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.

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

Strange New World

I wonder … what would Gene Roddenberry think?

A little context here:

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the first airing of “Star Trek”, the television series that went where no man — where no one — had gone before.

Meaning out into the stars, yes … but in the context of the mid-1960s and what was considered okay to put on television, this series went to a few places and did a few things that were just about unheard of, at the time – beyond doing what science fiction does best, namely under-the-radar commentary on current events.

On the bridge of our fair starship Enterprise: well, yes, a white fellow in the commander’s seat, and a white fellow in charge of keeping everybody well and healthy … but look at the folks who are helping them out:

An African-American woman in charge of keeping the Enterprise in touch with the outside world.

A Russian fellow — at the time, you’ll recall, Soviet Russia wasn’t exactly considered your warmest fuzziest neighbor — in charge of figuring out how to navigate the ship from place to place.

An Asian man in charge of steering the darn truck! (And firing the phasers, when sadly necessary.)

Yes, a white fellow in charge of keeping the ship propelled properly, but sporting an accent that was darn near impenetrable.

And a green — green! — alien. Not an illegal alien. And not an alien that is here to menace our heroes. And not a “little green man”, as early science-fiction writers imagined. A tall, dark (greenish) and handsome native of another planet entirely. And, um, friendly. If a bit bemused by the humans surrounding him.

As opposed to hell-bent on conquering our world. Or taking our jobs.

The crew of the starship Enterprise was meant (overtly or not) to be a microcosm of the sort of world that Gene Roddenberry believed was possible, some day in the future. His vision has been derided by some as full of Pollyanna BS in its utopian glee; but honestly, who wouldn’t want to live in a world where everyone was judged by their character and not by what they looked like?

Who, indeed.

Fast-forward fifty years from the first appearance of Captain Kirk and his merry band of genuine friends, and … well, politically, we’re not exactly in a happy-clappy utopian mist of bliss, out here.

This morning, I was listening to a segment of National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, an interview with a Florida resident who is likely to vote for Republican Party candidate Donald Trump. He didn’t see himself as a hardcore, rally-attending, rally-protester-punching, campaign-press-corps-threatening Trump supporter. No indeed. Rather, he saw himself as a person who, after much consideration, really did think that voting for Trump was his best option “in a weak [election] field.”

And to wrap up his self-assessment, he said a most curious thing.

This is not one [vote] that I’m gonna be bragging about in the future. This is the first presidential election cycle in my lifetime [in which] I have not had a yard sign, a bumper sticker, a pin, a shirt, a hat … there is nothing on my property that would tell you who I’m going to vote for. I told somebody, you know, I like ‘Star Trek’, but I am not dressing up like a Klingon and going to the convention, okay? I’m going to vote for Donald Trump, but his yard sign is not going in my front yard.”

Setting aside the fact that, well, in this case, as in many others throughout history, at least one voter is glad that American elections are done by secret ballot, so no one has to know that you actually voted for Candidate X … and also setting aside the inescapable impression that he held beliefs for which he really didn’t want to have to stand up and be counted …

Here we have a self-professed fan of “Star Trek”, a program whose underlying point was that the wonderful thing about the people that is going out and exploring the wonders of outer space is that they represent race full of human beings who have figured out how to live peaceably and productively with themselves, and have matured to the point that they have begun to appreciate and value people and things and aliens that are different, rather than continuing to be spooked and scared by “strange new worlds”, and probably to be violent toward “new life and new civilizations”.

And this Florida man is supporting a candidate who has managed to awaken many Americans’ latent hatreds, by way of behavior and policies that espouse exactly the opposite philosophy from that “Star Trek” show.

I wonder what Gene Roddenberry would think.

I can’t speak for him … but as for me, at the very least I think that Florida man fundamentally misunderstands “Star Trek”.

Either that or he just likes it for the phaser guns, and spaceships, and fistfights wherein William Shatner rips his own shirt, again.

What really makes me nervous is that, according to the original Star Trek canon, Earth and its humans had to endure a Third World War before they could come out the other side and start to rebuild their civilization into something that would one day become the Roddenberry vision.

Here’s hoping Mr. Roddenberry was wrong, at least in this one detail.

Twenty days.

October 19, 2016 Posted by | current events, Famous Persons, news, npr, politics, radio, science fiction, television | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 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