On Star Wars and Epcot

(yes, I can make this Epcot related as well)

This week I’m trying hard to institute a fairly comprehensive media blackout to try and avoid reviews and/or spoilers for the new Star Wars film.  Star Wars, a little indie film that might be playing at a theater near you if you are lucky starting this weekend.  My tickets are to see it on Saturday morning (and then again Sunday morning), so until that time, I try and smack my own hand if I find myself opening up Twitter or Facebook.  I’ve been mostly successful so far.

So I thought that this week, instead of trying to avoid the topic, I’d steer into it a little and try and find a way to talk about two things that were both seminal in my youth.  I’ve honestly not put thought into trying to relate the two together, so what follows is going to be a bit of an experiment in free flowing writing.  Hey, the title of the blog clearly state that this is a manifesto.  A certain degree of rambling should be expected.

As this blog has mentioned, Epcot played a massive role in shaping who I would eventually become as an adult.  No, I don’t pretend to say that without this theme park I would be in some massively different field than I am now.  There was a large portion of my underlying likes / dislikes that as much predisposed me to love a park like Epcot as a large part of what Epcot was predisposed me to continue to be fascinated by science.  I was right there, ripe for the taking, and the people that designed Epcot were looking to engage people like me.  Actually, no, I disagree with that last statement and likely will do so much more in a longer post at a later time.  I strongly believe that the designers of Epcot were not targeting people like me, but targeting bits and pieces of innate curiosity in everyone.  Again, more on that later.

Star Wars also played a massive part in shaping who I would eventually become as an adult.  Likely in less directly obvious ways, but as a child I lived Star Wars.  I’m old enough to have seen at least some of the original trilogy in the theaters, missing the first film because I was alive but too young to see a film like this at time, but seeing The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi in the theater.   It cannot be stressed enough how large an impact those films had on me as a kid.  I was obsessed, as many my age were.  My parents eventually taped presentations of the film off the TV and those tapes were played enough that I’m surprised the film didn’t melt/snap.  I remember getting all the kids in my neighborhood over, popping big bowls of popcorn, and watching the movies constantly. 

Every play-battle fought post Star Wars became a Star Wars battle, either lightsabers or blasters.  Everyone wished they could just find a way to reach out to the force, even if only for a moment.  The backyard or forest hikes because the Dagobah training grounds, leaping around with a wise old Jedi master on my back as I prepared myself to become a Jedi Knight.  It became such a huge factor on my life that I think I infected my brother with the love, which he has taken to the next level.  While I enjoyed the films and toys, he continued to pour through almost all of the Expanded Universe books in the following years while I only read a select few.  His love for that series dwarfs mine, which is really saying something, and I’m kind of jealous of it. 

There’s probably been much analysis done already on your personality vs. your favorite Star Wars character.  I do know that while you always had your Han Solo fans, your Boba Fett fans, your Vader fans, I was always Luke when I played.  The moral ambiguity of Han never fully appealed to me in the way that Luke’s unwavering “good” did.  Odd familial relationships aside, Luke was the protagonist, the one looking to do right at each step.  His momentary flirt with the Dark Side in Jedi was (and still is) shocking to me (and to him as well!  Emperor force lightning pun!).  It was only when he realized that he was able to control that dark urge that allowed him to come out stronger for that knowledge.  That appealed to me, and still does.  Even now in the day of video games that allow you to play around with your character’s moral direction (Mass Effect, Red Dead Revolver, Fallout), I always play as an ultra-paragon.  I’ve tried to play the villain, I just can’t get myself to do it, and never last more than an hour or so before I reset and head back down the morally just path.  I cringe when I do something that I thought was going to be “good” that ends up being “bad”.  I have to steal this key to free those slaves?  Stealing is bad, m’kay!

Maybe that too plays into my deep love for Disney products, because for the most part, the lines between good and bad are almost always clearly defined.  No shades of moral grey really exist in most of the classic Disney films and park attractions.  Things are either Good or they are the villain (or the villain’s henchmen).  The protagonist is on a quest that is typically righteously justified, and diametrically opposed to the evil personified by the villain.  Even in something like the Pirates of the Caribbean (attraction), the scene in the end with the pirates in jail always appealed to me the most.  The pirates had been caught for their actions.  What can I say, I’ve always been a goody two shoes.

And maybe that has something to do with my love for Epcot as well.  Epcot Center was working towards the ultimate good.  It was trying to inspire us all, one united human race, towards a better future.  There was no real bad or evil, it was aspirational.  Horizons didn’t need some sort of global calamity that required us to look to the oceans and into space, it just did because it was a future the designers thought we should strive for.  There was no moral ambiguity, it was for the good of all.  Even something that could have played around with a “bad” like Kitched Kabaret (how easily could they have gone for evil Sugar or Fat?) didn’t.  It presented all parts of a balanced meal in a positive fashion. 

There’s also the level of scale that could be a unifying factor between Star Wars and Epcot.   Both were quite grand in their scale.  Star Wars introduced an entire galaxy to allow our minds and imaginations to wander in.  We were introduced to political structures, alien races, planets, spaceships, heroes and villains that lived in a whole new galaxy that could be rife with stories.  The subsequent 3 plus decades fans have been exploring that galaxy, officially in books, comics, games, and in their imagination as well.  Taken a step further, the one unifying force existed in everything, surrounding us, flowing through us and every other thing in the galaxy.  

The scale was grand but it was also personal, focusing in on a small group amid a galaxy of turmoil.  Following one (albeit hyper-important) family amid a galactic war.  We’re given the ability to identify with characters on an individual level as they navigate the saga.

Epcot Center also played on a grand stage.  We were looking at fundamental pieces of the human experience in Epcot Center.  Communications, Energy, Transportation, Food, Imagination.  The grandest scale that us, as humans, can easily work on and relate to.  It also focused that grand scale down to a personal level.  It was all within us, the knowledge, the imagination, the hopes and dreams of a better tomorrow.  It showed that we have a major role to play in the grand vision that was the world of tomorrow. 

Grand topics made relatable and personal, all-inclusive, and done with an eye towards entertainment, inspiration, and the hope for a better tomorrow.  I could be describing the rebellion or Epcot Center with that previous statement.  Either way, they’ve both had significant impacts on my life.

Disney seems to have made all the right moves so far in their shepherding of Star Wars into the next generation.  Passionate and visionary directors have been hired, a diverse and well regarded cast has been put together for this film, as well as for Rogue One.  They’re expanding their storytelling platform with the anthology films.  They are even finally taking the steps towards realizing the things we all thought of the moment we heard that Disney had bought the rights to the franchise, and planning full-fledged additions to their theme parks.

Epcot on the other had.  We’ll have to wait and see.  Their recent changes have (obviously) not filled me with high hopes.  I’ve heard chatter recently that Disney may be taking a serious look at Epcot.  Let’s hope it’s more of the grand and inspiring kind of look than the cheap Frozen overlay kind.