Monday, December 21, 2015

As everybody who doesn't live under a rock knows, a blockbuster new movie just opened. A certain colorful character might call it Star Wars: It Awakens, The Force, Yes It Does, Hmm? but grandma hasn't been the same since her stroke. I'm the series' number-one fan so needless to say I'd been waiting in line at Mann's Chinese since the day Cameron Diaz's movie Sex Bloat opened and closed. Star Wars films aren't just state-of-the-art spectacles: they're an experience shared by virtually everyone alive. Americans adopt Star Wars slang into their lexicon, Europeans debate the metaphorical characters, and Asian kids get the same thrill sewing their four-thousandth R2D2 t-shirt as they did sewing the first.

A lot of people appreciate Star Wars because it doesn't demand a Ph.D. of its audience. It's not asking hard questions like, "Is gender identity more fluid in a post-apocalyptic world?" or "Is this constant violence a result of nature or nurture?," but instead leaves us wondering simple things like, "Wait, so the villain is the only character who's BLACK?"

I love how the filmmakers stay a step ahead of us in knowing what we want. Somehow they've deduced that right after we've met the first woman in a cast of thousands, she should don a bikini in an intergalactic Victoria's Secret fashion show. (Though I'm somewhat relieved they edited out that show's slightly-stereotypical emcee, Gay Gay Bonks.) Even before The Danish Girl hit movie theaters, the Star Wars folks realized they needed to ramp up their feminist punch: finally Leia is promoted to General and given a one-piece.

I also appreciate how intelligent the series is. Think of how much research they must have done, how many scientists and philosopher they must have queried, to finally decide that in the year 45,617 A.D. we'll be bombing everyone who doesn't look like us. How many strange new characters did they invent? How many times did they have to Google "Armenian baby names"? They've populated an entire galaxy with alien races and invented distinct hand-held weapons to kill them all. I think we all remember the iconic cantina scene in the original Star Wars, though it's faded a bit in my memory:

HAN SOLO: Look, Luke! Isn't it incredible here? Fifteen million light years in the future every creature is still a variation on the two-legs, two-arms, central-head rule we saw in The Mummy in 1952. That there is Mando Palrithian. Over there is Mongo Salrathian. That guy is Mingo Casbashian.

LUKE: This is amazing. Look, there's a fish-headed creature in a blue velour bathrobe!

HAN SOLO: Huh. Let's go chop his head off with a buzzing flashlight.

LUKE: Okay!

Imagine being a fly on the wall during those creative brainstorms:

FUTURIST #1: Technology has advanced in quantum leaps. Robots not only have self-awareness and sentience, but they contain all the knowledge of the world. Robots built for different functions will have distinct looks and personalities.

FUTURIST #2: But we'll still need an aggressive white guy to destroy anything really big!

I was on the edge of my seat throughout the entire film. Every time a new character appeared my mind raced. Who would they end up being related to? Is this Chewbacca's nephew? Princess Leia's half-sister? The turd emoticon's father-in-law? And what new weapon would they produce? A gamma ray umbrella? A quantum pine cone? I don't want to sound like a hopeless fanboy but eighty billion years in the future I hope fart cannons become a thing.

Needless to say, I ran straight from the theater to Toys R Us. I ordinarily wouldn't spend $3,500 on needless stuff, but these are investments that can't lose money like my Wumpo Labdabian coin purse. I knew they created toys to exploit every segment of the marketplace, but even I was surprised at the endless rows of action figures. They were big, small, fat, thin, and every shade of the rainbow. There's a little girl action figure who has a single mom and early-onset asthma, and a little boy with a bad lisp and a briefcase he carries to school. I've always gone for the really obscure merchandise, because that's what becomes really valuable, but evidently the Star Wars marketing folks have caught on to this strategy. One figure I bought wasn't even in the movie, but fingers crossed we see more of plucky little Chango Klaptrapian, the home-schooled Christian in the iron lung with the photon cream pies.

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