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Movies / Sans Solo: The real problem with the new Star Wars trilogy

I've nev­er met any­one who enjoyed an install­ment of the sec­ond Star Wars tril­o­gy — Phan­tom Men­ace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith. Com­mon­ly cit­ed aspects of its unpop­u­lar­i­ty (in no par­tic­u­lar order): ter­ri­ble dia­logue, insuf­fer­able "love" scenes, new char­ac­ters that would be mere­ly unin­ter­est­ing if they weren't offen­sive, and over-depen­dence on effects. [Read all of this and more in Antho­ny Lane's New York­er review].I sub­mit for inclu­sion: No Han Solo! No rogu­ish charmer! No swash­buck­ing mer­ce­nary! Han is every­thing that the sec­ond trilogy's char­ac­ters aren't: unpre­dictable, fun­ny, charm­ing; in short, INTERESTING. In the orig­i­nal tril­o­gy, his unabashed ego­tism bal­ances Luke's piety and Leia's bitchy cold­ness, mak­ing all three movies much less gag-induc­ing than they would have been otherwise.Note to screen­writ­ers: If you're going to write a sto­ry about the clash of good and evil, you need a char­ac­ter like Han to bal­ance the sac­cha­rine aspects of the two. Luke and Leia are pure and uncom­pli­cat­ed; this ren­ders them unin­ter­est­ing unless they're con­trast­ed with a char­ac­ter who actu­al­ly dis­plays human qual­i­ties. Han's irrev­er­ence and greed is off­set by a devo­tion to his friends, and this meaty, real stuff — plus sar­casm, fear, etc — helps view­ers embrace the unre­al stuff.The sec­ond tril­o­gy need­ed more Lord of the Rings-style sto­ries involv­ing friend­ship and adven­ture — some­thing, any­thing to bal­ance the melo­dra­ma and pol­i­tics. I mean, c'mon. Lucas!? Why sub­ject us to this? A char­ac­ter like Han could have inter­ject­ed in moments like this, at the begin­ning of Phan­tom Menace:

BIBBLE : Your High­ness, I will stay here and do what I can … They will have to retain the Coun­cil of Gov­er­nors in order to main­tain con­trol.HAN: Yeah, good luck with that.BIBBLE: In any case, you must leave.AMIDALA: Either choice presents a great risk … to all of us.PADME : We are brave, Your High­ness.HAN: "We" are get­ting the heck out of here before the bat­tle dri­ods get any closer. 

Dis­claimers: (1) I'm not a Star Wars nerd. I thought that Episode 1 unequiv­o­cal­ly sucked and left the the­ater (or blocked out every­thing) after the pod races. I laughed through most of Episode 2, except for the scenes that made me retch. Dit­to Episode 3. And (2) While it's fash­ion­able to point out prob­lems in these movies, I don't have much expe­ri­ence with offi­cial Star Wars crit­i­cism beyond my own snide remarks and the snide remarks of oth­ers — so per­haps some­one has already writ­ten about this.Unrelated: Check out McSweeney's amend­ments of some clas­sic Obi­wan lines: "The Force is what gives a Jedi his pow­er. It's an ener­gy field cre­at­ed by all liv­ing things. It sur­rounds us and pen­e­trates us. It binds the galaxy. Oh, it's all horse­shit. God."Next prob­lem with the new tril­o­gy: No Lando.

lit reviews the ancient past

Reflections on my Pynchon obsession

Book­fo­rum recent­ly pub­lished a trib­ute to Thomas Pyn­chon called "Pyn­chon from A to V," writ­ten by crit­ic and Pyn­chon mani­ac Ger­ald Howard. Most Pyn­chon fans dis­cov­er that their love dare not speak its name because when it does, it instant­ly labels one as a lit­er­ary snob and smar­ty­pants. Like expe­ri­ence in armed com­bat, love of Pyn­chon and Gravity's Rain­bow is best deliv­ered in the for­mat of mem­oir, and Howard's affec­tion­ate tale of his own Pyn­chon obses­sion inspired me to recon­sid­er mine.Let's first get the unavoid­able and unfor­tu­nate real­i­ties out the way: Gravity's Rain­bow is dense and unfriend­ly. Pynchon's char­ac­ters appear from nowhere, have biz­zare names, and dis­ap­pear with­out a trace. Poof! Gone. Most vex­ing of all, read­ing Pyn­chon in gen­er­al, and GR in par­tic­u­lar, requires wran­gling zil­lions of intri­cate con­spir­a­cies with­in con­spir­a­cies, many of which seem to have no bear­ing on the Point of the Book, what­ev­er the heck that may be.Howard's GR expe­ri­ence was sim­i­lar to mine, a kill-or-be-killed, fin­ish-or-die-try­ing affair. I read GR when I was 23. It was a time of con­fu­sion, blus­ter, dis­trust, cut with con­fi­dence that my recent­ly-acquired BA in Eng­lish had giv­en me unique insight into the world; in oth­er words, I was GR's ide­al read­er. It could be argued that few read­ers who aren't young, male lit majors would sub­ject them­selves to a 760 pages of pun­ish­ment thin­ly masked as intrigue. Who else would have the faith, or time, to read and re-read page after page, mem­o­riz­ing seem­ing­ly point­less details because any detail may sud­den­ly become some­how rel­e­vant? At the time I read GR, I had just moved to a big city that seemed pop­u­lat­ed by the very peo­ple who pop­u­lat­ed Pynchon's pages — shad­owy peo­ple with sin­is­ter secret lives. Per­haps their shad­owy, sin­is­ter appear­ance was a result of the fact that I didn't know any­one, had a ter­ri­ble job, no girl­friend, no band and very lit­tle mon­ey. More­over, I didn't know what I want­ed to be doing, who I want­ed to be. Like the pro­tag­o­nist Tyrone Slothrop, I was filled with unease and con­cern. And yet at the same time I was hav­ing TONS of fun. Doing absolute­ly noth­ing except mar­veling at the mys­ter­ies of every­thing around me. I loved it, but I want­ed it all to end, and I want­ed to fig­ure it out — all at the same time. And the book! The book pro­vid­ed a very faint hope of actu­al­ly under­stand­ing some­thing, any­thing. Immersed in the world of GR, all of life was a puz­zle to solve, a knot to unrav­el, a refined and glam­or­ized ver­sion of my own world. Slothrop was me: a con­fused mix of unease, hope, and good times. Of course, vast sec­tions of the book near­ly crushed me. I often com­plete­ly for­got what had hap­pened on the pre­vi­ous page, or who a char­ac­ter was. I must have re-read enough pages to read the book twice.But I was pro­pelled by the illu­mi­nat­ing, invig­o­rat­ing pas­sages that laid bare the ele­ments that so many recent bach­e­lors of arts seek to under­stand — the imper­son­al forces at the heart of civ­i­liza­tion, the greedy cor­po­ra­tions gov­ern­ing our dai­ly lives, the evil truth behind the hap­py facade. Pyn­chon brings these things to life in pas­sages of over­whelm­ing, all-encom­pass­ing knowl­edge (nowa­days imi­tat­ed by the likes of JFranz, DFW, etc), and with­in them exists a char­ac­ter quite famil­iar to my younger self — a hope­ful, curi­ous guy who wants to know the answers but can do no more than uncov­er mys­ter­ies of greater magnitude.Readers rebuffed by its com­plex­i­ty might argue that GR's great­ness is a col­lec­tive delu­sion of the few read­ers will­ing to endure the pun­ish­ment, the end­less parade of biz­zare­ly-named char­ac­ters, the nar­ra­tive digres­sions lead­ing to fur­ther digres­sions that ulti­mate­ly become the nar­ra­tive, the prob­lem of the pro­tag­o­nist dis­ap­pear­ing some­where around page 500 — the list goes on. To them I say this: You real­ly need to make it to the end to under­stand. Bet­ter yet, don't expect to real­ly under­stand any­thing. Then you'll be ready to start. 

  • Book­fo­rum: "Pyn­chon from A to V."