'reach out...what do you see?'
History repeats itself – Star Wars: The Last Jedi Trailer
One of the few nice things happening on the internet right now is the collective excitement over the release of the new trailer for Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. Technically a teaser trailer, it still clocks in at over two minutes (in other words: it’s pretty much a full trailer), with plenty of sweeping shots and out-of-context dialogue for fans to speculate about. And if there’s anything that Star Wars fans love, surely, it’s speculation. I’m sure the studio was positively giddy over the decision to drop that final line “It’s time for the Jedi to end” – the cliffhanger, uttered as Luke was literally standing on a cliff – out of context at the end of the trailer as an intentional move to get the internet talking. Bravo, Rian Johnson and J.J. Abrams, bravo. Making this teaser a full two minutes (instead of the more typical 30 seconds) was a brilliant move for creating hype for a film that, by the way, is out at the end of this year (already?).
The Last Jedi picks up where The Force Awakens left off, with Rey having arrived on a desolate island on some unnamed planet and found Luke. The trailer makes clear that she’ll undergo Jedi training with Luke, much the way (SPOILER ALERT to the one person who hasn’t seen the original Star Wars) Luke himself trained with Yoda on Dagobah in Empire Strikes Back. Such cyclical action illustrates the difficulty the new Star Wars films encounter: If The Last Jedi mimics Empire too much, fans will complain about the lack of originality – just as many (rightly) critiqued The Force Awakens for its possibly-too-explicit similarities to A New Hope – but if it’s too different, people don’t get to live inside their Star Wars nostalgia, which, this nostalgia, is a major component of the franchise’s success.
Personally, I’m fine with the new films echoing the beats of the original. I embrace the “history repeats itself” motif, because we’re still dealing with the same players – the same Skywalker bloodline (the Kennedys of a galaxy far, far away). The similarities between and among the movies, the echoes, the callbacks, are novelistic, reminiscent of the best family sagas – One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Godfather, The Brothers Karamazov, the Civil War (fyi: Abraham Lincoln died today in 1865).
My point is, I see this so-called “mimicry” in the new Star Wars films as an intentional direction of the storytelling, and not an act of laziness or unoriginality. Time is a flat circle (or maybe I’m just nostalgic).
The art of the cover song – The AV Club’s Undercover series
Mimicry is an interesting concept in art: if noticed in film, writing, or visual art, it’s often considered an insult, a cliché. But in music, it’s flattery. The cover song is the rare exception to the disdain we typically feel toward imitation. There’s something comfortable in the familiarity of a hook, but with a cover song, you can experience familiarity in a surprising new way via a new vocal arrangement, musical genre, etc. It’s that idea of finding the unfamiliar in the familiar – letting ourselves feel surprised by something we thought we knew well.
The internet – namely, YouTube – is filled with more covers than you’d ever want to hear, but when it comes to well-produced, interesting covers, the AV Club has been quietly producing a video series of covers for the past six years on their web series, AV Undercover. It’s essentially indie darlings singing covers from a list of hit songs curated by The AV Club staff. As you’d expect, some of these covers are incredible, and some are horrifying. Whichever way the cover goes, though, it makes for an entertaining three minutes, in large part because of the way we respond to covers: the listener becomes an immediate critic, as we analyze and evaluate, bumping the various decisions the cover band makes against the decisions of the original to decide not exactly whether it’s better, but whether it’s worthy, whether it deserves to stand as homage to the original. Listening to a cover song, in other words, is an exercise in critical thinking, something we could all stand to practice more of.
AV Undercover just wrapped its latest season, but all six years of covers are available at their website. Here are the essentials:
La Butcherette covering Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball”: my favorite cover of the series, the guttural vocal arrangement and energy has me (note the present tense) pressing repeat over and over.
Tokyo Police Club cover Wheatus’ “Teenage Dirtbag”: The first Undercover I listened to, this one got me hooked on the series, as the whiny original vocals have been subdued into a version that perfectly fits with Tokyo Police Club’s established aesthetic.
There Might Be Giants covering Destiny Child’s “Bills Bills Bills”: largely, it’s just how unexpected this one is that makes it entertaining, plus the bounciness of the melody on the guitars.
Screaming Females covering Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off”: the vocal stylings here could not be more different than Swift’s, but Marissa Paternoster’s voice fits this melody in a way that works for me.