Fish Griwkowsky was all of six years old when he saw the first Star Wars film—on its first run, no less. Catalogues of Star Wars toys were being handed out at the theatre’s exit—assuredly by some marketers quite savvy to the franchise’s emerging audience—which sparked a longtime (though “since-cured”) toy addiction for the Edmonton Journal arts critic and writer.
Jump ahead a couple decades, and J J Abrams’ The Force Awakens hit theatres. Griwkowsky found himself walking out with mixed feelings, which now take shape in The Source Awakens, a photo show/commentary opening this weekend at the Front Gallery. To make it, Griwkowsky hauled much of his remaining Star Wars collection up Tunnel Mountain in Banff, and shot photos of the figures, since enlarged, as a way of making comment on the new film.
In advance of the show’s opening, Griwkowsky took some questions about The Source Awakens via email.
VUE WEEKLY: When did you start collecting Star Wars memorabilia?
FISH GRIWKOWSKY: Mid ’77 I got a C-3P0 from a Spokane grocery store, and that was that. I ended up with one of the biggest collections in Alberta, every original-series figure-scaled toy ever made, etc, but as Qui-Gon Jinn will tell you, there’s always a bigger fish. It got to the point where I was choosing the toys over people and experiences—pathetic—so I walked away cold turkey and warehoused everything. Actually thought I’d lost all the figures until I had the idea for this weird show-as-a-movie-review.
VW: Why did macrophotos of your collection seem like a good way to make comment? What sort of comment were you looking to make?
FG: I wanted to officially acknowledge the source material and let people see it face-to-face in these close-up enlargements, whether or not you link it to the new film. I’ve been reading Susan Sontag and Roland Barthes, and they’ve got amazing, interesting observations about how photography both preserves and destroys, falsifies, brings back the dead in uncomfortable ways—and I thought that fit nicely with the new movie, so I’ve typed out some of their quotes to continue a sub-theme of the power of physical objects, like the toys. I’ll have all, as in all, the original figures on display at Front, as well.
You can definitely ignore all the theory and just look at the photos—which to me parallels just loving Star Wars and not getting all pretentious about it. The theory in the show sort of calls itself to question this way. But I couldn’t turn my brain off. I basically had no choice but to do this, it was one of those shows.
VW: Star Wars is as entrenched in popular culture as anything could possibly be. Is there any way to have returned to that world [with The Force Awakens] and ever live up to the nostalgia that’s now inherent to it?
FG: The mob tells us the prequels were terrible, and, yeah, they had obvious problems. But they made that universe bigger, and filled it with a whole bunch of captivating new science-fiction set-pieces—two-headed podrace announcer aside. Yoda’s nails scratching down the senate booth. The Duel of the Fates music. Anakin and Padmé looking across the city at each other. That giant-monster arena fight. R2-D2 fixing that ship in space as all the other droids got picked off.
And there’s lots of cool stuff in the new film, too. But overall I felt like it made Star Wars a smaller place, sort of just melting its best ideas down for parts. There’s not one thing in the new film that I can’t tell you the exact source of from the first trilogy, slightly twisted. And I just don’t buy the argument the audience is too stupid to understand anything fresh. They started with an image of a Star Destroyer in the sand, literally, instead of a story. You should have seen what they almost gave us, though. This new film is a miracle compared to what they were thinking [of] first.
VW: What was the shoot itself like? In your initial email, you mentioned hauling the set up Tunnel Mountain and “feeling the weight of Abrams’ responsibility.”
FG: I carried over 150 figures up a mountain above the Banff Centre, and it was hot and sweaty—those freaks weigh a lot at once, climbing through the snowy forest. I didn’t realize I was bringing up five Chewbaccas until I got to the top. Doing so, I felt a symbolic empathy for Abrams—he was pretty burned out before he made this episode, but just had to do it. I felt pretty insane taking photos of Boba Fett and an AT-AT Driver as German tourists walked by and pointed. But, you know, I had the urge to bring these toys along with me, which has been happening since 1977 in various ways. Including this show, really.