At The Star Wars… Dive Bar?

More Star Wars neepery, so beware.

Saw something on Facebook trying to describe TLJ and TRoS as an extended metaphor.

Imagine you’re in a nasty dive bar. You’ve got one friend who’s says he loves the place and the bikers, but is going around to all of the bikers there and gleefully pointing out, in excruciating detail, every scar and and wart and ugly thing on their face. He insults them over and over.

Then, you get his other friend, who comes in, puts the first guy in a headlock and knocks him out while telling the bikers, “Hey. Didn’t mean it! He’s crazy when he’s drunk. Sorry about that. Let me get your beer.”

Rian Johnson is the ‘crazy friend’ who picks fights with the bikers. JJ Abrams is the other friend. Which leads me to a few questions:

So – Star Wars is a dive bar? Star Wars fans are rowdy, ugly bikers? And Rian Johnson, the guy who made something as sweet as The Brothers Bloom and put a Hardware Wars reference into his Star Wars movie is insulting folks? And is JJ Abrams trying to be nice to a bunch of bikers who – by implication, seem to be nasty Aryan Nation types instead of just motorcycle enthusiasts?

The metaphor is deliberatly insulting but got me thinking. If I was to describe Star Wars, would it be a dive bar.

No, in my head, Star Wars is a CBGB like venue where the owner also had a band. Bare with me while I tell you the story of SWGB:

Back in 1977, this guy opened up a place called SWGB and his punk band was the headlining act. Now, they weren’t the most original punk band out there – you could hear echoes of other bands, even other punk bands, in the music – but he caught a lot of people’s ears.  The place sold out regularly. Lot of folks working in the background went on to start other bands. It had a huge ripple effect, especially to the kids who had their first punk experience there, and wanted to be the folks on stage, or in the songs.

By 1983, things had changed: a lot of the old band members got kicked out by the owner/band leader. By now, he was mostly concerned with producing and engineering for other bands, and getting a cut of the royalties from the last few albums, and all the swag there.  But – he kept the place alive by letting cover bands play, and giving a few folks the floor now and again. Some of it worked, and some didn’t, but it kept the place open while the band leader raked in the royalties.

Then, in the early 90’s, a friend turned him on to some new digital production techniques. Suddenly, the band leader/club owner started putting on shows again. They were the original shows, but with a lot of extra stuff added in. Special Editions of his earlier works, polished the way he wanted.  His original bandmates had long gone off to other things, so they didn’t get much of a say as he edited their work. But, it brought people back into the club – folks from the old days, and new folks, who got second and third hand stories.

By 1999 he announced he was getting the band back together and re-opening SWGB for real. Everyone went crazy, holding onto their old records, hoping to hear new music. But when he got back on stage… well, he’d gone into this weird digital experience, where it was more about diving into his desire to see what the production could do than actually making good music.

Still – club was open again! New people were listening to the music. He even let some new bands in and they got the message from the original teams. You could hear the old songs, but they added in their own new mixes. They did what the owner did back when: listened to older things, added in new things, and created something new.

Unfortunately, they started getting some new punks in the joint. Ones who were all about the look, but less about the ethos. They would go after new band members, harass them, drive them into depression and suicide all because the guy running the joint wasn’t making exactly the music they wanted to hear. And some of the older punks had gotten conservative. “We want to hear something just like the old days! Or else!” 

The mosh pit was getting ugly, and outside the club, more fights were starting. Lots of the people in the band leader’s crew started dropping away because of the abuse.  Eventually, the band leader got tired. He sold everything off to a big media company and left one of his few remaining bandmates in charge.  After a while, they announced they’d be bringing the club back in the old style: new music from new bands working with the owner’s original band-mates.

Opening night and they had their first big new band in. The band – We’ll call them TFA – was run by a fan and remix artist. He came in and gave them music which sounded like the original, 1977 work. No sign of the weird math rock stuff here, though there were callbacks to the fans of that work.   The idea was to bring in other newer artists and producers, to get their take on the materials.

But nothing works exactly as planned. The fans had split, again, and were loudly fighting over where the venue should go. They liked some of the bands there, like R1, but saw production issues in SLO’s work and didn’t really come in for it. Then, they brought in TLJ. The band were big fans of the original group’s second album, but went in different ways. They added in influences, took some of the things from other performances, and went in new directions. Critics loved it – but it split the audience.

Especially the angry ones. Mostly guys, mostly ones who thought they should be the star of the show, and everything should be done their way. They’d taken ownership of the music and instead of starting their own band, wanted to control who could come into the venue, what music was played, and would beat up anyone who didn’t match their standards.  So when ladies, or folk of color, or queerpunk bands showed up – they rioted. The fans of the ladies, folk of color, and queerpunk bands fought back, but the bitter punks were louder. And when TLJ ended its last set with “Fuck Off, Nazi Punks” it was all over.  There were lines in the sand now.

And then –  band they’d planned on going next completely hashed up their last show AND pissed off the person running the club. Money was threatened. The new owners demanded a return on their investment and they had to bring people back in who had proven they could get boots on the floor.  So, the band TFA was brought in again, renamed TRoS.  They worked really hard to ride the nostalgia like before – they wanted to please everyone, since they were the last band in the old venue.

Some folks loved it. Some folks were disappointed because they liked where TLJ was going. Some people bailed to go check out a new side project on the smaller stage called MANDO. And some decided to quit the scene all together, because they couldn’t enjoy the music without someone yelling at them.

Oh, and then there are the few – the ones you actually want to keep an eye out on. They took all of this and said, “You know, I think I want to make my own band. Something with the things l liked from old and new SWGB, and a few other things.”  Watch what they do from here and support them. And if you find yourself calling them ‘abominations’ and demanding they never play again ask yourself ‘What would the original SWGB punks do? The ones who were called all those names back in the day?’

If it’s something cruel – don’t do it. Because no matter what, everyone who went into SWGB wanted to create something in 1977. What do you want to do?


I’ll leave you with a quote from an author I admire:


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