Monday, December 21, 2015

What Made Star Wars So Epic in 1977

[This article appeared in slightly edited form on PopCultHQ.com. ]
We bought it new and wore it 'til you could wear it no more.
It was our job to make it distressed.
Comic-book great Jim Steranko was once asked, “When was the Golden Age of Comics?”

“12,” he quipped.

Steranko was right. It's an age, not a year.

I was twelve when Star Wars came out in 1977. It was all golden, and while I have analyzed, memorized, and categorized George Lucas’ inimitable success, and was inspired by the creativity in it and The Empire Strikes Back, I have never experienced that same awe in a movie theater since.

Some have gotten close to a fanboy’s dream. I cite Joss Whedon’s Avengers as a prime example of awesome and follow up with Guardians of the Galaxy as probably the closest I have ever felt to the wonderment of those virgin days.

But I think I have recently realized what made Star Wars so special… It was ruthlessly creative. You were asked to believe before you had a chance to catch your breath.

The original Star Wars does not even have opening credits – and that got George Lucas into a lot of trouble with the Motion Picture Academy, which explicitly states the artists [writers, actors and directors] are to be shown in the first few minutes of the film.

Lucas even put the story before them – and man, it works. You suddenly aren’t watching a film. You are listening – and reading that long scrolling exposition fits – to a mythical tale. [Yeah, smart boy, I know where he got it from. Joseph Campbell, Buck Rogers, blahblahblah... Don’t interrupt.]

No, you were not asked your opinion of those events. You were shown the War. In the Stars. I swear, if the film had immediately ended there as the rebel blockade ship was captured, you could have walked out of the theater and said “As advertised. Short, yeah, but As Advertised!”

Everything AFTER that opening is gravy. Or even a better analogy: an Italian meal – and your momma loves you. “Eat! Eat! EAT!” she screams, filing your jaded little 70’s SF saucer with enough magic-filled Jedi pasta to sink the Millennium Falcon. Enough to fatten a Wookie, dangit. Enough special effects, sound effects, creatures, events and glorious music to kill every stormtrooper on the Death Star.

Which, in fact, they do.

Bought at K-Mart. Needed 2 "C" batteries.
I repeat. 2 "C" batteries. 'Cause it had a motor, that's why.
No, my poppets. You have been jaded by too much CGI and internet. You have to go far, far away to some country with a name ending in “-stan” for a decade to grok the power of walking nearly blind and naïve into a darkened air-conditioned theater in the summer of 1977 and getting mugged by a film that changed our culture overnight. Changed the industry. Changed kids. Started several empires of movie making.

For geeks, it was like reading The Lord of the Rings for the first time. Not seeing LOTR, reading it.

The speed of delivery was a key part. As I said, Italian Momma Speed.

See, I have thought of a little game for adults. Get a copy of the original Star Wars [yes, you can]. Sit and watch it with friends who are peers and say “Every time we see something on the screen that had never been seen before in a color theatrical release, we have to drink.”

You won’t make it to the Mos Eisley cantina. By then of course, you’d fit right in.



I’m running long, so let me end by showing you what Star Wars gave us – in color – in less than 30 minutes.

  • Opening Scroll of Epic Adventure [color, remember?]
  • Starship Battle, at blazing speed [not Star Trek speed]
  • C-3PO and R2-D2
  • Stormtroopers
  • Darth Vader
  • Escape pod to an alien planet 
  • Jawas
  • Sandcrawler
  • Second-hand Junked Robots
  • C-3PO's “oil bath” [while spouting "human/cyborg relations"]
  • Hologram of Leia
  • Blue Milk [hey, it’s true!]
  • Dual sunset of a Binary Star System
  • Landspeeder [used]
  • Sandpeople
  • Vader with Grand Moff Tarkin
  • Vader choking “unbelieving” admiral
  • Lightsaber [Ben’s hut]

I think I have more time to use, but you get the point, I hope? The first Star Wars simply did not wait on you, and we adored her for it.

We adored her for making us believe in what happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. We adore her still. I used the feminine pronoun there, didn’t I? Well, I had to.

Because really, who can ever forget their first love?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Joseph the Righteous, Pt. 2

"Mary - I, uh, had this, uh... dream and I was, uh..." "Yes?"
"Oh forget it. Is May 25th still good? You know how caters are."
"But Joseph, being a righteous man, and not willing to put her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly." 

That's how I remember Joseph. A good guy being nice to Mary, but we all knew she was a good girl so we expected him to be good to her - because he's a good guy, right?

Let me tell you something, good men get really angry at lies and betrayal.

Good men hate spending money on a ring that cannot be returned. Good men hate being cuckolded.

Good men hate being treated like chumps. That simple.

But Joseph was a righteous man - that is not just a moral man, but a man who lived rightly before God. He knew he sinned before God, so he want to temple with sacrifices, year after year.

He heard in the synagogue of the Fall of Man and how even the patriarchs and great saints of olden days sinned against God, yet God had mercy on them. He was of the line of David, and that meant he knew his forefather, King David was merciful to the apostate Saul when he'd gone mad with jealousy and tried to kill David for no good reason.

He knew mercy belonged in his heart to those who'd hurt him. By every appearance, Mary, his betrothed had cheated on him. He was not a fool. He was sick. He raged, He cried. He could not believe it. He wanted justice but if he demanded that, it would only harm the very girl he'd asked to be his bride.

He took the most expensive, most emotionally brave option to let Mary go quietly.

I am divorced after a very brief marriage. I have canned food that lasted longer. It is an ugly thing to see all your hopes disintegrate before your very eyes.

If you think believing in God is for sissies, you have it backwards. It takes guts.

Joseph had guts. He was good. He was merciful. He was sick and sad and was going to do the best thing he could do for Mary. He loved her dearly.

Then we read this from Matthew 1:20, 21:
20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 
21 "She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  
 I want you to note three things 1) the angel appeared to him in a dream, like many OT patriarchs had had, and even pagan kings like Nebuchadnezzar and Pharoah had experienced, 2) the angel called him by his ancestral honorific - clearly identifying him as man like David, his "father" and 3) he was being comforted and given a fabulous honor and duty - to raise the messiah.

When people call me "Mr. Carmon" they are looking at me as a man to be respected. When people call me "Justice" they are looking at me as a guy to appreciated.

When this angel says "Joseph, son of David" in his dream, he's being very appreciative and even respectful, Imagine him smiling as he identifies him. I am sure I am making a bit much of this - I get letters all the time with both names on them and it doesn't really move my heart.

But this is a special event - and the angel is not just giving him information; he's comforting him too.

"Don't be aftraid..." Don't worry, I would have said. I'm not. I'm angry as hell.

But anger is just fear with testosterone. You are afraid of being taken advantage of or of being humiliated. "Perfect love casts out fear," says John the Apostle. He's right.

So the angel is almost saying "Hey, Joe, don't you worry. Your fiance' didn't cheat on you. This is all coming from God. You've been chosen to foster a very special boy. Very special!"

Wow. One other thought occured to me.

Zecharaiah had the angel Gabriel appear before him in the holy of holies and did not believe him.

Mary had the angel Gabriel appear before her and she asked how it was going to happen but then submitted wonderfully.

Joseph hears from an angel - maybe it was Gabriel - in a dream and doesn't argue, disbelieve or ask any questions.

He just gets up and does what he was supposed to do: marry his pregnant fiance'.

That man is a mensch. That man was righteous. That man was awesome.

May we men of the cross be the same today.

Amen.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Joseph the Righteous, Pt. 1

"Look at Mary carrying that gourd by herself...
...wait... that can't be a gourd..." :(
This past Sunday I had the privilege of teaching at the Brookdale Retirement Community. Given that these were mature men and women with various backgrounds, including Roman Catholic, I chose to focus on a lesser known, lesser imagined part of the events leading to the advent of Christ: the man who decided to obey God by marrying a pregnant virgin. I think it is high time we give some proper respect to Joseph, whom scripture calls "a righteous man."

Let's start with what the Bible says in Matthew 1:18-25:
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just [lit. "righteous"] man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.
20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
23  “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, "God with us").  
24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

If we simply take the text at face value and add the historical context, we find a level of breath-taking love in this simple account.

Joseph the Just
In verses 18 and 19, we hear that Joseph was betrothed to Mary. This is far beyond our typical modern engagement. Joseph did not give her a ring. His family and hers had met and made a legally binding agreement. Technically, Joseph and Mary were married before witnesses with money exchanged. A contract was signed, but the wedding proper and consummation would be a year or more afterwards [up to seven years in some cases].

So here's this man, happily looking forward to his bride, waiting for consummation but already making sure she has his name and property if anything happens to him - yes, think on that. It was so binding that if Joseph died, she would be a "widowed virgin" ; it was not unheard of.

And he finds out she is pregnant. There is no way on Earth that did not hurt him. What is remarkable is that he has so much character and mercy, he is going to divorce her "quietly."

This means he won't make a legal issue of it, shame her publicly, or keep her dowry [the money the bride brought to the marriage when the agreement was signed]. In fact, to do it quietly he would have to probably pay the family a "bride price", which was typical in divorces without cause. You see, he would owe the family not one red cent if he proved she'd been unfaithful, but if he accepted the blame and merely paid the bride price, no one would blame Mary. They'd assume he'd changed his mind, most likely. For that, he'd have to pay 50 shekels. Keep in mind a shekel was near a day's wage [or best as I can figure]. Not an insignificant sum of money.

Joseph was going to pay it, just to keep Mary's reputation - knowing she was pregnant from someone else.

That, dear reader, is a righteous man. With far more love and mercy than we initially credit him with.

Amen.

[part two]