Reviews

The Cult of Slave Leia and Other 'Jedi Junkies'

This documentary focuses on three broad categories of fans: those who hoard collectibles and toys, those who dress up as their favorite characters, and those who make their own fan films


Jedi Junkies

Distributor: New Video
Cast: Ed Sanchez, Olivia Munn, Peter Mayhew, Ray Park, Jeremy Bulloch
Studio: Docurama Films
Release date: 2013-01-12

I saw Star Wars on the day it was released, back in the summer of 1977. I was 13 years old, a soon-to-be ninth grader: in other words, the perfect target demographic for George Lucas's eye-popping eye candy. And it was eye candy: that opening sequence, with the huge Imperial ship chasing down the rebel vessel, remains seared into my memory. In the midst of the blaster barrage, I remember turning to my sister, eight years my senior and just as awestruck, and saying: "Holy shit."

Later, as we exited the theatre, my brother—six years older than I—raced with me down the line of bemused moviegoers waiting to get into the next show: we peppered them with imaginary blaster fire. A few chuckled, many more looked puzzled. It was okay though: they'd understand soon enough. Boy, would they ever.

I mention all this as a way of saying: I get Star Wars. I get the magic of it, the fandom of it, the appeal of immersing oneself in a colorful, imaginative universe. Although I would never describe myself as a "fan" in terms of obsessive fixation—there are just too many movies out there, not to mention too many real-world experiences I'd like to get lost in one day—I do understand, to a small degree, the impulse of fandom. After all, I saw the film five times that summer.

That said, though, there is much more to uber-fandom that I don't understand. There's a great deal to the phenomenon that remains to be explored and illuminated. What a shame, then, that this documentary so utterly fails to do any such thing.

Jedi Junkies purports to be an exploration of Star Wars fandom, but it does little more than scratch the surface. If you'd like to hear some people talk about their collection of action figures and light sabres, well, step right up. But if you're looking for anything deeper—any kind of insight, for example, as to why a person might feel the need to fill his living room with unopened boxes of hoarded toys—well, you're out of luck.

Broadly speaking, the documentary focuses on three broad categories of fans: those who hoard collectibles and toys, those who dress up as their favorite characters (typically the "slave Leia" from The Empire Strikes Back, but also various light sabre-wielding types), and those who make their own fan films. The bulk of the original footage consists of talking-head interviews, with considerable padding from publicly available sources (i.e., YouTube videos of those fan films) and some footage from various Star Wars conventions. There is not a great deal here, in other words; take out the fan film, and the movie's slim 70 minute running time drops to barely an hour.

That said, "Chad Vader" is a very funny, very clever fan series focusing on Darth Vader's little brother, Chad, who is the manager of a grocery store. It's well worth a look even for non-fans, but it's not necessary to watch this DVD in order to enjoy it. The episodes are freely available on YouTube.

Some of the interviews are interesting enough. Ed Sanchez, producer of The Blair Witch Project, turns out to be a lifelong fanatic with a basement full of toys, and his genial presence adds an air of good nature to the otherwise bewildering testimonials of fans who, at times, sacrifice living space (and beds) to their useless collections. Easy-on-the-eyes Olivia Munro (Attack of the Show) is there to add humor and snarky comments of the "What is wrong with these people?" variety. The rest of the interviewees, however, exhibit a remarkable lack of insight as to what they do and why. The occasional soundbite from a "psychologist" does nothing to address this.

It's easy enough to speculate that fandom acts as a surrogate for, say, organized religion, especially given the strong overtones of religiosity that the franchise deals with (a child born to deliver the universe from an oppressive empire, a priesthood that uses the "force" of good to fight evil). There are saints and sinners, angels and devils. With church attendance dropping off, is it too much to suggest that fandom's elaborate role playing and the feeling of brother/sisterhood that it often engenders is something of a replacement ritual for people who, in an earlier era, might have dressed up in nativity or passion plays? Such ideas will need to wait until the next documentary—this one is too busy showing us the guy who sells wicked cool light sabres through the mail.

The DVD itself a few bonus features, including a director’s commentary and some deleted/extended scenes, which are essentially more of what is already present on the disc. Three brief featurettes round out the extras, but these do little to deepen what is a very shallow consideration of the topic. Even "The Cult of Slave Leia", which might be expected to ask such questions as why it is Princess Leia as a slave who excites such devotion and mimicry, prefers instead to linger on pretty young women in flouncy outfits gushing over their Yoda dolls.

This film isn't worth watching unless you're in it. It's more of a pep rally for Star Wars fans than anything else; viewers looking to deepen their understanding of what motivates these super-fans will find themselves disappointed.

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In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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Features

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

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Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

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