Dir. by George Lucas - 2 hrs. 1 min.
by Clayton Hollifield
How do you judge a phenomenon that has almost nothing to do with the original movie? The Star Wars empire is broad and nearly endless: there's no shortage of officially-produced merchandise to spend your money on, no matter how deep your pockets. It's an entry-point into nerd culture (which I dispute, and I'll get to that in a bit), an excuse to play dress-up, an inexhaustible supply of TV shows and video games, books and comics. It's gotten to the point where people can pass off TV shows spoofing the Star Wars canon as original work. But what has all that got to do with the movies themselves?
To start off, the version that I watched was from the 2004 box set of the original trilogy. Everyone already knows the plot (even if it's via spoofs), so there's not much point in getting into that. The original "Star Wars" is a good kid's movie. It's got all the elements - a kid (of the whiny variety, Luke Skywalker), a sage wizard (Obi-Wan Kenobi), oppressive parental figures (Luke's uncle and aunt), a beautiful woman (Princess Leia), and a rebel force trying to oppose an insanely powerful dictatorial force with unimaginable fire-power. And it's in space! And there's a million different critters, as well. It's as if this film was genetically engineered to blow a twelve-year old's mind.
Honestly, the series of films that start here cast a pretty large shadow over science-fiction films. It's to the point where anything set in space is going to draw inevitable comparisons to the Star Wars films, if for no other reason than it's a common reference point. With all the archetypal characters, you'd have to work very hard not to repeat something that was contained in these films. On an entertainment and creative level, that's an accomplishment, and this is a good, entertaining film.
My main issues with "Star Wars" and the rest of the franchise aren't so much with the films themselves (although the more recent trilogy isn't quite as good), but in the aftermath. There's at least two TV shows that have recurring "Star Wars"-themed episodes as if they were Christmas specials. There's the obsession with the films, passing off minutiae as if it was clever and funny. It was clever and funny when Kevin Smith did it nearly twenty years ago, but now it feels like buying tickets to a Pearl Jam concert and finding out you're going to be seeing Nickelback instead.
Then there's the attempt to tie this stuff into the nerd/geek culture, which is plainly absurd. What made that culture unique was the attention to forgotten, esoteric material, not reciting lines from one of the most famous (and profitable) movies of all time. Re-contextualizing obscure bits is art, but quoting "Star Wars" makes about as much sense as quoting "Titanic" and thinking it's clever. "Star Wars" is the second-highest grossing film of all time adjusted for inflation. It's not some little indie film that people stumbled on, it's like thinking that "The Bible" is some book that nobody's ever heard of, and then mining it for in-jokes. This is one of the biggest films of all time.
So this is what it comes down to for me: I enjoy watching "Star Wars" from time to time, and find myself utterly annoyed with everything else that surrounds it. The constant referencing of this film and its sequels degrades the impact of this film (also how I feel about "Citizen Kane"), and is a big hint that people who rely on those references might not be as funny as they'd like to believe. George Lucas' handling of his franchise is as extreme as Bill Watterson's handling of the merchandising of "Calvin and Hobbes," and that shameless hucksterism is hard to push out of my head when I'm trying to watch the movies. Is that fair? Maybe not, but if Lucas feels slighted, I'm sure that he can dry his eyes with some of his millions that's he's earned from his enthusiastic approach to merchandising.
3.5 / 5 - DVD