Star Wars, Incorporated
“Star Wars symbolizes something we need to realize: that there are moral limits. That good does win and evil gets punished. It’s a morality tale about life having purpose. . . .”
51; Chris Knight, theforce.net
All right, let’s set the record straight, shall we? I saw Star Wars as a pubescent in a practically empty theatre in Stockholm, and aside from the theme which I hummed for days after, my real interest focused on the dashing Han Solo, whose pictures soon replaced those of the Fonz on my wall. The brouhaha over the film and its dazzling effects were mainly restricted to the boys at my school, while the girls argued over whether to fawn over Luke or Han, and unanimously criticize Princess Leia’s cinnamon-bun ‘do.
Over the years, I diligently watched The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, and somewhere along the line, decided to put Star Wars behind me. Around this time, as Luke, Darth, and the rest of the galactic crew were becoming faded memories, a new generation of devotees cropped up and turned the Star Wars trilogy into a worldwide phenomenon.
Yes, the Clones are attacking, and Lucas has cleverly coincided the release of Episode II with the 25th anniversary of his original blockbuster. Star Wars turns 25, and the world is preparing to celebrate with a huge bash. Tickets have been ordered, movie lines from Seattle to Los Angeles to New York are growing longer as fans religiously queue up for Episode II, pirate copies have been made available online, books have been published, websites have been inundated with fan discussions boards, and Lucas’s well-oiled publicity machine has generated the necessary buzz.
Relax, it’s just a film, for Chrissake. Or is it? According to media reports, and a slew of die-hard fans, Star Wars is officially a franchise and a lifestyle. Either you’re with the force, or not. Get it?
Yes, but most Star Wars fans are post-Gen-Xers who were born right around the time the original Star Wars was released, so what gives? According to Chris Knight of theforce.net, a popular site created in 1996 which, according to editor Josh Griffin, enjoys around 50,000 visitors on a daily basis (and the numbers have skyrocketed as a result of the release of Episode II):
“We needed a mythology [of] our own. But beneath that, we needed to latch onto something that symbolized something greater than ourselves. The generation that was born around the time of the first Star Wars film that has now come of age, and the generation since, inherited much of the disillusionment from the 1970s. Our boundaries have become muddled and obscured. We’ve become a stagnant culture as a result. And young people simply don’t want to be damned to such decadence. Star Wars symbolizes something we need to realize: that there are moral limits. That good does win and evil gets punished. It’s a morality tale about life having purpose, defined by something above us.”
So in a post-September 11th world replete with conflicts from Afghanistan to continuous Palestinian-Israeli disputes, the lines between good and evil often seem blurry, and the cut-and-dry antics of galactic warriors instill a sense of hope, a realization of what morality should be. Who would’ve thought that the likes of Yoda, Obi Wan Kenobi and Chewbacca would serve as heroes for a celluloid generation whose sense of a world order would become crystal clear as a result of a few fictional characters? Doesn’t sound so odd, really. Hail the comic books heroes: Spider-Man (who is also enjoying a draw at the box office), Flash Gordon, Bat Man, and a slew of other heroes who have fought the good fight for years and been admired (to this day) as role models for youths pining for the fantastical.
Lucas, who pitched Star Wars to a few studios, was initially turned down, until Twentieth Centry Fox decided to bank on the filmmaker’s talents. In an interview with Leonard Maltin, Lucas explained that he wanted to create his own “space opera.” Apparently, Twentieth-Century Fox executives claimed that they didn’t quite understand Lucas’s project but were interested enough to take a risk.
And so began the legend: Lucas unleashed the mother of all sci-fi films, and along with it, came a trail of fan clubs, conventions, soundtracks, books, merchandise, and Hollywood hoopla. Lucas became synonymous with mega-bucks. The aging, bearded, over-grown kid with a passion for flights of fancy had the Midas touch.
The media is milking Star Wars for what it’s worth. You can’t throw a stone without hitting a reviewer who hasn’t been seduced by the myth. The press is having a field day with not only the usual film reviews, but in-depth analyses of Lucas’s views on sex as depicted in his films (courtesy of Salon.com) to the slew of reports on “Star Wait,” a reference to the long movie lines populated by Star-struck fans. The current slew of books range from Star Wars: Episode II, Attack of the Clones, to a Clones Visual Dictionary, to Alan Dean Foster’s The Approaching Storm. The Fox channel recently aired Episode I, and the Sci Fi channel is running its Star Wars Fans Film awards, an industry nod to devotees who have made mockumentaries, cartoons and short films as homage to Star Wars. Kitschy paraphernalia is also appearing with full force (pardon the pun) on store shelves.
As Griffin explains, “Episode II is the ‘make it’ or ‘break it’ film” for Lucas who left fans wanting more after Episode I. According to Griffin, despite the film’s $500million draw at the box office, fans walked away a tad “leery of Star Wars.” Episode I may have been written off as a dud, but what’s a bad review to the millions of fans who would willingly shell out hard-earned money on books depicting cross-sections of space ships? “As one loyalist explained, “Remember, Star Wars is an experience,” not just a film.
Vadar, Luke, Anakin, Obi Wan and the rest of the inhabitants of Lucasland have entered our homes, bombarded our TV screens and theatres, paraded their faces on kids’ lunchboxes, captured our imaginations, and dammit, they’re here to stay.
According to most reviews, Episode II promises a more enchanting story than its predecessor. Lucas, whose quirky, humorous dialogue laced his earlier films, seems to have lost his gift in Episode I. Not to worry, Clones, which apparently falls short of Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back’s superb script (as they all do) is still worthy of viewing. Lucas’s vision is simply that the world is comprised of heroes and villains. The question is whether his latest crop of heroes and villains can shine brighter than the Han Solos and Luke Skywalkers of yesteryear. Let’s get real: can any villain ever rival Darth Vadar? The Bin Ladens, Arafats and Sharons may fit the bill for Americans, Israelis and Palestinians respectively, but the depictions are murky—remember, one people’s villain is often another people’s hero.
The frenzy is expected to begin on May 16th and last a few weeks, as theatres prepare for the invasion of fans. Fans are flocking in droves to websites such as theforce.net, Jedi.net and the official glitzy Star Wars site, which wets appetites with its teasers about the new film and other relentless Star Wars factoids.
The healthy rivalry between Star Wars and Star Trek fans has also recharged itself, as Trekkies prepare for their own back-slapping love-fest with the upcoming release of Nemesis. However, as Knight explained, much ado has been made over nothing: “Wars and Trek are two radically different things. Though I will suggest that Star Wars has learned a number of lessons from Trek, about how not to over-extend itself.” True. According to Jamie Damanpour, a Washington DC area fan, Lucas never lost his focus; he has managed to “span one story across his films cohesively” (as opposed to Star Trek, which, in addition to the television series, has continuously churned out one film after another).
As for the hero factor, there are plenty of admirable (for lack of a better term) villains, yet no one can pin down a true hero. As Damanpour explains: “There is no one hero. It’s never about just one guy who defeats evil and gets the girl. It’s several people.” Emily Bateson, another Washington DC area fan, brought up the important point that at the end of the day, Star Wars is a guy’s flick (the male fan population considerably overwhelms the female numbers) and according to Damanpour, “Fans aren’t concerned about the love story in the films; everyone is watching for the epic tale of good vs. evil.”
The villainous flavor of the month is, according to Knight, Boba Fett, but Palpatine is expected be a serious contender after the release of Episode III. Griffin still sticks to Vadar, who, as Damanpour describes, “is the linchpin that holds everything together.”
For the next few weeks, everyone and their grandmother will be worshipping at the Star Wars altar. As I wait in anticipation of the Clones invasion, I have, for the meanwhile, started to stroll down memory lane with videos of Star Wars and Return of the Jedi, with a particular thought in mind: Han Solo, wherefore art thou, Han Solo?