Friday, November 30, 2012

The Neverending Story: Star Wars Edition

Four billion dollars sounds like a lot of money. And I guess it is.  It's also kind of a meaningless figure. If you told me you had four billion dollars, you might just as well have said you had a hundred bajillion cazillion shmashmillion dollars, because both figures are beyond my realm of comprehension. When dealing with money in particular, numbers as high as four billion become surreal and completely theoretical. The difference between having a hundred million dollars and four billion dollars is arbitrary at best. Most regular people can determine the worth of five dollars or ten dollars or even twenty dollars, because they can conceptualize the quantity of shit that amount of money equates to. We kind of have an idea, given the current (un)fair market value of most products in that price range, of the amount of physical matter we could acquire in exchange for those sums of money. Even values like a million dollars are within the grasp of most ordinary citizens. After buying a decent house and a car or two, you'd maybe have enough money to last for the rest of a decade, assuming you set aside a comfortable annual allowance of $50,000 a year and maybe invested a bit.

Four billion dollars is an abstract concept, because in current economic conditions that amount would both figuratively and literally allow you to do whatever you wanted (including two chicks at the same time). Amounts of money of that magnitude tend to cancel themselves out, though.  Being able to do all the shit you want to do is nice, but in a lot of ways wealth is a lot like death: once realized, it is impossible to exceed. Once a person is dead, you can't make them more dead and once a person has become rich beyond a certain threshold, any excess money becomes redundant and useful only in financial pissing contests. I'm not saying money can't buy happiness, because it can, and I have experienced the euphoric effects myself on a (very) limited basis. The joy in having money, though, comes from the ability to exchange said money for goods and services. What I am saying is there's a point after which having money serves no practical purpose except as a metaphysical placeholder. The joy that comes from having money is in its potential for being spent, and stockpiling money for the sake of stockpiling money to the point where it is unlikely to be spent, it loses that potential. Money is only useful as a means to an end, but as an end unto itself it's just a pile of paper.

Not only would four billion dollars allow you to do whatever you wanted, but it would also allow you to do whatever you wanted over and over again, for a long, long time. Even if some deranged rich guy gave you four billion dollars and dared you to spend all of it as quickly as you could, you would find it very difficult. You wouldn't be able to spend it fast enough. Unless, of course, you owned Disney and decided to buy the rights to the STAR WARS franchise from George Lucas, which is precisely what happened about a month ago.  
Yeah, that's right, you guys stay on your own goddamned side of the poster.

Since that time, Disney has announced plans for a new STAR WARS trilogy, with Episode VII slated for release sometime in 2015. Then it was announced that Disney would be following the model of the Marvel movie universe and perhaps be releasing two or three STAR WARS movies a year. Also in that short month there has already been more than a fair share of speculation circulating the interwebs about everything from possible directors, movie plots, to how to digitally render Princess Leia's rack.

And it seems everybody and his grandma has been weighing in on whether this is the most awesome things to happen to the universe since the destruction of the Death Star or one of the signs of the coming apocalypse.

The problem is that the bloated, twisted monster that the concept of the franchise has evolved into is completely contradictory to the film making ethos that George Lucas embodied when he originally created STAR WARS back in 1977. One of the great things about STAR WARS was how it drew inspiration from the swashbuckling adventures and movie serials that George Lucas grew up with and were so inspirational for him. He was trying to capture some of the spirit and tone of something he admired, but offered his own take, and there was an evolution.

Now, Hollywood has confused inspiration with formulaic imitation and homage with mere mimicry. The problem is that the balance between art and business has shifted in the movie industry towards the business end of the scale. I can dig that there's a business side to things, and Angelina Jolie's got to eat (my dick); and I can appreciate that the Hollywood machine provides employment for thousands of people,  from the director and actor all the way to the key grip and fluffer.
Awww, hell's yeah!
"In this galaxy, you shoot first, or you die first."

And there's no doubt that STAR WARS is fucking cool, and the universe that sprang forth from the brain of George Lucas has some kind of strange power to inspire the hearts and minds of men. And when I experience an awesome work of art there's a part of me that wants that awesomeness to continue indefinitely. And deep down, there is some part of me desperate to cling to that unquantifiable Something Special and chain in up and lock it up in a box in my basement and never let it go, except to come out and play with the gimp.

But on the other hand, there was some kind of magic that Lucas and crew were able to capture in the original trilogy that were unique to that time and that place. There was some kind of alchemy that elevated the original STAR WARS movies to something greater than the sum of their parts. It's not like there's some formula you can boil it down to, and even if you broke each movie down into its constitutive parts and tried reassembling it in the same way like Chewbacca did with C-3P0 and expect to come up with the same result. Yeah, I know C-3P0 was the same, but let's face it, those executives at Disney are no Chewbaccas.

I mean, yeah, when the new STAR WARS flicks come out, I'm probably going to lay down my hard earned cash to see them, because like most people I'm desperate to try and chase that high. But, fuck, how long after it's dead do we still have to keep beating the same horse? While there's a little kid in me that just wants to see some more cool STAR WARS shit on the big screen, there's also another more experienced voice that chimes in. And besides encouraging me to set random objects on fire, this voice also tells me that in part it's that sense of longing that makes it great. Sure, I'd still probably get a kick out of seeing some new STAR WARS movies, but on the other hand it's because something is finite that it's more precious, more significant. And as inspiring as the universe that George Lucas created is, what I really want is something new. If you're going to be inspired by STAR WARS, then use that inspiration to build something new like Lucas originally did and don't just put out carbon copies ad nauseam. And if we want to stay in the science fiction epic genre, I would much rather see the torch passed and serious resources devoted to something new like a trilogy of Mass Effect movies that would totally rock our cocks.

But I'm not going to sit here and fucking whine about it. George Lucas wanted to sell, and despite the cinematic travesties he subjected audiences to with his prequel trilogy, the dude is generous as hell, and I read somewhere that he's already planning on donating a shit load of his profit to educational programs across the States. And, really, in the right hands we could see some decent new STAR WARS flicks in the next decade or so. I just wish that our culture had not reached this level of artistic stagnation.    

At the end of it all, though, we are left with one more interesting figure for the accountants to jot down in our cultural ledger. We now know the cost of filing for creative bankruptcy, and it is exactly $4.05 billion.


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