Sunday, February 21, 2016

Star Wars & Wuthering Heights

I was thinking about the first time I read Wuthering Heights. I was thirteen, and I don't remember being particularly disturbed by it or even needing to define or give reason to its plot or its aims (I waited until college to start thinking about its theme). But it was always a story of compelling, memorable characters and settings.

Which all reminds me much of my experience with Star Wars. When I was young, I looked at the costumes (which are what define the characters, though I didn't think of it in that way at the time) and at the different locations and sets. I liked the blue milk that Aunt Beru pours, the way that Luke throws the poncho over his head on the way to the Millennium Falcon's docking bay (side note: the only thing that The Force Awakens was missing was a poncho--Episodes VI and I both had ponchos), the pink clouds above Bespin, the way Luke comes out in ROTJ looking all cool dressed in black and using the Force, the green trees on Endor, all of these things were Star Wars to me.

And then I got older and started to think about what it all meant--after I had already absorbed and memorized everything.

So on to my comparison. I want to cover (quickly) four items.


Wuthering Heights (I'll just call them WH and SW) can be confusing to read the first time because it deals with multiple generations and they mostly all have variations off of two or three names. Confusing names aside, SW also deals with generations--and in the same mixed up order. First you see (in SW) the children, then you go back and see the parents, and then you go forward and see the children's children. So both stories blend and constantly reflect back on not only the personal identity of the characters but also their parentage--and the way that their parentage affects them. Sometimes they have a positive legacy from their parents and sometimes it is a negative one. Either way, they're all in it together because they're family and it's the family that the audience is focusing on.


SW is an obvious story of good versus evil, with the Force representing both sides and with characters struggling to stay on one side of the spectrum. WH is a little more complicated and certainly less direct: there are characters you would describe as good and characters you would describe as bad and characters that are either good or bad at different moments. But I think you are aware as you read of this concept of different people making different choices about what they do and therefore about who they are. Whether or not WH is a story about good and evil, it is a story that dwells on both the positive and the negative.

The Villain

And both WH and SW have a memorable, ruthless villain. Darth Vader was a legend as soon as he first walked on screen; even though he was almost flat for most of the time (before you learned about who he was and therefore about the conflict that came to define his character), he was so established that it didn't matter. He is powerful and terrifying and unforgiving. Heathcliff is similar in his colorful characterization: you read him and you can just imagine him there and you do not want to ever meet him because he is so cruel. Whether or not you can apply the word evil to him is debatable (as everything is): he sort of just is. He does act evil at many times (though you kind of wonder if Cathy had married him and they had just gone off to live quietly away together if maybe he wouldn't have been that bad--but that's irrelevant because she didn't). Either way, they're both known as villains (unless you've only watched bad WH movies where Heathcliff is portrayed as a lover--yes, there's a love story in WH but it isn't like that at all).


Ah, the best part. You know, SW is one of my favorite fictional representations of redemption. You have Darth Vader, a completely evil figure, and you learn that he was once a man and you see him decide that he regrets his choices--and he chooses to forsake his past and become a new person, someone good again. The generation of evil ends with that one choice and he frees his son (and daughter) to start a new era free from the Emperor. In WH, the healing also comes with a new generation. At the end of the novel, both Heathcliff and Cathy are dead and it is Hareton and young Cathy who are alive, finding peace and essentially declaring a resolution to be content, if that is the right way of putting it. They are setting aside the "sins of the father" so to speak and choosing to move on with their lives like regular people, finding some happiness after all that's happened. A new generation and a new start.

Both stories have intense imagery, of people, of places, of actions, and of emotions. There is strong conflict and quite a bit of darkness. But in the end both stories find a quiet place, a place where hope can grow even after all the bitterness and hate--and that is the kind of hope that is inspiring, otherwise it means nothing.

Oh, and my songs for this post are Breaking Benjamin's "Great Divide" and "Ashes of Eden."


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