I’ve finally found a little break in 2019 where I was not overwhelmingly engaged with the ever-rotating grindstone known as 20 Eyes Entertainment INC. Since the beginning of this year, I’ve threatened to write a blog in which I shared my inner thoughts about pop culture, projects, and the powers that be-
The Eyes in Your Head Blog #1
What ACTUALLY Made Star Wars Awesome
This is a subject I’ve been asked about a lot since I recorded a podcast a number of years ago. In the podcast, I broke down what made the first three Star Wars movies among the best movies ever made and why it’s been so difficult to recapture that magic ever since. We’re coming up on the final installment of the most recent saga, so I thought I’d start the 20 Eyes Blog off with a little spice about the Holy Trilogy:
Let us begin with my general thesis why original Star Wars movies were so amazing.
The first three Star Wars movies were among the best science fiction movies ever made for three primary reasons:
#1 Star Wars: A New Hope was released at a time in film history when science fiction was in the middle of a hopeless, dystopian cycle storytelling. This created a vacuum in the science fiction space that propelled Star Wars popularity to the next level by virtue of its thematic resolution being entirely different than its peers.
#2 Akira Kurosawa influence on George Lucas added a new element of Japanese storytelling that American audiences had never seen before in science fiction movies.
#3 George Lucas had long been influenced by the works of modern philosopher Joseph Campball. Lucas crafted the first Star Wars movies with theory of the Monomyth as well as The Hero’s Journey in mind.
I find that many pop culture journalists tend to glaze over these factors when assessing the quality of newer Star Wars movies. They often focus on the mind-blowing special effects and the new characters. While those two facets of Star Wars are important, they are not really the reason why so many people gravitated toward Star Wars initially. The reasons people emotionally latched onto Star Wars were far more subconscious and far less visual.
Star Wars was pure magic for its audiences because it was released in a dark age of science fiction where there was a pent up demand for hopeful storytelling.
To put it bluntly, it’s no secret that the 1970’s sucked, and that sucking was reflected in their science fiction films. Now, don’t misunderstand me. Most 70’s science fiction movies were great movies. There are plenty of 70’s sci-fi movies I watch regularly because they are amazing: Rollerball (1975), The Andromeda Strain (1971), and of course, Logan’s Run (1976). However, these movies all have one thing in common-
They are all a huge downers!
The sci-fi of the 70’s was as dark as the Cold War itself. Most of the movies produced were a reaction to the oppression of post-World War II communism, and caused a sense of anxiety in their audiences. Even the children’s movies were terrifyingly pessimistic about the state of the world! I always point to Disney’s The Black Hole (1979) as the prime example of a children’s movie that took a wrong turn down Jean Paul Sarte Lane. The Black Hole was a kid’s movie that was intentionally created as a response to the success of Star Wars by filmmakers applying the “1970’s Disney Screenwriting Formula” to what Lucas did. It somehow resulted in Victor Frankenstein Visits Hell in Space and decidedly, not Star Wars.
In retrospect, Disney’s attempt to copy Star Wars should have immediately indicated that there was something unique about the feeling the film inspired in its audiences.
Star Wars: A New Hope was completely different than its 70’s predecessors. The film literally gave audiences “hope” as indicated in its episodic title. It was set in a world under the jackboot of the evil Empire and at travels the galaxy to end with a great victory over a superior force. The story of Star Wars began over the desolate planet of Tatooine where a virginal princess was captured by an imposing machine wearing all black. The machine was surrounded by sterile stormtroopers, who lacked any traced of individual identity, including a face. I can’t think of a more appropriate metaphor for the Cold War climate of the 1970’s where people were living in fear of losing their individuality to machines on a daily basis. Everything about Star Wars: A New Hope is a metaphor about overcoming the desperation of living in a world filled with anxiety, depression, and failed heroes. By destroying the Death Star with Luke, Han, and Chewie, audiences were emotionally destroying the machinery causing them anxiety in their own lives.
Audiences absolutely embraced Star Wars on an emotional level because its message was both relevant and hopeful.
Star Wars: A New Hope also relayed a second message of optimism by offering character types that were absent in 1970’s sci-fi. One of the primary influences on Star Wars characters had always been the radio dramas Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. These radio shows were specifically aimed at a younger audience, and exemplified heroes triumphing in far-away lands through pure ingenuity and occasional luck. Heroism was more or less dead in most of the 1970’s movies. The vast majority of 70’s sci-fi protagonists only acted heroic as a function of survival or upon a sudden moral epiphany. Luke Skywalker and Han Solo were far different. They were the 1970’s embodiment of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers respectively. They both had an inherent sense of right and wrong, and embraced the heroic struggle against the machines. Luke and Han performed heroic feats to save the Princess Leia from imprisonment and then went back out later on a suicide mission to destroy the Death Star. This was a far cry from how Logan 5 handled his adversaries. He just ran, and kept running-
Sci-fi fans loved the new attitude of the Star Wars hero, and cemented its legacy as a result.
To Be Continued with the next blog: Samurai Warriors in Spaaaace!