Hmm Weekly for January 14, 2020

May all your Tuesdays be Star Wars Taco Two-Fer

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THOUGHT DEP’T.


Anthony Daniels, Keri Russell, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, and Daisy Ridley in Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker

DEPARTMENT OF STAR WAR DEP’T.

I WAS TOO busy watching The Mandalorian to go to the new Star Wars movie right away, but after I did see it, I got an opinion lodged in my head. There's not much point in having opinions about Star Wars, and even less so now that the trilogy of trilogies has officially concluded; the facts of Star Wars are all in place and you can't move things around by concentrating your mind on them. 

Really the healthiest way to think about Star Wars by now is not as a matter of what should have happened differently, or even as a question of which "episodes" are "good movies" or "bad movies": Star Wars is two really good adventure movies, plus one good enough and narratively necessary third movie to complete the set. Everything else is decades' worth of commentary on the original text, some expressed via major motion picture and some via licensed toy manufacture and some via television or comic books or expanded-universe novels. Having been a consumer of the original 1977 movie in real time, in childhood, I never felt much need for the novels or other extensions of Star Wars myth and legend. The galaxy-building was complete and perfect already and the imagination had already moved in, for life. Among the virtues of The Mandalorian is that it exists squarely and sufficiently within this known galaxy, without any desire to force things to somehow be more cosmic or more special than that. But this is about The Rise of Skywalker, this opinion I'm stuck with having, and am working around to inflict on you.

It's not about the merits of the movie. I liked the movie; I like the new trilogy. People can point to where the plot lines are absurdly derivative or incoherent and they're not wrong about it, but again, it's all commentary. Anyone who is able to see a Star Wars movie without seeing it refracted through all the accumulated layers of Star Wars on top of it should really be doing something else with their attention than watching Star Wars movies. I say that with no value judgment either way. 

As someone with a lifetime of Star Wars buildup, I experience the new movies as pieces, which either add to or detract from the enjoyment and meaningfulness of the whole. Luke Skywalker as an embittered old grouch, in the last movie—that was delightful and, from where I sat, affecting. It's been fun to see modern effects technology bring the spaceships down into the physical planetary worlds, so X-wings skim low over the water and the ruined hulks of Star Destroyers loom over the landscape. The idea of a nameless deserter Stormtrooper as hero was a relief after the prequels, an escape from George Lucas' ever-more-claustrophobia-inducing vision of a story where nothing exists outside the extra-specialness of one single godlike man-child. 

All that is beside the point, really. The point is—if you're even slower to see the movie than I was, here's your SPOILER ALERT—that the one piece of this movie that seemed like a truly bad idea, for the Star Wars experience, was the climactic deep movie kiss between Rey and Kylo Ren. It came across as simultaneously pat and discordant. It was an imbalance in the Force, and by the Force I mean the essential positive vibes of the Star Wars experience. 

I'm mad that I even care about this. Fans spent way too much concern, in the course of the new trilogy, on the question of which characters should or shouldn't get together with whom. Relationship fanfic is even less my bag than expanded-universe novels are, and there have been only two plausible and interesting romances in the course of the entire nine-movie main arc and the two supplemental Star Wars Story ones: Han and Leia, and Baze Malbus and Chirrut Imwe in Rogue One. Probably Artoo and Threepio should count, too. But it's not a great generator of love stories. 

Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley in Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker

And people were going to be frustrated and disappointed by the resolution of Episodes Seven through Nine no matter what happened, because the filmmakers (working, again, in a fictional realm where it was difficult to bring off romance under the best of circumstances) had already—between slapdash narrative construction and unprecedentedly good chemistry among the actors—created too many romantic possibilities to sort out. Even someone interested in working out interpersonal relations would have had trouble coming up with an emotionally logical outcome that covered Finn and Poe, Finn and Rey, Rey and Kylo Ren, Rose and Finn, and whatever other pairings I've already forgotten about.

By the time they got to the end of the movie, they'd gotten rid of most of them, however clumsily. Rose got written out of the main story altogether, which was both an indefensible sop to racist and misogynistic fan complaints and a practical plot-mechanical choice, the way Obi-Wan had to die in 1977 before Luke and Han got off the Death Star with Leia: Four good-guy leads talking at once would be too busy. Poe got dealt out of the love game by giving him a beard, in the form of an old flame in a curve-hugging spacesuit. 

Adam Driver in Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker

That left Rey with Finn or Kylo Ren. Pair off the two nameless, marginal figures, bonded by their shared trials; or pair off the two very special Force-powered demigods, bonded by destiny? I had a preference, obviously, but I stopped expecting Star Wars to conform to my preferences long ago. The real problem was, the movie had already made one decision: a repeating bit in which Finn kept preparing to confess his feelings to Rey, only to be interrupted. Movie-trope logic says a thwarted effort like that has to eventually succeed, and the power of Star Wars is built on the fulfillment of movie tropes. 

And then she goes and kisses Kylo Ren instead: a passionate kiss, a fairytale death-kiss, the kind of conclusory kiss that rules out the outcome that the Finn parts of the script had been pointing toward. By the time it happened, it had the shape of the inevitable. Luke, down to his last proton torpedo and out of time, couldn't do anything but blow up the Death Star. Rey and Kylo Ren, alone together just shy of the brink of annihilation—what else could they do?

Daisy Ridley in Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker

Nor can you veto anything that ever happened in Star Wars because it's too corny and easy. And yet: it was too corny and easy. The story required some gesture of emotional consummation, yes, but one of the parties to that gesture was Adam Driver! Adam Driver spent all three of the new movies expanding the Star Wars performing aesthetic in new directions via weird yet legible acting choices, carrying Kylo Ren through the sort of arbitrary heel-face turns that had doomed a normie performer like Hayden Christensen a decade and a half before. If anyone was going to solve the script difficulty without resorting to a boring-ass Deep Movie Kiss, it would have been him. 

Instead, they went with it. It didn't even really make sense on the movie's own terms: at the very end, when Rey takes on her adopted patronymic, she's declaring that she's Ben Solo's first cousin! The original Star Wars trilogy settled its love triangle by sublimating and/or retconning Luke's hero-on-princess yearning for Leia into sibling love. Movies Seven through Nine created the same problem, and set up the same solution, but decided to land on incest instead.

Vanilla sandwiches in your grocer’s freezer


VISUAL CONSCIOUSNESS DEP’T.

Star Wars

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WEATHER REVIEW DEP’T

New York City, January 12, 2020 [no stars]

THE PROBLEM THAT came up with reviewing the weather, and came up more and more frequently over time, was that things that once had seemed to be unusual sources of joy carried with them an endlessly growing knowledge of dread. A 70-degree day in January long since ceased to register as a lucky dispensation or a sign of the world's capacity for unexpected delight, but as a sickly and obvious omen. Now the light outside seemed brilliant and generous the way a sun going nova is brilliant and generous. The thing to want to do was to let the warm air into the apartment, yet even that was not to be trusted. The wind rattled the blinds and slammed a door and added, to all the familiar fluting and shrieking sounds it raised from the building, a new one: a chattering and muttering like an approaching mob. A barista stacked a tall column of clear plastic iced-coffee cups by the register, as another worker in the back lost control, in a fumble or gust, sending hot-cup lids scattering everywhere. At the hockey game the night before, between periods, there was an exhibition game for climate awareness, accompanied by a video in which aging stars from Russia or Finland talked about how there wasn't pond ice to skate on, how rain was falling on them in January. The bowl of Madison Square Garden had been colder than the streets outside. It had all been too much and too late, and now the younger boy was logy and flushed with the onset of a fever. It should have been foreseeable.


RECIPES DEP’T.

WE PRESENT A selection of recipes for ancient but reproducible sandwiches, found in The Up-To-Date Sandwich Book: 400 Ways to Make a Sandwich, by Eva Greene Fuller; 1909; McClurg and Co., Chicago, now in the public domain for the delectation of all.

COUNTRY CLUB SANDWICH
Use three slices of white bread thinly cut and lightly buttered; place a lettuce leaf that has been dipped in mayonnaise dressing on lower slice, and on top of that place slices of cold boiled chicken; then put another slice of bread and a lettuce leaf followed by thin slices of veal loaf, topped by another slice of bread with thinly sliced pickles on top.

HAM AND EGG SANDWICH
Chop cold boiled ham and hard-boiled eggs fine, season with pepper and salt, and a dash of mayonnaise dressing. Place the mixture between thin slices of lightly buttered brown bread. Garnish with a small pickle.

CREAM OF CHICKEN SANDWICH
Take one cupful of chopped chicken and pound it fine; dissolve a tablespoonful of gelatine in a half-cup of cold water; then add the chicken meat, a dash of salt, a teaspoonful of grated horse-radish; stir until it begins to thicken, then add a little at a time, one-half pint of cream that has been whipped to a stiff froth; set in the ice box until very cold. On thin slices of lightly buttered white bread, spread the mixture; cut in fancy shapes and garnish each with a radish.

If you make one of these sandwiches, before you eat it, please send a picture to hmmweekly@substack.com


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