Tuesday, March 05, 2013

The Force That Changed America

Here's what gets me.

Star Wars was changed, as you know, and in 1997 could also have been changed to "Twenty years ago in a Hollywood universe far, far away a young man named Lucas fulfilled his vision and managed to make a sappy space opera filled with mythological overtones, innovative special effects and filmmaking techniques that were a throwback to Saturday matinee serials, and young Lucas was also farsighted enough to keep all the merchandising rights for his creation, which became so successful that it changed how we look at movies, how Hollywood makes movies and society itself, which became seduced by the Dark Side of merchandising and greed."

On May 25, 1977, Star Wars opened in a little over 30 theaters and went on to do blockbuster business, earn obscene amounts of money, spawn many equally successful sequels, make George Lucas a wealthy man and an unequaled force in the entertainment industry and perhaps "single-moviedly" create movie fan clubs and people obsessed with collecting every collectible associated with the movies they could get their hands on.

However, Star Wars is more than just a sappy space opera filled with mythological overtones, innovative special effects and filmmaking techniques that are throwbacks to Saturday matinee serials. It is also a transference of power and importance from one generation to the next, and it might not just be coincidence that the "special edition" came 20 years later, the time of one generation.

If you were one of the millions who stood in line at one of the 1800 theaters in which Star Wars (Special Edition) opened January 31, 1997, you might have noticed how it was not as interesting if you already knew everything that happens and what everything means. Wait! We already knew that from the many, many times we had already seen it, whether in theaters the first time around long, long ago or on TV from either broadcast showings, movie rentals or our own private collections.

We already know that Mark Hamill was a wooden actor, that the story is sappy at the beginning when Luke Skywalker is with his aunt and uncle and that scenes go on way, way too, too long to show us the razzle-dazzle of special effects rather than advancing the story. And we already knew that the superficial banter between Han Solo and Princess Leia is just a cover-up for their mutual attraction.

Yes, we knew how the movie begins, how it middles and how it ends. So, why were we so fascinated to want to see it again when it was already etched in our brains like a historical myth?

Well, that depends on who "we" is. Some of us were (ahem) old, old enough to have seen it the first time around, which means we were probably Baby Boomers and didn't want to grow any older and were reliving that experience again, which helped us to think we were still that age of 20 years earlier.

Some of us were just old enough to have children, and we probably wanted to see it again with our kids, sort of like passing a sacred totem on to the next generation.

And some of us were (ahem) young, young enough to have never seen it on a large screen, where Lucas maintained it was meant to be seen.

Lucas said he was only 50% to 60% happy with the film 20 years earlier and later he was 80% happy with it. He said, "The only thing I joke about now is it would be fun--and we can't do this for another 10 years or so--to go back and digitize the entire movie and clean it up."

May the Force help us!

Was this how we wanted Hollywood to treat our icons? Was this how we wanted movies made and remade as new technology allowed filmmakers to ignore the limitations of their raw material?

Think of Independence Day. Think of Plan 9 from Outer Space. Heck, think of Mars Needs Women.

Star Wars created Hollywood's obsession with the blockbuster, it created the phenomenon in which merchandising earns more than the box office and it probably has a direct influence on why magazines and newspapers contain more advertising than text over time, companies now sponsor sporting events and even uniforms, and athletes make more money from endorsements than they do from playing their sports.

Star Wars is the Force that changed Hollywood, and as Hollywood goes, so goes America.

I rest my case.

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