Saturday, May 26, 2007

A Long Time Ago In A Blog Far, Far Away

It’s been 30 years. On May 25, 1977, “Star Wars” hit the big screen and science fiction (or science fantasy, depending on how you view it) cinema hasn’t been the same since.
Pretty much everyone who was around then has a story about their first time seeing Lucas’ masterpiece and how it affected them.
For my part, I have an embarrassing confession to make: my first experience of “Star Wars” back in ’77 didn’t come from seeing it in the theatre. Nope. I was 3 at the time, and while my parents were perfectly happy to take me to see Disney’s “Pete’s Dragon”, they wouldn’t take me to “Star Wars”, no matter how much I begged, no matter that all my little friends were seeing it with their older siblings. They claimed that they thought I’d be scared, but my theory’s always been that they wouldn’t go because neither of them likes SF much, and they had no idea what this new film was about and how big it actually was. Took them a while to clue into that. So, I very clearly remember my disappointment at the time, and how I hung on every word from my friends and their big brothers who’d been to the film. Yep, I heard about groundbreaking “Star Wars” second hand. Cue the violins and please excuse me while I go and put a paper bag over my head in shame.
I also remember the TV trailers, but most of all, after the phenomenon really caught hold and the studio realized what it had… the merchandizing. “Merchandizing, merchandizing, merchandizing! Where the real money from the film is made!” to quote Yogurt from Mel Brooks’ “Spaceballs”. The collectible glasses from Burger King, the action figures, the glow-in-the-dark lightsabres, the colouring books, yes, even the 4-foot-tall inflatable Darth Vader punching bag. (none of which I still have, otherwise I’d be sellin’ them on ebay and retiring)
Luckily, I was fortunate enough to miss the hated holiday special.
But such was the power of the, er, force behind “Star Wars”, that even those second-hand experiences were enough to get me hooked.
In the end, I didn’t see “Star Wars” until after I’d seen “The Empire Strikes Back” (luckily in the theatre this time, on opening weekend – my parents let me skip out on a ball tournament to take me to that one – they’d learned their priorities by then).
That was at the dawn of the home video age when you could rent-out a player and bring it home with a couple of movies (the player itself was not a VHS or Beta – rather, something that played large-format discs about the size of a record in a square plastic sheath – I can’t recall if it was an early laser disc player or not). And while it wasn’t the big old cinema in Kitchener, we had good home-made popcorn, plenty of pop, and when the 20th Century Fox music finished and those first words appeared on the screen, the magic was all there.

And now for the bonus features:

“Star Wars” has inspired strong feelings in people over the years. Some worship it wish slavish devotion, camping out on theatre doorsteps days in advance of the premiers and filling their homes with every sort of collectible the Ranch can possibly license until there’s no room for anything else (I know a guy named Sean here in Vancouver who’s gleefully a member of that group). Some enjoy the films and watch them at least once a year (count me among this bunch). Some take it all in stride. And some loath it completely – or at least what Lucas has done to the series with the prequels and constant tinkering of the originals.
But I think one of the best legacies of “Star Wars” is the satire it’s inspired, showing that not only was it a strong creative, er, force in its own right, but that it could inspire others to create, and to create something to make us all laugh.
In the world of animation, “Family Guy”, “The Simpsons”, “South Park”, “Robot Chicken” and “Undergrads” have all had a poke at The Trilogy over the past few years. Before that, in the years immediately following the original three films, we saw “The Muppets” (true, not animation, but in many ways more in the spirit of animation than live action), “Muppet Babies” and “The Secret Railroad”. I’ll never forget Mr. Passenger pulling out an extension cord, plugging it into a wall socket and dueling it out with Vader on the “Star Wars” spoof episode of “The Secret Railroad” – it still cracks me up (I wish that series was available on DVD – sadly, it’s probably lost).
My favourite live action spoofs have always been the above-mentioned “Spaceballs” and pretty much any Kevin Smith movie because they all include “Star Wars” references or debates. Best line from “Spaceballs”: Dark Helmet: “And that is why evil will always win, because good is dumb!”
There are also many who give the nod to “Thumb Wars”, but I can’t comment ‘cause I haven’t seen it yet.
And, of course, I’m really looking forward to “Fanboys” (initially slated for August, but I think I’ve read it’s now on the roster for January – d’oh!). The premise alone is worth the price of admission.
That being said, regardless of whether you favour live action or animated spoofs, everyone who enjoys taking a gentle shot at “Star Wars” must bow in respect to the one that got the ball rolling… I am, of course, referring to that masterpiece known as “Hardware Wars”. The producers of this short wasted no time in getting their festival of potshots onto the screen – it was out in ’77 as well. How can you not love a film where flashlights were used in lieu of lightsabres – the same as all of us were doing in our basements.
Ladies and gentlemen, to quote Brooks again: “May the Schwartz be with you!”

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