Monday, April 4, 2011

Relaxing with Star Wars

Goodbye March!  Hello April, you blissfully unscheduled and hopefully relaxing month.  After our crazy March, we were all in desperate need of a break.  On Saturday we took that break, and my kids joined us as we watched all three Star Wars movies back to back!  On the same day (I think it was Saturday, it might have been Friday) Redbox (you know the video rental box people) posted a poll on their facebook wall.  They asked what genre of movie to you watch after a stressful day.  Hmm, while I suppose Star Wars could be considered "Action", SciFi/Fantasy/Epic Story were not options on their list.  Maybe it was because the writer didn't understand how people could use these movies to relieve stress, as this was coupled with each genre.

Here:  This is there quiz so you can see what I mean:

When you’ve had a bad day, what kind of movie can get you out of your funk?

A straight-up comedy — laughter’s always the best medicine!
    Straight-up comedy - laughter's always the best medicine! 
A romantic comedy, because all you need is love.
    A romantic comedy, because all you need is love.
A weepy drama, for an excuse to just cry and get it over with!
    A weepy drama, for an excuse to just cry and get it over with!
An action flick — explosions, shoot-outs, and car chases cure all.
    An action flick - explosions, shoot-outs and care chases cure all.
A sad drama or documentary to help put things in perspective.
    A sad drama or documentary to help put things in perspective.
A silly kids’ movie, preferably with fun songs to sing along wisillysing 
           (A silly kids' movie, preferably with fun songs to along with!)
* Stats are from Sunday afternoon. *

So here we were having a flop day that sure it had a few explosions and some space ship chases, I guess you could call them that, but I don't think Star Wars really fits with something like Gone in 60 Seconds which is your classic action flick.  Personally, if I was going to put SciFi/Fantasy/Epic Story on the list it would be written out like this:  A SciFi, Fantasy, or Epic Story to remind me of the good within humanity and the bigger picture.

To me (and I think to others who enjoy these genres) we get more from the story than just a fun romp, some giggles, and a few explosions, sure those are generally there, but what writers in this arena who remain timeless and are read over and over or watched over and over again accomplish is to take us beyond the story of a hero and his sacrifices and successes to show us a bigger world.  A world with rules slightly different than our own and the way in which people are people and society fills in to that reality.  It takes the classic hero story of guys like Beowolf and Odysseus and keeps making them.  These guys aren't shallow one dimensional killing machines, they aren't a gangster lowlife, and they aren't goofy, but they real people who laid down their path to happiness and took on the mantle of bettering society.  Sure Beowolf got good for a while, but those that followed him were seldom as lucky.

Now, I suppose it could be argued that I think too much about these things, but watching Star Wars with my children (at least my daughters - 3 and 6 years) let me know that they get it too.  They may not yet understand all of the inter-workings and relationships between the societies and the aliens.  I doubt they noticed the xenophobia of the empire.  I'm fairly sure they missed even the basic military structures of rank.  My six year old still struggles with who is named what and repeatedly I was asked why people called Vader both Lord and Darth.  However, there was so much of the big picture they did get.  They were comforted and joyed every time they heard or saw the teacher Obi-Wan Kenobi.  They were happy with the Death Stars blew up. They were sad when someone died, even though they understood that they weren't really dead, but were just pretending.

Yet, there was something I didn't expect them to get.  They got Vader.  They understood his story.  In the first movie they feared him.  In the second they feared for the characters interacting with him.  They experienced denial when he told Luke that he was his father.  And then in the Return of the Jedi, they began to like Vader.  So much so that as the end was nearing and the battles were at their peak, my three year old cuddled into me and said, "I don't want Vader to die, he's not going to die is he?"  It was hard for her to not see him get onto the shuttle and go home with Luke.  She knew that he had been saved, that he was no longer the evil he had been before.  She saw him as a human, as a society, as a corrupt leader called to accounts who truly repented.  She saw in him hope for a better future.  She also intimately connected that Luke had lost both of his teachers and needed his father, just as all people need their dads.

It's not like Star Wars is this great literary work either.  It's mostly just a fun movie.  There is almost no inter-character dialog.  Almost all the speaking in the movie is of the informative nature, either being a narration of the events, or more commonly instructions and learning for the characters.  The few times the characters actually interact their is a lot of posturing and joking, with the only true conversations possibly between Luke and Leia on the forest moon of Endor, Luke talking with the Emperor, and when Luke, Leia, and Han are on Hoth before the Empiral attack.  Over three movies, that's really not a lot.  Star Wars also fails the Bechdel Test.  Leia is really the only female character, and she never talks to another female at all.

Of course, you can have a simple story set in the future or involving fantasy elements and not have it really fit this category, in truth if it weren't for the out of place elements or setting, it really would be one of the other categories. Star Wars isn't even the best example for this category, it just happens to be what we watched this weekend.

What really makes this genre different from the ones redbox listed in their poll is use of a big picture of society, the idea that the sacrifices of the few are worthwhile if they generate gains for the many, or the weak, or the oppressed, and that society is successful when it not only meets the needs of the people within it's time, but moves the human race forward for all following generations, that there are few truly evil people that there is good mixed in with the bad.  Other genres tend to focus on the individual or the couple, not in their relationship to society, but in charting their own path to happiness irregardless of the greater good of the collective.

When I am feeling overwhelmed I am comforted by remembering my place in the big picture.  By restoring my faith in those that would give their life for the success of humans everywhere.  While I individual role may be small, unremarkable and easily overlooked by the media of my time.  I still have a part to play as a parent, an educator, a friend, and a contributer to the daily workings of our society.  I can share my ideas and prepare the children of this generation to move ahead and go beyond the limitations of my time here.  I can see my dot in the tapestry of existence and I can relax into a possible future or a societal reflection.  I can get lost in the epic sacrifice of a hero who will never heal from the scars he must encounter in his trials, who gives up the simple pleasure I have secured for myself.

Relaxing into this media keeps me centered when policies are good, but do not favor me personally.  When we make strides forward as a society even though it causes my family personal difficulties.  Because I know, with an eye towards a greater society, free of the prejudices of this age, we can be a better people, and that after all is why we write these stories, to experiment with this societies to attempt to foresee problems and to bring to light problems we are currently overlooking.

Oh sure I still indulge in many of those other medias.  I mean a romance can be good for getting cuddly on the couch, the simple pleasure of chases and explosions has it's place, and a springy reflection on childhood can be as welcoming as fresh baked cookies, but to be lifted from a bad mood, I'd rather be reminded of the struggle that is life, combined with the hope that the fiction of fantasy brings.

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