Sunday, January 27, 2008

Reflections on a Golden Droid

Recently, I tried to show "Star Wars" to my daughter, and here are some ruminations about that experience. If you don't want to read about that, and are only interested in some thoughts about some aspects of the film's structure I noticed while viewing the film again, please scroll down to the part labeled "The Film Making Part". I can't believe I have to say this, but just in case you've never seen the movie...there are spoilers.

My daughter, who is six, has never seen any of the "Star Wars" movies but she knows about them, because every boy she knows loves them. She got to play a "Star Wars" video game at a birthday party and she was asking me about certain characters, so I asked her if she wanted to check out the movie (the original, "Episode IV" if you will). She said yes.

Now she's about the same age as I was when I saw the movie and my life was changed by the experience. But I am always careful not to let on what I like and don't like so that I can see her unadulterated reaction to things, and I always wonder how many of her six-year-old friends like "Star Wars" because they know their dads love it.

As I sort of figured, she wasn't able to even make it an hour into the movie before she grew tired of it and said she was bored, and we turned it off to go play outside with our marshmallow shooters.

Anyway, the bad news is that I'd hoped she would like it so we could share the experience of enjoying the film. The good news is that it confirms that I know her as well as I thought I did. Somehow I just didn't think it would be something she would like, but it was even more interesting than I thought it would be to watch it with her and gauge her reactions to things (it didn't enhance the experience much that her four-year-old brother was running around the room and yelling through the whole thing).

It's been a long time since I saw the movie and I had never really realized just how much talking and sitting around there is at the beginning of the film. Worse yet, there's a lot of talk about concepts like "The Force", "The Empire" and "The Rebellion" that are really hard to illustrate and come off as kind of hard to understand (now don't get me wrong, I still think it's an amazing piece of work).

Back when the film came out there was nothing like it, of course, but kids today are bombarded by so much media that something has to catch their interest and engage it right away. So "Star Wars" comes from a time when film makers were a little more free to take their time and go at a slower pace.

I don't think that this means everything these days is all flash and no substance or anything like that, which people are always tempted to say. It's actually a good thing that film makers have to work hard to capture our attention and hold it; it makes them have to be sharper and smarter in how they do things. And films that are all flash and all substance never really make an impact; a film has to both capture our attention and give us something deeper and more satisfying to stand the test of time and be considered "great". Film makers today face greater challenges than ever before to both stand out from the competition and deliver something meaningful to an audience.

It's ironic to see how slowly "Star Wars" begins, because of course it's been blamed for creating the blockbuster genre, movies that are all spectacle and no substance and move at a breakneck pace. Because it definitely doesn't move at a breakneck pace. Also much of the film centers around ideas of spirituality, rejecting technology in favor of faith, and pursuing a moral path at the expense of personal wealth, among other things, hardly trivial or shallow areas of human experience.

And anyone that thinks that "Star Wars" and films like it have killed the type of film that moves slowly, deals with difficult issues and doesn't resolve itself in an easy way for the audience to swallow should look no further than this year's crop of Oscar contenders. There are more films made today than in 1977 - by far - and there are way more of those types of film made today than ever before, for sure.

Unfortunately none of those Oscar contenders has made a lot of money this year and they rarely do in any other year either. People happen to like the kind of thrills and satisfying good vs. bad morality that "Star Wars" offers and that's the kind of movie that most people want to see. It's not hard to understand this; after a week of working long hours and all the pressures of your job and taking care of your family, few people want to pluck down $20 to see a movie (and more than that for the babysitter) to see something that may let them down or be totally confusing and/or unsatisfying. They want two hours of something that will take their mind off all of their troubles and re-affirm their fervent hope that good will win over bad and that everything will be all right in the end.

For all of the talk that we hear that Hollywood is full of soulless monsters just trying to squeeze a dishonest buck out of a nation full of mouth-breathing saps, I am glad we live in a world where films like "Pirates of the Caribbean" can be seen alongside films like "No Country for Old Men", "There Will be Blood" and "Atonement". People are still able to make films that ask difficult questions and explore complicated themes, even with all of the "giant big evil corporations" running the film industry.

One more interesting thing, lest you think that the next generation is doomed to be a mass of attention-deficit-disorder riddled morons, my daughter loves dinosaurs and so has seen "Jurassic Park" (I didn't think she was ready but my wife showed it to her one day while I was at work). She loved the movie and enjoyed it all the way to the end. The interesting thing to note is that "Jurassic Park", if anything, is way, way slower to get started than "Star Wars" and takes a lot longer to get to any exciting action. And just like "Star Wars", it also has a lot of exposition about things that are hard to understand and visualize.

So, if you want to worry about the next generation, worry about this:

Concerned that the violence of the movie was too much for my daughter to take, I asked her about it, and she revealed that the only thing that bothered her about the film is that the dinosaurs didn't "win" in the end and that the people got away. She loves dinosaurs so much that she was rooting for them to eat everyone - although maybe that says something about the paper-thin characterizations of the people in the movie. The dinosaurs in the movie have way more personality than the people do.

Okay, now here's the

So, I noticed a couple of interesting things that I hadn't noticed before (at least in the part we watched).

A lot has always been made of the fact that Luke and Leia wear white in this film because they represent the "good" side. And of course, Luke wears darker and darker clothes in the succeeding two films as he struggles with his morality and becomes tempted by the "Dark Side" of the Force.

But I had never thought about applying that same visual template to Han Solo. If you remember, his outfit is a white shirt, black vest and pants, so he is a mix of the two colors, which suggests that his costume reflects his dual nature in the first film: he is torn between self-sacrifice (doing what is right) and self-preservation (doing what will save his neck).

The structure of the film has some really great components to it. As I said, the first part of the movie is full of some really hard concepts to visualize for the audience. There's a lot of talk about the power of this thing called "The Force" as well as the struggle between "The Empire" and "The Rebellion".

That's why the opening of the film is so great: starting the film with a big exciting battle not only gives you enough action to carry your interest through the slower parts to follow, but it also illustrates visually and personalizes the war that's going on so we can see it and know what they're all talking about when we're seeing people just sit around and talk about the conflict.

Also, the way that opening battle is handled does a great job of telling you who is winning and who is losing. The giant Imperial ship is hundreds of times bigger than the pathetic rebel ship and has no trouble subduing the craft. Then when we see the guys in the rebel ship preparing to defend it from a boarding party, they don't look very confident or well-equipped, and when the stormtroopers enter they look much more professional and well-suited for the fight with much better armor than the rebels.

The most interesting thing to me was this: the first we hear about "The Force" is in Ben's house as he tells Luke that it exists and how powerful it can be.

Now this is a really strange concept to introduce and talk about, definitely something you'd want to visualize for the audience so they know what the heck you're talking about, and so that we know it's real in this world and that the old man isn't just losing his marbles.

A lesser film maker probably would have had Ben demonstrate his power over the Force by having Ben move some objects around his house with the Force, or something, just to illustrate what he can do and move on with the story. But this would have been very weird and felt very false, and stuck out as exactly what it is: a moment that stops the story to illustrate a concept without any dramatic purpose to it, and it would have broken the spell the audience was under and cause them to think: "Oh, they just attached wires to that chair and moved it to make it seem like he was using this 'Force' stuff".

So they let the scene play out organically and we leave the scene hearing about the Force but not really quite getting what he means - but we know that we're not totally supposed to get it yet, because Luke looks confused as well.

Now, the part that comes immediately after this scene is the scene aboard the Death Star, where some sort of council is meeting, and they are arguing about how much of a threat the rebels are. Darth Vader enters, one of the council members starts questioning Vader about why he hasn't been able to find the stolen plans, and mocks Vader by saying that Vader's control of "The Force" hasn't helped him conjure up the missing plans.

So Darth Vader begins to choke the guy from across the room without touching him, and Vader says that he finds the guy's lack of faith in the Force disturbing.

Now isn't that brilliant? To go from the scene in Ben's house, where the idea of the Force is introduced, but is all words, right to a scene that clearly illustrates how the Force actually works and how Vader can wield it? And it's such a nice touch to work in the idea that the guy is actually questioning the whole idea of the Force when he gets choked, and Vader is actually strangling him for not believing in it?

That's great structure, and great writing, and the most amazing thing about it is that it works and doesn't feel jammed in there as exposition and as just conveniently placed to explain a difficult concept to the audience.

That is great writing. Most people think a flowery exchange of dialogue between two characters or a long monologue from an actor to the audience is what "great writing" is but I totally disagree. Ninety-five percent of writing is structuring the events of the story correctly so that they are in the right order, build properly and resolve themselves in a satisfying (and hopefully surprising way.

Another interesting thing is the use of the light saber in the story. we first see it in Ben's house, where he tells us that it is a weapon, and that it's more elegant than a blaster. We see Luke wave it around but, again, we don't see it's effect on anything. Lucas could have had Luke cut a chair in two so we could see what it could do, but he didn't for the same reason that he didn't have Ben fling a chair across the room using the Force: this is a quiet, intimate scene and anything that would have destroyed that feeling should be avoided, and besides, the audience doesn't need to be force-fed everything all at once. This is a scene where we hear about things we don't quite understand yet, and Lucas is a confident enough film maker to know that he will have enough time to unfold all we need to know in later scenes and make everything clear. In fact, if everything about the Force could be explained in one scene it would undermine the mystery and scope of the Force, simplifying it to something anyone could understand in five minutes. And every movie should hold back things from the audience; tease them, let them be confused for a minute, so that when the get the answer they feel satisfaction and delight at having figured it out. As the saying goes, don't just give them four, give them two plus two and let them come up with four by themselves.

Anyway, so all we know after that scene is that the light saber is some sort of weapon.

Now when they go to the bar a while later to find a pilot, there is a scene that might seem unnecessary: Luke unintentionally runs afoul of some criminals at the bar, and they threaten to kill him. One of them pulls a gun and Ben reacts quickly by cutting off his arm with his light saber.

Again, this is a great scene for many reasons: the most important is that, without it, we won't see how a light saber works until the end of the movie, when Ben confronts Vader. Sure, we see Luke training with one in the middle of act two, but that's not really showing what it can do. If the audience had to wait until the very end to see what they can do, you risk the audience being disconnected and not really remembering what this thing really is, and more importantly, we wouldn't really be as scared for Ben if we didn't know exactly how quickly efficient and deadly a light saber can be.

The moment of the bar fight is perfect, because it also serves as some action to get us through one of the slower parts of the movie, and because - again - it does a really good job of hiding the fact that it's exposition and just there to show us what a light saber can do. It hides itself well because, after all, Ben just told us this was a tough place, so it seems natural that someone would start a fight here, and a boy fresh off the farm would probably be the one they would pick a fight with. You know, once someone says "watch yourself, this bar is full of tough characters" you almost owe the audience some sort of fulfillment on that promise, and Lucas is smart enough to know that we want to see that expectation fulfilled. It also helps to make Han seem cooler and tougher by extension, because he hangs out all the time among these type of people, and also helps the moment a beat later when Greedo sits down, because now you know that people actually die here all the time so Han is in real trouble.

Of course, it goes without saying that it's also the only moment in the movie where you get to see the other side of Ben, until he takes on Vader. Despite Ben's affable and kindly exterior, he's still quick and deadly when he needs to be. This is really important so that when he faces off against Vader st the end, the audience doesn't laugh at the idea of this old man in his bathrobe going up against The Terminator. Instead, we are totally intrigued and sitting on the edge of our seat, because we know Ben can be tough when he wants to be, but now he's going up against the toughest guy in the universe. which one will prevail in the end?

And then Lucas does the great thing and surprises us by having one of them lose intentionally, but that's another thread, and I suppose I've talked enough for now!

Oh, just one more thing I never noticed before: a nice little piece of foreshadowing. When Luke meets Ben, he asks if he knows "Obi-Wan" and if Obi-Wan is till alive, Ben has a great reaction as he says "Oh, no he's not least not yet". This plays on a whole different level once you know that he will be dead by the end of the film. It helps set up the idea that he's considered his own mortality, and I think it softens the blow to the audience at the end when he's cut down because he's grappled with and come to terms with his own death. It makes it easier to believe that he could sacrifice his own life in the end for a greater purpose.

Maybe sometime I will sit and watch the rest of the movie and see what else I see that I missed before.

So many of the moments in the movie has become visual icons that it's hard to see them objectively and realize how great many of the compositions in the movie are, and how well they tell the story at times.

Gotta love this shot.

This next series of shots is great - Artoo hides while the Sand People drag an unconscious Luke into frame and pillage his Landspeeder. The fact that Luke was attacked by the Sand People is all R2's fault for running away, so this little sequence gives you the idea that R2 feels bad about it and concerned for Luke, which is great so we don't end up not liking the little guy. We sympathize with him because he's just trying to fulfill his mission and he didn't mean for Luke to get hurt.

Maybe I will try and post more screengrabs later. Thirty years later, the film continues to astound and surprise me.


Kris said...

When I was little, I saw all of the Star Wars movies on television (this is where I saw most movies that weren't cartoons, like Gremlins, Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, etc.). I remember having the impression that the Star Wars movies are a little boring, although I did like them enough to ask my mom to tape them when they were on. My favorite one was The Empire Strikes Back.

I haven't seen any of those movies since I was a kid, even though my grandma gave me the boxed set of the "computer-improved" Star Wars movies. I guess part of the reason I haven't watched it is because of that editing.

zoe said...

I think R2 is probably the best character of the entire series. His personality is extremely well-developed, and he's such a great long-suffering foil for C3PO's melodrama. If they were to make Star Wars today, R2 would probably be a fast-talking, sarcastic asshole.

I have read that Lucas' original characterization of C3PO called for him to be a sort of sleazy used car salesman type. Apparently Anthony Daniels created the character we all know and love.

kevin deters said...

Wow, Mark, this sounds like a really interesting movie! I will have to check it out! Thanks!

Robert said...

I was 17 when I first saw SW; probably a bit too old for it to be life-changing. I enjoyed it but my impression at the time of all the "force" stuff was that it was typical manufactured backstory gobbledygook intended to give the story an appearance of "deep". Impossible to take seriously, even in a movie.

I feel even more that way now after having seen the prequels. I can't believe Lucas really had those stories plotted out when he started. They all seem painfully contrived after the fact to fit that artificial backstory element in Ep4.

For me, the magical element of SW was John Williams' score. A lot of the clunkier parts of SW got a free ride on the atmosphere that music set up.

For the commentor who's resisting seeing the re-issue versions... go ahead and watch them, the changes are utterly superficial. And there's no computer power yet available that could fix the painful dialog and acting.

Alex Wilson said...

Excellent observations all around, especially about Han's color palette. And the fact that he's light on the inside and tries to cover it with dark colors hints at the tough-guy posturing on his part.

Of course that's only a step or two away from Kevin Smith's joke in Chasing Amy about Darth Vader, ("the blackest brother in the galaxy") revealing that he's white on the inside after all.


David Cousens said...

Thanks for that post Mark. When I was a kid, I used to watch Star Wars with my brother as many times as we could on a loop before our parents stopped us for fear our old vcr would break down (it did eventually!), but the prequels really put me off for a few years, in spite of some good concept art and music the story wasn't engageing at all.

Recently I've started to enjoy Star Wars again, (especially since I've played the Lego Star Wars saga!) so I found this post very interesting. I'd heard all of the black vs white stuff, but had never applied it ti Hsn, or thought about R2's guilt early on. Great post! :)

Floyd Norman said...

Well said, Mark.

I still find it hard to believe that the George Lucas who wrote and directed "Star Wars" is the same guy who did the later three films which in my opinion are simply dreadful.

Jean-Denis Haas said...

Fantastic post! I'm a huge Star Wars fan and the classic trilogy just ages really well. Even though I liked most of Ep3 (but I'm biased because I worked on it), the new trilogy just doesn't age well at all.
But it's hard to compare them to movies we all grew up with. Childhood memories and nostalgia are very powerful. Indiana Jones 4 will have the same difficulties of pleasing the original fans.

I think one of the reasons that Ep4 is so well done (same with Ep5 and to an extend Ep6) is because of budget reasons and overall constraints during the making of the movie. It forces you to just include the essential parts and be creative because you don't have total freedom. The moment a director is given too much power and success and no one tells him/her what doesn't work things go wrong.

Look at the Classic Star Wars Trilogy vs. the Prequel Trilogy. Lucas ends up with complete control and almost no limits in terms of VFX for new the trilogy and nobody tells him what is not working because of too much power.

Look at Matrix 1 vs. Matrix 2 and 3. The first one didn't have a huge budget. Even though they were under the radar while making the movie, they still had to be very creative because of all the limitations. Then Matrix 1 becomes a huge hit, they get much more financing, they are the new darlings of Hollywood and are given much more control and VFX power. It might just be me but Matrix 2 and 3 weren't as good anymore.

Then look at the The Lord of the Rings. Huge undertaking. Massive struggle to make this trilogy happen but it paid off. Huge success, Peter Jackson is the new Wunderkind. People love him and now he can do his dream project, King Kong. Again, total power, massive VFX support and less people telling him what works and what doesn't. Again, subjective view, but to me Kong ended up way too long, too much in love with itself.

Uhm... enough ranting here. Great post! :)

John S. said...

This is a great analysis Mark. It makes me want to go back and re-watch the movie for the 560th time.
Your little girl probably didn't like it because if my memory serves, little girls don't like Star Wars. None of the little girls in my 4th grade class liked it either, prompting all the boys to call them horrible names. Try again when she's 11 or 12. She'll get it.
The first time I saw the Godfather, it bored me to death. Of course, I was only 8 at the time. What was my Dad thinking? Now it's my all time favorite movie.

John Nunnemacher said...

Great analysis, some stuff I hadn't thought of before. I would be curious to hear, since you write with an obvious respect for Lucas' talent, what you think of the new prequel trilogy. I found it very slipshod and disappointing in general.

I'm also curious about your opinion on the whole "Han shot first" controversy. The argument for changing the scene was that they wanted Han to be clearly acting in self-defense, but I don't buy that at all. You mentioned in the article, the cantina was set up as a dangerous place where people get killed all the time. My opinion has always been that from the moment Greedo sat down at that table, it was clear he had no intention of letting Han walk away from the encounter alive. For a character of Han's moral ambiguity, I felt the original cut made perfect sense, Han's action was justified, and it didn't make it look like Han has the superhuman power to DODGE LASER BOLTS.

Thoughts? :)

Brian Duffy said...

Luke wears white in A New Hope, then he wears gray in ESB, then he wears black in ROTJ, and has his dark-side freak-out at the end. They make it obvious with the robot hand, but there's the subtle color thing that happens over all three movies that I never even thought of until you brought it up this is blowing my mind.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you should try to watch The Hidden Fortress with your daughter. It has basically the same plot but the focus is on human interests, not on pseudo metaphysical babbling and droids.

mark kennedy said...

Thanks for the great comments everyone!

kris- Seeing the Star Wars movies on TV is probably not the best way to see them for the first time. I definitely like Empire the best myself - it's a truly great film, very well put together. I also have to admit not being a big fan of the "computer enhancements" they put into them in order to update them, that's probably why I haven't watched them in such a long time myself, but it doesn't really hurt the experience too much.

zoe - yes, he sure is. My daughter loved him more than anything else in the movie, and I remember feeling that way at her age too. He really is a great character, without any dialogue and very limited physical movement.
Now that you say that about C3PO being a car salesman, I remember hearing that myself. Huh! Hard to picture that working, thank goodness for Anthony Daniels.

Hey Deters - your new nickname is Captain Sarcasmo!

Hey robert - when I was a kid I read that Lucas had all nine of these films all worked out in his head and I always thought he was totally amazing for that. He still seems amazing but I agree that ep 1 2 and 3 don't feel like he really had them all figured out to the extent that he had 3 4 and 5 all worked out. I guess we'll never know what happens in 7 8 and 9. I'm okay with that now.
I was pretty surprised when I saw the original movies again in my twenties and I realized how clunky the dialogue was. It's amazing to see how good Alec Guinness is for actually being able to do such a good job of it. Harrison Ford does a fairly good job considering how clunky it all is and Carrie Fisher's energy and personality seem to carry her performance okay but Mark Hamill and a lot of the secondary characters just seem at a loss to say a lot of the awkward lines. By the third movie Harrison ford's performance is so cartoony, it's like he stopped caring and wanted to be done with it. The score sure is amazing, though, good point.

Hey Alex - ha, I'd forgotten about that joke. Patton Oswalt has a great bit on his newest CD about how bad the new SW movies are, it's very funny.

Hey David - funny story about the VCR. I'm old enough now to tell my kids about when you had to see a movie in the theatres, and then you thought you'd never see it again. I have to admit that the prequels put me off as well, and also that the SW games are my favorite part of the SW experience these days - SW Lego kicks butt and I love the Battlefront games...I hope they make a number three. Can't wait for the Indy Lego game!

floyd - yes, I agree. There is a lesson for all of us in that when you have too much power and nobody can tell you no, we can lose our perspective.

Hey jean - yes, I agree that the new ones won't stand the test of time as well. I am scared to see Indy 4...let's hope it's nothing like the last one.
I completely agree with your analysis of what went wrong, and you would know having worked on it. Most artists need boundaries and limitations to be great, everyone always points out that since the shark puppet didn't work on the "Jaws" set they had to work around it and the film ended up much better for it. I still think "Duel" is one of Spielberg's best movies and it's just a car and a truck, basically, no special effects or big name actors.
I totally agree, matrix 2 and 3 were so disappointing, and I figured it was exactly like you say. King Kong was really boring too...again, like Spielberg, jackson's best work was (in my opinion) "Dead Alive" and "Heavenly Creatures" before he got such big budgets and stars, etc. Thanks for putting it so well.

hey John S- yeah, we'll see, I'll try it again when she's older. Godfather at 8??? Wow! Your dad's cool.

hey john n- Yeah, I'm not much of a fan of the newer three, they kind of killed my love for Star Wars in general. And I totally agree that the worst thing about the new "Special Editions" is that now Greedo shoots first. It makes no sense! In his dialogue, Greedo is clearly trying to EXTORT MONEY from Han!!! He has no reason to shoot first, he has no intention of KILLING Han, and Han shoots to get out of the situation! And how could Greedo miss from three feet away!?! Godammn it, George, wtf?!?.......sigh.

Hey brian - yeah, that's a great trick, the way he wears the different colors in the three films. Okay, but why are stormtroopers white? That one I can't figure. Anyone?

Hey anon - yeah, I love the Hidden Fortress, one of my favorite movies of all time. It's great! But even though my daughter is a spectacular reader I don't think she'd read subtitles for two hours. I have to admit, though, that R2D2 and C3PO are slightly more interesting pair of characters than the two farmers in Fortress because the two humans have basically the same personalities and the droids are such a great comedy team - the way they play off each other. Not that I don't love Fortress! I just like the way George stole from Fortress but also changed it up. And although some performances in SW are pretty bad, OMG that actress in Fortress is pretty screechy. All of her lines start out low in volume and then they BUILD TO A SCREECHY FINISH! She's funny. That's a great great great movie though.

John Nunnemacher said...

Jean-Denis and Mark: I forgot earlier but I wanted to mention a little anecdote concerning the Matrix sequels. A few years ago I was at ComicCon waiting for the QuickDraw panel to start, and soon realized the folks doing a Q&A in the same room were the Wachowski Brothers. (The room wasn't packed because the panel was apparently advertised as just a studio DVD release presentation, and they showed up unannounced to promote an upcoming Matrix edition.)

Anyway, some fan, bless his heart, got up to the mike and asked whether they perhaps had to deal with a lot of studio interference on the later movies since, you know, they seemed ... less ... good than the original movie. One of the brothers fielded the question by first disagreeing, of course, saying he felt the sequels were a naturally-flowing extension of the first film, yadda yadda yadda.

He went on, though, to explain that the opposite was in fact true: During the first movie, when they were still unknown directors, the studios had put a lot of limit on what they did. For example, they wanted to do a full reveal of the city of Zion in the first movie, but the studio pulled them back. It was only on the sequels, after they'd "proven" themselves, the studio gave them free reign with the story and production.

In essence, I felt, he proved the point: External limitations really do spark creativity by necessity, and indulgent freedom can dull it ...

Anonymous said...

Han shot first!

David Cousens said...

Mark - I'm really looking forward to the Lego Indy game too! Unlocking him in LSW after watching the in-game trailer was a superb touch. They just have such a sense of fun that is so refreshing. The cut-scene at the end of Empire where Luke's new hand jumps off and attacks R2 was hysterical!

Germantown Studios said...

I read your post the day after I showed Star Wars to my 6 and 5 year old sons for the first time (the 2 and 1 year old dropped out pretty early on). They had been anticipating this moment for almost a year (I had originally made the rule that they could watch it when they were able to read the words at the beginning, though I eventually gave in due to persistent pleading and puppy-dog eyes).

They were generally satisfied by the movie, though a little confused about who was who and what was going on. They had accumulated so much information from friends of more permissive (i.e. cooler) parents who had seen all the movies, that they were trying to fit it all into what they saw on screen.

Meanwhile, I'd been reading Hero With A Thousand Faces for the storytelling and storyboarding class I teach, and I was trying to fit that in to what I was seeing on screen.

All in all, a very insightful viewing, because I was forced to both analyze and explain. It's definitely a movie that pays dividends the more you invest yourself in it. In this respect, your analysis was especially helpful. It pointed me back to the film and outward to the making of my own stories.

As to how Star Wars stacks up to the other films, I see a pretty clear relationship between the quality of the films and how resourceful George Lucas had to be when he made it. It's almost as if the total lack of financial and technological restrictions on the later prequels made them worse rather than better.

Gabriel said...

maybe the storm troopers are white because they're not really evil. They just want to feed their kids, it was the only available job, maybe they don't even know they're on the wrong side. Maybe to them the rebels are like commies during cold war.

Jean-Denis Haas said...

Oh yeah, the whole Han-doding-the-laser-blast is ridiculous. I once read that Lucas didn't want Han to be a cold hearted killer. But to me it adds to the character development and really pushes the character arc that he goes through from Ep4 to Ep6.
There are only a handful of additions from the Special Edition that I like, but most of them are useless.

TS said...

Storm Troopers being White probably has as much to do with visual ID and style as it does with metaphor. If you watch the scenes of Vadar he always pops right out because he is black. If the troopers were grey or black Vader wouldn't be as visually strong. By having the contrast he is clearly the one with the power. Also, I think you have to remember that the StormTroopers are essentially all the same and are there to do the job. When it is revealed that they are Clones in the prequels it make Leah's line in the jail cel more amusing: "Aren't you a little short for a Storm Trooper?" I think the thing about the Troopers is that they are lackies and will never be more than Troopers. If you notice, the controlling elite of the empire are theoretically from an upper class because the Troopers are clones. It also gets back to the Third Riech metaphors of everyone being more or less faceless and working toward the goal set forth by the emperor.

One of the classic symbolisms is the contrast between the machine world and the organic world. The rebels, Luke, Ben etc all exist in a very warm world with natural fabrics and colors while the Empire is comprised of plastic and steel, balck and white. This is most obvious in the fact that the Death Star is a manufactured planet designed to destroy natural ones.

I think overall the film making of the seventies is very much a "golden age" when companies like Zoetrope were able to produce stories that would have a hard time getting made today. Could you imagine Apocalypse Now getting made today or for that matter Duel?

THE SIR said...

Geat post!! I dissected Empire much like what you did here with Episode IV. If you ever get the chance the look at the various character arcs (even the millenium falcon's) sometime, it will blow you away. I'm still learning from the darn thing. Take care and I'll continue to look forward to your posts.

Holger said...

Nice analysis. I also watched the movie with my kids recently (over the holidays).
They are a bit older and were quite happy to watch it all.
I had hoped for a while that we could watch it on the big screen when it looked as if the films would get re-released in 3D.
But I didn't want to wait any longer after the 30 year anniversary came and went.

Michael Swofford said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
gemini82 said...

I've just realized I've never seen the movie in its entirety. Its been so much a part of pop culture, that some events from the film have been filled in. Some how over the years I've convinced myself that I have seen the film,I've been mainly filling in the blanks with reference from popular culture. Reading your post make me want to sit down and watch the whole thing all the way through.

dartlash said...

Nice observations.

One quick correction. The scene concerning Ben explaining the Force which precludes Vader choking the non-believing Imperial officer was not good writing, I'm afraid to say, but good editing.
The re-arranging of these sequences happened in the cutting room. In Lucas' shooting script, Vader chokes the officer right after Threepio and Artoo arrive on Tatooine.
I believe it is the editors, Murch, Chew and Marcia Lucas we can pat on the back for that.
To say George is a confident filmaker is stretching the praise just a little bit. All one has to consider is those awful prequels (which he wrote with little or no aid from anyone else.)

As to why are stormtroopers white? They are literally caricatures of human skeletons. Skeletons and skulls are freakishly chilling without any explanation. The black eyes, the black joints between the white bones...It's actually very simple design on Ralph Macquarrie's part. A lot bang for the buck. The moment you see them, you know what they are. Dead people who kill.

Anonymous said...

Nice stuff. Tell DH I said Hi and check out my star wars painting.

Ryan Parr

Jon McNally said...

Thanks for this post, Mark. As a wee one I saw SW in the theater and it rocked my world. That first film's the one to which I continually return. I know that farmboy Luke annoys an endless number of folks, but I love him. I think he's a great audience surrogate; he's the only one reacting to the intergalactic spectacle.

chickennuggets said...

Is your mashmallow popper also camouflage?

Kenny said...

Yet another reason to absolutely love Star Wars. Great post.

D Wheezy said...

It's already been said many times before me, but great post. I really enjoyed it and would like to hear more of your thoughts on Lucas's work.

S.B. said...

Super post. Re-watching with kids is the best way to do it!

It's interesting to note that episode IV originally started on the planet Tatooine with Luke. I believe the comic book version that came out shortly after the movie plays it this way. As in your observation, starting with the battle first was the best way to set up the movie. Perhaps the film makers realized this along the way as well. Then again, I could be totally making this up and it's just my head playing tricks on me. Anyone have that comic to support or deny my memory?

One more comment that could be debatable... R2D2 and C3PO are the main characters of the movies. They are the only characters that are in all 6 (9?) films. (please don't say Annikin is too...even Ben says he was dead and Darth Vader was a different person...wink)

Andrew Glazebrook said...

My kids have never really gotten into the original trilogy of Star Wars films, they know who Darth Vader is etc... but they'd never ask for those films to be put on, yet all 3 of my children were fascinated by the 3 Ray Harryhausen 'Sinbad' films,they used to watch those over again.
Star Wars is a very slow movie at times, but it was a different generation back then and it seemed fast paced to me in 1977. People often go on about what an FX extravaganza Star Wars is, sorry I refuse to call it a New Hope,but if you actually count the amount of actual FX shots in the first hour or so you'll find that there's probably more FX shots in the first 5 minutes of any of the prequels than that whole hour, yet at the time again it seemed like loads of FX.

Anonymous said...

Wherefore art thou, supremely helpful animation guidance guy? It's been almost a month! Where are we going to get our supremely helpful animation guidance now?

Will Finn said...

Wow, Mark this is really well done. My older son (8) got to see all 6 movies about two years ago and became so obsessed that we had to ban them for a while (the LEGO game is ok but the movie ban is still on). I showed him EP IV first and he loved it, he said it reminded him of WIZARD OF OZ. He had to see all the rest of the saga a couple of times to get the chronology straight, but he finally did. Like you, I didn't let on what does and doesn't work for me about the series. The indiscriminate killing in EP III led to the ban, too many nightmares.

Tantomo said...

Thanks for explaining the whole film making part in the Star Wars. It's really inspiring for a student like me who try to learn about film making process.

Anonymous said...

A little too heavy on the "bruce blockhead" theorizing.