So by this point anyone who has any kind of emotional investment in Star Wars has probably seen The Force Awakens, at least if my Facebook news feed is anything to go by. The internet is covered in outpourings of enthusiasm and joy varying from lots of declarations of how amazing the film was to tearful platitudes about how Star Wars has been reclaimed from the dastardly clutches of its own creator. And hey, I’ll be the first to say that there is a hell of a lot that the film gets right and as far as charting a clear future for the series, it does a good job. But… I didn’t love it.
And from here on I’m spoiling stuff, so leave now if that’s of concern.
Star Wars has always been pretty important to me, as it is for a lot of people. I saw the original trilogy at six years old in 1997 when the special editions were released, and each prequel coming out in subsequent years was a major event. My friends and I obsessed over Attack of the Clones, thinking it was just about the coolest thing ever and the release of Revenge of the Sith was a massive deal for me, rivalled only by the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. And before anybody laughs me off for saying I enjoyed the prequels, consider the fact that there is not a single thing you can say that hasn’t been said already and furthermore I don’t care; I love the prequels even while being aware that they’re terrible films because such is my love for the world and mythology of Star Wars. Every new venture into that universe was so intoxicating and exciting to me, enough to turn forced love stories and clunky dialogue into minor quibbles.
But, even liking the prequels didn’t mean that the prospect of a Star Wars film that promised to get back to basics, to restore the real sets and props as well as the zippy, fun tone of the original trilogy wasn’t just about the best thing I’d ever heard. As more and more pre-release glimmers of information hinted that we were about to get something that tapped into what initially made Star Wars so special, I let myself get totally caught up in the anticipation. Let me stress; I didn’t need The Force Awakens to be the best thing ever. A franchise like Star Wars is impossible to view objectively, and I would have settled for a fun film that made me feel like a kid again. I didn’t need much more than that. And I guess I got that… kind of.
The Force Awakens is a lot of fun. Anyone who’s ever seen one of my plays knows that I loves me some banter and quips, and this film was overflowing with them (courtesy of returning Empire Strikes Back screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan). Plus, the new characters had charisma and chemistry to spare and watching Rey, Finn and Poe Dameron bounce off each other was great fun and really promising for the future. For the most part Han and Chewie’s return managed to walk a fine line between feeling like a throwback yet also like a logical continuation of where these characters would end up given the events of the years since last we saw them, and I loved how they interacted with the newcomers.
But for me, Han’s return was where the cracks in this film begin to show. In some ways J.J. Abrams had an impossible task; he had to not only bring back and pay homage to beloved characters that have lain dormant for thirty years, but also forge a clear path forward for a new generation and give us a reason to care about the fresh faces, all the while making sure that everything we’re seeing feels like Star Wars. The newcomers were a resounding success, the rest, not so much.
One of the most exciting things about this film was the promise that we would catch up with old friends. And while we got plenty of Han and Chewie, the rest of the returning cast were terribly underused. Carrie Fisher had little more to do than exchange awkward exposition with Han before looking mildly miffed at his death, while the much touted mystery of Luke Skywalker’s whereabouts was resolved with what amounted to a five second cameo. We didn’t even get to hear him speak. And yeah, I get that that’s being held off for the next film, but you know what? The reason A New Hope, for me, is still the best Star Wars film is that it tells a complete, satisfying story while leaving the door open for further adventures and considering the fact that The Force Awakens was basically just a remake of that film, it’s disappointing that it was more focussed in setting up the future of the franchise than in telling a solid story in its own right. The ending of A New Hope always has me grinning from ear to ear. The ending of The Empire Strikes evokes a sense of determined optimism in the face of overwhelming odds. For fuck’s sake, even Revenge of the Sith leaves me with something of a melancholy feeling. But The Force Awakens was strangely empty, like I got to the end and felt neither satisfied by what I had seen or desperate for the next instalment. And that is a big, big problem.
It was in the last third that the film really fell apart for me. The fact that the First Order’s whole plan hinged on what basically amounted to ANOTHER goddamn Death Star was really disappointing. Yeah, great, you blew up a planet. Star Wars films have been doing that since 1977; come up with something original J.J. And on that note, I’m sorry, but Han Solo, one of the most iconic characters in cinema history, deserved his own iconic death, not a blatant echo of Obi Wan’s. Killing Han was a HUGE moment but in trying to emulate another classic scene from the original film it lost so much for me, and was weakened even more by the fact that we didn’t even get time to mourn the loss of a beloved character before we were plunged back into more action and chaos.
The alchemy that made the original trilogy sing lay in the way it combined thematic weight and powerful mythology with likeable and believable characters that we could root for. The failing of the prequel trilogy was too much of the former ingredients and none of the latter. This new film almost has the exact reverse problem.
I went into this film feeling so much excitement, ready to like it no matter what. I walked out feeling not very much at all. And even the worst Star Wars films never had that effect. In almost every way The Force Awakens is a better film than the prequels; it’s pacier, it’s funny in a way that isn’t forced, it’s straightforward, it’s full of great characters and yet it just feels shallow, like it coasts on cheap nostalgia and fun action rather than a real engagement with the rich mythos it wants to build upon.
Well, I’m waiting in the departure lounge and my America trip is just about over. At this point, there isn’t much left to say that I haven’t already said. My last two days in LA upheld the brilliant standard of meeting after meeting and a general feeling of being in the middle of some kind of crazy dream. So far, nothing is concrete, but things are very, very exciting.
It’s weird; on the one hand it feels like this trip was over in a heartbeat, but at the same time it’s as though I’ve been away for years. I guess that’s the thing about having been as busy as I have been. So much has happened that the last two weeks simultaneously feel like a lifetime and like a blink.
Am I ready to go home? If you’d asked me a few days ago I’d have said yes. If you’d asked me yesterday it would have been an emphatic no. Now, well it’s a bit of both. Don’t get me wrong; I have zero desire to return to repetitive working life, but on the other hand, I think I need to get home to really take stock of what has happened and get a clear idea of what the way forward looks like. But man, it feels bright. It hit me this afternoon as I was trying to get all reflective about my trip that I’m still so early in the career I’m trying to make for myself and, all going well, this will only be the first of hopefully many trips to America. I’m not really feeling wistful about this being the end of something, more just excited about it being a beginning. America has left me in a state of renewed passion, bursting with ideas and itching to get started on whatever happens next. Which I suppose was the whole point.
I won’t pretend it was a perfect trip. There was plenty that was stressful or frustrating and some things from back home weren’t going smoothly and cast a bit of a pall over some of the days I had here. But I’ve never strived for perfection; to me perfect is a synonym for boring, and if there’s no bad with the good then there isn’t really a story to tell when it’s all over. But what I’m coming back home with is a lot of really happy feelings, some great new friends and a deep sense of mingled satisfaction and anticipation.
Plus, it’s not like Melbourne represents some bleak reality I’m returning to. Mel MacDuff, the webseries I’ve been working on with some friends from VCA is about to commence shooting, my new play, The Lucas Conundrum has started rehearsals and ought to be a lot of fun and of course, my first properly published novel, Boone Shepard is coming out in March and man, I cannot wait. I saw the first draft illustrations the other day and since then I’ve been in a state of almost perpetual giddiness. This is a real thing that is actually happening and the excitement I feel can’t be understated.
2015 was a funny year. For most of it I felt like I was in a holding pattern; doing the same things over and over again, hoping for any kind of breakthrough and dealing with a niggling fear that getting anywhere with my writing was still a long way away. But then things blew up and now I honestly feel like a different person. It’s a whole new chapter and I could not be more ready.
Lastly though, I just want to throw out a huge thanks for all the support I’ve had from you all over the last few weeks. Everyone’s kind words have been so humbling and have helped make this trip just that much more special. It’s really something to know that your friends and family back home are rooting for you, and your unending support is something I am so grateful for. So thank you all. It’s meant the world to me.
Anyway, enough rambling for now. See you on the other side.
Touching down in LAX last night gave me almost immediate Vietnam flashbacks; vivid and painful recollections of the seven excruciating hours I spent wandering through it back at the start of my trip. It’s only been ten days, but that feels like a lifetime ago.
Anyway, lucky me, it seems that that initial experience was only the start of the trauma that dear old LAX had in store for me. Unlike JFK, which has frequent trains that can take you directly to Manhattan, getting anywhere from LAX is a little more complicated. There was one bus that would take me to Hollywood, to only one location and at the time of my arrival there was only one more scheduled for the day. So I settled in to wait for it with no clue whether it would take me anywhere near to my accommodation.
Here’s the thing; the only place to wait for that bus is on a narrow traffic island just outside the American Airlines terminal. And, as it transpires, the day after the Thanksgiving period is a rather busy time at an airport. I had thought that Manhattan was an, unpleasant and aggressive place. Compared to LAX at 10pm the day after a holiday, it’s a lovely, docile city of constant peace and relaxation. Standing on that traffic island I was pretty sure I was going to die. The beeping horns, shrieking and enraged bellows were everywhere around me, making me jump every two seconds or duck for cover as another careening car or bus would shoot toward me, pulling away at just the last second. Which of course, prompted more beeping and yelling. To make matters worse, the scheduled time for the last Hollywood bus came and went and there was no sign of it. I started to wonder if I was in the wrong place or had missed it; the people around me had no idea where it was or just ignored me and so, for an hour, I stood there becoming increasingly more stressed and on edge, wondering if I would ever escape this nightmare.
Luckily, the bus did eventually arrive and to make matters better, dropped me about ten minutes from where I was staying. As I was still on New York time, my body was insisting that this midnight was in fact 3am and after a day on a plane I was more than ready for bed.
I woke up early this morning, mega refreshed and ready to get out into the city. The moment I stepped out on to the street I saw the Hollywood sign, which was a bit of a “oh shit, I’m really here” moment, but it was a great start to an awesome morning. Already this city is so much more relaxed than New York, and I had a lovely walk and breakfast at a great little café. I even had a rather grumpy gentleman throw a piece of plastic at me, inform me that I was a “bitch-ass motherfucker” and that he would “beat me down”. Don’t know why or what I did, but I thought it was funny.
After a great meeting with my L.A. based manager, I’ve been set loose on the city and am ready to get some good old fashioned exploring done. Tomorrow I’m meeting with a pretty major producer, which is a bit bloody exciting, and after that who knows? It’s hard not to be in a great mood walking along Sunset Boulevard, the Hollywood sign in sight and palm trees hanging above you. After New York, I feel totally revitalised and ready to dive into the next few days. They promise to be a time.
I’m currently sitting in a bar on Hollywood Boulevard, looking out on to the street at sunset, two ciders ready next to me and I’ve just had one of the most exciting days of my life. Appreciating that that’s a pretty strong opening, I’ll go ahead and let you know that I can’t disclose much. But suffice to say, I’m grinning from ear to ear.
My morning started with the mistake of thinking I could walk from Hollywood to Beverly Hills for a meeting. Luckily I allowed two hours, and I still only just made it on time. That said, apart from the very, very long stroll, it was a nice day and I stopped at this really cool little café for breakfast where I got to experience the delight of a Nutella/banana sandwich. That put me in a great mood which pretty much set the tone for the rest of the day. First things first, I got in a room with a very exciting producer and some really cool prospects were thrown around. Then, as I resigned myself to the long walk back, I received an email that MAY put me on the road to realising a lifelong dream. Allow me to stress that nothing is set in stone here, but even the suggestion of where all of this may lead has me bouncing in my seat.
Tomorrow I have a couple more meetings and more the day after that, then, with barely a second of breathing time I’ll be flying back home. I’m taking a second now to relax and finish a short story I started writing last night inspired by my surrounds, but as soon as that’s done I have to start work on the aforementioned potential dream project thing. Things here have not let up for a second, and I’m loving it. If you’ve been following these blogs, you’ll remember that a few days ago I said I was ready to go home. I have never been more wrong.
So, in what felt like no time I had arrived at my final night in NYC. I honestly can’t say that I had an overwhelming urge to stay longer; as much as I’ve enjoyed the city, I think I’ve had about as much as I can handle for now.
I had no solid plans for my final night. I had spoken to a couple of people about hanging out, so I ended up heading into Manhattan and after searching the streets for an appropriate place to write, settled on a Starbucks, before heading out to meet Bridget, one of the awesome actors from the Windmills script reading, and her equally cool boyfriend Sanjay. Several beers and great conversations later I stumbled out into the night, unsure of my destination, so I just wandered the streets, taking everything in one last time. I’ve never been anywhere like this city; some of it feels so new, some so archaic and some just so rundown and dirty and worn out. Often all three exist within the same block. I feel like of all the millions of movies made about Manhattan, they tend to emphasize only one aspect; it’s either gritty and filthy, shiny and new or cool and bohemian. All those things exist, but it’s a messier place than fiction would have you believe.
Eventually I heard from Dan, who was playing a 1am gig down in the Village. At first I didn’t plan on going as I had a flight the next day, but prevailing attitude of “fuck it” meant that I very quickly changed my mind and was soon in the Village, getting a bit more of an idea of the bohemian musician’s life that my old friend lives. From the cool little bars to the tiny apartment to the vibrant nightlife, it felt like exactly how I’d wanted my life to be for so long, ever since I first read On The Road as a teenager and dreamed about being that cool and adventurous one day. But, being there in the middle of it I realised that I am not, nor have I ever been that cool and adventurous, and I’m actually okay with it. I’m happier to appreciate from a distance than actually live that life, so that’s exactly what I did on that last night, wandering the electric excitement of those streets up to Dan’s gig which was, of course, excellent. There is something so awesome about the two of us, both leaving school at the same time with every intention of becoming struggling artists, now meeting up in New York years later where our early success has brought us. I hope we can both keep riding this wave forward, I really do.
I guess that’s been the big thing about my time in New York; despite so many people telling me otherwise, I do not feel like this is a place I would ever want to live or work. My feeling toward the city is ambivalent; parts I love, other parts I despise and after ten days here, separated from the thrill of the Emmys, I found myself wanting to get back to Melbourne. But for all of that, something feels different now. It’s like I’ve crossed a threshold professionally, and stepping out on to the deck at 3am last night for one last look over the expanse of the city, it feels to me representative of what I hope will turn out to be the transformative time I think it is.
At this point anything could happen. A year could pass and I still could be more or less where I am now. Nothing is set in stone, no contracts have been signed, no clear path forward has presented itself. But things feel like they’re changing, and that, I think, counts for a lot.
See you later NYC. It’s been a time.
Writing words about writing words.