Thursday, December 31, 2015
Make no bantha bones about it--Star Wars: A New Hope (1977) was a cinema game changer that, for better or worse, ushered in the modern era of the FX-heavy big blockbuster. But whether you love, hate or are indifferent to George Lucas' original sci-fi/fantasy epic, you have to recognize the importance and impact this film had on movies and popular culture. Here's a CineVerse assessment:
STAR WARS WAS INSPIRED BY MANY PREVIOUS FILMS, BOOKS, MYTHS, AND EVEN RELIGIONS. CAN YOU CITE ITS INFLUENCES?
• The Flash Gordon film serials of the 1930s, which also used a prologue screen crawl, a princess with hair buns, stories of rebels vs. imperial forces, laser gun battles, and more
• Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces, which espouses that all mythology about heroes is actually a symbolic retelling of a fundamental myth concerning the personal development and growth of the individual
• Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress, which has a similar story and characters
• Westerns like The Searchers and Yojimbo; it’s a science fiction movie, but it has the sensibilities of a western, with rough and tough cowboys like Han Solo, a man in the black hat like Vader, a bar fight like the cantina scene, violence on the homestead like the burning of Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru, etc.
• Many costumes and character designs borrowed from The Wizard of Oz, Metropolis, This Island Earth, and other pictures
• Gone With the Wind in its epic sweep/look and high production values
• Frank Herbert’s Dune series
• World War II fighter pilot films like 633 Squadron and The Dam Busters
• 2001: A Space Odyssey, in its highly detailed shots of spacecraft and outer space
• The legends of King Arthur and Beowulf
• The spiritual teachings of Taoism, Buddhism, pantheism, and Manichaeism
HOW DID STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE FOREVER CHANGE CINEMA AND POPULAR CULTURE AND PROVE HIGHLY INNOVATIVE?
• It revolutionized movie special effects and paved the way for more realistic, impressive digital effects: Lucas’ team employed animation, detailed miniatures, and an innovative system of computer-controlled camera systems utilizing custom processors to create complex composite shots from multiple camera passes, resulting in more sophisticated motion photography that produced realistic looking and fast-moving spaceships.
• Lucas achieved his dream of letting the visuals tell the story and creating a visually cinematic universe where the story can be designed to serve the effects instead of vice versa.
• Interestingly, Star Wars is not very original; it’s a mash up pastiche that borrows elements from many earlier sources and uses derivative conventions that we’ve seen and read about before; but despite its stilted dialogue and predictable “good conquers evil” outcome, the way it creatively combined these influential elements and produced breathtaking visuals for its time made it unforgettable.
• This ushered in the era of the summer blockbuster and the big special effects event movie that was targeted more to younger audiences than solely to adults. The negative repercussions of this included less interest in smaller, lower-budget independent films.
• It also indelibly altered the way movies are mass marketed and tied in with merchandising.
• Lucas introduced the cinematic concept of a “used future,” where machines, ships, and locales looked worn, dated, and lived in, instead of antiseptically clean and perfect like 2001: A Space Odyssey.
• Before Star Wars, films of the 1970s were often bleak, pessimistic, and dark in their world views, characters, situations and look, with antiheroes abounding; consider movies like The Godfather, Dirty Harry, All the President’s Men, Taxi Driver, etc.
• Additionally, the film rejuvenated interest in science fiction, which was depicted earlier in the decade in “nihilistic vision(s) of a future that held no hope, with films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Colossus: The Forbin Project, The Andromeda Strain, Westworld, The Terminal Man…and THX 1138. Science fiction went from a vision of an inhospitably alone universe to a thoroughly lived-in one whose inhabitants took the miraculous for granted; production design of the future went from pristine antiscepticism to a lived-in world that was running down at the edges; robots went from dangerous A.I.’s conspiring against humanity to cute anthropomorphic sidekicks that did a Laurel and Hardy routine; aliens were no longer vast, threatening forces from out of a hostile universe but merely ugly mugs in a barroom that humanity had so managed to intermingle with that co-relationship was taken for granted; and spaceflight was less a bold, fearsome breaking of new frontiers than it was something being conducted by kids not unakin to the hot-rodders in Lucas’s American Graffiti,” wrote reviewer Richard Scheib.
• Star Wars inspired audiences with a thrilling sense of adventure and wonder, with its throwback sensibilities to the swashbuckling action movie, the shoot-em-out western, the aerial dogfight war film, the damsel-in-distress rescue picture, the fairytale, and the hero’s quest for maturity and personal achievement story.
• Roger Ebert wrote: “Star Wars taps the pulp fantasies buried in our memories, and because it's done so brilliantly, it reactivates old thrills, fears, and exhilarations we thought we'd abandoned when we read our last copy of Amazing Stories. The movie works so well for several reasons, and they don't all have to do with the spectacular special effects. The movie relies on the strength of pure narrative, in the most basic storytelling form known to man, the Journey. All of the best tales we remember from our childhoods had to do with heroes setting out to travel down roads filled with danger, and hoping to find treasure or heroism at the journey's end. In "Star Wars," George Lucas takes this simple and powerful framework into outer space, and that is an inspired thing to do.”
WHAT THEMES ARE EXPLORED IN “STAR WARS”?
• The struggle of good versus evil (the light side vs. the dark side of the Force).
• The classic journey of the hero driven by a quest for personal growth and the vision of an angel in need (Princess Leia).
• The triumph of the underdog against imposing forces (rebels vs. Imperials).
• The value of personal sacrifice for the good of others (Ben letting himself be killed).
• The redemption of a selfish, materialistic antihero who proves to be a day-saving hero (Han Solo).
• Nature is more powerful than technology (consider how Luke uses the Force in his lightsaber training and in blowing up the Death Star).