Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A Reel 40: STAR WARS - Part 3: Beyond the Dune Sea

This month marks the 40th anniversary of George Lucas’ STAR WARS. Reel Speak will celebrate this landmark film, often regarded as one of the greatest of all time, with a three-part blog. The first part explored The First Steps (HERE), the second part looked at the immediate impact in 1977 as an Empire Awakened (HERE), and this third and final part looks Beyond.

Perhaps the most pivotal, memorable and iconic moment in all of STAR WARS happens when Luke Skywalker walks out alone to face the setting twins suns on his home desert planet of Tatooine. At this moment, he is a boy on the threshold of being a man, feeling stuck in a place he does not want to be, and facing an uncertain future as he looks away to the future and the horizon. The music of John Williams swells, and for the first time in STAR WARS, audiences could recognize something within themselves in this new space-fantasy.

Forty years later, one has to wonder if creator George Lucas was putting himself in the film at that point. After all, when Lucas was writing and imagining what would become his empire of films, merchandising, and decades of advancing film technology, he was indeed a young man who had not reached his potential, who was feeling uncertain about what he where he was and what he was doing, and no doubt feeling alone as he looked away across the sea of dunes on that desert planet. After all, on the film’s production notes, Lucas quoted from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s non-Holmes novel The Lost World:

I have wrought my simple plan

If I give one hour of joy

To the boy who’s half a man

Or the man who’s half a boy.

But in the film, that boy travelled across that dune sea to find his destiny, and as fate would have it, so did Lucas. STAR WARS was an instant success which changed the film industry and the world overnight. Never before had a movie drawn so many to the theatres, been marketed so aggressively through media and sold through toy merchandise. STAR WARS had found a home in every household; every school had a lunchbox with an X-Wing fighter, every playground a lightsaber fight, and every boy a Luke, every girl a Leia, and every dog a Wookie. Adults found something classical in the film; an old story made anew, and in that they rediscovered a youth long gone. In the adult world, STAR WARS found its way into local news, political satire, and late-night parodies. Quotes from the film rolled off of everyone’s tongue, and families had something to bond over which was fun, wholesome, and taught important lessons of family and loyalty.

 It was everywhere, and it was only in its infancy. STAR WARS had laid down such a rich and powerful groundwork that it would plant the seeds for two sequels in the 1980’s, and not long after its 20th anniversary, a set of prequels…which would be followed by a third trilogy of films and spin-offs as the saga entered its fourth decade and a new generation of fans. The stories seemed endless; reaching into television, comic books, video games, and novels…and every last one had roots in Lucas’ 1977 film.

Four decades on, STAR WARS still shows its influence in today’s cinema. The new technologies in filming and special effects, developed on the spot, ushered in the current era of visual effects wizardry, and Lucas’ companies, founded nearly as the same time as STAR WARS; Lucasfilm, Industrial Light and Magic, and Skywalker Sound, are still at the top of food chain. Overnight, Hollywood shifted from dark personal films to crowd-pleasers with eye-popping visuals; embracing the classic style that the Golden Age of Hollywood once did. The film has inspired nearly every modern filmmaker working today; from James Cameron to Christopher Nolan to Peter Jackson…they all can cite their beginnings on the day they saw their first Star Destroyer pass overhead.

STAR WARS changed a lot in the film industry and the world, but perhaps its lasting legacy is its cross-generational impact. Kids who experienced it in the 1970’s are grown now, and they happily pass on what they have learned to their own kids. For them, it is now a source of great emotion, where joy and adventure can be found in the stars and furry creatures with funny names. For this Blogger, STAR WARS was the beginning of all memory, the opening crawl to a career, a daily inspiration to write and create, and an emotional lightning rod…especially when sharing with young padawans and those who are deeply loved. For this Blogger, and many others over the last 40 years, STAR WARS is a deep-rooted connection to family, a trigger for strong memories, and has the ability to leap beyond what we can see on the horizon.  No other film in history has found that ability, and the wait for the next one to do so will take a long, long time.

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