Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A New Hope

“Thank the Maker!”

Thirty-three years ago, a new kind of science fiction movie burst upon the movie screens, with a flourish of heralding trumpets. It was unconventional, unlike anything anyone had seen before, yet borrowed conventions from every successful Saturday-afternoon serial.

Later, its creator, George Lucas would give the movie the subtitle, “A New Hope.”

Spike TV is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the release of “The Empire Strikes Back,” the second in the series, or the fifth, depending upon your point of view. Lucas added the subtitle to the “original” Star Wars after he released this second film.

“A New Hope” was an appropriate title. Not only was Luke Skywalker to the “new hope” for the struggling rebel alliance against the galactic empire, but he – and the movie – were a new hope for a generation struggling against deplorable, revisionist movie-making.

After 1965’s the Sound of Music, movie-lovers were cast into a wasteland of dreadful films. We were sold a bill of goods on the quality of movies like The Graduate, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, A Clockwork Orange, and Easy Rider, and The Wild Bunch, and Bonnie & Clyde.

And those were considered some of the better films of the Sixties. Real popcorn with butter flicks, yes sir. Movies improved somewhat with the dawn of the Seventies – Patton, The French Connection, The Godfather. M*A*S*H, an anti-American, anti-war movie.

Things were still looking pretty bleak. Then Steven Spielberg and George Lucas burst upon the scene with American Graffitti and Jaws. Still grim, but at least the latter was entertaining. Science fiction was still in the Dark Ages.

2001: A Space Odyssey. Give me a break. Maybe it was because my brothers and I were left at the movie theater while my parents went to my cousin’s college graduation party (they couldn’t afford a babysitter and my grandparents were at the party). We suffered through countless sittings of this film until I thought I would go out of my nine year-old mind.

The movie theater was quite a distance from home, over a dark, busy road with no sidewalks and no streetlights. Still, I begged my older (12) brother to take us home. I told him I’d rather face all the drunk drivers in northern New Jersey than have to sit through this movie again (we’d been there since the first showing in the afternoon).

Finally, he called my parents and told them we couldn’t take it anymore: we were going home. And we did; we left the theater and started walking. It was dark and scary. But I was so relieved to get out of that theater, that I didn’t care.

Our horrified, if clueless, parents finally caught up with us and piled us into the station wagon. They vowed they’d never leave us alone in a theater again. And I vowed I would never watch that piece of garbage movie ever again.

In fact, I swore to never go to any science fiction movie ever again because of 2001.

To this day, I can’t believe critics who tout it as one of the greatest sci-fi flicks of all time. (I wonder what we would have thought if we’d known what the real year 2001 would hold in store for us?)

What a revolution Star Wars was, in comparison. The “Dark Ages” were over.

Just a few years earlier, we had staged our American History revolution. We’d spent our early years watching and listening to our older brothers and sisters fawn over the hippies and the anti-war movement. We just didn’t get it.

Finally, we had enough. I remember at a high school pep rally, that there was a battle going on whether to continue the anti-establishment, anti-everything positive, mood, or to chuck it.

The cheerleaders were tired of it. They wanted the band’s buy-in. The older band members sneered at them. But we younger generation agreed. If our older brothers and sisters wanted to zone out, let them. We wanted to have fun.

The revolution – or counter-counter revolution had begun. We were taking back our school, our culture, and (with our history class revolution), our country. Our high school band director had just quit in solidarity for the assistant director, who’d been fired for having a transsexual operation.

Good riddance to that band director. He was a jerk of the first order. He was solidly in the anti-establishment camp. Our marching band was the laughingstock of every band festival. F-Troop, they called us. He didn’t believe in marches, or drilling, or competitions. And it showed.

The new guy was totally different. He expected us to work hard, to practice, and to give 110 percent. The older band members who were loyal to the old guy, quit the band. Only five junior class members remained on board. I was one of them.

He was another one of the heroes of the “revolution”. By the year after I graduated, F-Troop became an award-winning high school band, winning a regional competition held in Philadelphia.

That was the year after Star Wars came out. A few years after that, Ronald Reagan would be elected President of the United States. What a victory it was for Conservatives.

But “The Empire” did “strike back”. The propaganda machine was relentless in their criticism of Reagan. The teachers went about their business of not teaching history, science or English. Hollywood went on to make other terrible propagandist movies, like Fern Gully.

They managed to get a man elected to office with no experience other than one term as a U.S. senator and a community organizer.

However, they hadn’t bargained on the “Class of ‘77”. We’ve simply been biding our time. That time came with the Tea Parties of 2009. When you see us, and wonder what our inspiration has been, tune in this weekend to the Star Wars films.

Star Wars taught us to think once again in terms of black and white, good and evil, destiny and responsibility, hope and courage. That there are things worth fighting and dying for (wait – that was Gone with the Wind, and Mr. O'Hara was talking about land, not freedom).

That freedom is worth cheering for.


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