Just a Few Thoughts on “The Force Awakens”

As somebody quite correctly said on Facebook recently, “Nobody on Facebook cares what you thought of Star Wars.”

Very true and quite right too.

This little Star Wars scribble is not intended to be a definitive critique or even a sensible opinion on the movie everyone has been talking about. It’s just my weekly word count on a subject where my mind has spent some time in the last week.

Sam and I didn’t get to see the new ‘Star Wars’ until the day before Christmas Eve. We pretty much started off our holiday with it. I had used every filter I could think of to avoid any talk, spoilers, or opinionating about the film (and look at me now, prattling on about it myself, 'hypocritical git) but Sam had been ‘spoilered’ by some lads in his classroom picking over the more intimate revelations of the plot. That was a shame but he was still intent on enjoying the experience.

Let me cut to the chase. I liked it a lot. We both did.

But I had one or two reservations... niggles.

First the ‘like’ part. It was like old times. It was gleaming and new in the places where it should have been and yet it remained retro and old in all the right places. There was emotional impact in the real world ageing of the returned central characters, something which helped me to almost believe that they really had been out there among the stars since the last time I saw them.

There was spectacle and wit and humour and nostalgia. It was good, really good. We came out pleased and satisfied.

A niggle? Here’s one. 

It seemed to me to be more of a Star Wars Tribute Film than a whole new adventure. It was how it might be if there was a pub act of Elvis Presley that was actually better than the real Elvis in every respect… except originality. Of course the new movie had to walk a line of giving the audience what they required, what they would demand. That was a given. But this film went so far with that… It was as if every scene from the original Episode 4 was jiggled ever so slightly and polished up. The threat looked and felt exactly the same, the set pieces were all unavoidably familiar. It was like Old Times. Very, very like Old Times.

Should I complain? I mean it worked brilliantly. I was entertained and a little moved and I even had a shiver or two up my spine, brought on by recognition and memory. But let’s give a little credit to George Lucas. When he went on to make the second trilogy, he may have failed in a number of respects but he went down trying. He was always striving to take us somewhere new in his Universe, always seeking to stretch out. This new offering is remarkable in how very little innovation it dares to bring. “Strap in Folks, we are going on an amazing, high octane, journey but, alas, it’s going no further than memory lane.”

Perhaps this was the opening gambit of a new trilogy that will bring us onward to places and challenges we have never imagined. Perhaps this was just the opening act, introducing us to the players, reassuring us that we are in safe hands. 

Maybe next time…

On a lesser point, I spent the film fervently wishing I was watching it in 2D. Alas the 2D option in my town will put you in a boxy little room with no sense of audience or occasion. The 3D annoyed me though, as it almost always does. No matter how they try, it always ends up looking like those gimmick stereoscopic disk viewers we had when we were kids. A couple of layers of perceived depth, unconvincingly overlaid for effect. Changes in focus over-emphasised and nothing of import being brought to the deal. Come back to the big screens 2D, we need you.

Finally, I thought the use of our Irish location, Skellig Michael, was astonishingly effective. I am aware of the issues with the protection of such a valuable place but, my golly, it looked good. I could see it becoming a movie visitors Mecca in the same way as those islands in Thailand which were used to such great effect in the Bond movie ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ so many years ago.

You can’t please everyone. If the new movie had not been as careful and reverential as it was, perhaps it would have failed and there would be no more. As it was, we were entertained and made to feel good and we paid out enough money to enable us to have another.

In the end, that’s a win.


His Name Was Joe

I’ve changed the names and the nicknames because it’s about a real person. He is long gone now but he was very real and very large and anyone from my town will know instantly who I am talking about, despite the name changes.

He was a feature in our town when I was a child and a teenager. An apparently strident, angry old man who seemed to be constantly at odds with everybody and every thing. People called him ‘Lockjaw’ because his face was constantly set in a rigid military grimace and his posture and gait was always painfully and exaggeratedly of the parade ground. Arms swinging, jaw set, he was the very model of a military man. If you wanted an image of him, he used to remind me a little of Fulton MacCay in the old TV series, ‘Porridge’

And lots of people mocked him for it. Not so much out of pure badness, I think, but for another specific reason.

Because he always reacted to it.

People would shout his nickname at him. “Hey Lockjaw!” or “How’s it Going, Lockjaw?” and he would stop what he had been doing, usually directing traffic, and he would shout angrily at the people in a hyperactive show of belligerence. He was one of those characters that every town has and he wasn’t always treated well by some of the people of his town.

I never shouted at him or taunted him, and I was never comfortable seeing it being done, but I never did anything about it either. It was just another fact of life in the town and it was something that would never change. I did tend to avoid him though, because I found his jerky rants uncomfortable and a bit bewildering. I just stayed out of his way. I was told that he was apparently caught up irrevocably in his wartime experiences and, in his mind, the war was still going on and discipline and respect were things which needed to be maintained at all costs. 

Before the day that my Father explained things to me, I only ever encountered Lockjaw close up on one occasion. We were teenagers of about fifteen or sixteen and we had spent a late evening at a friend’s house down close to the river. The house itself had always had some historical connotations and the laneway out of the grounds was dark and winding. On the way up the lane, Lockjaw stepped out from behind a wall and accosted us in a rather dictatorial fashion.”

“You lads are on the move late. What barracks are you out of?”

My friend Shane took the lead. He answered respectfully. “We’re out of Finner Camp, Sir, we’re just heading back now.” Shane was young but he always had leanings towards the army life and having being rejected by the Irish Reserve on account of colour-blindness, he is now a very high ranking officer in an International Force. Well done, Shane, I’m proud of you mate.

Lockjaw looked Shane up and down and considered him. Eventually he responded.

“Right. Good lad. Be on your way now before they lock you out for the night.”

We left him there in the lane, in the dark. I think he was standing guard on the big house. The moon hung full and bright in the clear sky and that may or may not have played a part in his being there.

We didn’t laugh or joke at the man’s expense as we made our way home that night. We just spoke a little about how sad it was that he was out there in the night, guarding against a long dead foe.

The turning point in my slender relationship with the man they called ‘Lockjaw’ came one day when I was coming out of the local hospital with my Dad. We had been visiting someone, I can’t remember who, and as we made out way out to the car park, we came upon ‘Lockjaw’ striding in. He always had a sticking plaster on his cheek. Whether there was a wound behind it, I never knew. Perhaps he was coming in to the ward to get it dressed.

We rather got in each other’s way, my Dad and Lockjaw and me, and he seemed to be getting flustered and annoyed. Before that could escalate, my Father spoke to him in a normal everyday tone. My Dad had been the Council Rent Man for many years and he knew a thing or doing about dealing well with people.

“Hello Joe,” he said, “how are you doing?”

Lockjaw looked at him and his angry eyes cleared.

“Hello, Eddie,” he replied, “I’m not too bad, how are you?”

We passed on. That was the full extent of the exchange but it was one that coloured the rest of my life and changed instantly how I try to deal with the people I meet.

“That was Lock-“ I started to say but Dad interrupted me.

“His name is Joe,” he said, “Joe Canavaun. If you talk to him nicely, he’ll talk back to you the same way.”

Every time I met Joe after that I called him by his name and, regardless of how annoyed or distracted he was, he would return the greeting gently, perhaps wondering who this slightly familiar young fellow was.

Is there a point to this reminiscing or is that all it is to it, an old story. Maybe there is a very small point. Something along these lines perhaps. We should deal with others as we would like to be dealt with ourselves. It’s not a new thought but I think it’s a true one.

There is also some gentle magic in knowing a person’s name and, more importantly, in using that knowledge kindly. 

I wish you a Happy Christmas and a fun and exciting 2016. 

I Didn’t Have Time for This

I didn’t have time for anything. This was just last Friday morning and I was rushing across the busy supermarket car park. I was hurrying back to my office because I had about ten different things to do and wanted to get them all done and that was patently impossible.

So I didn’t have any time to spare for anybody else’s troubles or woes or difficulties. I had to keep on plan, keep going.

Yet there, in the corner of my eye, was a trouble, a woe, a difficulty.

It was only a little dog, wet and muddy and bedraggled and evidently panicked. A Bichon Frise, albeit one very far removed from the coiffured blow-dry image one might hold of that breed. This little dog was running to and fro in the traffic, dodging under the advancing wheels of cars, stumbling, changing direction, then nearly getting squashed by the next set of wheels. It was the epitome of a little dog lost and nobody seemed to notice or care.

I noticed, and cared a bit, but I didn’t have time. I had to get these things done. If I got caught up in some pointless ‘little dog lost’ drama then I would lose any possibility of getting my things done. I couldn’t do it. A shame but that’s just the way it was.

I headed onward towards my office, the dog remained a tense white blur in my peripheral vision.

Then I thought about the window in my office.

The window in my office looks out on the car park. I imagined getting up there and looking out and seeing the little dog lying dead in the car park. Finally and inevitably killed by a mixture of panic and careless pre-Christmas driving.

I turned and went back.

The dog wasn’t easily caught. Its getting lost or abandonment or whatever it was had rendered it a little feral and it bared its teeth and snarled whenever I got close and implored it to come over. Each time it stumbled and ran off again, I feared I had driven it into the next car and played a part in killing it. It was this mounting fear that drove me to literally dive, full stretch, onto the dog and, in that way, rather harshly grab it.

Now what? 

I now had a soaking wet, squirming mass of canine existence in my arms, scrabbling mud and God know what else all over my coat. Where do I go now? What do I do with it? I was kind of at a loss for a little while. 

I sought out Noel, the friendly car park man, to see if he could find me a strong piece of string. He pottered off to see what he could do while I wandered round with the ever-squirming dog, trying to pat him reassuringly without really having a spare hand to do so.

I should, as an aside, say, without bragging, that I am really good with dogs. I was brought up in a home where we always had dogs around and I like them and get on well with them. For that reason, this little fella didn’t present much of a problem to me. I held on to him, reassured him, and eventually Noel returned with some sturdy orange twine. I tied the twine around the dog’s collar – there was no name or address tag – and let him back down on the footpath, now safely on a makeshift ‘lead’. 

As soon as he hit the pavement, an amazing change came over the little dog. Suddenly finding himself on the end of a lead, the little guy became sturdy and assured and really quite relaxed. He was obviously a dog that was used to being on a lead and, now that he was back there, the world must have seemed manageable and okay again. I walked him around for a bit, hoping that somebody might run up and claim him but that didn’t happen. It was time to get on the phone.

I called the Council Dog Warden’s office and they were very nice and helpful. They said that the warden would drive down and meet me in the car park in about fifteen minutes. So, for fifteen minutes, I walked the dog. 

Many people stopped me and chatted, “Is it your dog?” or “Oh, you caught him, well done. I tried and failed.” The dog had stopped being something to ignore and had once again turned into something to admire.

The Dog Warden, a lovely lady, turned up in her little white van with the twirling vent on the top. She petted the dog and checked to see if it was electronically tagged. Quite a long shot, I reckoned. The little machine gave a warm beep. There, on the display, was the phone number of the dog’s owner. The Warden decided to take the dog back to base, check it over, and contact the number on the phone. She asked if I would like to know how it all turned out and I gave her my number.

A couple of hours later, my phone beeped like the tag reader had done. The message said, “Hi Ken. Charlie, girl dog. Home safe and sound. The owner wanted me to pass on her thanks to you. Laura dog warden.”

I didn’t get all my work done. I’m going in this afternoon to try to finish it up. I don’t mind. Stopping and helping the little mite was the best thing I did on Friday by a long, long way and it made me feel useful and worthwhile and better about things. 

As is inevitably the case with these little things, I seemed to almost get more out of it than little Charlie did. 

Coming Home

Our eldest guy has just set off back to University in Dublin. A friend’s little car, packed to the brim with students and rucksacks and laptops and headphones. His first year away is going very well. He’s embraced the oddity of being somewhere other that home and being largely responsibly for his own food and upkeep.

(Photo by Napafloma-Photographe)

When he set off, a few months ago, I wrote a post about how his going reminded me of my own going and how difficult that had been, in many ways, probably due to my having just turned seventeen and having never been away anywhere before. Today it is his coming home that sets me thinking back to my own homecomings, all those years ago. The remembering instills a measure of empathy in me as I recall the bliss of arriving home very late on a Friday evening and the dull ache of setting off again far too early on the Sunday afternoon. Our dude isn’t displaying any of that that. He arrives with a smile and leaves with a smile, but I’d bet there’s a little lick of it somewhere.

For my own part, it is safe to say that I was homesick for a considerable part of my first year in college. Everything I reckoned I knew had been pretty much whipped out from underneath me and everything new seemed strange and oddly darker and colder than that which had gone before. 

I loved to head for home on a Friday evening. I got in the habit of skipping the last lecture on the afternoon and seeing whatever new film was opening in or around the city centre. Then I could get a quick Quarter Pounder with Cheese and hop the waiting coach in the middle of O’Connell Street. The journey took about four and a half hours back then, with the first hour being a desperately slow trudge out through the suburbs of Lucan and Palmerstown. The windows of the coach were invariably steamed up on the inside from the mass of homeward bound humanity within. The coach driver (always the same man) had a limited supply of cassette tapes and he would start to run through them when we cleared Dublin and the radio programming became more erratic. I reckon I could still sing all of the greatest hits of, first, Rod Steward and, then, Kenny Rodgers in the exact order in which they played each and every week. By ten o’clock, the sounds from the bus stereo always seemed to become hazy and less coherent, as if the atmosphere above the Roscommon Curlews were not conducive to any kind of modern technology. Dozy, exhausted, glass smearing, naps were attempted and, well before Sligo was achieved, bags were pulled down and held on laps in anticipation of a quick jump from the bus outside of the police station.

From there it was an easy ten minute walk home. Dad would have come and met me but the arrival time of the bus was highly variable and there were no mobile phones to warn of our imminent arrival. It was just easier to walk. It was quite pleasant too. Even on a typically drizzly night, the terraced houses and distant church seemed to gain a heightened, other-worldly, aspect perhaps in the same manner as Tom Waits’ pronouncement that he "never saw his home town 'til he stayed away too long". Five days had been too long. 

At home, the greeting was low key but highly pleasant. There was a prime seat in close to the fire and an excessive helping of freshly baked apple tart, a blob of cream, and a mug of over-sweet tea. I will fill in some details of the week, invariably accentuating the positive at every turn. Then the parents would turn in and I would have the warm living room to myself. I would stay up late to prolong the feeling. 

Going back on Sunday was okay but really not okay at all. The bus was there again in the car park. My friends would sometime wave me off and I would quietly and burningly envy them their leisurely return to their homes and their native beds. In Dublin by half ten or eleven, there was a half hour walk up through north Dublin to get to the house where I stayed. I would go to bed almost immediately and listen to a Dublin radio station on my tiny black plastic clad transistor radio. I would fall asleep to a silly DJ playing smoochy requests for teen city lovers and so the count would begin.

I started counting down to the Friday bus right from the moment I arrived. Tuesday night was the cusp of the counting, where the uphill part was peaked and the downhill run could begin. With Tuesday night over, three sleeps had been completed and only two remained. Although the week was not yet half over, it could be made to seem like it was by clever counting like this and I did it all the time.

Of course it wasn’t all misery and homesickness and longing. There was good times and fun and learning and new friends. But, basically, at the back of it all, there was the distant call of home and the overriding desire to follow the Kenny Rogers songs back to there and then never to leave again.