Thursday, December 24, 2015

HH: A New Hope

Given this week, it is only appropriate that I do a review of the movie that started it all for Throwback Thursday.

If you seriously don't know what movie I'm talking about, I suggest you look at the internet. Any part of it. Seriously. Because this is Star Wars, and this is a phenomenon.

Short version: This is one of the finest action adventure stories ever committed to film.

Yes, I saw this movie in the theater. I was quite young, though, so I only have a vague memory of it. I have much clearer memories of going to see Empire, especially as it was the first movie I ever saw a second time.

This movie has been dissected, reverse engineered, copied, parodied, referenced, and worshiped. So I'm going to skip a lot of that. I'm going to discuss the four elements that I think made Star Wars the phenomenon it has become.

The Story: Lucas very intentionally sat down with a stack of Kurosawa movies, a stack of Flash Gordon comics, and Joseph Campbell's hero's journey. There is a formula at work here, and it is a VERY powerful formula. A young man with a great destiny. The aged mentor. The scoundrel. The princess locked in a tower. Simple nuggets of wisdom wrapped in mystical robes. It's very easy to use a recipe and forget to season to taste. Lucas managed to use the recipe as a structure to give his ideas the weight they needed.

The Setting: Space is big. Tech, especially tech intentionally divorced from anything we know on Earth, can do literally anything. Add in a dash of magic. But the genius bit was taking it all and really rubbing the dirt in. Luke's farm looks like a terrible place to grow up. Mos Eisley looks like a hive of scum and villainy. The Falcon looks like a bucket of bolts. The whole galaxy is either the pristine shine of the Empire, or really shabby. At the time, it was really surprising and grounding to see a sci-fi setting that was neither sterile nor post-apocalyptic. It made it all feel more real.

The Dialogue: And here is where Lucas failed to recognize that it wasn't his genius at work. Oh, sure, he wrote most of the good lines about the Force. But the banter? Almost all of the great lines were suggested by the actors. Ford very nearly re-wrote Han Solo from the ground up. Fisher had an acid tongue on the set, and a lot of her attitude infused Leia with a spirit that Lucas could never have matched. I have honestly been surprised at the number of iconic lines that were just ad-libbed.

The Music: There is no way to discuss this movie without mentioning the brilliance of John Williams. Honestly, without his score, this would have been no more than a fondly remembered summer romp. The main theme, the Imperial theme, Luke's theme, Han and Leia's theme. Individually, these are each phenomenal pieces for any soundtrack. Together, they weave a layer of experience that very few movies can match.

As is my wont, I look at the feminism angle. And Star Wars is troubling from a feminist perspective. It fails the Bechdel Test spectacularly because there are precisely two named female characters, who do not even share screen time together. But, admittedly, it passes the Mako Mori Test (which, in retrospect, should probably be called the Leia Test). And boy was Leia a strong woman. She was a competent agent, she stood up to her captors, and when she was rescued she grabbed the gun and led the way. To many, many geek girls she was the role model. She was the one.

Obviously I think you should see this movie. It's marvelous. It's inspirational. It's ridiculously fun. More than that, though, it's a cultural touchstone. Just look at the crazy array of commercials attempting to cash in Star Wars fever. If nothing else, you should watch the movie just so that you actually know that Darth Vader is the villain and that Han shot first. Speaking of which, do what you can to watch the original version, and not the "updated" version. The extra scenes in the updated version are really annoying.

No comments:

Post a Comment