Wednesday, May 19, 1999

Don't force 'Star Wars' on me




BY CLIFF RADEL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Unless you've spent the last month sniffing around a distant galaxy, you might have gotten wind that a new Star Wars movie opens today.

        Thousands of people can't wait to see Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace. Millions of dollars will be shelled out for tickets and popcorn.

        Star Wars fans I talked with assure me this movie will have all the elements found in the other episodes of this space-age saga. Once more, good battles evil. Mysteries get solved. Heroes save the day. And, this time, Liam Neeson gets to wield one of those nifty, glow-in-the-dark light sabers.

        As much as I love a good mystery, enjoy seeing heroes in action and appreciate a knock-down, drag-'em-out fight between good and evil, you won't find me standing in line to see the film. Nor will I be calling in sick today with the “Force Flu.”

        Not that I would be the sole sufferer of that malady. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates 2.2 million people will skip work today and recuperate at the film's premiere. That'll cost U.S. companies around $300 million in lost productivity.

        Much as I'd like to, I won't be contributing to those statistics.

        I have never seen a Star Wars movie. And I intend to keep my record intact.

        Not that I have anything against Star Wars or people who go see the films. If you want “The Force” to be with you, go for it.

        I passed on the Star Wars films because I prefer to go elsewhere to see matchups between good and evil, heroes at work and mysteries unfold.

        “The pulse races and the adrenalin kicks in as soon as I hear the Star Wars theme in these movies,” said Brian Hunter. He manages the Eastgate Musicland store and is a “huge” Star Wars fan. Having seen each film in the trilogy at least 25 times, he had a ticket for today's 12:30 a.m. showing.

        My pulse races and adrenalin kicks in as I turn pages while reading a short story about Sherlock Holmes. No matter how many times I've read the tale, I still wonder how Holmes will solve the case and spring the trap he's set for the bad guy.

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        James Russell watches Star Wars films and delves into other works of science fiction when he isn't studying for a master's degree in education at the University of Cincinnati.

        “Star Wars films transport you to places you've never been,” he told me. “They show you the battle between good and ultimate evil.”

        Casablanca does that for me. To some, it may just be an old, black-and-white film about a bunch of gabby people couped up in a smoky bar and feeling sorry for themselves while World War II rages. But to me, the movie is a timeless trip to the crooked streets and nightlife of Casablanca. I sit at a corner table at Rick's Cafe Americain and, as time goes by, watch Humphrey Bogart search for the truth, in his heart and during a showdown with evil.

        Michael Porte, UC's leading film expert and a professor of communication, sees Star Wars “as a religion. "The Force' is god. Young people, for whom conventional religions have no meaning, are willing to stand in line for tickets so they can worship at the shrine of Star Wars. It's a message that is positive, uplifting and inspiring.”

        I get the same message daily. And I hear it for free. A cardinal sings outside my bedroom window every morning at dawn. Nestled in the leafy branches of a pin oak tree, the bird celebrates the light of a new day with a song of joy. His wake-up song, so happy, so free and pure inspires me to drag my sorry carcass out of bed and slap a smile on my face.

        Pat Keene, a buyer of cleaning solutions for meat-packing plants, once communed with nature for five hours as she stood in line in the rain to see a Star Wars movie. She told me she'd wait just as long to see the new movie. Just the thought of waiting five minutes, much less five hours, in a downpour to see a film is inconceivable to me.

        “Hasn't the desire to do some intergalactic space travel ever boiled to the top of your consciousness?” she asked.

        Not on your life, I told her. Too much stuff to pack.

        Besides, spaceships traveling at warp speed make me queasy.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.

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