it looks like it's on it's way at last. The original Star
Wars trilogy is strongly rumoured to be heading
for DVD some time next year, and for me the biggest plus
of this is that all those on-line petitions to prompt this
very event will cease and maybe those organising them can
move on and find something else to do.
course, with Star Wars now less a series
of films than an integral aspect of the Western cultural
identity and a post-modernist icon (everyone from Kevin
Smith to Bill and Ted to The
Simpsons have referenced it, Mel Brooks lamely sent
it up, and lest we forget, the name was hijacked by Ronald
Reagan for his idiotic 'Strategic Defence Initiative', an
orbiting missile platform to be constructed in space and
aimed at Earth under the usual guise of defence), this excitement
is all somewhat inevitable. So why on earth aren't I jumping
around with joy as well? Not your cup of tea, eh, matey?
Not so fast. My relationship with Star Wars runs as deep or probably deeper than most of its more vocal
modern fans. I was there at the very start, back in 1977.
Things were different then...
hard for a modern audience, especially one young enough
to regard the original Star Wars as an
"old film" (my God, I've heard than more than
once), to appreciate just what an event its release was in the UK back then. There was barely a soul on this island
that wasn't aware of it – its success in the US had been
record-breaking, and the excitement had powered over the
Atlantic like cinematic tsunami and was washing over everything
and everyone. They were counting down the days to its London
release on the national news each night. The country-wide
anticipation was extraordinary – I genuinely can't think
of a recent equivalent. Forget the Golden Jubilee – this
was working in London that Christmas, and as a cinema-obsessed
film student I was determined to get to one of the early
screenings, so queued at Leicester Square Theatre for two
hours to buy one of the last available advance tickets for
the third night (the first two nights were already gone).
While I was queuing, the film itself arrived in huge steel
cans. The buzz that went through the gathered minions was
something to hear.
night of the screening the atmosphere was electric. News
cameras were still outside the cinema recording the assembled crowds,
which were full of ticketless hopefuls in search of a way
in, something the touts were doing their best to supply.
I was even approached, but I was already sorted, and by then my
ticket was as valuable to me as Wonka's Golden Ticket was
to Charlie Buckett.
you've never been to Leicester Square Theatre then be aware
that it is huge, and cramming every seat with excited cinemagoers
creates an electricity that you almost believe you could
reach out and touch. The lights went down, a "long
time ago..." style intro came up and the audience drew
a collective gasp of breath, which exploded into laughter
when this was revealed to be not the start of the film,
but a topically tagged-on intro to a Cadbury's Smash commercial.
These were hugely popular at the time, and featured a set
of ludicrously comical robots who would fall about laughing
at the attempts by primitive humans to bash their potatoes
to bits instead of using this actually rather horrid instant
the film ran. If you weren't there, then I'm sorry, but
you'll never know the sheer joy of seeing Star Wars for the first time on a massive screen with a thousand or
so other enthusiasts – it's something that made an extraordinary
impression on me and will be there for ever. I saw the film
nine more times at the cinema over the next three years.
I just knew I would never tire of it.
those days, of course, the film was a one-off called Star
Wars and I was a lot more innocent than I am today.
I'd yet to read Joseph Campbell's The Hero's Journey and
knew little of the work of Tzvetan Todorov, Vladimir Propp
or Christopher Volger. If you teach narrative and genre,
then Star Wars is a great example to work
with because it follows all of the rules, has all the stock
characters, and they behave in all the programmed ways. Star
Wars retells and updates elements from folk tales
hundreds of years old, repackaged with wit, style, and a
real knack for how to tell a story. It was after the dust
had settled that Lucas announced that what he (now) really
wanted to do was make a nine-film saga, of which this was
the fourth part. What would follow next was parts five and
years later two things happened. The sequel, The
Empire Strikes Back, arrived, and Star
Wars was no longer the title of a single film,
but the whole series. The title of the first film was changed
to A New Hope. A New Hope?
Do me a favour. Even as a secondary title that blows, and would
Lucas seriously have considered releasing the film with
that moniker before it became the multi-million dollar success
it by then was? But no matter, there was a second Star
Wars film. My closest friend went nuts for it.
"It's better than the first one!" he enthusiastically
told me. Better than Star Wars? Oh wow!
How could this be possible? Ah, well...
of The Empire Strikes Back delighted me,
but just as much annoyed me. I liked the darker edge, I
liked the fact that we started in the middle of a losing
battle, I liked the development of Han Solo, I liked Luke
Skywalker's self-doubt. But early on I began to worry –
The Force had gone from being a space age flower power to some
telekinetic magic, Imperial Walkers looked impressive but
seemed idiotically impractical (there was no surprise
on my part when the rebels were able to trip one up) and Obi-Wan was dead,
so bringing him back as a ghost seemed like one of those
Saturday Morning Picture cheats when the character you saw
go off a cliff one week was shown jumping out of the car
Saturday. And then there was Yoda. I know this is going
to prove controversial in some quarters, but I was watching
a sequel to a film I had loved and I was being asked to
believe that the greatest warrior of all was a bloody muppet,
and a supremely irritating one at that. Get on my nerves,
you will! I wasn't alone here. John Brosnan, writing in
the once excellent genre magazine Starburst, also expressed
extreme irritation, remarking tellingly that "a little of him
goes a long way." But the final blow was the ending.
It may seem all very well now, but that "to be continued"
ending really pissed me off at the time. Matrix
Reloaded fans may get twitchy waiting six months
to find out what happened (and let's face it, that wasn't
worth it), so imagine having to wait three years.
I did. Eventually Return of the Jedi arrived,
but not without a title change. Apparently Revenge
of the Jedi was rejected because Jedi Knights would
be too noble to seek revenge. Groan. This whole Jedi thing
was starting to be taken way too seriously. But
I went, and to the opening night at the Dominion, Tottenham
Court Road. Though lacking the national excitement of the Star Wars (sorry, A New Hope)
release, this was still an event – fans were turning up
dressed as characters from the film, including Luke, Han
and even a few Imperial Stormtroopers. People cheered the
heroes, booed the villains, laughed like hyenas at every
quip, and danced in the aisles when the Emperor was killed.
It wasn't a film show, it was a celebration. The second
viewing, without all the brouhaha of the premiere, was a
more sobering experience. Muppets were everywhere, Harrison
Ford was camping it up impossibly, the whole film seemed
to be winking at the audience in places, yet another sequence
was adapted from Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress,
the ending seemed cribbed from Three Comrades,
and as if "I am your father" wasn't enough in Empire (that was always bollocks anyway,
and lots to silly theories flew around to explain the dialogue
in the first film that clearly indicated Lucas had no idea
he was going to do that back then), then Leia was his sister!
No bloody way.
now Lucas had made a fair amount of money out of me alone.
I'd seen Star Wars ten times, Empire three times, and Jedi twice. Later
I saw all three at a special trilogy screening. Twice. Then
video came along and the trilogy was released and I bought
it, despite the then considerable expense. Then there was
a video re-release in widescreen, something new to home
video. So I bought these too. I watched the videos, and
soon enough the films came to TV, and despite being 4:3
cropped prints I watched them again. And
then it was announced that all three films would be re-released
in the cinemas with new, added special effects! Now by this
point I was starting to run out of steam. I'd seen Star
Wars so many times, had seen so many bits of it
copied or parodied, that I knew every single shot and line
of dialogue, every musical cue, every facial twitch. That
glorious third night was a distant memory whose magic had
been severely diluted by a combination over-exposure and
experience. I had seen a huge number of films in the mean
time and a far wider range than I had experienced on that
first viewing. I had a developed a different definition of just what
constituted 'innovative' or 'amazing'. But I went to the
Special Editions anyway. Some of the magic was still there,
and it was good to see the films large again after so much
video, but the additions were almost all completely superficial.
They were there not because George needed to add them, but
simply because he could. For the first time I did not buy
the videos, but we all have birthdays, and they were nonetheless
bought for me. In all the years I've owned them, I have
watched them only once. By now, the relentless reviewing,
endless spin-off merchandising and external referencing
had made the Star Wars franchise too familiar,
too everyday. I'd finally reached the point where a movie
I once loved had nothing more to offer me. For me, its time
had come and gone. I, and I thought the world – with the
exception of those Star Wars obsessives
who are still to this day on a long quest to find a life
– had moved on. Well, not quite.
when it all really turned sour. Lucas made The Phantom
Menace. I know the film has its supporters, but
you won't find any here. Camus was working Los Angeles at
the time of its release and went to see it at the city's
most famous venue, Graumann's Chinese Theatre. He emerged
a very unhappy man. Not as unhappy as I. It was hard to
believe this was even distantly related to the film I first
fell in love with. The Phantom Menace –
with a title even lamer than A New Hope – stank. If evidence was needed that this franchise's time
was over, this was it, but to make sure we got the message,
Lucas made Attack of the Clones. Another
crap title and, despite the "it's an improvement on
the last one" apologists, another piss-poor film. Peter
Biskind in his excellent book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls persuasively traced the virtual death of modern creative
mainstream US cinema to studio greed inspired by the phenomenal
commercial success of Star Wars. It is
perhaps both ironic and appropriate that Lucas himself,
with these two films, was to provide some of the most convincing
evidence of this decline.
with one more still to go, the final three of the series
now apparently abandoned, Star Wars has
gone from being a cinema event to a corporate business,
growing fatter and more faceless with each movie, with each
tie-in model, schoolbag, duvet cover, toy light sabre, Star
Wars MacBurger. And so no matter how crammed with extras
the DVDs are when they appear, how lovely the transfers
are, how subwoofer-thumping the inevitable THX sound remix
is, I'm afraid that the very, very wealthy Mr. Lucas has
had enough of my money. Especially as, twenty-seven years
later, he has yet to offer me anything new for it.