Right now, I'm kind of sick of Star Wars. The whole kit and caboodle not just the films. I'm really tired of fans screeching about how horrible the prequels were and that the original films should be taken out of Lucas' custody. I can't wait to see what a train wreck the new MMO coming out on Christmas turns out to be.
You know, I used to be one of those people bitching about Phantom Menace and company. Then, like Lucas, I stopped caring.
Its very easy to understand what happened once you gain some distance and clarity. And it all has to do with what Mediabastard calls MIPS (Media Induced Psychosis).
Take it back more than 40 years ago, before there was a Star Wars. There was a geeky kid who was really into old sci-fi flicks and adventure serials. And I mean they were old because these were the originals from the cheesy days of film it and throw it on the screen studio days. The days when it was thought that filmgoers needed some bubble headed fluff to get them in a festive mood for the main feature. You know, a short serial to go to the bathroom by or get some snacks for the kids without worrying that you were missing important story information from the main feature. Even in those hoary old days, film was beginning the MIPS problem. In which it was taught to audiences that moving images were visceral but were ultimately throwaway, temporary trash. And they were, because absolutely no one really held those old Flash Gordon serials dear to their hearts except for George Lucas and fellow nerds.
I goddamn guarantee you that your parents never even heard of nor watched Flash Fucking Gordon in their halcyon 1950s/1960s youth. Not unless they were misfits like George.
Lets move forward to the days when Lucas was just getting his feet wet in the business. He made a very personal film that melded his admiration for the sci-fi genre and his respect for dystopic literature of Orwell and Philip Dick. It was THX1138. It was extremely intellectual, art driven, and emotional. Of course, it failed. It was a film that was well ahead of the culture, and the images in the film were definitely not throwaway trash. They were intrinsic to the story. I believe it even edges out Blade Runner because ultimately what people really love about Blade Runner is that huge billboard of the Geisha eating sushi while floating cars speed by it. Blade Runner gains its relevance over time because Ridley Scott keeps rehashing it and telling people that it means more than just cool imagery. Scott is picking over it's carcass yet again with a remake, rehash of the story. Talk about MIPS!
By the time Lucas made Star Wars, his version of Sci-fi was already trashed and forgotten by audiences. So instead of trying to push the THX1138 style again, he took refuge in those old serials of Flash Gordon, which again I remind you, were forgotten by 1970's audiences. And he decided to create his own take on those cheesy shorts by giving some weight to the story with mythological motifs picked from various sources. He also decided to take it seriously....to a certain extent, by not giving in to the urge to ham it all up. That feeling was definitely not shared by the actors in the film who definitely did ham it up and did not really take it seriously (take a look at all of Ford's comments about the film). Lucas never took umbrage at these pot shots because I think he knew that this material, no matter how much of a classy sheen he tried to give it was basically still based on silly films.
And of course the amnesiac audiences ate it up, loved it and hailed it as something groundbreaking. Simply because WE THE AUDIENCE did not remember our own cultural and film heritage. WE did not recognize that we were given regurgitated pap that was just meant to be amusing and forgettable just like the originals they were based upon.
Can you imagine what that mega-success did to a fairly young George Lucas? To have something he really considered fluff launch him into hyper fame? I think he had something akin to a nervous breakdown even at that early stage, because he refused to become involved in the Star Wars sequels except as a kind of watchful impresario.
And the Star Wars monster grew and grew until it turned into something that it wasn't, even when it had it's first success. It became this kind of quasi-religious experience to culture starved, image obsessed troglodytes who barely had their long term memories intact. During this time there was a story about Alec Guinness advising an addled Star Wars fan to never watch the films again. Of course, he was demonized for it. Truthfully, I think George Lucas was secretly relieved that one of his stars took a stance against the craziness surrounding these films and how they caused people to act. Guinness had memories of what these films were based upon and he took the right view of them. Sorry folks, Alec Guinness was right about Star Wars.
So now we come to the Prequels. And so disgruntled fans, take a gander at this trailer for the old Flash Gordon.
Does it look familiar? Does it ring any bells?
George Lucas took the prequels back to the source material. He quoted them, practically scene for scene this time. And we hated it. Why? For exactly the same reasons, we mistakenly loved the first films. Because we did not remember our own film heritage. FULL STOP.
Lucas took us to MONGO fools! Eat it up.
I don't believe George Lucas has anything to apologize for these films. If anything we should be apologizing to him. We were the ones who were wrong. That is why Lucas keeps trying to ham up the first ones in order to make us see the connection. But we are only seeing the films through our own faulty memories. Not the same thing at all.
Are any of them good films? Well, I believe The Empire Strikes Back, still tops them all. But I just look at all of them as different variations on the Flash Gordon originals. In Star Wars, we have a Riefenstahl-esque bombastic Fascistic Flash Gordon. In Empire, we have a Gone with the Wind romance Flash Gordon. And in ROTJ and the prequels, we got the real deal. What they were all meant to really be. End of story.
Ending Note: I sometimes wonder what the film world would be like today if Lucas was launched to mega-success by THX1138 instead of Star Wars. Its a shame really that the filmmaker who created that first film was killed by Star Wars. Even now, Lucas has more respect for THX1138 than he does for that mega-monster. The only changes he made to his love child were to give more scope to the sets and add more acting extras. The sex machine and mutated animals are debatable but truthfully don't change the film's tone. The Star Wars changes are all about changing the tone.
Well, it is what it is.
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