The Star Wars Phenomenon

This post was published more than a few years ago (on 1999-03-13) and may contain inaccurate technical information, outmoded thoughts, or cringe takes. Proceed at your own risk.

It constantly amazes me how movies permeate our society. We take quotes from films (and television) and use them almost without thinking in our daily lives. Motion pictures also have the astounding ability to affect the way a large amount of people think and feel. Oliver Stone's JFK, I'm sure, spawned a whole new generation of people who believe there was a conspiracy involving the assassination of President Kennedy. 1970's Love Story jerked tears from the eyes of countless ageing hippies (and featured the now omnipresent Tommy Lee Jones in a bit part). And of course, later that same decade, Star Wars changed the face of science fiction forever.

Up until that point, most science fiction was either an extension of 50's sci-fi --- usually a B-grade film with little plot and shoddy science --- or hard science like Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of 2001— great science, groundbreaking effects, but the first time I saw it, I admittedly fell asleep during the latter half of the film. I have seen it a few times since (including once at the AFI theatre at the Kennedy Centre), and appreciate the film much more now, as my appreciation for film as a whole has grown.

Star Wars, though, was the first film to combine wholly believable special effects and a compelling story in such a way that you thought, Hey, this place really exists. Gone were the 50's sci-fi gleaming ships and spotless uniforms, replaced by craft and clothing that actually looked like they were regularly used. A film noir take on sci-fi, if you will. Everything in this universe was real, and the story made it all the more real. George Lucas went back to classical mythology (among other sources, including Akira Karosawa's The Hidden Fortress) for his inspiration. The greatest stories in the world are also the oldest, by no mistake. Why do you think they've survived so long?

Unless you've been sequestered in a nunnery since then, you know that in 1980 and again in 1983 sequels were released to the original film. Unfortunately I only got to see Return of the Jedi in the theatre on its original run, but I did get to finally see all three of them on the big screen (at Washington, DC's Uptown theatre) when the Special Editions were released in 1997. Even when I was a little kid, though, watching Star Wars whenever it was shown on television (with my Dad, mainly), I wondered why the famous opening crawl said Episode IV: A New Hope. Wasn't this the first movie? Then why did it say it was episode four? I was perplexed.

Until the early 90's I never had a satisfactory answer to my query, but it was then that I heard that George Lucas was working on more Star Wars films. Not more sequels, but prequels: Episodes One through Three. Finally the moniker Episode IV made sense, and all was right with the world. Of course, at that point, they were projecting the new series would start in 1997, which turned out not to be the case, but at least that year we got "I'm sorry the new ones aren't done, but here's the old ones spruced up a bit to tide you over."

Finally, at the end of last year, we were treated to a "teaser" trailer of the new film, Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Many people went to the theatre just to see the trailer. People were actually shelling out $7.50 for two-and-a-half minutes worth of film and then leaving. I can understand this. I didn't hit the theaters, but as soon as Lucasfilm put the new trailer up on the web, I kept trying to hit the site until I got through. After downloading, my friend AAlgar (who finished downloading a few minutes before I did) and I shared the experience over the phone. We both had shivers running up our spines, similar to the chill you get when the caffeine hits you first thing in the morning. We had both been waiting for this for almost all out lives. ( I had just turned 2 when the original Star Wars came out, and AAl is 6 months older than I.) George Lucas' creations had become such a part of our lives that we were very nearly salivating over the prospect of the addition of more characters to the pantheon and more adventures to the odyssey — Lucas' stories have truly become our modern day mythology.

A few days ago, the first proper trailer (giving more story details) was released first on the web and then in the theaters. Once again, AAl and I downloaded and saw the trailer together. As AAl noted, any doubts of his that the new films wouldn't live up to the standards of the original three are long gone. I concur. Rest assured that when the day in late May comes, we'll be one of those nuts you'll see on the news, camped out in front of the Uptown theatre. I can't wait!