Monday, December 21, 2015

Surviving The Star Wars Marathon

I was awake when my alarm went off at 3 am. I had planned and prepared the night before, anxious about a great many things. I worried about the weather for the 30 min drive on a frozen highway. I worried about not sweating myself into a swamp of feet and armpits. I worried that my stepson would fall asleep or get high or fuck off with the friend that had invited himself along. I worried that there would be idiots with enough money time and cruelty to troll the event.

I worried that The Force Awakens was going to break my heart.

The boy can often be casually cruel in his words and actions. This morning he was excited and all in. He didn't snap in tired anger from lack of sleep as he often does. He appeared to understand how important this was to me.

My relationship with the Star Wars films is like everyone else's. I saw Star Wars for the first time at drive-in in the back of a green and white Oldsmobile, clutching a pillow and wearing yellow footy Hulk pajamas. It was likely one of the first films I had ever seen outside of my home. I was 7. I already loved comic books (especially the hulk) and The Muppet's but Star Wars was like a spinal tap directly into my dreams. I would chase that dream for years, enjoying knock-offs like The Black Hole. I was devastated when my father attempted and failed to tape a behind the scenes special during a network broadcast of Star Wars in the early 80's on a coffee table sized vcr. I had the blessing then of not even knowing a sequel was being planned until I heard about it at school or saw a tv commercial and badgered my parents into seeing The Empire Strikes Back. In 1983 I saw a double feature in the lead up to Return of the Jedi (still called Revenge of the Jedi in the trailer ahead of the feature). I loved the Marvel comics.

I had (unnecessarily) packed extra socks and shirts for us. Deodorant, toothpaste and toothbrushes. It was vital to me that during this sold out shared experience we not impede anyone else's experience as I hoped they would not impede mine.

I over prepared because it was the only thing I could do.

We arrived and in the periscope I shot I look exhausted already. I ate nachos for breakfast as we settled in for The Phantom Menace. I worried about stretching the collectors cup of Coke and my bottle of water as long as possible in order to minimize bathroom breaks.

The Phantom Menace is a long slow movie. The sold out audience began a pattern that would seem Pavlovian 18 hours later. Cheer for the Lucasfilm logo. Cheer for the Fox fanfare. Cheer for the Star Wars logo. Take pictures of the crawl. Cheer for each lead characters appearance. Cheer and applaud the director's credit. Repeat 6 more times.

Unintentional laughter happened a lot in The Phantom Menace. Most people today like to say they hated it in 1999. They didn't and if you are honest with yourself neither did you. You were either too young to have critical thought about a new Star Wars movie or you were too excited by the thought of a new Star Wars movie to be critical.

It was a presentation of the extended edition of TPM which doused my dream that this was Disney's chance to bring the theatrical editions back in style. The Special Editions it would likely be.

The big screen changes perspective dramatically and can dilate time. Groundbreaking special effects in 1999 look like texture-less shiny boxes of color. Creatures look worse. Animation is amplified and exaggerated to ridiculous effect. The end land battle of TPM is rightfully derided as a cartoon.

I had long held the belief that Attack of the Clones was the worst of the Prequels. It's not, TPM is. On that massive screen TPM drags and shudders from one sequence to the next, shining only in the pod race and during the final lightsaber fight. Attack Of The Clones has many flaws, but pacing is not one of them. AOTC leaps off the screen back to back to TPM. 

The 10 minute break between films was challenging every time as there was always a line-up for something. It also would prove not to be enough time for my eyes and brain to slow back down as the prequels speed up. 

AOTC literally explodes out of the gate, still thudding along on clumsy exposition between action sequences but with slightly more shading in characters and visuals. The look of the films changed from bright and bold to shadowed contrast but virtually abandoned physical locations save Tattonine. The first time I saw AOTC is was a nascent digital projector and you could make out the individual pixels. I wondered what a 2002 movie captured at 1080p and not on 35mm film would look like upscaled to modern projection standards. It looked a little soft but was far from the worst experience of the day.

Unintended laughter percolated throughout AOTC with it's horribly clumsy attempt at romance. In retrospect it reminded me that the man who made this film was so far away from his first love and so clearly had THINGS HE WANTED TO SAY about politics and democracy that it was a miracle AOTC had any fun in it at all. It established a whiny yelly Anakin Skywalker and the seeds of his fall, something that would finally bear fruit 13 years later in the character of Kylo Ren. It had cool light saber stuff. It was over quickly.

Revenge Of The Sith polished and refined the pacing of AOTC, and abandoned locations completely. The film looks and feels set-bound despite the scale, but the effects are spectacular and have aged well in the last 10 years. Anakin's turn feels more organic and less forced in a theater with an audience but still played to some laughter. The final lightsaber battle was punishing on my eyes and brain, fluttering red and blue blades sparking and swiping almost to incomprehension. Anakin's lightsaber was swept up by a victorious Obi Wan and a thrill swept through me. The path to the Force Awakens had begun.

We had hit the halfway point at noon. Daylight gleamed through the front of the complex. We had arrived in the dark, we would leave in the dark. I was starving but I would not miss a minute of the original Star Wars on the big screen, something I had waited nearly 20 years to see again. The boy and his friend had done periscopes between each film and now shared their thoughts on the prequels and expectations of the Original Trilogy (TLDR; they loved the fight at the end of Sith)

Within a few minutes my hopes sank as weird color correction, sky replacements and brutal edge enhancement around 3P0 in an early shot betrayed this as the Special Edition. Unintentional laughter fell away as the intended humor of the film played beautifully. Internet memes about whiny Luke were playing out in real time for a mixed age audience stretching from 8 to 65. Han Solo and Chewie were cheered in anticipation of the film we had come to see. Star Wars cascaded into a blur of cinematic joy, carrying an all-in audience. The seat next to me finally filled with a single middle aged man who had come to see the OT.

Watched in sequence, the Star Wars films speed up and meld, becoming a delirious delight. Halfway through we were exhausted but exhilarated. The visual punishment of the Prequels was soothed by the late 70's early 80's aesthetic of the Original Trilogy, especially Empire. Would you believed that nearly 40 years into my fandom I never noticed the sideburns in Star Wars and Empire until this viewing? Empire is a gorgeous beautifully crafted film marred only by the very dated EFX forced on it by the Special Edition, which are more of a time stamp than haircuts could ever be.

The boys thought the light saber fights and efx were lame and I only hated them a little.

When Return of the Jedi started the air in the room had begun to fill with anticipation and joy. We laughed and cheered despite Jedi having the worst presentation. Several sequences were completely out of focus, or had focus so soft it was near imperceptible what the focal point was intended to be. A women behind me dressed as an Ewok, but having never seen Jedi on the big screen kept saying "so cute SO CUTE".

As Jedi ended to rapturous applause the theater managers entered, scrambled and panicking to let us all know that, yes The Force Awakens would be in 3D and yes they would hand out glasses. 14 hours early they had told me it was in 2D. I would have preferred it that way.

As we waited I turned to the young men who sat next to the boy throughout the marathon. They were fans. I had glanced at them on and off as they leaned in during the films, deeply engrosses. They were also chatty.

I told them that we are all having a good time but I needed a favor, that I wasn't trying to ruin their good time, but I needed them to be quiet for the last movie.

They agreed and they were.

We watched the Force Awakens and afterwards, I decided never to do this again. 

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