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    Never Trust an Action Hero: Star Wars' Lost Politics

    Star Wars: The Last Jedi has hit the cineplex and begun raking in the customary astronomical profits. But the film has some angry detractors among hard-core Star Wars fans (a minority, I think, but a loud one) who complain bitterly that The Last Jedi is unfaithful to the Star Wars tradition. I'm not going to talk about the new movie here, and I'm going to do my best to delete discussion of it in comments (no spoilers!) for at least the next week. But I'd like to talk about the old Star Wars movies, the originals and the prequels, and the ambiguity that George Lucas tried, but failed, to give them.

    The original 1977 Star Wars movie, the one now retroactively called "A New Hope," is filled with references to earlier film classics and it ends with a big one. The final sequence, in which Princess Leia hands out medals in a big military assembly, is a very clear reference to Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will, the most visually-powerful Nazi propaganda film of all time. This is widely known, but poorly explained. Everyone agrees that this is a Triumph of the Will homage; very few people can persuasively explain why.

    I think the best explanation is that this was George Lucas's failed attempt to add some moral complexity. After spending the whole movie very obviously associating the Empire with the Nazis (calling them "Stormtroopers" is not subtle), Lucas turns at the end and codes the Rebels as Nazis too. Whoa! Maybe I need to rethink things! Now, that move certainly does not work as intended, and basically never has. An audience of eight-year-olds is never going to catch the Leni Riefenstahl reference. Most people watching a summer popcorn movie aren't. And even if you do notice it, it doesn't work. The movie that comes before that scene is too joyful, too seductive, and too simple-hearted for that sudden moral twist to work. By the time you get to the end of the original Star Wars, everyone wants the good guys to be good and the bad guys to be bad, period. No arty little film-school reference, coming from left field with no preparation, is going to derail the audience at that point. No way.

    Lucas seemed to give up trying to cast doubt on his good guys' politics through the next two sequels. But he went back at it hard during the prequel trilogy, which is filled with moments where the heroes mess up catastrophically. The prequel trilogy is three movies about people losing their democracy. They start with a Republic and blow it. And, over and over, it's the good guys, the Jedi and their allies, actively blowing it. There's no moral equivalence; Palpatine and his flunkies are clearly evil. But time and again we have scenes that are pretty clearly meant to inspire moral confusion. Yoda introduces the Stormtroopers for the first time. Jar Jar, who is an idiot but a good-hearted idiot, votes Palpatine into power. These are meant to be moments where the audience steps back and says, "Whoa! The good guys did what now?" Those emotional beats don't land, any more than the Triumph of the Will reference landed in the original movie. Audience members don't respond the way Lucas seems to be asking them to. Maybe it's that the prequels are actually more ambitious, morally and artistically, than Lucas could execute. (To say they're ambitious is not to say they're good: many bad movies are the burning wrecks of ambitions that were beyond their makers' skill.) Maybe Lucas would have been able to pull it off earlier, but had lost a step. Or maybe this would have always been beyond his grasp as a story-teller, because getting across moral complexity has never been his thing. He certainly didn't pull it off. But equally certainly, he tried.

    The message that George Lucas has repeatedly tried and failed to get across in his Star Wars movies can be boiled down to: never trust an action hero. If you are looking for rational democratic governance, a bunch of impulsive, shoot-from the hip adventurers are really not your guys. They're just not wired that way. And this is a fair point. The Jedi are not the same as the Empire or the Sith or, God forbid, the Nazis, but you can see why the Sith view the Jedi as such a valuable recruiting pool. The prequels very deliberately shows the good guys' action-hero impulses being played, repeatedly, by Palpatine's manipulations. But they're vulnerable to those manipulations because their heroic instincts are naturally a little un-democratic. That's not my spin. That's the plot of Episodes II and III.

    Action-adventure stories like Star Wars naturally have a little bit of authoritarian bias built into their DNA, whatever their superficial politics. Or, to put it another way, these stories have a natural authoritarian lean that a storyteller has to work around. Remember, a lot of these basic stories come from monarchical societies. Celebrating a class of armed overlords is the natural groove path.

    Part of this is that adventure stories mostly solve problems through violence. The good guys are never going to spend a Star Wars movie registering voters or hammering out a legislative compromise. Their basic approaches to problem-solving are 1) shoot it, 2) blow it up, and 3) cut it in half with a sword. And people enjoy that more than a story about committee work. (Our girl Senator Amidala gets fed up with the whole being-a-Senator thing and flies off to kick some ass, leaving the trusty and reliable Jar Jar with her vote. How's that work out?) Now, democracies do sometimes have to use military force, and most good adventure stories pay at least lip service to democracy and freedom. "Beating People Up for Freedom" is the unofficial Jedi motto. But that adventure story structure also lends itself easily, even naturally, to politics that glorify violence and believe in imposing control from above by force.

    But more importantly, good adventure stories focus on a small group of individuals, and on things that a few individuals can do in a story. Star Wars makes a lot of World War II references, but it's not really set up for D-Day; a vast battle where every individual only makes a small contribution isn't really how these movies work. It's always going to be about a few central characters taking decisive action. And that makes for good storytelling. But if you don't watch it, that can quickly devolve into a narrative where a few Special Shiny Important People make all the decisions for everyone else. In fact, it's hard to raise the stakes of the story without doing that. Things go Game of Thrones so fast you might not notice.

    Look: at the end of Star Wars, Luke Skywalker is a promising young pilot who manages to score a decisive hit in a key battle. By the end of Return of the Jedi, the question of whether anybody in the galaxy ever gets to vote hinges on how Luke Skywalker happens to work out his feelings. The superficial question "Should the galaxy be ruled by one man's decisions, or by the people themselves?" stealthily changes to "Which one man should make decisions for the rest of the galaxy?" Sure, the happy ending is foreordained, so we don't really worry that people are going to stay under the Empire's thumb. But we're spent the last few hundred years in the real world working to reach a point where a couple of super-elite individuals get to decide everyone else's destiny. Maybe we shouldn't be leaving these decisions up to a Skywalker. And in fact, the three prequel movies are about the folly of letting a Skywalker make these political decisions. Anakin Skywalker working out his feelings is the original problem.

    But don't take it from me. Take it from Yoda, who more than once during the prequels makes it very clear how badly he and his associates have failed. The never-trust-an-action-hero idea is not mine; it really does belong to George Lucas. He's just never managed to sell it.


    Merry Post-Christmas, Doc. I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed this piece.

    PS Thanks for avoiding spoilers. I'm looking forward to seeing the Last Jedi on New Year's Day.

    Thanks, Michael. Enjoy the show.

    What's Heinlein's line about "more problems have been solved thru violence than any other means..."

    Yeah. Heinlein's science fiction moves toward military authoritarianism pretty fast.

    And that quotation is part of the long list of Heinlein's pithy-but-completely-wrong statements.

    Pithy yes. "Completely wrong" is open for some analysis, including big-vs-little changes.

    Well, why don't we start by subtracting all the problems violence "solved" after violence started them in the first place?

    If you want to give violence credit for defeating the Nazis, that's true. But the Nazis' own violence is where that problem starts.

    Well, a lot of deep wells in your replies.... ;-)

    Heinlein wasn't talking about "solving" problems the way you want them resolved. He was talking about settling issues so the issues were put to bed, good or evil - probably in most cases evil, I'd posit.

    Genghis the Khan solved the Asian problem better than most. Great if you were a Mongol, not so great for many others. The Arabs in 100 years managed to spread Islam at swordpoint from the straits of Gibraltar to Brunei & Timor, a rather impressive near-instant solution (in historical measures) to "who has the best religion & ruling structure?", one that held up largely for 1 1/2 millennia. The Romans pretty nicely set the stage & mood & tempo for Europa these last 2000 years through its evolving Greek philosophy into a militarized "moving feast".

    The Spanish after breaking loose from 700 years under the Moors pretty effectively solved any questions about who owned most of Latin America with guns & swords on horseback, with the Portuguese carving up & populating their own sphere in the New World rather well also. The Brits managed to combine trade & violence over the centuries in a unique erudite combination that almost made the violence part seem nonessential at times - so good that most of the world has forgotten the Brits were 10x the slave traders as those upstart Yanks, but knew when to get out of a fated business.

    In Heinleinian terms, the Nazis were extremely ineffective, the exception in its failed rule.

    Meh. That's the kind of smug, posed amorality that makes me allergic to Heinlein.

    Huh? That tells me you're more invested in moral cant than observing reality. At least tell me how ethical methods are more persuasive and effective in the long run, or something. I haven't even read theat Heinlein book, just know the quote. But I know it wasn't philosophy and kindness that kept the Soviet Union from invading more of the West that they'd won theou exceeding Germany's violence and cruelty sustained over 5 years (as ours in the Pacific). It was when the USSR's success rate and budget for cruelty ran out the wall came down. What established the colonists as the go-tos in America? Beating the French in the French-Indian War, throwing them out of the cross-Appalachians Midwest. What decided the Southern question? Not 80 years of yackety-yak and reason and appeals to God & goodwill and compromise - an all-out bloody war.

    Until someone explauns differently, the idea that violence has decided more seems blatantly obvious - I don't even hear anyone say *what* is the powerful alternative. Though as violence has put in a lot of structures that make war increasingly less necessary and globally less bloody, we can hope that maybe violence will be steadily replaced with humanitarian means as the go-to method to get people moving. But I imagine violence on group or individual level will always remain the clinching decider in case of tie.

    Now we're getting down to the real issues. I do not accept that morality is a fake civilized veneer or "cant" plastered over a red-in-tooth-and-claw reality. That idea thrived at the beginning of the 20th century, and still kicks around as bromide. Almost everyone believes it, at least briefly, at some point. But it's not true. It's nonsense.

    I don't believe that morality is a bunch of fake civilized conventions that hide from the brute facts of existence. In fact, I believe that only an incredibly sheltered citizen of civilization could believe such a thing. If you are dealing with brute reality, the existence of evil will become very obvious. So will the difference between right and wrong.

    Part of what I dislike about Heinlein is his reliance on this kind of sophomore-dorm-room BS. And his pose as the tough guy in touch with "reality" is just a pose which exposes how out of touch he really was. I never read Heinlein and think "This guy really understands what life is like." I always find a bunch of cheap slogans from someone whose head is so far up his own backside that it's formed a tesseract.

    I know many people love him. We'll have to agree to disagree on that.

    You miss my point. I read 1 book, Stranger in a Strange Land, in college long ago and hardly found it a guide for life or something to take much away from aside from the silly word "grok".

    I simply noted that as I understood the quote, "violence decided more issues than any other method" or however it was (since it was paraphrased to me), my simple question is, "if you don't think violence has been the greatest decider of issues, then what has been?" None of the other stuff matters to me like debating whether he's good or not (I'm not a huge fan of scifi quality in general vs other genres, but that's maybe me). I'm a great fan of Christian ethics & a variety of other philosophies, but as a motivating & resolution technique, I'd still say hands-down violence has been much more influential, even combined with Christianity and Islam as a one-two good cop/bad cop punch, though I imagine a few will object to me conflating the 2 religions and their go-to-market.

    Okay, from Wikiquote: "Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor, and the contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst." So again, unless you can tell me what the alternate method to violence is that's been so effective, with some kind of verifiable logical historical justification, I'd have to give this a Politifact/Snopes "True" score.

    Fine. But that is not how you initially presented the quote. You wrote:

    What's Heinlein's line about "more problems have been solved thru violence than any other means..."

    If it's "settled issues," that is harder to deny. But I wasn't denying it, because you hadn't said that. I was denying the virtue of violence as a problem-solver, with the positive value that implies.

    I might make a case for science, trade, and other things having settled a lot of issues, with less damage in the process, but this has already gone on too long.


    Oh bother, I said I was paraphrasing from memory, but I don't see a large difference between tjethe actual quote 

    Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor, and the contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst.

    and my paraphrase

    more problems have been solved thru violence than any other means...

    I don't think that's a fair evaluation of Heinlein's work. I think it comes from an over large focus on Starship Troopers. It's true that when he writes war novels he extols the virtues of the military and is very comfortable with military authoritarianism, perhaps due to his early career in the navy. But many of his novels aren't about war and lean towards something more like liberal libertarianism.

    Well, I'm probably more suspicious of Heinlein than you are, and I don't find his "libertarian" moments especially liberal.

    But I'm not just talking about Starship Troopers. Look at a book like Stranger in a Strange Land, where a super-powered better-than-human messiah is capable of just disintegrating people who annoy him.

    I certainly wouldn't defend the moral rationalizations Heinlein used to explain why disappearing people was an acceptable action. But I wouldn't include that as military in nature. Putting aside Michael's extraordinary ability to kill by disintegration. If you and I had a fight and I shot you in the head with a gun I don't see how that has anything to do with the military. If I made an ethical case, especially one similar to the one Heinlein makes, why shooting you in the head was acceptable I don't see that as advocating military authoritarianism.

    Much of the good America's done the last century involved having an army/air force/missiles to field or threaten with, granted tied frequently with some fairly progressive rhetoric and rules. But talk wouldn't have won the day.

    Okay. What if I retract the word "military" and go with "violent authoritarianism?"

    The Jedi aren't military either. Guys in robes who kill you aren't less violent because they didn't pass the Navy physical. The Jedi are probably more like Michael Valentine Smith than they are like the starship troopers.

    In a way Starship Troopers isn't the exception because it's more authoritarian. It's just more lawful authoritarian than RH's typical chaotic authoritarian.

    I'm not a big Star Wars fan but I think I recall the Jedi Council as being a military arm of the interplanetary senate. Some what like a exceedingly powerful special forces unit just with a bit more independence than is common for a military unit. Perhaps I'm wrong about that. I see the violence used by the main characters in some of Heinlein's novels as more like violent libertarianism. Smith and others were quick to use violence to defend themselves, sometimes to use excessive violence in defense, but not to use violence to gain power over others for personal or political gain. So where is the authoritarianism?

    The authoritarianism lies in the fact that the violent protagonist gets to decide whether it's okay for him to kill someone else, and no one else can hold him accountable. Neighbor Heinlein's decision that he's in his rights to shoot me, because that's the way he sees me, doesn't make shooting me okay.

    You know, I loved Heinlein as a young teen but I out grew him. I loved Atlas Shrugged too. A lot of kids who read a lot fall into that crevasse. Most of us climb out as we read books with more depth and sophistication. There's no moral ambiguity in Heinlein's books and consequently no exploration of the moral ambiguities better authors would explore given the character's actions. I'm not making a moral defense of the characters behavior. For example Smith's first murder was provoked by a cop slapping his girlfriend. I think we can all agree that murder by disintegration is an over the top response to a slap. Your response seems equally lacking in ambiguity. You seem to be saying, at first, that all violence is military authoritarianism. Having dropped that all violence is violent authoritarianism. That's not how I define authoritarianism and I don't think anyone else defines it that way either.


    Let me go back to what I said:

    Heinlein's science fiction moves toward military authoritarianism pretty fast.

    Now, you feel this is unfair because it, in your words, over-emphasizes Starship Troopers. And I tried to talk through some of Heinlein's other work. But let me point out one thing about Robert Heinlein:

    That motherfucker wrote Starship Troopers.

    He also wrote a beloved novel where a super-human messiah is allowed to just kill dudes with his superpowers, because he's better than other people.

    Is it not fair for me to say that his work "moves toward military authoritarianism pretty fast" because only one of his most famous works is a full-blown military authoritarian wankfest? Okay. Fine.

    It seems to be your view now that any one book by an author that wrote dozens can be used to characterize an author's total work. I disagree but I understand your view. I just wonder if you apply that standard to every author you read or discuss in your classes.

    Heinlein's moral rationalizations for Smith's violent behavior is not that he is allowed to just kill dudes with his superpowers, because he's better than other people. That's 100% totally false. I don't want to explain his reasoning because I disagree with it but if you really want me to I will. This is such sloppy analysis and you are so much better than this. We probably agree that Sci-fi is almost never great literature and perhaps you don't want to waste your time on such low brow writing. But if you're going to opine on it you should know a bit more.

    You know what, o-k? I give.

    But I don't think science fiction is almost never great literature. I think some great work has been done in science fiction. I get frustrated with Heinlein because, for all his talents, he often falls short.

    Just want to say it's been a joy to read along as you and oceankat and pp converse on this, even tho I know nothing about Heinlen, what I see is the way I wish all disagreements on the internet could go. yes  Rest of us learn something! (Could it have something to do with experience as a teacher? Methinks: yes!)

    I was actually nervous about debating literature with a literature professor and Shakespearian scholar. I was afraid I'd look like a fool for fighting out of my weight class. I got the impression that the elite opinion was that sci-fi was trash. I'm glad to hear you disagree since I like sci-fi and I do respect the opinions of the intellectual elite though I may not always agree. If you feel like listing a few of your favorite sci-fi novels I'd be interested. Here's a few of mine. They're all a cut above normal sci-fi and deal with complex issues in a sophisticated manner as well as being good stories that are different than any other sci-fi novel.

    Stand on Zanzibar by David Brunner

    The Diamond Age by Neil Stephenson

    The Void Captain's Tale and Child of Fortune by Norman Spinrad.

    Being highly educated doesn't mean I'm always right, even about Shakespeare.

    Those are good choices. I like The Diamond Age a lot myself, and have enjoyed teaching it.

    I love Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness, which I taught recently, and The Dispossessed.

    I love William Gibson's Neuromancer and the rest of that trilogy, Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive.

    I'm a big fan of Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy (Red MArs, Green Mars, and Blue Mars).

    I think Kelly Link, who only writes short stories so far, is one of the best writers working today. I also love Bradbury, who was better at stories than at novels, and Samuel R. Delany.

    Does either of you, or other readers, have any feedback on Cixin Liu's Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy?

    Asimov's Foundation and Empire feels pretty useful right now what with the Mule as idiot-Savant ruling the universe. We laugh at how insane Trump is, but somehow he's still largely winning in terms of disastrous effect, and somehow I'm worried this Wolff book will backfire too.

    Read Brunner's early prescient book on computer viruses. Stanislav Lem's Cyberiad had a more humorous take on science fiction, while his Solaris is miles ahead of Tarkovsky's wannabe-2001 bore-a-thon movie adaptation. Walter Tevis' Man Eho Fell to Earth was a milestone, even without the movie (I had a particular fascination for women and gin as man's fatal flaws about then). And then there's Battlefield Earth to let you know where the bottom lies - think of Snakes on a Plane dragged out over 10 volumes, though I'mprobly being unkind to Snakes, which at least had reptile coitus interruptus of the Mile High Club as one of its flag episodes - and there I'd only ever worried about stewardesses barging in.

    I'm not a Star Wars fan. And I don't know Mr. Lucas personally. But I do know quite a bit about what kind of art he admires and has collected over decades. I don't need to explain because he's got this museum of it now, people can judge for themselves

    What I will throw out there is that you may be giving him too much intent of nuance, when what he likes is his Norman Rockwell straight up and untinkered with, no ice or other additives. He like ideals, narratives that will inspire dream worlds where there is clear good and evil. More allegory and symbol than real world nuance. Yes, you include current cultural details, but not for nuance, rather, to get the audience to relate.

    I just noodled around on Google as to Lucas and Riefenstahl and mho, this guy's pegged it right:


    An enduring truth about George Lucas is that he's simply not that deep. And, in so doing, never seemed to have an qualms lifting and replicating iconic imagery from awful places.

    — Kelsey D. Atherton (@AthertonKD) December 11, 2017


    judging from his art collecting habits more than knowing his film work extremely well. Should admit I did study film iconography in grad school, right around the same time PoMo and "deconstructing the narrative" was becoming popular in this country. (Course relied a lot on things like compare/contrast "Singing in the Rain" vs. "Triumph of Will". With a soupcon of Maya Deren/Buneul just to show us it wasn't necessary to do the capitalist/fascist narrative wink) There is irony in that "the narrative" and only "the narrative" seems to the be new black with young people in the arts these days. Where everybody's a curator or narrator of their own reality, and where whoever has the most powerful symbols that speak the loudest to the most, wins.

    Who needs narrative when you got a phallic light saber?


    Comes to mind, how does this compare? I'm sure he watched it. Lots of the early 20th-century's favorite hits there.

    Men in tights? And peculiar that a Kryptonian would be committed to the "American Way". Also, why does a man of steel lose precious time untying ropes when he should be able to just break them?

    I'd agree with the "Lucas isn't that deep" comment were it not for his coming of age classic American Graffiti. The first, er middle, three Star Wars movies were fun and exciting but far from profound. I didn't see any of the later editions so I can't speak to them. But American Graffiti is a great film. Truly original, filmmakers keep imitating it but in 44 years it's never been matched. 

    Indulge me for a moment here. There's real character development in American Graffiti as 18 year old Steve Bollander, born Ron Howard, aka Opie Taylor, i.e. Richie Cunningham, realizes that he'd rather stay in Modesto with Cindy Williams/Shirley Feeney (okay you get the idea) than go to college back east. Richard Dreyfus makes the opposite call leaving Suzanne Sommers to John Ritter.

    Unlike in so many movies, the girls/women are also fully human. Mackenzie Phillips is hilarious and touching as 13-year old Carol - ideally paired with Paul Le Mat's hot rodder John Milner. The music is perfectly integrated into the action. Harrison Ford in a gorgeous black Chevy never did better work - apologies to The Fugitive. When he and Le Mat taunt each other at a red light, with Carol chiming in, Lucas reached his apotheosis.

    There's a great scene with Charley Martin Smith, as Terry the Toad, and an overbearing used car salesman that wasn't even in the original theatrical release but was added in a director's cut for DVD.

    After he made American Graffiti, George Lucas could have/should have? gone back to drag racing in Sonoma County and his legacy would have been secure.

    Hal ... You've nailed that...

    My favorite film ever? Rebel Without A Cause

    I was 9 years old and our neighbor was the writer/director Nicholas Ray. I spent 4 days on location watching them film the scene below at the Los Angeles Griffith Park Planetarium.

    Here's the 2 minute 20 second scene of Rebel at the planetarium.



    Later, in 1971 I worked with Nick's son Timothy Ray seen in the very beginning of this 3 minute clip in this crazy cult film here. You can find the synopsis of the film here.






    Oh, a remake of The Monkees' Head combined perhaps with an early version of the band ClockDVA.


    Peracles... whatever one's mind can conjure up...

    It's quite different from the Monkees film. But, that's why the name change to Premonition.

    And ClockDVA wasn't around until the late '70s.

    Here's the concert scene and you can catch me at...


    Shouldn't that be "Post-munitions"? But there you be, lookin' good, expectin' to fly... Max Yasgur's farm still? Don't have any clips of myself in '72 - maybe the odd McGovern rally that I don't think they filmed in that neck of the woods... Out here in the fields, I work for my meals, I get my back into my living....

    Several items: Lucas was pushed by Coppola after his Scifi THX1138. Lucas made heavy use of 2 sets of scriptwriters (at one point expecting 1 set to be finished when he got back from Europe), and then used 1 of the pair to help him finish the final version after several rejections & need to shorten the film.

    Two advantages Lucas had with this film - he was writing largely what he knew from his own adolescence (even with the external scriptwriters having presumably similar high school memories), along with his love for Wolfman Jack - a planned bio project that never came to pass. And the vignette treatment gave him relief from having to develop a full length movie around such a stupid plot as Star Wars - instead it was roughly similar to the style of interplay that Love American Style and MASH (movie & TV series) had a bit before. Instead, each of 4 characters had a fairly straightforward plot to carry the audience through. (imagine Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, or Prince & the Pauper simply doubled, though carried out over 1 special night (Midsummer Night's Dream?) - it's not exactly a breakthrough format, but well done. I can probably come up with some better corollaries than these, but.... Additionally, the 50's lovefest had probably been kicked off officially by Sha Na Na, who formed in 1969 and played at Woodstock, thus inspiring all the whacko doos and expressions in revival, making it easier to invoke 50's nostalgia in 1972/3.

    A third advantage is likely that Lucas was held to a dismally tight budget, so he had to use much more effective low budget techniques & thinking (which helped Monty Python's Holy Grail as well), including photography and length, and couldn't glitz the hell out of the film, so it retained some small town charm.

    While the girls may have been "fully human", Lucas famously didn't provide a "what happened to them" card for any of the female characters - presumably only guys' destiny with jobs & Vietnam mattered, while the chicks just became housewives and that was that.

    I like/d the movie, but it's not that deep - the conversations & decisions are basically the same ones of every high school lot deciding where to go to school, or to stay home & work in Dad's shop, how will they maintain or dismantle their friendships and romances. The effectiveness is in the execution & having fortunate access to a huge up-and-coming talent pool in the Hollywood neighborhood.

    PS to add - seems it was Lucas' co-writer's idea to have Wolfman Jack essentially narrate the movie - a trick that's been copied numerous times, not sure of like precedents. Lucas' trick of shaping each scene around a song was also effective, and getting rights to the songs was a clincher.

    Hal's comment made me second guess myself and you just wiped that all out. All you had to say invoke 50's nostalgia and bingo: American Graffiti is 100% Norman Rockwell.

    In Rockwell's "Freedom from Want," (BTW, 1 of 4 paintings done to depict the ideals of Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms") there aren't any mythic characters, but rather combining "real people" into a mythic scene:

    The problem we are running into here is that it all depends upon what your definition of deep is. So i guess the tweet I ran across doesn't really do it for everyone.

    To paraphrase Pauline Kael, I lost it at American Graffiti. Maybe it's not quite the all-time classic I paint it to be but was my first favorite movie and my favorite for a very long time and I do think it holds up very well.

    despite what others on the internet might say, there is no right or wrong answer to "what do you see in this work of art?" laugh (and not even a need to get into that line about opinions are like assholes, because the maker would rather you care enough to have an opinion.)

    I'm not sure what you're saying about Rockwell. I wouldn't call it great art and the emotions depicted are so exaggerated there's a bizarre quality to the paintings. But it's not a myth to me. I can remember scenes like this at every holiday from my childhood. Except there's be a lot more food on the table, potatoes and stuffing, jello, corn and peas. Every inch covered as the table was crowded with food. And there'd be a lot more people there. Grandparents and all my aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends of the family.

    Your input helps me hone what I was thinking. Once PP pointed out what he did about American Graffiti, I saw a remarkable resemblance with Rockwell. For me, your comment, and reactions to Rockwell, it just strengthens and refines the point. I did say both were using real looking people as characters. Your note the exaggeration of emotions, that's actually the thing that gets you to relate (used in like, opera and melodramas, too.) As to it invoking memories in you, well other memories of maybe like the spilled gravy on the heirloom tablecloth and the screaming afterwards, and of Uncle Charles calling Uncle Joe a horse's ass is not evoked by Rockwell, he's selecting that which could be resounding iconically for a reason.

    Norman Rockwell and Ansel Adams were using Photoshop on American landscapes & iconography long before PC software existed. It's very comforting especially for those who don't like conflict & curdled milk in their cornflakes. But yes, I remember Turkey Day & Christmases as being the time to get scolded for childhood enthusiasm overtaking expected propriety, or fights about nothing getting even worse as college intervened, and as a special bonus, even a funny excuse for divorce, if I have my dates right. Not being a photographer, Rockwell didn't have to worry about the screaming baby, nor the worn out frazzled housewife/cook, nor the half-drunk father & uncle thinking they're funnier than they are, or all these other quintessential Americanisms. Just airbrush/wide brush them out - we like those impressive big strokes, not the actual lifelike details. Pseudo-reality will do just fine. BTW, my favorite was eating *2* turkey dinners while pretending we were ravenous for each, with each parent watching closely to be sure the other hadn't spoiled their holiday. Wonder how Rockewell would paint that. #MakeAmericaKitschAgain

    Great piece, Doc. I don't think I'm spoiling anything by saying that Luke does address some of this in The Last Jedi.

    But they're vulnerable to those manipulations because their heroic instincts are naturally a little un-democratic. That's not my spin. That's the plot of Episodes II and III.

    It's not cool to like the prequels, but I've always liked Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith precisely because of this. I imagine that if I lived in the Star Wars universe and was not a Jedi that I'd be more than a little skeptical of the Jedi order, their motivations and their accountability. I mean, they basically are the NSA/CIA/FBI run amok. That they have been chosen by nature to have special powers that allow them to manipulate physical reality and makes them Harder to Kill than Steven Seagal just makes it all worse.

    and great quote to go with this piece.

    It's just that simple or that complicated? Superheroes are humans at their best or better than humans, so top of the evolutionary heap, which implies: survival of the fittest.  Which isn't always pleasant. if you take it to its logical end. To make heroes morally sound, they have to want to save damsels in distress tied to railroad tracks and protect kittens and babies. If you're going to be faster than a speeding bullet and more powerful than a locomotive, you better also be in support of truth justice and the American way.

    There is a great graphic novel out there that reimagines Superman has having crashed to Earth on a Ukrainian farm collective rather than a family farm in Kansas.

    Thanks for that info.  I’ve never read a graphic novel before, but I was intrigued, so I went to abebooks and ordered a copy.  Think of applying that same concept to, say, Jerry Falwell being born in Riyadh or Donald Trump in an Indian ghetto.  Looking forward to an interesting read!

    I hope you like it!  I thought it was fun.

    Well, the post uses ideas I've had for a long time, but it's designed to go with some of the things that happen in The Last Jedi. So, no accident that I'm backing up Luke at points.

    Thanks for all the comments, guys. I was having a wi-fi free Christmas in the rural country where my phone signal is weak.

    I will say that when I first posted this, I linked it to a group of friends and one of them, who worked for Lucas for more than a decade, immediately came back with a version of artappraiser's "George is not that deep."

    So I guess my argument is about what gets onto the screen.

    Your literary background allows you to dig deep even in the shallows, either panning out mussels or offshore drilling.

    Absolutely in agreement. Isn't it like a literature professor's main job to mine for many meanings? If he doesn't come up with lot more than the author intended, it's a fail on both sides!

    Doc, thanks for this interesting post and thanks to those who commented.  I saw the Last Jedi yesterday with our 19 year old son.  He was offering detailed technical analysis of it afterwards and my strong reaction was that the films ust aren't that deep such as to invite reflection.  Somehow you managed to find interesting things to say about it.

    This is a completely unrelated question, I realize, but you are a college literature professor, yes? Clearly you have a highly-developed ear and eye for language and meaning.  Have you noticed an, um, uptick in the prevalence of the word "like", in speech?  If so, what, if anything, do you make of it? 


    I haven't noticed more of an uptick lately, but maybe I'm missing something.

    What I make of it is that spoken language is always changing, and various slang terms and verbal habits come and go. I don't worry about it much.

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