Wednesday, December 2, 2015
That probably doesn’t sound right. Success has many fathers. Let’s assign the godhead to George, okay, but also, investigate the historical effect when these films, almost from nowhere, appeared.
Star Wars, yes, was a huge unexpected success from out of the gate, and suddenly, that dumb robot kid movie was going to have a sequel. Do you remember sequels in the ‘70s?
Airport 1975 (in 1974, by the way), Airport ’77 (we didn't finish this one early), and The Concorde…Airport ’79 (they seemed to want you to know when and how old back then). Shaft had a Big Score in 1972 and was in Africa in 1973. Each one with decreasing expectations and returns. Godfather II is presumably the first major film to use the actual number in the title and was the exception that proves the '70s sequel rule.
It wasn’t until 1980 that the Empire struck back, and it did three things. First, it absolutely exploded the original, adding content and backstory and far more serious conflicts no one thought a light-weight robot film could support. It turned into a multi-generational family drama approaching Greek tragedy. It opened the series visually and spatially (something you’d think no one would have been worried about in a SF film), with extended set pieces in the snow, puppets talking pidgin English in a swamp, spaceships with infinity shafts, black guys, and mischievously sneaking in the green-armored Boba Fett (who the hell is that guy?!).
It also seemed to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Not only is our supposed hero figuratively castrated, he’s fated by blood to go to the dark side anyway, and the only other male lead is melted into a block of aluminum. What? No space battle to close it out? How do they make a first-person shooter out of this?
I think Kasdan got access to all of Lucas’s notes (and his wild schemes), and suddenly the idea of having nine of these started to make sense. Kasdan is setting up what he thinks is a whole universe, and he’s not going to be held back by goggle-eyed midgets and lizards drinking green liquid in a stupid bar scene.
It was a weird time. It did almost as well as the first and was re-released, alone and then in a pair with the first, a kind of 4-hour-long package advertisement for episodes yet to come. Yet it had no closure. The question gauntlet had been thrown aggressively down and blew our minds, while our most pressing desires had actually not even been remotely answered.
The theories and predictions were elaborate and far-fetched, yet not entirely impossible. And who the hell was Irvin Kershner? I need to see the rest of his movies. George said the only think he liked worse than writing films was directing and now didn’t have to do either. The screenplay even had Leigh Brackett’s name on it, a famous fantasy writer who’d also worked decades before with the likes of John Huston and Howard Hawks. Who‘s in charge here? More moorre MORE!
For 3 years all popular culture was abuzz with talk of Star Wars, not only the plot twists and proper use of a Muppet as key deliverer of philosophical wisdom, but a deeper, near existential consideration of how a film series could tap into current and ancient myths so completely. People were passing around Joseph Campbell. The films took us all hostage. The conversation reached epic proportions.
And infiltrated the culture in a way that couldn’t be unstuck, not even by the teddy-bear letdown of Return of the Jedi, a by-the-numbers dénouement barely livened by a speeder chase, a half-hearted kiss on the cheek (“He's my brother, silly”), and a sing-along from hell over the campfire.
It’s the echoes of that conversation from 1980 to 1983 that fuels the enthusiasm for the next entry in a couple weeks, that kindles childhood memories of a more innocent (or at least, simpler) time, that inspired the $4 billion price tag on Lucasfilm that Disney paid gladly.
The three Lucas-directed sequels/prequels couldn’t kill it. Dozens of spin-off novels and watered down canon couldn’t kill it. The Matrix brothers tried to get the same lightning in a bottle but their Empire ended up being Reloaded.
Even the supposed touch of J.J. Abrams won’t kill it. In fact, his careful expertise following previously trod paths and love of lens flares is exactly the polish the new one needs, a safe and nostalgic return to something we haven’t actually had since 1980. They are going to fool you by casting Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher (at any cost), and they hired Lawrence Kasdan, whose credits, for those who paid attention a long time ago, includes a couple movies we remember fondly.
Kasdan worked decades ago with the likes of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. How bad can it be?