By Joel Davidson, Columnist
Let’s get one thing straight. Star Wars is crazy good. The films are beloved by millions upon millions of people (this writer included), and there are few works of fiction in our society that have birthed so many memorable quotes, characters, and sequences as that franchise has. It seems as if every child has wanted to be Han Solo, Luke Skywalker or Princess Leila at some point in time, and, after we were introduced to Yoda, questionable sentence structure never seemed so right.
But there’s a dark side to this unstoppable force of a film series. Indeed, much like the Death Star, Star Wars (though huge, awesome and laser-y) has destroyed a number of worlds in its time, starting with the release of the very first one in 1977.
During the 1970s, the American film industry experienced a golden age of artistic expression. This era saw groundbreaking and important films like “Easy Rider”, “A Clockwork Orange” and “Apocalypse Now” become financial successes as well as critical darlings. In fact, in the early 1970s, the highest grossing film of all time was none other than The Godfather, which is almost crazy to think about in today’s world. I mean, there aren’t any blue people in the movie at all!
Then, in the summer of ‘77, audiences were hit with a motion picture experience unlike any other. Star Wars came out, and space fever spread across the globe. Unfortunately, so did a number of other things.
The Hollywood producers who had previously been trying to finance respected directors and their passion projects finally realized the power of merchandising and special effects have over a large scale audience, leading to countless imitators that lacked the classic storytelling and enjoyable characters that made us fall in love with Star Wars in the first place.
And the mindset those imitators held has birthed the unfortunate box office trends that haunt us to this day. When you think about it, so much of the stuff we complain about in modern movies is really the fallout of Star Wars’s success: in-your-face marketing, overblown budgets, emphasis on special effects over story. Even the insanity of the dreaded summer blockbuster movie season is due to the fact that Star Wars came out during the summer and everyone else jumped on the bandwagon.
The release of the prequel trilogy also started an unfortunate trend. Regardless of what you think of the movies themselves, it’s easy to spot the abundance of green screen work and computer generated special effects littered throughout Episodes I-III. In fact, actress Natalie Portman once said that, during the making of Attack of the Clones, she couldn’t recall a single set which didn’t feature a green screen.
After the prequels also became successful, lots of films in the 2000s followed suit, placing a monumental emphasis on CGI over real locations and, unfortunately, realism. As a result, action scenes have become more ridiculous, landscapes have started to look more and more cartoony, and audiences have to work harder than ever before to suspend their disbelief.
Really, when you think about it, for all the joy it’s given us over the years, the galaxy far, far away has also brought a lot of heartache to the movie theaters close, close by.
But, thankfully, things are finally looking up again. The 007 movie Skyfall utilized tons of practical special effects and stunt work, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy had quite a few real sets built for the production, and it seems as if more artistically successful films are doing well financially these days.
Wait, isn’t there another Star Wars movie coming out soon?