In Space, No One Can Hear Your Engine Cavitation

19 March, 2006 at 11:43 pm (film, performance)

Went to go see the Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination exhibit at the Boston Museum of Science yesterday. I’ve been in Star Wars mode of late, really enjoying my nostalgic connection with the films. I dug out my Star Wars Lego sets from a couple of years back and reassembled them, noticing again how well designed they were and how old school the design was. Much of Lego’s current output relies heavily on the large, structural pre-fab elements that remove any resonance from the traditional term “Lego brick”. They are vastly un-brick-like. Rumours persist that this is because Lego had to design new and different building elements once their copyright on the traditional nubby blocks expired, and so in order to prevent their kits from falling into commercial obsolescence they have engaged in a number of marketing and licensing deals, and have increasingly built kits using their non-rectangular “bricks”. Whether this is completely accurate, it is one of the seeming failings of the upcoming Batman line of Lego kits, which seem flimsy and chi-chi, without the solidity of the classic kits. Amusingly, to further justify the bitterness of the prequel-hatahs, the Star Wars original trilogy Lego kits are largely designed like the kits that would have been their contemporaries in the 1980s.

Smithsonian Star Wars Exhibit - Leia and StormtrooperI had been to a Star Wars museum exhibit at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in 1998, and so I anticipated that this exhibit would be similarly enjoyable. However, except for the presence of an AT-ST, a jawa, an actual full-sized set-model of Luke’s Episode IV landspeeder, and some jedi outfits, there was little in this exhibit that I hadn’t seen before. Some artifacts and props were totally unfamiliar, and upon closer examination, I discovered that they were part of the world of design that underlay Episode III. How sad that I was so underwhelmed by the prequels that by the time it came to Revenge I wasn’t even paying attention to the world-building and prop and costume design that LucasArts has always done so well. Although, it must be said, the original trilogy was designed with the aim in mind that the used objects would have been well and truly used, that little would look clean or pristine. And the new films were designed at the apex of a civilization, with curves and opulence. And, frankly, I found it less interesting. The way in which an object wears and is distressed gives it a sense of history and tangibility. It makes it look less like a prop and more like a tool. And the little crater marks and dents on the Falcon and the landspeeder make them more interesting than any lovely Naboo creation.

One other thought on the exhibit: the gift shop had a number of t-shirts and hats and the like featuring the visage and color scheme of Darth Vader. Most of these were accompanied by various logos that spelled out “Vader” or “Sith” in gangland fonts reminiscent of tags and tattoos and tribal markings. And while this was relatively cool, I am totally bemused at the idea that The Empire, an ultimate expression of a monolithic Establishment, could be successfully sold as teen-friendly rebellious street-wear. S’all I’m sayin’.

Jaden Sumpthinorother, from JEDI ACADEMYAnd what has caused all of this fondness for the creative works of a man I had largely disavowed? Star Wars: Jedi Academy. I am now up to level three, and the difficulty level has progressed to the point where my ass is being handed to me by Sith on a regular basis. With the most recent upgrade to my powers, I had the option of sticking with one lightsaber and being able to wield it as strong levels, or to use two sabers simultaneously, or to use a Darth Maul-stylee dual-bladed weapon. Frankly, the hilt designs on the dual-saber were all terrible, but after fighting a bunch of Sith apprentices, I was keen on the idea of being able to see more than one color laser-blade while zooping about the maps. However, the fact that I can’t seem to defend myself with two blades, thus causing me to die shrieking every couple of minutes is causing me to seriously consider jumping back to a previous save point so that I can stick with one supah-strong blade.

But while working valiantly to get to my current stalemate, I was having a really good time. Despite the fact that I needed to consult the walkthrough about four out of every five missions at some seemingly impassible point — a mark of shame, as it clearly indicates that I could never buy a video game on its release date, as I would hit some intractable puzzle and have to wait a few weeks until someone else had taken the time to map everything out… how demoralizing — the gameplay and the action have been incredibly compelling. Wired magazine mirrored my opinions to a T recently when they pointed out that the best movies George Lucas has released lately have been Star Wars video games. The blend of sound effects and soundtrack, and the complex action sequences are exactly what I want out of a Star Wars film, and i have the ability to skip past the lame dialogue. These are the adventures I would have played in my backyard in 1980, with gun-shaped sticks and the occasional Mattel product. And that is a most satisfying nostalgia, far more fulfilling than trying to justify the failing vision of a once-inventive director.

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