162: London (Stratford)

OS Explorer map 162, Greenwich and Gravesend: East End, Docklands, Bromley, Sidcup & Thurrock – I don’t own this map, but I have visited it before I started this blog. Visited for this post 13th December 2017.

So this post continues straight on from the last, as I entered map 162 on the TfL Rail service from Liverpool Street with which that post ends. The purpose of my being in London was to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi on its opening night, together with my school friends Cabbage and Climbing Programmer. I got off the train at Stratford station at, I think, about half past four in the afternoon, and I was not scheduled to meet Cabbage until about quarter to six when he’d arrive from work, so I had over an hour to wait around for him.

Unfortunately, having never been to Stratford before, I had no idea that the huge Westfield centre existed just behind the station and so walked to the only place I could see where I might find somewhere to sit around for an hour – an altogether dingier shopping centre which faced the station entrance that I came out of. Failing to find a coffee shop, I ended up buying a hot chocolate and some onion rings in Burger King and sitting in their upstairs seating area, where I read my book and wrote some of the last blog entry. When the time came, I left in search of the entrance that Cabbage said he’d come out of – “next to M&S”. There was some confusion as I waited exactly above where I should and then came down only for Cabbage to have gone upstairs, but soon we met and proceeded to his nearby flat.

There Cabbage cooked a very nice fish pie which we ate after working out the oven settings, and then sat around talking for a while – Cabbage read the first two posts of this blog. As he was tired and we’d be up very late, Cabbage went and had a half hour nap before we went to collect a rain-sodden Climbing Programmer from the station (he’d been caught in a downpour in Bristol hours ago but was still damp). Cinema snacks were acquired in Sainsbury’s and, an hour or so later, we proceeded into the Westfield centre in search of the cinema!

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Cabbage and his fish pie

Now Cabbage and I had two years previously gone to see The Force Awakens on its opening night, in Sheffield together with Joystick, and this was a rather different experience, we found: in Sheffield there were huge Star Wars posters about everywhere, there were promoters in Star Wars costumes, and there were plenty of filmgoers in costume too (including us). But here, once we worked out how to get into the Westfield Vue, there were just a few people trickling into the screens, without a single costume or even a Star Wars poster in sight. Perhaps because Sheffield is more studenty? (I found out recently that Active Pumpkin, a new acquaintance of this year on my MPhil course, was also at the opening of The Force Awakens in Sheffield that night!)

In any case, we entered the cinema, sat, and at about twenty past midnight, it began, Star Wars: The Last Jedi! I am a great lover of Star Wars of course, as are Cabbage and Climbing Programmer. Goodness, that film was rather a rollercoaster! I really did like it very much in the end, but there were parts in the middle when it seemed awfully like it was going to go to very uncomfortable places.  This isn’t the place for a film review, but I will say that while I liked The Force Awakens (I certainly disagree with people who say it was just a redone New Hope), I thought that The Last Jedi was much better, really very good, on a par with last year’s Rogue One. A great deal happened in the film, and I thought a lot of it was very important and the very meaningfully carried the Star Wars story forward. [1]

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Cabbage, Climbing Programmer and I failed at finding a Last Jedi poster, and so we pose in front of some random other film poster

We returned post-film to Cabbage’s flat and slept. In the morning; Cabbage left reasonably early for work, leaving his keys with us so that Climbing Programmer could return them to him later in the day. I eventually left to buy us some breakfast (pains au chocolat and a Scotch egg), the two of us ate and departed, separating at Stratford station as I got on TfL Rail once more to Liverpool Street (alas, an old train again) while Climbing Programmer took the Jubilee Line to drop off the keys at Cabbage’s work before returning to Bristol on the bus. From Liverpool Street (not strictly in this map, but let’s finish the tale), I returned to Cambridge on a Greater Anglia service via Bishop’s Stortford rather than my usual Great Northern route from King’s Cross via Stevenage; I’d never taken that line before.

Previous visits

I visited this map less than two months ago, at the end of October, when I went to MCM London Comic-Con at ExCeL London, with Vesper and Erithacus. (I had been to this map before that, such as when I accompanied my cousin and her two young sons to BRICK, a Lego convention, in 2015.)

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Vesper, Erithacus and I at MCM London

I, entirely unprepared, just reused my Childermass costume from Nine Worlds last year (see previous post), and indeed did it rather worse since I’d lost the shirt that I’d made with the puffy sleeves and so just had to wear a formal white shirt. [2] I did, however, make a separate straight tall collar to wear with my shirt, which is a separate-collar shirt that I would normally wear with a stiff wing collar for black tie and so on. Erithacus, however, dressed very impressively as Lup from The Adventure Zone, a truly wonderful Dungeons and Dragons podcast to which she introduced me earlier this year. Now, alas, I was only about halfway through the podcast at the time of the convention, at which point this character had not been introduced, and I was assured that her very identity is a spoiler. I therefore had to turn away and close my ears whenever Erithacus was interacting with anyone about The Adventure Zone. Another occurrence of note at the convention was that we bought a mead-horn. The ASNaC Society has a much larger mead-horn that is brought out at our annual Black Tie Dinner, but we wanted one for our personal use, and we were very satisfied with it!

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Me making use of the new mead-horn at a fancy-dress pub trip in Cambridge a couple of weeks later.

I’m back home in Northamptonshire now, so my next post will be about things here, which I’ll try to post in the next few days!

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[1] After I saw The Force Awakens in Sheffield in 2015, Curtis and I had a long late-night drive back to York, during which I came up with a sleeplessness-addled grand theory of Star Wars that I locked away into a Word document, and then was not brave enough to look at again for a long time. Erithacus recently read it for me so that, if it was cringily awful, I wouldn’t have to face it, and then, as she assured me that if rather pompous it was not disgustingly bad, I read it. In the end, if I cut through my rather bombastic style and flights of rhetorical fancy, I think some of it was actually reasonably sensible, surprisingly. To attempt to distil the better parts into something more earthy, the following thoughts summarise the valuable bits of what that had to say, and extend them just a little to very briefly think about The Last Jedi. (Only very vague spoilers in the second paragraph.)

I think that with The Force Awakens, possibly the most important take-away point is just how precarious things seem to be, and the consequent extent to which just about everything about the First Order is emptily ostentatious, as if in overcompensation. The First Order is an insecure version of the Empire, which feels it has to build a Death Star But Better, with a leader who must project himself into a towering hologram and hide behind the title of Supreme Leader: the Emperor, But Better. Clearly the revolution of Return of the Jedi was successful in destroying the Empire, such that only this pathetic imitation remains, however it was just as clearly unsuccessful: whatever New Republic was built was clearly not particularly accomplished given that only the poor old Resistance can give any fight to the First Order; indeed, by the end of The Force Awakens, this New Republic is all but destroyed. What is to be read from this is, I think, that Return of the Jedi only destroyed the old; what it rebuilt was indeed a new Republic, that is, Old Republic again – the Old Republic that destroyed itself through its own complacency. To triumph, it is not enough to cast out the obviously evil, to solve one’s obvious problems; one must, is the implication, remake the old entirely, a much harder job.

If The Force Awakens, then, merely suggests this, watching The Last Jedi makes it explicit: what we see is the wiping away or the fading into irrelevancy of the old order entirely, of the old order of the Light as well as the Dark; the clear message being that the Light can only truly arise entirely anew by being entirely new. The radical implications of certain revelations, and especially of the film’s final scene, for the nature of this change are clear; we learn exactly which aspects of the earlier films’ heroic, operatic morality, need to and will change, just as we see another such aspect in Poe’s lesson. Star Wars is now, I think, very intelligently criticising its own past, without at all sacrificing the fairytale, symbolic quality that makes it so brilliant.

[2] I made that shirt by hand, while I was in Iceland in summer 2016 on an Icelandic course, so that was very disappointing to lose. I have the pattern and fabric to make another one, but it just took so very long that I haven’t got myself to start yet…

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