By Bruce Newman
So little was expected of the original
Star Wars'' before it opened in 1977 that 20th Century Fox, the studio overseeing its distribution, had pinned all its hopes for a sci-fi hit that year to Damnation Alley,’’ a nuclear apocalypse spectacle starring Jan-Michael Vincent and an army of radioactive cockroaches.
Star Wars'' was considered such cinematic small fry that it initially was released on only 43 screens. By contrast, when Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith’’ - the sixth and final installment in writer-director George Lucas’ epic series - is released shortly after midnight on Wednesday night, it will reach into every corner of the known universe, erupting onto as many as 9,000 screens.
That a single story - about a farmboy and his wayward father, who wants his long-lost son to follow him into the family business - could exert a hold on the popular imagination for so long may be Lucas’ greatest accomplishment. The galactic saga has cut across generational lines, color barriers and language differences to become the one movie that virtually everyone walking the planet - maybe several planets - has heard about.
Twenty-eight years is an enormous period of time for one work to play such a big role in culture and society,'' says Robert Sklar, author of Movie-Made America.’’
The series, which thus far has earned a staggering $3.4 billion, changed forever the ways movies are made and marketed.
Before these movies there really wasn't a summer movie season as we know it today,'' says Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations, a box office tracking company in Los Angeles. Several Hollywood studios were on the verge of bankruptcy when Star Wars’’ rescued the box office in 1977, and Hollywood is in the doldrums again now, with movie attendance down 6 percent from this time last year. The summer season that once didn’t exist now depends on
Revenge of the Sith'' doing big business. Everyone is looking to this to turn things around,’’ says Dergarabedian.
Whatever its impact at the box office this summer,
Star Wars''' impact on the culture is now indisputable. The mythology has had such power that when Enron - one of the dominant American corporations of the 1990s - was cooking its books with a constellation of phantom companies, CFO Andrew Fastow gave them names such as Jedi,’’
Death Star'' and Chewco.’’ And Lucas turned movies into such a global commodity that by the ‘90s, the Hollywood entertainment-industrial complex became America’s second-largest export business, trailing only aerospace.
Even that cornerstone of the military was pulled into the movie’s tractor beam when President Ronald Reagan’s proposal for a nuclear shield - which had been going nowhere as the Strategic Defense Initiative - suddenly gained congressional backing when it acquired the nickname
Star Wars.'' Taking his rhetorical cue from the movies, Reagan called the Soviet Union the evil empire,’’ and soon America’s Cold War nemesis had been crushed under the heel of history - and the
Star Wars'' marketing juggernaut. More lastingly, Star Wars’’ made the blockbuster a permanent fixture on the summer movie calendar, putting Hollywood’s marketing machinery on a war footing for as long as the kids were out of school. Orbiting in hyper-drive around Lucas’ Death Star, summer movies became about shock and awe.
Following the success of
Jaws'' in the summer of 1975, and Star Wars’’ two summers later, adolescent moviegoers who could be relied upon to return to see the same picture again and again became, for the first time, the driving force that determined which movies got made, and which didn’t.
I would argue that George Lucas helped to lead the cinema away from an adult awareness in the early '70s that was very promising,'' says David Thomson, author of The Whole Equation: A History of Hollywood,’’ during a phone interview.
As you look back on some of those films, it's painfully clear that they wouldn't get made today. And yet a whole lot of films that in some way resemble 'Star Wars' are being made.'' Neither withering reviews nor bad word of mouth have much effect on younger audiences, who flock to fill the multiplexes on opening weekend. By the time we’ve all seen that it sucked,’’ writes Tom Shone in
Blockbuster: How Hollywood Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Summer,'' it’s a hit.’’
The studios had little sense of the potential for franchising movies before Lucas took the old Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon serial adventures and gave them a quality that some saw as epic, and others as gargantuanism. Fox simply gave all the sequel rights for
Star Wars'' to Lucas, assuming they weren't worth anything. In addition to the $3.4 billion grossed by the five Star Wars’’ films to date, the merchandising and other ancillary marketing rights have produced a treasure for Lucas estimated at $9 billion. (When the original trilogy was released on DVD last September, it made $115 million worldwide on its first day.)
With the money from the movies, Lucas built his own empire - a word not tossed around lightly at his Marin County redoubt, Skywalker Ranch - creating his own production company (Lucasfilm), a special effects shop (Industrial Light & Magic) and sound divisions (Skywalker Sound and THX). He also gave birth to what is now Pixar, the computer-animation studio that was spun off from ILM.
After 16 years away from the saga, Lucas returned in 1999 with
The Phantom Menace,'' a movie that managed to make nearly a billion dollars in spite of the fact that nobody seemed to like it very much. Speaking of which, nobody liked Damnation Alley’’ much either. The irradiated bugs lasted longer than the movie lingered in theaters. There are no plans for a sequel.
By Bruce Newman
May the Force be with you.
And to think how good Star Wars could have been…
Has there ever been made a good “space opera” movie?
You mean Star Wars - The Musical?
Don’t give Loyd Webber any ideas.
THERE’S GOTTA BE A ROLE SOMEWHERE IN THE VAST REGIONS OF THE UNKNOWN STRETCHES OF SPACE FOR … CHARLIE! :eek:
By Steven Rea
After 28 years of
Star Wars'' - after all the May the Force be with yous,’’ the earnest college papers citing the linkage between Joseph Campbell and Yoda, the jokes about Princess Leia’s twin-cinnamon-bun ‘do - George Lucas’ space saga, six titles and thousands of sliced-and-diced storm troopers later, has come to a close.
Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith,'' the third of the prequels Lucas began writing in the mid-1990s as back-story for the original trilogy, is upon us. And with it, the hype, the merch, and the search for meaning. For Lucas loyalists, the Final Act offers fantastic flyovers of exotic planets, awesome flying ships, and the kind of state-of-the-art effects you'd expect from the guy who made jumping into hyperspace a must-do moviegoing experience. For the casual viewer who feels like maybe all the Sith’’ hoopla is worth checking out, well, it’s like tuning in to the season finale of
24'' without having watched a minute of its lead-up episodes. As for the big revelation of Episode III’’ - that Darth Vader is Anakin Skywalker and hence the father of Jedi-to-be Luke Skywalker - that’s old news. All that’s left for the diehard fans, and for the vaguely interested, to know: What seismic event, what grand dilemma, caused Anakin to cross over to the Dark Side?
This we learn in
Episode III,'' along with the fact that Lucas still can't write. His dialogue crashes and burns like an X-wing zapped out of the sky by a star destroyer. Shameless cliches (Our worst fears have been realized’’) clank around with achingly awful love scenes (
Hold me like you did by the lake on Naboo''), while time-wasting minutiae (Tell Captain Kagi to prepare my shuttle for immediate takeoff’’) share script-pages with second-clause-first Yoda-speak (
To fight this Lord Sidious, strong enough you are not,'' cautions the little green guy). And speaking of Yoda: Strangle the wrinkled, kiwifruited sage audiences will want to, by the end of Revenge,’’ I predict. (And, anyway, if Yoda is such a cosmic smartypants, why can’t he speak in proper sentences like everyone else?)
Episode III'' begins with a lengthy battle in the skies above the city-planet Coruscant, during which jaunty Jedi knights engage in hyperspeed dogfights with vulture droids - part of General Grievous' vast army of mechanized goons. Two of the jauntiest Jedis - Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor, sounding like he's just come from an Alec Guinness immersion course) and Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) - are out to rescue Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), a move they might live to regret. After all, isn't there an uncanny resemblance between the bland bureaucrat of the Republic and that cowled Sith lord, the insidious one? But a Jedi must do what a Jedi must do, which is mostly the trading of quips while lightsabering one's way through hordes of droids. Can fight scenes get any duller than this, when everybody knows that the enemy, no matter how large, will tumble and fall in a pile of robotic ineptitude? Much intergalactic intrigue ensues. Natalie Portman, as ex-queen, ex-senator Padme, wears regal couture and even some kind of equestrian jodhpurs at one point as she gets to tell her secret Jedi beau, Anakin, that she's pregnant. (She calls him Annie’’ - isn’t that cute?) Then she gets to act huffy in the face of Palpatine’s despotic coup as he dismantles democracy in the name of security. (
So this is how liberty dies - with thunderous applause,'' Padme says, full of bitter rue.) Later, she must face her cold and strange Jedi husband and say: I don’t know you anymore, Anakin. You’re breaking my heart.’’
We won’t even go into the third-act Polis Massa Med Center scene, other than to quote this gem of a diagnosis from one of the attending droid docs:
Medically, she is completely healthy. ... (But) she has lost the will to live.'' She's not alone, bud! Christensen, for his part, undergoes the change from noble warrior to corrupted soul with clenched jaw and stony stare meant to speak volumes, and doesn't say anything at all. The guy has less heft than DiCaprio, although it's unlikely any actor, no matter how talented, could transcend the ponderous hooey of Lucas' pen and PC. The trouble with Revenge’’ and the other prequels (and, to some extent, 1983’s
Return of the Jedi'') is that Lucas, having shaken up the pop-cult universe with his deft mix of vintage cliffhanger, dazzling special effects, and cowboys-in-space scenarios, started taking himself way too seriously. When PBS brainiac Bill Moyers compares Campbell's The Hero With a Thousand Faces’’ to Lucas’
Homage With a Thousand Sources,'' when every youngling goes to bed in Star Wars’’ pj’s and the coffers of Twentieth Century Fox and LucasFilm swell with box office, home video and ancillary revenues, a modicum of self-consciousness is bound to set in.
And then you get scenes like
Execute Order Sixty-Six,'' in which Lucas takes a page from his old cohort Francis Coppola, serving up a montage of brutal, businesslike assassinations, backed by doleful, operatic music, as one Jedi after another is rounded up and exterminated. It's The Godfather’s’’ baptism scene, minus Michael Corleone’s cold-blooded Shakespearean gloom.
To be fair, there are shards of fun left in the series. The metamorphosis of Anakin to Darth, in the aftermath of a fiery face-off on the lava planet of Mustafar, has echoes of ``Frankenstein’’ (the operating table, the clamps, the lumbering bod) that are truly exhilarating. And that first close-up of the iconic helmet-mask of Darth Vader, Anakin’s makeover complete, is profoundly cool.
And then it’s over. Really. Truly.
May divorce - from lightsabers, from Luke, from Lucas - be with you.
STAR WARS: EPISODE III - REVENGE OF THE SITH
Produced by Rick McCallum, written and directed by George Lucas, cinematography by David Tattersall, music by John Williams, distributed by Twentieth Century Fox Films.
Running time: 2 hours, 20 mins.
Anakin Skywalker/Hayden Christensen
Obi-Wan Kenobi/Ewan McGregor
Mace Windu/Samuel L. Jackson
Parent’s guide: PG-13 (violence, darkness)
i liked episode 1. episode 2, on the other hand, was complete trash.
Star Wars'' fans. During Revenge of the Sith,’’ you just might notice director George Lucas sporting galactic gear.
Turns out followers of the monumental space opera aren’t the only ones who dress up in unearthly ways.
Stealing a quirk from Alfred Hitchcock, Lucas turns up in a crowd scene during
Episode III'' in costume. The best way to spot him is to look for his salt-and-pepper beard. Lucas had intended only to use his daughters as extras, but they prevailed on him to join them. There is a scene, a large crowd scene, which my daughters are in,’’ he said, ``and they sort of insisted that I be in it, and so I did it.’’
That movie (Episode III) kicked ass… Bad review or not, I liked it… No Anakin, why?? haha
LOS ANGELES, May 22 - A powerful leader moves to suspend civil liberties to defend the republic during a time of war. The subject of political debate in Washington? No, it’s the new Star Wars movie.
Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith has barely hit screens, but political activists are already drawing heated comparisons between Darth Vader’s battle in a galaxy far, far away and President George W Bush’s war on terror.
George Lucas’s sixth and final offering in the classic film series is stirring up a hornet’s nest of controversy in the United States, whether or not the director intended to bring modern politics into his sci-fi allegory.
If you're not with me, you're my enemy,'' Anakin Skywalker, who goes to the dark side’’ as the evil Lord Darth Vader, tells his onetime mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi in one scene in the film that raked in a record $US50 million on its opening day in North America on Thursday.
The phrase eerily echoes Bush’s warning to the world following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on US targets: ``Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.’’
In another scene that has annoyed conservative groups and delighted liberals, Chancellor Palpatine exploits war fears to consolidate his power and turn the Republic into an empire ruled by him alone.
Senator Padme Amidala, played by Nathalie Portman, watches the scene, played out during a legislative session, and says with disdain: ``This is how liberty dies: with thundering applause.’’
Some liberals are comparing Papatine’s actions to those of Bush in persuading US legislators to adopt the Patriot Act that critics say imposed limits on civil liberties in name of the war on terror after September 11.
And the conservative group Pabaah is calling for a boycott of the film that it has branded unpatriotic.
But Lucas insists that the film’s dialogue was written long before the war on terror or conflict in Iraq took centre stage in US politics.
``Those lines were written a very long time ago, well before George W Bush took office,’’ LucasFilm spokesman Lynn Fox told AFP.
Lucas himself, whose original 1977 Star Wars movie was a parable about the US war in Vietnam and the scandal surrounding the resignation of disgraced US president Richard Nixon, said at the Cannes Film Festival last week: ``When I wrote it (Sith), Iraq didn’t exist.’’
But he did draw a parallel between the US wars in Vietnam and Iraq and said that throughout history leaders had used threats from outside as a means of wresting greater control over their country, dimming democracy.
I hope that situation never arises in our country,'' Lucas said. Maybe the film will awaken people to this danger.’’
Political activists needed no encouragement in comparing the dark doings of Darth Vader and Chancellor Palpatine to the US leadership.
As Revenge of the Sith opened on US screens, the grass-roots liberal group Moveon.org launched a campaign of television advertisements featuring the Star Wars characters as US Republicans.
In a pamphlet entitled Revenge of the Frist, the group slammed Senate Republican leader Bill Frist for trying to ram through changes to the nominations procedure for top officials to prevent the opposition from blocking appointments.
Weirdly enough, the plot of what will undoubtedly be one of the biggest films in movie history revolves around a scheming senator who, seduced by visions of absolute power, transforms a democratic republic into an empire,'' Moveon.org said of the parallels between US politics and the attack of the Sith. The conservative group Patriotic Americans Boycotting Anti-American Hollywood (Pabaah) lashed out at Lucas over his perceived modern-day political allegory. George Lucas and his intergalactic empire have now been added to our official boycott list,’’ the group said on its website.
Sad ... but necessary. Our country is at war and Lucas spouts off this crap?'' The editor of the conservative weblog Libertas, Jason Apuzzo, also slammed Lucas's alleged injection of modern-day politics into his timeless story, accusing him of taking gratuitous cheap shots at Bush and Nixon’’.
But popular culture expert Leo Braudy of the University of Southern California, said the rival political groups were seeing political messages in Star Wars simply because it is
the most visible film'' of the day. Any film can be interpreted this way, especially when films deal with conflicts,’’ he said.
``Some academics in the future will look at films of today and how the political events are reflected in fiction and find parallels with Star Wars, but also with Kingdom of Heaven or Troy, he said.