The return of Star Wars: an evil empire in Jedi clothing?

22 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ tickets presale online: When does Episode VIIA long time ago, when everyone else was taking day trips to a galaxy far, far away, I decided to stay put on our drab little planet. PETALING JAYA: The movie is less than a month away but Malaysian Star Wars fans have been snapping up advance tickets for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.In a scene reminiscent of one of the opening shots of the original trilogy, C-3PO — sporting his mysterious red arm — and R2-D2 wander lost across the sands of what appears to the desert planet of Jakku.This photo provided by Disney shows Daisey Ridley as Rey, left, and John Boyega as Finn, in a scene from the new film, “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens,” directed by J.J.

The highly anticipated seventh Star Wars movie has been breaking box office records in North America, racking up US$50mil (RM213.5mil) in advance ticket sales, according to a report by The Hollywood Reporter. A quick look through GSC’s online ticketing website ( revealed that screenings on the first and second day of release were already full, especially at more popular cinemas such as those in Mid Valley Megamall and 1 Utama.

In an exchange of bleeps and whirs, the droids communicate for the first time — Artoo apparently breaking the ice by way of a jab at his partner’s directional skills. As excitement over Force Awakens nears fever pitch, partner brands like Verizon and Duracell have been flooding the airwaves with invented footage sometimes filmed with the same sets and production tools behind the actual films on loan from the studio.

The final part of the ‘trailer’ includes the rebranding of the Star Wars logo as Sea Wars, along with the tagline The Ike Awakens, referring to the nickname of the Eisenhower. The eagerly awaited new instalment is the first Star Wars film in 10 years, and features characters played by Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher that have not appeared on the big screen since 1983.

But I managed to buy one for a late-night session in a London cinema, where the mood of contagious excitement erupted every few minutes into whoops and cheers. Speaking about the tight control on spoilers, Mark Hamill revealed he faces a financial penalty if he reveals crucial plot information about his character. Two hours later I stumbled back into the empty streets, my head reeling as I hummed the fanfare by John Williams – a march through space scored for blaring trumpets and thunderous drums – that introduced a wild, unstoppable ride, a rollercoaster of giddy delights.

Discussing the ongoing threat of spoilers, the actor told PC Gamer: “I have something coming out where there’s an amount of money where if it leaks, because of me, I don’t get that payment. I sampled other worlds, peopled by creatures belonging to no known species, and I watched a blue planet like our own blow up in a re-enactment of the big bang. Whether it bests the biggest grosser of all time — “Avatar,” with $2.8 billion worldwide — depends on word of mouth and whether fans love it enough to watch it multiple times through the new year. “Star Wars” will have the advantage of having weak competition for months. But I’m good about keeping secrets.” Recalling that he managed to keep a huge secret while shooting the original Star Wars trilogy, Hamill added: “I’m proud of the fact that I knew a year and a half before anybody else that he [Darth Vader] was actually ‘Dad Vader’.

Upsetting traditional hierarchies, two metallic servants – the polished, prissy butler C-3PO and his squat companion R2-D2, apparently a dustbin with a brain – bossily managed the affairs of their accident-prone masters. That’s 87 percent more than this summer’s “Jurassic World,” which opened domestically with a record $208.8 million in ticket sales and owns the all-time No. 3 spot with $1.7 billion worldwide. I liked this pair so much that I even bought a poster of them, which I pinned up in my college rooms in Oxford, discreetly out of sight of the student to whom I was teaching English literature. I wasn’t tempted to see the sequels, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, when they appeared early in the 1980s; by the time the writer and director George Lucas added The Phantom Menace and two more prequels to the series between 1999 and 2006, I had made up my mind that only teenagers obsessed by gadgetry went to the cinema, so I left them to it. As for the all-time high, one thing “Avatar” had going for it: It rode a wave of consumer interest in 3-D, which costs a few dollars more than regular tickets.

From then on, my attitude resembled that of Natalie Portman, who remembers shrugging indifferently when she was offered a role in the first prequel: “I was like, Star what?” Portman, however, overcame her disdain and accepted the job, and I gradually caught up on DVD with the five episodes I’d missed. Soon after their emergence from the womb, toddlers can be togged out in romper suits that announce “I am a Jedi”, or fitted with bibs on which Yoda, resembling a wizened green embryo, deploys his usual back-to-front syntax to demand “Feed me you must”. The first installment of “The Hunger Games” was the leader in advance sales, but topped out at a worldwide gross of $693 million, not even in the all-time Top 10.

Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon can whizz through wormholes to emerge in galaxies on the far side of the universe: I hope that the film eases Fleetwood’s journey to his final destination, wherever it may be. The movie also has a much bigger Chinese box office to tap. “Avatar” pulled down a monstrous $204 million in China through 2010, but the theatrical market there is now at least three times as big. Over the course of the six films (not in chronological order), a libertarian republic transforms itself into a predatory global empire, much as the United States has done during the last half century. “We’d like to avoid imperial entanglements,” says Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi: he is repeating a point first made by George Washington, who in his presidential farewell advised the new country to remain isolated.

In 1983 Ronald Reagan deflected attention from its military conceit and commercial rapacity by calling the USSR an “evil empire”, a phrase borrowed from the synopsis of past events at the start of Star Wars. Reagan’s plan for an aerial shield of missile deployment platforms had similar origins: it was nicknamed Star Wars because it would supposedly transform nuclear combat into a pyrotechnical blitz to be played out far above us. Democracy can’t be bothered to put up a fight: Ewan McGregor, playing Obi-Wan Kenobi when young, remarks that the senators are only interested in serving the interests of those who fund their campaigns – a comment that glances at Washington DC, not the far-flung planet of Coruscant.

The sepulchral emperor, who, as embodied by Ian McDiarmid, has skin like desiccated parchment and teeth that are lichen-crusted tombstones, almost quotes George W Bush and Donald Rumsfeld when he explains that “security and continuing stability” are his regime’s imperatives. Star Wars begins by declaring Princess Leia’s determination “to restore freedom to the galaxy”, though it’s never clear just what all those twinkling stars need to be freed from – and when we do get a hint, the explanation is dismayingly banal. A treaty has to be signed by the commerce guild and the corporate alliance, which are supported by the banking clan (whose representative is a cadaver with a clerical collar) and the techno union (which sends a metal leviathan to the negotiations). Until Lucasfilm’s sale to Disney in 2012, Star Wars was distributed by 20th Century Fox, so it’s tempting to cast Rupert Murdoch as the baleful megalomaniac emperor, keen to extend his piratical brand of capitalism into all markets. Although the Jedi master played by Samuel L Jackson insists that “We are peacekeepers, not soldiers”, he unsheathes his lightsaber to keep the airwaves open for the dissemination of American entertainment.

We may be more sophisticated today, but what remains eye-opening about the first three films in the series is the variety of custom-made environments through which they range – arid Tatooine, gaseous Bespin with its city in the clouds, or jungly Endor – and the virtual zoo of so-called “lifeforms” they place on display. Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia are featureless archetypes: a surfer dude, a cowboy, and a generic female who promptly strips to a tacky gold bikini. The true characters are monsters and mutants, like the jazz quartet of praying mantises we glimpse at Mos Eisley’s cantina, the four-eyed Annoo-dats, the feathery four-armed Besalisks, and such gruesomely idiosyncratic freaks as the toad-faced lecher Jabba the Hutt, Watto the junk-dealing bluebottle, and the reptilian changeling Zam Wesell, who is a slinky woman on the outside and a lizard under the skin.

Some were joking, but not all: the church of Jediism has 200,000 adherents around the world, and in 2009 when one of its founders was asked to leave a supermarket in Wales because his cloak and hood looked sinister to other shoppers, he claimed to be a victim of religious bigotry. These days, admission to the chivalric order is easier than it was for Luke, who had to undergo a course of martial and mental training before his induction: all it takes is a credit card. Tesco sells children’s Jedi robes made of polyester, “ideal for parties and pretend play”, which can be accessorised with lightsaber that are stubby battery-operated torches. In an episode of Friends, Ross badgered Rachel to have sex with him while dressed – or rather undressed – in Leia’s tawdry bikini (which was recently auctioned off to a Star Wars fetishist for $96,000). On festive occasions gay men have been known to armour themselves as imperial stormtroopers, exchanging black leather for white thermoplastic polymer.

In a parodic Spanish film called Love Wars, two of these clones canoodle in a hideaway on the Death Star, though their glassy vizors make snogging awkward. Last month a shaggy, hulking Chewbacca was arrested in Ukraine while campaigning for a candidate in a local election; he was fined a minimal amount for some petty infraction, but claimed he couldn’t pay because his bank didn’t have a branch on earth. Also in Ukraine, a bronze statue of Lenin in the grounds of an Odessa factory was recently given a makeover as Darth Vader, with a uniform specially sculpted from a titanium alloy.

Unlike Lenin, the demonic lord performs a public service, which guarantees him a devoted following: his samurai helmet conceals a free Wi-Fi hot spot. They may be machines with product labels, not names, but they are touchingly personified – C-3PO by his angular gait, his prissy concern for protocol, his showy linguistic virtuosity, and his queasy fear of flying, R2-D2 by his geeky introversion and his autistic vocal repertory of beeps and burps. With luck, we might develop into effortlessly superior, gold-plated intellectuals like C-3PO, who is expert at over six million forms of communication: Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google, promises we will be “better off” when we have the benefit of “an artificial brain”. R2-D2 is probably closer to the truth: he resembles the anonymous adolescents – umbilically linked to computer terminals in their solitary bedrooms, tubby in shape because they eat only junk food – who have adopted Star Wars as their all-knowing bible. Nevertheless he sniffs at creatures made of mere flesh and blood, and when Luke is lost in a blizzard on an arctic planet he remarks “He’s quite clever, you know – for a human.” In a humbler moment, C-3PO salutes Anakin Skywalker, who first screwed his bits and pieces together, as “the maker”: this is his personal version of the creator who in Genesis moulds mankind out of red clay and breathes a spirit into him.

It’s a little like Hamlet brooding over the skull of Yorick: man is, as Hamlet says, “a piece of work”, and it might be wise to see ourselves as engines not organisms, kept going by circuitry rather than nerves and arteries. Thanks to biomedical technology, all of us are undergoing a redesign, and Star Wars prompts us to think about whether that means we have outgrown humanity. Fussed over by a robotic midwife in a gleaming obstetric ward, she still has to deliver the infants in the customary, agonising way, and she dies in doing so.

Simultaneously, as two separate climaxes are intercut, we watch Anakin being hacked to pieces by Obi-Wan, then charred by a volcanic river that singes his corpse. Having struggled out of the swamp where the gastropod slugs slurp and gnaw on the planet of Dagobah, we are no longer animals; our next metamorphosis may demonstrate what Obi-Wan means when he says that Darth Vader is “more machine than man”. Obi-Wan worries that droids might have the capacity to scheme and strategise, and muses that “If they could think, there’d be none of us here, would there?” Star Wars forums online have made this into a talking point, and many commentators answer Obi-Wan’s question by calling him stupid, conservative and condescending. Droids, the messages in one forum assert, are sentient, intelligent, and should not be snubbed; someone else suggests that C-3PO, for all his effete fussing, might be James Cameron’s Terminator in disguise, poised to eliminate the inferior race of “biologicals”.

The other films of its period were grim parables of psychological deviancy, social malaise and political paranoia, set in America’s hellish, festering cities – Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, Robert Altman’s Nashville, Alan J Pakula’s The Parallax View, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation. Lucas had previously made American Graffiti, a pastoral idyll about adolescents amusing themselves in a small Californian town; it ends with a fearful preview of the grown-up future – one character will be killed in a car crash, another will go missing in Vietnam, a third will suffer the fate worse than death by migrating to Canada.

Lucas came to resent such patronising accounts of his work, and preferred the acclaim of interpreters like the pop mythographer Joseph Campbell, who thought that Star Wars gratified the human “need for spiritual adventure” and identified its characters as Jungian archetypes: Lucas’s namesake Luke is the young hero on a journey towards maturity, Obi-Wan is the elderly mentor who arms him for the fray, and Darth Vader represents modern atheism, a black void whose appearance implies, in Campbell’s words, that “the world is run by economics and politics, which have nothing to do with the spiritual life”. The messiah may have walked on water, but the nine-year-old Anakin gives notice of his divine descent by winning a demolition derby in a turbo-driven podracer that he has cobbled together from spare parts. When he locates the droid foundries in Attack of the Clones on a red, craggy planet called Geonosis, Lucas attempts a metaphysical pun: compressing Genesis, gnosis and geology, the made-up word chokes on its own indigestible etymologies. For Revenge of the Sith, in which the titular dynasty consolidates its power, he strains to make up a word that would exude the sulphurous essence of evil. The series increasingly concentrates on chases, races and aeronautical dogfights in which spacecraft are zapped by pilots with well-oiled trigger fingers, as if the films were rehearsals for the video games spun off from them.

Industrial Light and Magic, the name Lucas gave to the special effects company he founded in 1975, sums up his lucrative wizardry: the light is emitted by diodes, the magic is a computerised simulacrum, and industrialisation mass-markets that visual voodoo and converts it into cash. A calendar has been invented for those uncharted aeons, which starts 13m years before the first film and conscientiously fills in the blanks as if recording actual events; a Babel of spurious languages, each with its own squiggly alphabet, has been devised for creatures like the Ithorians (who have two mouths) and the Twi’leks (who speak by signalling with the tips of their tails). A new company set up by Disney polices this “Expanded Universe content”, correcting errant subplots and ensuring that fan fiction does not trespass on the main narrative.

You’re the shitty, oppressive, totalitarian Empire.” The expanded universe here contracts to the size of a padded cell. “I find your lack of faith disturbing,” snarls Darth Vader when an imperial officer accuses him of sorcery. That’s the paradox and the predicament of Star Wars: those who live inside the fantasy, whether they’re actors or fans, prefer their shared hallucination to the unelastic, downtrodden world of fact.

But the promised awakening began last September, when on “Force Friday” a shiny array of new merchandise – apparel, Lego cruisers, cuddly toys, and an app-enabled droid shaped like a soccer ball – went on sale in Disney stores.

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