Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Star Wars

Star Wars is back.

Love it or hate it, it is hard to deny that you can have a pretty heated discussion with just about anyone regarding Star Wars and its impact on cinema and pop culture.

Even the most hardened cynic, has to confess that Star Wars changed American cinema. Whether those changes were for the better or for the worse is another matter.

I am a child of the 70's, which not only means I am getting old, it means I am in the exact demographic that George Lucas cultivated in 1977.

Now, the alleged "final installment" of Star Wars is upon us and I thought it would be fun to offer my thoughts on the "impact" of Star Wars, in general.

First, lets get the discussion of the "original" trilogy vs. the "prequel" trilogy out of the way. Yes, quite frankly, the prequels are vastly inferior, that is undeniable, simply because there is no cultural significance to them.

Even as a kid back in the 70's, there was a sense that Star Wars was 'important'. Indeed I'd argue that if you were a child of the 70's, Star Wars' impact on you was as socially significant as "Beatlemania" was in the early 60s. Socially significant when measured on the pop culture scale that is, I do realize its just a movie.

The prequels lack that cultural significance and ultimately, this is why the prequel films simply do not resonate like the originals.

Secondly, I recognize Star Wars fans can get obsessive and out of hand and I can be guilty of this as well. Those fans who line up for months or try and reverse engineer children's films into philosophical and even religious dogma, go too far. These films are meant to be a lark, a bit of escapist fun and shouldn't be elevated beyond that. Listing "Jedi" as a religion in a goverment census, might be whimsical, but it also insults the historical longevity and cultural meaning of real religion. (I say that as an atheist with no attachment to any religion, save I suppose atheism itself).

Having said all that, the last installment of George Lucas' 6 part epic, has me excited. I don't expect much thematically, because in truth, the best film George Lucas ever made in that regard, was American Graffiti anyway. I do expect a wonderful romp through my childhood affection for the Star Wars myth and I eagerly await seeing Darth Vader appear on the big screen one last time.

Darth Vader, or "dark father" as the literal translation goes, is a massive villain, with Freudian roots, a booming bass voice and fascist evil undertones, that slice through a boy's fascination with power and dare I say it, the boy's natural wonder for what Nietzsche called the 'Ubermencsh'.

Thus, Vader resonates into a young boy's psyche greater than any other science fiction villain ever created, because he represents our struggle with our own fathers but also our own selfish struggle for power and independence.

Okay, okay, I've gone too far, I've assigned dramatic weight to a simple 'action adventure movie'.

None the less, Vader is what helped sell the original Star Wars hysteria, conversely the villains in the first two prequels, were merely mannequins with no subtext or presence with which we could attach to. It left the Star Wars prequels hollow and without any energy or real conflict.

Now, the next Star Wars movie, brings Vader back, albeit just for a cameo at the end. But because the movie leads up to exact moments of his birth, I believe I will enjoy this film, like I've enjoyed no other sci-fi movie in a long, long time.

Yes, a lot of us children from the 70's assign entirely too much significance to Star Wars. I just offer that many children of the 60's make the same mistake with the Beatles or Jack Kerouac. I guess Elvis and maybe Joe Dimaggio suffer from this as well from generations before, I don't know.

Star Wars, it's just a silly space movie serial. I know this. I just think that with Vader as the central theme and nemesis in the latest installment, I believe I am going to enjoy it very, very much indeed.

EDIT: I just found a delightfully angry review of the movie at the New Yorker web site. You can read it by clicking here.

Although the review is vey funny and very accurate in its assault on the film's weaknesses, one has to wonder if the anecdote about the warm water wasn't derived by the author's personal experience as an adolescent.

Perhaps one or too many dark nights in that lonely closet, is one of the reasons the author can't just sit back and enjoy a film aimed at children.

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