Darrell Reimer, my internet friend of a decade or so (and one person of a very, very few whom I can pretty much count on to check in here, so that this infrequent writing sometimes feels sort of like a series of letters), remarks in his last on the evocative power of what in the first Star Wars film was a fleeting scene rich — characteristically, for Lucas — in perfected detail. The image that flashes by on screen is a mounted gun that must have been modeled on the Germans’ extraordinarily versatile, much feared and admired ‘88’. These days, I can’t note such a thing without thoughts turning to the infatuation with military machines that I grew up with — that the guys who created the look of Star Wars undoubtedly grew up with — and from there to the War, our great war, as lens on history and tradition in the ‘worldview’ I inherited. I think about this a lot. It’s behind a good deal of my half-serious ruminating on the American comic-book superhero, certainly.

These days, I’m not reading much comic book stuff. (Not that I’ve ever read much, I feel obliged to add, in case any real comics readers look at this.) I expect I’ll get back to the superheroes sooner or later, but the noteworthy item is that I’ve made a small, salutary return to prose fiction this past week — partly because I’ve got the commute time for it. (I don’t say that standing chest-to-chest with a bunch of strangers on the train is a good way to get in some reading, only that I am getting in some reading that way.) I’m half-way through Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair at the moment. I’ve never read Greene, though I know him a little by reputation. Wouldn’t have chosen this book for getting acquainted with him, I suppose, but it was on my landlady’s shelf, and I’ve been encouraged by her to borrow and finally got around to doing so. It’s a War book by a famously Catholic writer, so it suits my sensibility here well. Maybe I’ll have more to say about it.

I began the week with James Lee Burke’s 1985 collection The Convict and Other Stories. This was a chance find on the sidewalk dollar racks at The Strand, a favorite haunt of S.’s. I had no thought of reading Burke, but he suits my sensibility at least as well as Greene, possibly. This collection, anyhow, as I read it, is thick with ‘the War as lens on history and tradition.’ To be clear, you wouldn’t say that the Second World War is particularly a theme. I think only one of the stories is set in the 1940s. But they’re plainly the material of a writer who is conscious of belonging to the first War generation, the generation that grew up in a cultural landscape dominated by the War and its outworking. My impression, further, is that he recognizes that the American wars — and a number of them, small & great, from the 1860s to the 1980s, appear in this book — bleed into each other, generation by generation, and acquire significance from each other in the American mind. For my part, over some time I’ve begun to think of the American wars, from Independence till today, as flare-ups of a period of continuous, more-or-less world-wide war in which American interests & power came to be, or seem, really a central matter only with the 1940s, and in which the 19th century’s great European wars may be more important to understand than the 20th’s. Burke’s stories in this collection aren’t about that bigger picture, but they offer plenty of toe-holds for this kind of big-picture historical thinking, to be sure. Greene seems like only a natural thing, reading-wise, to have jumped to from there.

2 Replies to “Bleed”

  1. Random reactions:

    Lucas and McQuarrie were very much fixated on WWII armory, arsenal and military paraphernalia, and the first movie was especially rife with these inspirations. The laser-turrets on the Millennium Falcon were another source of fascination and speculation. Curious how that particular technology was a one-episode-only feature.

    Back when, I picked up some stray reproductions of McQuarrie’s concept art for the first movie, including a board of the Rebel Base on the jungle planet: X-wings in a hangar, basically. There’s a crewman with a clipboard running in the foreground, which McQuarrie felt compelled to comment on in the notes. “Inserted this figure from a photograph of a WWII aircraft carrier,” or something to that effect. Strange comment, but evidently McQuarrie and Lucas were both, in some respects, fleshing out an imagined ideological and hierarchical conflict-drama from the manifold media they’d been exposed to as children.

    “Affair” isn’t the typical Greene intro, I don’t think. The Power & The Glory is more likely. Or something fizzier, like The Comedians.

    As ever, keen to read more.

  2. Pretty sure the first ‘making of’ documentary I ever saw was about Star Wars #1 or #2 — a TV special of some kind, possibly around ‘81, before we went to Germany (and had a TV in our own house, actually). I’ve always been a great sucker for making-of stuff (I liked the DVD extras with Jackson’s Lord of the Rings better than the movies, probably), but I think I would especially get a kick out of seeing some of the Star Wars making told again. I imagine there’s a ton of material out there — which makes me reluctant to get into it. But I’d figured that the WWII inspiration must be well documented.

    I guess Star Wars & the Millenium Falcon are mainly to account for transforming what must have been one of the worst roles to fill in WWII, tail gunner or ball turret gunner, into a wet dream for gamers in the next couple of decades.

    I’m recalling that I’ve read that Space Battleship Yamato — ‘Star Blazers’ afternoon cartoon reruns in high school, in my first awareness — originates about the same time, early–mid ’70s, with a strikingly parallel love of painstakingly rendered sci-fi revivals of mid-20th-century military hardware — the Yamato itself, first — though mixed with futuristic handling of more contemporary (& American) aircraft, if I recall right. It’d be interesting to dig into coincidence/relation between what was coming on the scene with Japanese productions then and what guys like Lucas & McQuarrie were doing here, as to war nostalgia and/or anxiety.

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