This year marks the 35th anniversary of the original Star Wars film. “It’s an epic of heroes and villains and aliens from a thousand worlds,” proclaimed the 1976 trailer. Those words painted the picture of a romantic swashbuckling adventure set in ‘a galaxy far, far away…’; it truly was a mind-bending film that thrived on imaginative storytelling. Still, it is a tale that borrows its ideas from the primordial human aspirations such as coming of age. Luke Skywalker embodies all of our dreams of flying spaceships, fighting with lightsabers, and traveling a shoreless galaxy.
It is no secret that our own Chris Pirillo is a huge Star Wars fan. I am too. “The greatest saga of all time” has been a source of joy and inspiration for millions of people. The complete saga on Blu-ray has a special spot on my shelf. When I sit at my desk, the concept art of Ralph McQuarrie surrounds me. Ironically, George Lucas is not technological at all. In an interview he said that he is not an übergeek, and dislikes gadgets.
Humanity’s greatest art is storytelling. It exists on many levels. One way of passing on valuable and moving lessons is mythology. Whenever I seek a spark of inspiration, I find it in Greek mythology. This is the reason why Star Wars had an enormous impact on me when my brother first introduced me to the endless desert of Tatooine. It was in 1990 that I saw Episode IV, unexpecting of the wondrous world that George Lucas had conjured onscreen. Immediately the idea of The Force, empowering the legendary Jedi Knights, captured my imagination. Luckily, the first film was a bona fide blockbuster, so we can continue to enjoy geeky collectibles and merchandise.
Beyond the spectacle, the special effects, John Williams’s beautiful orchestral score, and the lovable droid duo, there is a complex construction of mythological and historical elements. The Star Wars saga is, at its core, a wonderful tale of heroism and love.
If one looks at the concept art of Ralph McQuarrie, one notices an aim to open a window into a world that resembles our own. In Star Wars, its characters inhabit a vision of a used future. Lucas strived to create a world that is not an idealized utopia, but instead a representation of our dreams trapped in our world. If one examines the foundations of Luke Skywalker’s struggle for good, his story plays out like a Greek tragedy. In the ancient world, tragedians employed theatrical devices, which gave origin to the phrase deus ex machina (“god out of a machine”), that is a divine intervention to change a story’s denouement. In Episode VI, Darth Vader is both the villain and deus ex machina, the surprising intervention as he saves Luke, his son, from certain death.
What many dismiss is that Star Wars comes in two parts. The first part consists of Episodes I – III, while Episode IV – VI obviously form the second part. Together they flesh out the tale of the Skywalker family, the tragedy of how father and son are played as pawns in the grand scheme of Darth Sidious, the dark Lord of the Sith. Even though George Lucas was involved with the development of all six films, the original trilogy has a very different tone. Episode IV is prominently influenced by fairy tales and mythology of olden days, while closely imitating the plot of Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress. For this reason, the first film has a much more light-hearted approach to storytelling, unlike its successors.
The much maligned Prequel Trilogy plays out more like a historical drama, rather than attempting to attain a mythic feeling as did its predecessor from thirty years ago. Yes, I know it has a few questionable aspects, which turned out to be ill-fated attempts at slapstick humor. Jar Jar Binks is not modern cinema’s most beloved creation. On a related subject, the Ewoks from Episode VI were not much better — although my fiancee thinks they are cute. I think they look like teddy bears that spent too much time inside a washing machine. However, let us not be too harsh. They did, after all, help defeat the Empire with rather rudimentary methods.
The Making of Star Wars is a beautiful book, providing a look behind the scenes. It also gives insight into the many iterations the story went through, before it became the films we all love and cherish. Yet there is one red line connecting all these different drafts. All of them try to be an inspiring tale of good versus evil, perhaps in a most basic sense. It is that simplistic black and white world view that makes Star Wars such an accessible and genuinely entertaining affair. It also does not take itself too seriously.
C3PO and his three-legged counterpart R2-D2 are perhaps among the best-known examples of popular culture. In fact, it was the great Anthony Daniels, who plays C3PO, narrating the saga during the Star Wars in Concert events. A friend and I went to see it in Hamburg, Germany. It was an amazing and absolutely breathtaking experience to hear the score played by a live orchestra. For those 90 minutes I was that young boy again, running through the house while holding my LEGO starship.
May the 4th be with you!
CC licensed Flickr photo of ecstatic Cub Scout Chris Pirillo and his Millennium Falcon cake by Chris Pirillo