Star Wars Subverted: Deconstructing My Disappointment of The Last Jedi — Part 1: The Creator’s Authority

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The only way I can properly analyze my response to The Last Jedi is by breaking it into smaller parts. Previous attempts to explain myself have resulted in tangents, and I become overwhelmed. I don’t yet know how many parts there will be, but certainly as many as it takes.

George Lucas had a vision and created the original Star Wars. Yes, there were many other contributors in the form of editors and artists, but Lucas spoke it into being. He is the author and keeper of the flame. In 2012, he sold Lucasfilm and the Star Wars franchise to The Walt Disney Company. The initial understanding was that Lucas would continue to have a presence moving forward, albeit minor. Disney then decided to split ways with him and rejected his story treatments in favor of a different vision. J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan took the reins and crafted the first story of the new trilogy, Episode 7: The Force Awakens. This new story, which is a direct sequel to the story that Lucas created, is a fiction. The author, the creator, the visionary who spoke it into being has been rejected and replaced by a corporate machine who tells stories with a Star Wars setting, but they do not tell the story of Star Wars. When it comes to the fate of the Skywalker family, only George Lucas knows the truth.

Star Wars is a fantasy story set in space, shaped by mythological archetypes as described by Joseph Campbell in his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Furthermore, it was inspired by the Flash Gordon serials of the 1930’s and Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress. Anyone could have created something like Star Wars from these sources, but only George Lucas could have filtered them the way that he did. The original Star Wars was a passion project, a unique vision from a young filmmaker who struggled to convince the studios that it was a story worth telling.

Following its massive success as a cultural phenomenon, Lucas allowed other directors to shape his Star Wars trilogy, but his vision was always the guiding force. In the 90’s he began to controversially tinker with these films and released “Special Editions” with updated effects and, in some cases, altered scenes. He argued that the changes were made to align the films to his original vision. Soon after, he decided to tell the first three parts of the story: how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader. In hindsight, Lucas should have allowed others to direct these films as his shortcomings were on display in the wooden performances and cheesy dialogue. Most people dismiss the prequels as bad films and some even try to forget they exist. Though they are full of faults, it is undeniable that the prequel trilogy serves the greater story by showcasing the rise of the Empire and the fall of Anakin Skywalker. The Skywalker family is at the center of both trilogies, and the fall and redemption of Anakin, who Lucas identified as the Chosen One within this universe, ties everything together. For 35 years, George Lucas told the story of the Skywalker family.

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Imagine that in 5 years J.K. Rowling decides to sell the rights to Harry Potter. Then you learn that a new movie is being crafted. The movie is released and it is called Harry Potter and the Fall of Hogwarts. In this story you find that Harry seems different, perhaps jaded by the death of another beloved character. Also, a new evil wizard has risen to take the place of Voldemort and now that world is as if all the things accomplished in the first 7 parts were meaningless. Would you embrace the story as if it were written by the original author? Or, would you question its legitimacy and wonder if this is really what happened to those characters you love? Didn’t Rowling finish this story in book 7? Isn’t she the creator of that world? And not just that world, but the characters as well? Or, what if someone decided to write a sequel to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings? Would that be taken seriously? What if it was turned into a movie with a $200,000,000 production budget? Does money and the backing of a major studio add legitimacy to a story, or does it come from somewhere else?

George Lucas created a new universe that has expanded for 40 years. I am not suggesting that legitimate stories can’t be told within this world apart from him. Consider the acclaimed video game, Knights of the Old Republic. It takes place thousands of years before the time of the films and adds to the lore while introducing exciting worlds and well-developed characters. What I am suggesting is that the core story he developed over 6 films is indelibly his. Sure, if the new trilogy had been amazing I know most fans could have accepted them into the fold. But this acceptance would still require that we look past the truth of Lucas as the authority. It would have been easier to turn from this fact, but there would always be a nagging question pacing in the back of our minds like a tiger behind the bars of his enclosure; how would the creator tell the story?

Creating worlds and filling them with characters is a profound and personal experience. The characters from the first 6 Star Wars films came from the mind of one man, George Lucas. If you remove him from the equation, you erase Star Wars from existence like Marty Mcfly at the “Enchantment Under the Sea” dance. The Disney Star Wars franchise should be thought of as separate from what came before, because they have divorced the visionary from the vision. Just as Mark Hamill approached Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi as a new character, we should approach this sequel trilogy as a new entity apart from episodes 1 through 6. But that’s a problem, isn’t it? We’re supposed to accept these new films as direct sequels to the original. Certainly, this is a problem because what we have in episodes 7, 8 and 9 are counterfeits…lies. Disney is feeding us a false narrative. No matter how good or, as I’ll expand upon in the upcoming parts, bad these films are, they aren’t really true to the story. The Star Wars universe has endless stories to tell, and I hope creative people tell them for years to come, but the story of the Skywalkers as told in this saga belongs to the one who breathed life into them over 40 years ago. Even if they consult him in private or use pieces of his vision, as I’ve heard regarding the latest film, the real shapers and agenda setters control the end product. Authority has been usurped and Star Wars, the one you once knew, has been subverted.

Let me leave you with an excerpt from an interview Lucas did with Charlie Rose back in 2015.

Lucas: These are my kids.

Rose: All those Star Wars films.

Lucas: All the Star Wars films.

Rose: They were your kids?

Lucas: Well, they are. I loved them, I created them. I’m very intimately involved in them. And, obviously, to sell them off—

Rose: And you sold them.

Lucas: I sold them off to the white slavers who take these things and…[laughs]

Rose: But having said all that and having talked to you and known you for a while and admired you, I mean it must hurt. It’s your family. It’s your story. It’s you.

You can watch this portion here

Part 2 Coming Soon…

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The Redemption of Luke Skywalker

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If you’ve managed to avoid The Force Awakens, I strongly advise you to read no further.  In other words, “Thar be spoilers ahead!”   If you’re like me and you’ve seen the movie one or five times, welcome aboard.  In related news, the Blu-Ray comes out on April 5th.

Who is Luke Skywalker?

That’s supposedly the question that got J.J. Abrams interested enough to direct Episode 7.  In my opinion, that’s the right question to be asking as the story of our favorite far away galaxy is fleshed out.  Luke is the main protagonist of the original trilogy.  In a space opera heavily influenced by Joseph Campbell’s philosophy of myth and the hero quest, Luke is the hero.  So even as we follow new characters on an original quest, there’s no escaping from the one true hero of the Star Wars saga.  (An argument could be made that Luke’s father, Anakin, is the true hero of Star Wars, but I don’t accept that.  Anakin’s a tragic hero, where Luke is the positive ideal and embodiment of hope.  Here’s a great blog post that reinforces Luke’s hero status.)  And even though Luke only appears for about a minute at the very end of The Force Awakens, his presence is palpable throughout.  We need to know what has become of him, and what happened that caused his apprentice, Ben Solo, to turn to the Dark Side?   Luke has experienced an intense and unresolved trauma, which demands a resolution.

When I was young, I didn’t think of Luke’s duel with Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back as a traumatic event.  It was cool and exciting, and the big father reveal caught me by surprise, but I knew everything would be made right.   Luke is a good guy and good guys win.  Besides, he gets a fun new hand by the end of the movie and that solves his problem.  As an adult, I look at this moment in Luke’s journey and see his lowest point and deepest trauma.  This is the quintessential father wound.  His father injures him physically by cutting off his hand and pummeling him with large objects.  He simultaneously wounds Luke by revealing that his father is an evil tyrant who has embraced the Dark Side.  It’s an assault on Luke’s identity.  And it goes even deeper than that.

This is also a moment of tremendous personal failure.  Luke disobeyed both Yoda and Obi-Wan, abandoning his training to rescue his friends.  He took a huge risk and accomplished absolutely nothing.  Han Solo is frozen and sold to Jabba the Hutt.  Leia and Chewy escape with Lando, but this is only made possible because Luke is unintentionally acting as a diversion.  Luke doesn’t actually help anyone.  He just walks into a trap, gets his hand cut off and narrowly escapes with severe emotional trauma.  Add to that his realization that Obi-Wan has been lying to him about his father all along.  No matter what nonsense Ben Kenobi says about “points of view”, Luke has been betrayed by his most respected father figure.  And it goes even deeper than this.

In the Star Wars universe, the Force is a metaphysical entity that breeds life and directly influences people and events.  It is the god of that world.  Luke is the last Jedi.  He’s the last hope for the Light Side of the Force.  Certainly, he must have some sense of purpose as the torch bearer.  In that moment, gripping the platform with one hand as Darth Vader reveals his true identity, Luke most likely feels betrayed by the Force itself.  After all, the Force didn’t help him in his fight against Vader.  It didn’t preserve his hand.  It didn’t help him save his friends.  What it did do was turn his father into Darth Vader and lead him to this agonizing place where his best option is to jump into a mile deep pit.  Luke is wounded by the Force itself.
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We know that in the years between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens Luke began to train a new generation of Jedi.  At some point, his nephew Ben turned to the Dark Side as Kylo Ren, and likely killed the rest of the students.  This mirrors the path that Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader took in the prequels.  Han Solo says that Luke blamed himself for what happened and chose to seclude himself as he searched for the first Jedi temple.  Surely, this fresh trauma opened up the old wounds that Luke experienced in Empire. Again, he is faced with an inability to protect those he cares about.  And the legacy of Darth Vader has been revived in Kylo Ren.  Luke has failed again, and perhaps the Force has betrayed him again.  Shouldn’t it be the will of the Force to raise up a new generation of Jedi?  How could this be allowed to happen?  Luke’s choice to seclude himself is similar to his choice to jump off the platform.  Just as Luke fell through space and ended up alone under Cloud City, he traveled through space to end up alone on that island.  Again, Luke has been deeply wounded.

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When Rey walks up the hill to find Luke Skywalker, she reaches into her bag and pulls out the lightsaber that was lost.  The last time Luke saw that weapon was when his father sliced off his hand.  For Luke, that lightsaber had intense negative associations.  It represented his failure, and even a betrayal by the Force itself.  I am sure he believed he would never see it again.  But there it is, in the hands of a young girl who represents a great hope for the future of the Jedi.  Somehow, the Force has orchestrated events to bring the lightsaber of Anakin Skywalker, his father, back to him.  In this moment of catharsis, the Force is reaching out to say, you haven’t been forsaken.  It’s telling Luke that he still has a purpose and redemption is at hand.

The Best Movie Moment: Twister (1996)

Bill is the extreme

Bill is the extreme

 

I’d like to take some movies that I enjoy and identify the one moment in each of them that stands out to me as “the best”.

 

Twister is a ridiculous disaster movie that’s also a lot of fun.  In May of 1996, just a few months ahead of another bad/good favorite of many, Independence Day, Twister tore through the box office and collected nearly $500 million from audiences worldwide.  These special effects were impressive for the day.  Remember, at this time iPods weren’t even a thing and cell phones were just becoming a thing, sort of.  CGI cows were noteworthy in this year.

Beyond the effects, Twister is essentially about the reconciliation of a nearly divorced couple amidst their harrowing attempt to learn more about tornadoes.  Bill (Bill Paxton) and Jo(Helen Hunt…remember Helen Hunt?)  learn to love each other again while driving around in an indestructible truck (which would ultimately be put to shame by the truck in 1997’s Dante’s Peak, but that’s for another day).  Anyway, it’s all well and good for everyone except Bill’s lame fiancée, who’s lame because she prefers to avoid tornadoes.

So which moment is the best?

In the minutes before the twister chasing crew embarks on their main mission, they make a pit stop at a diner.  Stepping away from the others, Bill looks to the horizon where the clouds are gathering.  He picks up some dirt in his hand and lets it slowly fall.  He observes the way the wind moves it.  Somehow this will give him the knowledge he needs to make a wise move.  Like a Native American of old, reading the signs of the natural world, Bill looks to nature to understand nature.  It’s a silent standoff with the coming storm.    Then, because Bill is the best, he makes his decision to move and everyone follows.  This is the best scene in the movie.  Dusty shares a story later in the film in which he identifies Bill as “the extreme.”   He’s the craziest storm chaser there is.  But he’s also the one who has a special connection with the weather.  They are both wild and unpredictable.  Bill gets it.

This is my favorite moment in Twister. 

 

 

Now watch this Youtube video that takes the intro to Twister the Ride at Universal Studios and makes it even more hilarious.

The Misunderstood Brilliance of Keanu Reeves

"What are you trying to tell me?  That  I can act?" "No, Keanu,  I'm trying to tell you that when you're ready, you won't have to."

“What are you trying to tell me? That I can act?”
“No, Keanu, I’m trying to tell you that when you’re ready, you won’t have to.”

There’s this idea that’s been floating around our society for some time now that Keanu Reeves is a bad actor.  I’d be lying if I told you that I haven’t participated in the propagation of this belief.  After all, outside of a Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice Award for best actor in his role as Neo in The Matrix, Keanu hasn’t received much of any recognition from the Hollywood establishment.  He hasn’t had a Sandra Bullock or Matthew McConaughey-esque turnaround.  There’s no Keanu equivalent to The Blindside or Dallas Buyers Club, at least not yet. Some might claim that he gets by on his looks, and similar to an incompetent politician or Miley Cyrus, remains employed due to name recognition.  As the Oracle says in The Matrix, “You’re cuter than I thought. I can see why she likes you.”  Only, replace “she” with the moviegoers of the world.  But is that the end of the matter?  Is Keanu Reeves in movies despite his acting chops, or are we missing something?  What if there was something brilliant about this man that we’ve overlooked?  Allow me to present a case for the misunderstood brilliance of Keanu Reeves.  Whoa!

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As a fan of the Zelda video game series it didn’t take long for me to question why the main character, Link, never (almost never) says a word.  You play through 30+ hours with the same character and never get his input about the unfolding events.  This is certainly odd, but upon analysis it’s actually quite ingenious.  As you’re accompanying the hero on his quest you are allowed to imprint yourself onto his character.  What might appear to some as a hollow shell is actually a ready vessel through which we can fill our own selves.  In the same way, this most common critique of Keanu, that he’s a hollow shell of an actor, is actually a trait pointing to his brilliance.  Stories of all kinds are meant to connect with an audience, and that is achieved through suspension of belief by way of approachable heroes.  In other words, since we are ultimately reading ourselves into these stories (because what’s more interesting than yourself?) it is more readily achieved in a soft-spoken everyman persona, primed for relatability.

On the same note, Keanu’s “hollowness” and what some might deem as a lack of charisma is perfectly centered to connect with the maximum number of moviegoers.  Let me explain using this professional scale.

The animals are there to manipulate your emotions.

The animals are there to manipulate your emotions.

Imagine that this scale measures two extremes of personality.  The closer you get to 10, the more positive and cheerful you become.  The closer you get to 0, the more negative and depressed you become.  Now suppose that between these two extremes are the 7 billion people in the world today.  Which number do you think is the closest to the majority of people?  I’d say it is 5.  Not only is it right in the middle, it’s the perfect balance between 2 extremes.  Keanu Reeves is a 5, able to reach the multitudes.

The final way Keanu has showcased his brilliance is through the art of lowered expectations.  By not peaking early in his career, or amassing a pile of accolades, he has left us vulnerable to the shock and awe effect of receiving a performance greater than mediocre.  Like a lioness humbling herself in the grass, Keanu Reeves is waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting world.  One great performance will bring down the gazelle of unfavorable public opinion.

As I eagerly await the release of Keanu’s next film, John Wick, I hope that the world will finally understand the genius of his craft.  He isn’t a bad actor who got a few lucky breaks.  He’s a brilliant actor, perfectly positioned to impact the greatest number of people by exceeding their diminished expectations.

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My Five Favorite Animated Movies

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In honor of the greatness that is How to Train Your Dragon 2 I’ve decided to make a list of my top 5 favorite animated films.  As a qualifier let me say that I have not chosen these because I believe them to be the best animated films of all time.  No, I’ve chosen these 5 as my favorites.  Do I think they’re well made?  Of course, but I’m not going to argue that they’re the finest artistic masterpieces ever produced.  There are no Hayao Miyazaki films to be found here.  So let’s begin.

 

#5  Monsters Inc.

This makes the list for the originality of its premise.  The concept of monsters harvesting the screams of children for energy is brilliant, and the twist at the end is even better.  It’s a simple message, that love and joy are ultimately more powerful than fear and despair, but wrapping such a profound truth in such a funny and interesting package makes it hit home.  The relationship between the little girl Boo, and Sully, the “scariest” monster in the world, offers a lesson in the power of contrasts.  There’s humor in how frightened a big monster is in the presence of a small child, and there is meaning in the fact that the small child’s effortless laughter is more powerful than all the screams the big monster could force.  It’s original, funny, and touching.   Also, I have a soft spot for Billy Crystal that probably came from watching the Oscars as a kid.

 

#4 How to Train Your Dragon 2

I know it’s rather soon to put this movie on a top 5 list, but let me explain my reasoning.  I would have placed the original on this list, and in the #4 spot, but the sequel is better than the original.  The characters are more developed and the world feels larger with more possibilities.   The core relationship between Hiccup and Toothless is tested past the breaking point and then reinforced ten fold.  When I find myself caring more for these animated characters than any live action characters I’ve seen in a long time, that tells me I’m watching something good.  It’s moving, exciting, and full of lessons about life and family and sacrifice and human nature.  I recommend it to everyone with a beating heart.

 

#3 The Lion King

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When I was a kid they were pumping out Disney animated feature films that became instant classics. The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty & the Beast etc were in regular VHS circulation in my house. But really, and I mean really now, can we all agree that The Lion King is the best of these?  It’s based directly on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, after all.  I’m fairly certain that an entire park at Disney World wouldn’t exist without this movie.  It’s epic, it’s funny, it has the best sidekicks and memorable songs.  Also, Ferris Bueller is in it.

 

#2 Toy Story 3  

The original Toy Story is an all-time classic.  I remember going to Burger King immediately after seeing it and getting a Whopper Jr. and a Woody doll.  Anyway, we should all be on the same page when it comes to the goodness and significance of the first Toy Story.  The immediate sequel wasn’t all that great, in my opinion.   Jesse the Cowgirl was a little whiny and melodramatic, that penguin was a jerk,  and the heart just wasn’t there as the plot wrestled with abandonment issues.  Toy Story 3 turned that around in a big way Instead of being about abandonment, this one tackled the issue of letting go even before that Frozen song got stuck in your head forever.  If Toy Story 2 asked the questions, “Does the master care about me and does life have a purpose?”, Toy Story 3 answered, “Yes of course the master cares, but that purpose involves painful self-sacrifice for the benefit of others.”  You see, that evil bear couldn’t let go.  He couldn’t forgive and move on so he got strapped to a garbage truck.  The other toys recognized that their master loved them and that he had a purpose in leaving them with the little girl.  This is all profound stuff about the nature of existence and I love it.

 

#1  The Iron Giant

Heart, heart, heart!  This is about identity and purpose.  The Giant was clearly created as a weapon by some aliens far away.   He happened to find a boy who taught him that he could be a good guy, and not just a gun that kills.  Violence begets violence but love saves the day.  The characters are real and funny.  The Giant is a reflection of the battle within each of our souls.   “You are who you choose to be.”   Will we destroy ourselves out of fear and give into our baser instincts of self-preservation?  Or will we choose something greater than ourselves, and enrich the lives around us?   The Giant makes his choice and it gets me every time.

 

Honorable Mention

The Brave Little Toaster

Cinderella

The Land Before Time

Wall E

Up

It’s A Wonderful Life: Why George Bailey Never Left Bedford Falls

 "Now, we can get through this thing all right. We've got to stick together, though. We've got to have faith in each other."

“Now, we can get through this thing all right. We’ve got to stick together, though. We’ve got to have faith in each other.”

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. – Proverbs 13:12

You need to see It’s A Wonderful Life and you need to see it immediately.  It’s difficult for me to understand how an American citizen can successfully dodge this most classic of films.  What heroic lengths one must go to avoid their television during the Christmas season.  This is a film that receives near universal praise from the viewing public, and is a staple of the American Christmas tradition.  Every year, NBC ritualistically plays It’s A Wonderful Life on Christmas Eve night to be shared by all in the land.  If you haven’t seen it, do so at your nearest convenience and don’t bother reading any further.

Today I’m writing to my old Building & Loan pals about a subject that I personally haven’t seen addressed in my perusing of internet articles and discussion boards.  Everyone knows that George Bailey wanted to leave Bedford Falls to see the world.  Walking home after the high school dance George says to Mary:

I’m shakin’ the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I’m gonna see the world. Italy, Greece, the Parthenon, the Colosseum. Then, I’m comin’ back here to go to college and see what they know. And then I’m gonna build things. I’m gonna build airfields, I’m gonna build skyscrapers a hundred stories high, I’m gonna build bridges a mile long…

Of course, we know that George never does any of those things.  And as far as we’re told, George never even leaves town.  It’s like he’s living his own version of The Truman Show where forces have worked to keep him from stepping foot outside the borders of his little bubble.  A man with strong desires to move up and out from his place of origin is destined to stay put indefinitely.   How can this be?  If George Bailey wants out so badly, what’s preventing him from getting his wish?  Time and time again he has an opportunity to leave, but extenuating circumstances seem to beat him back like a pebble getting pushed onto shore by relentless crashing waves.  Poor George, right?  Well, maybe not.  And that is what I want to talk about.  Did George Bailey have to stay in Bedford Falls, and what do his actions reveal about the deeper desires of his heart?

The way I see it, there are 7 critical moments where George could have chosen a different path, allowing him to leave town to pursue his dreams.  I’ll cover them quickly for you.

  1. Pa Bailey’s Death: When George’s father dies he chooses to forgo a trip to Europe in favor of taking care of his father’s business.
  2. Potter Moves to Dissolve the Building & Loan: Mr. Potter tries to convince the board that Bedford Falls no longer needs the B&L.  George gives an impassioned speech about his father’s character and the reasons why his fellow citizens need the B&L to continue.  The board decides that if George stays on they will keep the business alive.  George chooses to give up college and lets his brother Harry go in his stead.
  3. Harry Gets Married & Breaks His Promise: When Harry returns from college, George learns that he has a wife and a new career.  Unfortunately, the plan was that Harry would take over for George, giving him the chance to get an education and leave Bedford Falls.  George chooses not to make a fuss and, though we don’t see the exchange, it appears that he doesn’t hold Harry to his original agreement.
  4. The Ground Floor in Plastics: This one is easily overshadowed by the loving embrace that follows, but when Sam Wainwright offers George an opportunity to get in on plastics, he effectively misses an opportunity to make a fortune.  Sam even acknowledges that George turned him down in a later scene for the sake of sticking by the B&L.
  5. George Marries Mary: Now, this might be somewhat controversial for lovers of the film, but I see George’s marriage as another choice that results in him staying in town.  Consider how fiercely he tries to resist his attraction to her.  He knows that marrying Mary is another tie to Bedford Falls and another step away from the free life he wanted to live.
  6. The Bank Run: During the Great Depression, the citizens of Bedford Falls panic and rush to the bank to withdraw their funds.  Those who have money at the B&L want George to give them everything they have, but George reminds them that it doesn’t work that way.  He sacrifices his honeymoon and $2,000 of his own money to keep the B&L open.  He could have ignored it all and went on his honeymoon, or he could have let the B&L collapse.  But he fought to keep it open, choosing to stay tied down to it.
  7. Potter Offers George A Job: If you can’t beat ’em join ’em.  Mr. Potter realizes that he would be better off paying George Bailey a fortune (about $300,000 a year in today’s money) than competing with him any longer.  George quickly realizes that he can’t accept this deal with the Devil and storms out of the building.  He chooses to stay with the B&L, giving up his last chance to be a rich world traveler.

You could look at all of these things as external factors that prevent George from pursuing his dreams, but at the end of the day it’s critical to realize that George made a choice at every critical juncture.  If he wanted to get out more than anything else he would have left to visit Europe after attending his father’s funeral.  Even if he stayed a while, he could have let the board dissolve the B&L.  He could have fought with Harry to keep him in Bedford Falls, and so on and so forth.  Yet, George Bailey stays in a town he wants to leave and works at a job that robs him of his dreams.  There must be something greater below the surface.

All you can take with you is that which you've given away

“All you can take with you is that which you’ve given away”

Above all else, George Bailey is driven by the love he has for his father.  Consider every major choice he makes.  Every choice he makes reflects a desire to uphold his father’s “high ideals” and image.  His whole life plays out in his shadow.  He has the same job, co-workers, passion to serve his community, and even the same enemy in Mr. Potter.  George wants to live his own life, but he ends up living his father’s life.  He lives for his father.  Before facing the frightened and angry crowd, George takes a moment to look at his father’s picture.  Underneath it says, “All you can take with you is that which you’ve given away.”  This is the core belief of George’s father, and the core belief that George adopts throughout the film.

The reason George almost kills himself is that he has lived according to his father’s ideals without experiencing the gratification promised by them.  George has given himself away: his dreams, his money, his pride.  But when he is faced with jail-time and scandal and ruin, he looks back at a life lived for others as a complete waste.  Not only has he wasted his life, he has come to believe that his father was wrong.  Perhaps that terrible belief, the belief that his father was a fool who led him to a life of ruin, is what really made him want to jump into that icy water.  The man who taught him right from wrong becomes unreliable.  Mr. Potter, who tells George that he’s worth more dead than alive, now has more credibility.  Mr. Potter tells George what he already fears, that his life of sacrifice for the benefit of others was in vain.  All evidence points to the falsehood that his father now represents.

If not for divine intervention, George would have killed himself, and Mr. Potter would have viewed the whole affair as an affirmation of his warped worldview.  The true turning point comes when George turns to another father for help.

Clarence, a guardian angel,  is sent to show him the value of his life by giving him a glimpse of what the world would be like without him.  George is brought to a point where he desperately wants to live again, and God gives George his life back, but not as it was before.  All of the people that he sacrificed for, all of the hope deferred to give hope to others finally comes back in a joyous celebration of George’s worth within the community.  Now it’s clear that his life was not a waste, and that his father is worthy of all the love and respect George lived to give.

Within all of us is this conflict between our desires and beliefs.  George wanted to see the world and do great big things, but his beliefs about his father and the work he did caused George to deny his dreams.  He served his community through the Building & Loan, all the while keeping Mr. Potter from harming the town.  When it appeared that he had denied himself for no good reason, George despaired at the thought of a wasted life lived in the shadow of a fool.  But the reality of God, the ultimate source of the meaning both George and his father lived for, redeemed the whole story.  The focal point of George Bailey’s life is his father, and the linchpin of It’s A Wonderful Life is God the Father.

So Merry Christmas you wonderful old Building & Loan!

Summer Movies and the One Thing I Need From Them

Characters I hope to care about from Pacific Rim

Characters I hope to care about from Pacific Rim

(The following contains Spoilers for: Man of Steel, Iron Man 3 and Star Trek: Into Darkness)

I’m about to say something that should be obvious to everyone. Now, when you read it I want you to keep in mind that there are plenty of obvious things in this world that people seem to forget all of the time. Things like “play fair” and “try your best” and “treat people the way you want to be treated” are pretty obvious to most of us, but how quickly we can forget them when the moment comes to put them into practice. I make this point, in all honesty, to validate the very simple statement I’m about to make. That statement is this: relatable characters matter more than anything when telling a story. Perhaps you disagree with that statement or have come up with a quick one or two exceptions to the rule (something artsy and abstract), but know that the stories I’m referring to are the ones that the general public will potentially invest themselves in. I’m talking about the stories that impact our culture and capture the hearts and minds of millions (billions).

Every summer we are exposed to a fresh batch of films. The biggest ones get to be called blockbusters. Yes, summer is open season for the movie lovers, and our game of choice is original spectacle. We want to see something new and awesome. Show me something that will fill me with awe, and give it a massive budget. I’m thinking of Jaws (1975), Star Wars (1977), Terminator 2 (1991), Independence Day (1996), The Dark Knight (2008), and The Avengers (2012), just to name a few. These movies were loved by the people who couldn’t help but throw millions of dollars back at them. But what makes these, and many other blockbuster movies so influential in our popular culture is not their massive budgets. Big budgets can make a good movie look better, but they are powerless to transform a bad movie into a good one. It’s similar to the way technology can improve a good business, but it can’t make up for the shortcomings of a bad one. Summer blockbusters can be as loud and big as they want to be, but if the characters don’t come alive or impact us within the story, we’ll be zoning out halfway through the first explosion.

So far, in the summer 2013 blockbuster season, I’ve been largely disappointed by a lack of relatable characters. Iron Man: 3 was really the only exception, with Robert Downey Jr. playing the well-developed and deeply flawed character of Tony Stark. Director Shane Black seemed to understand the importance of character, as seen most clearly in Tony’s interactions with a scientifically gifted kid who shares the same dark and sarcastic sense of humor. In the middle of this super hero blockbuster film we watched Tony Stark talk and joke with a kid in the middle of a small town, and it was one of the more memorable parts. They were characters acting like people, and I cared because I could relate.

After Iron Man came Star Trek: Into Darkness, which was a just fine movie, but I couldn’t seem to invest in the characters beyond what I’ve already invested as a fan of the Star Trek universe. The Wrath of Kahn will remain a more significant film within our pop- culture consciousness because we enjoy the characters more. Ricardo Montalban has a certain charm to him that was lacking in Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal. And Kirk was just another non-hero with a lot of issues that made him more irritating than charming. Worst of all, when many people are killed in the end, none of the characters seem moved by the tragedy. That apparent lack of compassion makes already unappealing characters into heartless monsters, which is unfortunately a perfect transition into Man of Steel.

Brooding, Intense, Dark, Unrelatable

Brooding, Intense, A Force of Destruction, Unrelatable

I’m a big fan of the character of Superman. One of my favorite films is Superman:The Movie (1978) starring Christopher Reeve. In that film we see a Superman/Clark Kent who genuinely wants to help people. He does some big things to help, like stop California from falling into the ocean, but he also does some small things. I believe it is the small things that make Reeve’s Superman so relatable. He certainly has a genuine nice guy quality to him, but beyond that he portrays a level of compassion and societal awareness in every scene. This Superman talks to authority figures with respect, and goes out of his way to help them out. He is an inspiration to people, and isn’t too important to rescue a cat out of a tree. You just feel glad to watch him be so good to people. You want to be that good. I feel good just writing about it! Anyway, I came into Man of Steel with the hope that Henry Cavill’s portrayal of the character would reflect the same heart for service and compassion for humanity. You can imagine my horror when I watched him carelessly punch villains into skyscrapers full of people and destroy property like a child knocking over his Lincoln Logs. I understand that the filmmakers were trying to make a more realistic and gritty Superman, but they sacrificed his heart to do so. Even a tiny indication that he cared about the hundreds of thousands that were dying all around him would have gone a long way for me. Instead, it’s all about him finding his identity while punching bad guys through skyscrapers, and the little people in paper houses are objects to be used as fodder for explosions. Heck, all of these people are dead or trapped in rubble, and Superman’s more concerned with making out with Lois Lane (while making some random comment about being better than humans when it comes to romance) and finding new creative ways to punch down buildings. Even with that ending where he makes a huge sacrifice to save a few people, it was too little too late. He saves people when it doesn’t interfere with punching villains into crowded areas. Every life should matter to Superman, and because this Superman showed a disregard for the sanctity of life and property, I cannot embrace him. I can’t let this character matter to me, because he doesn’t care about what matters. He’s a false Superman, in direct conflict with the character I’ve been relating to for years.

So that was my overview of what has been a mostly disappointing summer blockbuster season. I’m sure many will disagree with my analysis, but I am confident that time will reveal these films to be insignificant within our popular culture because the characters in them weren’t relatable or particularly enjoyable. It is important to mention that all of these characters that I’ve mentioned have already existed for decades, and I’m confident that plays a role in reducing their cultural impact. Superman and Captain Kirk are especially troublesome, as they are associated with specific actors who no longer play them. But hey, I don’t want to end on a negative note…

There’s still hope for this summer. Pacific Rim comes out July 12, and from what I’ve seen, this thing has the potential for some original and relatable characters with heart. If all we get are big monsters and big mechs fighting each other amidst a sea of destruction, the movie will fall flat and lose any chance for cultural resonance. But if the characters controlling the big mechs are interesting and we can find a little of ourselves in them, this summer blockbuster could become a part of the larger conversation for years.

It’s all about characters we can relate to.