Over here at Trash Talk! we’re going to take a look at pop-culture through an artistic lens, more specifically exploring the dichotomy between high-art and low-art in movies, TV, comics, and video games. What’s fine cinema, and what’s trash? Sometimes the line may be thinner than you think.
On a Wednesday in late May a young George Lucas could be found holed up in a Los Angeles sound studio. When he went to grab lunch with his then wife they encountered a massive line outside Mann’s Chinese Theatre. George had forgotten that his new film, Star Wars, was going to be released that day. He had dreaded that it would be a failure, so much so that he had intended to be in Hawaii when it was released. He was more confident that his pal Steven Spielberg’s film Close Encounters of the Third Kind would be the bigger hit. He even offered to trade 2.5% of Stars Wars profits for an equal amount of Close Encounters earnings. Spielberg still receives 2.5% of Star Wars profits to this day.
Needless to say Star Wars was not a failure. It was, and still is, a sensation. It’s spawned 2 sequels, 3 prequels, countless toys, comic books, TV series’, an infamous Christmas special, and it’s made George Lucas a billionaire. Someday though, maybe even not that far off, this megalith of a franchise will die, and that’s a good a thing. Star Wars needs to die.
“There is nothing new under the sun,” the old saw goes (which comes from the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes, which was referencing… well, you get the idea). There are no new colors to paint with, it’s how the storyteller puts those colors together that craft a narrative picture that, while maybe not “new”, is authentic, and original to them. There are few better examples to this than Star Wars. Not only does Star Wars pull from classic hero myths that date back to the dawn of time, and significantly influenced by Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress, but it’s a glowing love letter to the sci-fi serials George Lucas grew up watching. In fact, before Star Wars was a glimmer in Lucas’ eye he tried to get the rights to classic pulp character Flash Gordon, to make his own movie of the character. Flash Gordon’s world was filled with strange alien races, flying space ships, and dominated by an evil, merciless, emperor. Sound familiar? Lucas’ other lasting franchise, Indiana Jones, also has a healthy heritage in the old movie serials, and pulps. Jones pulls from characters like Doc Savage, and Raiders of the Lost Arc draws liberally from Charlton Heston’s Secret of the Incas.
Here’s the thing though, we’re not talking about adaptions of Flash Gordon, or remakes of Secret of the Incas some thirty years after Lucas launched his most iconic creations. We wonder if there’ll be another Indiana Jones sequel, and everybody is salivating over the promised new Star Wars trilogy. George Lucas used old parts to make something original, and revolutionized genre storytelling in film while doing it.
I get the fervor behind brand new Star Wars films, I really do, that’s a ravenous fanbase, but we already know what those movies are going to be like. There will be Jedi’s, probably a couple Sith, a few bounty hunters and smugglers, maybe a princess (or queen) in need of saving, the Light Side is good, the Dark Side is bad, and the good guys will save the day, have a celebration, roll credits. We’ve seen this story play out at least six times now. Even this whole cycle of more Star Wars movies, and the fan fervor that follows, isn’t new. Fans talked about The Phantom Menace like it was the second coming, until they saw it. Needless to say, some were left disappointed with the final product. That’s the problem with nostalgia, it’s stuck in the past. No new Star Wars flick will ever recreate that feeling you got when you saw your first one. It’s like chasing a high.
The best we can hope is that this new trilogy is reflective of the best of the series (Empire Strikes Back), as opposed to the worst (Attack of the Clones). Add on to the fact that Disney is discussing pumping out ancillary movies that follow different characters from the franchise. That could mean a new Star Wars movie every one or two years. That may sound exciting now, but as the prequel trilogy proved with lightsabers, you can have too much of a good thing.
The world will someday get tired of Star Wars, and I, for one, can’t wait. As cool as Star Wars is, I look forward to seeing what new adventures rise out of its wreckage. Once the book closes on a galaxy far, far away (if only for a while) what new stories can be told, what new fantasy worlds will open up to the younglings of the Star Wars diehards? I would love to see creators and studios clamoring to create original sci-fi sagas. There may be nothing new under the sun, but that doesn’t mean we need to keep factory pressing our favorite franchises. I feel like the best thing that could possibly come out the upcoming Star Wars trilogy is some little kid in the theater watching it, that’s inspired to someday tell his own stories, with original characters, filled with worlds of his imagining, that can be shared with a whole new era. Flash Gordon may be gone for now, but that franchise isn’t forgotten, and its greatest legacy doesn’t lie in whatever sequel or reboot execs are mulling over, it’s in Star Wars. Someday, when Star Wars is not much more than a fond memory of a fading generation, its own legacy won’t be found in dust covered action figures, but in other original stories in undiscovered galaxies at the edge of imagination.
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