Monday, October 18, 2004

Because it is cold and rainy in Oregon and because we have no lives, much of our weekend was taken up by watching all three movies of the original Star Wars trilogy on DVD, complete with commentary. It was the first time I'd seen the original movies in total since the 1997 re-releases I think, and certainly the first time I'd ever watched all three in three days like that. I'm due for Jedi dreams.

What was particularly interesting to me, though, was listening to the commentaries as the movies unspooled (dialogue on subtitles), and something George Lucas kept talking about during "A New Hope" -- how he'd created this world and intentionally tried not to over-explain it. He really wanted to just throw you into an entirely different galaxy and cultures, and not fill in every gap in details. I'd never really thought about it before hearing that, but boy, that really seems like the key to the "Star Wars" movies for me; they encouraged imagination. They were interactive, especially if you were a 9-year-old kid besotten with all things Star Wars. Because you weren't told everything about the galaxy far far away, you could find endless layers of character, details and speculation in the movies, even things Lucas might not have intended.

My friends and I came up with detailed ideas of the back stories of each alien in the cantina scene, no matter how briefly glimpsed. This in the far-flung days before DVD or even VHS. By not telling us, say, what the story was with the hammerheaded alien in the cantina or what the deal with the sandpeople is or what's under a stormtrooper's helmet, Lucas let us imagine. I remember for some inane reason actually taking the novelization of "Empire Strikes Back" at one point and hand-copying it out laboriously, up to Chapter 5 or so before I lost interest. I guess I thought I'd figure it out through osmosis. My elementary-school-age chums and I would try to figure out, say, the back story for those nifty bounty hunters glimpsed oh so briefly in "Empire," who they were and where they came from.

What any good work of fiction does is draw you in. "Star Wars" drew us in. One of my first "creative" works circa fifth grade was a terrible, long-lost C-grade comic book/novel called (I think) "Starblazers" that was a mashup of "Star Wars" and "Battlestar: Galactica" that'd get my ass sued today. And thousands of other kids just like me did their own half-plagiarized homages to "Star Wars" fantasy, in comic books and stories and drawings. It got us thinking.

The word "Earth" never comes up in the "Star Wars" trilogy; there is no Earth, only other places. Was there ever a successful sci-fi movie before 'Star Wars' that dared to leave its audience's home planet entirely out of the picture? I can't think of one. The revolutionary aspects of "Star Wars" have become obscured by its success, by the plainspoken, even hokey nature of the storytelling. It became fashionable to bash "Star Wars" long ago, and I'll admit Ewoks and Jar-Jar Binks certainly don't help Lucas' case. The entire "new' trilogy is a mixed bag, at best. "Star Wars" has been analyzed and over-analyzed into infinity; like any work of pop culture it has never-ending facets. That doesn't make it the best movie of all time, but it certainly makes it one of the most fertile for young imaginations, I think. The kid who spent far too many hours poring over storybook movie still photos, sucking down Marvel comic books and always excavating Lucas' work for the elusive "keys" to it all is grateful for that.

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