Tuesday, July 21, 2015

840. Star Wars, "a 1977 space movie"

I've been reading a survey of war throughout recorded history, and came across a reference to the 1980s missile defense program, which was famously nicknamed Star Wars in honor of the popular films.  At that time, it was probably embraced with a laugh.

From today's vantage point, we can begin to consider a different context.  As a longtime lover of literature, I've constantly had to confront the notion of historical impact.  Many of the stories we read today come from days long past, and they've transcended their original contexts.  The origin of The Iliad has particularly interested me.  This is a presentation of the Trojan War, written centuries after the fact, credited to a man named Homer, who has undergone considerable skepticism over time.  Did he even exist?  Is it a matter of convenience that we ascribe The Iliad to him?  The existence of Troy itself was in great doubt until Heinrich Schliemann discovered its ruins.

Fans today quibble about Star Wars in every way possible.  They question George Lucas every time he revisits Han Solo shooting Greedo.  A hundred years from now, if anyone is still talking about Star Wars at all, will they even care?  This is the sort of thing I think about.

Will it become a footnote, the way the military survey handled it, or will history be kinder, the way we presumably view Star Wars now in relation to the outdated missile defense system?  Does Lucas continue to be a visionary every time he tweaks his own work?  Because in time, if Star Wars endures at all, it will be revisited.  We're seeing new creators entering into the saga for the first time even now, something that was previously unthinkable (until you consider Lucas didn't direct the second and third movies).

Film is such an interesting topic.  We've seen multiple formats emerge in preserving it for home consumption.  Critics have routinely touted the early movies as enduring classics.  I've been wondering about that.  Some film-makers (Orson Welles) seemed to grasp the enduring nature of the medium, while others (the vast majority) were fine with the limits of their age, which become more and more obvious over time.  As an art-form, film has been nascent, and there's no other way to describe it, the youngest of the arts by far, something that was initially slow in development, but has taken great strides in the blockbuster age, the very era that has routinely seen critics bemoan the end of serious cinema.  Imagine if ambition were a crime in art.  So long, Da Vinci!

The better and more consistent the technique, the better films are in general.  If the medium becomes worthy of an enduring legacy, does it in fact become something that can credibly be envisioned as still being done in a hundred years?  And if then, are they still holding all the old movies as untouchable, the way some people today like to think of them?

Which is to say, is Star Wars as we know it truly sacred?  Or can multiple versions truly compete?  Fans, many of which are the original fans, consider Star Wars untouchable today, even by George Lucas himself.  In times to come, if it truly is untouchable, which is to say enduring, it will have to be more malleable.  The original versions might endure, but there will have to be others, if not to replace to originals, then to justify them.

Or it really will become a footnote in history, "a 1977 space movie."  Just another forgettable cultural ephemera.  History marches on!   


Pat Dilloway said...

I think Star Wars will endure as long as The Wizard of Oz or Gone With the Wind or Casablanca. An article I read recently talked about how in 1977 a lot of critics panned Star Wars but now it's a cornerstone of our culture. What changed is that people like you and I, the people who originally watched and loved Star Wars, have grown up and pushed the cultural thinking in a different direction. And those with kids are passing that down to their children and their children's children...

Anyway, it'd be funny if in 200 years people were studying Star Wars like the Iliad.

Tony Laplume said...

Well, it was also nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. The critics still knew him as the American Graffiti guy, a friend of Francis Ford Coppola, part of the whole new wave that included Spielberg.

The Armchair Squid said...

Star Wars will endure. I do tire of the tinkering, though. I hope the original theatrical version will always be available, at least.

Tony Laplume said...

Because of the continual uproar, it probably will be.


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