Wing Commander, by Albert W. Vogt III

Recently, some old and dear married friends of mine asked me to come north to watch their dog as they go on what they call a “baby moon.”  If you are like me and had never heard this term before, it is when you are expecting your first child but decide to take one last trip together before giving yourselves over to that noble pursuit known as parenthood.  I spent an evening with them before they left, and during that they introduced me to a British television series on which they are keen called Agatha Christie’s Poirot (1989-2013).  The famous Belgian detective in the show, Hercule Poirot, is played by David Suchet.  Seeing him in this role, despite the outlandish mustache, tripped my memory of the one other piece in which I remembered seeing Suchet: Wing Commander (1999).  The differences between the movie and the show are, to say the absolute least, stark.  The movie is pretty bad, too, but do not simply take my word for it.  As the film began on Amazon Prime, I noticed a bit of trivia pop up.  It said that Wing Commander was one of the films that had a trailer for Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999).  According to the blurb, people bought a ticket for the former just see a preview for the latter.  Once satisfied, they got up and left.  For the rest of the story of Wing Commander, now you can take my word for it.

None of what was said in my introduction to Wing Commander indicates what it is about.  The opening credits do the trick, I suppose, using President John F. Kennedy’s speech regarding the beginning of the space race.  We then zoom through a bunch of made-up events in the history of space travel to the year 2654.  Those who made the initial explorations and settlements came to be known as Pilgrims.  Then there was some kind of war with them, before giving way to yet another war with a newly contacted alien race known as the Kilrathi.  They look like giant cats and want to kill all humans.  There are also different sectors of space, jumping through time and space to get to them, and whatever.  In one of these sectors is the Confederation (these are the humans) station known as Pegasus.  It contains a doodad that looks like a car battery but is a computer that calculates all the jump coordinates for Confederation vessels.  The Kilrathi attack Pegasus, destroying it, and taking the computer with them.  With it, they can jump to Earth and wipe out the human’s home planet.  Pegasus’ commander manages to get a message off to Confederation fleet commander Admiral Geoffrey Tolywyn (David Warner) warning of the situation.  Through a bunch of calculations that I hope made sense to someone, somewhere (because it was clear as mud to me), he determines that the fleet cannot make it to Earth in time.  However, there is a lone ship out there, the Tiger Claw, that might be able to do it.  Again, vague science reasons prevent him from contacting the ship’s commander, Captain Jason “Jay” Sansky (David Suchet)?  Instead, he turns to a small cargo freighter, the Diligent, belonging to Commodore James “Paladin” Taggart (Tchéky Karyo), to get orders to the Tiger Claw.  Conveniently, the Diligent is carrying two replacement fighter pilots to their new command, and one of these is Lieutenant Christopher “Maverick” Blair (Freddie Prinze Jr.).  He is known to Admiral Tolywyn because the fleet commander served with Lieutenant Blair’s father during the Pilgrim Wars.  Thus, Admiral Tolywyn entrusts the message to Lieutenant Blair to deliver to Captain Sansky.  There is something else special about Lieutenant Blair: his mother was a Pilgrim.  Centuries of wandering the stars has given these select few a preternatural ability to navigate without the need of a computer.  With these instincts, they are able to get to the Tiger Claw faster than normal.  The problem, though, is that not everyone has love for Pilgrims, even half-breeds like Lieutenant Blair, who never knew his parents.  This makes his integration into the rest of the fighter wing more difficult.  His fellow academy classmate who came out with him, Lieutenant Todd “Maniac” Marshall (Matthew Lillard) has a much easier time with it, and is soon fraternizing with veteran pilot Lieutenant Rosie “Sassy Sister” Forbes (Ginny Holder).  Their budding romance is interrupted by the arrival of a small fleet of Kilrathi ships that the Tiger Claw is attempting to slow down before they can get to Earth.  Look, there is a lot of battle and explosions in here and I need to speed it up because I have spent too much time on set-up.  The Tiger Claw is barely hanging on, but they get a boost when they board a Kilrathi vessel and find the computer taken from Pegasus.  With it, they are able to get the coordinates the Kilrathi plan to use to jump into Earth’s solar system.  They send Lieutenant Blair to navigate the nearby gravitational anomalies to send warning to the rest of the Confederation fleet.  For a wing man on this mission, he gets his commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Jeannette “Angel” Devereaux (Saffron Burrows), between whom there is a growing relationship despite her rules and mostly acting irritated.  Yet, she ends up not making the jump after her fighter is destroyed while shooting down a missile destined to destroy the Tiger Claw.  She manages to eject and order Lieutenant Blair to carry on.  So he does, getting through to save the fleet, and managing to take out a large Kilrathi ship on his own.  He makes it back to the Tiger Claw in time for Commodore Taggart to have saved Lieutenant Commander Devereaux, and I guess they live happily ever after.

There is a lot of silly in Wing Commander that I could point out, but I will simply focus on one to underscore the rest. When Lieutenant Forbes dies crash landing on the flight deck before the hangar (which, this is space, so how can anyone “land”), her “downed” fighter is preventing other craft from a safe return.  Despite Lieutenant Marshall’s pleading, Lieutenant Commander Devereaux orders the wreckage pushed off the runway.  When this happens, instead of floating away because, again, space, it falls downward.  Still, for a film this dumb, there are surprising parallels to Christian thought.  The first thing that comes to mind is the idea of the Pilgrims.  They are loosely described, particularly by Commodore Taggart who is also one of their number, as being touched by God.  That is a neat concept, and I took it as meaning that they relied only on Him in stepping out into the unknown.  The exact details are never described, of course, but I like to think that it truly was God in whom they put their complete trust.  When you are doing something that monumental, what else can you do?  This is clinched when Lieutenant Blair does this at the climactic moment to get through to the fleet.  Since this is Hollywood, they naturally do not give a full picture of what it means to trust in God.  For them, it is a means to an end.  For us who practice our Faith, we let the ends stay in God’s hands for whatever the outcome, He is glorified.

If you want to learn more about what it means to trust in God, get yourself a spiritual director instead of watching Wing Commander.  I hope this is not taken too harshly, but a true mark of its quality is how it made back less than half the budget it took to make it.  If you really must consume these stories, play the video games on which they are based.  Those are fun.

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