Oh God, not another think-piece about a certain pop-culture juggernaut and What It All Means. Well no, just what it all means to me.
2015 was a rocky year. It started with a glorious visit to Ireland with Darcy and his sister and her kids (a terrific group!) but the stress of driving across country from coasts to cliffs tore at all the usual strains in our relationship. As the bookshop continued to struggle, my personal finances got tighter and tighter and then, right in the weeks before Christmas, my wee dog picked up some intestinal infection that cut a third of her body weight. She’s getting better–taking steroids and eating egg whites, she’s now a bodybuilder–but it’s been a terrifying couple of months.
I spent much of 2015 feeling helpless and that’s not a good look.
But then, how many felt that way in 2015? Political cartoonist Matt Bors summed up the year with this:
Yeah, this year was really ugly for a whole lot of people so it’s hard to feel sorry for myself, especially when I have the privilege of being able to help people in my own small way. With my book column at DailyXtra, I can help promote the work of talented people and as the manager of Glad Day Bookshop, I got to connect visitors from around the world with stories and information and images that entertained and inspired them. I had long conversations with a nervous father trying to help his 13-year-old son come out of the closet, with an army medal-maker working through a history of sexual abuse from a priest, with queer Muslim kids excited to finally see their stories on the shelves, with a huge variety of trans men and women and genderqueers far more interesting than Caitlyn Jenner. I’ve been honoured to help whenever I can, inspired by the people I’ve met and so so lucky to have a job that means so much to me.
And yet my resolution for 2016 will be to leave. I’ve worked in bookshops for 20 years now, choosing happiness over money, and I’m good at what I do but I’m also watching Amazon strip-mine everything I love, Toronto is no longer an okay place to be fortysomething and broke, and maxing my credit cards on vet bills has proved a frightening Ghost of Christmas Future. I don’t know what to do next.
I happily gave some of my best years and energy to Glad Day and two other incredible but now defunct TO institutions–The Albert Britnell Bookshop and (to a lesser extent) This Ain’t the Rosedale Library–and in my darkest moments, I think: maybe the problem is me. Mediocrity is a tougher thing to face than outright failure, though I’m cheered by the above article noting,”While other independent book stores in the city fell like dominoes, Britnell reported record sales in 1998.” That was me, baby! But the scary middle-aged question lingers: did any of it matter? Decades later, I see that I may love what I do but if it isn’t loving me back, then it’s time for a change.
So what does all that have to do with STAR WARS? Everything. The movie deftly recaptured the past, remixing everything I loved about my childhood favourite, while creating a springboard to the future with its instantly endearing new characters, and I’m enjoying the mass cultural reaction to it. Yes, even the think-pieces, like this thoughtful back-and-forth over at PopMatters. What intrigues me, as I joked above, is the arguing over What It All Means, which can be summarized like this:
STAR WARS is a triumphant return to a galaxy far, far away!
STAR WARS is devoid of any originality, a mere copy of the original!
STAR WARS’ female and black heroes are a bold step forward!
STAR WARS enables grown man-children in their feebleness!
STAR WARS is a dream for a whole new generation of kids!
STAR WARS is merely a money-trough for the Disney corporation!
STAR WARS distracts our focus from the real world!
Oh good grief, stop your fighting. All of you are correct. STAR WARS is all these things and more. Like any Hollywood movie (or increasingly anything), it is art and commerce in one, with all the delights and concerns that combo always brings. All that matters is what it means to you and your family.
I went to see it opening night with Darcy. We hated waiting in line, because we are now old, but enjoyed the energy of the crowd and the kids in front of us being interviewed by CityNews and the movie was of course pure fun. Meanwhile, unable to resist a good tech toy (and flush with gift cards, Shoppers Optimum points and Darcy’s Indigo staff discount), we bought the Battlefront game for our XBox (SO PRETTY!) and the remote-control BB-8 toy, which delights as it should:
Then, Darcy ran out and bought a flying Millennium Falcon toy. I thought I was the nerd in the family but he often surprises me. Now, we are once again two delighted man-children with a little dog happily chasing a roly-poly robot about the living room. Thanks, STAR WARS!
On Boxing Day, I saw the movie again, taking my niece and father and stepmother and sister and her boyfriend out for a matinee. Thumbs up all around, along with much happy speculation about where Episode VIII will take Rey in her new adventures. Thanks, STAR WARS!
I loved Stephen Thrasher’s Guardian column asking how cool would it be if STAR WARS is now an Afrofuturist fable, and I loved Natalie Fisher’s Hypable column asking how cool would it be if dashing X-wing pilot Poe Dameron were a gay man? Yes, that would all be deeply cool but either way, it’s great that the movie, whatever its flaws, leaves enough wiggle room for us to imagine these things. As Thrasher writes, “we, the viewer, have a role in making the world we see on screen.”
I loved that the new STAR WARS sets Rey up as an ideal female protagonist (why should boys have all the fun?) and she’s smart, tough and likeable, yet would still be sitting around her desert planet had Poe not rolled his little droid her way, while Poe would likely have been tortured to death on the planet he later blows up had Finn not renounced his upbringing and rescued him during his escape. And none of them would’ve got very far had Han Solo and his Princess–sorry, General–not welcomed them as allies.
From what began as Luke Skywalker’s Hero With a Thousand Faces mythic lone journey, we now have a celebration of cooperation, teaching us and our kids that our salvation can lie with a single tiny girl, a black man who’s welcomed instead of feared, a military dude with an open heart, and an old white guy still doing what’s right. The movie is a bright, brash reminder than good can still win over evil but it’s all based on the choices we make together, the light or the dark. I hope to make wise ones in 2016, I hope people keep asking me for help and I hope I can ask others for it as I move forward. May the Force with be us, always.