Thursday, May 31, 2012
THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980)
Day 31, the final day of my journey down the 70’s river.
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
This last month of my ride down the 70’s waterways has been tumultuous, enlightening and not without its share of disappointments. But I knew it was the river that I wanted to continue upon as I floated ominously off the main flow and through an opening that led to the massive compound. It was inevitable that I ended up here…and I knew what I needed to do. I brought my skiff up to the dock. This skiff had taken me from Days of Heaven to The Last Picture Show, thorough Nashville to Chinatown. And I knew I was now at my Dog Day Afternoon.I had finally come to the meanest of the Mean Streets.
The dock was huge and made of solid wood. But was this really wood? It felt like a different type of substance as I docked and began to walk down it. Was this some sort of mind trick? On either side of the dock were about a dozen people in canoes. They were real enough all right. All of them had red hair, freckles and wore thick glasses. They were all holding an electronic device of some kind that reminded me of an etch-a-sketch. The sight scared me and my first instinct was to retreat, but I had come this far already and knew my only option was to forge ahead. My mission was clear. I knew what I needed to do. The only question was, could I go through with it?
I walked gingerly to the end of the dock. The redheads glared at me as I passed them, holding tighter and possessively to their electronic devices. I breathed a sigh of relief as I disembarked from the dock on the ground. Before I could breath easily for too long, a tall man with long hair, glasses and a bandana jumped in front of me. He hugged me and I winced, since he had a camera around his neck that dug into my chest.
“Hey, man! We’ve been expecting you,” he said.
“You were expecting me? I asked. “How did you know I was coming?”
The hippie began to laugh. “All moviegoers eventually end up at the Lucas Compound. It’s your destiny man!”
I latched onto his shoulder. "The Lucas Compound? As in George Lucas?" I said. I tried to rationalize it, but deep down I knew that all paths and waterways would eventually lead here. I looked at the hippie again. “And you…You’re Steven Spielberg.”
He giggled and nodded his head for a moment. “Call me Stevie.”
Stevie and a couple of indigenous natives escorted me to an empty straw hut that was apparently going to be my home during my stay. I tried to ask questions, but Stevie put a finger to his mouth as he shushed me. “Your questions will be answered soon. Your time will come shortly.
After they left, I plopped to the ground. The dirt floor was cold, but I was so tired that I quickly found myself falling asleep. I spent two days in the compound surrounded mostly by locals. I came out of my hut only a couple of times, as I wasn’t sure that the native population was going to be too friendly towards me. They did bring me food, which was edible and almost tasty for someone who hadn’t had a good meal for over thirty days. Still, I wanted to get on with this. I was more than ready to see Lucas.
On the third morning, I braved sitting at a table with a few natives who had offered me some fresh pineapple juice when Stevie came behind me and slapped me on the back. “How you doin’ man? I know you’ve been anxious to see the genius. But he’s a busy man. All the wonders that flit around inside that man’s head! I tell you he is a God! A God! But I get carried away. I’m here to tell you he will see you at zero eight-hundred tomorrow.” Stevie vanished before I could question him further, but I was encouraged that it looked like I might finally get the opportunity to do that which I had come to do.
I was really tired that evening. Sleeping the last couple of nights on the dirt floor of my hut didn’t lend itself to a comforting rest. My bones ached as I tried to stretch. I put one hand onto the ground and despite my fatigue found that I was able to lift my entire body weight with just my right hand. I was temporarily entranced by my own abilities before coming to my senses and collapsing to the floor. “No, it’s a trick, I said. Just a trick,” I said out loud before finally managing to close my eyes for the night.
Stevie and a couple of men with spears came the next morning and grabbed me. They put a blindfold over my eyes despite my protests. “It’s for your own protection, man,” Stevie said unconvincingly.
They dragged me through the jungle and up a steep hill before removing my blindfold. I was so bleary eyed from my lack of sleep and bruised from my journey that I could barely take note of my surroundings, but I did notice that the place ahead of me appeared to be made of straw. Yet it felt as solid as brick when I ran my hand against it. Were these just more mind tricks? Whatever the reality, this was clearly where Lucas stayed. Stevie began jabbering about something in a language I couldn’t understand (he may have even been speaking in tongues) as he took me down a long hallway outside a room with two other guards in white uniforms and helmets. Stevie signaled at them to let me pass. I stumbled into the room, which though large, seemed to have very little in the way of any kind of comforts. There were two young ladies wearing what appeared to be gold bikinis, though my current interest was fixed only on the dark figure between them. I approached what I presumed to be Lucas and sat down on a stone table a few feet in front of him. He noticed me, but was completely unfazed by my presence. Had he really been expecting me to come all this time? Or at least someone like me? The pictures I had seen of Lucas were all with a full-beard and bushy haired. But the man in front of me had shaven off all the hair on his face and his head. His immense girth also took me by surprise. Lucas sat cross-legged and was wearing a long cloak. He kept pulling a huge sponge out of a bucket and saturating his bald scalp with it. This ritual appeared to be a purge of some kind, though what he was trying to get rid of, I had no idea. He sniffed a couple of times, as if it was his way of acknowledging my presence. It took him another moment to finally speak.
“Have you had you measles…mumps…rubella vaccinations?” Lucas asked me without looking in my direction.
I was surprised at the question, but answered in the affirmative.
He nodded his approval before dousing himself with the sponge again.
“Diptheria, cholera and polio. How about those?”
“Yes, sir. I had my polio vaccine when I was a kid,” I said.
“Good,” he replied “We can’t neglect polio vaccines just because we take them for granted. That which we take for granted will eventually destroy us.”
“Yes, sir.” I said.
He doused his head with water once again and only after a few minutes did he address me again as he stared at me for the first time.
“Are you an assassin?” he asked.
“No, sir. I’m a librarian,” I said.
“You are neither," he replied. "You’re just a blogger sent by cinephiles to correct what you perceive as a great cultural injustice.”
He lowered his head and didn’t say anything else to me for a few minutes before the two natives that brought me here came in and escorted me outside.
This scenario was repeated over the next few days, with me being dragged to see Lucas, where he imparted thoughts on a myriad of subjects ranging from nuclear proliferation to the merits of freeze dried coffee. During our visits, I was left unguarded. I could have made the attempt to take him out at anytime, but the timing never seemed appropriate. He talked about his vision for a special effects studio that would be called Industrial Light and Magic. I admit it sounded wondrous, but I tried not to be dazzled and blinded by his dream. But it was getting more and more difficult to be taken in by him with each passing visit.
During one visit, he began putting peanuts in his mouth and spitting them out. After a few rounds of doing this, he began to talk to me. “Tell me, my friend,” he said before spitting out the final peanut that he took from his bowl. “Did you ever see my movie called THX-1138?
“Yes, sir. I have seen it.”
Lucas nodded his approval before spitting again.
“And did you like it?”
“I don’t know how to answer that. I can’t honestly say I understood it all that well.”
Lucas clinched his fist before pushing his peanut bowl to the floor. “And do you know why you didn’t get it?” He screamed.
His raised voice took me aback and I could only respond with a shake of the head.
“Because…because...” He hesitated and began to rub at his scalp as if he were trying to pull the skin off of him before he straightened himself out and jutted out his jaw. “Because my vision in THX-1138 was pure, unadulterated, crystalline…Art! Isn’t that what you are here for, librarian? The preservation of art?
“My mission is classified, sir,” I nervously responded.
“Let me tell you about art. You can’t have art without THIS!” He pointed to something on the table next to him that I hadn’t noticed before. It was a light saber. I went over and placed my finger on it, but didn’t dare pick it up. The time wasn’t right.
“If you don’t have the courage to pick it up…librarian, it’s time for you to leave.” I put my head down as I walked away from his presence. Stevie was outside the room as I passed and was more animated than ever.
“Oh, man,” the hippie said. “You’ve got to spread the word about him man. Spread the word! Do you know about fractions? Is a third a fraction? Like Close Encounters of the Third Kind? Or is that more like the number three? I don’t know, man. I do know the genius deals with whole numbers. His inspiration began with part four. Do you know what that means? He’s changing math as we know it. He’s redefining everything, man.”
I was weary of Steven and didn’t respond as I went back to my hut without commenting to him before contemplating my next visit to Lucas. Something had to happen on my next visit or I would probably end up in the nerd pool with the other redheads and their etch-a-sketch devices. I knew my moment was coming. After being at the Lucas Compound over a week and sitting at his feet for at least the fifth or sixth time.
On my tenth visit to Lucas, I had the feeling that the time to act was now or never. I began to lose my nerve and excused myself to use the bathroom down the hall. I noticed that Lucas had one of those overhead tank toilets with a pull chain. I reached my hand around the back of the tank to see if there was a gun taped to the back, but there was nothing. I became so nervous I knelt at the toilet and lost the little lunch I had had. I came out of the toilet and into the room and faced Lucas, who seemed to be in a state of meditation. He wasn’t paying any attention to me. Sweat was pouring down my face as I grabbed the light saber on the table to the left of me. I tested it and it was fully functional. The power within it was as great as I had imagined. As I looked at him, I realized that his appearance had changed. His ears seemed to be at points and his tint was clearly an off-shade of green I brought the light saber up as if to bring it upon him. He didn’t raise his head, but held up a hand for me to stop.
“Why wish you destroy me?” He said in an uncharacteristically squeaky voice.
“I…I…just felt I had to try something.” I managed to say.
Lucas slammed his fist into his lap. “Try not. Do! Or do not! There is not try!”
I dropped the light saber to the ground and began to weep into the palms of my hands.
“I just thought that I could somehow change the future.”
“Always in motion is the future.” Lucas said. “Like a flowing river. Sometimes calm. Sometimes fierce. But flow it must. Tears you must dry now. Something for you I have.”
“But why do you want to give something to me.I-“
He clapped his hands together twice in succession. “There is no why,” he scolded.
Lucas, who was now much smaller in physical size, yet had somehow grown larger in stature, hopped down off his chair and handed me a large collection of type written pages.
I looked at the top page, which read The Empire Strikes Back by George Lucas. “Inscription you must read,” Lucas said.
On the blank space near the bottom, it read; To my friend, the librarian-May the Force Be With You-George Lucas.
“For me? Your original script? You’re giving this to me? Thank you, Mr. Lucas thank you!”
He nodded to me once before returning to his seat and sponging his head once again.
I now knew it was time for me to leave him for the last time. Steven smirked at me as I left Lucas’s dwelling and headed down the dock to my boat. But I didn’t care. I had The Empire Strikes Back script autographed by George Lucas! I sat down in an empty canoe next to the redheads. Some of them eyed my script with what appeared to be envy, but I held onto it. It was mine! It was mine and no one was ever going to take it away. I should have known all along that it had been useless to resist.
Coming over to the dark side really isn’t so bad after all.