.
Happy Monday, readers.