Thursday, May 25, 2017

Not THAT Damn "Long Ago"

"A long time ago..." (Actually only 40 years, but it SEEMS like a long time ago...) " a galaxy far, far away..." (Actually in the Milky Way...), a movie was released that had a profound effect on Hollywood and the public in general.  Today, May 25, 2017, marks the 40th anniversary of the first movie in a seemingly never-ending saga of the battle between the forces of good, represented by the Rebel Alliance and the good side of the Force, against the Galactic Empire and the Dark Side of the Force.

Yes, I said 40.  Face it, if you went to see this movie in the theater when it first came out, you have to be pushing 50, at the very least, if not older.  Sorry to be the bearer of bad news...

This was the movie that was the crossing point of my threshold of innocence.  If you have been a regular reader since the beginning you already know the story, but I'll repeat it here for the newcomer.

In 1970, my father took the family; my mother, my sister and me, to the drive-in to see Patton. It was rated PG, so there probably should have been some warning bells, but my father was disgusted by the language.  (Sure.  Tame by today's standards, but we kids were both less than 10.)   My father was pretty straight-laced, and did not like having his children exposed to such language.  So we were only allowed to go to G-rated movies after that.  The violence apparently did not bother him, but then, this was a war movie, after all, and what did you expect in a war movie?  Love and butterflies?

Flash forward 7 years.  I, being the voracious reader, have acquired the novelization of the movie Star Wars.  The movie is now out.  I plead with my father to let us go see it, but his staunch determination to not expose us to filthy PG standards still existed.  (Notwithstanding that by now, both my sister and I have been hearing such language even on the playground...)  I pointed out to him that I was reading the book and there wasn't one foul word in the whole thing.  (In retrospect, I think there might have been one "Damn", but I can't be sure...)  Anyway endless wheedling and begging finally prevailed, and my sister and I got to go see Star Wars.

Star Wars  eventually became a cultural phenomenon.  (Witness the two sequels in the 80's, the less than stellar prequels in the 90's and the current series began last year with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, plus the plethora of novels placed in the Star Wars Universe, oodles of toy tie-ins from various sources, a comic book series or two, and commercials out the wazoo both in the Star Wars heydey of the late 70's/early 80's and recently as well. And, I might add, all that money going into George Lucas' pocket, since he managed to finagle the studio into giving him the merchandising rights to the movie.  (And many an executive are probably still gnashing their teeth over that faux pas...)

Lucas credited the Akira Kurosawa film The Hidden Fortress for inspiration.  And there are a lot of parallels in the two.  If you know and like Kurosawa, you can't go wrong with watching this one.  But that isn't the sole inspiration for this movie.  Saturday morning matinees, westerns, Sinbad (the movie swashbuckler, not the 90's comedian),and even WWII air battle scenes in some classic war movies helped to create this dynamic film.

And a huge credit goes to a rousing soundtrack by John Williams. If your blood doesn't pound when you hear the opening score to this movie, if you don't feel a chill in your bones when you hear the Imperial Death March, if you don't want to get up and dance when Figrin D'an and the Modal Nodes play "Mad About Me"...(That's the cantina band and the name of the song they're playing.  Didn't know the band actually had a name?  Or there was a name for the song?  Well, you just learned a new lesson...There are people who spend their whole lives in the Star Wars Eric Forman from That 70's Show...)  BTW, an artist named Meco released a disco song that featured a mix of the opening, and the cantina song, with a disco beat background... and it went to #1.  (see even more proof of the impact of the movie...)

Star Wars (1977)

George Lucas' epic story began in 1977.  It had a long history.  And the final version, although with some similarities and many of the same characters would have been entirely different if he had gone with his first draft.  A fascinating book with a whole chapter dedicated to the various incarnations that Lucas conceived for the original movie can be found in the Star Wars FAQ by Mark Clark.

The movie was an experience like I'd never seen before.  Nowadays the special effects could be done with CGI, but this was in the prehistoric days before such things had been perfected.  And you can't quite get the phenomenal impact it had watching it on a 19 inch screen.  Needless to say, if there is a revival of it at one of your local theaters and you've never had the chance to see it on a big screen, you ought to take a couple of hours out of your day and go.

The original movie had a rolling story background (minus the later addition of the words "Episode IV", which would definitely have caused a bit of consternation if we knew beforehand...) which told of what had been happening in the history leading up to the film's opening sequence.  Then we saw our first spaceship, and the Empire's battleship that was tailing it.  (And here is one of those scenes that suffers somewhat if you only got to see it on a TV.)

The two robots who are the central characters of the movie, R2D2 (Kenny Baker), affectionately called "Artoo" for short and C3PO (Anthony Daniels) are among those who are rushing along in the havoc.  Somewhat reminiscent of Laurel and Hardy, the two do a bit of friendly backbiting against each other.  (The characters are based, somewhat, on two characters of similar comedic value in Kurosawa's film)

Artoo gets fed some input data fed to him by a mysterious woman [who it turns out is Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) from the planet Alderaan, and a secret contact with the Rebel Alliance, but more on that later.]  Artoo and C3PO escape in a jettisoned pod, which fortunately is not blasted into smithereens by the Imperial gunner at the helm, because it has no "life forms".  (Wanna bet he was called on the carpet after all that transpired later...?)  Sure enough, the pod lands safely, but Artoo and C3PO have a falling out and go their separate ways on the planet (which is named "Tatooine")

Meanwhile, back on the cruiser, the dark knight himself, Darth Vader (David Prowse, but voiced by James Earl Jones), takes the Princess and her crew captive.  It seems he has information about her "secret" mission, which is not the same mission as has been officially declared, that it is a mission of diplomacy.  (Naughty, naughty, Princess.  You shouldn't lie to a guy who has the entire weapon cache of the Dark Side on his side).  The real mission was to deliver blueprints of an Imperial WMD  (one that makes anything Saddam Hussein or George W. Bush had seem like Tinker Toys).

Well here's the twist.  It seems that the Princess managed to conceal the blueprints into Artoo's memory banks, the same Artoo that the Imperial machine gunner let slip by in the escape pod.  (Whoops.)  Back on Tatooine, both Artoo and  C3PO are captured by scavengers, called Jawas, who end up selling the pair to the aunt and uncle of Luke Skywalker.  (We get to see a lot of Luke, since he's the star, but tell me, how can he go gallivanting across the universe and never realize he left home wearing his pajamas?)

Luke, while doing some minor repair work on Artoo, accidentally triggers part of a message that was meant for Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness).  When Artoo deserts his new owners to go looking for Obi-Wan, Luke and C3PO go out looking for him and find a bit more trouble than they bargained for when they attacked by native Sand People.  Fortunately they are rescued by Old Ben Kenobi, a hermit, who is, you guessed, also known as Obi-Wan... (Is this starting to sound like one of those Saturday matinee serials from the 40's and 50's?  Good because that was yet another influence on Lucas).

Unfortunately for Luke, but also fortunately, his aunt and uncle are killed while he is out looking for Artoo, thus escaping the same fate.  Obi-Wan convinces Luke to accompany him to Alderaan, where he has been summoned by the Princess.  The pair and their robot companions go to Mos Eisley, a city on Tatooine, to hire a pilot to take them there.  What they get is a stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf herder (Got to wait for the sequel to get that one), Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and his co-pilot, Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew).

Getting to Alderaan is only half the problem, however.  See, when they get there, Alderaan is no longer there.  What's that you say?  How can an entire planet just disappear?  Now you know why I said the Imperial WMD is such hot stuff.  It blew up the entire plane to hell and back.  So, as you can see, now it is imperative that Luke and company get the plans for this weapon to the Rebels.  Except that's not going to be an easy task, since the WMD also has a tractor beam to beat the band and captures Solo's ship as well as all those aboard.

Again, what with plot twists going their way, the crew manage to get out of the ship and avoid capture.  But they still have one to disable the tractor beam so they can escape.  This would be the point where all members get separated, since that's how these old Saturday serials went, and sure enough, they do.  But they do accomplish one major score in their tribulations, Luke manages to rescue Leia...and develop a crush on her; (and if you've already seen the trilogy, don't spoil it for the rest of the crowd...)

Will Luke and Han escape the Death Star? Will the Rebel Alliance succeed in defeating the Death Star?   Will Obi-Wan convince Darth Vader to abandon his evil ways and come back to sane side of the Force?  Will Luke and Leia do something that they'll regret when the sequel comes along?  Will Artoo and C3PO find happiness in a duplex in the nice, fashionable side of town?  These and other equally egregious questions will be answered when you watch the next exciting installment.

Happy birthday to Star Wars.  Just think, in another 25 years you'll be able to many of your original enthusiastic viewers already have...



  1. Happy birthday to one of my very favorite films. I was 11 when it came out and saw it at least 10 times over the summer of 77.

    Your wonderful article makes me want to pop in the blu-ray and watch it at my earliest convenience, even though I recently binge watched the trilogy just a few months ago. It never gets old.
    - Chris

    1. Chris-
      I keep forgetting we are so close in age. I was 15 going on 16 that year...

      I had originally thought to cover the original trilogy here, but decided to devote my focus on just the first one since that was the focus of the birthday celebration. Check out MovieFanFare, a fellow blog site for a couple of good celebratory posts.


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