Tuesday, April 28, 2009

456 - Play It Again #5 - Star Wars

Laura Reeder is not just proof that I do know a woman, but quite a fine writer as well. Quite prolific in the University of Northern Iowa Creative Writing Masters program, Laura takes delight in producing fantasy and work that laments the discontent of rural Midwesterners and married couples. In addition to being a graduate student at UNI, she's also one of the finer College Writing and Research instructors.

Laura's selection is "Star Wars," a strange little movie from 1977 that hardly anyone has ever heard of.

The first time I saw "Star Wars" was in pieces. Dad was watching it in the living room, and it was a gorgeous summer day, so I spent most of it playing outside. At one point, I wandered in during "The Empire Strikes Back," right when Darth Vader was trying to get Luke to turn to the dark side. I turned to Dad and asked him what the Force even was. He told me it was a beer, and that Vader was trying to get Luke to give up his crappy light beer and try some real stuff. I didn’t believe him, but from then on I was entranced.

The original "Star Wars" trilogy is the only set of movies I've seen more than twenty times. It actually shaped me as a writer. I was fascinated by the storytelling element, the epic feeling of it all. I would imagine myself as a warrior-princess, running around in a plain white dress while fighting for justice and freedom. The world of the story felt so real, yet there were enough bizarre little aspects that made me very much aware that I was no longer in familiar territory. We have men in spacesuits riding on giant reptiles. We have robots conversing with people who wear outfits that look like they belong in museums. Only later did I find out that this is what most fiction teachers classify as good story-telling: add enough true-to-life details so that the audience can believe it, yet enough details that are opposite of real so that the audience doesn’t get bored—or what is known as the “continuous dream” and “defamiliarization.” Even if I didn’t know that these things had names, I picked up enough of the technique to start using it in my own stories.

But what "Star Wars" really gave me was a burning desire to enter its world, one that couldn’t be quenched until I created one of my own. Soon, I was writing fantasy worlds, fully entering my own creations as both master-of-design and actor. From there I launched into other types of writing, until I find myself here today, getting a Master of Arts in English with an emphasis in creative writing.

For the last week I’ve been teaching Percy Shelley’s A Defense of Poetry to my freshman writing students. When I first encountered the essay as a sophomore, I had something like a religious experience. Shelley believes that artists can change the world by making us more empathetic to our fellow human beings. My students scoff at this—no one’s life has ever been changed because of a story, they say. All I can do is think back to a time when I met a princess in a galaxy far, far away, and suddenly I was aware of just how small a world Earth really was. - Laura Reeder


Blake Badker said...

star wars IS the post modern wonder of the 21st century. ya got to give it to lucas for being the first to re-write lord of the rings for Western AND Eastern civilization. plus lazer beems and spaceships.

i was a total star wars nut as a kid, as a puberty kid, and as a college kid. not at the fault of the much-maligned sequels i've recently quit caring about star wars so much as an ADULT. or at least me putting the effort to move on from it.

i like in the article how you wrote about the dream technique. that's really interesting and true and such. just is.

i do find as a writer and as a consumer of culture i think we all need a HIATUS from epic stories with BATTLES. i'm just numb of it all.

it's like when i was in this Bruce Lee phase right out of high school and eventually i would skip over the fighting to get to the parts where bruce acted cool, because the fighting all seemed the same cause i had just watched too damn much of it.

I've realized something about this movie that I think my cousin Larry and all the rest of the Star Wars movies need to learn. THESE ARE KIDS MOVIES. If you want to enjoy them as much as you did in the 80s HAVE KIDS AND GROW UP AND SHOW THEM TO THEM. That's where I am. I grew up somewhat and work and hope someday I can show Star Wars to my kids, but in the meantime I gotta sacrifice some of my fun and quirky yet selfish NERDINESS in return for social grace and things girls like if I'm ever gonna rescue my enjoyment of the wonderful STAR WARS saga from the clutchess of the vile hands of TIME.

Blake Badker said...

oh and sorry james if i comment too much on here. i kind of wish we'd get a contract to do siskel and ebert 2 even though i'm just a philosopher. if it's too much let me know.