A Legend Begins… from the middle…
Even if you don’t read comics, you know Superman; even if you don’t rock and roll all night, you know KISS; even if you’re an atheist, you know Jesus; even if you’ve never watched STAR WARS, you know Darth Vader. These elements of pop culture have so imbibed themselves into the vocabulary of our everyday lives that it is hard to imagine a world where they once did not exist. Like Smoke on the Water, like fast food, like war in the Middle East.
STAR WARS was a revelation and a revolution. There will never be anything like it again. From its unique production values, to its pioneering special effects; it was cops and robbers, it was swords and sorcery, it was politics and romance; it was royalty and rebellion; it was car chases in space chariots and computer whizbangery from sentient trashcans. A villain in black, a hero in white, a wizard in robes, a cowboy and his trusted, naked animal friend…
Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is a farmboy on the desert world of Tatooine (even though his sandy-haired complexion screams surfer dude from Palos Verdes), who dreams of piloting a fighter plane instead of working a farm. Like all young men, he has been brought up to believe murdering innocent children in war is a more romantic idiom than toiling the soil and bringing forth sustenance for humanity. I digress.
His dreams might have remained as distant as Palos Verdes is from Tatooine, had he not met two robots (nay, “droids”), a sentient trashcan (R2-D2, inhabited by Kenny Baker) and an acolyte of Dr. Zachary Smith (C-3PO, Anthony Daniels – an interpreter fluent in 6 million languages with the unfortunate default setting on Perturbed Butler). In R2-D2’s memory banks, Luke accidentally discovers a holographic cry for help from a princess (Carrie Fisher). So begins a journey which will take him to the farthest reaches of the galaxy – to him, that would be ten miles down the road to the cave of doddering Alec Guinness (as Obi-Wan Kenobi), who spins wild tales of galactic war, Imperial armies, Luke’s deceased father and The Knights Who Say Jedi.
At Mos Eisley spaceport, while canvassing for a clandestine captain to fly them to planet Alderaan (where the cry for help bid them go), Luke and Obi-Wan meet the most sexual character of the STAR WARS series – no, not Han Solo – Chewbacca the Wookiee; after all, he does the whole movie without ever wearing any pants.
It is during this Mos Eisley “cantina sequence” that STAR WARS does its most insidious good. Writer-director George Lucas unwittingly shows us a universe where aliens were neither inherently “good” nor “evil,” rather co-existing in a truly “universal” society, where good or evil individuals populate every species and race. The term “alien” is a moot point of reference in this movie, as every being (human and otherwise) traveled extensively between worlds. (The fact that this cannot be achieved without faster-than-light travel is tangential to the point.) The common thread of these disparate organisms is their multifarious strangeness; their co-existing diversity.
Ironically, the cantina sequence – which features some of the most childish, lamest face-masks and character designs – is ultimately where the movie displays its most maturity.
And by the way, yes – Han fired first. Killed Greedo without a second thought. Because Greedo had the drop on him. And because Han (Harrison Ford) was Clint-Eastwood-COOL. George Lucas was also cool back then: STAR WARS fielded many legal battles, one of them being the Director’s Guild suing the film’s producers for not putting opening credits on the film. (There was just the text crawl, which gave the low-intelligence life forms anxiety attacks on not being able to read it fast enough; ironically, the bulk of SW übergeeks is exactly that demographic.) Lucas shouldered the fines himself, then quit the Director’s Guild, forging his own company apart from the Hollywood system. Thus did rise the Galactic Empire, a universe where mediocrity iced with efx was the new A-List Q. But Lucas is cool no more – and dragged Han Solo down with him: due to public outcry (a tiny percentage of pc-gutless fans who made a squeaky noise over Han being dishonorable), in the re-released version of STAR WARS, through editing and goober effects, Lucas (O, Sycophantic Ruiner of Childhoods) ensures that we clearly see Greedo fire first.
the dark side of the farce
Meanwhile, a hulking, black-clad, helmeted menace in a fruity cape (like Superman) and 7-inch platform boots (like KISS) plots to rule the galaxy, with theme music heavy and minor (like Smoke on the Water), an army of stormtroopers – the military equivalent of fast food (plastic-coated and unhealthy) – bringing war in the name of hokey religion (like the Middle East).
His name is Darth Vader. And (like Jesus) he is three people in one (his black-clad body-beautiful, David Prowse, his basso, clitoris-tingling voice that of James Earl Jones, and Darth Unmasked, Sebastian Shaw.) To three generations, Lord Vader was the blackest, meanest, most badass villain to dress like the Pope since the Pope. (Until the Prequel Trilogy took the bad out and left the ass – but that’s another tale.) Years later, we would discover that Darth Vader meant “dark father” in Swahili, a fact which jigsawed with the puzzle pie that George carbon-scored into the STAR WARS sequel, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980), proving that it wasn’t just – as he liked to call it – a “space opera,” more like a space SOAP opera. (The funding for sequels enabled Lucas to expand his scope and prompted the STAR WARS subtitle, EPISODE IV – A NEW HOPE, which was not a part of its initial release. Added in re-release to provide continuity with the sequel, we see that even by the second film – now unfortunately sub-categorized as the fifth film – Lucas was already starting to backpedal, yet held sane ground for a few more years to complete his grand trilogy.)
Darth and an old lady who looks like Peter Cushing kidnap the princess and tool through the galaxy in a planet-sized battle station called the Death Star, proving its awesome utility by decimating Alderaan, whereupon Obi-Wan, en route, coincidentally suffers indigestion and attributes it to mysticism rather than his ninety-year-old intestines, “as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.” (More like that Neimoidian calamari you ate, which was in the Millennium Falcon’s fridge since before Han made the Kessel run in less than twelve parsecs.)
the shaft side of the force
When the Death Star fires on Alderaan, we are privy to the military efficiency of the Empire’s methods, as one of the planet-destroying beams is shown shooting down its shaft with two techs standing in the shaft near the beam and shielding their faces from it. Let me get this straight: the safety precautions near a beam that can VAPORIZE A PLANET involve no ten-inch thick plexiglass or adamantium steel barriers, but “standing on a ledge two feet from it and shielding your face.” It takes “putting your fingers into the blades of a spinning fan just to see what happens” to a whole ‘nother level.
Luke, Obi-Wan, the droids and Han and his naked bitch Chewie get tractor-beamed into the Death Star, where countless stormtroopers – the elite of the Imperial fighting force – prove their ineptness continually in not being able to hit ONE SINGLE THING the whole time that Our Heroes are in their proximity. All the more easy to rescue the princess and escape the clutches of the Moff Tarkin (whatever that is, although it is played by that old lady who looks like Peter Cushing), while Darth and Obi-Wan engage in a searing lightsaber battle that raises the action to the level of “plodding.”
With blueprints of the Death Star’s Achilles Heel baked into R2-D2’s innards, Luke delivers the sentient dustbin to The Rebels, a movement who believe in the same hokey religion as the villain, but are fighting him all the same (like the Middle East), all of whom wish “The Force” upon each other in blind inculcation, just twelve steps away from being Alcoholics Anonymous.
With safety precautions like the Technician Ledge next to the Planet-Destroyer Beam, it is no surprise to learn that the Death Star’s main reactor is Open To Attack From The Public via a two-foot-wide shaft easily accessed by religious zealots…
the daft side of the force
STAR WARS is a phenomenal achievement, and in one respect, it is almost awkward criticizing an avatar as eminent as Lucas. But let’s be starkly honest: for all its revolutionary aspects (as escapist fantasy and technical wonderwork), STAR WARS founders with innumerable faults that George just did not think through. That is why, in the early 2000’s, we were burdened with an overwrought apologist Prequel Trilogy that does not quite gel with canon.
But the problems started much earlier than THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999); they started, to be exact, a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…
Littered with abysmal acting (legends Peter Cushing and Sir Alec Guinness are thrown amongst mannequins Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher; one-liner roles have all the conviction of the director’s drinking buddies), incredibly fatuous action (space fighter-craft operate like old crates from WW II with joystick controls), irreconcilable plot holes (Vader can psychically crush a man’s windpipe, but in the Death Star canyon, can’t aim his blasters accurately) and character stereotypes so flat that their action figures have more personality (the farmbound uncle, the mysterious wizard, the naïve boy-man, the rogue, the haughty princess, the golden butler, the black villain, the treacherous thing that narked on Luke and Obi-Wan with the veined horse-penis for a snout – wha-?), STAR WARS is amazing for the fact that it was a success at all.
“Lock the door, Artoo.”
When a stormtrooper instructs his men to search for the droids, “Alright, check this side of the street,” he taps lightly on the first locked door, behind which, unbeknownst to him, the sought-after droids are hiding, then intones, “The door’s locked – move onto the next one.” The strategy for refugees is mind-boggling in its simplicity: to evade capture from Imperial stormtroopers, LOCK THE DOOR! I may be painting in broad strokes here, but I’m guessing that therein lies the downfall of the Empire.
Later, in the Death Star control room, when C-3PO asks Luke what he and R2-D2 should do while Luke and Han rescue the princess, upon first viewing, Luke’s advice comes off as maybe too smug or flippant, but now we realize he was simply citing proven stormtrooper evasion tactics: “Lock the door.”
That twin-sunset scene still brings a tear to my eye, but then I get to thinking: notwithstanding the impossibility of life flourishing in the erratic environs of a twin-sun system – and without even getting into the implausible orbital motions of the planetary system for Tatooine to be experiencing a double-sunset – how come Luke (and everything else out in the daylight) only has ONE shadow?
Nitpicking? Vader says “The power to destroy a planet is nothing when compared to the power of The Force” – but he can’t sense that he is mind-probing his own daughter in the next scene. Hmm, I guess The Force had the flu and missed that class on mind-probing.
the dark side of the hoarse
There is dialogue that still makes me feel dirty and naked: a stormtrooper “stuns” Princess Leia, then adds, “She’ll be alright,” in the sing-song manner of a television ad for menstrual pain. (“Her doctor has prescribed new Yaz, so during her menstrual cramps, she’ll be alright!”) Did he say this for the benefit of the other troopers who were concerned she might have bumped her cinna-bun head? We KNOW she’ll be alright – you just told us your gun was set for “stun.” Why would he possibly spout this inanity? Maybe this stormtrooper had a kind of reverse Tourette’s, compelling him to give damage reports on his victims like a sing-song ding-dong – BLAM! “He’ll have a limp.” THOOM! “She’ll have some recurring dizziness.” BADABOING! “He’ll have two broken ribs and a mild concussion.” BISHOWN! “He’ll be infertile and develop a rash.”
And this clunky looped dialogue, synchronized as perfectly as an English-dubbed Japanese movie from the 1970s, also makes me wish I was wearing more clothes: “Holding her is dangerous. Word of this gets out, it could generate sympathy for the rebellion in the senate.” Besides being a fantastically mediocre line-read by a glorified extra, forever eating out on his eight seconds screentime, this is a Plot Point – but Lucas treats it like a throwaway line. Why? Because it doesn’t make any sense! Consider: Leia mentions the “Imperial Senate,” therefore the Senate and Empire operate symbiotically, or with the Senate playing an administrative role to the Imperial ruling class. Either way – they’re in cahoots. If Leia is, as Darth puts it, “a part of the Rebel Alliance and a traitor,” then the Senate would distance themselves from her, so as not to anger the Empire. The last thing a panty-waisted senatorial body wants is to ally itself with insurgents fomenting dissension. Holding Leia will more likely generate sympathy for the EMPIRE, in having to deal with traitors to the Senate.
The Senate are probably leaving a message on Darth’s voicemail right now, apologizing like the ball-lacking lackeys they are, waiting for the beep after his announcement: “Greetings, You’ve reached the communication device of Darth Vader, Imperial Argonaut to the Emperor and Dark Lord of the Sith. Me and my wife, Grand Moff Tarkin, are away from the Death Star right now, but please leave a detailed message, your star date (allowing for time dilation if over 1 light year away) and the planet you are calling from and I will get back to you when I am not busy RULING THE GALAXY. May The Dark Side of The Force Be With You” (beep).
the dark snide of the force
Though she is a part of the Senate, Princess Leia sports a title only an Empire really recognizes. (Think: British Empire with its kings, queens and princesses.) Not that she’s even a real princess! The Prequel Trilogy has revealed that she was born to an EX-queen, then raised by a senator. To remain incognito, shouldn’t Princess Liar adopt a more mundane title? And even if she was a princess, shouldn’t she abdicate that title to conform to the political ideology that the Rebels are fighting for? Which I presume is democracy. Once again, proving that Lucas really has no idea what he means when his characters talk of empire, republic, or whistle-bleep-doing sound.
As in Luke’s case (where his identity as Anakin Skywalker’s son was ingeniously hidden behind the moniker, Luke SKYWALKER), the Rebels who hid Leia thought it through about as deeply as lunch.
the dork side of the force
I’d comment on the “science of STAR WARS” – if there was any. Fanboys and geek squads have to stop confusing utilitarian ideas and wishful thinking with science.
Unlike its most worthy predecessor, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, this movie did not use special effects to enhance the “reality” of the story, but instead used efx (as they came to be known after this movie’s inimitable success) to create a “hyper”-reality, the stuff of pure “fantasy.” For this reason, STAR WARS should ideally be termed science FANTASY. But even that term is barely applicable to this movie that sports star fields, but no comprehension of the physics relating to actual stars. STAR WARS is truly a “Medieval Fiction.” (Not as in “on yo ass,” but medieval as in technologically bereft.)
I’ll spell it out for the fanboys in the back with the wraparound Wookiee masks: In this supposedly “technologically-superior” milieu, the protagonists interact like industrial era throwbacks – it matters not that they use laser blasters, the blasters may as well be glocks, as they shoot at each other using only their human senses to aim with, rather than computerized targeting; it matters not that their lightsabers are energy beams, they fence like Agrarian Age knights, rather than anticipate their foe’s parries with computerized extrapolation programs; and when R2-D2 can hack into a Local Area Network and do anything computerized through that linkup, from turning off garbage compactors to identifying escape routes, Our Doofus Heroes send an “old fossil” to physically turn off the tractor beam (was it using Windows ’98 instead of Vista?).
Obi-Wan himself says succinctly (when C-3PO informs that they’ve found the computer terminal), “You should be able to interpret the entire Imperial network” – uh, except for the tractor beam, of course…
As for all the flying fighter craft, they are so doggedly devoid of scientific principle, it’s a wonder they fly at all. Firstly, the “sound-in-space” staple is opprobrious enough; I hear this and want to rip the arms off a droid like a Wookiee. Secondly, they are not “medieval” – no, they’ve moved all the way up to World War II technology. Not once do these SPACE craft use thrusters to maneuver in space – they yank those old Spitfire joysticks as if they’ve got ailerons and empennages. And somehow manage to fly around dogfighting like Snoopy and the Red Baron as if they DO.
In our current technology, we don’t possess Faster Than Light travel, yet we’ve got push-button rocketry and weapons. In the FTL-based technology in STAR WARS (which has conquered time-warping, tesseracts, wormholes, hyper-space) they still sit behind jabbering guns like World War II B-29 Superfortress blister gunners? They’re in a spacecraft which boasts the technology of faster than light travel, yet they have to aim their guns like cowboys from UNFORGIVEN? With targeting computers that make Pong look like Playstation 3.
“I got one!”
“That’s great, kid! Don’t get cocky!”
And watch that recoil on those LIGHT beams. (Light Amplification by the Stimulation and Emission of Radiation = L.A.S.E.R.) Laser beams are amplified light – those guns do a lot of bucking and recoiling with the WEIGHT of that light. (It might as well be 1880 – which, I suppose, still qualifies as a “long time ago.”)
To say nothing of the “science” of supersonic travel – “super sonic” meaning “faster than sound,” Wookiee Mask Boy (that’s 330 miles PER SECOND in normal Earth atmospheric conditions). If the Rebels’ X-wings are traveling anywhere near the speed they should be traveling in a deep space vacuum (probably hypersonically, i.e. over Mach 5, five times faster than sound), any minute perturbation in trajectory would put them so much off course they would end up doing the Kessel run in under twelve parsecs before you could say, “generate sympathy for the rebellion in the senate,” so in cockpit closeups, how could these X-Wings possibly be pitching about like old Datsuns with bad suspension?
The most stunning effect in STAR WARS is definitely the jump to hyperspace, where the view from a cockpit suddenly becomes one of star streaks, spreading outwards from a forward central point. But if they are starting the jump to lightspeed, the counter-intuitive reality would be that the star streaks should go the OTHER WAY. All light would collapse to a singular point directly ahead of the ship’s line of travel. For if you are traveling faster than light, the only light that you would not be overtaking would be directly in front of you.
So please: enough with the “Science of Star Wars” misnomers. I could ramble all day, but I’ve got a headache the size of bantha balls and it’s got “Star Wars dorks” written all over it.
Granted, this is a ten-cucumber movie, yet it is incomparable to the CITIZEN KANEs or THE GODFATHERs. It will not stand the test of time like a regular “great movie”; it already reads as outdated computer-wise, effects-wise, design-wise. Rather, STAR WARS is an immortal piece of art through its pioneering uniqueness, impacting humanity by slipping through a wormhole when it was expected least and needed most. Right place, right time, right geeks.
Even with its many faults, hearing John Williams’ fanfare score and seeing that grainy, “noisy” filmstock still sends a chill through me; the visage of Darth Vader first striding out into the passageway over dead bodies with breath mask hissing is still a sight to behold; the effect of STAR WARS cannot be described in words precisely because it is so influential that its effect has become intrinsic to our existence; our lexicon resonates with its impact. George Lucas created a wild Product and has eaten out on it ever since. That’s more than any man can ask as his legacy.
Obi-Wan tells Luke, “The Force can have a strong influence on the weak-minded.”
Is he talking about us?…