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.
The article below was originally written for and published by Crawdaddy! in two thousand ten. Since that time my appreciation for the enormously absurd album discussed has only grown deeper. Just call me Stretch Nuts.
Quality, essence, virtue—terms that, by this point, are rarely (if ever) debated when it comes to Insane Clown Posse, the ultimate bastard sons of music. True Juggalos have already unconditionally accepted the alleged greatness of rapping jesters Violent J & Shaggy 2 Dope like the most fervent born again Christians, while those outside “The Dark Carnival” have difficulty thinking of a more pathetic and misguided social subset America has produced. Even Civil War re-enactors rank higher than Juggalos, mostly because of their stately 1860s facial hair and the vintage weapons they brandish that could blow your spleen across a Long John Silver’s parking lot.
The Juggalos are one thing; overzealous fans of any entity (Paul McCartney, the Green Bay Packers, the Twilight franchise) can be intolerable. Is it fair, though, to automatically malign and dismiss the Wicked Clowns themselves? I was viewing the much-ballyhooed video for ICP’s “Miracles” the other day, and I have to say, aside from the LOL-inducing, are-they-serious? lyrics, the song is pretty boring. Straight up, “Miracles” is a boring ass song. The clowns aren’t even really rapping, they’re just kinda talking softly (save for that jaw-dropping “fuck scientists” bit). The beat in “Mircales” is equally flaccid. The sub-mediocrity I saw before me got the rusty gears in my brain turning.
These guys weren’t always this bad.
Yeah, yeah, Insane Clown Posse used to be, like, kind of exciting. Actually almost insane, even. 1997. The Great Milenko. Everyone I knew had that album. Everyone I knew loved that album. It was funny, it was weird, it was stupid, the songs had legitimately cool beats. The clowns had dreadlocks. They relied heavily on the term “stretch nuts.” They screamed shit like their trashy Midwestern lives depended on it.
What happened? Am I crazy? Is this selective amnesia?
As my steam-powered noggin began chugging, I remembered that I had very similar thoughts of disappointment when ICP released the limp single “Let’s Go All The Way” in 2000. It sounded like fuckin’ half-assed 311. Where was the evil calliope music? I was dumbfounded when I saw Violent J in the video with closely cropped bleach blonde hair. Were the Wicked Clowns selling out on the final Joker’s Card?
I’m not sure it’s possible to sell out when your group is named Insane Clown Posse and you’ve been signed to a Disney subsidiary for an amount of time that can be measured in hours. Hollywood Records paid $1 million for the rights to release The Great Milenko in 1997 after a groundswell of industry buzz. Then, someone in khakis actually listened to the thing, and Disney realized these clowns were insane in the stabby killy way, not the wearing-Hawaiian-shirts-to-business-meetings way. Hollywood withdrew Milenko the same day it was released (even though it had already sold nearly 20,000 copies and was climbing up the charts) and canceled all future plans for ICP. The Clowns were at an autograph signing when they learned they were no longer part of Donald Duck’s extended family.
I can think of ten thousand hardcore punk bands who wish they could say they were kicked off a major label like that. Let’s face it: ICP were the Clinton Era’s Sex Pistols, and Disney was their great rock n’ roll swindle.
Though nowhere near as invigorating or groundbreaking as the Sex Pistols, the Insane Clown posse of Great Milenko remain worthy of more praise than they’ve ever received. Milenko offers the same template of boiling suburban rage, infectious beats, hilarious rhymes, and comically graphic violence that Eminem rode to global renown just a year or two later. Granted, Eminem is a better rapper than either Clown, but as far as gimmicks go, Em’s reference-every-current-tabloid-headline approach probably dates his material more than ICP’s insistence they belong to an evil carnival from another dimension. Besides, Eminem was already complaining about the pressures his superstar lifestyle on his second album. Marshall Mathers gets on “TRL” a couple times and bro-ham can’t handle the pressure. Boo hoo. Didn’t you fool around with Mariah Carey? Yeah, you don’t get to complain about anything.
The Great Milenko is Insane Clown Posse’s fourth album, and never again would they sound this legitimately disturbed, hilariously demented, or crazy frightening. Possibly the greatest example of this comes almost midway through the “House Of Horrors,” when Violent J intones the following:
“Lemme show you something—[makes high-pitched raspberry noise] / You know what that means? it don’t mean nothin’! / But it scared you, ’cause people don’t be doin’ that shit / But me? [makes noise again] / Bitch, [makes once noise again] I’m all about it!”
Think about that for a minute. An overweight harlequin with dreadlocks invites you into his dark, foreboding fun house. Suddenly, he turns to you amidst the dry ice and strobe lights and starts excitedly making noises with his mouth. Can you honestly say you wouldn’t vigorously soil your Tommy John boxer shorts at that very moment?
The Clowns’ bizarre viewpoint also pops up in the slow, introspective jam “How Many Times?” At first, it seems like this song is just another chill rap tune about dealing with life’s smaller aggravations (particularly highway traffic). Then, apropos of nothing, one of the clowns starts losing his shit because he cannot pay for fast food by imparting scientific knowledge upon the cashier (“Can I walk into McDonald’s to the counter / and tell ’em you can make limestone from gun powder? / Will they give me a cheeseburger if I know that shit? / Fuck no, fuck you, and shut your fuckin’ lip!”). That ICP favors the barter system comes as no surprise, as I don’t believe psychotic circus workers generally keep bank accounts.
I’d call it a double standard that people have been regularly eating up GWAR for so many years when their musical output is at least equally as stupid as ICP’s, but everyone involved here is a white male from flyover states. GWAR wears foam rubber cocks that shoot fake ejaculate all over their audience and they get more respect from the outside world than ICP. Does that make any sense? Perhaps ICP lowered their market value by aligning themselves with an off-brand soft drink like Faygo. Winn Dixie brand doesn’t cost much more, and it carries a less backwoods stigma. Good rule of thumb: if they can afford to put a NASCAR driver on the bottle, you won’t look stupid drinking it.
Another point to ponder: if the Insane Clown Posse is so bad, how come legends like Alice Cooper and Slash make appearances on Milenko? Those guys don’t necessarily go around lending their legacies to crap (Alice Cooper was in Wayne’s World, for the love of Chris Farley). What could Slash have to gain by appearing on the major label debut of some rapping clown band? Nothing, really, aside from a paycheck he probably didn’t need. He’s Slash! He must have simply dug the hot circus jams.
Perhaps it’s all a tomayto / tomahto thing. I believe there’s some kind of genius in lyrics like “He eats Monopoly and shits out Connect Four!” (Violent J’s description of an average ICP fan in “What Is A Juggalo?”). If you can’t see that, I guess we’re just in opposite time zones. This entire debate brings to mind an astute remark usually attributed to actress Mary Woronov: there is a difference between art and bullshit; sometimes, bullshit is more interesting.
Yes, The Great Milenko is targeted at people who would rather spend a Saturday afternoon watching “Charles In Charge” and doing whippets as opposed to visiting the nearest Christo exhibit or foreign film fest. Yet you can’t view this album through the same “OMG, irony fail!” prism as “Miracles.” Milenko is a finely-tuned, gratifying journey through the admittedly low brow genre of horrorcore, second only to the first Gravediggaz album in terms of relative greatness. Juggalo fervor has overshadowed ICP’s music in recent years, be it good or bad. No one seemed to bat an eye when the Clowns released 2007’s The Tempest, possibly the first hip-hop album featuring a song about a roller coaster. Seems like they had to make a crazy joint like “Miracles” just remind people they’re an actual musical group and not just some out-there trailer park cult.
Hopefully one day bizarre and sickening minutia like Juggalo baby coffins will be separated from ICP’s musical catalog and The Great Milenko will garner recognition as the worthwhile exercise in cathartic silliness it is. If Music From “The Elder” by Kiss could eventually find a home in our shared cultural circle, there’s hope yet for the fourth Joker’s Card.
Disney’s new logic: what was good for Marvel will be good for Star Wars. The galactic empire that now owns the Galactic Empire is planning to make a trilogy of SW films outside Episodes VII, VIII, and IX, films they’ll plug in between chapters of the tent pole series that will center around different beloved Lucafilm characters. Yoda, Han Solo, and Boba Fett are allegedly in the running for these standalone movies, seemingly safe bets each for compartmentalized adventures (as opposed to your average Ewok who lacks the basic knowledge to pilot a star cruiser off of Endor).
My fear is the Mouse will fall into the Wolverine/Hulk trap where these standalone films underperform and their response is to keep saying “do over!” until people are sick of seeing the chosen characters onscreen. Can you believe Marvel’s thinking about making a third Hulk movie because Ruffalo got so many good notices in Avengers? Never mind audiences practically rioted in the literal sense of the word when they bore witness to the last two Hulk movies. Hey, you know what, movie brain trust? Maybe some of these characters aren’t supposed to sustain an entire production by themselves. Maybe characters like the Hulk and Wolverine and Boba Fett (at least in terms of cinema) should only be ensemble players. Shit, look at “AfterMASH.” No one wanted that much Jamie Farr.
Now, I could be wrong. Maybe the right convergence of talent could give us ninety minutes of Yoda that isn’t wall-to-wall cartoony bullshit like what they made him do in the prequels (he was throwing furniture in that third one—fucking’ furniture! Sheesh!). I’m not holding my breath, though. I’m not even holding my breath for Episode VII. Are we gonna hafta see Chewbacca’s son again? That strikes me as something J.J. might do.
Currently most of geekdom is wrapped up in rumors surrounding who’s gonna be key gripping Star Wars 7: The Search For More Relevance, but some of us inhabiting the furthest outposts of Yavin 4 are more concerned with what might now happen with the original original Star Wars trilogy. That is to say, the pre-1997 non-Special Editions, the unaltered versions of Star Wars, Empire, and Jedi an entire generation fell in love with in theaters and on home video, the versions George Lucas dismissed years ago as “rough drafts” he never wanted the world to see again. Will Disney finally appease the hardcore ewok jockeys with restored anamorphic releases of the OOT on DVD / Blu-Ray or will Bob Iger assume there’s no point since bootleggers have been passing rather decent despecialized versions around on the Internet for a while now and if anyone really wants to hear “Yub Nub” they can set phasers for Google?
In the words of Yoda, difficult to say. Always in motion, corporate strategies are. On the one hand, Disney’s been pretty good lately about catering to fan whims, packaging with noticeable TLC less popular properties like The Great Mouse Detective and The Black Cauldron for the new generation of Mouse stormtroopers. On the other hand, Mickey’s been pretty lazy with the Muppets in terms of video retail—seasons four and five of “The Muppet Show” still haven’t hit DVD and I can’t even begin to count the various TV one-offs from back in the day that now appear lost to history. It sure seems like a significant portion of this country loves to ride Kermit’s balls and would snap up without thinking any of his media; thus, it’s hard to understand why Disney is suppressing / ignoring stuff like “The Muppets Go Hollywood” and “John Denver & The Muppets: A Christmas Together” (not to be confused with “Rocky Mountain Holiday,” a later Denver / Fozzie TV crossover).
Lucasfilm’s party line about restoring the original original trilogy was usually the allegedly prohibitive expense involved, which seemed dubious until we all found out they were relying on massive bank loans as early as 1980. Okay, fine, maybe Skywalker Ranch was having trouble keeping the lights on all these years, but Disney farts money. Hell, they dropped four billion alone on Star Wars like it wasn’t no thang. They operate numerous theme parks that all cost upwards of seventy or eighty dollars to enter—and once you’re inside, bottled water is like five bucks a pop. There’s no way Disney doesn’t have the cabbage to recreate the original Star Wars films the way they were before CGI Jabba showed up to Docking Bay 94. They probably have enough money to do it and put it out and be okay even if copy the first never sold. The question is do they have the motivation? Does Disney care about pleasing what feels like a rapidly shrinking part of Star Wars fandom?
Again, who knows. Disney reached a point a long time ago where they can basically do whatever they want, fans or logic be damned. Case in point: Splash Mountain, the enormous and enormously fun log flume in several of their aforementioned theme parks, oft considered the top tier attraction, an attraction that for reasons unknown was based on a film the company has refused to release and basically can’t release because of its perceived racial insensitivity. No, I’ve never seen 1946’s Academy Award-winning Song of the South in its entirety, but I trust the Mouse when they say, “Hey, this movie, uh, it might be too offensive for our culture post-Civil Rights Movement.” Alright, cool. Then why did you base a log flume around it?
Let’s just say I’m not holding my breath that Disney’s going to make every correct and/or sensible move with its newly minted Wookiees and Wampas. I guess as long as they don’t put mouse ears on the Death Star I won’t feel betrayed.
I think it’s fair to have reservations about Walt Disney spending quadruple the amount of Ireland’s annual defense budget for the complete rights to every entity in the Star Wars galaxy. I mean, this is the company that once decided an ewok dressed as Slash was a brilliant idea. To me that doesn’t exactly scream “respect for the source material.” Then again, Lucas himself had chickens wandering around those two mid-eighties ewok movies, and that makes about as much sense as Teebo putting on a top hat and playing air guitar to a Guns n’ Roses song. I guess no one really knows what to do with these characters anymore.
People crow about the success Disney’s had with the Marvel brand since swooping it up in 2009, but the truth is Paramount did most of the leg work setting up the long-gestating and now massively popular Avengers—the Mouse just kinda waltzed in later and bought the distribution rights. They haven’t proven themselves there (yet). Also, in the eight years since Disney bought the Muppets they’ve given Henson’s brood dick to do, cramming them into a Wizard of Oz remake and one original theatrical release (2011’s Muppets, an experience that must not have been amazing for human star Jason Segel as he’s already dropped out of the sequel).
Maybe I’m being overprotective of my Luke Skywalkers. It just seems like Walt Disney’s retaining stewardship of several high end brands right now (Marvel, Muppets, Pixar, now Star Wars and Indiana Jones) and I’m concerned about their juggling skills. Of course, who else could afford the Lucasfilm catalog? Wal-Mart? The catch-22 is any film / entertainment company willing to devote all their time and passion to our favorite galactic saga probably doesn’t have pockets that deep. And still, some people are saying Disney underpaid, considering they bought Pixar several years ago for $7 billion. Buzz Lightyear > jawas, obviously.
Of the explosive Episode VII announcement tacked on to the end of this news I’m even more dubious. Lucasfilm has always been resoundingly awful at keeping secrets; if they began seriously considering the start of the next live action trilogy five months ago those of us who keep our ears to the ground probably would have heard rumblings before yesterday. Let’s also note that Disney and Lucas announced their deal—arguably the biggest business news of the past five years—on a day when Wall Street was unexpectedly closed due to disastrous weather. They could have said anything and it wouldn’t have affected stocks one way or the other. Of course, only an idiot would dump their Disney shares as the company suddenly had a stake in the next Star Wars cash cow.
Smells to me like in the final hours before completing the deal Bob Iger said, “Fuck it, we’re gonna announce Episode VII in 2015, maybe for some financial insurance, but mostly for the goddamn ‘wow’ factor,” and Lucas said, “Okay, I guess I’ll start telling people there’s a treatment even though I’ve spent the past zillion years saying I had no interested in Episodes VII–IX.” I could be wrong, certainly. Maybe Lucasfilm really did decide to start hacking out the new trilogy last summer and through divine miracle managed to keep the news in-house. It doesn’t seem likely, though, considering the company’s history amongst rumormongers.
There is a perverse insanity to the fact Disney’s allotted themselves just two years to fully realize the sequel to Return of the Jedi, but I suppose The Phantom Menace proved over-thinking these movies for half a decade can be detrimental. Now we fans get to chew our fingernails off in the interrum waiting to hear plot leaks and who the director is and if Mark Hamill will reprise his role as Tatooine’s favorite son. Just when I thought I was done for good, they pull me back in. Namaste, Disney. Namaste.
I did not see the latest Muppet special that aired this week, “A Muppet Christmas: Letters To Santa,” but I heard it was a pile of ass. Not surprising. The previous Muppet Xmas outing wasn’t all that hot, either—2002’s “It’s A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie.” You know you’re in trouble when the best you can offer is an over-the-shoulder Yoda cameo.
The Muppets have been in something of a free-fall for the past decade, failing to give us anything all that inspired or magical beyond 1999’s semi-ok Muppets From Space. I, of course, blame Disney, who acquired our favorite felt outfit in 2004. The Mouse isn’t exactly known for quality outside the parameters of its theme parks or star-studded CG vehicles. Why should they direct any of their energy or dollars into a franchise that’s at best a hazy seventies Gen X memory? They shouldn’t, I guess, since the current gen is way more into human Pinocchio-types that sing and play guitars.
The sad fact is the Muppets’ best years are behind them. They had a great run, but maybe it’s time to stop trying to squeeze out whatever tasty green frog juice is left in Kermit’s dry little frog body. It’s like any great band or movie franchise—you want to see them get out of the game with some dignity. Shit, I don’t want to hear anyone but Jim Henson voice Rowlf. That shit, as “Family Guy” deftly observed, is just wrong.
I would be just fine if Disney just cut their Muppet losses now and relied on pimping the classics (DVDs of “The Muppet Show” and the theatrical Muppet movies, whatever they can do with “Muppet Babies,” that fantastic exhibit they have at their movie studio park known as “Muppetvision 3-D,” etc). I don’t want to wake up this time next year to see Fozzie and Gonzo farting around some half-assed Twilight parody or playing a rival band in the next Jonas Brothers movie.
Ollie Johnston, the last surviving member of Walt Disney’s famous “Nine Old Men” animation crew, died yesterday at the impossible age of 95. He worked on Snow White, Peter Pan, Cinderella, all that yazz. Nobody had Ollie in the death pool; thus, the scores remain unchanged (Nathan C, 16; everyone else, zip).
I have such mixed feelings about Disney. On the one hand, it’s a hollow corporate empire built upon borrowed ideas that was founded by a noted anti-Semite. On the other hand, kids need crap to get excited about, too. Nothing’s perfect, I suppose. Whaddya gonna do? If it’ll keep those little yard monsters off my lawn for half an hour, more power to it.
Just do me one solid, Disney: promise you won’t keep suppressing the Muppets. I need some Fozzie up in this biznatch stat. Wocka wocka an’ stuff.