Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Star Wars: A New Hope

May the Force be with you... AND ALSO WITH YOU!

 So... what do I say about one of my favorite movies? I've seen this film so many times in the last twenty years, I can quote the whole thing from memory. I've cosplayed as Mara Jade. I have my own collection of lightsabers. I'm currently sitting underneath the New Hope poster, an Ewok keychain, and a Darth Vader with cookies con badge, and in front of a Rebel insignia autographed by Michael Stackpole. I have a wall of Star Wars collector's memorabilia on top of my movie collection, and a tub of mint condition action figures at my parent's house - not to mention a whole shelf of Star Wars books. So it's pretty hard to be unbiased about this film. Thankfully, it's the original that's preserved, not the "Special Edition", with all the CGI frippery. I can totally understand cleaning up some shots, but like every other fan, I don't understand cluttering up shots with dozens of CGI monstrosities. The success of the original films was that George Lucas was working with an amazing group of people - the actors would say no to him, he had good editors, script people, basically everything he didn't have for the prequels. The only thing that stayed the same was John Williams, and what do people remember fondly from the prequels? The amazing soundtrack. But off the criticism of George Lucas.

What is it that makes Star Wars so successful? Well, it's a combination of a few things. The straightforward Campbell Hero's Journey. The exciting serial adventure feel. The lived-in look of the galaxy. The fact that you got the idea that if the camera wandered off the main characters, you'd still end up watching a story that was just as interesting. The feeling that you're watching a part of a grander whole. The voyage of discovery. The likability of the cast. No, on a strict level, it wasn't doing anything brilliant. It's actually a pretty by-the-numbers science fantasy story (it's not even true science fiction if you want to get technical). It's not a grand epic like Dune or Foundation. It doesn't espouse a philosophy like Stranger in a Strange Land or make commentary on the nature of humanity like 2001. But Star Wars did something that very few science fiction films had ever done before: it took that magnificent landscape of imagination and it made it visible. Unlike Star Trek, all the aliens looked alien. Robots looked like robots. Things looked dirty. It all looked real - you could totally imagine aliens from another society seeing this movie and mistaking it for a historical document. Sure, a few of the puppets and costumes look kind of rubbery now, but geez, did they look different from anything anyone ever saw before. And just like Blade Runner influenced future city design for years to come, Star Wars influenced science fiction films. Suddenly, these were blockbusters, not kiddie fare. It made nostalgia for the old whiz bang Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers cool. In a way, you could say Star Wars started this whole nostalgia train by legitimizing it. It made some level of geeking out socially acceptable. And the soundtrack was just so good. And the cast was just so likable. And the special effects were just so groundbreaking. People who are more educated in film than I am have tried for years to explain "Why Star Wars?". That's my best explanation. Every time I watch it, I'm back to a 9 year old kid with a sore throat sitting down with a ginger ale and a bowl of chicken soup, watching them for the first time. Even if I can quote every line, I'm filled with wonder and joy every time. And I can't really ask a movie to do more than that.

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