Star Wars: Cultural Phenom–More than Movie

Like most blockbusters and events films, “Star Wars,” George Lucas’ visionary sci-fi epos, exhibits strong political and cultural dimensions. In other words, we are talking about a series that, spanning three decades, has reached mythic proportions and is perceived as much more than just a movie. This means that limiting the analysis to the film as a piece of cinema reveals only a partial view of the various meanings and effects of “Star Wars” as a phenomenon.

Indeed, when episodes I and II of the prequel failed to meet expectations, the feeling was that they would still make money at the box-office and would continue to promote the mythic world that the first three Star Wars had created, that the merchandize industry would not be affected.

It’s therefore a pleasure to report that the sixth and final chapter, “Revenge of the Sith,” which is Episode III, is the best of the new prequel and arguably the best of the six-part series. Darker in tone, more resonant and contempo in its political themes, tautly directed, and handsomely produced, Episode III is a summation work for Lucas. The helmer must be satisfiedand relievedto see all the pieces fall together. “A big chunk of my life has been wrapped up in this one thing,” he said recently, “I can walk away from this now because I feel it’s the best I could do. Im happy with it.”

Placed against his contemporaries, what is known as the film school generation: Coppola, Scorsese, and Spielberg, Lucas has had a unique career. His oeuvre is not only the smallest, but is associated with one film project, albeit a huge one. Coppola, Scorsese, and Spileberg have each made over two dozens films, whereas Lucas has not even made ten; he did produce several big movies, including the Indian Jones series, which Spielberg directed. It’s premature to ask how film history will treat the 61 year-old director, who before “Star Wars” had made a terrific zeitgeist film, the sleeper hit “American Graffiti” (1973).

From the very first film, which is now Episode IV: A New Hope, the “Star War” series almost defied artistic analysis. It went on to become a pop-culture phenomenon that has permeated our consciousness in many relevant ways, both anticipated and unanticipated. You could write a partial but significant version of American film history of the past three decades based on the Star Wars series.

In the 28 years since “Star Wars” has exploded on the movie scene, the sci-fi genre has been reinvigorated. Indeed, the first trilogy has extended the realm of the sci-fi genre and elevated its visibility way beyond Kubrick’s revolutionary 1968 sci-fi, “2001: A Space Odyssey.” “Star Wars” lent a cache to a genre that was basically in decline and for the most part (even in the 1950s) consisted of small-budget B movies, made quickly and cheaply by Hollywood’s craftsmen.

The series has had other major effects: It has launched the careers of many actors, making some of them mega stars, such as Harrison Ford, who played Han Solo in the first trilogy. “Star Wars” has also revolutionized movie technologies by placing emphasis on special and visual effects. Finally, as a result of the series’ bofo success, new paradigms for marketing and handling event films have been created and perfected.

With six chapters, “Star Wars” has become one of the longest, though not the most impressive, in film history. That rank, I think, now belongs to Peter Jackson’s visionary fantasy trilogy, “The Lord of the Rings.” Even so, what worked in favor of the initial trilogy was its timing and its novelty.

In contrast, the new trilogy of prequels suffered from hype and high expectations that have not been entirely met. Episode I somehow managed to overcome the negative criticism and scored at the box-office with $928 million. But Episode II was penalized even by the hard-core fans, and suffered a decline in its global grosses, which amounted to $648 million. Film Technologies have changed too. Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” raised the bar to such a high level that inevitable comparisons were made with the “Star Wars” deemed inferior, both technically and artistically.

The first trilogy of films: Star Wars: Episode IVA New Hope; Episode VThe Empire Strikes Back; and Episode VIReturn of the Jedi told the story of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, twins (as was later revealed) who fight the evil emperor and his minion, Darth Vader, for control of their distant galaxy.

Then, after a 16-year hiatus, Lucas decided to create a prequel trilogy about the twins’ father, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), a Jedi warrior who falls from grace to become Darth Vader. Episode I-The Phantom Menace was released in 1999; Episode II-Attack of the Clones in 2002; and now the saga’s final installment, Episode IIIRevenge of the Sith.

Theatrically, the first five films have grossed about 3.4 billion dollars worldwide, and while this is a most impressive figure, Hollywood mavens couldn’t help but notice that “Lord of the Rings” has made the same amount of money by three of its films. It is expected that Episode III will top all the other and cross the one billion dollars mark.

Lucas himself now commands an entertainment empire (Skywalker Ranch in Marin County, CA) that generates more than one billion dollars in revenue each year. Lucas may have been a lazy director in terms of productivity and output, but he was certainly a shrewd producer and businessman. His mega profits were made possible by the deal he had cut on the first Star Wars, which granted him merchandising and sequel rights.

The sage has not been an altogether smooth process. In 1997, Lucas remastered the original trilogy. He inserted computer-generated effects, digitally cleaned the prints, and tweaked some scenes, which displeasing the film’s purist followers and hard-core fans.

Episodes I and II were disappointing and even dull. There was too much exposition, though not in dramatic terms, and too much goofiness (remember Jar Jar Binks). The series’ fan missed the light humor and simpler charm of the original films. Then there was the stiff acting of Christensen, as the young adult Anakin Skywalker, and fears were expressed that he might not be worthy of playing such a famous villain.

High expectations were raised for the final installment to resolve all the problems and to have all the payoffs. And, indeed, with few exceptions, such as the dialogue, Episode III meets most of the criticisms. Revenge of the Seth relates the transformation of Anakin into Darth Vader, and this process is placed against the changes of the benevolent Republic into an evil Empire. In his script, written in the 1970s, Lucas wanted to reflect how Caesar came to power in a sci-fi setting.

At the time, Nixon was still in power, and the Vietnam War was still raging, political events that influenced Lucas’ thinking. He perceived the U.S. as a very powerful and technological force trying to take over a little country of peasants.

In the new episode, viewers will witness the ritual of putting the helmet on Darth’s head and Ian McDiarmid, who plays Darth Sidious, commands Vader to rise

Lucas has peppered the Star Wars saga with repeated lines of dialogue, character traits, and events that mirror each other. The new film is packed with bangs, with five major light saber duels and all the historic moments promised, specifically the birth of Luke and Leia and the Obi-Wan and Anakin’s fateful fight. Even Shewbacca shows up, though Han Solo does not. In the early versions of script, Solo the boy played a small but important role, but Lucas says he experienced problems casting a young Harrison Ford.

Much darker in tone, and sadder in subject, Revenge of the Sith is slapped with PG-13, the first episode to be rated this way. If the first released trilogy was bright and positive, the new one, particularly Episode III is like a Greek tragedy. But despite the tragic spin, Revenge of the Sith ends with a more upbeat that the kid will save the day.

Technically, it’s a marvel. Produced over three years, the film was shot in no less than eight countries and contains 2180 F/X shots! Lucas claims that he always wanted to begin the saga in the middle, with IV, to enforce the idea that it was part of a serial, like the Saturday matinee films of the 1930s and 1940s.

The first prequel was about a young boy, and the second more of a love story between Anakin and Padme (Natalie Portman). The first trilogy released is the children’s story, and this one is about the father, or rather about fathers and sons, and how one generation has to clean up after the other.

In Episode III, a lot of material needed to be covered, but basically it’s Anakin’s story. Lucas had to fill the gaps, set continuity, and create a bridge over the 22-year-span between Episode II and Episode IV. Suplots had to link up, as did character trajectories and thematic undertones. Lucas hopes that ultimately people will see the Star Wars chronologically, in terms of its sequential order, not in terms of its order of release.

Tying things up neatly, Lucas gave the final line of Episode III to the beloved character that speaks first in Episode IV. For viewers seeking character continuity, Anthony Daniels is the only actor with a speaking part who appears in all six installments, as C-3PO.

Finally, a note about the different ideologies of the two trilogies, and how they reflect their disparate political contexts. The first trilogy, released during Jimmy Carter’s and the first Reagan’s administration, was considered to be a reassurance type of film, because the political universe at its center was one without ambiguity or nuance or failure. There was hope for political-cultural vindication through individual heroic action. The first Star Wars provided further reassurance in its childish tone, special effects, emphasis on the nuclear family, fear of fascism, and restoration of the order of the Father

In contrast, the new, darker episode reflects the paranoia of American society during the Bush administration, detailing arrogant military strategies, decline in democratic discourse, rise of totalitarianism and globalism while disregarding individual civil rights. The running themes of Revenge of the Sith are concentration of power, greed, and corruption. You don’t have to be a Freudian psychologist or sociologist to guest George

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