Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Science Fiction #2 - Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977)

Well what could I possibly say about Star Wars? It's Star Wars! I don't think there's a single person alive in the western world who hasn't heard of Star Wars. It's such an iconic movie with such iconic characters and a lot of people were practically raised on Star Wars. I'm pretty sure that Star Wars is how I learned the first six Roman numerals. So many parts of these movies have become totally ingrained into modern culture: Darth Vader, Yoda, light sabers, the Wookie noise, R2D2 - the list goes on and on. I could probably come up with a huge list of things from Star Wars that are universally recognizable. Even if you don't know what they're called, you still recognize them. Like these things:

What are they called? I don't know! Have I seen them before? I certainly have! Everyone is at least vaguely familiar with Star Wars - It's like a very recent Shakespeare. The movie can easily get on the list on sheer iconocity alone. They have really impacted our culture in a way that not a lot of fiction does. People love Star Wars, and even people who don't can't get away from it. I am totally following its inclusion on the list of the best American science fiction films ever made.

The one on the list A New Hope, which, for those of you not well-versed in Star Wars, is the fourth one that's really the first one, or the first one that's really the fourth one, depending on how you look at it. This one introduces Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Princess Leia, Han Solo and host of other familiar Star Wars things. Not, tragically, Yoda though. He doesn't appear until the second one that's really the fifth one. Fun fact about Yoda: The guy who plays Yoda also plays Miss Piggy. It's Frank Oz. You can hear it if you listen. Obi-Wan Kenobi is played by Alec Guinness, who we last saw back in Lawrence of Arabia. His career has certainly changed, hasn't it? The movie is directed and written by George Lucas.

Star Wars is well-know for being a really good example of the Hero's Journey. The Hero's Journey is a classic plot pattern that occurs everywhere - I've seen a Discovery Channel special on it, so I know a lot about this subject. You can find the Hero's Journey in ancient mythology, modern cinema, fairy tales, literature, basically where ever you look. Even though the elements that make up the Hero's Journey are really very spesicific, they occur again and again and again. Most fiction that involves any sort of fantasy of sci fi element will turn out to be a Hero's Journey. Basically a Hero's Journey is when our normal main character is chosen for some sort of task, enters the unknown world, discovers themselves an is reborn, and then comes back to the known world. Here's a handy diagram of it - I got it from Wikipedia:

A lot of fiction is a Hero's Journey. Harry Potter is one. So is Lord of the Rings, The Wizard of Oz, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Finding Nemo, King Arthur. You see it all the time, but Star Wars is a really classic example of it - it was modelled specifically after the patten, probably so it looks a lot like some kind of old fable. Star Wars does this a lot - You see a lot of mixing old and new together with Star Wars. And while Star Wars is definitely science fiction, it also has huge streaks of fantasy in it, what with all of its fantastic aliens and its traditional storyline and its frequent rural settings. It's like a twist on the old stories that you used to see all the time. It's fairy tales in space.

Despite being mainstream and geeky and kind of cheesy and makes a lot of money, it does have genuine artistic merit. It subverts an old plot by putting it into a totally new setting, it takes place in a ton of varied and elaborate settings, it features incredibly memorable characters, even just side characters, it creates a totally new universe, has had an incredible lasting impact on modern culture, has music and even just sounds that stick with people (Ben Burtt is the sound guy in these movies, and he's the one who created the sound of the light sabers, R2D2, and Darth Vader's breathing, some of the most recognizable sounds in cinema. He's also responsible for the crack of Indiana Jones' whip and is the voice of Wall-e. The music is done by John Williams, who beside this has done the scores for Harry Potter, Jaws, E.T., Indiana Jones, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the Olympics, Schindler's List, NBC Nightly News, Obama's inagaraution, Superman, the Dreamworks logo, and so many more). It really is a good movie. And Harrison Ford is in it, which is awesome. Who doesn't like Harrison Ford?

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