Once upon a time there was a handsome young man from a broken family, living on a planetary wasteland with an aunt and uncle…he races around his lunar-like landscape on a landspeeder, running errands for his uncle — things like buying androids and robots from very short creatures wearing inter-galactic versions of monks robes — but in one violent afternoon, he finds himself en route to becoming an inter-gallactic hero …
Welcome to world of Luke Skywalker, Director George Lucas’s ground-breaking fantasy that would rev up the imaginations of millions of moviegoers. That was 30 years ago (May 25, 1977). Where were you when Star Wars changed the face of movies?
Thirty years isn’t a long time in the grand scheme of things, but it was nearly half my life ago. I was in the toddler stage of my 27-year stint as a film critic, and saw in Star Wars a kind of Cowboys and Indians adventure that roused imagination and was just plain fun. Good guys and bad guys. Not unlike John Wayne westerns relocated in time and space. Not unlike the newest fantasy realm inhabited by Harry Potter, Ron, Hermoine, Dumbledore and Voldemort (this generation’s Darth Vader).
I remember sitting near the back of theater during a non-peak-hour showing, my soda untouched, popcorn uneaten, as I sank into the fable, succumbed to the whimsy of the fastidious C3PO and the brave little R2D2, rooting for the man in white (Skywalker), shuddering at the heavy predatory breathing of the villainous Vader in his swirling black cape and gleaming enameled mask. As for Han Solo, he had all the roguish qualities of an Errol Flynn pirate, cocky smile and all.
While the first space altering film was Stanley Kubrick’s amazing but much more solemn and slow-moving 2001: A Space Odyssey,that film still adhered to old ways of creating illusion.
The unconventional, outside-the-box creativity of Lucas, and a team that included John Dykstra and the computer savvy geniuses that formed industrial Light and Magic and a host of ancillary firms that deal in special effects and computer wizardry — the magic that made films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, ET, the Potter films, and a host of terrific movies in between, come alive.
From the first epic Star Wars trilogy (which now seems tame in comparison to its successors) to the second and far more technically sophisticated second trilogy (which ansers all the questios left hanging from the first), movie fans have come, bought tickets, and gotten their money’s worth. Not always through the stories, but most definitely through the technology.
I loved Star Wars, and the Empire Strikes Back, wasn’t crazy about Return of the Jedi or the first two “prequels” — especially Phantom Menace. That and Attack of the Clones seemed to sacrifice the story, adventure and characters on the altar of special effects. That changed in Revenge of the Sith, which worked for me, wrapping up the untold stories, answering the lingering questions. Revenge of the Sith brought back the humanity that made us cheer and root for our space heroes. For years my home was littered landspeeder models, character dolls, light sabers and other paraphenalia as my daughter and her friends were equally captivated by the heroes and villans.
Star Wars changed the face of movies, sometimes for the better, but not always. certainly not always. But first and foremost, Star Wars was and remains the one thing movies are supposed to be: terrific entertainment.
Author’s Note: for an in-depth look at George Lucas and the creation of Star Wars, you can reference my hometown alternative paper, at valleyadvocate.com (5/23/07).