Friday, May 9, 2014

Episode V: The Fans Strike Back

The Blog notes... This post is "Part Two" of a, probably, three part series of reminiscences, opinions and predictions, about the "Star Wars" series of movies.

No one in the galaxy devotes more energy to hating Star Wars than the people who love Star Wars.

If you love Star Wars, you know that this is true.

If you don't love Star Wars, you don't care if it's true.

And that's the point. Fans of Star Wars, especially people like me who saw the original first, have passionately taken issue with so many of the things that came after because none of the subsequent movies, cartoons, books...

                                                            ...or a Christmas Special...

...etc. had the things that made us love the original so much.

Some fans and most critics say that the second and third installments, "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi," are much better movies than the first. And, I will concede that they are probably right. But, I never warmed to them the way I did that first one.

I saw the original about 30 times during it's initial release. I don't think I saw the next two, during their first runs, more than 3 times, each.

The original was, visually, pretty cutting edge in spite of a low budget. So, it was pretty cheesy even as it was spectacular. The look, unlike pretty much every sci-fi movie and TV show before it, was dusty and grimy and banged up.

John Dykstra got creative with the photographic effects, inventing new ways to make old school model and stop-motion effects look better than anything that had come before. 

Stuart Freeborn designed some spectacular main characters, while Rick Baker scoured his lab for every rubber mask he could find for background characters and the denizens of the Mos Eisley cantina.

The cast were relative unknowns. The movie's core demographic had never seen an Alec Guinness film until then. The most familiar face to an audience of Famous Monsters of Filmland readers was Hammer Film mainstay Peter Cushing who got fourth billing in spite of the smallish role of Grand Moff Tarkin.

George Lucas' story was a simple and familiar mash-up of westerns and war movies. The bad guy even wore black.

In the end, the whole thing felt like a labor of love for Lucas and everyone else involved. They did better than they should have been able to, given the budget constraints.

And, for George Lucas, it was also a pretty big career risk. Riding the cred of the success of his first and only commercial movie, "American Graffiti," if Star Wars had tanked at the box office, it may well have brought Lucas' career to a very sudden end.

"A New Hope" while a game changer, was also possibly the last movie of it's kind.

A large scale, summer popcorn movie made with little interference from studio suits and without a thought given to ancillary merchandising.

Merchandising? What merchandising?

Aside from the requisite paperback novelization, motion picture soundtrack album and a comic book adaptation, Star Wars was released without a bit of merchandise to be found.

20th Century Fox was caught so off guard in that respect that their June movie release had no, much demanded, merch anywhere near ready for the Christmas season.

That year, kids who wanted Star Wars toys for Christmas received what amounted to "action figure promissory notes" sold to desperate parents by the toy company Kenner.

And that lack of commercial savvy sums up the charm of the very first Star Wars movie.

Episodes V and VI couldn't avoid the taint of premeditated, corporate commercialism that Episode IV was innocent of.

Hell, by the time "Return of the Jedi" was made, the crew of the Millennium Falcon found themselves on a planet populated by toy store ready teddy bears.


After all these years, it just now occurs to me. In worlds filled with tauntauns, banthas, ewoks and wookies, how did Han Solo's ship come to be named after an earthling bird?

*End Digression*

Where was I?

Oh, yeah. "Lack of commercial savvy."

Even after the phenomenal success of Star Wars...

20th Century Fox...


Possibly the most insane thing that has ever happened in Hollywood.

At least until Lindsay Lohan came along.

And that is when the unthinkable happened.

Lucas, now the sole owner of the Star Wars property, screwed around with the original movie.

Embracing new technologies, George, on a technical level, essentially remade the original movies, tweaking the effects with CGI.

Unlike a lot of my fellow Star Wars fans, I don't hate George for doing that.

As an artist for hire, I can't tell you how many times I have applied my craft and watched it be committed to film or video, and wished that I had done something differently. "If only," I say to myself, "If only I could go back and make that one change, knowing what I know now."

So, I get it.

It's George's sandbox. He gets to play any way he wants to.

I wish he hadn't messed with the original. But, it was his right to do so.

I wish that the original was available, in it's original form, on DVD and Blu-Ray™.

Call me an optimist.

*Pause for laughter*

But, I suspect that hope is not lost.

I'll say more about that in "Episode III" of this little trilogy.

Which brings us to Episodes I, II and III.

If you are like me, you enjoyed seeing the back story of the rise of Darth Vader.

And, if you are like me, you are happy to watch absolutely anything that features Natalie Portman.

                                              Even when she is wearing clown make-up.

But, beyond that, what was there to like about these soulless, big budget, CGI heavy prequels?

Well, except for a really epic "Weird Al" Yankovic tune?

Yeah. Not much.

Which brings us to the bantha in the room.

Are you mad because The Walt Disney Company now owns Star Wars and the whole Lucasfilm™ catalog?

Are you pissy because J.J. Abrams, the man who rebooted Star Trek and caused this recovering Trekkie to fall off the starship, has been charged with helming the final triptych in the Star Wars saga?


I will address this further in "Episode III: The Return of the Franchise."

Can anything that is coming from Abrams and Disney be any worse than what "the creator" himself has done to the series?

Pray, tell me, how much you loved "The Phantom Menace."

                                                                        And, this guy.

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