Uncertain Point of View

There’s no one right way to do Star Wars (unless, of course, it’s the way that I like)

Last week, I had a longer-than-usual wait in the queue for Star Tours at Disneyland, so I got to see more of the pre-show loop than I have since FastPass was introduced. I was reminded both of how clever and how goofy it is. More than that, I was struck by how it’s so tonally different from Galaxy’s Edge, even though they’re both in the same park, with the same IP, and even ostensibly have the same premise.

For me, an adult who’s spent an excessive amount of his life thinking about Star Wars, it made me realize how I’ve so often had a hard time “reading” it. I’ve always taken for granted that the Galaxy’s Edge version is the “proper” version: there’s plenty of room for pulpy adventure and comic relief, but overall it’s intended to be taken seriously.

After all, it’s modern mythology, isn’t it? I always thought it was supposed to be like a more-accessible Dune: straight-faced sci-fi fantasy with a shot of mysticism, but without Dune’s complexity and complete lack of humor.1Now I’m wondering if Dune was meant to be taken seriously. Is all of this an elaborate joke, and I’ve just been punked since the 1970s? Then there’s stuff like Jar-Jar Binks and the rest of the Gungans, and the Ewoks, and the various things that seem like juvenile or clumsy attempts to inject comedy relief into what is otherwise Very Serious Business.

As I’ve lamented several times before, it’s made me perpetually wonder if, now that I’m in my 50s, it’s past time for me to put aside childish things. I know plenty of people around my age who’ve concluded that the entire business is you know, for kids and doesn’t warrant the kind of attention that some of us still give to it. At times, I’ve concluded that it’s gotten to be so all-encompassing that Star Wars is now nothing more than a particular aesthetic.

But whether it’s because I’m a Gen-Xer, or if it’s just something peculiar to me: few things unnerve me more than the sense that I might not be in on the joke.

So my world was rocked a couple of years ago when the guy who voiced the Joker “confirmed” a bit of trivia, saying that George Lucas originally wanted the Looney Toons short Duck Dodgers in the 24th 1/2 Century to play before Star Wars in theaters. It would’ve been a clue that the movie wasn’t intended to be taken entirely seriously. It would’ve been nice to have heard that like forty years ago!

In any case: with Galaxy’s Edge and the popularity of the Andor series, and the animated series aiming for long story arcs and “more mature” storylines, it’s felt as if the trend in Star Wars has been to treat it as a serious setting. Or at least, to choose aspects of the setting and its aesthetic and use it to tell Grown-Up stories.

And I’m not going to say They’re Doing It Wrong — certainly not with Galaxy’s Edge, which I still love — but it would be a shame if that were to become the “preferred” way to do Star Wars, because I think the goofiness and absurdity is an essential part of what makes Star Wars work, at least as much as weathering, LEDs, and sideburns.

I’ve had a difficult time articulating exactly why I love The Mandalorian so much, most often ending up with “I just think it’s neat is all.” But I’m realizing that a lot of it is because it so confidently skips over the surface of believability, very rarely giving any indication to the audience that it’s aware of how absurd it all is. All the stunt casting and silly moments aren’t aberrations; they’re essential parts of what makes it feel so much like this is my Star Wars. Yes to the Thundercat cameo! Yes to The Mods! Yes to the Mandalorians choosing to live on a desolate planet where their children are frequently eaten by dinosaurs!

My friend Jake pointed out that Galaxy’s Edge, as excellent as it is, reminds guests that actually living in Star Wars would be more of a drag than an adventure. It’s always weird to me to see kids and families interacting with the Stormtroopers and Kylo Ren, with everyone laughing, having fun, and taking photos with murderous fascists.

I think the part that I’m forgetting is that we’re a few hundred feet away from New Orleans Square, with its rides celebrating death, murder, and human trafficking; and Fantasyland, which has rides in which children are poisoned, sold into slavery (after being transformed to donkeys), or threatened with murder by dismembered pirates. The “fascists” in this fantasy don’t have anything to do with politics; they are The Bad Guys. It’s only because of years of seeing pop culture become ever more obsessed with analyzing and examining itself, that we’ve grown to believe that everything needs to have a deeper meaning. Sometimes adventure stories need Bad Guys.

That’s something else that I think The Mandalorian gets across so well — the galaxy is brutal and unfair, and everything and everyone is relentlessly trying to murder our heroes. (And our adorable leading man contributes to the brutality by constantly eating a helpless frog woman’s children). Instead of getting introspective about it, they all just shrug and say “Taungsdays, amirite?” and then go about their business. It would be a miserable life if it weren’t a fantastic adventure story.

Recently I started up Jedi: Fallen Order for the third time, after two previous failed attempts. The opening is just a fantastic sequence of world-building and place-setting combined with a tutorial using some amazing, huge set pieces. Once again, I was inclined to make the old joke about how The Empire is just a nightmare of OSHA violations — it’s bad enough that nothing in the Death Star has railings, but the construction site at the beginning of Fallen Order is full of precarious ledges that require death-defying acrobatics simply to navigate. And the whole thing is perched over an absolute behemoth of a sarlacc-type monster, eager to digest anything or anyone that happens to fall into it.

And once again, I was reminded that I haven’t made some clever, insightful new observation; the dangerous absurdity is an essential part of it. None of this stuff is supposed to be practical, or even to make sense; it just needs to look cool and be part of a cool story. It’s nice to be reminded that not everything is hung up about whether you’re laughing with it or laughing at it; all that matters is that you’re having fun and that you’re laughing.

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    Now I’m wondering if Dune was meant to be taken seriously. Is all of this an elaborate joke, and I’ve just been punked since the 1970s?

One thought on “Uncertain Point of View”

  1. The leading man comment had me chuckling that you may also be on the path of thinking that “The” Mandalorian of the show “The Mandalorian” is not and apparently never has been Din Djarin.

    I like to tell to tell people about The Journal of the Whills because it was a barely concealed bit of world building I reverse engineered as a kid reading George Lucas’ novel adaptation of the first film, which is far closer to the original scripts than the actual movie turned out to be. I spent a couple decades thinking it just a silly theory, but then Ars Technica actually managed in an interview to get George Lucas to confirm it a few years after the Disney sale and I felt vindicated and special for having guessed correctly.

    The Journal of the Whills was the original working title for Star Wars and also a hint at who the original narrator voice was supposed to be. Most of the narrator voice was cut from the movie, though it influenced the serial-style opening crawl (minus some personality). It was supposed to be a mystery: who were the Whills? Why did they care about the Skywalkers?

    The Whills were the The Force were “midichlorians”. The closest thing to a “grand plan” of Star Wars was that it was all building up to a microscopic voyage to meet the Whills and hang out with the very aliens that were the actual embodiment of The Force. In whatever acid trip that sparked Star Wars, George Lucas imagined that the biggest twist would be an excuse to Fantastic Voyage into the bloodstream of a Jedi and go hang out with the aliens there!

    I can’t imagine Disney will ever give us “Honey, I Shrunk the X-Wing” and fill it with the most muppety Whills an acid trip like that (and “George’s vision” for Star Wars) deserves, and sometimes I wonder if that’s a shame because that’s definitely an element missing in understanding something about the intent of Star Wars, a place where even the most mystical of powers is really just tiny microscopic aliens running around and having their own weird fun.

    I can get a hearty laugh any time some too serious fan again suggests that George Lucas’s master-planned sequels would have been better than the Abrams-produced Disney sequels. They would have been a lot weirder, and perhaps crazy amounts of silly fun, but better was probably unlikely.

    (I burnt out on Star Wars binging too self-serious EU novels sometime in High School and it took a lot of coming back around to “Star Wars is a silly place” and my love for the [terrible] Ewok Adventures among other things to return to enjoying Star Wars media as an adult.)

    As for Dune, Frank Herbert wrote some of the funniest books outside of that series and he had a wicked sense of humor and I honestly don’t think we’ll ever quite know how to be in on whatever the joke embedded in Dune was, especially because Frank himself never got to writing the final punchline. (Brian and KJA may have had his notes but never quite had his sense of humor.) I think there was a joke there. When you get far enough into the acid trip-like escapades of a million Duncan Idaho clones (gholas, lol) fighting each other, I think the only logical response is laughter, but at what is deeply obscure by that point. On the flipside there, parts of Dune were absolutely serious: the climate change allegories and ecological concerns and the pains of all of human history but especially religion and capitalism and fascism. Crudely, that may have even been the intended punchline: that our real history is the terrible and terrifying joke and Dune was just the broken mirror of history repeating itself worse and worse for all time (and with plenty of gholas to keep track of, a word I still sometimes wonder is supposed to be pronounced with an initial ‘f’ because it too was a joke). I probably don’t do the right drugs to truly understand, though.

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