Here at The Thread, we feel like we’re venturing into dangerous territory anytime we take on a Comic-Con favorite. But sometimes we just can’t resist the wildebeest stampede of pop culture.
This week, for instance. A long time ago in a galaxy far far away (actually the Egyptian Theater in 1977) we saw the first (now the fourth) Star Wars. Since then George Lucas’ mythic cosmos has permeated the culture – and lately we’ve come back to thinking it’s for the better.
We don’t claim to be experts. We have seen all of the episodes at least once – but in varying states of wakefulness.
We have recently replaced our copy of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces – but we’ve only picked at it.
And we do have over a thousand dollars’ worth of Star Wars Legos around the house – but still not the ultimate prize, the foot-high Lego R2D2. (2127 pieces, $439.49 on Amazon).
So while we at The Thread are definitely not fanboys and -girls, we do have multiple personal connections (Harrison Ford ate at the same organic salad bar in Santa Monica!) which made us overcome our better judgement and dive into some Star Wars arcana this week.
STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015)
You know us well enough by now to know that we’re always looking for a hero. As we write this, advance sales have crossed $100 millions, positive reviews are piling in, and our pulse is quickening.
Seems like this one may actually live up to the incredibly inflated expectations.
THE MYTHOLOGY OF STAR WARS (1999)
Aiyiyiyi — we’ve got problems with George Lucas. He’s such an unassuming prophet that even though our frontal lobes kind of get it, we find ourselves suspended in an attraction/repulsion field every time we watch him speak.
But despite that, we just couldn’t stop watching this hour-long Lucas interview by Bill Moyers, shot just before the 1999 release of The Phantom Menace.
Lucas has some genuinely interesting things to say – for instance: “I would hate to find ourselves in a completely secular world, where entertainment is passing for religious experience.” And he says it without any touch of irony, despite the fact that it seems like that’s exactly what Star Wars has done for devotees.
Phantom Menace was Lucas’ return to the franchise, writing and directing. It’s the fourth movie released, but Episode One chronologically.
He kind of ‘splains it all for Moyers, very modestly. The interview takes place eleven years after Moyers’ hugely popular PBS series The Power of Myth, (1988) which in turn aired eleven years after the release of Star Wars (1977).
The hour doc is free on Vimeo. And though we usually avoid linking to copyrighted stuff for free, it’s the only place we could find it:
ATTACK THE BLOCK (2011)
An actual real-life fanboy – well, his day job happens to be US government attorney – turned us onto this over Thanksgiving pir.
The two leads of The Force Awakens are both British “newcomers”. Daisy Ridley is really very much a newcomer, having only appeared in a handful of things, including the music video “Lights On”.
John Boyega was more established and had already garnered some acclaim, especially for his performance in Attack the Block, a sci-fi comedy thriller set in a council estate in South London. Boyega is Moses, member of a gang that battles an alien invasion.
It’s the highly praised first writing/directing effort by British comedian Joe Cornish, and got him compared to Tarentino and Neil Bloomkampf. And Boyega got got a lot a praise too. After that, he had a false start or two, but now he appears to be a made man.
The casting of a black Brit as the hero of the series stirred up some nastiness online. We like Boyega’s tweet at the time: “To whom it may concern… Get used to it ”
A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (2001)
In our minds Star Wars is deeply indebted to Isaac Asimov. Perhaps not by direct descent. But very little sci fi since the 50’s is was not heavily influenced by Asimov, and his Foundation series popularized the idea of an interstellar empire.
Lucas’ brilliance (and now we are completely without irony) was to take the idea of interstellar empire and infuse it with Campbell’s heroic archetypes – and then to package it all in a much more major key than his early student film THX 1138.
It’s kind of amazing that only three movies have been based on Asimov books (I, Robot; Bicerntennial Man; and I, Robot 2). None of them is really reflective of Asimov’s writing. For I, Robot the Asimov title, a few character elements, and the Three Laws of Robotics were backfilled into an already existing screenplay. The book was a seminal experience of our early sci fi readings, and we were hugely disappointed.
Which is why we’ve picked A.I. Artificial Intelligence as our homage to Asimov. Even though the Kubrick/Spielberg hybrid isn’t perfect, to our lights it’s a lot more representative of the intellectual complexity and, thanks to Lucas’ buddy Spielberg, the humanity of Asimov than the movies that were actually based on his books.
Plus it holds up well. We like it better now than when it came out.
THX 1138 (1971)
THX is the ghost of George Lucases that might have been. It is so alt and non-mainstream that we’re tempted to think that he sold his filmmaker’s soul to the devil in exchange for commercial success.
But we suspect that what really happened was that he just became himself. Look at the hairdo. After adroitly mining (miming?) Kubrick and Orwell, he decided that what he really liked was Joseph Campbell and Star Trek. That he didn’t like suffering enough to suffer through a long string of arty Anglophilic failures, and instead he would return with his considerable technical expertise to his California roots.
But being arty Anglophiles ourselves, we continue to have a soft spot for THX 1138. We’ve licensed it for several cable networks — and not just because it was the most affordable of Lucas’ films. After all – Robert Duvall, Donald Pleasance and 10,000 gallons of white paint…
If you do watch it, make sure to use a good sound system or even headphones – the complex aural landscape that Lucas and his editor Walter Murch layered in is an amazing foreshadow of the work he would do in both Graffiti and Star Wars. Murch went on to do a lot of notable sound work, including Apocalypse Now.
The original theatrical version has never been released on home video. It looks like all of these are the 2004 “Director’s Cut”, with cut footage restored and added CGI.
THE SEVEN SAMURAI (1954)
Lucas was introduced to Kurosawa in film school by writer friend John Milius, and Star Wars is heavily indebted to the Japanese master.
First and foremost, for light sabers. What a brilliant twist: take the pre-industrial revolution technology of the sword, infuse it with an electronic overlay, but keep it intimate and personal.
For the apprentice/master relationship, an element that is so spiritually important but so overlooked in American culture.
And, on a very pragmatic level, for plot models. In The Hidden Fortress, two peasants travel along with a disguised princess, watching from the sidelines. The peasants became R2D2 and C3PO.
Lucas would return the favor. After Star Wars saved Fox, Kurosawa ran out of money on Kagemusha and Lucas strong-armed the studio into putting up the cash to finish the film.
The Seven Samurai was the first Kurosawa film Lucas saw, and he’s often said it remains his favorite.
Each week Elma and I give you 5 opinionated but culturally relevant choices, based on our experience of curating smart sticky stuff for Ovation, Trio, Bravo, A&E, Sundance, Fuse, and others.