Sunday, May 20, 2007

Star Wars at 30


Yep, on May 25th, the movie that finally made it cool to love science fiction was released. At that time there was little fanfare, because no one in the industry had a clue what was about to happen. I didn’t see it until a few weeks after the release, in the middle of summer, having read an article about this movie which was sweeping the nation. Fortunately for me, I was dating a guy who was a rabid fantasy fan, and he liked science fiction well enough. We saw it in Athens, Georgia, our most frequent date spot, and rode home in his mom’s metallic green Buick Skylark. What a seventies ride!

The movie itself is very much a product of the seventies, despite the “timeless” labels that fans foist upon it. However, for a generation whose parents laughed at the ridiculous stories set in outer space and who had fought for a chance to see Star Trek on Friday night, the lovingly produced Star Wars was an affirmation that these stories could appeal to a mass audience. Lucas and his crew believed they were filming something which would at best be a cult classic, but instead they made a movie which would change the film industry.

I’ve been doing a bit of research for my panel at SFSC, and in so doing, I contrasted the list of all-time box office champs based on actual dollars earned with a list adjusted for inflation. Either way, Star Wars ends up in second place. However, the “actual income” list is dominated by special effects science fiction blockbusters, even when they aren’t called sci-fi. Indeed, the so called prequels, Episodes I and III are also on this list, along with ET and the first two Spiderman movies. Modern movie fans love the films that Star Wars spawned, and that is clear when you look at what is popular now, verses what films made a big splash prior to it.

There were comparatively few special effects in the original Star Wars, due to budget constraints, but it was clearly a space opera, and the movie lovingly embraced the themes and plot devices of bygone eras. Margaret Mead dismissed it as, “just another western” and it may have been, but it was a western dressed up with space ships, blasters, and comic androids, along with the most menacing villain that anyone had seen in quite a while. The opening sequence dispelled any notion that Star Wars was like science fiction films of the past.

Thirty years have gone by, and some people don’t understand why this film was so important. But a look back at the cheesy science fiction like “Lost in Space” or a look ahead at the current box office champ list yields an answer for even the sternest critic. Star Wars made science fiction a genre for everyman, and that’s only one reason that I love it.

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