We can see the film Lucas was going to make. It's hidden in Rey's flashback, turning it into spoiler milleu. How do we know? Arndt tells us weaving Luke into the tale was too difficult...and that's what the flashback is really about. How maybe Rey, certainly Ben knew Luke...the writers employ the oldest soap opera trope in the manual: amnesia. That's the film's key trope: risk-free storytelling convention.
To Abrams credit, he's solved a central problem in blockbuster technology, he's proven you can launch a series with mysterious characters, never reveal who they are, and make even better money... forcing the audience to return for the clues in the dialogue.
(Spoilers). For The Force Awakens, it's medieval passion play meets serial TV (2nd generation Obergammerau, the annually repeated Christian retelling in rural Germany, by way of Alias). Though it feels experimental at points, like a Bond film revealing the identity of Bond at the film's end, Awakens never centers the myth. The story's needlessly rushed to hide all the plot holes that might really bother people (and enough fist pumping to sound like a corporate retreat gone haywire). It becomes apparent quickly that Abrams and Kasdan have opted for a 'greatest hits' compilation instead of carefully assembling a conceptual engine for the new trilogy. Problem number one: they take Lucas and his tales at face-value. They think the depth in everything Star Wars is limited to plot detail, not motivation. They're creators of movies, not mythology, their aspiration is out-doing set-pieces not increasingly calibrating emotions by juxtaposition. It doesn't matter to them why a religious figure like Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac (or Ishmael), just that he was about to. They treat the plot as fait accompli until explanations become absolutely necessary to make sense of it. That's what theactors are hired for: to deliver the plot like newsreaders. It's all a big gloss. The dialogue isn't their only problem: everyone's winking at each other, the actors seem all in on the joke (Rey smirks at Finn's guise yet she has no real reason to) even as they try their best faces at solemnity. To the actors Abrams seems to be coaxing: "Remember, you're all mysteries, and though we know that Adam, you're Han and Leia's son, the audience has no idea what happened between the three of you and Luke. I'll leave that out of the plot and keep them guessing." With all that mayhem hiding backstory, the audience comes out winded, thinking that's what exaltation feels like? Here heroes are born, they aren't made. An off-the-shelf mythos.
In a huge departure from the Lucas myth, the spoken word has lost it's paradoxical subtitling effect, here speech is just banter and noun-filler for exposition. (Vader's solemn 'the circle is now complete' statement in Star Wars is not only a metaphor for the story, is quite literally physical, as they're within a just completed Death Star. Abrams and Kasdan trade the complexity Lucas obssessively crafted for brute force symbols like light and dark). And because they're cipers, new characters make little deep impression, they're all lightly sketched, waiting for someone to fill in myriad blank expressions. Spunky Rey (Daisy Ridley) is Luke's heir(ess), they give her the full brunt of battle, she's a wiz with weapons and spaceships all within a few days (how?=THE FORCE AWAKENS). FN-2187 gets named as Finn, is the stormtrooper that couldn't, he's a neurotic deserter. Kylo Ren (or Ben Solo) is the wannabee baddie, and we know he's just a poseur when he takes off his elective, voice distorting helmet, a personal homage to original bad-guy Vader. That they're obviously mirrors of each other (no one is their real name) is only affectation. They're the new protagonists for the mythology, and they're so similar to the updates of Kirk, Spock etc. in his Star Trek redo that we cringe. These three don't seem fated to their adventure, they're fans of the myth. With hearts on their sleeves, they behave more like candidates for a past lives therapy retreat; or they could be cosplayers practically picked off the street, given wide-berths to let their Star Wars fantasies roam. That's what gives the film a certain new-agey ring to it (only Ridley hints at chops rising above the role-play, in British thespian pout mode, she plays the Leia we missed out on in ROTJ: why wasn't Luke's sister/Vader's daughter allowed at the mayhem in front of the Emperor?). This intentional neuroses is a brilliant touch of Abrams, this is his master-stroke, he puts the whole audience in the driver's seat emotionally by stressing the heroes out, letting the women role-play a mind trick in the middle of it.
The problems stem from Abrams's belief myth comes from secret backstories and shocking outcomes. Like the wagon-trail mythology he evaded in Star Trek, he runs over the carefully plotted Star Wars opera and brings a televisionary run-on sentence to the emotional effects of woven myth. Lucas made 'A' stories hiding in B-movie constructs ("The Phantom Menace") here the switch is on: an 'A' facade hides a low-grade pulp B plot in Awakens. Added to it is a high-minded PC veil overtaking the film on arrival at the new fangled cantina bar, repurposed as a kind of decision-crossroads. It's here Lucas's paradoxical mythology is finally abandoned. The depth/contrast triangulation between character, action and setting vanishes into a 3-D perceptual depth that can't make up for it. The soap opera traded for space opera becomes a momentary National Lampoon Vacation film at the cantina run by Maz, a kind of proto-Yoda, Matrix Oracle hybrid. Skipping over Leia, the female force has finally arrived in the link between Maz and Rey but it's all a big secret. Her palatial establishment, an interior doomed to be replicated as a theme-park eatery, more resembles a stopping point in an RPG, and it behaves like one, we pan through it like a cut-scene. And like any game: it's an all-purpose place for about-facing the way players test gaming outcomes. It's here the young leads split-up non sensically, a deus ex washing machina. The saloon's keeper, Maz, 'somehow' knows more about the plot than anybody else in the film, but she keeps her mouth shut, offering only cheap fortune cookie advice - more withholding from the writers: amnesiac style. And it's here that Abrams's perennial mystery box jimmies it's way into the plot - now anything goes.
Placing Rey square in the center of a whatsit, and not a knowsit, Abrams forces the audience to guess: it's the kind of tale-pivot that behaves more like a spinning wheel than a mythic plot. Were Rey and Ben trained separately? Is Rey a stop-gap measure? Another midichlorian repository like Anakin? How does Rey see the locale of a Vader-Luke duel? How does she fantasize about Luke's hiding place? (in a film of exponential coincidences, how can Kenobi and a Solo heir both have the same first name? Answer: it's a low cost way of making the Solo heir a convenient mirror to Kenobi...the makers don't show this, that's too difficult for them, they just wink at us). The real film sits in the Rey-Ben backstory, yet Abrams has discarded the next-gen story for a mere reconstruction of Episode IV. And that's the difference between baby boomers like Lucas and the Gen Xers like Abrams. Lucas solved his storytelling issues by showing you everything, but not explaining them. Letting the audience figure it out, if they want to. He answers their very distant questions outside of the film, even giving answers with multiple outcomes, discrete variables with apparently throw-away plotlines creating the real framing of the myth (a kind of an anonymous story within mythology). He's a weaver in the traditional origin of visual narrative. For a closer look, explore the story of Darth Plagueis in Lucas's ROTSITH.
Abrams tacks opposite, he calls attention to the mystery, as if it's a maze with only one solution (just like the nonsensical route to Luke's hiding place: all you really need is a point on a map, not a trail). He negates the mythic effect of the film by aiming us for closure (not in this film, in the next; the witholding delay heightens the internet's awareness of authorial control; the spoiler is a divergence-device turning us away from the blockbuster-screen back to reality). Myths don't hinge around explanations, they come to life in interpretation. Yet Abrams doesn't know this, he spends the film showing us scant details, then throws a spotlight under Rey's 30 second vision and subtitles it: Pay attention, you slobs, this is the most important information in the entire film. And then he (or Rian Johnson - is he listening?) gets to choose exactly what it means. The benefit of writing a memory-lacking orphan into a mythology is the audience has no idea who she really is, if you want to have a mooring, you just guess. And that's what's called a spoiler, where our tales are now. We're in what you might call the desert of the SPOILER. Where Plaguesis was a background mystery, Rey is the key to the entire film(s). She, like any spoiler, is just an "X". Part of a binary code. One of many. (Spoilers reveal filmmaking as a kind of proto-A.I., in this case one not very interesting). Whereas background suits the woven system of Lucas's, Abrams plays his variables with characters front and center, everything else, his new version of the myth, is throwaway. He's constructing a literal version of what Lucas made hazy, ghostlike. Lucas's weird vs. Abrams's rational. Take your pick.
And another flipmode that Abrams and team deliver to the strwrs_sys is the demoting the heroes to ordinary, all who default into self-congratulation. And maybe he's got a point, that's the millenial spirit. Lucas's heroes were confident, these are scared-stiff. The neurotic children of the saviours. Their battle is against parents, not planets, that's the revelatory program. Finn's battle is against his 'parent,' the First Order. Kylo fights his parents, while longing for his grandfather's glory. Is Rey (hah - ray of light - creepy Indo_european centered symbolism) a reversal too, a Sith offspring? Grafting parental war out of mysteries...there were plenty of Othos for every Augustus, can they warrant a visual change in optics, their stories of conflict? Remember that Anakin fought a brother figure that segued to father in contrast to his far more elderly Sith father-figure; Lucas created relative conflicts that only appeared simplistic. On second and third glances, the complexities reveal themselves.
Out of left-field, the new twenty year-olds have endless tantrums. There's something slightly bipolar about their behavior since the reactions seem abrupt (see Drama of the Gifted Child). Worse, they do get what they really want, after throwing fits about their fears and insecurities; mentally, Abrams has carefully engineered the film for current-day telephonic 20 year olds. It's their Star Wars, finally, an anxiety-ridden, high-octane, adult-leaning fable swiped from kid's hands. An ur-Lucasfilm for the post-Transformer generation that also manages to rope in the GenX with the sheen of nostalgia; in all, a remarkably perfect marketing strategy (yet it forces shock-counselling for the non-targets, the pre-teens Abrams abandoned; fathers take their children and have to face the aftermath explanation: eyewitnesses to a son killing a father). Sure it's amplified from the master-apprentice duels of earlier SW films, but is it psychic? No way, it's just a large-scale mirror, a piece of evidence for sociology papers in 2100 AD. With no fleshed out conflict, Han's death is far from Oedipal. It's nearly stagnant. He dies taboo (a son who doesn't want to replace his dad), Han is killed for only vague mysteries... meanings his son doesn't seem too sure about... light and dark? divorce and inability to commit? For letting Luke train him? for picking Rey over him? Death by his estranged son who was "sent away" by his parents, was he rejected by both his uncle and his father? The movie veers so steeply into cheap, withheld soap-opera, the audience should be tuning in next week like any old Lost episode but instead they'll wait their two years as obedient consumers.
By grafting parts of their ideas to Lucas's to hone the conflict for millenials they create an effective audience venn-sandwich three generations deep. They bridge the wisdom of baby boomers (discrete linear narrative) to present-day millenials (literal hypertext narrative). Problem is, they're aiming for a slightly older crowd than Lucas did; this is no longer kid-friendly fare (blood is now continuous), instead this aims for teenagers (ie: the people now in their 20s... of all ages). And that's the naked reveal of the switch between regimes, we start to miss the old trilogies, clunky as they seemed: Lucas built complex cinematics with a child-like mind (like Disney), Abrams forces chaos like a teenager rattling off events. Adults can still synch with teenage-level rage, that's what's here, but not with child-level rage that defined the Prequels or Original Trilogies. The plot is quick an' easy, just like swiping your phone at a roadside express mart, instead of intricate and cerebral made simplistic. Get abducted? Try the Force, it always helps.
Lucas was interested in testing the litmus between good and evil, and successfully built films with multiple levels of both per character, he was moving fast past biblical-koranic-talmudic codes. Here, the son is dispatched to evil as a banishment in an act out of basic, uncontrollable animal rage. A veer to 10 on the emotional V.U. we'll have to forgive him for just before he's dispatched in number nine (no doubt before Luke has to redemonstrate the prone behavior of true heroes - call this a reboot of the whole original trilogy). This is a descent into pre-biblical logic. There's no mythic connection to the act (yet, but that's the new format). This isn't a step forwards in the spiritual attainment of the series, it's a droop to the ground of simian violence. Worse, Abrams adds the film's most overwrought framing to cap off Han's death, romantic frosting on a quietly pitiful moment. Here the emotional hook is violent, Lucas's goal was bonded closure. It's inadvertantly a fantasy gift to all the Adam Lanzas in the audience, glorifying and vilifying all at once, and it's what we shrink from unconsiously, knowing it's not an act in an immense fabric, but isolated in a deeply private, interpersonal exchange between mother, son and father: almost anonymous violence that cannot be stopped. Weirdly glorified in slow motion. And it's the kind we read about each day.
And Lucas's caution with death offered a logic that served victor, loser and audience. You can't hate momentary villains like Kylo, because they aren't in control of their violence (that's precisely what Lucas-Star Wars is all about: control, especially in violence affording outcomes). You mourn them, pity them. Lucas was a master-builder of a post-mythic potential, a godless world where the apprentice war was slowly becoming outdated (that's what ROTJ was about, a son, liberated from a master, who demonstrated the post master-apprentice world. Luke was finally the evolution out of that system, he was unwilling to fight both his father AND his father's master, that was the key to the future.) Abrams has made everything Lucas created irrelevant. He's flatlanded the heroism without giving it any connection to the villainy.
By giving the darkside no discernable goal outside of low-level rage, control and mayhem, the First Order villains are basically invisible psychically; meaningless. Their behavior is shown to us as unilaterally incoherent (the way the West views Nazis or ISIS). They're not even humorously deranged the way Vader rolled in Empire (the humor came from purposeful rage). And that method was Lucas's subtle seduction. These villains are just stand-ins for some vague idea of evil. And that makes Chapter VII irrelevant. The most obvious metaphor for Han's death is the Abrams-Lucas exchange: Lucas thought he was leaving his story in the hands of a team with mythic aspirations, instead they slay his tale in a coarse effort to reboot it.
Can we fault Abrams or any director who tries to play in the space-opera sandbox? Lucas's myths began with apparent simplicity that was disproved wholesale across all levels in his Prequel Trilogy. Here the myth of Han, Leia and Luke are revealed as true but there's no relationship between the myth and the villains (except, maybe familial violence). They're just amodal, necessary to provide scales of impossibility. Snoke (Andy Serkis) is so clearly a hybrid derived from LOTR/Harry Potter mythos, it now seems baddies trounced in other blockbusters come to Star Wars to get killed again. Strangely, this clash of the Atlantic takes root here. The U.K. myths like Potter feed restorative power to the English castle-structure, it's center, The Star Wars galaxy is about destroying it, robbing the villains of their control. Taking away our center. Adding a Sith on a throne from the Potter mythos is powerfully weird, it's now a battle drawn from the greybeard cultures of LOTR/Harry Potter. Metaphors for the English upper classes battling 'the others' takes root in Star Wars. Star Wars is basically an inter human war against mostly men with British accents, the upper class. You can tell, vestigially, Lucas was about to enter another level of mythmaking: the sons, daughters, orphans of the previous age have to rebuild a new galaxian quest based in lost history verging on legend: how their elders pass the torch composes the outcomes. That's why it's as likely that Rey is Sith, or First Order (she's got the accent and she apparently is phased into the theme of fighting-your-parents).
The visuals stress the physical aspects of the production at the expense of the digital, a reactionary anti-technophilia that humiliates the genre and wraps it in nostalgia. That's the worse sin of any movie, making us desire the past back in a swing for the hills analogue, filmed in 35MM and polished in digital forms of all outputs, but the effect is gimmicky. It's an either/or conflict that constrains the film's imagery. The resistance base seems puny, the freighter Han pilots endless. Major set-pieces are a slightly improved lot from their previous testing ground in the Star Trek films. Though the action at times works, there's more tension building between events. A kind of "what fits here" cognitive game pops every time we find a calm before the storm. Can't wait for the Treverrow finale (#9). Best format to see it in? The 2-D Imax Domes or the exquisite Dolby Cinema/Atmos theaters (also 2-D). Avoid the latter if you hate bass.
Requires the input of many minds: Ernst Cassirer is one of them
There are no completely paved roads to or in Lajamanu; in the rainy season, December to May, it can be hard or impossible to travel.. An airplane, one of seven owned by Lajamanu Air, a community-managed airline, lands on the village’s dirt airstrip twice a week carrying mail from Katherine, and once a week a truck brings food and supplies sold in the village’s only store. A diesel generator and asolar energy plant supply electricity. The development of the language was a two-step process. It began with parents using baby talk with their children in a combination of the three languages. But then the children took that language as their native tongue by adding radical innovations to the syntax, especially the use of verb structures, that are not present in any of the source languages.
Lee Smolin's great, all over the place pursuit of current theoretical implications in physics (particle, wave, and of course quantum). Smolin edges us towards the possibility "space" is an illusion and that "time" is an evolving word that may house the eventual meaningful measuring of 'now.' Right now though, it seems illusory. His book is more than a clearinghouse of recent research into a pivotal tangent inside physics. It's also a warning that as we destroy mathematics in our physical world, we deform it psychically in parallel realms like academia and worse, media. That by distorting equilibrium to make a buck, we may be proving equilibrium wrong in other fields. From the epilogue:
"Neo-classical economics conceptualizes economics as path-independent. An efficient market is path-independent, as is a market with a single, stable equilibrium. In a path-independent system, it should be impossible to make money purely by trading, without producing anything of value. That sort of activity is called arbitrage, and basic financial theory holds that in an efficient market arbitrage is impossible, because everything is already priced in such a way that there are no inconsistencies. You cannot trade dollars for yen, trade those for euros, back for dollars and make a profit. Nonetheless hedge funds and investment banks have made fortunes trading in currency markets. Their success should be impossible in an efficient market, but this does not have seem to have bothered economic theorists."
- pg. 260
What Smolin suggests, without stating, is that our markets are eccentric, they thrive and die on minute eccentricities that traders pounce upon, like tears in reality.
Here's James Gleick's review in NYRB.
Birch, which may have supplied the first portable written surface for Indo-European languages, has also been sometimes identified as the Rg Veda's 'tree of life.' Indo-European's first recorded myth, the Rg Veda, is a rich source mined for valuable references to the origins of written language. Both Russian and Hindi histories used birch until relatively recently (14th century).
John Derbyshire cracks his keyboard waxing about the intricacies of Saturday Night Fever in the National Review. He negelects to mention the skills of both screenwriter Norman Wexler and director John Badham, instead he explores the socio-economic elements, a taste:
"The second thing that struck me was that this is a movie about the left-hand half of the bell curve. Of the main characters, I would surmise that only Frank Jr. has an IQ over 100. A couple of the others — Bobby C, Doreen — come across as borderline retarded. All the rest are drawn from that big slab to the left of the mean: people with IQs of 80-something or 90-something. These are normal, unreflective working people who did not get much from their formal education, don’t read books, and don’t think in abstractions, or wish to."