Monday, November 11, 2019

There Will Be Ewoks

The more Star Wars trailers there are the more indistinguishable they become. 

There will be space ships against a dense starry background. There will be lightsaber fights. There will be cockpit shots and close ups. Chewbacca will roar and Han or Lando will go "yee-ha". There will be jungles and deserts. It will be THIS CHRISTMAS and EVERY SAGA will have a BEGINNING or and ENDING. 

We don't need to be told that a cowboy film will have a gunfight and a saloon and a stagecoach and a bank robbery and very probably a hanging and a stampede and a drunk doctor because if it didn't have those elements it literally wouldn't be a cowboy film. 

Say what you like about the Last Jedi: it certainly had spaceships, and lightsabers and mysticism and blasters and a bar filled with aliens and the Falcon and some robots. (And, also, much to some fans' annoyance, some girls.) Because otherwise it wouldn't have been a Star Wars movie. 

The more Star Wars movies there are the more indistinguishable they become. 


I am in a games shop. After Warhammer and Magic, the thing they have most of is X-Wing a miniatures war-game using the space ships from the Star Wars movies.

Tiny little model X-Wings, presented ready painted, with the various cards and markers that you need to operate them, sold individually in little blister packs. A single model will set you back £13. The Millennium Falcon costs £40.

I remember a game called Ace of Aces. Two little books: each containing a large number of views from the cockpit of a World War I bi-plane. You fought dog-fights with another player. The picture in your book showed you what you could see from your plane. The picture in the other player's book showed you what he could see from his. You each picked a maneuver and read them off on a matrix and found out what page to turn to. You had to get the enemy in your sights while keeping out of the enemy's sights. It was the closest you could get to actually flying a plane. This was before computers.

Eventually there was a Star Wars version where an X-Wing pilot and a TIE-Fighter pilot circled each other endlessly while flipping through the pages of two little books. It arrived just too late for it to be the thing I most wanted in the whole world.

Red versus black. Long and thin versus round and stubby. Straight lines versus curly lines. Good versus evil. I have two of the old Micro-Machines models, an X-Wing and a TIE-fighter, on display in my front room, along with two Black Series action figures of Darth Vader and Ben Kenobi.

Back when Star Wars was Star Wars and Space Dust was a relative novelty there was no way of owning or possessing an X-Wing. The closest you could get was a very expensive plastic construction kit and you knew full well that construction kits involve glue on your best school trousers and oil paint on the bedroom carpet and a crucial piece that doesn't fit and recriminations about how you could possibly have wasted your pocket money on a piece of plastic you were never going to do anything with. It seemed so unfair that the only people who could have X-Wings were the people who actually liked making models and already had Nelson's Victory and the Flying Scotsmen. The bastards.

"Don't dream it, be it" is a line from Rocky Horror. It was sometimes used as a slogan when we used to play role-playing games. Don't dream it: write down a lot of numbers and then spend the evening arguing about what they mean.

The particular form of nostalgia triggered by Star Wars merchandise is neither about dreaming nor being. (Not nostalgia. I am pretty sure I felt those exact same feelings the first time I saw Star Wars; and the second; and the fifth; and tenth. It was the exact reason I needed to watch it it over and over again.)

Don't dream it. Possess it. Own it. Have it.

Yes, of course, they shoot across the screen very quickly, and a model or a technical manual lets you get a proper look at them, but that is not what I am talking about. And yes when you are a kid you want to cross the fourth wall and become Luke Skywalker.  (No. not Luke. Not Han. I wanted to be the third rebel soldier on the left or to be Gold Six Standing By -- to have a minor walk-on part in the saga, to be a hidden part of the story that no-one else knows.)

It's about crystallizing a moment in time. Holding onto the experience. If only I had a model of the Big Pointy Star Ship and the Little Square Star Ship then I could hold the first seconds of the first time I saw Star Wars in the palms of my hands.

It isn't a very new thing for a little boy to see a steam engine or a bus or an aeroplane and want to own a model of it. And his dad isn't content with looking at pretty motorcars in showrooms: he wants to own one, even if it is not that practical for driving to Sainsbury's in.

I still can’t make models and I have never actually cared very much for that kind of war-game. God knows I never won a game of Ace of Aces or Wing Commander. But here I am in the games shop. Individually, these miniatures are very expensive, but they are tiny little X-Wings and they come ready painted and I could perfectly well afford to sink a hundred quid on a squadron of ten or so and get some black cloth and a table and fight battles. X-Wing versus Tie Fighter, on the floor of my flat, for ever and ever…. 


Finn speaking: "It’s an instinct; a feeling; the Force brought us together."

The Force is the great repository of Plot Devices. Code for the Author’s Hand. Finn and Rey's meeting is very important; it is also very unlikely. So we have to get right in there at the beginning and blame The Force.

We are in a forest. It is probably Endor: it would make sense for it to be Endor. That is where the central trilogy ended. That is where Death Star Two blew up. That is where the Emperor died. Kylo Renn must have come here and pulled Vader's mask from the ashes of his funeral pyre.

If it’s Endor, there will be Ewoks. I can cope with Ewoks.

Rey is running, left to right, across the screen. And then she leaps, improbably, across a chasm, and suddenly, she is in a different scene, in the ruins of a great building or the wreckage of a great structure. It must surely be the remains of Death Star Two. In the Other Trailer she was running through a desert into the path of a TIE Fighter, and doing an equally improbable leap. She spends so much time running and leaping that you start to think she has turned into a character from one of those computer games. Rey the Hedgehog.

Finn is looking through binoculars. At first I thought he was in a desert but now I think he is on Endor too. But people looking through binoculars make us think of Luke and Tatooine and the binary sunset. Looking to the future. Longing.

Poe speaking: "We’re not alone. Good people will FIGHT if we LEAD them."

The last movie left us with the Resistance all but wiped out. So this one has to be about ordinary people defeating the First Order. The first trilogy was about a rebellion; so far this one has been about a resistance. But the story has to end with a rising.

One of those scenes in an aircraft hangar, with Poe this time giving the plucky rebels a pre-match pep talk before they all get blown up. We few, we happy few, only there are now quite a lot of us.

Glimpses of characters. Rose, running through the rebel base. Finn, Poe and Chewie standing by an X-Wing. A Blockade Runner flies over the forest.

We know our sacred iconography. We don’t want new ships. We want to dust the old toys off and play with them one last time. The Blockade Runner is the little small ship which got eaten by the great big ship in the first seconds of the very first movie. What would you bet me that Leia is on it, and that the robots are on it as well and the last trilogy will end where the first one started?  

Rey speaking: "People keep telling me they know me. But no-one does."
Kylo speaking: "I do."

We are teased with the idea that Rey still has a Big Secret to discover, that contrary to what was said in the last movie, she is not no-one. I think that she should be someone. The Saga is about the Skywalker dynasty and Rey is part of the Saga. The Phantom Menace was all about a Special Child with Special Force Powers. If just-anyone can be a Mighty Force User then much of the Prequel Trilogy is wiped out. 

Some people think that much of the prequel trilogy being wiped out would not be that bad an idea.

A cruel sea, with something which could be a dam or an oil refinery, and we are back to Rey and her lightsaber standing still for a moment, looking at us, and suddenly Kylo walks through the spray spinning his lightsaber round his wrist.

TIE-fighters flying towards an island, which could be floating in space or could be reflected in a very calm sea. It is made of ice. Is it possibly perhaps maybe Cloud City abandoned these I-don't-know-how-many years and frozen over? Is that possibly perhaps what Old Lando is doing in the movie: serving as a guide? Someone must have gone back to Bespin at some point to retrieve Luke's lightsaber.

A shot of a dark throne, suitable for being occupied by dark lord, very possibly one who lives in a land where shadows lie. 

The Emperor speaking: "Long have I waited, and now, your coming together is your undoing…."

The Emperor is Still Alive. There is a kind of extra-narrative tension in trailers. What we learn about the movie before the movie starts is part of the experience of watching the movie. (This is different from the old kind of trailer which spoiled everything on general principles. "This year, coming to a cinema near you, an unforgettable motion picture experience in which Bruce Willis turns out to have been dead all along.") The return of the Emperor is not a twist, but a premise.

The Emperor is a plot device. Everything which happens happens according to his will. The whole of the Clone Wars was really only ever a trick, with Palpatine running both sides. It is impossible to know who the "you" that the Emperor has brought together might be. Was it he who brought Finn and Rey together, maybe to produce new Force Babies for the next trilogy? (He let Finn go. It's the only explanation for the ease of his escape.) Has the Emperor been arranging for all his enemies to assemble in one place? Or is it the big lightsaber fight which he's referring to?

A Star Destroyer floats up out of the sea: one imagines Yoda standing off-stage with his little paw in the air, saying "No! Different only in your mind." 

The Millennium Falcon at the front of a fleet that would cost several months disposable income to acquire the miniatures for. Bigger is not necessarily better; less can sometimes mean more; but after Avenger's Endgame no-one is going to begrudge The Last Star Wars Film wanting to have the biggest and most impressive concentration of spaceships ever seen in 3D Imax.

Finn, Rey, Poe and Chewbacca take their place in the cockpit. X-Wings fly over the sea again. 

And then the atmosphere changes slightly: to actual dialogue. C3PO, all shiny and plugged in and taking one last look at his friends. A blast of emotion from the robot butler with the British upper lip. A warning that Threepio may not survive the episode. And an epigram. This episode is the one in which we say goodbye. Not really, of course, but conceptually the place where THE SAGA ENDS.

Rey hugging Leia. Man, that's going to be hard to look at. I would rather they'd CGI'd her, like James Dean.

Luke speaking: It is the destiny of a Jedi to confront fear. Your destiny…. The Force will be with you
Leia: Always

"The Force will be with you always" are, of course, the last words spoken by Obi-Wan to Luke Skywalker in the original movie. "Your destiny…." means, once again, The Plot: the thing you have to do not because it is sensible or follows from anything but because it is what goodies do in this kind of movie.

Some kind of chase through some kind of desert, very probably a callback to the pod-race from Ph*nt*m M*n*ace.

A really odd vignette of a cavalry charge through what could be the oil tanker that Rey and Kylo were facing each other on.

An almost subliminal image of them facing each other on what I am pretty sure is the Emperor’s Throne Room from Return of the Jedi.

And then a really perplexing scene in which Kylo and Rey both seem to be jointly confronting a third figure in a clean, white, empty antiseptic location. Kylo has his Kylo mask on. And just possibly they are destroying the mask of Vader.

More Star Destroyers than have ever been exhibited in captivity before.

A close up of Rey; a close up of Kylo. And a majestically slowed down theme, and the words RISE OF SKYWALKER.

The more reviews of Star Wars trailers I write, the more indistinguishable they become.



PALPATINE has risen from the dead. PRINCESS LEIA has disappeared. C3PO has Red Eyes. CLOUD CITY has frozen. And there are still girls in it. 

READ: The Year of Waiting For Star Wars
ALSO READ: The Last Jedi

BUY: George and Joe and Jack and Bob
ALSO BUY; The Last Jedi
OR EVEN BUY: The Last Jedi, special edition.

I'm Andrew. I write about folk music, God, comic books, Star Wars and Jeremy Corbyn.

Or consider supporting me on Patreon (by pledging $1 for each essay)

Monday, November 04, 2019

Mark 5 21-43

The opening chapters of Mark's Gospel show an escalation of Jesus' power and popularity. Bigger and bigger crowds follow him. His enemies become more and more hostile. His miracles become more and more impressive. This chapter marks the culmination of that process. Jesus has shown himself to be Boss of the weather. His power over the spirit realm is so absolute that an army of six thousand demons has grovelled and begged for mercy. There really is only one enemy left.

and when Jesus was passed over again by ship unto the other side,
much people gathered unto him:
and he was nigh unto the sea

Yesterday, Jesus left a huge crowd of people on the Capernaum beach. Today, he has come back: and the crowd is still there. Perhaps they had been waiting all night. Maybe some of them had set off on foot to intercept him when his boat reached Garderene country, and had to turn back half way there. 

and, behold,
there cometh one of the rulers of the synagogue,
Jairus by name;
and when he saw him, he fell at his feet,
and besought him greatly, saying,
"My little daughter lieth at the point of death:
I pray thee, come and lay thy hands on her,
that she may be healed;
and she shall live."

"My little daughter is at the point of death". What Jairus actually says is something like "she is holding at the end". ("The end" is eschatos, a word sometimes used to talk about the end of the world.) "She is near the end," would be perfectly good colloquial English. The Good News Bible opts for "my daughter is very sick", and I wish it wouldn't.

Jesus seems to have been avoiding crowds, preferring to teach those who will properly listen to him. But today, someone asks him very graciously to do a special favour, and Jesus agrees. Probably "ruler" means something like "director" or "chairman": not necessarily a rabbi or a teacher, but someone whose job it was to keep the synagogue running in an orderly way. Jairus is an important person in the local Jewish community, at any rate. The lawyers from Judea are planning to kill Jesus; but the Galilean synagogue bosses are begging favours from him on their hands and knees.

and Jesus went with him;
and much people followed him
and thronged him.
and a certain woman
which had an issue of blood twelve years,
and had suffered many things of many physicians
and had spent all that she had
and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse,
when she had heard of Jesus
came in the press behind,
and touched his garment.
for she said,
"If I may touch but his clothes,
I shall be whole."
and straightway the fountain of her blood was dried up
and she felt in her body that she was healed of that plague.
and Jesus, immediately knowing in himself that virtue had gone out of him
turned him about in the press, and said,
"Who touched my clothes?"
And his disciples said unto him,"
"Thou seest the multitude thronging thee, and sayest thou,
Who touched me?"
And he looked round about to see her that had done this thing.
But the woman fearing and trembling,
knowing what was done in her,
came and fell down before him,
and told him all the truth.
And he said unto her,
"Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole;
go in peace, and be whole of thy plague."

The people are "thronging" Jesus: crushing or squashing him. We have to picture him forcing his way through the crowd. He is on his way to save a girl's life, but the rubberneckers still won't let him move. Maybe the disciples are in front, trying to make a path for him. And suddenly, while time is apparently of the essence, he stops and says "Who touched my clothes?" You can see why the disciples would be surprised by this. It is just about the least sensible thing anyone could possibly have said under the circumstances.

Someone has touched Jesus' robe, or maybe his cloak. We're not talking about anyone grabbing his sleeve or his collar; just the edge of a loose fitting garment, from the back, as it swishes past.

It's a woman. We aren't told anything about her name or social status. "A certain...." is an English filler word the translators like to add. It doesn't mean "one particular woman" or "a person you may know." She's just someone in the crowd.

The woman suffers from long term bleeding: some translators say "hemorrhaging" and a lot of people assume that she must have had some kind of embarrassing Woman's Problem. But a "flux of blood" could just as well be dysentery. Either way it's a disgusting illness, an illness which makes you unclean and unable to participate in the Jewish rites.

Way, way back many centuries ago I saw the English Thespian -- actor is too short a word -- Sir Alec McCowen performing the entirety of Mark's Gospel as a theatrical piece. It looks a little dated now, all English vowels hurled to the back of dress circle. But one of things I took away from his performances was how much humour there is in Mark's Gospel. This story contains one of Sir Alec's laugh lines. You have to deliver it deadpan, with British intonation. Here is a woman. She has been to lots of doctors. They have humiliated her, and charged her for the privilege of being humiliated and it hasn't done any good.

"She had suffered many things of many physicians…"


"And spent all that she had…."


"But was nothing bettered...."

(Long pause.)

"But grew rather worse...!"

(Audience laughs.)

Jesus feels that "virtue" has gone out of him. Several times, Mark uses the same word -- dynamin, power -- as a synonym for "miracle". So perhaps we should say that Jesus could feel that a miracle had gone out of him; or perhaps we should say that people were always asking Jesus to "do a power" or a "perform a virtue". We are talking about energy; what a player of role-playing games would immediately recognize as mana. My highly inaccurate paraphrase would translate it is a miracle-juice.

It's the miracle-juice that cures the woman. Mark does not say that when Jesus pays attention to the women, other people pay attention to her as well, and feel bad about how they have treated her and say that she can come back to synagogue even though she is bloody and smelly, and that's why we should welcome people who don't really seem to fit in with our church communities. And Mark does not say that Jesus has lived such a holy life that when he asks his God to heal someone, God is specially disposed to do so and if we could aspire to to that special state of grace, then God would answer our prayers as readily as he answered Jesus's. Jesus's unique supernatural nature -- an energy insider him -- has the power to cure. And it's involuntary. Jesus doesn't will it. He heals because the miracle-juice is in him.

Jesus says that the woman has been healed by her own faith. I have heard people say that this is Faith in the Wizard of Oz sense. The power to heal herself was inside her all along. The hem of Jesus garment was only ever a placebo. If you stop believing that you are passing blood then you will find you are not passing blood any more. I have also been told that Faith is a supernatural conductor. Everyone is touching Jesus: the miracle-juice only went into this particular woman. So mere physical contact is not enough: faith is necessary as well. Neither explanation does justice to the story. "Faith" here is simply trust: confidence or cheek or chutzpah

The reason you got healed is that you had the audacity to touch me without my permission. And instead of being cross, I am proud of you.

while he yet spake, 
there came from the ruler of the synagogue's house certain which said,
"thy daughter is dead: why troublest thou the Master any further?"
as soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken,
he saith unto the ruler of the synagogue,
"Be not afraid, only believe."

Things looked pretty hopeless on the boat, when Jesus told his disciples to have faith and not be afraid. But things must look entirely hopeless here. Jesus has been trying  to get to the house in time to save the man's daughter. A dirty smelly woman grabs his cloak. He could have ignored her, but instead he pauses, and singles her out, and listens to the story of her life, and praises her....and someone comes out of the house and says, don't bother, you're too late, she's already dead. Synagogue-guy would have had every right to be angry at this moment. But Jesus says the same thing to him that he said to the disciples when they thought the boat was going down. "No fear. Only faith."

and he suffered no man to follow him,
save Peter, and James, and John the brother of James
and he cometh to the house of the ruler of the synagogue,
and seeth the tumult,
and them that wept and wailed greatly.
and when he was come in, he saith unto them,
"Why make ye this ado, and weep?
the damsel is not dead, but sleepeth"
and they laughed him to scorn
but when he had put them all out,
he taketh the father and the mother of the damsel, and them that were with him,
and entereth in where the damsel was lying.
and he took the damsel by the hand, and said unto her,
"Talitha cumi"
which is, being interpreted,
"Damsel, I say unto thee, arise."
and straightway the damsel arose,
and walked;
for she was of the age of twelve years
and they were astonished with a great astonishment.
and he charged them straitly that no man should know it
and commanded that something should be given her to eat.

I have often wondered why Jesus didn't invite Andrew to come into the house with the others. I suppose Andrew had be given some special important task that Jesus couldn't quite trust Peter with.

Jesus touches the dead girl, and she returns to life. Mark has already told us that physical contact with Jesus can allow for this mysterious virtue stuff to go out of him. The girl, being dead, presumably can't have faith in Jesus; he brings her back just by being there, holding her hand. (I suppose you might say that it was her father's faith that facilitated the miracle.) 

When Jesus did his very first exorcism, everyone was stunned. The people who witness this resurrection are "overcome with great ekstasei". They are hysterical; literally in an ecstatic state -- almost going into trances. We have to imagine a crowded noisy house, full of people ostentatiously hollering and singing dirges, while the five in the bedroom are freaking out and Jesus is calmly saying "Won't someone get her some food?"

The little girl is twelve years old. The older woman had suffered from bleeding for twelve years. There is probably some significance to this, but I am darned if I know what it is. 

Mark writes in Greek. So why does he lapse into Aramaic at this moment? Why does he think it is important that we know the exact words that Jesus spoke? Perhaps he thinks that there is a verbal component, as well as a physical one, to Jesus's magic. To call someone back from the dead, he has to utter words of power, so Mark records those words exactly. A bit later on he will tell us the exact Aramaic word that Jesus used to heal a deaf man. When Jesus asked for the demon Gardarene demon's name he was following standard exorcist procedure. In Luke's Gospel, Jesus brings a dead man back to life, a few minutes before his funeral, and he uses the exact same formula: "Young man, I say unto you, arise!"

Perhaps this is such a significant moment -- almost the climax of Jesus's career so far -- that Mark wants to bring us as close to it as we can possibly get. Only three disciples were there: Peter, James, John. Years later, Peter told Mark what happened. Now Mark is telling us. It's part of the great big Secret. The mourners don't see what Jesus did. Neither does Andrew, or the other eight disciples. The multitude certainly don't. But we are hearing Jesus's exact words. We are part of the special inner group.

Or perhaps it is simpler than that. Hebrew was the holy language; and Greek was the international language; but Aramaic was the language Jesus's people spoke among themselves. So maybe Jesus talked Hebrew to the synagogue-leader; maybe he even preached in Greek. The New Testament certainly seems to take the Greek translation of the Old Testament for granted. But here he is doing something normal and kind: shifting from formal public speech to common, intimate speech.

Hey kid. Time to get up.

Seventeenth century English happened to use the same word "suffer" to mean "endure" and "permit". The sick woman has "suffered" at the hands of doctors, and Jesus "will not suffer" anyone to follow him into the little girl's sick-room. But "endure" and "permit" are two quite different words in Greek (pascho and aphiem, respectively). You can apparently be the sub-editor of a national newspaper and still think that "suffer the children.." means "inflict suffering on children".

I'm Andrew. I write about folk music, God, comic books, Star Wars and Jeremy Corbyn.

Or consider supporting me on Patreon (by pledging $1 for each essay)