April 20, 2017
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Star Wars’ Winners and Losers
by Celik Kayalar
The new 'Star Wars' cast was featured in this month's Vanity Fair: (lf-rt) John Boyega, Daisy Riddley and Harrison Ford with Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca in the back. photo: courtesy Vanity Fair
LET ME CUT TO THE CHASE, 'CAUSE I
have great news: the good guys won! But it was an intense, cosmic struggle all the way to the wire, a true cliff-hanger!
You see, I worry each time a new "Star Wars" sequel comes out, since the bad guys always start so overwhelmingly powerful and militarily superior. But, of course, our boys and girls have the "Force" which they can stream when they really need it. Let’s hope the bad guys never get a hold of that technology!
But the big winners here are not so much the good guys as the Walt Disney Company. Since its December 18th opening, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” has taken in over $800 million world-wide, putting it well on track to top 2009's “Avatar”’s $2.8 billion to become the biggest film of ALL time, quite a feather in the cap of director J.J. Abrams, previously known for "Mission Impossible III" (2006) and "Star Trek" (2009).
Ironically, back in 2012, industry watchers poo-poo-ed Disney's payout of $4 billion to George Lucas for his “Star Wars” baby. But it turns out that’s small potatoes when it comes to a blockbuster franchise. Especially given that, with peripherals which can accrue billions per episode, “Star Wars” is the biggest franchise of ALL time.
But enough about the art of money and back to the art of cinema, such as it is! I, for one, was determined to witness the spectacle of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" as soon as possible, so I raced to my local Cineplex, where I waited a very long time on a very long line.
Fans turning out in force for 'The Force Awakens' opening in Times Square, NY. photo: courtesy ABC
Fortunately, this allowed me to befriend a bunch of very lovable and excited young fans for whom the venerable franchise served such a central symbol in their formative years. Indeed, they had come ready to party in their authentic "Star Wars" costumes, makeup and hairdos and carrying franchise-issue toys!
As we chatted, I noticed across the street two other movie theaters that nobody seemed to be going into. They were showing "The Spotlight" (Tom McCarthy, 2015) and "The Big Short" (Adam McKay, 2015). Oh, well... back to the main event and the winners!
After the ordeal of ticketing and entering, we finally took our seats and the movie started with big fanfare. But, about a half an hour in, amidst all the noise from the audience as well as the screen, both in surround sound, I must admit, I dozed off.
Indeed, I was soon in conversation with the lovely "Rey,” a new character played by the talented English lass Daisy Ridley, who provides a much-needed feminist heroine for the movie.
ME: But Rey, this is escapism, an escape from the real world.
REY: So, what's the harm in that?
ME: It’s a worthless fantasy, silly and meaningless.
REY: What's wrong with escaping from your daily worries for a few hours and allowing yourself to be entertained?
ME: Yes, but...
The 'droids from the original 'Star Wars' (1977), were cute and quite tongue-in-cheek, essential since they followed on the heels of '2001''s (1968) murderous HAL. photo: courtesy Lucasfilm
REY: Celik, don't be such a pain-in-the-ass killjoy! Put on your 3-D glasses, have some popcorn and enjoy the ride!
ME: Hmm... I don't know...
REY: C'mon, old chap! Would you like some coke with your popcorn—I mean the real kind? Or a little ecstasy? We have it all, here in Imagination Land. Indeed, our special effects, especially those high-speed intergalactic chases, will be much more fun when you're high!
ME: My god, Rey, are you suggesting more ESCAPE!?
REY: Sure! What's the harm in that?
At that point, I awoke from my escape from escapism and managed to maintain consciousness until the film’s very end.
By the way, I truly liked and enjoyed the original "Star Wars" when it came out in 1977. It was creative and humorous, replete with tongue-in-cheek references to the sci-fi genre.
Moreover, Lucas based the story on the superb scholarship and ideas of an idol of mine, Joseph Campbell (“The Hero with a Thousand Faces” 1949, “The Power of Myth" with Bill Moyers, PBS,1988). And Campbell's ideas, in turn, go all the way back to the great psychoanalyst Carl Jung.
Daisy Ridley as Rey in 'Star Wars' but as portrayed in the Vanity Fair photo shoot. photo: courtesy Vanity Fair
But, that was then and "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" is now, when we, and especially the youth, desperately need a dose of reality, and not a bunch of escapist fantasies.
I mean for god’s sake, this is the era of ISIS, Boco Haram, sectarian violence, terrorism, rising bigotry and racism, a horrific refugee crisis, growing economic inequality, human trafficking and slavery, violence against women, global warming, pollution, droughts and water shortages, antibiotic-resistant bacteria.... need I go on?
Adding insult to injury was the very ending of the movie (Spoiler Alert! If you haven't seen it, you may want to skip this next two paragraphs):
As I understood it, the missing Jedi, Luke Skywalker, had been hiding on an island this whole time and is finally found by Rey. She offers him a “Lightsaber,” the laser-powered killing instrument of the Jedi warriors— which, when it appeared on screen, many in the audience held aloft their toy version.
I can't speak for the rest of the audience but I readily recognized the island, with its ruins of a monastery, as the "Skellig Michael" off the coast of Ireland. A holy and spiritual site for many Christians, it is a potent symbol even for a non-religious person like myself. The peaceful Christian monks, who built the monastery there, must have turned in their graves at that moment when Rey offered the Lightsaber to Luke.
Alas this is a minor point compared to the dumbing down of America, which continues full galactic speed ahead, and with the youth its greatest victims.
To be sure, they’re voluntarily participating in their own intellectual annihilation and I can't blame them for wanting to have some fun, even if through cartoonish characters, but, ironically, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens", by its very nature illustrates the mortal danger threatening our planet: the absence of critical thought and a concern for real world problems.
This is where the evil-doers just might be the Disney execs, now worshiped for their financial acumen. Aside from the billions, should they be so proud to be the world’s greatest purveyors of escapist twaddle, with almost no redeeming or moral value, and no originality left in their formulaic sequels?
The psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875-1961) and mythologist Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) formed the sophisticated subtext for the original 'Star Wars' (1977). photo: courtesy subjects' estates
Moreover, how do you think we should all feel about being set up and asked/coerced to participate by Disney's ungodly-huge marketing-machine, which was put to unprecedented work for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”? Is this really an important worldwide cultural event, replete with "spiritual", and even "religious" overtones?
Please don't get me wrong: I'm not—for an L.A.-minute—suggesting that Disney is the sole supplier of this kind of escapism and is thereby unique in its ill-will. Nevertheless, imagine if it came in a bottle, tablet or powder; wouldn't it be deemed illegal?
So, to answer my original question: Yes, Disney's bank account is the big winner here but the rest of us are the big losers, young and old, and in every sense of the word.
Merry Christmas EVERYONE!
Stay tuned for "Star Wars: Jesus Awakens"! Although, if Jesus did come back—and this might not be a bad time for him to do so—would we even recognize him? Wouldn’t we all be standing in line for the next franchise blockbuster while the little bookstore, theater, church or even synagogue across the street stood empty?
By the way, the films I mentioned earlier, "The Spotlight" and "The Big Short", happen to be terrific. They're based on real and very important events in our recent history. Entertaining too, but without being escapist one bit. Hope the folks at Disney take note.
May the force be with you, the natural force of life, that is!
Celik Kayalar, PhD. is an award-winning indie filmmaker. He is also an actor, acting teacher, and the founder & director of
Film Acting Bay Area
who can be reached
Posted on Dec 27, 2015 - 12:19 AM