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.
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.
– before you even ask, raktajino is klingon coffee; lots of beverage humor on “Deep Space Nine” since one of the main characters is a bartender
– this is the “Star Trek” that broke all the rules: instead of hurtling through the cosmos looking for adventure, “DS9’s” heroes boldly loiter on an intergalactic truck stop (one their Federation bosses consider clutch thanks to its proximity to both the universe’s first documented wormhole and a newly autonomous planet called Bajor they hope to fold into their ranks); the action is serialized, unfolding many intricate plots across numerous episodes / seasons; Gene Roddenberry’s commandment of “no interpersonal conflicts” between crew members also goes out the window, so these folks endure more realistic frictions; craziest of all, there’s money in this final frontier, proving even utopia can only spread so far before being priced out
– would you believe it all works, and works gloriously?; “Deep Space Nine” is bleaker and more cynical than the previous entries (call it “Grunge Trek”) but ultimately the characters, whatever their flaws, are being driven by the same hope and optimism that touched Kirk and Spock and Picard and that guy who merged with V’GER; it’s a potent stew that struggles not to engage; that said, in this gorn’s opinion a few bits are dopey, like the holographic lounge singer and the episode with Rumpelstiltskin
– it is strange in the early seasons to see Avery Brooks, who commands this station as Benjamin Sisko, with hair on his head and not on his face; prior to “DS9,” Brooks starred in “Spenser: For Hire” as the bald, goateed detective Hawk, and apparently there was concern audiences would think Brooks was playing Hawk in space; taking one for the team, Brooks changed his look, but had to revert when he felt the change was affecting his performance; Sisko is definitely more commanding with the tight facial scruff and shiny pate
– they could have made Benjamin Sisko’s son Jake a typical brooding teen who resents his father for trapping him on this floating gas station (mom is deceased, killed in a borg attack) but instead he’s refreshingly upbeat and supportive of his old man; he’s also one of the few characters who can pull off the 24th Century fashion of an earth tone vest over a purple jumpsuit
– some of the major antagonists on “DS9” are these grey, neck-heavy aliens called cardassians but there aren’t very many parallels between them and the Kardashians (aside from the basic “ooh these people drive me nuts but I can’t stop paying attention to their exploits!”)
– if anybody knows anything about this show it’s ferengi bartender Quark, who looks like an elephant leprechaun hybrid possessed by the devil; Quark is absolutely possessed by the quest for profit, as are most if not all Ferengis, and he refuses to grant any human the respect of having their species name pronounced correctly (“HEW-mahns,” he insists), but you’d be surprised how often a sense of morality interrupts his naked thirst for money (excuse me—latinum, the official currency of ferengi)
– if anybody knows anything else about this show it’s the episode where our Deep Space Niners go back in time and board the Kirk / Spock Enterprise via the computer technology made famous by Forest Gump; “DS9” should have won a shit ton of awards for special effects on this one because the way they cut these people into the “Trek ’66” episode is so much more seamless than what’s in Gump (it even fooled some people working on the show, they say); furthermore, it isn’t some throwaway entry in the founding “Trek” series they enter but the friggin’ tribble episode—can you imagine if “Deep Space Nine” had screwed the pooch on that one?
– Terry Farrell, who plays a character on “DS9” that is carrying a 300 year old symbiote in her belly that fuses her personality with all the personalities of its previous hosts, left the program after several years to join “Becker”; this is the all-consuming power of Ted Danson, truly the borg of our universe
– “DS9’s” later seasons are consumed by a war that breaks out between the Federation and these brand new aliens from the other side of the wormhole who want to control the universe; a lot of interesting religious stuff comes into play as several other alien races perceive the new aliens to be infallible gods while the bajorans ramp up their faith in Benjamin Sisko, who they believe is an “emissary” sent by their own gods to deliver them from evil; like any other war, this thing’s got espionage, double crossing, triple crossing, breakdowns in the chain of command, and klingons beating the hell out of each other
– also in the later seasons, Jeffrey Combs turns up as this figurehead who is like the nefarious and withering precursor to Rob Lowe on “Parks & Rec”
– since this is “Star Trek” there are of course a few episodes where the crew visit 20th Century Earth and cannot figure out what the hell is going on; as tired as this trope is within “Star Trek” it is never not entertaining
– the “DS9” series finale could be firmer in its second half but once the dust settles one could argue the narrative is open for reprisal (don’t we deserve a feature film where Avery Brooks is givin’ it to some Cardassians for 90 min?)
– yes, Iggy Pop is in one episode playing an alien and he is fuckin’ good
– Children of The Corn is a film about some kids possessed by another kid possessed by a nebulous farm demon; they’ve expunged every adult from their town and any grownup unlucky enough to cross their path winds up crucified on corn stalks; all of this is more plausible than the scene where two tykes break off from the cult to indulge in a game of Monopoly; an entire town at your disposal and you want to play a real estate simulator?
– the protagonists are Burt and Vicky, an adult-ish couple driving through Nebraska on the way to Burt’s medical internship; problems begin when they accidentally run their giant canary colored 1980s car into a child of the corn; Burt must be at the bottom of his class because he moves the kid from the scene of this accident, wrapping him up and tossing him in the trunk; slowly the child of the trunk is forgotten about as Burt and Vicky’s quest for a doctor gets weirder; by the time the end credits roll, the vehicular manslaughter that set all this shit into motion remains unresolved; the lesson: if you run over a child of the corn, just wait until help arrives or else you’ll wind up fending off gaggles of hollow-eyed baby Satanists with just your wits and a pocket knife
– the nebulous farm demon is never really seen or thoroughly explained, which is disappointing; a 1984 movie about otherworldly energy moving through cornfields and possessing children deserves a big crazy stalk monster that spits creamed corn and vaporizes chickens with laser eyes
– one of the production companies credited with bringing Children of The Corn to life is Hal Roach Studios, who of course also delivered us Alfalfa, Spanky, Buckwheat, and the rest of Our Gang; is that ironic or hilarious, and has anyone considered a dark reboot of Our Gang?
– this film is creepy and unsettling and they could have stopped at one but in the grand tradition of any marginally interesting 1980s horror film there have been seven Children of The Corn sequels and a remake
– if John Franklin’s portrayal of malevolent child preacher Isaac becomes too much to bear, calm yourself by remembering that Franklin also plays Cousin Itt in both Addams Family movies
– 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
Rogue One occupies an odd place on the Star Wars timeline; a prequel set just a handful of days before the original 1977 Star Wars, this film follows the exploits of the brave Rebels who capture and curry the Death Star plans to Princess Leia shortly before she slips them into R2-D2. It’s a vital juncture in this decades-long interstellar fantasy, yet it’s also very compartmentalized with no strong connection to the other seven entries. The heroes of Rogue One have never been identified previously. Their harrowing mission is a blip in the distant future during the other three prequels and by the time we meet troubled rural teen Luke Skywalker their exploits are yesterday’s news.
Rogue One is also occurring at a weird moment in our own world—just a year ago we were hit with The Force Awakens, a continuation of the main Star Wars narrative set 30 years after Return of The Jedi. Why walk us back pre-Hamill already? Where’s the ball droid? Where’s Adam Driver? Where the hell are the singing cats?
The arrival of Rogue One may not make a ton of sense, but the movie is so fantastic and gripping it doesn’t matter. Director Gareth Edwards paints with astonishing visuals, using perspective and scale and rich special effects to inject a “wow” factor absent in many of the previous chapters (it is extremely satisfying to watch a space battle that looks like a space battle, not a video game). Rogue One even makes the unthinkable work—the film resurrects Peter Cushing 22 years after his death (digitally, of course) for another turn as Imperial official Grand Moff Tarkin. As other characters interact with the Moff it is difficult to tell they are acting against a cartoon. We must consider the possibility Gareth Edwards is an occult priest who used black magic to literally raise Peter Cushing from his grave.
Tarkin assumes control of the nearly completed Death Star early in the film, which we learn was the brainchild of a morally conflicted architect named Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen). The Empire tears Erso away from his family for the home stretch of this space laser project and that surely motivates his decision to leak compromising intelligence about the Death Star’s reactor to the Rebellion. The Rebellion turns to Erso’s daughter, Jyn (Felicity Jones), who is willing to throw in with this galactic coup malarky if there’s a chance her father can be freed. Along the way Jyn builds herself a posse, including a handsome Rebel dude (Diego Luna), an extremely droll robot (Alan Tudyk), a blind holy man who may or may not be Jedi (Donnie Yen), and this sort of space Rambo (Jiang Wen). The group only grows tighter as the game changes around them.
Rogue One’s heroes may lack the radioactive charm of a Han Solo or a Chewbacca but they are resolved and strong and you root for every single one of them in the enormously satisfying (and somewhat heartbreaking) third act. In an era where Hollywood loves nothing more than to hit you with false endings, this venture gives you but one, an audacious and stimulating one, and sews it pretty well to the start of the founding late ’70s passage we all memorized growing up. Rogue One may have single-handedly saved the fate of the word “prequel.”
Also, somewhere in the middle of this adventure, you get to see Darth Vader’s house. It’s not carpeted.
FINAL SCORE: Four fistfuls of ewok fur (out of four).
“Space Ghost Coast to Coast” put me in absolute shock the first time I saw it. I couldn’t believe a tv show so fluently spoke to the cultural car crash in my head. A fusion of “Batman ’66” and Letterman and punk rock; a post-modern quasi-cartoon rewriting the rules of kitsch; a reverse Roger Rabbit where our dimension is the tiny portion of a surrealist animated landscape populated by exhausted and agitated characters who couldn’t give a tinker’s dam about what anyone else wants, let alone a human. A show about a retired super hero entering the late night wars with two sidekicks he’s imprisoned in his garish studio on an otherwise barren planet.
No other entertainment makes me laugh as hard as “Space Ghost.” It’s so elastic. Clever and cutting one moment, beautifully stupid and nonsensical the next. Long stretches of nothing, then dense clusters of joke upon joke upon joke, like a swarm of bees. Total reverence for a guest that quickly washes into contempt and sarcastic quips. And the full visual trip of live action celebrities being forced to interact with repurposed ’60s animation—what an addictively weird atmosphere.
An enormous piece of the show’s creative heart was animator and voice actor C. Martin Croker, who passed away last weekend. Croker brought to life the titular host’s enslaved sidekicks, band leader Zorak and producer Moltar, who as the show progresses transform from standoffish super villains into disgruntled everyman employees hilariously nonchalant in their burning hatred for Space Ghost. Zorak and Moltar savor each moment their captor stumbles and find themselves in a quiet pain when he succeeds. Naturally, these two have their own issues: Zorak is a pathological liar and cannibal while Moltar seems to be covering up an unsatisfying marriage.
How could I not be in awe of Croker? He drew this amazing show, voiced incredible foils for the main character, and his name’s stately as hell. This guy’s a legend. Everything I’ve read about him away from his work suggests he was cool, generally willing to share a laugh with admirers or do the Zorak and Moltar voices. It’s devastating that he’s gone at only 54 (cause of death currently undisclosed) but I’ll always be thankful for experiencing his talent. It affected me deeply to see that television as bizarre and lawless as “Space Ghost” could not only exist somewhere but thrive. That’s inspirational.
So thanks, Clay Martin. We’ll miss you.
Prince's music is so potent and intoxicating that despite universal acclaim it still seems underrated. What sacred art, what sacred love.
— James Greene, Jr. (@HoneyIShrunkJG2) April 21, 2016
To say anything else may be exceptionally unnecessary. And yet…
It was only a few years ago that I began digging into the Prince catalog. I purposely started with The Black Album, my reasoning being, I know the hits, I know Prince can orchestrate pop perfection, let’s see what it’s like when this guy is stumbling. Prince suppressed Black for nearly a decade because he felt dissatisfaction with it (one rumor suggests a bad ecstasy trip convinced him the album projects too much evil). Yes, I often begin my journey into legendary bodies via a most dubious property. What can I tell you? I’m American, I’m obsessed with failure.
My immediate reaction to The Black Album: if this is Prince at his worst, sign me up. Sections of Black’s malcontent electro funk are misguided, sure, but as with all his work, Prince commits with such totality (even to utter silliness) you can’t deny the sale. You remain absorbed and ultimately feted.
Now The Love Symbol Album and The Gold Experience are go-tos. Bold, decadent, liberating, rich with flavor. I also spend a lot of time getting lost in the grooves and hymnals of Chaos & Disorder. Sign O’ The Times? That thing is a best of / greatest hits unto itself. And of course, the one Prince album I paid close attention to at the time of its release, Batman.
I want to say I understand people who dog the Batman album but I actually don’t. Prince captures the glamor, the restlessness, and the bankruptcy of Gotham City. The music freezes, it bleeds, it works both within and outside the motion picture’s context. I can’t comprehend why “Partyman” and “Trust” aren’t FM radio staples. The balladry avoids being overwrought. What a thrill to have it all culminate in the white knuckle lunacy of “Batdance.”
“Batdance” is on this Warhol level, a gleeful vandalism of Neal Hefti’s 1960s theme, a schizophrenic pastiche of Burton’s film driven by fascist percussion, indiscriminate keyboards, searing guitar, and direct dialogue samples. It’s jarring and insane but again, Prince commits. That’s why the song reached #1; the Artist’s dedication willed this cacophony into something incredible.
It feels strange to comment on all the risks Prince took in his career, if only because he possessed the celestial wizardry to more or less conquer them all. Is there another human being who could have successfully changed their enormously bankable and recognizable name to a singular character of their own invention with no known (or offered) pronunciation? Ricky Shroder has spent decades trying in vain to make people drop the “y.” If he had adopted a symbol we would have sent him to live on the international space station.
Thanks for the fifty-seven years, Prince. You will never be equaled.
Garry Shandling was an innovator who turned a lot of comedy on its ear, but what’s more important to me is the raw, sometimes ugly emotional core of his humor. Fraying anxiety, sizzling jealousy, swampy deposits of depression—all served with flashes of that famous mile-wide grin. We hear Garry could be quite impassioned offstage, in the best and worst senses of that phrase, and that’s no surprise. It’s the nucleus of his work.
I was under ten when “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” was airing, and even though it was difficult to understand what I was watching, I loved tuning in because it was so different. Here’s this quote-unquote sitcom where every plot device and character takes a backseat to Garry’s ongoing conversation with the viewer, a conversation that is basically just, “Wow, look at my show, isn’t it strange?” It’s a minimalist, neurotic “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.” What if your neighbor thought he was on tv all the time but refused to play it up? What if he talked about it like the weather or a bake sale?
Later we got “The Larry Sanders Show,” a transcendent entry, a masterclass of meta comedy streaked with pathos. Garry won an Emmy Award for writing on “Sanders” but he should have received an additional one for acting. When he really wanted to, the guy could get it all into one glance or wordless aside.
Garry pops up in some of the Marvel movies, and that’s deeply satisfying. An entire generation will only know Shandling as the Senator giving Tony Stark what for in Iron Man 2, the same government creep who appears in Captain America 2. I have to admit I was waiting for him to turn to the camera in both films to say, “Can you believe this? Me, a Senator? I know, but listen, there’s some good stuff coming up, so don’t walk out yet.”
I’ll miss the Shand Man. Stormy genius. And funny as hell.
“My dog’s penis tastes bitter. Do you think it’s his diet?”