Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

We Loved Her … We Hope She Knew

I act like someone in a bomb shelter trying to raise everyone’s spirits.”  Carrie Fisher, The Princess Diarists

I don’t hate hardly ever, and when I love, I love for miles and miles. A love so big it should either be outlawed or it should have a capital and its own currency.”  Carrie Fisher, Shockaholic

 

I am a red-blooded American male. But, it must be noted, I am not a standard one.

Standard ones, whether they’re fans of the Star Wars movies or not, think that the best Princess Leia moment, hands down, is any moment in Episode VI, “Return of the Jedi”, taking place inside Jabba the Hutt’s palace wherein the former Imperial Senator and current leader of the Rebel Alliance is being compelled to wear a ridiculous gold bikini thing.

I’d be lying if I tried to convince you that I never really noticed that scene, or that outfit. I’d also be lying if I tried to suggest to you that as the seventeen-year-old me watched the ensuing big Jabba-Sail-Barge fight scene … wherein the good Princess chokes Jabba to death with her slave-outfit chain and then runs out onto the Sail Barge’s deck and basically destroys it by firing a laser cannon down into it … I didn’t think, “boy, Ms. Fisher must not have had any fun doing all those stunts in that outfit.”

I was, and am, again, non-standard in some ways.

So here’s another way: my favorite Princess Leia moments?

They all involve Ms. Fisher’s smile.

 

Episode IV: Luke Skywalker and Han Solo have just walked half a mile in order to receive their shiny Rebel Alliance gold medals after having blown up the Death Star. The first one. Princess Leia strives mightily to appear every bit the cool, aloof, regal Princess, straight face and all. Luke looks up at her, not yet knowing she’s really his sister, and grins shyly. And Leia levels a smile at him that is partly amusement, hey look the farm boy who’s a little short to be a stormtrooper actually helped us win, and one part affection, yeah actually as it turns out you’re all right, my friend.

Of course, in 1977, we all thought she was suggesting that yeah, in the sequel the farm boy might have half a chance of wooing; and by 1983 we realized that either she wasn’t suggesting that or she was wrong about a detail or two because during that medal ceremony who knew? But the smile is free of Princess Leia’s previous no-nonsense snark – and also free of her utter delight when she leaps into Luke’s and Han’s arms, as they return victorious from the big battle. It’s as if Leia had overheard Luke reminding Han, “I do … I care.” It’s just a very genuine smile. She cares too.

 

Episode V: Luke is having a new mechanical hand attached aboard a Rebel spaceship, and Leia looks on with a concerned look on her face. But as much as she’s concerned about what it must be like to have one’s hand cut off by the biggest baddest Sith Lord in the galaxy, she’s at least as concerned about the fact that shortly after “I love you / I know”, her new beau (who isn’t Luke; and Luke appears to be dealing with this without weeping) was encased in rock and taken away to who knows where.

Over the intercom, Lando Calrissian promises Leia that he’ll pilot the Millennium Falcon and find the frozen Han. Leia doesn’t even nod an acknowledgment – as if she’s anesthetized, retreated into herself, afraid to move for fear that the worry will overwhelm her. But then, from the Falcon‘s cockpit, the faithful Wookiee Chewbacca adds his own version of “don’t you worry”, and the best smile in the world spreads across Leia’s face, metaphorically lighting it up. It’s just a very genuine smile. Other people care about her. A big fuzzy other person cares. How can she resist that?

 

Episode VI: The good guys have prevailed. The bad guys are in ruins. The cute scene in which Leia clues Han in to the truth, which is that she and Luke are siblings and it will be all right for him to give her many pecks on the cheek in the days ahead, is complete. Our heroes are surrounded by partying Ewoks and all’s right with the world(s). One by one, the main characters’ particular modes of celebration are revealed. One of our heroes is missing, though.

In a scene that lasts not more than four seconds onscreen, into the Ewok village finally strides Luke Skywalker, who has missed half the party in order to make a proper Jedi funeral pyre out of his estranged father’s fearsome costume, but now joins his friends. Leia steps away from Han, and the two siblings meet in a relieved and contented hug that has a little physical impact to it.  Han’s the new significant other, but Luke is safe and victorious and he’s family. The smile on Leia’s face has all the emotions of the two previous smiles in it, and something else besides. After all this craziness and quite literally death-defying running about, improbably, she and the long-lost brother she didn’t even know she had (whose identity she hardly would have predicted, at the beginning of all the craziness) are together, and safe, and care about each other, and have surrounded themselves with good people who also care about them.

 

The nice lady responsible for that smile, Carrie Fisher, passed away this morning.

She was an actress. Decades ago, she played those moments as beautifully as one can play them, considering that the movies that contained those moments were silly things, all about zap guns and spaceships and lightsabers and caped space villains and fuzzy co-pilots and one allpowerful Force controlling everything.

So it was a performance. Three particular performances that I’m thinking of tonight. On the days of filming, Ms. Fisher might have been having the worst day of her life, or might have been suffering from sleep deprivation, or might have been ecstatic that it was finally the last day of filming. But good acting has to come from somewhere. And even considering the complicated life she lived – contending with her self-professed mental illness, abusing a long list of controlled substances, divorce and tumultuous personal relationships … that smile had to come from somewhere.

And when that onscreen smile reached her eyes and made them twinkle … that was when I did the teenage-boy heart-skip-a-beat thing.

A non-standard reaction; but it was genuine.

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December 27, 2016 Posted by | celebrity, current events, entertainment, movies, science fiction | , , , , | Leave a comment

Or Am I Overthinking This?, part 1

Planets don’t just arrive in outer space with names attached. Someone has to get in there and name them.

Whether it’s a scientist looking through a telescope and saying, “Yep, fits all the criteria for being a planet, let’s name it after a mythological character,” or it’s an explorer setting foot on it and saying “one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind, let’s call it Sherman’s Planet,” and hopefully the explorer’s name is Sherman otherwise it’s just weird…

Or, in our vivid imaginations, when we get to that planet and think about naming it, someone or something had gotten there first and named it, possibly using consonants and vowels we’ve never heard of and which we really have trouble pronouncing with our human faces.

So I got thinking this morning. Specifically, I got thinking about the planet Naboo, and what a goofy name for a planet that was.

Alderaan, Ceti Alpha V, Sherman’s Planet … dignified.

Naboo … a nonsense word uttered by a six-month-old. Naboo. Jakku. Dooku. Roku. Tofu. Babboo. Goo Goo.

I mean, come on.

Unless … unless Naboo means something dignified in someone else’s language.

Which led to the inevitable Star Wars universe question, one which I’m sure occurred to you shortly after you began reading this …

Did the humans, Queen Amidala’s ancestors (I presume; I mean, they didn’t put any prosthetics on Natalie Portman, did they?), name the joint “Naboo”? Or did the underwater Gungans, the floppy goofy ancestors of Jar Jar Binks, come up with that one and the humans heard it and just kinda went along with it? Did the humans, in a move utterly out-of-character for standard humans, punt on the opportunity to say “no! We the humans are in charge here now that we have arrived, and we declare this planet to be New Haven because that’s what it is!”…?

To me, “Naboo” frankly sounds much more natural coming out of the explosively drooly mouth of Boss Nass, the Gungan ruler (and the closest thing there is to Jabba the Hutt on an extreme bender), than it does coming out of the British-Empire-inflected mouth of Senator Palpatine.

If the humans named it “Naboo”, one can only wonder in what condition the explorers found themselves, after what presumably was a harrowing or interminable journey across the stars. Or perhaps the five explorers in the landing spacecraft were named Nancy, Abe, Barbara, Oliver and Oscar. Less fanciful; more logical. I’ve gone through all the possible anagrams, and … nope. Not that, either.

Perhaps in the Gungan language, “Naboo means “bountiful harvest” or “lovely view” or “planet which, against all science, has a core full not of molten hot magma but instead of water, so it’s lucky we’re built for swimming”.

Or am I overthinking this?

August 24, 2016 Posted by | movies, science fiction | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Grand Pause

So, here’s the thing about the new Star Wars movie that comes out tomorrow …

For various reasons, I won’t end up seeing the thing until it’s been in theaters for about ten days.

Weep not for me.  I have a roof over my head, and food in the ol’ icebox.

But aside from my desperate attempts to avoid spoilers for a week and a half (and still somehow remain connected to my friends on social media) … and aside from my insane curiosity about things like, “who is this Daisy Ridley running-toward-exploding-spaceships character?  And who is this John Boyega heavily-perspiring-stormtrooper character?  And is there truth to the rumor that Han Solo and Princess Leia didn’t actually stay together, in this new Abrams-verse?  And does Luke Skywalker ever take off that hoodie?  And how in the world did they build that insanely fast rolling droid thingy?” … and all of those questions undoubtedly will transform into the dumbest questions imaginable, come January …

Aside from those mere trifles, the real suspense for me is … what it was when the last batch of prequel things came out, sixteen years ago:

What’s the score going to be like?

Even now, nearly forty years since Star Wars became A Thing, the same John Williams is at the helm of the Star Wars film music juggernaut as was in charge .  Give or take an animated series (i.e. “Star Wars: Clone Wars” spent its first three seasons unsure about whether to avoid the classic sound or embrace it; and the more recent “Star Wars Rebels” has done a very nice job of honoring the good ol’ movie scores, and in some cases gleefully ripping them right off) … the Williams sound has been the sound of the Star Wars franchise.

He and the other handful of composers who have tackled Star Wars projects over the last four decades … have largely been creating new arrangements of that great old material.

The prequel scores, I thought, had the great potential to “reverse-engineer” the original scores (just as the stories were reverse-engineering Darth Vader’s life story) – in addition to being opportunities for more fun treatments of the music that has become, for some of us, like the artistic version of family.

Let’s find out where all those leitmotifs and themes got their start!, I thought. … Ah well.

With the exception of a really clever melodic turn at the end of what was essentially a “kindergarten with ominous foreshadowing” theme for Episode I’s young Anakin Skywalker, the occasional “Force motif” quote, and a marvelous re-setting of the Imperial March as the clone troops inexorably head off to war at the end of Episode II … the music was mostly fresh and new and struck me as the end result of a head-on collision between Harry Potter and Hook, or at least those films’ incidental music.

Well, can you forgive a composer for having a compositional style that has evolved somewhat over forty years of work?

To my eye and ear, the musical scores sold Episodes I, II and III as nearly nothing else did.  And yes, there were blasts of identifiably “Star Wars-y” music.  But that Star Wars Main Title theme only appeared a handful of times in the prequel trilogy, and … I don’t know about anyone else, but (as chronicled in a previous post hereabouts) I thought the Episode IV music had a certain bombastic charm, and I kinda missed it.

It was as if the extended family had come to visit after being away for a long time, and they were sorta recognizable, but there were more than enough things different about them that we had to get reacquainted again.  And it didn’t feel quite the same.

Conceivably, Williams may just have been reacting compositionally to what he was seeing, in the final cuts of the prequels: [1] a story that inevitably will end badly, and darkly; and [2] an editing pace to these films that mirrors the accelerating pace of American entertainment in the years since Episode IV – i.e. there’s barely any time to linger on a visual, or bask in a great extended musical moment.  The goal of a film composer is to reflect and amplify what’s on the screen; and so Williams did.

So, since “The Force Awakens” has threatened to reference the Episode IV-V-VI story and characters so much more directly than the prequel trilogy …

… the London Symphony Orchestra’s performance in Episode VII has the potential to be the world’s most Wagnerian-scale cover band in recorded history.

Whatever it is, I’ll listen to, enjoy, and in all likelihood lay out bucks for, Johnny Williams’ latest hits.  He is arguably at least the greatest living American film composer.  Guy knows a little somethin’ about cinematic sound.

But I’m really hoping he goes back to his Star Wars roots, if you will, on this one.  I hope the family looks more like it used to.

We’ll see.

Can’t wait.

December 17, 2015 Posted by | arranging, entertainment, film, media, movies, music, science fiction, Uncategorized | | Leave a comment