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Star Wars, George Lucas, and the Problem of the All-Powerful Auteur

Star Wars

So if you haven’t seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens yet, you’re missing out. Even if you’ve only been vaguely aware of the Star Wars universe, I’d recommend it because it’s a great start to a new arc of Force awesomeness. And one of the many reasons I’d recommend this new Star Wars is because of how immensely I enjoyed it. I’ve seen all six movies. I fall into the category of people who didn’t really enjoy the first three prequel episodes but definitely saw the magic of the original trilogy. However, what’s always bothered me about those first six movies is also what made them great: George Lucas.

I’ve only ever seen the re-mastered versions of the original three episodes with added CGI effects. It’s easy to tell the most obvious additions. They’re rather jarring, and I’ve always wondered what it would have been like to see those episodes without the additions. On the one hand, I feel for George Lucas as a filmmaker. He had access to so much more technology in the 2000s than in the 1970s and 80s. And by that time Star Wars was an empire of its own, and George Lucas had the power of a true auteur behind him. If he wanted to digitally enhance Chewbacca’s eyelashes he probably would have been allowed to. Which is where my problem with the prequels usually comes in. At this point in Star Wars movie-making history, the franchise was a success so like Peter Jackson and The Hobbit, more money and more effects were poured into the prequels. But that doesn’t always make the movie better. And very rarely does it actually contribute to a better story.

That’s the problem with the all-powerful auteur. George Lucas was genius in the inception of the Star Wars universe, but we can see all too easily how that power can go awry. Many people would argue the Ewoks in the Episode VI introduced primarily for merchandising purposes as an example of this. And while I think the Ewoks are adorable, when I learned that was one of their purposes in creation, I was sorely disappointed in how I’d been manipulated.

Which is why I think I liked The Force Awakens the best. George Lucas isn’t the director or writer. The movie as a whole feels like a love letter to original series while also continuing the story and setting it up for a blockbuster future. I didn’t feel manipulated by anything in the movie (except perhaps some references to the originals but that’s part of the fun!) I didn’t feel like it was a giant merchandising campaign. (Although I’ve seen some ridiculous “Limited Edition Stars Wars Mascara” advertisements that just seem silly to me. They make the wands look like lightsabers. Why?)

Part of me wants to be scolding and say, “George Lucas, you’ve lost your Star Wars privileges!” However, that doesn’t really do all that much good. I feel like the rule is more that an auteur with too much power is going to get in over his head eventually because Hollywood is ultimately about the money. If you want to make movies that really say something, you’ll have to accept the low pay, high-risk of the indie world. If you make something that truly lights a fire in the imaginations of the masses, you’ll eventually be pulled under the Hollywood, moneymaking bus. Your integrity is smashed to smithereens like nothing more than a speed bump!

I’m interested in the choice to have three different directors for this sequel trilogy. At first, I thought “But I like J.J. Abrams! Why can’t he do the rest of them?” But then, perhaps, this juggling of directors is actually a fail safe for the story. With a new director taking the helm with each movie, it might mean that they have to focus more on staying true to the themes, story, and universe they’ve been developing in this trilogy rather than inserting their own unique take on the universe. Or it could be a total disaster. Who knows? We can only hope!

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Why You Are Not Insignificant (And Other Thoughts On Why You Matter)

Not Insignificant

Do you ever feel insignificant in your world? Your job? Your friend group? It’s an easy thing to experience these days. People are used and abused for their talents or lack there of and very rarely appreciated. And I think we as a culture devalue ourselves when we do things that don’t seem overly glamorous.

I was reminded of this over the weekend as my church choir prepared for our annual Christmas cantata. It was the first time we sang the entire show all the way through and had someone outside of the choir running the controls. (Previously the pastor had been running back and forth between the computer in the back of the sanctuary and the stage to sing tenor.) It’s not that the job was particularly hard. Someone simply needed to stop the music tracks between songs for the reader to be able to add his narration. The most difficult part was probably starting the music back up on cue near the end of each narration. We employed a young boy from the congregation to help us, and I wondered as he sat back there more than likely bored out of his mind as we sang our hearts out, if he felt like he wasn’t doing much. Like in comparison it seemed like we were doing all the work. I mean, the choir had been the ones practicing for weeks. But what I knew (and really the whole choir did) was that this boy’s job of starting and stopping the music was so important to us. In my book, it ranked just as high as our practice. Maybe even more.

What he probably doesn’t realize is that doing something as simple and invisible as starting and stopping music seems astronomically important to us because we can’t do it. We’re up on stage with no controls nearby, but if that music doesn’t play or starts too early or too late, we’d be royally screwed up. We need him back there for us, and it was such an incredible relief to sing through the cantata for the first time with the music starting and stopping where it was supposed to! It was like a huge weight lifted off my shoulders as I realized that the music controls would be one less thing we needed to worry about.

All of this is to say that no matter how insignificant you think you are—in life, at work, with friends, in your family—I guarantee you that you’re worth so much more than you realize. The world is like a machine in a way and all the cogs and bolts and gears need to be in place for it to work correctly. We don’t always acknowledge or celebrate those bolts and screws—quite frankly, we take them for granted many times—but without them the machine wouldn’t work the way it should.

To me, it’s nice to be so gently reminded of the importance of all the pieces. It gives me a little boost of self-esteem because goodness knows do I ever feel insignificant at times! (Many times!) I hope as we go into the holidays, you’ll take the time to appreciate those small, insignificant-seeming things you and others do for the world we live in. They matter. You matter.

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Art, Depression, and Monsters of the Mind

Monsters of the Mind 1I started a blog yesterday that was pretty honest and raw about the rough time I’ve been having with depression recently. But it was SO raw, that I was a little afraid to continue writing it and post it. You all know I’m an advocate for honesty in my blog and vlog, but I think for now I have limits on how honest I can be. Just because I worry for my safety, career, and future when I post things like that. So instead, I decided to go a different route with how I’ve been feeling. I picked up my iPad and drew my feelings.

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I love art. I love drawing and painting and sculpting. I wish I had more time to devote to it so I could really hone my skills, and it makes me think that art should be one of my 2016 goals. Like instead of one blog a week, maybe one art piece a week with a short blog on my purpose behind it instead. I think that could be an interesting experiment, especially since one of my 2016 goals for my YouTube channel involves art/coloring as well.

But anyway, let me introduce you to The Depression Monster. He’s only one variation of the Monster. Monsters of the Mind are sneaky shape shifters. But today he appeared to me like this. Razor sharp bird claws, dead eyes, and tentacle-like arms that can reach out and find you anywhere. That can trap you, choke you, drag you back. He also has a grey and dreary aura that affects everything around him. Even the sun hides from him, and the flower die at his feet. He’s an all around miserable and misery-causing guy. But he’s also kind of cute in the oddest way so that you’re tricked into letting him into your life and feel guilty about kicking him out even though he’s very obviously making things unhappy for you.

He’s a plague. And tomorrow, he’ll likely look different so you won’t recognize him and let him back into your house if you managed to rid yourself of him the previous day. He’s crafty like that.

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How to Deal With Bad Things

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Over Thanksgiving this happened to my car:

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And I subsequently went into a meltdown that probably looked something like this:

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You see my car is pretty precious to me. Not because I’m a crazy car person (that’s cats!), but because it’s the first and only thing that’s ever been “mine.” I don’t have an apartment or a house or a dog or a husband or a child. I have my vlogging camera and that’s about the only other thing of real value that belongs to me. If someone smashed my camera I would be devastated, and similarly when someone backed into my car (accidentally!) I had a mini world rocking. I’d never had to deal with insurance before. I was afraid to tell my dad for fear of him somehow laying the blame on me. I was embarrassed that I would have to drive it around for a while with a big dent in the side because I felt like that dent somehow reflected badly on my character. (Like what kind of irresponsible person let’s their car get dramatically dented and then still drives it around?)

So we can say that I had to deal with a “Bad Thing” in the context of my life. In no way, was it the worst thing that ever happened to anybody ever, but it was certainly causing me a lot of strife. And we all have Bad Things happen to us. They don’t always look “bad” to other people, but to us, in our individual lives we have struggles and Bad Things and we have to find a way to deal with them. So I made this list:

Step #1: Go be by yourself and cry/scream/emote it out.

Emotions are natural. Suppressing your emotions is not. It’s best not to inflict your deluge of emotions on unsuspecting bystanders though. So take a little alone time and figure out your emotions.

Step #2: Be forgiving.

In my case, my boyfriend’s father hit my car. I could have been really mad and blamed him and held a grudge. But after my initial emotions ran their course, I realized there wasn’t any point in blaming anyone. I knew he didn’t mean to do it. And even if he had (which why would anyone do that?), it still wouldn’t do any good. It would just be me simmering in my own anger. In other cases, the person you have to forgive is yourself and this is just as important to do.

Step #3: Take it one step at a time.

You can’t do everything all at once. And you definitely can’t fix all the Bad Things at the same time. Many times we feel like we have to, but that’s just not feasible for anyone. So what do you do instead? Stay calm and put one foot in front of the other. Take one step at a time. And know that moving slowly but surely forward will get you to the end of the Bad Thing eventually.

I haven’t made it to the end of the Bad Thing yet. There’s still a dent in my car.   But I have an estimate from the insurance company, and it’s scheduled to go into the shop for the repair in January. Every step I take is new and scary for me, but I’m doing it! And I have so far successfully dealt with the Bad Thing. And I hope whatever Bad Things you’re dealing with will work out too!

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The Mindy Project Just Got Too Real

Mindy 1        This season on The Mindy Project has been interesting. First, it moved to Hulu which has caused logistics problems for people, but hey! It’s better than being canceled! And then we had the heroine/main character pregnant which is usually a sad plot device used to save the show because EVERYONE is interested in pregnant people, right? And then, once she’d had the baby, it seemed like the show was turning into a mom blog. But from the beginning there was an underlying uncomfortable feeling I got from the show regarding her love interest/fiancé, Danny. I’ve always loved Danny and Mindy’s relationship. I’ve been rooting for them from the first episode. And I understand Danny’s idiosyncrasies and his aversion to marriage and family because of his disappointing childhood and failed first marriage, but in the last season and a half or so, I’ve felt like I’ve been watching a different Danny. He’s true to his character, but I’m also seeing all his not-so-pleasant qualities in a brighter light. Which is something that I think this season has done well in revealing gradually but in a serious way which I consider a feat for such a ridiculous comedy show.

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You see, when TV shows want to break up a couple, they introduce trying circumstances that change characters so that they just don’t “fit” anymore. But the strife that’s happening between Mindy and Danny in this season is different than that. It actually feels too organic for a comedy. Danny has these old-world ideas about Mindy’s role as mother to their son which to him means her quitting her job as a gynecologist, leaving her newly opened fertility practice, and staying home with Leo. It also means having more kids NOW so that their children will be close in age. And while Mindy loves being a mother and did an incredible job of holding it all together while Danny was in California for months taking care of his sick father, she’s not ready to have another child or give up her just-now blossoming business. However, she’s also not been willing to be truthful with Danny about her discomfort with his ideas and pressures for their future. And this week, it went to the disturbing point of Danny tracking her ovulation cycles and getting her drunk on romantic dates in order to try to get her pregnant and Mindy going on birth control in secret. It culminated in an all too real fight in which Mindy points out that Danny defines everything she does as selfish but everything he does as selfless simply because he thinks she’s a very flawed person.

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It was a heartrending but glorious moment to see because amid the slapstick humor and witty banter, there have been several moments of true sadness in each episode this season. I’ve felt for Mindy in a real-world way that I don’t normally feel for TV comedy characters. Danny has some major flaws as a 21st century man, father, and potential husband. Looking beyond the “be a stay-at-home mom” and “your job/dreams aren’t as important as mine” pressures that he’s been putting on her, it’s disturbing how he feels that he needs to control every aspect of her life, even to the point of giving her things to do while he’s away in California (like selling her apartment). The stay-at-home mom and men’s-dreams-are-more-important rhetoric is common, but the overt controlling nature of the heroine’s love interest without a fun, laugh-it-away, everything-is-okay-by-the-end-of-the-episode resolution disturbs me.

Danny’s controlling nature is real life. Women fall in love with men who make them feel safe and loved and taken care of, have children with them, only to realize too late that they’ve traded their independence and free-thinking for security. It’s a sad reality of life for many women that I don’t think mainstream media seriously displays. Usually it’s just a temporary character flaw that can be worked through with tough love and laughs by the end of an episode. But we’re looking at some serious fundamental differences between Mindy and Danny that have extended through the first half of a season. Does this mean that the seeming “it” couple of the entire show isn’t “meant to be?” Does this mean Danny is a bad guy? Does this mean that The Mindy Project won’t end with a wedding and a happily ever after?

Mindy 6       I don’t know. But what I love about the The Mindy Project is that it’s making me as a viewer raise these questions in the first place. It’s making me feel uncomfortable about the relationship between the “heroine” and her love interest. It’s showing real women’s problems and dare I say it, even taking on a bit of a feminist tone. But then, I imagine the primary demographic for this show is women, so it might just be preaching to the choir.Mindy 7