George Lucas has never been a household name to compare with Disney or Spielberg. But Christopher Tookey argues that the maker of "Star Wars" is the most important figure in world cinemaby Christopher Tookey / March 20, 1997 / Leave a comment
Twenty years after the release of Star Wars, the force is with us again-the sales force, that is. George Lucas and Twentieth Century Fox have spent $10m improving the sound and special effects of the trilogy, even adding new scenes. Over the next two months, it is being released with a $20m advertising campaign and a $2 billion Pepsi tie-in.
Some Star Wars fans are outraged, accusing Lucas of tampering with their childhood dreams. Even so, the re-release has outgrossed every new movie in the US. Plans are also well advanced to shoot a second trilogy (mainly in Britain) for release in 1999, 2001 and 2003.
Why all the interest? A cynical but accurate reply is: because there is a merchandising opportunity. The first trilogy drew more than $800m at the box office and over $3 billion in licensed merchandise. Star Wars merchandise has continued to sell over the last 20 years. Since 1990, Bantam Books have sold 15m Star Wars-based novels. Last year, Fox re-released the trilogy as a video set and sold 22m copies in six months.
Star Wars is that rare combination-a mass market blockbuster and a cult hit. The internet has 12 web sites devoted to a minor Star Wars character, Boba Fett, a bounty hunter who appears for eight minutes, speaks five lines and dies.
The film’s melodramatic view of the universe even-arguably-destroyed communism. President Reagan liked to call the Soviet Union the “evil empire,” and commissio-ned the “Star Wars” defence policy which broke the Soviet economy.
But not many critics in 1977 recognised this low-budget sci-fi film as any kind of classic. John Simon wrote: “O dull new world!… It is all trite characters and paltry verbiage.” Molly Haskell called it “childish.” Pauline Kael lamented that “it has no emotional grip.”
Most critics missed the appeal of Star Wars-that it was a fairy tale for a generation growing up without them. Lucas thought of it as a children’s film, then found that his odd collection of ideas from Arthurian legend and old movies appealed to adults too. Star Wars is certainly derivative, even Lucas admits that he pinched the plot from Kurosawa’s 1958 film, The Hidden Fortress. It does not contain terrific acting-although Harrison Ford has energy, and Alec Guinness adds gravitas. The dialogue is banal, and the mysticism about “the force” pretentious. Even the special effects are poor by modern standards.