Friday, April 24, 2015

Star Wars

In honor of the upcoming release of Episode Seven, and in response to the repeated urging of an anonymous LD post commenter, I will review the first six installments of this much beloved series.........

I can still see the marquee of the Cinema 70 in West Palm Beach, FL, back when it was a uniplex: "It's Here!" exclaimed the metal letters.  And there it would remain for over one year.  In this age, it's hard to imagine a film playing in a theater for more than a few weeks before heading to the home video market.  In 1977, only those with a grand with which to part could afford a VCR, and STAR WARS wouldn't arrive on videocassette or cable for several years anyway. 

I attended at least a dozen screenings of George Lucas' game changing sci-fi opera.  Once even for someone's birthday party.  Drove my father crazy.  But the movie was mind blowing.  I really had not seen anything like it. I became obsessed along with many of my peers and millions of instant fans.  I don't really know what to add that hasn't already been written about this film, one that became a runaway smash and inspired not only multiple sequels, but a merchandizing blitz that gave birth to the possibilities of film tie-ins, a multimillion dollar industry in itself. I had the bed sheets and land speeder replicas.  I join legions of others who are kicking themselves for discarding the original action figures which fetch some serious cash nowadays.

Lucas was a '70s wunderkind whose talent was evident in the dystopian future opus THX 1138 and the nostalgic hit AMERICAN GRAFITTI (review to come).  While the more cerebral 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and SILENT RUNNING had already dazzled audiences with mind blowing special effects, STAR WARS provided old fashioned movie thrills and characters with whom even the dimmest audience member could relate.  Most didn't know or care that Lucas borrowed many ideas from old serials, Westerns, and even Kurosawa films.   You might even say that STAR WARS was a tribute or homage to such.

Last year I posted about NPR's 1981's radio series inspired by STAR WARS and again I highly recommend it to any crazed aficionado.  To anyone who'd like some back story on Luke Skywalker, a lonely farm boy in a galaxy far, far away with big dreams and who eventually finds himself fighting the evil Empire, led by Darth Vader, a once decent man now encased in a metallic mask that distorts his voice and allows a near constant exhalation that was imitated in schoolyards the world over. 

Luke (Mark Hamill) responds to the distress call of Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) whose home planet has been destroyed by the Empire.   Skywalker is assisted, albeit reluctantly, by a spice smuggler named Han Solo (Harrison Ford) who pilots a bucket of bolts spaceship and has a companion called Chewbacca, a tall, shaggy member of the Wookie species. Trusty droids C-3P0 and R2-D2 provide language interpretation and on-the-spot maintenance, respectively.  A fair amount of comic relief, too. There to guide the na├»ve Luke is wise, elderly Jedi knight Obi Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness), whose past is linked with Vader's.  Luke himself will discover his own connection with this nemesis, especially in Episode V, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.

STAR WARS, which lately has been referred to by its full onscreen title: EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE, is such an important piece of my history as it not only kick started my lifelong film going jones, but really defined so much of my childhood.  Just about everyone my age with whom I was close shared my aggressive interest in Lucas' world, and to this day it binds us in unexplainable ways.  Somewhat like club (or cult) membership, but something deeper.  I guess you could call the whole thing a religion we share(d).  Drew us out of ourselves and created healthy bonds among us, the way participation in athletic events also might.  It seemed like everyone was into it back then, even the girls. Fistfights were avoided when it was discovered that the would-be combatants had a similar affection for those multiple species in the Cantina.  We all pretended to be STAR WARS characters during recess, acting out the film's scenes and creating our own.

Speaking of religion, many in my Baptist church began drawing comparisons between "The Force" and the way, the Truth, and The Light.  It was exciting; "George Lucas must be a Christian!" Sunday school teachers conjectured.  But my later readings revealed similarities to many other philosophies, much the way so many other films immediately championed for Christian imagery have.  As I get older I've stopped trying to aggressively unearth such Meaning in movies, unless sufficiently compelled. As Obi Wan might say, "One can usually find what One seeks if he gazes through but one filter".  Or at the very least, "consider the source".

Many people have a cultural benchmark of this sort from their childhood, something that they relay to younger folk as they listen impatiently.  STAR WARS is mine.  Unlike other bits of pop culture from decades past, this one and its offspring just won't die.  Even with Lucas' ill advised latter day tinkering special editions.......
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