Star Wars celebrates 40 years of escapism, influence, and cultural currency today. The founding chapter of this now colossal property was released May 25, 1977, across a pittance of screens. Popularity ignited like a house on fire and before anyone could blink this thing was obliterating contemporaries like A Tale of Two Critters, Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, and Viva Knievel!. Only Smokey And The Bandit gave Star Wars any kind of run for its money, and there’s still a gap of about $180 million in domestic gross between the two. Burt Reynolds just couldn’t charm his way around Chewbacca.
There’s a documentary feel to the 1977 Star Wars which helps it resonate deeply, a framing where the audience isn’t following narrative but observing environment; the awkward broth of fantasy exposition is dismissed and we’re allowed to ferret out details as we witness events in these alien realms. This is especially true of desert planet scenes where the robots fumble along, get swooped up by the junk dealers, and are unceremoniously dumped into Luke Skywalker’s life. This fly-on-the-wall style counters so many other sci-fi films that desperately want to impress upon you their grandiose, mythical nature. Star Wars just drops you in there and lets many fantastical moments unfold nonchalantly, because these characters see lasers and blue milk every day.
Pivoting on that point, one of the best decisions George Lucas ever made was to insist this beginning Star Wars is actually the fourth installment of a who-knows-how-long saga. That let our imaginations go purple trying to fill in the priors. As incredible as the visuals and characters in Star Wars are, they suggest much more with that context. On the other side of the ewok, one of the dumbest decisions George Lucas ever made was giving in to temptation and actually filming the first three chapters, bluntly extinguishing the dreams we spun for ourselves across several decades.
Star Wars numbers four and five came before one, two, and three; there are probably those who also believe the immediate sequels—1980’s The Empire Strikes Back and 1983’s Return of The Jedi—should have never been made, allowing the 1977 film to remain the purest of entities. Foolish mortals! Star Wars made so much fucking money it was never going to be singular. Let’s just count our blessings over the miracle of The Empire Strikes Back, that rare sequel which bests its founder in pulp, artistry, and thrill. Star Wars 6 and 7 (and Rogue One) are great too, but there’s just something about the dreamy nightmare of Empire that cannot be equaled.
Of course, Star Wars at 40 is more of a conglomerate than ever, absorbed by Disney so they can have Darth Vader roaming the halls of their luxury hotels with minimal overhead. Star Wars belongs to our entire planet but it’s a U.S. invention and there’s nothing more “American” than celebrating a successful business. So rats off to maximizing profits and creating a global brand. And thanks for being so lenient with the fans who have restored and distributed the theatrical versions of the ’77 movie and its two sequels; this must be an admission of guilt or disagreement regarding “the vision” George Lucas suddenly decided he had for the original trilogy in 1997.
What else is there to say? Nanu nanu, put more Greedos in Star Wars 8.
Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Harrison Ford
Directed by J.J. Abrams
Early marketing for The Force Awakens made it relatively clear J.J. Abrams and the Disney Corp would not be reinventing the wheel for this entry. And why would they? Even the sacred original Star Wars films closely mimic one another. All open in some barren wasteland, all feature dwarfish scavenging weirdos, all allow an otherwise goofy robot to play hero in a clutch moment. And so, seventh verse, same as the first: desert orphan, precocious droid, masked villain with red glowing rod, geometrically opposed spaceships.
It’s not the material, though, it’s the delivery, and Force Awakens delivers, effortlessly weaving visual potency, emotional conviction, unexpected humor, and raw excitement into a crackerjack package that provides antidote to the prequel trilogy’s turgid masturbation. Set thirty years after Return of The Jedi, the film brings us up to speed quickly: Luke Skywalker has disappeared, the Rebels have failed to consolidate their power, the Empire has not remained in defeat. That evil reich, now known as the First Order, counts amongst its ranks a brooding and violent Darth Vader disciple named Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). When a map pointing to the whereabouts of Luke fumbles out into the cosmos, Ren believes it’s his key to restoring Vader’s galactic vision.
Fate (or dumb luck) brings together the heroic team that quickly becomes Kylo Ren’s biggest headache. The AWOL Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and isolated junk trader Rey (Daisy Ridley), both barely out of their teens, are a little overwhelmed as they inadvertently become swept up in the search for Skywalker (a figure neither can believe is real). Lucky for das kinder, another storied figure of lore (Harrison Ford) crashes the party and offers a lending hand (and wookiee). Meanwhile, the First Order turns an entire planet into a makeshift Death Star powered by the sun, and of course our band of outlaws winds up in an assault on that enormous menace, because what, are they not gonna help Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Admiral Ackbar?
Critics dog J.J. Abrams for doing little more than heating up other people’s leftovers in lens flare, but The Force Awakens proves when elements like a supremely talented cast and snappy scripting align the guy can slam dunk. Any bits that seem to defy whatever logic exists in this starry fantasy you forgive because the film’s whizzing you on a spirited, satisfying ride. The wonder and fun have returned to Star Wars, and not a moment too soon.
FINAL SCORE: Four precocious droids (out of four).
– they’ve finally discovered the best way to move a robot around the desert: glue it to a beach ball
– every single film made in this day and age must feature a sequence that takes place in the rear of a cargo plane; if you don’t like it, move to Siberia
– yo, that girl is driving a giant stick of deodorant
– yo, that lightsaber has a mustache
– YOU WANTED THE BEST YOU GOT THE BEST THE HOTTEST SPACESHIP IN THE GALAXY THE MILLENNIUM FALCON [guitar solo]
– can America accept a Millennium Falcon with a square satellite dish?
– no shot of C-3PO clasping hands w/ Chewbacca a la Predator?
– this entire movie might take place in one afternoon on the last day of school (excuse me, the last day of space school)
– overall these table scraps make Star Wars 7 look reasonably exciting; guess I should start working on the Bib Fortuna costume I will wear when I camp out for opening night
– on the other hand, if I find out Max Rebo isn’t in this I’m switching to Battlestar Galactica (the original, with Dirk Benedict)
A: No. I’ve never really thought of myself as having the right kind of body for tattoos. I always figured they’d look weird, like I was trying to look tougher than I actually am. Like overcompensating.
Only once did I seriously consider getting inked. When I was nineteen I accompanied my friend Justin to a tattoo parlor in Daytona Beach because he was getting some asian symbol on his arm (as was the style at the time). During that trip I almost convinced myself to get Black Flag’s famous logo stamped somewhere on my frail barely adult torso, but I didn’t have quite enough cash and I was also worried that I might not be championing Damaged as strongly at age eighty. So that was that.
For a while in the mid-2000s I joked with people that I was going to get a back piece of Chewbacca driving the Ectomobile through downtown Oslo with the Ramones and Richard Nixon in the back, all wearing ghostbusters jumpsuits, but that would probably take centuries to complete (and hurt like a bastard).
Other headlines I considered using: Sarah Palin Attempts To Cash In On Rickmat A Month Too Late; I Think I Know What My First Tattoo Is Going To Be.
The above image comes from (you guessed it) Weekly World News. The accompanying article contains an amazing factoid about our second President: “John Adams was notorious for having captured what he called a ‘Skunk Ape’ and killing it with his bare hands on the White House lawn in front of a paying audience.”
I don’t know why I’m wasting my time writing for anyone else. I need to get a job with WWN stat. Do you think they offer full medical and dental?
JP = John Piacquadio; ME = Me.
ME: Do you know how Chewbacca died?
JP: Nooooo, Chewbacca didn’t die!
ME: Yeah, in the Expanded Universe. Do you know how? Guess. What do you think killed Chewbacca?
JP: Ah…was it something he ate?
ME: [Laughing] No, it wasn’t something he ate.
JP: How’d he die?
ME: He was crushed to death by a moon.
JP: Ha! It took an entire dwarf planet to take him down!
ME: Yeah! He was rounding up Han Solo’s kids on some planet—
JP: [Laughing] Because he has so many of them!
ME: Well, two, at least. Anyway, Chewbacca’s trying to get them off the planet before this moon crashes into it, only he didn’t make it off the planet in time.
JP: Did you hear about that bear from the Will Ferrell movie?
For more on Chewbacca’s incredibly awesome death, read this.