Review – Star Wars: In Concert July 2, 2010

Did you guys know I like Star Wars? I do.


The problem with tributes and spinoffs is the added challenge of anyone organizing one to convince a person that their time and money is better spent on the derivative work than on the source. Star Wars in Concert tries to do that with an art form that has become as niche as it gets. Travelling with a full orchestra and outfitting GM Place with a set of giant screens to display appropriate montages from the films their music is taken from, the concert series is a compelling distraction but falls short of satisfying your Star Wars itch.

Star Wars is notable for many reasons, but the scores by John Williams are placed front and centre for this event. While some scores sit idle in the background of movies, it’s hard to imagine Star Wars being what it is today without the evocative sounds accompanying the action. Indeed, Williams’ contributions to the two trilogies are likely the most memorable suites in film history, and while others have gained similar notoriety (Vangelis for Blade Runner, Clint Mansell for Requiem for a Dream, John Murphy for Sunshine), none have the breadth to encourage a stadium event. From the “Imperial March” to the iconic Star Wars main theme, the songs he created have become shorthand for cinematic musical achievement.

Star Wars in Concert does its best to do justice to that legacy, and musically does so in spades. The orchestra travelling with the show put on pitch perfect renditions of every moment from the films. One wonders if any of the people (and children in incredible numbers) in attendance would ever experience a full symphony in their lives were it not for the films attached, so it’s a credit to the music’s popularity that it can pull in an unlikely crowd.

Stellar band aside, the production had its flaws. Ticket prices were on the high side ($41 for one adult) putting it fairly out of reach for students, and the exhibit of classic costumes and props were sparse, hardly justifying the premium. Anthony Daniels (the voice of C-3PO) acted as narrator and host for the evening, but his overenthusiasm bordered on mugging the entire night. Instead of providing any insight into the scores or the films, he opted instead for grandiose stroking of their brilliance, replete with sweeping physical gestures and out-of-place, “are you ready to rock?”-type pump ups for the audience. What’s worse is that the program ran canonically through the films, starting with The Phantom Menace. It broke off occasionally to play themes associated with various characters (Anakin and Padme, R2D2, and C-3PO, Luke on Dagobah), ignoring the obvious choice to put the brilliant Revenge of the Sith duel suite at any sort of climax and burying the series’ best musical moment. The montages played behind the orchestra simply made you want to go watch the movies, a problematic evocation as the music was already ripped from context. There was little to argue you should be there and not a home with a stack of DVDs.

Star Wars in Concert is a brilliant idea in theory, but the entire package cannot justify the ticket price. For half the price, it would have been incredible.

Comments Off on Review – Star Wars: In Concert

Let The Wookiee Win Week 6: Be Like Han March 31, 2010

The following is part six of a seven part column in The Peak. This is the one I wanted to write at the outset, the one that really got me excited about the project. I am as happy with it as I could expect to be. I tried my best to source the inspiration bit, thinking I had seen it on a blog somewhere. But alas. Sounds like a 4chan soundbite anyway, doesn’t it? If the originator is reading this, we should date. And sorry.


Surfing around the information superhighway, cyberspace, if you will, I came across perhaps the most important philosophical advance since Plato said some stuff about stuff. It described the scene in Empire Strikes Back where Han Solo is promised a delicious meal and instead is served a platter of “Darth Vader a la Badass”. With no hesitation, no looking around in surprise, no look of disbelief towards Lando, he just takes out his gun and starts blasting away at him, taking pot shots at a man that can castrate him a parsec away. His thought process begins and ends with “Evil. Shoot it.” The parable concludes: Be Like Han.

So struck was I by this nugget of science that the years of Catholic schooling just melted away, replaced by a sorbet of Harrison Ford-flavored enlightenment. How many years had I admired the roguish smuggler and not realized that he is the perfect role model for everybody? Let me explain with some key examples.

When there is somebody across the dinner table from you who has more or less decided to kidnap you and either kill you or sell you into the bondage of a giant slug gangster not named James Gandolfini, you should probably take the nessecary steps to prevent this action by shooting first.

Be Like Han.

When you’re trying to pull the wool over someone’s eyes, be polite about it. If you’re fine, ask them how they’re doing. If they’re on to you, put a bullet in the phone.

Be Like Han.

If a friend get’s killed in battle, the time for tears is after you escape the giant space station that can blow up planets with all the nonchalance of shopping for detergent.

Be Like Han.

When everyone has written you off and when you know you have made a mistake, redemption is as easy as admitting you were wrong and doing right. You can always swoop back in at the nick of time, blow that thing and go home.

Be Like Han.

Never leave a man out in the cold or a soldier behind. And if he is out in the cold, get him someplace warm.

Be Like Han.

Find your Kessel Run and be the best at it.

Be Like Han.

Technology is fallible and intelligence beats radar any day. If you find yourself in a place more dangerous than where you came from (say, inside a giant asteroid worm type thing), don’t fret, just calmly push the throttle as far as it will go.

Be Like Han.

If an authority figure tells you to do something heinous to an innocent, say no. The Nuremberg Defence is never moral and saving a life is worth your own.

Be Like Han.

Even if a friend has proven himself to be a touch greasy in the past, just remember that true friends are in short supply and grease is universal, especially on you.

Be Like Han.

Never, even under the pain of torture, talk to the “Empire” without a “Jedi” present. They are not your friends and you will go to jail.

Be Like Han.

If someone you love is watching you get turned into a Han-sicle, and they finally bust out the L-bomb, don’t waste time assuring them you love them too. You always did.

Be Like Han.

If you are going to be frozen solid for awhile, strike a memorable pose.

Be Like Han.

Despite what skills you may have, post-secondary education should be respected. Be nice to people with lightsabers.

Be Like Han.

Allies come in many shapes and sizes. Furry Marxists with spears can help you take down empires.

Be Like Han.

Lend your car to your friends when they need it, especially to fight wars. It will be fine.

Be Like Han.

When your best friend is about to be crushed by a celestial body of some sort, make god damn sure you have an outreached hand to grab them until someone has to drag you off the cargo ramp. If you can’t haul them in, it’s okay to cry.

Be Like Han.

Pride is not a sin. Confidence and willpower are virtues. Keep a blaster on your right hip and a good woman on your left. Punch people that deserve it. Know when you are wrong, and know that you can be sometimes right.

And when someone tells you that being like Han is a bad thing, have the wisdom and balls to do it anyway.

Be Like Han.

Comments Off on Let The Wookiee Win Week 6: Be Like Han

Let The Wookiee Win Week 5: He Ain’t Heavy (He’s My Android) March 16, 2010

I can think of about six films off the top of my head where a robot taught me how to be a better human. My god I’m lonely. Star Wars in particular taught me that there’s nothing quite like having a best friend in in your corner to fight with you, support you, and do a bit of Taun Taun spooning.

Appropriately, I learned this from two robots, one a lovable mute, trundling through the movies like a wheel-bound Huck Finn, and the other ripped from the pages of steampunk homoerotica. There really is nothing quite like the friendship between C-3P0 and R2-D2.

See, it’s the other friendships in Star Wars that push me towards the mechanical Mork and Mindy. They all just fall a little short in the BFF Olympics. Take Han and Chewbacca for example. Their friendship would likely take homeboy gold, but their arrangement is really just a semi-legal situation that blossomed into a lifelong commitment. Han was just a really handsome imperial lieutenant ordered to kill Chewie. He refused, and Chewie ended up owing him a ritual life debt.

That it worked out so well and they became such good friends is nice, but its an affair born out of insubordination and obligation, two things that rarely form the foundation of a healthy friendship (but sometimes work pretty well for marriage, especially of the shotgun variety).

Han and Luke just weaken SoloBacca. I suppose it doesn’t matter where Han gets his appetite if he gets his meals at home, but there is a little bit of bro competition going on in this triangle. Han and Luke are another friendship that grows out of a sub-optimal arrangement and continues through convenience and warfare. Though there’s nothing as reliable as a war to bring on the bromance, it’s not near as organic as the one experienced by our non-organic duo.

This is compounded by the fact that Han and Luke are too absorbed in their own lives to really maintain the friendship. Han is too busy getting frozen in carbonite and trying to use the Force on Leia’s brass undergarments to support Luke through his trials at Uncle Yoda’s Jedi Community College, and Luke is too busy carrying senile old men on his back through swamps (my god, the innuendo) to care about anything Han is doing (other than Leia). Friendships can span distance and time, but the amount of effort needed is just not there between the two.

Leia and Luke are even worse. Harry and Sally knew the sex thing would always get in the way, and I can only imagine accidental incest to be a dealbreaker in that respect.

This is all why R2-D2 and C-3PO have such an exceptional relationship. They met by chance and had chemistry right away, if not affection. Forced apart early by fate, they lived their lives autonomously, their meetings sporadic and unmemorable. When they finally are together, that obvious compatibility starts turning into something deep and defined. They escape crashing ships, wander the desert, get kidnapped, and go on missions to save the universe together.

Their wit and banter is a pillar of the Star Wars experience, this made more incredible by the fact that one of them is incomprehensible to an English-speaking crowd. Like any good friends, the armour comes off when needed, sarcasm falling to emotion when danger and mortality are involved.

C-3PO insists that his injured friend take any of his own parts if needed, and when R2-D2 is going off to fight, C-3PO tells him to make sure and come back alive. Knowing his friend is unable to have his back and feels guilty about it, R2 makes sure to make a good-natured wisecrack to assuage this feeling in his friend despite the looming personal danger. He takes one for the team, a selfless act for their friendship. Thick, thin, and Three Laws Safe.

Rather than just comic relief and foils for the mostly dire attitude of the human leads, George Lucas imbues these characters with an added depth; he gives something created by humans the ability show compassion perhaps (in the given context) even beyond that of their creators. Their dedication to each other is unsettling, and forces you to wonder if you have anyone that would donate their parts to aid in your recovery, someone to follow you through whatever desert you find yourself in.

And let me tell you, if you can say “Yes, by god, I do,” Star Wars is going to put a sizable lump in your throat.

Comments Off on Let The Wookiee Win Week 5: He Ain’t Heavy (He’s My Android)

Let The Wookiee Win Week 2: Love In The Time of Boba Fett January 19, 2010

The following is the second of a series of columns for The Peak. This week deals with how love is stupid, and how Phantom Menace is stupid, and how when combined they are kind of awesome.

A bunch of years after George Lucas got his rocks off letting the global movie-going populace innocently root for incest, he decided to revisit the franchise that made him grotesquely wealthy. He made a few prequels. You may have heard of them. They were kind of a thing.

The wholesale rape of a series aside, George Lucas did a funny thing: recognizing that love was second only to war (as in, Star Wars) in the landscape of literary devices, he decided to rewrite the entire context of his continuity. I think his goiter told him to do it.

Instead of the epic quest of a band of rebels with the intention of bringing down an empire, Phantom Menace made it the story of a headstrong young Jedi who would enslave a galaxy because he had a dream that his wife might die. Maybe.

This ruffled a few feathers.

And why wouldn’t it? The move made their beloved series of jock sci-fi into the nerd equivalent of The English Patient, with such swagger as to inspire calls for the Lucas himself to be buggered with a Jar-Jar Binks doll. The subsequent, weepy version of the baddest badass to ever rock a cape and emphysema had casual and hardcore fans alike introducing their palms to their faces.

But don’t be deceived; the wooden acting and staid dialogue characterizing the romance between Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala is merely the poor technical execution of the most powerful idea Lucas ever committed to film.

It’s awkward from the word go. Our savant slave boy meets the incognito Queen Amidala through a nearly impossible series of coincidences (blame the Force, not the writing), and, throwing reasonable notions of statutory rape to the wind, proceeds to try and woo the 14-year-old monarch as best as his nine-year-old prowess allows (which is to say he showed her his space Lego). Lacking biceps or a wicked automobile, he resorts to clumsiest attempt at flattery in cinematic history, asking her if she was “an angel.” In the best possible distillation of every romantic encounter I have ever had, she looks at him dead in the face, cocks her head to the side and says “What?”

This is the best part of the film, and possibly the best of all three prequels.

Whether intentionally or by accident, Lucas captured one of the greatest and most realistic love stories in Hollywood history, and what makes it so profound is that it almost wallows in its ridiculousness. It recognizes that love is hardly ever the measured, dramatic perfection like we see with Han and Leia in the later episodes, and throws the stupid things we do to the opposite sex at us like a fistful of sand in the eyes.

When Anakin is a kid, all he sees is a goddess, an object of desire. His romantic schooling only goes as far as his mother telling him he was immaculately conceived, likely winking and nudging him the whole time. As he goes through the dogmatically celibate Jedi training, he swims in an ocean of testosterone and midi-chlorians and dreams about her.

Though he has the ability to detect emotions, Yoda and Co. decide it would be a great idea to send a teenager who can crush steel with his mind to spend some alone time with a girl over whom he has Gacy levels of obsession.

Given this opportunity, he awkwardly and directly confesses total dedication to this woman he has spent virtually no time with, and luckily she’s a sucker for a guy with a big lightsaber. In between strained confessions of affection, (and probable explorations of the coital implications of a robotic arm,) they do things like run through a field of wildflowers without a hint of irony.

She gets knocked up, has some twins (who would later totally make out), and, as in every good love story, Anakin goes on to kill millions and set up a cruel dictatorship. What you are feeling right now is the squirming of a million nerds suddenly silenced by the realization that they relate entirely.

Phantom Menace and the love arc of Padme and Anakin was George Lucas’ attempt to take his stories to an operatic level. While the result is more “kill the wabbit” than Barber of Seville, it shows us exactly what our courtship looks like: obsessive, stupid, humiliating, amazing, and utterly central to the life of every person who has ever lived.

Making that primal need for companionship the core of his narrative is just another way Star Wars shows us how we are all exactly the same.

Which is to say, pretty damn goofy.

1 Comment on Let The Wookiee Win Week 2: Love In The Time of Boba Fett

Let The Wookiee Win: Week 1 January 6, 2010

The following originally appeared in The Peak. It is an exploration on why Star Wars to this day makes me squeal with girlish joy. It is part one of a seven part run.

It all begins with a flash.

The way to properly shoot a lightsaber battle is not exactly the most creative aspect of Star Wars. You take two stalwart opponents or, say, sparring partners, and have them fling brightly coloured phalluses at each other in a vaguely acrobatic neo-fencing duel and pocket the billions thrown at you by young male virgins.

Visually, you add a few frames of pure white every time one of those phalluses touch, and you get that brilliant effect that has dazzled audiences for the better part of four decades. Like a photographer’s flash, it fills the room and leaves you feeling physically dazed, which is an important dismissal of defenses when presenting audiences with the supernatural.

George Lucas was using this technique to brain-slap crowds years before Pokemon up and decided to give epileptics the finger.

I know a lot about lightsabers. I know how to make one (both where to get the amplifying crystals and how to build the housing) and I know their most revered users (Yoda, Mace Windu, and Shak Ti, to name a few).

Not only do I know the name of the technique Obi-Wan Kenobi used to make Darth Vader into a multiple amputee (“mou kei”), I know this is a predominantly Sith move, which is why that nerd to your left gasped when it happened while you were watching Revenge of the Sith (even though he knew for years what had occurred).

I also know that it’s unlikely The Holy Trilogy would have had the same global impact it did without them.

This information serves no real purpose. It won’t help me seduce a woman, provide for a family, or find gainful employment. But lightsabers are probably one of the most important parts of my life and of the lives of millions around the planet.

A long, long time ago, Robin Williams grabbed his nuts and said poets were way more important than lawyers and doctors. Though he had a lusty preoccupation with Langston Hughes and likely meant that the works of the Western canon were a touch more steeped in value than the Millennium Falcon, the Dead Poet founder was making an excellent point on the value of (dare I say it: pop) culture in a societal landscape that expects such things to be abandoned when entering adulthood.

Though I doubt he expected his students to jump up on a desk and yell “O Captain my Captain many Bothans died to bring us this information,” the sentiment applies.

It’s a worldwide flash. A single relative frame against the exorbitantly long reel of time that everyone can see, filling the room and dazzling them in a language of light and sound. Star Wars is an international handshake and an embodiment of our collective thoughts about morality, relationships, and war.

It’s as accessible to those who have no idea what a Holocron is, as it is to those who have read their share of sapphic Force erotica. If civilization collapsed tomorrow it would still be relevant: its archetypes and lessons are as universal as any Bible, plus Ewoks.

In fact, everything worth knowing, you can learn from Star Wars. And over the coming semester, I aim to prove it.

Comments Off on Let The Wookiee Win: Week 1