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What’s the deal with Star Wars?

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When near the beginning of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, Capt. Willard is given his assignment to terminate Col. Kurtz’s command, his mission is explained to him by an officer played by Harrison Ford. The officer’s name is never mentioned, but the name tag on his uniform is “G. Lucas.”

Apparently George Lucas was originally slated to direct the film, and had some involvement in the early stages of its development. Apocalypse Now was released in 1979, in the wake of the phenomenal success of Lucas’s first Star Wars movie, and it’s hard to say if the name of Ford’s character is a respectful nod or a sardonic comment on Coppola’s part (the general in this scene tells Willard that “sometimes the dark side overcomes what Lincoln called ‘the better angels of our nature.'”).

The release of the seventh installment in the Star Wars series is being greeted by rave reviews. Many of these reviews note that the previous four films in the series varied in quality from really bad to utterly wretched, which would make this the first good Star Wars movie since the Carter presidency.

“Good” of course is a relative concept. The first two Star Wars films were entertaining semi-Sci Fi action films, but nobody would ever confuse either of them with anything that had serious aesthetic ambitions. The characters were thoroughly cartoonish, the writing was often sophomoric, and the plots were hackneyed in the extreme. They were fun movies, and certainly charming in their own unpretentious way, but comparing Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back to films like 2001 or Blade Runner would be like comparing Tom Clancy to F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Which raises an obvious question: How did Star Wars become such a big deal, culturally speaking? Why does the franchise — which again, even most of its biggest fans admit consists of four pretty terrible movies out of six total — have such a vast and fanatical following? Why, for example, is Cass Sunstein, of all people, writing a book about Star Wars?

I have my own thoughts on the matter, but I would like to hear from LGM’s vast and fanatical fan base.

Updated: After reading all 391 comments, I’ve been reminded of all the reasons to love the original SW movies for what they are — in many ways brilliantly crafted pieces of pop culture (I don’t buy the Joseph Campbell stuff). Among other things I should have mentioned the music in the OP, which as Bianca Steele says is a kind of bubblegum Wagner, and extraordinarily effective. The passage of time has made the films iconic, and perhaps this new one will, unlike the wretched prequels, add to the affection so many people feel for Lucas’s original creations.

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  • AMK

    I think it’s interesting that Star Wars is maybe the only major fictional pop-cultural “universe” that was a movie first; it wasn’t an earlier book, comic or TV show.

    This is key, because it meant Lucas & Co could start from scratch with a feature film. A movie in theaters guaranteed an immediate mass audience in the pre-internet era, and imposed a format (<2 hours instead of 2,000 pages, 200 comic book issues or 20 TV episodes) that allowed the creators to strike a perfect balance between "world-building" geekery and classic western/adventure themes with broad appeal.

    That combination gives Star Wars its power. I can know everthing I need to know about Star Wars after watching the original trilogy (or even just the original movie) and be a fan; or I can be the kind of fan who goes through the whole expanded universe. Compare that to Star Trek (how many different TV series do I have to watch?) or Tolkien (read 10,000 pages of complicated upper-crust British gobbledygook published 50 years before the movies) or the Marvel Universe (how many comic books?) or even Game of Thones (long books and a multi-season TV series with Tolkein-esque complexity at every step).

    The closest thing to Star Wars in terms of scale and content balance is Harry Potter, but those were still books that have to be read….the movies don't stand on their own and were never meant to.

    • Warren Terra

      The Terminator and Alien franchises each started with films and have had some amount of penetration in successful comic books, video games, and in one case a television series – though I don’t know if either has novels beyond the presumed novelizations. There may be other examples (Stargate?)

      • meelar

        They’re both definitely aimed at adults, though, which both limits their audience and slows their intergenerational transmission. People will show their kids Star Wars for the first time but they’d never show them Alien.

        • Matt McIrvin

          There were actually Alien toys marketed to kids when the movie came out, and even a little toy film-loop viewer that showed a few seconds of footage of the monster. That still boggles my mind.

      • liberalrob

        Stargate indeed. Logan’s Run also spawned a TV series but not a successful one. Planet of the Apes did too.

    • Robert M.

      I think this is a huge piece: Star Wars is simply more accessible, in terms of the amount of material you need to internalize and the obvious starting (and stopping) points. But I also think there’s another level to it.

      My two year old has now watched Episode IV with me, and he grasps with no explanation that Darth Vader is a bad guy. Whether through deliberation or luck (personally I think it’s more of the latter), Lucas cobbled together the story equivalent of Doritos: even when Star Wars isn’t actually good, it’s satisfying.

      Terry Pratchett alludes in a lot of his novels to the idea that stories have particular shapes that repeat themselves. The stories that don’t work fall away from our societies, but the best ones–the ones that satisfy us–are retold again and again, in a kind of evolutionary cycle of innovation and winnowing.

      And I think Star Wars falls combines enough elements of enough successful stories that it scratches an itch for a large proportion of (at least) Westerners.

      • Stan Gable

        Yeah, Darth Vader was a really good villain in IV and V.

        I think you’re probably selling Lucas a little short though, Vader is pretty clearly a giant SS man with super powers and a menacing voice. Given the other Riefenstahl stuff in the movies, I would assume Lucas knew what he was doing.

        • LFC

          I don’t really agree w this analogy. Darth Vader is a character who has sold out, in effect, to the dark side of the Force, having been originally on the ‘good side’. That bears no particular relation to a “giant SS man” that I can see.

          Visually the orig. movie might owe something to Triumph of the Will, though any influence I’d guess is confined to a few set-piece scenes, but that’s pretty much it, imo. I’m sure someone somewhere has written an article or dissertation on Lucas and Riefenstahl, but that doesn’t mean they’re nec. right.

          • random

            The TotW connection in some of the shots was explicit and deliberate. The bad guys are even called ‘stormtroopers’ and it comes complete with a classic ‘show us your papers’ scene.

            The trick Star Wars uses to get out of this classic film conundrum is to have Alec Guinness “Jedi mind trick” the Nazis. It’s not at all nostalgia to recognize that all of the above sentence is pure cinematic genius.

  • random

    They were fun movies, and certainly charming in their own unpretentious way, but comparing Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back to films like 2001 or Blade Runner would be like comparing John Grisham to F. Scott Fitzgerald.

    No way Jose. Star Wars is a much better-crafted and executed film in almost every category than Flying Car Dystopia, which is only remembered as being even a decent film because they came back and re-released multiple versions of it.

    Even then its reputation mainly rests on a few visually-interesting but wedged-in sequences tracked by Vangelis that are nice to experience but do nothing to advance the plot or theme of the film.

    The dialogue is actually frequently awful (to put it in perspective the best lines of the movie were improvised by Rutger Hauer). The screenplay and story are such a mess that they inserted a voiceover into the original just so audiences could be slightly less-confused. In fact the story of Blade Runner is such a convoluted mess that the people who made the movie themselves don’t even know they were trying to do. For example they retroactively tried to fit a “Deckard is a replicant” suggestion into subsequent cuts, which actually just makes much of the plot and theme of the film meaningless as well.

    The acting is inferior to Star Wars (Sean Young is genuinely terrible guys) and we have an apples-to-apples comparison with Harrison Ford in both movies and it’s not even a race.

    Editing, art and costume design, sound design, action sequences, etc etc. BR has some nice sets and a decent soundtrack and at least purports to play with loftier ideas, but every version of it is still an incoherent mess next to the much better-constructed Star Wars.

    • burnt

      I would argue Sean Young’s performance as Rachael was brilliant and remains one of the best casting decisions ever made–she is playing a robot after all. She was born to play the part. Unfortunately, she played the same part in all her films.

      • John F

        And Keanu Reeves perfromance in Day the Earth Stood Still was actually good too, didn’t save the movie, but he did come off as alien.

    • postmodulator

      I’m literally angry with rage.

      (Ton of spoilers in case that counts for a movie from 1982.)

      The version of Blade Runner that became a cult film is the version with the voiceover and the tacked-on happy ending. If not for the sleeper success of it, you don’t get all the different versions released later. There was no director’s cut that fixed all the problems with The Ice Pirates. So I don’t agree that people only like that film because of the later cuts.

      Do you remember the sequence when Zora (Joanna Cassidy) was retired? Did you stop and think about the fact that the film had you rooting for a hero who was shooting a fleeing, unarmed woman in the back?

      Do you know why Roy Batty saves Deckard from falling off the building? Do you know what it has to do with the look on Deckard’s face in the last shot? Do you know what they both have to do with the last line you hear in the Director’s cut: “It’s too bad she won’t live, but then again, who does?”

      Does any of this point you towards the film’s theme?

      Use both sides of the Internet if necessary.

      • I’m literally angry with rage.

        Never fails to make me laugh.

        • postmodulator

          Yeah, I’ve watched too much Futurama. Bender is my spirit animal…which probably doesn’t augur well for my longevity.

      • Bob Loblaw Lobs Law Bomb

        The version of Blade Runner that became a cult film is the version with the voiceover and the tacked-on happy ending.

        In all fairness, the Blade Runner fan base knew about these studio manipulations and kind of mentally compartmentalized them.

        Personally, I have a soft spot for Ford’s voiceover.

        • Tyro

          Personally, I have a soft spot for Ford’s voiceover.

          Me, too. People who are connoisseurs of feeelm hate voiceovers, but in Blade Runner it contributed to the film-noir aesthetic that the movie was going for.

          • Hogan

            It always sounded flat and dead to me, like it was taped long after shooting stopped, when all the energy of the project had drained out of Ford.

            Which turns out to be the case.

            • Ahuitzotl

              Really? It always sounded jaded and cynical to me, but not flat.

      • John F

        Do you remember the sequence when Zora (Joanna Cassidy) was retired? Did you stop and think about the fact that the film had you rooting for a hero who was shooting a fleeing, unarmed woman in the back?

        ??? Well I know I wasn’t rooting for Ford at that moment, it was pretty jarring actually that the “hero” would do that. And my sense is that you were supposed to, if not root for, feel sympathy for the replicants not the blade runners/cops

        • liberalrob

          Yeah. We were told that Zora was “Beauty & the Beast” but not what she’d done to get that description. That pretty well cemented the idea that Deckard wasn’t really a “hero.” He was the protagonist, which is not the same thing.

          I think the appeal of Blade Runner is the visuals (and the score, again) more than the story. Ridley Scott and his crew really did a brilliant job with Syd Mead’s designs.

          • postmodulator

            Certainly the visuals are incredible, but I still maintain there’s an interesting and meaningful story in there without which the visuals would be less beloved.

            And Deckard is not initially presented to us as an antihero, or even a protagonist. The first third of the movie wants us to see him as Philip Marlowe In The Future. Then he blows Zora away and the whole thing’s shattered. It’s a brilliant move; they could just as easily have had Zora die fighting Deckard, it wouldn’t have seemed like the atrocity it comes of as in the movie.

            • random

              In the later version it’s strongly implied that Han Solo is one of the escaped replicants running around with implanted memories.
              Which makes this scene nonsensical (she would have instantly recognized him) but also renders a radically different meaning and subtext to the events.

      • random

        I’m literally angry with rage.

        It’s not a bad movie, but it is every bit as silly as Star Wars, only nowhere remotely in the same league in purely technical or cinematic or creative grounds.

        The version of Blade Runner that became a cult film is the version with the voiceover and the tacked-on happy ending.

        It had a good budget and was made by a major director with one of the biggest stars in the world at the time but only manages to be a ‘cult film’. This is central to my point.

        If not for the sleeper success of it, you don’t get all the different versions released later.

        It’s a ‘sleeper success’ in the first place because it’s just not that great a movie and they needed subsequent revisions for the same reason. Later revisions of Star Wars only made it worse, because it was already basically perfect the first time.

        Do you remember the sequence when Zora (Joanna Cassidy) was retired?

        You mean the scene with the dying lady running in slow motion through planes of plate glass while the soundtrack swells? That sequence?

        Did you stop and think about the fact that the film had you rooting for a hero who was shooting a fleeing, unarmed woman in the back?

        As I indicate above, the movie clumsily beats you over the head in the most ham-fisted Hollywood-cheese way possible that you’re not supposed to be excited that Han Solo shot the snake-lady.

        Do you know why Roy Batty saves Deckard from falling off the building? Do you know what it has to do with the look on Deckard’s face in the last shot? Do you know what they both have to do with the last line you hear, in the Director’s cut: “It’s too bad she won’t live, but then again, who does?”

        Nope, and neither do you or any of the people who made the movie.

        Does any of this point you towards the film’s theme?

        The theme of which version of the film? They have different themes that taken together form a confused jumble.

    • njorl

      I, for one, appreciated the subtlety of Rutger Hauer demonstrating he was a Christ figure by inexplicably driving a nail through his own hand.

      • postmodulator

        Okay, that part does not work so great, but it’s not the worst thing flaw I’ve ever seen in an otherwise good movie. Ask my wife about how I groaned at some of the dialog in The Dark Knight.

    • twbb

      I just don’t know who to yell at in this thread. I’m a big SW fan, but Blade Runner (the non-voice-over-director’s-cut-version) might literally be my favorite movie of all time.

      They were both brilliant, for different reasons. And a lot of that brilliance was an aesthetic gestalt driven by the perfect visuals, the perfect soundtrack, and the perfect sound design.

      • random

        Not saying I don’t also really love Blade Runner and it’s more geared towards my tastes. But it’s just hard for me to argue on objective critical grounds that it’s anywhere near Star Wars territory, which is how it got brought up.

        For example they both start with an opening text explaining the backstory of the universe. BR could probably be a better movie if that text was left out and that information instead imparted by the screenplay. SW also starts with text only it is the single most immediately-recognizable textual opening of any film in history.

        They both have great visuals but the perfect visuals in Star Wars are never there just to be perfect visuals. Almost every frame is pulling its weight to contribute to the overall story which ends with a giant plot-motivated explosion. BR by comparison has multiple sequences that look awesome, but could easily be cut without sacrificing a bit of the plot.

        Also the perfect visuals in SW are *unique* perfect visuals, not really like other prior movies, and the palette and set change appropriately as the plot moves to different settings.

        By contrast BR’s perfect visuals rely heavily on tried-and-true noir lighting and sets that have been around forever and it does not deviate at any point in the entire movie from that visual formula. Except for the tacked-on happy ending in the original release I don’t think there’s a significant palette-shift in the whole thing.

        • Barry Freed

          Your opinions on Blade Runner are so wrong they could only be written by a rabid Star Wars fan.

    • Tehanu

      Philip Dick was such a great writer that they could take his book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, totally reverse the entire point of the book — that replicants are not human beings, are not going to somehow become human beings, and that it’s a bad idea to try to invent a master race — and the story still worked. I’m actually quite fond of the movie, but what I’d like to see, someday, is a faithful rendition of the book. Alas, that seems unlikely.

  • so-in-so

    It appears it’s certainly a way to generate long comment threads at LGM.

    • Nostalgia is a hell of a drug.

      • jim, some guy in iowa

        you’ll probably get old someday too

        • Malaclypse

          Luckily, he’ll have lots of practice yelling at kids to get off metaphorical lawns decades before that.

    • Yah, what a dumb post I thought, but 500+ comments = 1000+ clicks = $$$.

  • Fortunado

    Why does the franchise — which again, even most of its biggest fans admit consists of four pretty terrible movies out of six total — have such a vast and fanatical following?

    This is NOT conceeded at all. I’m mystified when the Return of the Jedi hate started blossoming (the main criticism I hear is that someone should have died. Um, okay? Or that Ewoks are bad.)

    In middle school it was considered the best one among my friends. But since that’s a personal experience, consider that it stands at 79% on Rotten Tomatoes. This is below the first two, which sit in the mid-nineties, but well above a truly terrible film like Battlefield Earth (3%).

    • Bob Loblaw Lobs Law Bomb

      Clerks (1994) was the Patient Zero of ROTJ backlash. It was also around that time that producer Gary Kurtz started badmouthing Lucas’s decisions for ROTJ, and more serious critical studies began to happen around the blockbuster phenomenon and Lucas’s use of SW as a vehicle to sell toys and other merch.

      Most people badmouthing ROTJ, as you note, are just badmouthing the Ewoks. But it has the best production design of any of the SW films, and the opening Tatooine sequence is an incredible little mini-movie all by itself.

      • Fortunado

        This is interesting – 2 people independently cited Clerks as the cause for ROTJ hate. I have no idea as to the veracity of that statement, but it is interesting

        As a 8-12 year old (the prime audience), Empire was considered a dull affair with plenty of fast forwarding, and yes, the Jabba’s palace raid was considered the best, most exciting half hour in the franchise.

        • postmodulator

          It’s the same phenomenon as when the Dude complains to his taxi driver, “I hate the fuckin’ Eagles!” A lot of people watching the movie didn’t necessarily hate the Eagles, but certainly they were sick of them, and next thing you know, everyone hates the Eagles.

          • Just_Dropping_By

            For the record, I hated the Eagles long before The Big Lebowski made it cool to hate the Eagles.

            • I hated those bastards the very instant I heard their whiny harmonies, inane lyrics & limp, soggy music.

              And not a damn one of them has died yet. Another injustice.

      • cleter

        Oh, there was plenty of ROTJ backlash in the 80s, well before Clerks. If you were say, 8-12 years old when Star Wars came out, your 11-15 year old self was blown away by Empire Strikes Back, and your 14-18 year old self was somewhat disappointed by ROTJ. That ROTJ was not as good as ESB was a pretty widely accepted opinion in the 80s.

        • Matt McIrvin

          I liked Return of the Jedi best when I saw the movies for the first time, and I’d have been about 15 at the time. It also got the best reviews of the trilogy when it first came out.

          It was actually when I saw the Special Edition re-releases in the late 1990s that ROTJ struck me as the weakest of the three. (It also has some of the more intrusive new additions in Lucas’s tweaked versions, but I don’t think that was the reason.)

          I think part of it was that, then, I saw the whole trilogy in the theater in relatively rapid succession, without years of anticipation in between episodes. It was possible to directly compare the relative strength of the storytelling in the three movies. The fact that The Empire Strikes Back ended in an unresolved, downbeat way wasn’t unsatisfying, as it had been on initial viewing. And this time it was a little jarring, rather than welcome, that Return of the Jedi played sort of like a rehash of the first movie with all the spectacle dialed up to 11.

          • Matt McIrvin

            …That said, I still think the final confrontation between Luke, Vader and the Emperor at the end of Return of the Jedi really works. Especially that one shot in which Luke looks out at the space battle concurrently going on off in the distance, where his friends are getting walloped. It’s one of my favorite moments in the whole trilogy.

    • Tyro

      Yes, the Return of the Jedi hate is a relatively recent development. It’s true that once you get older and ponder the trilogy more that Empire is the better movie, but RotJ was almost universally beloved when it came out.

      You only have to look at the famous Star Wars discussion scene in Clerks— when Dante says that his favorite movie is Empire over Jedi (ANH wasn’t even in the running), Randal replies, “Blasphemy!”

      As the fanbase aged, the Ewoks became more annoying, and the fanbase developed greater appreciation for Empire. Also, the revelation that the climax of the film was supposed to be on Chewbacca’s home planet with an army of Wookiees created more disappointment and anger for what Jedi could have been.

      • Karen24

        I was in college when RotJ came out, and the reviews it got were better than the first two, principally because of the space cycle race sequence in the forest and the set design of Jabba’s castle. We also loved the bit with the cave troll pet-thingy.

      • Ahuitzotl

        I saw Empire first (when I was around 22) and was deeply impressed. Went back and saw SW* and was quite disappointed, it was so much flatter & more obviously just space opera. RotJ I thought about equal to it, but less disappointing because my expectations had been lowered.

        .
        .
        *too broke to spend money on movies when it was first released

    • John F

      None of them were terrible imho, ROTJ had issues with the effing Ewoks, but other than that it was good.

      Phantom Menace was disappointing, parts were bad (anytime Jar Jar got screen time for starters), overall it was not a “good” movie but it wasn’t terrible.

      The prequels had issues, but there were good sequences, I think with good editing you could take the three and make 2 pretty good films to tell the same essential story, but that didn’t happen…

      My humble opinion (1 to 10 scale):
      New Hope: 9
      Empire: 9.5
      ROTJ: 8
      PM: 5
      AOTC: 6.5
      ROTS: 6

      Attack of the Clones was closest to being a really good movie, if Hayden Christensen was a better actor (I’ve seen him in other stuff too, dear god is he terrible) AND if the Anakin/Padme scenes were written better…

      For some reason after PM and ROTS I still thought ROTS was gonna be much better than it was, part of it was you still kept having poorly written and thought out scenes that really took you out of the proper mindset (The Padme dying for literally no reason scene for instance just took me right out of the movie in its utter cheesy phoniness. Except for Yoda and Obi-Wan (and one little kid) the sequence showing the Jedi being taken down was too easy… they’re freaking Jedi you should have shown most of them taking down multiple clone troopers before falling, Yoda abandoning the fight with Palpitine was handled badly- Yoda would only cut and run if he was LOSING BADLY, but in the movie he looks like he’s running while it’s still close to a draw/ still has a shot at winning- but by running he gives up perhaps the best shot he’s ever gonna get at him.

      • Just_Dropping_By

        This is interesting to me because I think you’re the first person I’ve ever encountered to rank AotC ahead of RotS, and it’s especially interesting because there’s been a sudden movement in the last two years or so for people to declare AotC the worst of the prequels. My own ranking would be:

        TESB
        RotS
        RotJ
        AotC
        ANH
        TPM

        (With TPM being substantially lower on any sort of numeric scale than ANH.)

        My feeling toward RotS are summed up by a review that said the first half of the movie suffers under the same problems as the other prequels (too much slapstick humor, wooden dialogue, etc.), but then suddenly the second half turns into the best film of the entire series.

        • AMK

          I could never call any film with dialog like the prequel films “good” in the same way that some LGMers said a few weeks ago that they could never support an anti-choice Dem like Gov. Edwards. It’s a moral litmus test. When somebody spends more than many countries’ GDPs on special effects without spending an hour to make sure the script doesn’t sound like a bad impression of autistic teenagers, it’s fundamentally wrong….an insult to the audience.

        • Jordan

          Wow! I’ve pushed RotS here on LGM several times in the past, but you do me one better :).

          Mine is:

          TESB
          ANH
          ROTS
          ROTJ
          AOTC
          TPM

          Agreed that the phantom menance is fucking just terrible. It has some cool set pieces (i like the light saber battle and the pod race is fine) some bad set pieces (the start, the the giant sea monster thing, the human assault on the palace/whatever), and some godawful set pieces (the space battle at the end with anakin, the ground battle at the end with jar-jar). And everything that wasn’t a set piece is also terrible :(.

          But I totally agree that the end of the RotS is some of the best star wars I’ve ever seen.

        • socraticsilence

          In fairness to RotS any movie where your protagonist essentially goes Newtown is going to have issues if it’s not simply a tale of a descent into madness- I mean Anakin literally murders a school full of children- and not in the “Vader blows up a planet” way where it happens but it’s remote and part of a war- he goes in and hacks a bunch of ten year olds apart with a light Saber.

          • Jordan

            @socratic: right, that is one of the reasons why I like it. Vader is aesthetically the evil one with the costume and dialogue, and abstractly evil, with the blowing up of the planet. But anakin personally murders children, and you basically see it. And he’s a protagonist! damn.

        • Matt McIrvin

          I think Attack of the Clones is the most forgettable of the prequels. It has a lot of quite beautiful, spectacular set pieces, but I can’t even remember most of the plot except in broad strokes. “Palpatine gins up a bogus conflict and becomes Super-Hitler, also there are clones” is most of what you need to know, I suppose.

          The Phantom Menace is memorable, but mostly for bad reasons. The climactic lightsaber battle with Darth Maul is actually terrific, but I found myself wondering through the whole thing why this weird Death-Star-like environment was stashed away in the basement of the palace, or wherever they were supposed to be.

          But in my personal ranking, the original, Star Wars, is on top. (Calling it “Episode IV: A New Hope” still sounds bizarre and unnatural to me.)

        • Ahuitzotl

          Sacred FSM*, really? RotS I consider high on the list of worst movies ever made – the extremely long and tedious lightsabre scene(s) were just so staggeringly pointless and lacking intension, that I literally fell asleep during that, the first time I tried to watch the movie.
          .
          *which, I’m proud to say, is now a recognised religion in my homeland

    • MDrew

      Echoing all the echoing of the RotJ hate-hate here.

      I don’t bother trying to re-assess my feelings about the individual prequels. I probably should try to do that, but they remain an undifferentiated mass of colorful shapes and bad acting in my mind. That might be because I was no longer the prime age for them, though I don’t get that impression when I talk to people who were the prime age at that time.

      But Eps. IV-VI are a different matter for me. I loved RotJ from the moment I saw it, but that’s because it was the first one I as old enough to understand when it came out, and indeed was the first one I saw in the theater. So it has a special place in my heart. I’ve since come to completely accept and feel that TESB is the best film in the series. But I really struggle to see any reason to further demote RotJ than that, and I don’t know that I think that RotJ is much worse than TESB. I certainly struggle to see what clearly recommends ANH over RotJ. As others have said, the design and execution are clearly superior, and I think the plot is crisper, and has elements that fit together in thrilling ways that I just am not aware of in ANH. In particular, I’m thinking of the way the space battle is linked to the action on Endor. (I don’t understand what the issue with Ewoks is supposed to be, either). Pair that with the spectacular opening, and I’m not sure what there is to pan int he film, unless you’re panning the series on principle anyway.

      Suffice to say, IMO if you think any of the films are good, I don’t know how you can think that RotJ is bad. Mileage obviously will differ on whether it might be the least good of the original three, but I think those films are more comparable in quality than distinct, with the exception of TESB being in a different class by some measures.

  • Bob Loblaw Lobs Law Bomb

    Which raises an obvious question: How did Star Wars become such a big deal, culturally speaking?

    Aren’t there literally dozens, if not hundreds, of books that address this precise subject?

    • postmodulator

      Well, the question has never been considered in such detail or with such care.

  • heckblazer

    My explanation:

    Lucas threw together all of the stuff that he thought was cool and fun. Flash Gordon. Jidai-geki films (Toshiro Mifune was his first choice for Obi-Wan). Drag racing. Westerns. WWII dogfights (and The Dam Busters…). Imperial Japanese Commie-Nazis. It turned out lots of other people also thought that stuff was cool. That he made a film technically well definitely helped – he pretty much invented the modern special effects house (also Pixar, which was originally a division of Lucasfilm).

    Sometimes you don’t want haute cuisine, just a hamburger. Star Wars is damn fine hamburger. And for some people it seems, one smothered in ketchup.

    • Lucas threw together all of the stuff that he thought was cool and fun.

      So did Quentin Tarantino.

      • heckblazer

        Yup. Worked out pretty well for him too.

        • Yeah, I’m not sure what my point was.

          I think Tarantino works better, most of the time, but he’s not the kind of blockbuster director Lucas is, exactly, and probably not just because he’s too violent for a mass audience. Lucas is more abstract. He’s more interested in the fight scene than the fight scene that looks like a WWII movie. And Spielberg does that kind of thing better than Lucas really ever did, when he wasn’t copying old movies.

          • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

            Lucas at one point was able to make characters with depth you could actually care about (I mean American Graffiti my god), and that’s what made Luke, Leia and Han work for me. Except for True Romance (which he wrote and didn’t direct), Tarantino characters always just feel like action figures to me.

            • benjoya

              likewise jackie brown. having elmore leonard write your characters makes any film at least decent.

    • njorl

      I think the special effects can’t be stressed enough. It was shown to an audience that grew up on Star Trek and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. The technical leap ahead was like driving an M1 tank through Napoleon’s armies.

      • heckblazer

        Thinking about it a bit, holy shit was the technical side of the movies influential. Pixar. ILM, the effects company made for Empire, set the standard for visual effects that has gone on to win 15 best vfx Oscars, like two dozen more nomonations and a list of Academy technical awards as long as your arm. Skywalker Sound, which does the same thing for sound production (and sometimes for movies like The Master) the THX sound certification created so RotJ would sound ggod in theaters. Pixar. all started as divisions. of Lucasfilm.

  • Bootsie

    I think everyone is forgetting that Star Wars gave the wider world the delight that is Mark Hamill.

    • heckblazer

      He certainly gave one of the best, if not the best, Joker performances.

      • Bootsie

        In general, a world without Batman the Animated Series is not a world worth living in.

        • Tyro

          It always really impressed me how much more depth that the weekday afternoon Batman animated series had over the Batman movies.

          • heckblazer

            I ‘d say that it handily illustrates that the problem with stuff like Jar Jar isn’t that it was made for kids, the problem is that it pandered to kids. It was like expecting BtAS and getting Superfriends.

            • Keaaukane

              Lets have a shout out to Batman Beyond. I think it was a better retired Bruce Wayne than Frank Miller’s (whore whore whore) Dark Knight series.

      • kped

        He’s also the main villain in the Avatar cartoon series (the one that M. Night Shamylan butchered into a horribly drab and boring movie).

        He’s made a great career as a voice actor, really good work in that field.

    • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

      The more I think about it, the more Hamill’s casting seems crucial. He is of course somewhat wooden, but it just reinforces the almost heartbreaking callowness that Luke embodies. With a cannier actor of similar qualities (say, oh, I dunno…Richard Thomas), I don’t think it works nearly as well.

      • Matt McIrvin

        Hmmm… Richard Thomas did play the Luke Skywalker knockoff in Battle Beyond the Stars. Only he actually has a more active role there: he’s doing the Seven Samurai thing of seeking out the team of fighters to defend his home.

        • Hogan

          Oh, BBTS.

          “You kill for money?”

          “I have no home, no family, no principles . . . what else would I kill for?”

        • BBTS was not the worst Star Wars rip off (actually, it was more Seven Samurai) from the period.

          No, the worst goes to the movie with glowing walnuts

      • heckblazer

        Thanks to dvd extras I ‘ve seen some of the audition reels for Luke Skywalker (and Kurt Russell trying out for Han). Based on that I’d say Hamill gives as much ease and naturalness you can possibly give to lines like “aw, I was going to go to Tosche Station to pick up some power converters! “

  • Aside from Harrison Ford being instantly likable, Carrie Fisher and pre-accident Mark Hamill were awfully cute, too. That has to have contributed to some of the repeat viewership at the time.

    • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

      Looking at some of the deleted scenes recently, Lucas had an amazing knack for cutting out characters and actors who in the end lacked “it.”

      • cleter

        His wife had that knack when she edited the original Star Wars. George seemed to have lost that ability when it came to prequel time.

  • heckblazer

    Since there have been comparisons between the world-building of Star Wars and Dune, I thought I’d remind everyone that Lucas offered the director’s chair for Return of the Jedi to David Lynch.

    • cleter

      We probably all dodged a bullet there.

      • Denverite

        AN AWESOME BULLET

        • postmodulator

          I’m a David Lynch nut and I’ve never been able to work out how that would have gone. In my head I just see a lot of really, really long takes of Ewoks and and dialogue that is somehow simultaneously more wooden and more effective than what ended up on the screen.

          • Denverite

            It would have been Mulholland Drive. Literally shot-by-shot. Except with PABST BLUE RIBBON.

            (ETA: I actually don’t like David Lynch. Except Dune. Any movie that ends with Kyle MacClachlan knife fighting Sting in a thong just kicks so much ass it’s not even funny. Just on that scene alone. Plus you’ve got Jean Luc Picard, that dude from Das Boot, Al from Quantum Leap, JESSICA FUCKING LANGE. Isn’t Sean Young in it as well? I could go on. I know what I’m ordering on Amazon Prime tonight!)

            • postmodulator

              You know, Denverite, in some ways you and I are very different people.

            • cleter

              Jessica Lange wasn’t in Dune.

              • skate

                Francesca Annis as a character named Jessica?

          • Tyro

            I’m a David Lynch nut and I’ve never been able to work out how that would have gone.

            Possibly something like this

            • postmodulator

              Ha! Lovely.

    • Just_Dropping_By

      What I recently learned that’s even more interesting is that the reason Lynch was directing Dune (and thus was unavailable to direct RotJ) is because Ridley Scott had pulled out from directing it because of the death of one of his brothers. Then, because Scott wasn’t directing Dune, he was available to direct Blade Runner, which he had been offered earlier and passed on the first time. I would love to be able to see what Scott would have done with Dune and Lynch would have done with RotJ.

      • heckblazer

        Speaking of directors who made a groundbreaking SF film in the 70s and then decades later started making crappy pequels…

    • I don’t blame Lynch. I blame de Laurentis. He was the kiss of death to nearly any serious movie you could imagine.

      Now, had Jodorowsky gone through with his, that would have either been a spectacular failure or a brilliant monument. Soundtrack by Pink Floyd.

      And Salvador Dali as the Padishah Emperor.

      • Ahuitzotl

        I blame de Laurentis. He was the kiss of death to nearly any serious movie you could imagine.

        Waterloo. That’s it, though.

  • Humpty-Dumpty

    I’m not going to read all 500+ comments first, so I’ll bet someone already made this point. But as an sf reader and fan, it was the first sf movie ever made that had decent sfx and didn’t totally insult the viewer’s intelligence.

    (The exception, of course, is 2001, but the problem with it was that maybe it didn’t insult the viewer’s intelligence a little too hard. If you hadn’t already read the book, much of the movie was nigh-on incomprehensible for the average viewer. And since in 1968 sf was still very much a niche market, not all that many people had read the book.)

    • it was the first sf movie ever made that had decent sfx and didn’t totally insult the viewer’s intelligence.

      Forbidden Planet? The Day the Earth Stood Still?

      (like you, not bothering to read 500 comments, so I’m assuming if yours was asked, my answers were put out there as well)

  • Bugboy

    What’s the deal with Star Wars? To bring in yet another movie, “The Graduate”:

    “Mr. McGuire: I just want to say one word to you. Just one word.
    Benjamin: Yes, sir.
    Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
    Benjamin: Yes, I am.
    Mr. McGuire: Plastics.
    Benjamin: Exactly how do you mean?”

    The studios laughed at Lucas when he insisted on total control of royalties from product tie-ins, A.K.A., toys. The rest is history.

  • Why is Star Wars popular?

    Why was it analyzed (to death) by Joseph Campbell?

    The two questions are self-reducting and answer each other: people love a timeless tale, and mythology has stood the test of time.

  • Rob in CT

    Review from a reviewer that I find typically nails how I feel about films:

    http://www.reelviews.net/reelviews/star-wars-the-force-awakens

    Short version: solid but not much more than that. Some of the negatives he mentions are pretty big deals likely to make this one rank above the prequels but below any of the originals (yes, including the much hated upon but not actually bad Jedi) for me.

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