Star Wars celebrates 40 years of escapism, influence, and cultural currency today. The founding chapter of this now colossal property was released May 25, 1977, across a pittance of screens. Popularity ignited like a house on fire and before anyone could blink this thing was obliterating contemporaries like A Tale of Two Critters, Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, and Viva Knievel!. Only Smokey And The Bandit gave Star Wars any kind of run for its money, and there’s still a gap of about $180 million in domestic gross between the two. Burt Reynolds just couldn’t charm his way around Chewbacca.
There’s a documentary feel to the 1977 Star Wars which helps it resonate deeply, a framing where the audience isn’t following narrative but observing environment; the awkward broth of fantasy exposition is dismissed and we’re allowed to ferret out details as we witness events in these alien realms. This is especially true of desert planet scenes where the robots fumble along, get swooped up by the junk dealers, and are unceremoniously dumped into Luke Skywalker’s life. This fly-on-the-wall style counters so many other sci-fi films that desperately want to impress upon you their grandiose, mythical nature. Star Wars just drops you in there and lets many fantastical moments unfold nonchalantly, because these characters see lasers and blue milk every day.
Pivoting on that point, one of the best decisions George Lucas ever made was to insist this beginning Star Wars is actually the fourth installment of a who-knows-how-long saga. That let our imaginations go purple trying to fill in the priors. As incredible as the visuals and characters in Star Wars are, they suggest much more with that context. On the other side of the ewok, one of the dumbest decisions George Lucas ever made was giving in to temptation and actually filming the first three chapters, bluntly extinguishing the dreams we spun for ourselves across several decades.
Star Wars numbers four and five came before one, two, and three; there are probably those who also believe the immediate sequels—1980’s The Empire Strikes Back and 1983’s Return of The Jedi—should have never been made, allowing the 1977 film to remain the purest of entities. Foolish mortals! Star Wars made so much fucking money it was never going to be singular. Let’s just count our blessings over the miracle of The Empire Strikes Back, that rare sequel which bests its founder in pulp, artistry, and thrill. Star Wars 6 and 7 (and Rogue One) are great too, but there’s just something about the dreamy nightmare of Empire that cannot be equaled.
Of course, Star Wars at 40 is more of a conglomerate than ever, absorbed by Disney so they can have Darth Vader roaming the halls of their luxury hotels with minimal overhead. Star Wars belongs to our entire planet but it’s a U.S. invention and there’s nothing more “American” than celebrating a successful business. So rats off to maximizing profits and creating a global brand. And thanks for being so lenient with the fans who have restored and distributed the theatrical versions of the ’77 movie and its two sequels; this must be an admission of guilt or disagreement regarding “the vision” George Lucas suddenly decided he had for the original trilogy in 1997.
What else is there to say? Nanu nanu, put more Greedos in Star Wars 8.
A few very esteemed colleagues and I have started a new publication dedicated to the wonders of melody and measure, recorded and otherwise, called No Recess! (it’s a more concise Nirvana reference than We Hate Ourselves And Want To Die). I’m contributing on the weekly tip. My first three joints:
Don’t just read my junk, though, read every savory morsel of No Recess! because everyone writing for it is Actually Good™. Thanks for your interest and see you in the “well, they seemed funny when I was six” pages.
Part of a Star Wars display at the Mall of America Lego store in Bloomington, MN. There are some artistic liberties occurring here, which I encourage.
Incredibly sexual centerpiece at the Mall of America Peeps store. Should marshmallow be this arousing?
My best friend John owning it in the style of his birth city (the Bronx).
A very beautiful lake in Stockholm, Wisconsin.
I attended a wedding looking like this (and I wasn’t thrown out!).
Abandoned rubber chicken in the mailbox area of my Orlando apartment complex. Never got the full story on this sensational find.
Main entrance of Florida’s infamous Howey Mansion. I was granted exclusive access when I wrote a story about it for Orlando Weekly.
Angry mid ’90s Rolling Stone reader.
Orlando area toll plaza decorated for Halloween.
Record store regrets.
Street art spotted deep in Mexico.
Some of my roommate’s nonsense.
Some of my own nonsense.
Montana in February? You better believe I did it. Some friends of mine work at a ranch out there. I wanted to investigate this cowboy way and luxuriate in frozen solitude. Here now, pics from that jaunt plus requisite commentary.
About 90 minutes southeast of Missoula, near a place called Philipsburg. A town without pity? A town with dumpsters, at least.
The coziness and aural calm of Missoula International makes it more like a library with a runway. It was difficult to capture the true essence of the items they keep on display (not pictured: a turkey with impressive plumage).
Portion of a “wall of fame” that hangs in an enormous sporting goods store, the kind that offers socks thicker than any winter coat in New York and also those weird camouflage nets that make hunters look like moving shrubbery.
Here I am snowshoeing my way around the base of a mountain. Even with the aid of such equipment and time to adjust to Montana’s altitude I remained no terrain climbing superstar. Still, it was fun.
The sun makes a rare appearance. Temperatures bounced between 17 and 40 fahrenheit, the latter considered “pretty warm” by locals.
Philipsburg is quite small—they have no McDonald’s, they have no Holiday Inn—but they do offer a few modern comforts. Yes, they also have a pizzeria, one that doubles as a laundromat. I didn’t taste any soap on my pie.
Big broc country. The farm-to-table situation in Montana is so intense they’re practically just tossing it from the field onto your plate.
There’s plenty of cool junk to do in the Treasure State, like hike or ski or fish or sit in a cabin and write and hope Kathy Bates doesn’t break your legs, but it’s also neat to just drive around and take in that big sky.
The manuscript for Brave Punk World: The International Rock Underground From Alerta Roja to Z-Off was due in early January. I completed it last week. Two months seems like quite a delay when you’re working on anything, but no one would talk about Chinese Democracy in the tones that they do if it had only been sixty days late.
Three hundred and fifty-ish pages turned in, give or take. Enough pictures to keep things interesting (I hope). Of course I feel relief getting it wrapped up, but those waves are cut with streaks of “I forgot to discuss x or touch on y, and I shoulda expanded upon z.” Similar emotions materialized once my first book, This Music Leaves Stains, was in the can. Par for the course, I guess. Interestingly enough, several aspects of Stains that I view as lacking have yet to come up in critiques. Will the same hold true for this book ass book?
Got me. All I know is I worked my crank off on BPW, it’s pretty close to what I envisioned when I pitched the thing to Rowman & Littlefield, and I can’t wait for everyone to read it when it comes out in OCTOBER OF 2017.
Below, the cover.
In case you’ve been wondering, the book is divided into seven sections by region—Asia, U.S.S.R. & Eastern Bloc, Western Europe, Africa, Central & South America, North America, and Oceania.
More info later. As always, I thank you for your readership and support.
My phone rang tonight with an alien number. I answered, because I love being bothered.
The ambiance of a large, bustling room filled my ear. You know the kind. It went on until I repeated my greeting.
“Hello, this is [some guy] calling from Caesars Palace! How are you?”
I always think I’m going to be clever with telemarketers. Wow, Caesars Palace? Is this Siegfried or Roy? Is this the tiger? Alas, the following curt, humorless phrase always falls out of my mouth.
“Please don’t call this number again. Thank you.”
Most of the time the call disconnects here, either on my end or theirs, or the person gives a quick heartless apology. Not this time. A beat went by and the telemarketer responded, sotto voce, sounding almost wounded.
“I didn’t call you. The computer did.”
You’re right, telemarketer. I should be mad at the computer. It’s enslaving us both, isn’t it? Look, give me your address and I’ll fly out to Las Vegas right now and liberate you. Yeah, I know it’ll cost twice as much as the vacation plan you’re selling, but can you put a price on humanity’s freedom?
– our collective conscious appears to dismiss Look Who’s Talking as “the talking baby picture Travolta made on his way back up” or “the talking baby picture Alley made on her way back down”; what an extreme surprise it was to learn this is an Amy Heckerling film and not [I was going to make a joke here about whoever directed Air Bud but it turns out Air Bud was directed by Charles Martin Smith—am I expecting too much from this world?]
– the central gimmick of Look Who’s Talking, the thing that got people in the door in October of ’89 after a summer of Batman and the Ghostbusters and “Weird Al,” is Bruce Willis providing the Garfield-esque inner monologue of the infant; there are times this is amusing, but more often are wide swaths where the Willis narration is pointless and asinine and makes you wonder if they tried at first to make a normal comedy hanging on Travolta and Alley’s fun chemistry but something was lacking so they decided “talking baby”
– “talking baby” is a misnomer as the baby is only such for the middle part of the movie; before that, Willis is giving voice to a sperm as it swims toward an egg (the special effects are just as mind-boggling as the Beach Boys music cue) and then an in utero fetus (which bears a striking resemblance to the murderous infant from the 1974 classic It’s Alive); toward the end of Look Who’s Talking, Bruce Willis is cracking wise over a toddler who seems old enough to actually form his own words; this is probably why they brought in another baby for the sequel, who is voiced by Roseanne
– George Segal plays the smarmy, shitty, married businessman who keeps Kirstie Alley’s character as his long-suffering mistress until he impregnates her with the Bruce Willis baby; if you’ve ever wanted to see the old fella from “Just Shoot Me” give it to the lady from “Cheers” you’ll get a little pleasure
– Abe Vigoda plays the somewhat out to lunch grandfather of John Travolta’s character; not Vigoda’s finest hour but the “please help my grandpa get into a better nursing home” subplot does pave the way for a few succulent morsels of humanity (not to mention the climatic white knuckle car chase through what we are meant to believe is Manhattan)
– there is a montage in Look Who’s Talking set to the Talking Heads song “And She Was”; I wonder how David Byrne feels about that today
– this talking baby picture is better today than what I remembered of it yesterday; that said, talking baby, talking sperm, talking sperm partying to Beach Boys, talking fetus, George Segal aardvarking, gratuitous Travolta / baby dance sequence set to “Walking on Sunshine,” gratuitous crossover of Travolta’s personal interests (his lunkheaded Jersey cab driver is also a recreational airplane pilot)
– thank god this is not the Look Who’s Talking movie where Travolta and Alley sing a parody of “Fight For Your Right to Party” about toilet training