ACF Middlebrow#4 Star Wars!

 

James Lileks and I talk Star Wars. He’s from the generation that saw it in theaters; I’m from the generation that puzzled over why The Phantom Menace was a big deal either way. We talk about how America turned that one story into a national myth, changed Hollywood, and, 40 years later, a new generation is as bewitched as the old was. We talk about the new tack of the films — dark stories and diverse casts — and the future we’re inhabiting already: Gaming, online streaming and, inevitably, VR. A tech revolution is going to take over the story. Also, George Lucas comes in for remarks…

Since we’re looking at middlebrow culture with our patented cultural anthropology methodology, please leave comments with your own experience of the movies, including people who just hate it, are indifferent, or have lapsed from the faith.

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  1. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    A question occurs to me about the popularity of Star Wars in the 00s & now. Is it that these movies are that good or that the others are that bad–bad enough to leave billions of dollars on the table?

    • #1
  2. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    It was partly the special effects and partly Harrison Ford. And the music.

    • #2
  3. Chris Member
    Chris
    @Chris

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    A question occurs to me about the popularity of Star Wars in the 00s & now. Is it that these movies are that good or that the others are that bad–bad enough to leave billions of dollars on the table?

    Now, the money Star Wars is generating is “spectacle” revenue.  It is money that people are happy to spend to go see something larger than life (and the iPad, laptop, or phone screen).  And people like their spectacles to be shared experiences.

    I saw the original in the theater in 1977 when I was 9.  As James mentioned, it was unlike anything that any of us had seen.  The effects were great and the movie was upbeat – the Death Star was destroyed!  I’m not sure what might have imprinted for your generation, but the imprint was enormous and is aptly captured in the documentary The People vs. George Lucas.  I never cared about about Star Wars to the extent of those people, but everyone seemed to love it enough to see the movie at least once.

    Forty years on, our children are all old enough that they constitute the moviemakers prime cohort – self-ambulatory, disposable income, and relative free time to carve out that trip to the theater.  There were several films that I wanted to see “on the big screen” this year but just never made it – the top of this list being Blade Runner 2049.   It wasn’t because I don’t like going to the movies or they cost too much, it was because there wasn’t family-wide appeal, or the kids had seen it with friends or I just wouldn’t make the time to go solo.

    We will go see the new Star Wars, just like we saw the last two.  At the theatre, all of us together.  Then we’ll talk about it, just like our families all talked about the original 40 years ago.  It’s nice.

    • #3
  4. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    I haven’t listened yet but will do so soon. You don’t say — be there spoilers ahead?

    • #4
  5. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    RightAngles (View Comment):
    And the music.

    The John Williams score is incredible. Darth Vader’s theme is just so perfect, and now so famous.

    • #5
  6. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    The middle three movies were so bad that I forbad my children from seeing the last one, Revenge of the Clones, on purely aesthetic grounds. The only things worth watching in those movies were the scenes with Ewan McGregor.

    I’m pretty sure the older ones saw it behind my back, though…

     

    • #6
  7. Chris Member
    Chris
    @Chris

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad (View Comment):
    I haven’t listened yet but will do so soon. You don’t say — be there spoilers ahead?

    No spoilers.

    • #7
  8. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Chris (View Comment):

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    A question occurs to me about the popularity of Star Wars in the 00s & now. Is it that these movies are that good or that the others are that bad–bad enough to leave billions of dollars on the table?

    Now, the money Star Wars is generating is “spectacle” revenue. It is money that people are happy to spend to go see something larger than life (and the iPad, laptop, or phone screen). And people like their spectacles to be shared experiences.

    Sure, but sharing may mean different things. One is, as you say below, families. There are others, something close to a generation being the scale at which billion dollar movies act. At some level, the popularity sells the movie–it’s no longer a matter of selling the movie making its popularity. I suspect these events have a social importance…

    I saw the original in the theater in 1977 when I was 9. As James mentioned, it was unlike anything that any of us had seen. The effects were great and the movie was upbeat – the Death Star was destroyed! I’m not sure what might have imprinted for your generation, but the imprint was enormous and is aptly captured in the documentary The People vs. George Lucas. I never cared about about Star Wars to the extent of those people, but everyone seemed to love it enough to see the movie at least once.

    I get the sense that what dazzled people about the look of the movie both led them to something that touched their hearts & conceals what that is. Was it just the adventure? Is that what was missing in kids’ lives but was at the same time instantly recognizable?

    Forty years on, our children are all old enough that they constitute the moviemakers prime cohort – self-ambulatory, disposable income, and relative free time to carve out that trip to the theater. There were several films that I wanted to see “on the big screen” this year but just never made it – the top of this list being Blade Runner 2049. It wasn’t because I don’t like going to the movies or they cost too much, it was because there wasn’t family-wide appeal, or the kids had seen it with friends or I just wouldn’t make the time to go solo.

    Fewer Americans go to see movies in theaters; it seems other pastimes are more attractive now. But this seems to heighten the sense that the movie is a big event, a chance to invest a lot of hope in something & have fun. I wonder whether there’s no secret desire, among the young adults-to-middle aged crowd that makes up the majority of the audience, to be more sociable somewhere in there…

    We will go see the new Star Wars, just like we saw the last two. At the theatre, all of us together. Then we’ll talk about it, just like our families all talked about the original 40 years ago. It’s nice.

    I also think that this is the good part about these new movies; families go to see them.

    • #8
  9. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad (View Comment):
    I haven’t listened yet but will do so soon. You don’t say — be there spoilers ahead?

    No spoilers–we’re not talking about the new movie, only old ones…

    • #9
  10. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    So here are the two conservative reviewers I read with some constancy, Kyle Smith & Sonny Bunch.

    This is about the best conservatism has produced by way of movie reviewers. It’s not quite the same thing as critics; it’s critics who have to cater to a wide audience, let’s say.

    They don’t like the new Star Wars movie, because they’re adults. I wonder to what extent the teaching we all learned from older movies about what constitutes realism–always about what adults are like–is blinding them to what’s going on.

    Conservatives especially should be asking them this: What if Star Wars is a passable image of the souls of your children?

    • #10
  11. YouCantMeanThat Coolidge
    YouCantMeanThat
    @michaeleschmidt

    Star Wars.

    Possibly the last movie that I saw at a drive-in. Fast-moving triumph of good over evil; like the mass-market western, a shootemup in which nobody but the bad guys got hurt — and the villain lived to fight another day.

    And the music, even on a drive-in speaker.

    Some claim that the Empire “storm troopers” were modeled after the Nazis and otherwise hangs upon the film unnecessary baggage. Doesn’t hurt its popularity, I guess.

    • #11
  12. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    Titus Techera (View Comment):

    Conservatives especially should be asking them this: What if Star Wars is a passable image of the souls of your children?

    The souls of my children? Explain?

    • #12
  13. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad (View Comment):

    Titus Techera (View Comment):

    Conservatives especially should be asking them this: What if Star Wars is a passable image of the souls of your children?

    The souls of my children? Explain?

    Well, I’ve noticed more & more that conservative critics of movies complain about how the plots work, because there’s no plausibility to actions, characters, & circumstances. They don’t cohere.

    But young Americans answer the call of these stories like bell peeling to bell. From their point of view, it doesn’t matter if you bring up the old Shakespearian equation: Character + circumstances = destiny.

    I’ve been wondering why that is; they’re clearly more open to mythology than adults, & therefore to the poetic logic aptly summed up as a logical fallacy, post hoc ergo propter hoc.

    But I’m not sure kids want to become adults, insofar as the unprompted calls of their hearts are concerned. So they’re willing to take up the American banner of love of metaphor, of symbol, of morality. But they don’t bother with plot. I guess you could call that a pragmatism of the heart–good intentions turn out to mean the same thing as success worship.

    There’s an ancient teaching that poetry & music are somehow tied up with soul, for city & for man both, if in different ways. This is what guides me, but I’ve not formulated my chapter on American children fully.

    Now, what popular music reveals about their souls is I think known to all. What surprises me is how resistant people are to thinking about the morality of film without moralism–it’s not about educated conservatives decrying Nihilism or educated liberals touting Progress.

    It’s about what stories say rhetorically first of all: What mood do storytellers think is right for reaching out to kids? What kinds of events do they think are able to articulate the passions of the soul & reveal their longings in a rational, intelligible story? What kinds of heroes & villains would appeal to their passions?–Movies are far more rationalistic than music is, & somewhat less likely to seize people so that they become unable to speak with detachment. But I see little around me that I could recommend when it comes this very important generational negotiation in-between kids & the story-tellers, who are older, & bring their politics with them, & their own parents’ politics as culture, too.

    Kids, without realizing it, are in love with fantasies; they’re poetic & even erotic in ways that go undiscussed.

    So a revolution in story-telling has been effected by a change in the meaning of realism. The old adult expectation of plausible reactions to events on the part of recognizable human–American–types has been repealed to a shocking extent, & with the silent approval of all concerned. I have my suspicions about why that is: Adults carry certain stories with them, in America, in their adulthood, to the point of making an identity!

    The new understanding of realism should be understood as overtone series & such things–pluck a note out & you can expect certain others, too. Thus do the story-tellers play upon the souls of their most important audience.

    I’ll close here; I’ve gone on too much. I’m sorry if I’m not being clear. Maybe I can clarify things if there’s any question.

    • #13

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