Monday, May 28, 2007

Thirty Years of the Force

Star Wars turned 30 this weekend.

Wired's Luddite saw it for the first time recently and didn't like it. It is impossible for me to judge the original movie, I've seen it too many times. I know that at the time I loved it as did the rest of the world. The Luddite's reaction is not uncommon for people who did not see it when it was new. This is partly a measure of its success.

Here's a list of everything released in 1977. There are several memorable films. Anne Hall won best picture and influenced fashion for years. Close Encounters cemented Speilberg's reputation as a populist director. Still, Star Wars is the one remembered thirty years later.

I will admit that some of the dialog is bad. We could forgive it then because people expected bad dialog in science fiction movies. The fact that we expect more from science fiction now is part of Star Wars' success.

If you look over the list of movie from the 1970s, you find a few things:

  1. Most science fiction was poorly done. The movies were slow and unapproachable.
  2. Special effects were poor.
  3. Action movies in general were at a low point. Most featured a single anti-hero and a lot of car chased. Examples are Smokey and the Bandit and The Gauntlet.

Star Wars was a throw-back to a style of adventure movie that vanished in the 1960s - a clearly defined fight between good and evil with a lot of action thrown in. To this classic formula it added a level of special effects never seen before.

Star Wars made a lot of money. Studios noticed and tried to copy it. Most attempts in the 1970s and early 1980s flopped. There is a lot more to making a good adventure movie than special effects.

Eventually a new generation of directors figured it out. The current blockbusters, movies like Spider-Man and Pirates of the Caribbean exist because of this.

That's why it is so hard to judge the original Star War now. It no longer stands out. It redefined the adventure movie but many of its successors hold up better.

But, how many of them will be noticed when they turn 30?

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