Monday, December 21, 2015

What Made Star Wars So Epic in 1977

[This article appeared in slightly edited form on ]
We bought it new and wore it 'til you could wear it no more.
It was our job to make it distressed.
Comic-book great Jim Steranko was once asked, “When was the Golden Age of Comics?”

“12,” he quipped.

Steranko was right. It's an age, not a year.

I was twelve when Star Wars came out in 1977. It was all golden, and while I have analyzed, memorized, and categorized George Lucas’ inimitable success, and was inspired by the creativity in it and The Empire Strikes Back, I have never experienced that same awe in a movie theater since.

Some have gotten close to a fanboy’s dream. I cite Joss Whedon’s Avengers as a prime example of awesome and follow up with Guardians of the Galaxy as probably the closest I have ever felt to the wonderment of those virgin days.

But I think I have recently realized what made Star Wars so special… It was ruthlessly creative. You were asked to believe before you had a chance to catch your breath.

The original Star Wars does not even have opening credits – and that got George Lucas into a lot of trouble with the Motion Picture Academy, which explicitly states the artists [writers, actors and directors] are to be shown in the first few minutes of the film.

Lucas even put the story before them – and man, it works. You suddenly aren’t watching a film. You are listening – and reading that long scrolling exposition fits – to a mythical tale. [Yeah, smart boy, I know where he got it from. Joseph Campbell, Buck Rogers, blahblahblah... Don’t interrupt.]

No, you were not asked your opinion of those events. You were shown the War. In the Stars. I swear, if the film had immediately ended there as the rebel blockade ship was captured, you could have walked out of the theater and said “As advertised. Short, yeah, but As Advertised!”

Everything AFTER that opening is gravy. Or even a better analogy: an Italian meal – and your momma loves you. “Eat! Eat! EAT!” she screams, filing your jaded little 70’s SF saucer with enough magic-filled Jedi pasta to sink the Millennium Falcon. Enough to fatten a Wookie, dangit. Enough special effects, sound effects, creatures, events and glorious music to kill every stormtrooper on the Death Star.

Which, in fact, they do.

Bought at K-Mart. Needed 2 "C" batteries.
I repeat. 2 "C" batteries. 'Cause it had a motor, that's why.
No, my poppets. You have been jaded by too much CGI and internet. You have to go far, far away to some country with a name ending in “-stan” for a decade to grok the power of walking nearly blind and na├»ve into a darkened air-conditioned theater in the summer of 1977 and getting mugged by a film that changed our culture overnight. Changed the industry. Changed kids. Started several empires of movie making.

For geeks, it was like reading The Lord of the Rings for the first time. Not seeing LOTR, reading it.

The speed of delivery was a key part. As I said, Italian Momma Speed.

See, I have thought of a little game for adults. Get a copy of the original Star Wars [yes, you can]. Sit and watch it with friends who are peers and say “Every time we see something on the screen that had never been seen before in a color theatrical release, we have to drink.”

You won’t make it to the Mos Eisley cantina. By then of course, you’d fit right in.

I’m running long, so let me end by showing you what Star Wars gave us – in color – in less than 30 minutes.

  • Opening Scroll of Epic Adventure [color, remember?]
  • Starship Battle, at blazing speed [not Star Trek speed]
  • C-3PO and R2-D2
  • Stormtroopers
  • Darth Vader
  • Escape pod to an alien planet 
  • Jawas
  • Sandcrawler
  • Second-hand Junked Robots
  • C-3PO's “oil bath” [while spouting "human/cyborg relations"]
  • Hologram of Leia
  • Blue Milk [hey, it’s true!]
  • Dual sunset of a Binary Star System
  • Landspeeder [used]
  • Sandpeople
  • Vader with Grand Moff Tarkin
  • Vader choking “unbelieving” admiral
  • Lightsaber [Ben’s hut]

I think I have more time to use, but you get the point, I hope? The first Star Wars simply did not wait on you, and we adored her for it.

We adored her for making us believe in what happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. We adore her still. I used the feminine pronoun there, didn’t I? Well, I had to.

Because really, who can ever forget their first love?

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