Star Wars

27 11 2007

Star WarsIt’s hard to overemphasise the impact that Star Wars has had on modern cinema. Steven Spielberg’s Jaws laid the groundwork, but Star Wars became the prototype for the effects-laden blockbuster. That countless imitators (and the imitators of the imitators) often missed the point when it came to the success of Star Wars was a sad but inevitable outcome.

Director George Lucas, who had great success with American Graffiti just prior, filled his screenplay with everything swimming around in his subconscious from childhood entertainment: westerns, adventure serials, comic books, fairytales, samurai films, war films, pulp science fiction and anything else that sprang to mind. Yet everything in Star Wars seemed to exist in a coherent universe, where princesses could exist alongside bounty hunters and fighter pilots. In short, he concocted the most delicious blend of fantastic imagary that bounces around a ten-year-old boy’s head and then splashed it on cinema screens everywhere.

The plot, furthermore, followed closely the monomyth as detailed by Joseph Campbell but never felt written-by-the-numbers. Instead, the audience seems to be partaking in a ritualised retelling of an ancient story dressed in the tropes of 20th century pop culture, and it’s this dual nature of the film — contemporary, yet timeless — that no doubt lead to its massive popularity and longevity. We all knew the sources of inspiration and so it was immediately familiar without being strictly derivative. This was the Hero’s Journey for pop culture junkies.

Star Wars still

What was particularly striking was the spirituality bubbling just under the surface. The bad guys, the Empire, seemed atheistic (with the exception of Darth Vader), whereas the good guys, the Rebellion, were fighting to restore humanity and compassion back to the governing body. The Rebels embrace the nature of the Force, a kind of panentheistic belief system that is never fully detailed but instead given to the audience in the broadest of strokes to maintain its universality. Here is a world divided not just between wizards and warlocks, but also between the religious and the anti-religious — the compassionate and the cold-hearted — with the common man concerned more with tending to his family’s needs than anything else. This film is as relevant today as it was 30 years ago.

Amidst all this is a universe brimming with life that mostly exists just beyond the frame: desert scavengers that squeak and titter in an alien tongue as they capture unsuspecting robots; a dark, smoke-filled cantina that occasionally breaks into sudden violence which doesn’t really seem to affect the flow of conversation between its drunk, otherworldly patrons; a shoe-box-sized robot that scurries around a space-station until startled by the growl of an approaching captive. None of these touches of whimsy are strictly necessary, but all give Star Wars its unique character, as does the camp dialogue and often hammy delivery. This is not a comedy, bur neither is it a serious film — it’s a postmodern adventure movie with a science fiction gloss.

Of course, Lucas didn’t stop there — I’ll get to the subsequent films later. But Star Wars was the first, and it set in motion a juggernaut that fuelled the imaginations of audiences the world over. Perhaps we can forgive Lucas any later missteps for this one shining achievement.




2 responses

28 05 2010
Tron « Dion at the Flicks

[…] towards darker-tinged science fiction and fantasy. This was partly in response to the success of Star Wars in 1977, as is apparent with the generally goofy (but at times surprisingly sinister) Disney […]

20 01 2014
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