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Star Wars, in many dimensions

The Phantom Menace has recently been re-released in 3D. Apparently, I’m meant to be outraged by this, which is odd, as I wasn’t that worried about it back in 1999 when it first came out. My friends and I made a day of it, and all in all, it was a pretty lovely day with nice food, good company and a decidedly average special effects film at the end. Many of my friends and acquaintances seemed outraged that the movie wasn’t very good, which confused me a fair bit, because as far as I’m concerned, none of the Star Wars films are that great1.

George Lucas has said in the past that the thing he loves most about the franchise is the fun that kids have playing with the various toys, and this tells us all we need to know; Star Wars is not only a brand, but an excuse to go out and play with our imaginations. By a combination of accident and design, it has become a way to indulge in escapism, in any way you prefer. The actual movies are neither here nor there. They simply open up a rich and detailed fantasy world, one created by a vast number of people, and I don’t just mean tie-in writers and game designers. The reason Star Wars persists is because anyone who has enjoyed anything with the Star Wars brand on it has used it to tell tales that they have come up with themselves.

This should have been your first clue to not take it so seriously.

The reason people got so angry about the The Phantom Menace was less to do with the quality of the feature and more to do with the fact that many of us had already written that movie in our heads, countless times.2 Few of us will have actually expressed that story in any meaningful way, but the joy of Star Wars is that it’s a fantasy world we can easily share with others. It’s easier to play let’s pretend when we’re all on the same page after all. George Lucas created an amazing sandpit for us to explore, and then years later, we begrudge him for trying to bring new toys to the playground, rather than just leaving those toys in the corner and getting on with hard work of making stuff up.

It also doesn’t help that the Star Wars franchise moved on from its motion picture origins long ago. They are table top games, computer games, cartoons, novels and a plethora of excuses to dress up as people from that world. Many try to compare one experience to another, without stopping to consider that it doesn’t matter how you’re telling a story, the fun part is the story, not the medium. Granted, some people tell the tale better than others, but if are willing to try, you can find a Star Wars inspired thing that will please you. Lucas created a shared world and a common language that we can all enjoy, if we’re inclined to do so.

Of course, he also used that franchise to make himself rich and the brand frequently gets rented out to sell us things we don’t need or want, but that’s civilisation for you, using Yoda to sell mobile phones is no more irksome than using Robin Hood to sell breakfast cereal.

So the next time someone asks you to care about Star Wars, ask yourself, is it the brand you care about, or the stories you can use that brand to tell?

1: I’ll concede that The Empire Strikes Back is a great bit of Science Fiction Fantasy, but as it’s sandwiched between two decent but not spectacular movies, it isn’t all that.
2: Had people come out of the The Phantom Menace with full Jedi powers and a fully functioning laser-sword light-sabre, they would have still have found something to complain about.

Categories: Geek, Movies
  1. Mejoff
    February 13, 2012 at 2:37 pm

    This is bourn out by Lucas’ reaction to the re-cut (massively improved) bersion available on Youtube. Stepping in before the monolithic force of Lucasfilm Legal could get rolling, he stated that he wanted nothing to happen to it, that he felt that it was a perfectly valid retelling, and that, as far as he was concerned, that was the important thing, because it’s what stories are for.

    Surprising, perhaps, from a major copyright holder. Not particularly, though, from a man who competely rewrote his first foray into blockbuster space opera to be more in line with Campbell Narrative Theory.

  2. Mejoff
    February 13, 2012 at 3:05 pm

    Worth pointing out though, that one of the biggest criticisms (fixed in spectacular style by the re-cut, demonstating how easily avoidable it was) was the hideously racist alien accents.

  3. February 13, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    A lot of peoples impression of the sanctity of the original is a product of their age at the time. However I still think the original trilogy is a fantastic series. However derivative the plot (farm boy/princess/pirate/empire) the films are fun and well-paced and (for the time) pretty impressive special effects.

    I think the problems with the prequels are the same as they are with the “Special Editions”. Too much exposition and too much gratuitous CGI. The limitations imposed on Lucas due to budget/technical ability helped him make a better film back then. You saw it in RoJ where Jaba’s palace is a re-run of the Catina but with a bigger budget. Once CGI made adding cute aliens easy he went a bit nuts.

  4. jfs
    February 13, 2012 at 5:03 pm

    lightsaber #corrections 🙂

  5. Andy Raff
    February 13, 2012 at 5:08 pm

    Nice article Ed. I hate Star Wars, but I like imagination. Go figure.

  1. May 4, 2012 at 12:07 pm

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