Reflections on Forty Years of “Star Wars”

by Scott Cimarusti on May 24, 2017, no comments

Tomorrow marks the 40th anniversary of the initially limited release of the original Star Wars film.  So it’s been almost four decades since I was an imaginative, shy, and somewhat precocious seven-year old when my father took me to the Yorktown theater in suburban Chicago on a rainy Saturday afternoon in June.  I can still remember with eerie clarity watching for the first time the opening shot of the seemingly endless Star Destroyer looming overhead in pursuit of the fleeing Rebel Blockade Runner, and the accompanying bone-rattling rumble.

I can also recall laughing aloud with my dad when C-3PO and R2-D2 managed to make it across the corridor unharmed through a hail of laser bolts during the firefight between the Imperial Stormtroopers and the Rebel fighters.  I remember marveling at the imposing Darth Vader as he held the doomed rebel officer by the throat, his feet dangling off the floor.  I can still see the daunting expanse of the Tatooine desert as if it were the first time.  I remember being awestruck when Luke Skywalker first ignited his father’s lightsaber.  The dizzying cast of alien characters in the Mos Eisley cantina…  The fateful lightsaber duel between Darth Vader and Ben Kenobi…  The Millenium Falcon’s battle with the TIE fighters… I can still readily recall seeing it all as if it were yesterday.

And, of course, there was the suspenseful edge-of-your-seat Death Star trench run when Luke fires off the proton torpedoes into the thermal exhaust port (no more than two meters wide) after having switched off his X-Wing’s targeting computer and surrendering himself to the guidance of The Force upon the advice of Obi-Wan’s disembodied voice.  And back in that June of 1977, this seven-year old boy cheered and clapped right along with the rest of the theater audience when the space station exploded in a fiery ball.

For as fantastical as the film was with its exotic planets and otherworldly characters, it still seemed so immersive and real–and so relatable.  The scene when a discouraged Luke Skywalker stares off into the twin Tatooine sunset while the John Williams score swells still gives me chills forty years and countless viewings later.  I yearned to pilot my own X-Wing fighter (I still do), I wanted by own R2-unit companion (I still do), and I desperately wished for my own lightsaber (and, yes, I still do).

As that seven-year old, I had no concept of how Star Wars would quickly ensure its enduring place in our collective culture by redefining archetypes and somehow tapping into a widespread need for us as a society to return to the simple mythology of hope and heroes in the cynical post-Watergate and post-Vietnam 1970’s.  All I knew was that it resonated within me, and it was magic.  And it instilled in me a lifelong love for the power of stories–which I’ve tried to incorporate into my own humble attempts at writing and story-telling over the years.

So Star Wars became my obsession.  I got my hands on as many of the bubble gum cards and action figures as I could–scraping together my pennies when it wasn’t Christmas or my birthday.  I looked forward to the Sears holiday catalog every season for the multi-page spread of the newest Star Wars toys.  I eagerly awaited the subsequent sequels and repeated the cycle of collecting toys and merchandise.

As I grew into a know-it-all teenager, I found myself torn between clinging to what I then perceived as a childish pursuit and my evolving identity as an adolescent lumbering his way to adulthood.  I still kept Star Wars close to me, though–but at more of an arm’s length.  It wasn’t until adulthood that my passion for Star Wars was rekindled.  Perhaps partly because I no longer felt I had anything to prove anymore, but also because those retreats back to the simple wonders and perceived safety of childhood were a needed diversion away from the sometimes suffocating obligations and challenges of adulthood.  I still have my most treasured Star Wars collectibles on display, and my favorite movie posters adorn my bedroom walls.  (I even have a homemade custom-designed lightsaber hilt manufactured by my father that would rival the official replicas.)

As a parent, I’ve naturally introduced Star Wars to my children–a daughter and two sons–and they’ve been receptive (perhaps in part because they may have felt they didn’t have much of a choice).  And as they’ve grown older, they continue to remain patient and good-humored with entertaining my obsession (my recent birthday presents included a Darth Vader head mylar balloon and a Darth Vader toaster).  They’ve even been eager to join me at the latest round of films (The Force Awakens and Rogue One).  And I’ve had the unique and gratifying opportunity to take my father to these more recent films, as well.  This past holiday season, three generations of Star Wars fans watched Rogue One in the theater together.

Star Wars has resonated with me for many of the same reasons I suspect it has resonated with countless others.  At their core, the Star Wars stories are about the belief that there is more to life that what is usually readily apparent to us.  Star Wars speaks to the hero within all of us–no matter how unlikely of a hero we may seem even to ourselves at times.  Star Wars teaches us that none of us (even the villainous Darth Vader) is beyond redemption for our misdeeds or lapses in judgment.  Star Wars reminds us all that there is deep within us more than even we ourselves comprehend–that we are all capable of heroism, even the quiet heroism that usually goes unnoticed and unrecognized.

Put even more simply, Star Wars is about hope.

So to George Lucas and now Lucasfilm, I offer the sincerest gratitude from that seven-year old boy back in 1977 and the 47-year old quasi-adult now (and all the iterations in between) for welcoming all of us into that unforgettable galaxy far far away…

2016 Election Post-Mortem

by Scott Cimarusti on November 10, 2016, no comments

The last time I wrote in my blog, I’d expressed my desire to make yet another attempt at blogging/writing more regularly.

And that was over four months ago.

So why not try kickstarting my blogging and writing efforts once again by writing about the 2016 Election?

I’ve spent a great deal of time since the election processing Trump’s victory and reading various opinions about the outcome, and I’ve made the closest thing to peace that I can.  And I’ll explain why.

First, I’ll get it out of the way that I voted for Hillary Clinton.  Not because I truly believed in her–though I was impressed with her performance in the debates–but because I viewed her as the devil I knew rather than the devil I didn’t.  Which, by the way, is not the best reason for choosing a president.

The fact is, Trump somehow managed to convince a very naive segment of the population that he is not a part of the “establishment” that he so railed against during his campaign.  His rhetoric struck a chord with a significant segment of the population that’s been feeling ignored by the Obama administration–in the same way that Obama struck a different chord with a population that had grown fed up of eight years of Bush. On a side note, anyone who voted for Trump who actually believes that an egomaniacal billionaire reality TV star can relate to the average American and has the best interest of anyone other than himself in mind, is delusional and should start preparing to be very disappointed over the next four years.

Of course, the same could be said for most if not all of our career politicians–including Obama.  They are all so far removed from the challenges of “the commoners” that they are unqualified to truly represent any of us.

Here’s what I think will happen during a Trump presidency.  I think that once he actually settles into the job, he will begin to realize that it is infinitely more difficult than even he expected.  I suspect that even his massive ego will be at least somewhat humbled by the sheer magnitude of the job.  And he will quickly begin to understand that many–if not all–of his “revolutionary” ideas that got him elected will be more of a challenge than he previously thought.

To go back to Obama’s election and presidency as an example, he had some very grandiose and ambitious plans for his administration.  And while there’s no denying that he did manage to achieve some very noteworthy accomplishments, many of his campaign promises were gradually tempered by the constraints of reality.  Even his Affordable Care Act–which was to be among the crown jewels of his presidency–has devolved into a quagmire of bureaucratic inefficiency.  And I anticipate Trump experiencing similar challenges during his presidency–even when factoring in a Republican-dominated Congress.

The simple fact remains that the inefficiency of our monolithic government machine is an obstacle to whichever party’s candidate occupies the White House.  So, I expect Trump to have some difficulty in fulfilling the promises he made during his campaign–even his more ridiculous and outlandish ideas, like the wall between Mexico.

Looking back over many different presidential administrations, it would be difficult for me to identify any real significant change made by an administration that threatened to undermine a system controlled by the “powers that be” (not to be confused with our government; our government is merely a utility of a larger system).

The monster that is Donald Trump is a product of this same system and legitimized by the media–which is among the many tools employed to control the populace by keeping it fearful, divided, outraged, distracted, and–most importantly–consuming.

Which brings me to my biggest lament about the 2016 election: it is another victory of the ever-increasing anti-intellectual sentiment that pervades our society.

An informed populace would be too much of a threat to the aforementioned system.  So while our culture superficially appears to prize intelligence and divergent thinking (as long as doesn’t disrupt the overall agenda), our society also places a disproportionately higher priority on lesser intellectual pursuits like entertainment, fashion, and other more superficial pursuits.  Certainly the arts like music and cinema have their place in our society, as does athletic competition.  But it’s no secret that professional athletes, pop musicians, and movie stars earn astronomically more than the scientists, doctors, and teachers who are actually toiling in relative obscurity to improve the quality of our lives.

Like I mentioned already, I was by no means excited about voting for Clinton–it was more about voting against Trump, really.  But, I admit, Clinton at least had experience in government and knew how to debate properly.  She actually thoughtfully answered the debate questions posed to her, using reason and supporting arguments.  Trump could not truly answer a single question.  He instead dodged the questions, falling back onto his same, tired, inflammatory and fear-mongering rhetoric–and his audience lapped it up.

So, to me, Trump’s victory legitimizes anti-intellectualism or “The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle”, as described by author Chris Hedges. An era where pseudo-science, rumor, and gossip outrank provable facts.  Scientists and their scientific findings are regarded with suspicion–not a healthy and productive fact-checking skepticism–but a stubborn and narrow-minded willful ignorance.  “Intelligence” somehow became equated with “elite”–as if being smart is something of which to be ashamed.

One higher-profile example of this is the climate change debate.  To deny phenomena like climate change outright is to be willfully and stubbornly naive and ignorant–when the majority of scientists and their evidence supports a profound and unprecedented change in our global climate.  Whether climate change is as doom-and-gloom as it’s been presented to us by the aforementioned fear-mongering media, it’s difficult to say.  But there is at least something to it that is worth acknowledging.

Another example is how parents ignored medical advice based on scientific studies and stopped vaccinating their children on the recommendation of Jenny McCarthy, a former Playboy Playmate. Celebrity opinion carries more weight than scientific proof.

During the campaign and the debates, Trump could spout off any manufactured statistic, and even when called on his blatant misinformation, he avoided any accountability. It was almost as if his audience wanted to believe his half-truths or outright lies because they supported the narrative of victimization they wanted to rally behind.

Most Trump detractors fear that racism, bigotry, xenophobia, and homophobia will all find validation in a Trump presidency.  And to this, I would argue that such sentiments have never needed validation by anyone, including a sitting or former president.  Ever.  An African-American president did little or nothing to reduce racism–in fact, I would suggest that it might have even strengthened it among certain more resentful segments of the population.  Same for bullying.  Bullying never needed presidential approval, either.  And the media has only stoked these fires to ensure everyone remains afraid, suspicious, and consuming.

I’ll add that one thing I will lament most about a Trump presidency is the shift away from inclusiveness.  I’m an inclusive person by nature–which is why I have no place in politics and a disdain for organized religion.  The overall admittedly sometimes superficial sentiment of inclusiveness that we have enjoyed during the Obama years will be going away.

As far as Trump’s war-mongering…  I have no doubt that part of the damage he will inflict during his presidency is diverting even more money toward an already over-inflated military budget at the expense of social programs.  At the same time, though, I expect one of Trump’s harsh realizations upon taking office will be how stretched-thin our military really is.  So his plans for wielding America’s military might across the globe will have to be tempered by reality–even if he does inflate the military budget even more.

On a related note, many Trump detractors have expressed fears about Trump abusing drone strikes, illegal intelligence gathering, and fostering anti-whistleblower sentiment.  But I would argue that those trends would have continued unabated in either candidate’s administration.  That has been among Obama’s greatest hypocrisies, in my opinion–and one about which I’ve been most disappointed.

And I have little doubt that a Trump presidency means a continued rise in the trend of militarizing local and state police.  But, again, this went largely unchecked during the Obama administration.

The reality of it all is, very little–if anything–happens outside of the agenda of the “powers that be” (again, not to be confused with our government).  Our government and the media and the banking system are all tools employed to keep the populace under control through false institutions.  So whoever occupies the Oval Office makes only so much difference, really.

I often resort to the pendulum analogy when trying to understand politics.  Back in 2008 when Obama won his first election, the pendulum swung dramatically away from its place during the Bush years.  Now, in 2016, it has taken another dramatic swing in the opposite direction.  Those of us who embrace a different value system other than that of a Trump administration can only weather the storm until the next election and hope that pendulum will then swing back the other way.

A Lesson in Humility

by Scott Cimarusti on March 11, 2016, no comments

Yesterday I received a present in the mail from a friend of mine.  I was her supervisor when she was a student employee several years ago, and we’ve thankfully still managed to stay in touch over the years in spite of geographical distance.  I served as a job reference for her shortly before and after she graduated when she was embarking on her professional career–and I was more than happy to do that for her.  I’ve always found her to be a brilliant, personable, diligent, enthusiastic, and charming person, and I would still recommend her to any prospective employer without hesitation.  Lucky for her, she has plenty of other people to use as job references these days.

She and I both share common interests in books, movies, and TV shows, so we are never at a loss for topics of conversation.  So several years ago, when I completed the first of my two self-published novels, I gave her a copy because I was interested in her feedback, since I respect her opinion.  Because of the sincere person she is, she was naturally very complimentary and supportive of my writing.

We’ve both been encouraging and supportive of each other in our respective endeavors over the years–hers being art (she is a gifted artist–more on that shortly) and music.  She also recently made a decision to consider some more divergent career paths, which I have also encouraged–because I have no doubt she’ll be successful at anything she sets her mind to.

So, back to the present I received from her yesterday.  This is what she sent me:

Photo Mar 10, 4 59 42 PM

It is a passage from my first self-published novel, The Last Archer of Laummoren, and the photo doesn’t do it justice.

When I opened the package, I had no idea what to expect–and never would I have imagined that she would have devoted so much of her time and talent to something like this for me.  I’ve never received such a thoughtful gift ever before from anyone–not even my ex-wife, to whom I was married for over sixteen years.  I was literally humbled.

Hence my lesson in humility.

I’ve reached a point in my life, based on events the past several years, where I’ve started to wonder if I can be surprised by anything anymore.

The generous gift I received from my friend yesterday is proof that I still can.

And it is that gift–almost as much as the gift itself–that I truly appreciate.

Thank you, Stephanie.

Revisiting a Previous Post

by Scott Cimarusti on July 29, 2015, no comments

Revisiting some memories today on what would have been my mother’s 75th birthday. 

From a previous blog post:

My mother and I did not share many common interests, but to her credit, she did her best most of the time to try to relate to me. As a child of the 70’s–and male–I became fascinated with the movie, Star Wars when I first saw it in the theater at the impressionable age of seven. Not a fan of science fiction–or fiction in most of its forms–my mother patiently indulged my obsession from a comfortable distance. But her lack of appreciation for the movie and its sequels did not prevent her from many a thoughtful gesture. For example, I remember coming home from school one day to find that she had bought me a Star Wars item that had somehow escaped my notice up to that point: bubble gum cards with images from the movie. The brittle pink stick that came with the cards resembled gum in only the vaguest sense, but we aspiring collectors couldn’t be less concerned with that–it was the numbered and color-coded cards we coveted. Even though I wasn’t with her in the grocery store that day when she bought them for me, I can still picture her now in my mind’s eye, a hint of a smile on her face, knowing how much I would enjoy such a simple thoughtful gesture. Little did she know that I would quickly become an avid collector, dumping a considerable amount of money into a relatively harmless hobby. But even had she known, it still wouldn’t have stopped her. I still have those cards, stored in clear plastic sleeves enclosed in a binder on my closet shelf. And I have her to thank for that memento.

Another Star Wars-related memory about my mom… When I was ten years old, I remember accompanying her on a shopping trip to the K-Mart near our house around the time The Empire Strikes Back was about to arrive in theaters. I stumbled upon an aisle in the toy section filled with action figures from the yet-to-be-seen sequel that I had been anxiously awaiting. I remember feeling overwhelmed–and, I must admit, almost intoxicated–by seeing my beloved characters in new costumes, accompanied by mysterious and intriguing new heroes and villains portrayed in plastic. And again, my mom patiently indulged my obsession by agreeing to buy me a few of these new action figures to add to my already impressive collection. And on a later trip to that same K-Mart, I can remember her relenting and buying me a new X-Wing Fighter to replace the one that had seen better days from the exhaustive regimen of daily activity it was subjected to by me. I remember noting how expensive of a purchase it was for her, but that didn’t stop her from yet another thoughtful and loving gesture on her part–knowing how happy it would make me.

Believe it or not, my mom even agreed to accompany my dad and I to the theater for one of our many subsequent viewings of Star Wars (in the days before home video)–despite the fact that she had little or no interest in seeing it. Even as a seven- or eight-year old boy, the selflessness of her gesture was not lost on me–even though I think it was several trips to the concessions counter that helped her pass the time that Saturday afternoon. Though I do remember her laughing uproariously at the cantina scene, for some reason…