The Force is Still With Us
Yesterday was the 35th anniversary of the premier of the first Star Wars movie, later dubbed Star Wars IV: A New Hope.
Star Wars was a revolutionary movie, using age-old Saturday morning movie serial techniques merged with the latest (then) special effects to create a brand-new cinematic experience for movie-goers. Today’s young movie patrons can scarcely appreciate the dearth of good movies back then, especially in science fiction.
Now and then, a good movie, like Jaws, slipped through the Progressive cracks, entertaining audiences instead of clubbing them over the head with dreary themes (2001: A Space Odyssey), pornography (Ryan’s Daughter – when the previews came on for this upcoming film, my father removed us from the theater and thundered to my mother, who thundered to the theater management about showing X-rated previews during a children’s movie).
After 1965’s The Sound of Music, there wasn’t much you could take children to see. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was okay. Rex Harrison did his best in Doctor Doolittle (which was far superior to its remake). Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was too subversive and incomprehensible for a young mind. That was it. If there were other movies, they’ve long since been forgotten. A lascivious agency had taken over the cinema, giving us The Graduate and The Midnight Cowboy.
Star Wars woke us up with a bang. We’d been prepared since Jaws for better movies and a few years later, there it was. “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” My parents complained that it reminded them of the old adventure serials they’d go to see on a Saturday afternoon. Spaceships instead of horses. Otherwise, it seemed to them all much the same.
But it was new to us kids and young adults. The movie, once franchised, was well-dubbed “A New Hope.” Better movies were coming our way. Movies were the heroes were the heroes and the villains were the villains. Critics laughed, but audiences didn’t. We couldn’t get enough of Star Wars.
Soon, better movies did arrive. More and better science fiction. Better dramas. The enemies of good would not be gainsaid; in the Eighties a long list of dreadful movies came along, but so did Amadeus, The Terminator, and Back to the Future. The movie universe had been saved. Hooray!
Star Wars drew a galaxy of dedicated fans, some rather strange. So devoted were they that they analyzed and overanalyzed every parsec of George Lucas’ six movies. The prequels to the original did not go over well with his teenaged audience. The movies – admittedly – were darker and not as much fun. Since the stories were chronicling the life of Luke Skywalker’s father, Anakin, how could anyone expect them to be?
Fan-atics complained about the poor acting abilities of Hayden Christensen and the introduction of the detestable character, Jar-Jar Binks. Whether Christensen had limited acting abilities or he was directed to act in an emotionless, almost robot-like manner is difficult for any fan to say. As for Jar-Jar, maybe fans just need to get over it. Lucas needed a fall guy. It’s just a movie. Fans can protest too much and you have to wonder if maybe they see something of themselves in Jar-Jar.
More mature critics have two complaints about Lucas – his writing abilities and his politics. A perusal of the novelization of the first film settles that first issue: Lucas was a film director, not a writer. He was a conceptualist. For a Saturday afternoon movie, that was enough.
Our times, and our perception of the times, read more into the film than Lucas had actually written. Just when we needed a hero, Luke Skywalker showed up, followed a year later by Superman. In 1977, we were tiring of the Progressive Act. We were being controlled and we knew it. Along came the Rebellion Against the Empire, with the feisty Princess Leia as its nominal head, to show us the way.
Lucas kept his politics secret for a long time. Finally, he revealed that he wasn’t Luke Skywalker; he was a Progressive Darth Vader (so is his friend, Steven Spielberg), and many Conservative fans of the movie were appalled. Perhaps Lucas and Spielberg had thought they were portraying themselves as the heroes through their alter egos and our federated, free market capitalist republic as the enemy. Lucas had to set things straight, alienating many fans, even further.
Remember that Star Wars is a movie. Cinema veritae. We were founded as a free republic, with capitalist as its economic base. Free peoples will eventually rebel against a totalitarian, centralized government. No one can escape the truth. Not Luke Skywalker. Not Darth Vader. Not George Lucas. Not Obama.
Whether you’re battling a menacing behemoth of a bureaucratic government (“We must maintain the bureaucracy; otherwise how can the Emperor retain control?”), or in a galaxy far, far away, freedom will prevail.
Happy 35th Anniversary, Star Wars! And may the Force be with you – and us.