A long time ago in a galaxy far far away…
Ola: That’s the way fairy tales start. Once upon a time, beyond tall mountains and vast rivers, a mysterious hero was born who had changed the fate of his tribe/community/nation/humankind. Led by fate, S/He had many dangerous and tasking adventures, had to overcome many deadly foes, traps and tests in order to come back to Her/His home with a great boon of miraculous nature and redeem Her/His people.
Nothing original, really, especially considering the fact that George Lucas’s creation of his famous saga had been significantly inspired by Joseph’s Campbell The Hero with a Thousand Faces. The theory that most of the world myths conform to one, simple pattern modeled on the rites of initiation is as suggestive as is ultimately misleading – and yet Lucas in his creation of Star Wars universe managed to strike a chord with millions of people worldwide, envisioning a world like – and yet unlike – ours, just exponentially bigger and vivid.
Starships! Knights! Droids! Magic! Princesses! Scoundrels with hearts of gold! Vile emperors! Cuddly little creatures! Breathtaking vistas of planets and space! It’s all there, and more – and everything is suffused by Force, a mana-like, magical power binding every living thing in a net of awareness.
Piotrek: It is a simple story, of a young man going from zero to a hero, discovering his heritage and coming to his power. A story like countless others, but in space.
Not a very realistic space, there aren’t that many attempts to pretend that, it is not hard science fiction that would try to propose a likely vision of space-travelling humanity of the future. This story takes place long ago, like the stories of Gilgamesh or Theseus, and takes a structure immediately familiar to audience from any cultural background.
Campbell is an obvious inspiration, and that’s something Lucas freely admits.
Ola: And as Campbell’s view is very simplistic, so is ultimately the philosophy of Star Wars. The idea that most world myths are nothing more than a countless, schematic iteration of individual rites of passage, i.e. a person’s journey from youth to maturity, is undoubtedly alluring. It would make things so easy! A hero is found and called to a journey, which s/he doesn’t want to undertake but ultimately is forced to. S/he undergoes a series of trials, prominent among which is a visit to Underworld, and finally returns, a wiser, more mature person, bearer of gifts of wisdom/freedom/magical artifacts. Sounds like the exact storyline of Star Wars :P.
But as with most simplistic things, it offers a very limited view of myths, cramming disparate narratives into one mould they don’t really fit. Ironically, Campbell plays here the role of Procrustes, Poseidon’s cruel son, stretching the myths on his bed of The Hero with a Thousand Faces and chopping off the unwieldy parts.
Piotrek: Sure. And he wasn’t even the most sophisticated source of myth theory when Lucas was preparing the movies. It’s powerful, though. Extremely readable, even for the general audience, and the simplified Monomyth can be easily transformed into thousand succesfull scripts.
Ola: Still, I enjoyed this rather novel view of space technology as something old and battered. In the original trilogy everything seems to have seen better times – Obi Wan and Yoda included 😉 Things are patched up, rusted, look like “piece of junk”… It adds a curious veneer of realism to an improbable and yet believable story where a Chosen One is destined to… not to save the world, ultimately, but to enable the real, prophesied Chosen One to do it. It is a wonderful tale of good and evil painted in black and white. Called fascist by some of the more disgruntled critics, for me it consciously and unapologetically evoked the spirit of fairy tales with its rigid and symbolically enhanced distinctions between right and wrong. Though I freely admit that the information that the final medal awarding scene from New Hope was lifted nearly shot for shot from Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi propaganda masterpiece Der Triumph des Willen is somewhat disconcerting…
As everyone and their uncle know original Star Wars, we’ve decided to change the format a bit and introduce a more personal section with a few questions/reminiscences. You’re all very much invited to share your SW stories in the comments! 😀
Piotrek: The first time I saw Episode IV I was… perhaps 8 or 9? I liked it a lot, but to truly appreciate its greatness I needed I had to meet an older guy on a summer-camp next holiday, who was a great fan of the Empire and told me the plot of the next two movies. He did not succeed in bringing me to the dark side, but helped me put the Star Wars franchise in my Pantheon.
Ola: I remember sneaking peeks of Empire Strikes Back when I was 5 or 6; I clearly remember the Hoth scenes and my first encounter with R2-D2 and C-3PO. I watched the whole trilogy when I was probably 8-9, and it made an enormous impression on me. The Thrawn trilogy, and The Lord of the Rings, were the books of choice I took with me when my family moved to the US 😉
Piotrek: Originally, I liked Luke the most. He was my hero, as should be in this story 😉 I never liked rogues much, so definitely not Han Solo.
Ola: Yoda! Always 😉 R2-D2 came close second, at least until Lucas gave him ability to fly 😛
Ola: No brainer. Empire Strikes Back :D. It is the best-made movie of all SW movies in my opinion, and the darkest, both tonally, with regards to camera shots, and spiritually, with all the manipulations, betrayals and loss. And yet it gives us a more mature, more centered protagonist, who through trial and error finally realizes his place in the world and the choices he faces. And of course, it introduces Yoda! 😀 And Lando Carlissian, the second-best scoundrel in the Galaxy ;).
Piotrek: Obviously, Empire Strikes Back. All of the above and the courage to make the heroes lose. A chilling and wonderful movie!
I’ve seen the Solo movie on HBO recently, and how it fails, trying to recreate some of that magic… an utterly forgettable movie.
Piotrek: as the first trilogy takes on the basic myths present in every human culture, the prequels try to tell a complicated political story – and still sell a lot of toys.
Ola: I’ll defend the idea behind those movies, even if the movies themselves are so badly made it’s cringeworthy. I really admired the scope of the story, the ambition to show the collapse of the Republic as something inherent, a pop-culture commentary on the roots of fascism. I still cannot comprehend the rationale behind the introduction of concepts such as midichlorians and immaculate conception, or characters such as Jar Jar Binks (not to mention the choice of actor for Anakin Skywalker!).
Piotrek: The prequels are nowhere near as great as the originals. Their CGI is inferior to their special effects, their toys are not as playable, actors are (with some exceptions) worse and the stories are so convoluted and full of holes. And the phalanxes of battle droids, dumber the the tactics in the battle of Winterfell 😉
But yeah, it could have been so good, with the ideas behind so ambitious and important… which, originally, made me even more angry they failed. Now, thinking about the faults of the third trilogy, I’m kinder towards Lucas. He had courage and vision that the latest SW movies sorely lack. But I still don’t like the prequels.
Original trilogy pet peeve
Piotrek: The way droids are treated is totally unacceptable to me. We have sentient beings that are owned, ordered around, their memories and personalities regularly erased… and hardly anyone notices. Even in the recent movies its often, if anything, played for laughs. WTF?
Ola: Darth Vader redemption arc. I mean, you could be a genocidal maniac, killing indiscriminately children, women and every other living being, even livestock, for decades, and you’re entirely forgiven and rewarded due to a single, non-altruistic (because ultimately genetically motivated) decision. How totally unjust is that?
Piotrek: I’m not even saying anything. No need to.
Piotrek: The original trilogy definitely deserves its place in a canon of the most important movies. Not for artistic or philosophical innovation, but for making the oldest story out there and re-packaging it for the new times. As with Tolkien, there are many epigoni who did not understand the lessons, just copied the visual side to make messy, empty spectacles.
Ola: I’ve seen it many times over the years. And even though I clearly see its deficiencies and stumbles, I still deeply enjoy the original trilogy. I appreciate its ambition and imagination, its youthful, brash cockiness in stealing and mashing up bits and pieces of various myths and tales, and the sheer Élan vital of the movies, led by outstanding performances of the main actors. I know part of that charm is the nostalgia, painting everything in brighter colors. Suffice to say that the next generation of geeks in my family is decidedly less enthusiastic about these movies, and unabashedly prefers Marvel/DC, Indiana Jones, and even Star Trek to Star Wars 😉
Piotrek: Actually, I myself believe Star Trek is a bit superior, at least after we got the perfect LotR of the Rings movie trilogy to fulfil our mythical need. But that is another discussion…
Verdict: Highly recommended