For most of the young people these days, our love for STAR WARS seems to be a puzzle. I can’t blame them. They have lived most of their lives seeing countless blockbusters, sci-fi, fantansies, horror and romance. Through the years, Hollywood had grown from personal/thematic filmmaking to big action films.
But for us who have lived to see how it all began, we can’t sustain our own wonder and celebrate every time the rolling prologues that each STAR WARS film has.
- Like the Game-changing films CITIZEN KANE and BIRTH OF THE NATION, STAR WARS made the quantum leap in Computer Generated Effects for films
While BIRTH OF A NATION (1915) by D.W. Griffith taught us editing techniques and language shots, Orson Welles’ CITIZEN KANE (1941) introduced us to the magic of special effects, creative sounds, and photographic creativity. Moreover, it gave us a chance to enjoy and still understand a non-linear narrative. It took the risk during its time and gave us a history to celebrate.
In STAR WARS, George Lucas merged all these to produce an epic action film, and more. He added more to the recipe by bringing in the familiar structures of our tales and soap operas.
2. STAR WARS ended a golden era of early 1970s personal filmmaking, and you can’t blame it for it.
When Lucas opened the cinemas to the STAR WARS experience, it marked an end to the 70s golden years of thematic films. Though a silent tragedy in itself, if you think about it, no one blamed him for it. Instead, the box offices filled with eager fans and audiences that other producers followed suit. Almost all film companies around the world wanted to have a STAR WARS of its own.
Thus the birth of, what critics want to call, Big-Budget Special Effects Blockbusters.
So if you’re wondering why we have films like IRONMAN, THE AVENGERS, AVATAR, JURASSIC PARK, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, and many others, you only have STAR WARS to blame.
3. STAR WARS re-creates the familiar stories of our own legends and myths.
Carl Jung would agree. In each STAR WARS story, we see familiar archetypes that we have learned to embrace from our bedtime stories and early tales. In Yoda, we have the Wise Old Man. Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader as the hero-turned Villain. Princess Leia and Padmé Amidala are our eternal Soul Mates and Good Mothers. In each tale we have the common Tricksters – Hans Solo and Jar Jar Binks. Along side them are the faithful R2D2, C3PO, and BB-8.
Of course, there is always the inevitable Journey of the Hero: Anakin leaves Tatooine to join Force. Luke, like his father, leaves his dry planet to journey across the galaxies and find himself. Rey was forced to leave her planet as an impending annihilation begins to erupt in her Jakku. And who would forget the reformed Stormtrooper Finn (formerly known as FN-2187), as he realizes that the First Order is up to no good.
4. STAR WARS gives us a glimpse our early preferences.
Let’s face it: Lucas’ story is as predictable as a primetime drama. As it roots its plot around common archetypal themes, we know, deep in our hearts how everything would end. But we still cling and see it until it ends. I think, because deep in our subconscious, we melt as we see ourselves in its heroes and even in its villains. Though it may have parallelisms with Akira Kurosawa’s THE HIDDEN FORTRESS (1958), he integrated new characters such as the Sith and an unlikely hero/villain Anakin.
As Lucas opens new chapters to develop his characters, we realize that everything in this far away galaxy is just one. It’s still a very small world, and it is as small as ours.
5. In 1999 STAR WARS proved how ahead of its time it was as early as 1977.
Before Episode 1 THE PHANTOM MENACE hit the theaters in the late 90s, Lucas Films released the remastered version of the original trilory (Episodes IV, V, and VI). According to Lucas, his team together with a new group of young special effects contributors, added new touches and an additional scene. The remastered copies are extremely watchable, yet for someone familiar with its original form, one wouldn’t see much difference.
Yes, it’s nice to know that Jabba the Hut could move in an almost elastic crawl, but above all these claims of higher technological revisions, we realize that there was little to revise in its original. The improvements were well done, yes, but they point up how well the effects were done to begin with. If the changes were not obvious, that’s because STAR WARS got the look of the film so right in the first place. So you see, Lucas has paved a new road to filmmaking in ’77, and he reigns, even, until now.
6. STAR WARS gives the feel of an ancient legend and an ongoing one.
The franchise may have stategized the order of its offerings (beginning with Episodes IV to VI and continuing with Episodes I to III), but if one can recall, it begins with the title card “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...” may give new meaning to the entire strategy.
Just thinking about it now makes one realize how such a old legend can happen within one’s own generation. For someone who had lived to see the original film in ’77, only to revisit the plot’s compelling origins in beginning in ’99, makes you feel that you are within the story’s own universe; battling in its wars, loving its heroes, and weeping for its villains.
Yes, it may have been a marketing strategy, for all we know, but in a linguistic/formalistic sense, it sends off a rather powerful touch!
7. STAR WARS brings us to a place in our memories.
For a Filipino film bum like me, it could be the red bricks of old QUAD in Makati (now known as Glorietta); or the big squared Greenbelt of old. It reminds me of the smell of popcorn and Pepsi by its lobbies and the long waiting lines at the box office.
STAR WARS was the time when I remember holding the hand of my father, as he pulled me through the crowds, eager to see what’s in store in that galaxy far, far away. As the first strum of the cresendo blast through the stereo speakers, we see its title. We gasp, we try to read the rolling prologue. For us, second language users, it’s just too fast. But we couldn’t care less. What mattered were the scenes that would come right after. By the third instalment, we know that after the rolling prologue comes a majestic pan of the galaxies and its stars. And in our minds, we silently wished for another epic battle to open this new film.
I remember my father explaining to me, in the dark of the theater, the stories of Obi-Wan and Luke. My brother would munch his popcorn with my mother, waiting only for Chewbacca to appear again. Or probably Yoda. We would go home with our own lightsabers, wishing to join the Force and fight the Dark Side.
When Episode 1 hit the theaters in the late 90s, I was a lonesome bum on a cinema seat. My father had a stroke and had had been bed-ridden for two years. My brother started working and my mother had other more important things to do.
But as the opening prologue rolled in its comforting yellow, I smelled the old 70s popcorn and my father’s whispered breath beside me. If I just looked to my left, I was sure to see my brother and mother again, munching and waiting for the action to start. It is sad to recall how alone you are now, but it is great to feel that you can always come back.
Oh, what a beautiful time it was.
May the Force continue to be with us.
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Gottesman, R. (1996). Perspectives on Citizen Kane. New York: G.K. Hall.
Ondaatje, M., & Murch, W. (2002). The conversations: Walter Murch and the art of editing film. Toronto: Vintage Canada.
Wexman, V. W., & Ellis, J. C. (2006). A history of film. Boston: Pearson/A & B.