Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Empire's New Clothes


Watching the first Star Wars back in 1977, was revelatory.  Like many of my generation, it was a high water mark in our childhood.   The film launched in us hundreds of games, where we ran around the woods or housing construction sites, having shootouts with invisible stormtroopers.   I was probably a little too old to play with the subsequent toys and action figures, but I did anyway. Later I would be disheartened to find that these product tie-ins marked the first shift in American film going from an art form to a product, and by the beginning of the next decade, the quality began to free fall, from which in my opinion it has never recovered (exemplified most aptly by the poor standard of Star Wars episodes I-III).  Hollywood cinema is critically ill and George Lucas is responsible for the initial infection.

I was greatly optimistic about the latest installment, particularly because Lucas had so little to do with it.  Nostalgia washed over me as the opening scroll began to roll away from me, in IMAX 3D.  Despite a somewhat slow start, I found myself quickly enthused with the story.  I really enjoyed the in-jokes and the familiar tropes...until the tropes began to look a little too familiar.  By the end of the film, I felt that I was back in 1977 watching A New Hope again, but with the names changed and the roles and genres all mixed around.  Driving home afterward, I wasn't sure if I'd seen a sequel or a remake.  

That said, I truly enjoyed the film.  I don't usually go for big budget popcorn movies anymore, but this one won me over.  I quite look forward to seeing the follow up films, and more than that, to introducing my daughter to the franchise, once she is a bit older.  

Truth be told, I didn't open my laptop this morning in order to write a review.  Instead, I wanted to write what a wonderfully Singaporean experience I had.  I watched the film in a theater belonging to Shaw Brothers, who had an influence equal to Star Wars in my upbringing, in their chop-socky films that I watched every Saturday on the Just for Kicks program on New York's WWOR.   While living in Hong Kong in 1997, I went to Shaw Studios on a pilgrimage of sorts, hoping to see the full scale Qing dynasty town they'd built on their back lot.   Overdressed in a suit and taking the guise of a foreign exec, I failed to convince the security guard to let me pass, though I did have better luck talking myself into Jackie Chan's offices a short walk away at Golden Harvest.   

But I wasn't thinking about that here in Singapore.  Instead I was delighting in the fact that the movie hot dogs are chicken rather than pork (beaks and feet rather than snouts and tails?), in respect of the country's large Muslim population, including the girl at the concessions stand who handed it across the counter to me, along with hot sauce rather than ketchup.  Compared to the New Jersey suburbs of 1977, it truly is a galaxy far far away...

On the turntable:  "Fusion from India"
On the nighttable:  J. G. Farrell, "The Singapore Grip"

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