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.
Rogue One occupies an odd place on the Star Wars timeline; a prequel set just a handful of days before the original 1977 Star Wars, this film follows the exploits of the brave Rebels who capture and curry the Death Star plans to Princess Leia shortly before she slips them into R2-D2. It’s a vital juncture in this decades-long interstellar fantasy, yet it’s also very compartmentalized with no strong connection to the other seven entries. The heroes of Rogue One have never been identified previously. Their harrowing mission is a blip in the distant future during the other three prequels and by the time we meet troubled rural teen Luke Skywalker their exploits are yesterday’s news.
Rogue One is also occurring at a weird moment in our own world—just a year ago we were hit with The Force Awakens, a continuation of the main Star Wars narrative set 30 years after Return of The Jedi. Why walk us back pre-Hamill already? Where’s the ball droid? Where’s Adam Driver? Where the hell are the singing cats?
The arrival of Rogue One may not make a ton of sense, but the movie is so fantastic and gripping it doesn’t matter. Director Gareth Edwards paints with astonishing visuals, using perspective and scale and rich special effects to inject a “wow” factor absent in many of the previous chapters (it is extremely satisfying to watch a space battle that looks like a space battle, not a video game). Rogue One even makes the unthinkable work—the film resurrects Peter Cushing 22 years after his death (digitally, of course) for another turn as Imperial official Grand Moff Tarkin. As other characters interact with the Moff it is difficult to tell they are acting against a cartoon. We must consider the possibility Gareth Edwards is an occult priest who used black magic to literally raise Peter Cushing from his grave.
Tarkin assumes control of the nearly completed Death Star early in the film, which we learn was the brainchild of a morally conflicted architect named Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen). The Empire tears Erso away from his family for the home stretch of this space laser project and that surely motivates his decision to leak compromising intelligence about the Death Star’s reactor to the Rebellion. The Rebellion turns to Erso’s daughter, Jyn (Felicity Jones), who is willing to throw in with this galactic coup malarky if there’s a chance her father can be freed. Along the way Jyn builds herself a posse, including a handsome Rebel dude (Diego Luna), an extremely droll robot (Alan Tudyk), a blind holy man who may or may not be Jedi (Donnie Yen), and this sort of space Rambo (Jiang Wen). The group only grows tighter as the game changes around them.
Rogue One’s heroes may lack the radioactive charm of a Han Solo or a Chewbacca but they are resolved and strong and you root for every single one of them in the enormously satisfying (and somewhat heartbreaking) third act. In an era where Hollywood loves nothing more than to hit you with false endings, this venture gives you but one, an audacious and stimulating one, and sews it pretty well to the start of the founding late ’70s passage we all memorized growing up. Rogue One may have single-handedly saved the fate of the word “prequel.”
Also, somewhere in the middle of this adventure, you get to see Darth Vader’s house. It’s not carpeted.
FINAL SCORE: Four fistfuls of ewok fur (out of four).
If you click but one link below, make sure it’s the Andrew Koenig story. Gets my vote for best thing ever to appear on this ramshackle e-circus.
Headlines For The Soundgarden Reunion
Carry On, You Bass-Smashing Drum God
Tobey Maguire: “I Did Steroids.”
JG2’s Bucket List
Boy Wonder To Bow Out, Spelling End To Dynamic Duo
Unsolicited Spring Break Review
Rock Critic Mark Prindle: The JG2Land Interview
On The Subject On John Hinckley, Jr.
Spring Break On The Planet Of The Apes
Darth Vader Searches For Luke Skywalker On Chatroulette
An Open Letter To Ed Helms And Jason Sudeikis
A Sad Gumby Would Be Almost Unbearable To Look At
Arrested In Time: The Life & Death Of Andrew Koenig
The Curse Of Turbo Man
Requiem For Bif
We’re All Gonna Get Laid: A Look Back At Caddyshack
I Don’t Know Who Aunt Barbara Is…
Ten Real-Life Batman Villains
Unsolicited Baseball: The Tenth Inning Review
Way back in 2006 I conducted a year-long “study” wherein I tried to find an album that synched up with the original Star Wars a la Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and The Wizard of Oz. My “findings” can still be viewed here; a much more concise and readable overview of the entire affair, however, is available via this sexy thing.
Green Day’s American Idiot ultimately proved itself to be Star Wars’s Dark Side OTM, but I’ve always wondered: Is there anything that synchs up to the same degree that isn’t an eyeliner-laden anti-Bush rock opera? Now I’m ready to continue the search, because I don’t have a job or a girlfriend or any responsibility that would prevent me from further dilly-dallies in sensory deprivation.
Welcome to the Great Star Wars Synchronicity Project Part II: Ewok Boogaloo. This time, it’s personal.
Last night I sat down with Slayer’s Reign in Blood, that satanic heavy metal delight from 1986, and fired up the original original Star Wars to see what magic would unfold. Per my previous experimentations, I started the album immediately after the second drumroll in the 20th Century Fox fanfare. Behold, the eighteen moments of synchronization I witnessed:
– the phrase “destroy” in “Angel of Death” is heard as the word “destroy” in the opening text scroll is approximately mid-screen
– the opening scroll fades away just as the breakdown in “Angel of Death” begins
– the Tantive IV flies onscreen the same moment “Angel of Death” resumes its normal speed
– a drumroll in “Angel of Death” occurs at the same moment the droids are seen reeling from an explosion (it looks like the drumroll made them shake and shimmy)
– Darth Vader strolls aboard the Tantive IV to survey the body count as we hear the lyric “angel of death, monitor the kingdom of the dead”
– “Piece by Piece” begins at the same moment Princess Leia shoves that disc into R2-D2
– a closeup of Darth Vader’s face appears at the same moment we hear the lyric “no emotion, death is all I see”
– the phrase “a flash” is heard as the stormtrooper fires his stun ray at Princess Leia
– the lyric “the only one way out of here” in “Piece by Piece” is heard as the droids are seen getting into the escape pod, and the song ends at the same moment a laser blast explodes over C-3PO’s head
– “Jesus Saves” plays through the entire sequence where the jawas save R2-D2 from, uh, hours of rolling along to nowhere in the desert
– the guitars in “Criminally Insane” start at the exact moment R2-D2 begins shuffling through the sandcrawler
– “Reborn” begins playing the same moment we first see Luke Skywalker (Luke = the rebirth of the Jedi)
– the lyric “I can’t control my destiny” is heard as the doomed Uncle Owen is in closeup (Uncle Owen has no control over his destiny to become a charred corpse via angry stormtroopers)
– the lyric “leave you ripped and torn” is heard as C-3PO is in closeup (Threepio is seen ripped and torn at various points during the Star Wars trilogy)
– the opening thunderclap of “Raining Blood” is heard the moment Luke gets up from the dinner table to run off in a huff
– the lyrics “awaiting the hour of reprisal, time slips away” are heard as Uncle Owen is seen looking for Luke (“He better have those droids in the south field by midday or there’ll be hell to pay!”)
– the final really loud thunderclap of “Raining Blood” coincides with R2-D2’s alarm concerning invading sandpeople
– “Raining Blood” stops at the exact moment the sandpeople drop an ostensibly dead Luke Skywalker on the ground
Pretty trippy, but nowhere near as synchronized as American Idiot. The hunt continues. I’ve acquired a lot of new music since 2006 and I’m sure I can find something that blows Green Day out of the water (even though I may have concluded the exact opposite in the past).
To help promote the September 12 release of the complete Star Wars saga on Blu-Ray, Lucasfilm has launched this interactive “Ask Vader” feature on the official Star Wars website. Type in a question, hit “enter,” and Darthy V will give you some kind of chilling response. It’s cute, not to mention a great distraction from the fact George has likely CGI’d Howard the Duck somewhere into the Return of the Jedi on these forthcoming discs.
I felt like “Ask Vader” could easily turn into one of those multiple hour time-eating vortexes, so I only allowed myself to fire one question off at the Dark Lord of the Sith. It’s something I’ve always wondered about sci-fi’s greatest villain (photo will enlarge if’n you click it):
Darth’s response? “It is too late for me…but you have the rest of the day!” Little does Anakin Skywalker know I’m already well-versed in “Seinfeld” reruns. She’s a close-talker, yadda yadda, shrinkage.
Carved in less than an hour. Believe it.