Summer peaked over the horizon in 1977 as I met a group of friends at the Uptown theatre to see a movie that a many of my fellow fifteen year old friends were abuzz about. A group of 7 of us met in front of the theatre, bought tickets and walked in. I had really no idea what to expect. I waited for about 20 minutes drinkling my Coca Cola and eating my Twizzlers. The theatre was not crowded, maybe 60 people. It was a 12:30 PM show and many people were still at work or in school. The obligatory trailers ran, the Fox Logo came on, then “A Long Time Ago In A Galaxy Far Far Away”……the title crawl and then the screen exploded with a consular ship , the Tantive 4 being pursued by a massive Star Destroyer.
My life had changed, a paradigm shift occurred and my goals in life shifted mightily. The world that embraced Star Wars was still reeling from the damage done by the moral ambiquityof Viet Nam coupled with a loss of American self confidence, this mythic tale of good over evil ignited a primordial yearning within our collective soul. We wanted to connect with the whole and we wanted the world to strive to be good again.
Like much of the movie loving world I waited not-so patiently for the screening on last Thursday of the latest incarnation of the Star Wars Saga. I was not disappointed nor were the packed house I saw the film with. It was so genuinely refreshing to see the world get excited about a movie again. I brought 12 teenagers to the show with me. A mother later texted me a copy of a Chirtstmas list drawn up by her daughter who had accompanied us. After viewing the movie she was now asking for a blue or green light saber. The industry which has seen such cynicism and fatalism abound dearly needed this shot in the arm.
Star Wars is a cultural institution of immense proportions. Its impact on Hollywood alone has been incalculable. It’s impossible to imagine Raiders of the Lost Ark ,E.T.,The Matrix, or The Lord of the Rings without Star Wars. In many ways Lucas had both resurrected Hollywood and with the same brush doomed smaller pictures. In many way StarWars was an independent film made outside the system. If not for the vision of studio exec Allen Ladd, Star Wars may have not seen the light of day.
When Lucas cannily gave the original Star Wars film the puzzling subtitle Episode IV — A New Hope, it wasn’t because he had a clear vision for a series of six (or nine) films. Rather, he was paying homage to the serial matinee adventures of his childhood, and wanted to evoke the sense of a larger canvas for the long forgotten serials, he in fact he had at best only foggy ideas for possible sequels .
It was Lucas and Spielberg who “saved Hollywood” from the decadence of the “sex-drugs-and-rock’n’roll generation” and brought old-fashioned good-versus-evil storytelling back to theaters.
Artistically, the flaws and limitations of the Star Wars films and of its many less distinguished descendants , from Independence Day to Tomb Raider are inescapable. They are silly, indifferently acted, poorly thought out in some respects, and not infrequently inconsistent verging on self-contradiction.
But in reality what Lucas has stumbled into is the thing that an make movies great, it is touching on the mythic themes that exist in all out lives. A mythic sense of good vs evil and the struggle within our selves for one or the other to win out.
The fact that 38 years after the release of the initial film, Star Wars still captures the essence of our inner child like no other cultural set of iconography has done before, with the possible exception of Santa Claus.
Traditionally, the most popular movies had to appeal to all segments of the population; kids went, and mom and dad and grandma too. That was true for the films that held the records for the top grossers of their decades (Gone With the Wind, The Best Years of Our Lives, Ben-Hur, The Sound of Music) and for the mega-movies in the pre-Star Wars70s (Airport, The Godfather, The Sting, Exorcist, Jaws). Along comes this little niche movie; but male boys, seeing it over and over, helped it outperform all the broader-based hits. From then on, Hollywood tailored most of its big-ticket items to males aged 12 to 24. That demographic, less than 10% of the U.S. population, now controls the way studios spend the the largest tranches of their production funds. Because of Star Wars, movies have become fast food like.
For a half-century prior to Star Wars, within the history of feature film making , the most reliable and dominant genre was romance, either comedy or drama. Hollywood did make science-fiction films in the years just beforeStar Warsbut they were mostly of the dark souled tomes, Planet of the Apes, Logan’s Run, Soylent Green, Lucas’ ownTHX-138 with grim and dark messages on how rotten humans are.. The more whimsical science fantasies, familiar from 30s-40s B-movie serials like Buck Rodgers and Flash Gordon, had long vanished from movie screens. Star Warsmade innocence and hope hot again, and made it a unique genre. Star Wars’ momentum and re-entrenching of the movie-serial resounds deeply in every Marvel movie franchise.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens, has come out to stellar review with a rare 94 percent approval on Rotten Tomatoes but its throng of fans would probably pack theaters even if critics hated it.It is looking like The Force will erase the record of $208.8 million “Jurassic World” reeled in when it opened in June.
With the exception of “Jurassic World” and other summer hits, like “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “Furious 7,” and “Straight Outta Compton,”2015 has been a more than crummy year for movie ticket sales. To date hopeful prophecies made at the beginning of theyearthat 2015 would shatter recordshave not happen. It is now looking that “Star Wars,” may turn this around . It has already broken pre-sale records with a heady $57 million in box office for Thursday night.
Many analysts are predicting not only could “Star Wars” get 2015 back on the rails, it could have a huge impact on next year’s box office, which isn’t projected to benefit from as strong a slate of movies as this year. “Star Wars” will likely play in theaters through January and February, which should really help 2016 get off to an amazing start.
Warner Bros.’ highest-grossing 2015 film, “San Andreas,”an earthquake-themed trifle of an action movie starring The Rock, is only the No. 18 highest-grossing movie this year. Warner Bros.has had multiple films in the top 10 in each of the previous three years, many predict that Warners “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” to be one of the biggest films of 2016.
While 2015 has certainly been a letdown for th majority of studios, not every studio has disappointed. Universal, for instance, has had a banner year, including “Jurassic World,”which broke an opening weekend record with sales of $208.8 million, “Furious 7,”“Minions,” and surprise performers like hip-hop biopic “Straight Outta Compton.”And Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. had another big hit with “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2.”
I am hopeful that people will realize how important going to the movies really is. I am hoping that Star Wars will remind studios how good storytelling, mythic storytelling truly does sell. That maybe the long tail of the success that is Star Wars will remind studios to take chances and also to start supporting again the collective movie going experience.
That’s is what fifteen year old boy in me wants for Christmas.
Have Merry Christmas and a great New Year and may the Force be with you always.