Wil Patterson is the author of the best selling book Mr Ordinary Goes to Jail. Wil is currently working on what is hoped to be his next book, tentatively titled ‘A Relationship in English’ . This is an excerpt from this upcoming new book... Please enjoy and let us know what you think!
“A hero's journey” By Wil Patterson
A Hero’s Journey
“I think I’m ready to try it,” Julia says.
“That thing you always ask me about.”
I stare at her blankly for a moment. It’s Saturday night and we have just settled on the couch after dinner. The plan was a movie and an early night, but it feels like we could be going in a whole new direction…
“Do you mean….” I start.
“Star Wars,” Julia interrupts, “I think I’m ready to watch Star Wars.”
I immediately stop my aimless scrolling on Netflix and jump into iTunes. I find the original 1977 Star Wars movie, ‘A New Hope’. Just before I start it, I turn to her and ask: “Are you sure? I don’t want you to force you,” because, you know, consent is important.
“Let’s do it,” she affirms.
The THX logo fills the screen and the sound fills the room. My heart speeds up a little as the Lucas film logo shimmers into focus.
‘A LONG TIME AGO, IN A GALAXY FAR FAR AWAY…’
I love Star Wars.I grew up loving it. I grew up playing with Star Wars figurines. I collected the Empire Strikes Back trading cards. I am even a defender of episode one, two and three. I love that Disney own the franchise. I love what they are doing with the story. I love the collectibles I can buy now. I even have Star Wars tattoos. I love Star Wars.I glance across at Julia to make sure she understands the importance of the crawl at the start of the film, how it sets the scene and settles you into the universe. She’s sending a text.
I pause the film.
“Sorry,” she says when she notices the silence. “I’m watching.”
I try to resist the urge to check and make sure Julia is enjoying the movie the way she is supposed to. I immerse myself in the familiar story and don’t turn to look at her for almost twenty minutes. When I finally glance across, Julia is asleep.
The next day I asked her what happened.
“It’s super boring,” she explained in her usual, no nonsense honest way. “Luke is a whiny little boy and I don’t understand robots. Nothing good happened so I went to sleep.”
The next weekend, while Julia was at work, I decided to watch A New Hope again and try to look at it through her eyes and not the rose-coloured, cataract-riddled nostalgic glasses I usually wear.
After watching the film my head was spinning and I was questioning everything that every mattered to me about this franchise. It took me out of the world I knew, where Star Wars was great, and set me on a journey where I had to face an impossible truth.
The original 1977 Star Wars movie ‘A New Hope’ is not a great film. It’s a good film, but not a great film. The basic story stands up ok. It’s a hero’s journey. It’s the hope that we all have as little kids that someone will come along one day and tell us we’re special, we’re destined for great things, heck that we are going to save the galaxy.
But it is cheesy, it’s hokey. It’s kind of goofy in the same way Saturday Night Fever was considered racy back in the day but now just looks like a goofy (and very misogynistic) dance movie that doesn’t really have anything to say. The lines in Star Wars are less witty sparring and more slightly drunk uncle at a family Christmas trying too hard to be funny. The special effects, as good as they were for 1977, don’t stand the test of time, and Julia is right, Luke is a whiny little boy who maybe doesn’t deserve all that comes his way. The Matrix, Spiderman, and The Lion King are all better versions of the hero’s journey story. So are Finding Nemo and Kung Fu Panda.
Even what is arguably the movie’s best device, the way it tells the story, is not original. You probably don’t realise it but ‘A New Hope’ is told from the perspective of the droids. The world moves around them and you watch things happen as they do. You become involved in Luke’s story through R2-D2 and C3PO. It’s a fantastic story telling device, but it’s not original. George Lucas himself says he took the idea from the Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s film The Hidden Fortress which tells the whole tale from the perspective of two servants who are central to the plot.
So why do I love Star Wars so much? Perhaps because in 1977–78 my parents were divorcing, I was wondering if everything would be ok, and along came a film that told the story of Luke, a child from a broken home (just like me), who was destined to be something incredible. Then the story continued through my whole childhood until 1983, when an almost twelve-year-old me was shown that Luke had fulfilled his destiny, overcome all the obstacles thrown at him and had become the one to bring balance to nothing less than the entire galaxy.
Sadly, I had to admit to myself that without either a nostalgic love, or a boring amount of backstory being explained to you while you watch, I had started Julia’s Star Wars journey with the wrong film. I was confronted with the reality of this like a ton of bricks. It seemed an insurmountable challenge to find a way to bring Julia into this world of Star Wars which, despite what I was feeling, I still loved so much.
When we first met we started an incredible journey of discovery together.
We talked about lots of things, testing the waters with each other, trying to find shared experiences. We talked about music, and Julia opened my ears to the sounds of Latino pop, which frankly I can now see is kind of taking over the world. I introduced her to lots of Aussie bands, and an Oz pub rock tune now often prompts the question from Julia: “Is this world famous, or world famous in Australia only?” Eventually we (well I) came up with a crazy long Spotify play list that was an almost perfect blend of things we both loved, and music we agreed on. When ‘Vivir Mi Vida’ by Marc Anthony comes on she rocks and I bask in her joy; the opposite happens with ‘Better’ by The Screaming Jets, and when the chords of ‘Mr Jones’ start we both holler at the top of lungs. Music has become a journey we take together, and a trial we have overcome.
We talked food. We debated if poached or scrambled eggs were better to order at brunch. Julia had never thought about it; I have very particular thoughts. Julia introduced me to Latino stand-out dishes like tortilla soup and to the endless and delicious world of frijoles (beans). I did my best to hold up Australia’s end of the food experience, but frankly we are pretty light on, other than the Chicken Parma, which I love and she can’t stand. The best ‘Aussie’ thing we found for her was pies. So pies it was. I love to cook and I did my best to bring our menu into line with things we both enjoyed, which was easy for half the week. We both love something easy like toasties but later in the week (when my son lives with us) we have decided we have to eat ‘real’ meals.
Feeding a fourteen-year-old boy is a trial in itself. He’s a polite boy who likes to please his dad, so he will not always tell us he doesn’t like a meal. But boy does it show. It’s either eat in silence and asking for second or third helpings, or talk laugh, get up and down from the table, pick at the food, and eventually tell us what it is about the food he doesn’t like. I have a list in my head of ‘do nots’ when it comes to cooking. Not cooked salsa (CJ), not too dry (Julia), not big slabs of meat (also Julia), not shellfish (me only), not too spicy (me), and not too much cheese (also me because the other two think that ‘too much cheese’ is a state which doesn’t exist). It was a second trial and we overcame it together. Food was more complex, but again, by learning to appreciate what each other liked, without having to specially like it ourselves, we found a way to bring balance to our meals.
And we talked films. Even though we grew up on different continents, speaking different languages, we had quite a few films in common. Where we came unstuck was how we watched films, and how we talked about them. For example:
The Dark Knight
Julia: “It was good, I don’t really love comic book movies but I liked Heath Ledger.”
Me: “The way Nolan crafts his world is incredible. I find it compelling that it took an English director to paint Batman, arguably the quintessential American hero, as what he really is, a tortured billionaire vigilante who is not a hero exactly but actually two sides of a coin with The Joker…I liked Heath Ledger too.”
Kung Fu Panda
Julia: “He can’t believe he’s adopted, but his dad’s a goose, I LOVE IT!”
Me: “The impressive thing about this movie is the quality of the Kung Fu. It is some of the clearest, best shot hand-to-hand fighting in film today. It leaves most live action films behind.”
Julia (at the end of the movie, almost in tears): “Wow, incredible.”
Me: (actually crying) “I hated it. I’m so angry, I never want to speak about it again.”
Yeah, that difference of opinion nearly broke us up. And for the record I have a different opinion now.
Frankly, she sounds normal and I sound like a film nerd wanker.
What I have come to realise, and what I wish I had known before I pressed play on Star Wars, was that Julia likes to watch movies that entertain. She avoids movies that show harsh realities, and she sure doesn’t like to be frightened.
In contrast I like to watch movies, consider them, debate them, unpick them and second guess them, and enjoy and be entertained at the same time. I’ll watch anything interesting. The thing I like the most about movies is when they surprise me, go in a direction I didn’t see coming, or challenge my way of thinking about something.
If Julia loved a film she would remember it, maybe recommend it to someone, but probably not think about it too much, and almost certainly never watch it again. I would seek out podcast spoiler episodes, bring it up in conversation, consider and reconsider my opinion, and more than likely watch it two or three more times.
Then I had an epiphany. I realised the old saying that having a strong relationship means liking the same things, was completely wrong. Having a strong relationship means giving your partner space to like the things they like, respecting them enough not to force what you adore on them, and finding a common ground somewhere in the middle. Once you choose each other, it means helping them to gain an understanding of why you love the things you do, without forcing them to love them too.
I realised that if I want Julia to understand what I love about Star Wars, she can watch Kung Fu Panda. She’ll get the same joy from Po’s journey from ‘a fat panda’ to ‘The Fat Panda’ as I get watching Luke go from blue lightsabre to green.
Or she can watch Finding Nemo. Experiencing Nemo’s trails and desperate search for his father could easily give her the same warm feelings as me hearing Luke ask Obi-Wan Kenobi, “You knew my father?”
It turns out my quest has not been persuade Julia to love Aussie pub rock, chicken parma or even to explain the risk minimisation benefits of scrambled over poached eggs. And it certainly has not been to ensure she experienced all the Star Wars universe.
No, my quest is to unite our worlds. To lead Julia to an understanding of why Star Wars matters so much to me, without showing her the movies. To help her understand that the idea ‘you aren’t nobody, you’re someone special’ is written on my heart because of these films.
My true quest is to blend our experiences, from food, to fashion, to music, to movies.
This revelation felt like the moment at the end of a great quest. It felt like the moment Arthur pulls the sword from the stone, the exact second Neo stops bullets in The Matrix, the moment in Return of the Jedi when Luke ignites the green lightsabre for the first time.
I am on a mission with bringing balance to the force that compels us to love one another, and ultimately to bring peace to our shared galaxy. I am, after all, just an ordinary man destined for great things…
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