Star Wars is Ridiculous and We Are All Ridiculous For Liking It

babystormtroopers

Eeeeevery once in a while, Reddit produces something good. About a week ago, a user in the Star Wars subreddit posted a gif highlighting a particular background Mon Calamari actor in Return of the Jedi who was apparently given the direction “look confused“, and stuck with that strategy throughout the Battle of Endor. The gifs quickly jumped to Star Wars Twitter, and we all had a good laugh. Totally pointless little detail, but it brightened everybody’s day for a moment.

It called to mind an old memory of mine from way back when The Phantom Menace came out. As the first, and weirdest, Star Wars prequel, TPM was notable for just how little context we had for everything that was happening—far more so than for The Force Awakens, even. So it was that I (or maybe a friend I was with?) noticed the little PK droids in the background of the Trade Federation battleship and said “oh look, baby stormtroopers!” Obviously that wasn’t the case, but the notion that stormtroopers began life as these little dudes who did grunt work for the Trade Federation has stuck in my head all these years. To this day, I can’t help but notice them in the background and smile to myself, though no amount of explaining could ever really get across to somebody why I find them so amusing.

Star Wars is rife with little things like that; moments of whimsy, as George would say. And with all the weighty developments both in- and out-of-universe lately I thought it’d be fun to lighten up for a moment and ask the others: what’s the one little detail in the films that cracks you up every time?

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Ben W: The stormtrooper whacking his head always makes me smile, but even more so does Jango doing the same in Attack of the Clones. It’s such a silly little detail, to have what was obviously a mistake in the first movie get an homage so far in the future, especially something that makes the badass Jango Fett look like a bit of a klutz. It’s right there with Kit Fisto’s cheesy, shit-eating grin as my favorite parts of that film.

This probably doesn’t count, since it’s something some friends of mine and I came up with, but it’s still funny for me. When the Blu-ray saga set first came out we did a marathon watching session, all of the movies in numerical order with only ten minute breaks in between. Thus, by the time we got to ESB, it was late in the day and we were a bit slap-happy. We got to the scene where the Falcon is stuck in the asteroid and Leia is fixing something before Han goes to find her (right before the kiss that Threepio interrupts). One of my friends insisted that what she was fixing looked like a public bathroom’s paper towel dispenser. Thus, when she flipped the switches and then hit the controls to see if whatever she was fixing worked, someone shouted out “paper towel!” Rocky Horror-style and everyone lost it.

If we’re talking purely the films, then here’s another big one for me: every minute of Ian McDiarmid’s performance in Revenge of the Sith, especially after the confrontation in his office between him and Anakin. From the moment the curtain rises on that film he owns ever scene he’s in, and once he is outed as the Sith Lord he just absolutely devours the scenery, the sets, and everything else and is so thoroughly and totally evil it’s a pure delight. From the ridiculous forward roll he does while roaring just to jump over his desk, to the amazing faces he makes throughout his fight scene with Mace, to the positively orgasmic “Goooooood, goooooood.” Even leaving aside the “Unlimited POWAH!” moment, his performance is one of my favorite in the entire saga just for that over-the-top hamminess that only a trained Shakespearean actor can really pull off. Most of all, in a film that is very dark and serious through most of its length, he’s fun, an aspect that had to be intentional since Stover captured it in his novel as well. “Happy Empire Day!”

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Ben C: Rebel briefings have always generally failed to do what they’re meant to: they are supposed to be serious meetings, concerned with life and death matters. Unfortunately, due to what those matters consist of, often the destruction of a Death Star by a quite ludicrous method, they don’t entirely nail it. Yet, it is one of the aspects of Star Wars I love. You get some authority figure telling a load of hot-shot pilots that yes, they can destroy a moon-sized planet-killer with a couple of bombs and no one, absolutely no one says: you’re taking the piss! Sure, there’s the obligatory invitation-to-explain-the-method-of-destruction expression of skepticism, but after that? They’re all fine. All of them.

Now it might be said that all the more sane-minded individuals have already legged it, which is probably true. Those that remain are committed and know the Empire’s not out to take prisoners; they are locked in. One of the things the novelization of A New Hope did, along with the radio play, is add to the briefing scene by giving Wedge a very acid put-down:

It’s a great little touch that elevates it just enough.

By Return of the Jedi Lucas had clearly decided to outdo his first film’s insane antics. Now it was no longer enough to simply fly a snubfighter against a moon-sized planet-killer. No, now the plan is to fly said snubfighter inside the partly constructed planet-killer, find its reactor, blow the shit out of it and then out-race the resulting explosion! This time it might be said, what reason does the Rebellion have to think there even is a route of sufficient size to fly a fighter down, never mind Han’s fat bastard freighter? No one asks that, instead trusting that the Empire has not stuck a globe of steel around its reactor – which would be quite reasonable given what happened to its predecessor!

Instead everyone is just coolly laid back going: Yeah, we can do that, smoke us a kipper, we’ll be back in time for breakfast!

And yet, both of those sequences work brilliantly despite the ludicrousness, or maybe it’s because of it. Actually being more serious in both scenes would kill the movies. The films would become too bleak. They need this lighter element, this utter nuttiness that Rebelion pilots embody. It is utterly ridiculous. It is utterly excellent.

idontlikesand

Rocky: Dialogue in the Star Wars universe is just plain funny at times. I’ve come to love it for the sake of the moments that make me giggle, all the little things that make me wish someone would give the movies the Rocky Horror Picture Show treatment with callback lines. What else can you say for things like “I hate sand” or “You came in that thing? You’re braver than I thought.”

For me, the funny dialogue doesn’t mean anything about writing quality or that there should have been dialogue that fit better with a space opera on a grand scale. To me, it means that it’s a series I can enjoy. It’s funny and outrageous and sometimes you can’t help but laugh. Our heroes might be in the middle of a pitched battle, about to be fed to wild beasts, but instead of panicking, “she seems to be on top of things” is just the right pun to make. This sense of humor is vital; otherwise we’d be telling a story of war and horror, and the comic relief makes it flow all the better.

At some point, I’m going to gather a few friends and put together a good set of callback lines for some of the Star Wars movies. You know they’re just begging for it.

atatversussomeguy

Jay: I really love that part in ESB where General Veers says “target, maximum firepower” and then his walker proceeds to shoot this individual soldier on the ground before it fires at the actual shield generator. Like, seriously, Veers? Gonna aim a full-power blast at some dude? I know he’s a Rebel and all, but dang…

It’s clearly not intentional. And it’s clearly not what’s happening. The walker’s “ear” guns aim at the soldier, while the more powerful “chin” guns fire on the generator with a more robust sound and thicker laser beams. But unless you’re really looking at the appearance or sounds of the pew pew, or you’re familiar with (after-the-fact) supplemental material about walker guns, it just looks like Veers had the guy shot with the full force of the walker’s gun.

It’s something that seems such extreme overkill to speed right past vicious and go straight to the absurd. And it’s honestly more fun than the actual explanation that Veers was directing the main gun all along. It’s not a mistake or an error at all, but it’s such a delightful misconception that we might as well go for it.

Perhaps Veers was really upset that they’d tripped some of his walkers? Or he didn’t like the idea that they would flee from him and he wanted to take them out first? Perhaps he recognized the individual Rebel soldier and finally got the upper hand of a life-long grudge?

Even though it should be called a viewer misconception rather than a goof, plot hole, or intentional joke, it’s still pretty darn funny. At least to me.

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Mark: I love – unashamedly and unapologetically – Chewbacca’s Tarzan yell in RotJ. It’s utterly ridiculous, and a reminder that although the backdrop of Star Wars is a galactic war, we shouldn’t take any of it too seriously. If you want gritty realism, you now have Rogue One; RotJ takes place in a fairytale world of withered sorcerers firing lightning bolts from their fingers and a giant slug hiding a monster beneath a trap-door. Yet the Tarzan moment doesn’t at all undermine the heartbreaking death of a teddy bear a few minutes earlier, or the dramatic confrontation between father and son on the Death Star. This ability to move us, excite us and make us laugh at its absurdity – and sometimes do all three at the same time – is what makes Star Wars, well … Star Wars.

I don’t just enjoy the moment itself, though – I always have a chuckle imagining the head-shaking, eye-rolling and groaning it is always met with, too. I’ve seen genuine fury: that this was the moment Star Wars became “stupid” (as if it had never engaged in broad comedy before) and that it “takes you out of the movie” (as if, before this, they really believed they were watching real footage of a real galactic war). This kind of anger about trivial, fun little things usually makes me, out of pure bloody-minded defiance, love them all the more. And it makes me love George Lucas all the more that he was (surely) aware of the reaction to the Tarzan moment, and decided to double-down by putting one in Revenge of the Sith anyway.

Laughing at moments of silliness, dodgy dialogue and rickety special effects is part of being a fan. If we can’t have fun with Star Wars, what can we have fun with?

4 comments

  1. Palizinha says:

    Oh, for sure. Like, this always takes me back to when I watched Bombad Jedi for the first time, and I’d never seen a single SW thing (besides the LEGO SW games, I adored those) and my first thought after the episode was over was “this is so ridiculous, I love it, I gotta keep watching this show”.

    Star Wars is a mix of loads of things, and it’s ability for the ridiculous is one of my favorite things about it.

  2. Eric Brown says:

    My favorite… moment… in Star Wars came in the IMAX version of Attack of the Clones. They had to cut the film time to work with IMAX projectors of the time. They made some interesting cuts.

    So, we know the scene where Anakin and Padme are talking by the lake, and Anakin tries to be coy, and he says, “I hate sand,it’s coarse and rough and gets everywhere… not like here. Here things are soft….” and he caresses Padme and they kiss… awww.

    Until you watch it on IMAX. They cut the scene down a bit.

    Anakin: “I hate sand. It’s coarse, and rough, and gets everywhere.”
    Then Padme instantaneously turns and kisses him passionately.

    I was expecting trashy saxophone music to kick in. Just changed the tenor of that scene a bit.

  3. John says:

    The perfect antidote for the contemporary obsession with “serious,” “for adults” speculative fiction! I thought one of the better aspects of The Force Awakens was it’s ability to capture this level of zaniness (Finn and Poe’s escape; BB-8; everything Maz; the attack on Starkiller). Here’s hoping for many more ridiculous adventures in the future!

  4. Anakin’s dialogue in episode 2 is perfect. He’s 19, he’s trying to flirt, he has no idea what the hell to do so just makes an embarrassment of himself. He’s much more confident in his early 20s.

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