Innovation Star Wars -- the Birth Term Paper

Pages: 5 (1647 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  Level: College Sophomore  ·  Topic: Film

Innovation

Star Wars" -- the birth of the modern movie blockbuster and directorial control

What do these words mean to you: "Long, long, ago, in a galaxy far, far away?" Where were you when you saw your first "Star Wars" film? Did you have a "Star Wars" lunchbox -- or pretend that a rolled up newspaper was a light-saber? "Star Wars" (1977) has become such a ubiquitous part of our culture it is easy to forget the impact it had when it was first released. "Anyone who saw the first trilogy...in their youth has had their psyche stamped with the movies' imagery, language and ideas. Darth Vader, the Force, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Obi-wan, Jedi knights, light-sabers and Yoda occupy shelf space in the imaginations of, well, billions of people" (Sibley, 2007).

On one hand, "Star Wars" is a very simple film. It is a fable, about a young man who goes out into the wilderness and comes back a hero. But film critic Roger Ebert compares the film to "Birth of a Nation" and "Citizen Kane" in the impact it had upon movie history. He calls "Star Wars" a "technical watershed" because of the way that it influenced movies ever after (Ebert, 1999). Like "Birth of a Nation" and "Citizen Kane," "Star Wars was technically innovative" (Ebert, 1999). The film changed the way movies used special effects to create a fantasy world. For example, "Star Wars' was the first to pan a camera across a star field," rather than show a fixed screen when creating a shot of the night sky (Sibley, 2006). Like "Birth of a Nation" Lucas' film capitalized on technological innovation in "developing language of shots and editing," and like "Citizen Kane" it used "advanced sound, a new photographic style and a freedom from linear storytelling" (Ebert, 1999).

It would not have been so technically influential, however, if "Star Wars" had not also "melded a new generation of special effects with the high-energy action picture... link[ing] space opera and soap opera, fairy tales and legend, and packaged them as a wild visual ride (Ebert, 1999). The film was technically innovative, yes, yet a good old-fashioned Western at heart.

When "Star Wars" came onto the scene in the 1970s, a gritty style of drama was popular with critics and move-goers. Outlaw cinema that defined normative codes of behavior was en vogue during the post-Vietnam era. Then with "Star Wars" came the era of move-as spectacle. Ebert writes: "Star Wars'" effectively brought to an end the golden era of early-1970s personal filmmaking" where character-driven dramas were 'king' (Ebert, 1999). Ever since its release "Star Wars" has been "blamed for derailing the second Golden Age of Hollywood move-making, ending the era of works such as "The Godfather" and "Taxi Driver" and shifting sensibilities to "juvenile fantasy, spectacle, and romanticism' (Ebert, 1999)

The characters of "Star Wars" are openly and unapologetically cartoonish. Even the easily redeemed cynicism of Han Solo hardly grates on the viewer, as he becomes a good guy, rather than an outlaw figure by the end of the first film. What jarred critics at the time were not the film's character studies but that America was ready for such a simplistic yet epic piece of cinematic entertainment. "Star Wars" was an event to go and see the film in the theater, and came to justify the existence of large, sprawling multiplexes. People waited in line for days to see it again and again. The film was unabashedly not a grown-up film. "It located Hollywood's center of gravity at the intellectual and emotional level of a bright teenager," as is evidenced by the action figures it spawned, and "focused the industry on big-budget special-effects blockbusters, blasting off a trend we are still living through. But you can't blame it for what it did; you can only observe how well it did it. In one way or another all the big studios have been trying to make another" (Ebert, 1999).

Unlike these later blockbusters films, like "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Jurassic Park" and "Independence Day," "Star Wars" was not forecast to do well, and fundamentally, despite its reliance upon special effects: "It's a good-hearted film in every single frame, and shining through is the gift of a man who knew how to link state of the art technology with a deceptively simple, really very powerful, story" (Ebert, 1999). Lucas believed in his story: Lucas "said he deliberately made his movies for adolescents because it is they who need stories to help make sense of their lives," like myths of old, and "societies have a whole series of stories to bring adolescents into adulthood. These lessons are continually handed down from generation to generation" (Sibley, 2007)

It is easy to forget that Lucas was an independent filmmaker at the time, famous for his youth-oriented small picture "American Graffiti," a sentimental homage to 1950s American teenage life. Lucas was willing, unlike some young American filmmakers, to work inside the studio system, if only to finance his ambitious project and his tastes were popular, not of an auteur's sensibility. However, like an auteur, Lucas demanded total creative control and said the film would express his vision, and his vision alone. "When Lucas negotiated his deal with 20th Century Fox to make 'Star Wars," the studio was shocked to learn that the hot director was not asking for a lot of money. Instead, Lucas wanted control. He wanted to have the right to the final cut of the film, 40% of the net box-office gross, all rights to future sequels and ownership of all the merchandising rights associated with Star Wars" ("The History of Star Wars," Supershadow, 2007).

This was an unprecedented arrangement between a relatively unknown filmmaker and a major studio like Fox. Although "American Graffiti" had been a tremendous success, it was Lucas' only major success to that date. Lucas had already gone to every studio in Hollywood, and all had passed on the project except for 20th Century Fox. Fox gave Lucas $10 million to make what is perhaps the most influential film in the history of cinema. Fox thought Lucas' financial request was absurd, especially, "at the time, "science fiction films were not very profitable" ("The History of Star Wars," Supershadow, 2007). In fact, Lucas later recalled Fox thought they were ripping him off, because "sequel and merchandise rights to science fiction films," in fact for almost any film in general "were worthless at the time. In the end, this deal would eventually make Lucas a billionaire and cost Fox an untold fortune in lost revenues" ("The History of Star Wars," Supershadow, 2007).

Surely, you ask, Hollywood had produced blockbusters and spectacle films before? What about "Gone with the Wind"? However, previous blockbusters-in-training were generated by the studio system, often with longstanding hype even before the film's cast had been settled upon. Also, these spectaculars were one-time affairs, and aimed at a largely adult audience. Children's cinema was disposable and cheap and toys and sequels for expensive films (unlike old serials like "Flash Gordon") were unheard of, as was backing a relatively small Hollywood directing talent.

After "Star Wars" the director and his vision were now the guiding hand of the blockbuster. Other than Harrison Ford, "Star Wars" spawned no notable stars. It was undeniably Lucas' brainchild, for better or worse. Again, this itself was not so unusual for smaller films, or for established avant-guard directors like Stanley Kubric, but an independent director-dominated popular film was an innovation -- and would be replicated again, in due course by Steven Spielberg. In fact, it took Spielberg's "E.T." (1982) to outgross "Star Wars." Even though "Star Wars" was initially released in only 32 theatres in the United States, Star Wars grossed $3 million in ticket sales in the first week.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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