On December 18th, 2015, Star Wars awakened once again; a pivotal moment for the last decade of mainstream entertainment. And what made The Force Awakens a graceful, triumphant return was the fact that it was both a nostalgic trip back home for all those who were already invested in the Star Wars franchise, and also a call to people closer to my age to partake in its broad cinematic legacy.
I remember skipping a whole day of high school with my friends so that we could head straight to Disneyland in the morning, and then to AMC so that we could get the best seat possible in that bustling theater. I already had a history with Star Wars because of my family’s expansive DVD collection, but I was particularly eager to finally have a new trilogy of these films to call my own. I was wearing a quickly thrown together Han Solo costume, I got seated in the middle row, with only my friend and a bag of m&ms at my side when the projector lit up. My eyes gleamed up at the opening crawl, for I was ready to be transported once again to that galaxy far, far away– content with knowing that people like me had a place amongst those stars.
And when I came home from the cinema and fired up the Tumblr log in screen so I could write my first post about how much I loved the new Star Wars, I wasn’t aware of how that love would, in retrospect, become my first steps into a larger world of fandom.
Star Wars fans and critics alike have been drawing parallels between The Hidden Fortress and Star Wars since it premiered; each story is told from the perspective of the lowest two characters, they utilize transitional horizontal wipes between scenes, two former best friends must fight as bitter enemies, the list goes on. Lucas even considered Toshiro Mifune to play the part of Ben Kenobi, and has admitted the large influence that The Hidden Fortress and other Kurosawa films had on his own work. When I first watched The Hidden Fortress, the parallels that immediately struck me most were the similarities between Princess Yuki and Princess Leia.
In both Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress (1958) and George Lucas’ Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977), a princess plays a significant role. Kurosawa’s Princess Yuki resides in the titular “hidden fortress,” patiently awaiting her chance to move to more friendly Hayakawa territory, while Princess Leia is captured by Darth Vader while on her way to transmit plans to help the rebel alliance defeat the imperial empire. Both princesses have moments playing both the damsel in distress and the badass; however, Kurosawa and Lucas deal with these character archetypes in different ways.
One would expect that a film should be critiqued on its own merits, but sometimes outward factors force the film to be observed in a new light. In the case of Solo: A Star Wars Story, its troubled production history is impossible to ignore. Original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were reportedly fired by Kathleen Kennedy over their shooting style—their improv-heavy methodology not exactly sliding with the well-oiled machine of Lucasfilm. Rumours were also circulating that an acting coach was hired for Alden Ehrenreich—a painfully ironic mirror to the actor’s role in Hail, Caesar! as a young movie star struggling to give a good performance. Its reputation as an unrivaled disaster occluded the final product itself. Would that it were so simple.
Walking into the Grand Lumiere for a repeat gala screening—and feeling more glamorous than I ever will—what I was thinking (other than “DO NOT FALL OVER”) was: “Can they really salvage a good film out of this?” Replacing Lord and Miller with Ron Howard seemed like the safe option—and it really was. Ron Howard’s career as a director is dominated by films that are generally well-liked but are rather unremarkable. He’s prolific too, and so his films maintain a middling quality that means they leave the cultural conversation as quickly as they entered (does anyone actually remember In the Heart of the Sea?). My expectations with Ron Howard at the helm were met, but I was still disappointed. Star Wars films shouldn’t just be solid, they should be exhilarating, but emotionally resonant—and that is nowhere to be seen with Solo. What is revealed by this replacement is that the puppet masters over at Lucasfilm prefer a director who won’t step out of line over a director with a fresh, innovative perspective. Solo: A Star Wars Story is so concerned with playing it safe and appealing to the masses that the end result is wholly underwhelming. To put it bluntly, Solo is downright bland.
Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner has always seamlessly incorporated his love for classic cinema into the band’s music — even back in the day when they were singing about drunken nights out in Sheffield. Ennio Morricone, in particular, has been a sort of muse for the songwriter, discernible from the organ sample in 505 which is lifted directly from The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly and the orchestral flourishes of Turner’s side project The Last Shadow Puppets. But Arctic Monkeys’ newest album, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, may be their most overtly cinematic output yet. The record is an ambitious and stunning piece of world-building. The sound — laid-back, Bowie-esque, piano-heavy tunes, reminiscent of jazz lounges and hotel lobbies — is light years away from the catchy guitar hooks that have dominated their oeuvre. Tranquility Base is a giant middle finger to the weighty expectations following the astronomical success of AM; a liberation from being pigeonholed as the saviour of rock ‘n’ roll. It’s a sprawling retro sci-fi odyssey that George Lucas could’ve concocted himself — imagine Finn and Rose taking a detour to a casino on the moon instead of Canto Bight and you’ve got the vibe nailed.
There are few film series as iconic as George Lucas’s ‘Star Wars’. It has spanned generations and shows no signs of stopping, with ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ coming out in just a few weeks. This franchise has given us heroes, villains, an iconic film score, and JarJar Binks. To celebrate May the Fourth, Much Ado is looking back at our favorite ‘Star Wars’ moments and why they resonant with us.
Llewyn – Binary Sunset, ‘Episode IV: A New Hope’
‘Star Wars’, for me, has always been about the spectacle of adventure and discovery first and foremost. These movies, like the serialized “Flash Gordon” entertainment they are inspired by, are an escape from mundane reality and into a world of whimsical beauty. When we first meet our hero, Luke Skywalker, he is a moisture farmer on Tatooine searching for a higher purpose. This iconic moment, closing off the first act of the film, shows Luke looking off into the setting dual sunsets of his home planet. The iconic John Williams score kicks in as we close up on Luke’s face. What awaits him out there in the galaxy, past these burning stars? Will he ever get the opportunity to rise up? Is that in his destiny? This is a true defining moment for this franchise, one that represents empathy, hope, curiosity, and ambition. Regardless of where we come from in life, maybe we are destined for more.
Mary Beth – Fight Above the Sarlacc Pit, ‘Episode VI: Return of the Jedi’
Whenever I think of Star Wars, this is the first scene that comes to my mind. Just thinking about those quick, deep notes that play as the camera cuts to each character right before Luke jumps gives me goosebumps. Then, he jumps, R2D2 shoots out Luke’s lightsaber, and all hell breaks loose. Chaos reigns as Luke, Lando, Han, and Chewie all push their guards into the Sarlacc’s gaping maw. And who could forget Princess Leia? While the men are brawling, she single handedly strangles Jabba the Hutt with the chains used to imprison her, all while in a bikini. Talk about iconic. Even in the face of tentacled pit monster, the Force will always win.
Kareem – Luke confronts Vader, ‘Episode VI: The Empire Strikes Back’
‘The Empire Strikes Back’ is a brilliant film, which gradually builds and builds in terms of world building, excitement and narrative tension. All of that climaxes in the arguably most well-known moment in modern pop-culture. But the impact of the infamous twist doesn’t come out of nowhere. There is some truly masterful filmmaking that leads up it – especially in terms of sound design.
Kershner decided to show an, for the franchise, extremely rare degree of restraint in terms of score. Instead; we get a audial texture consistent of Vader’s breathing, the humming of machinery and the sounds of colliding lightsabers. While there is dialogue too, there are moments, where human silence reigns, and we see these characters being subjected to the mystery of their surroundings, and perhaps to the circumstances, that brought them, a father and a son, into a situation that poses them as enemies to each other.
Mary Beth – Snokes’ Throne Room, ‘Episode VIII: The Last Jedi’
I’m weak for monochromatic set design, so you can imagine how Snokes’ throne brought me to my metaphorical knees. Rick Heinrichs, production designer for ‘The Last Jedi’, said that the idea behind the design was “to make anybody looking at it, whether they’re Resistance or anybody else, go weak in the knees.” I would say that goal was achieved. Besides the production value, this scene is a turning point for Rey. Her struggles throughout ‘The Last Jedi’ challenge what we’ve seen throughout the ‘Star Wars’ franchise, where good and evil, Jedi and Sith, were binaristic ways of thinking; we always knew who to cheer for. But now, it isn’t so clear. As Kylo Ren raises his hand and asks her to join him, there is doubt about what she will do. But she won’t succumb to his manipulation, knowing that despite coming from nothing, she still has an important part to play in this story.
Llewyn – The Boy and the Broom, ‘Episode VIII: The Last Jedi’
George Lucas, as infamous as he was for creating the prequels, once said that “[‘Star Wars’] is like a poetry, it rhymes.” Lucas’s Star Wars was about the Skywalkers, he centered an entire galaxy of characters on one specific family and their generational impact. Rian Johnson’s ‘The Last Jedi’ challenges all of those previous notions of legacy and patriarchy the prequels explored. In doing so, Rian gave the force back to the fans. Rey learns, same as we do, that you don’t need to come from a lineage of Jedi to become a hero. The ending scene to this subversive chapter in the ‘Star Wars‘ saga shows the abused child laborers we were introduced to back on Canto Bight, telling stories of the mythical Luke Skywalker before getting yelled at to continue cleaning. A boy, in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, grabs a broom using the force while no one was looking. The force theme plays as he looks into the sky. Sound familiar? This moment is a perfect encapsulation of everything ‘The Last Jedi‘ means. But as subversive as it was, it maintains the rhythm Lucas created.
Kareem – Holdo’s Sacrifice, ‘Episode VIII: The Last Jedi‘
Rian Johnson’s franchise-redefining masterpiece ‘The Last Jedi’ has an overarching refocus of the narrative towards the purpose, goals and the urgency of the rebellion. Since the prequels barely had a narrative of systematic rebellion, and the original trilogy tried to rather use it as a set-up for it’s grand, character-focused adventure arc, this might be only the second time (after ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’, which sadly didn’t quite hit the mark), that the rebellion as a concept is pulled into the spotlight. Johnson tries to grasp, what rebellion against a system means. It’s a fight that is very slight in terms of perspective. But exactly that last spark of perspective turns out to be the essence, and the task of the rebellion. When Admiral Holdo, wonderfully played by Laura Dern, crashes the commanding ship of the rebellion as the last remaining person onboard, into the First Order’s Star Destroyer, she unleashes the biggest spark imaginable. It’s a major breaking point in the narrative, and it reshapes the story arc of every other character in the film completely. Her altruism during that moment is specifically what keeps the rebellion alive.
“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” – Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde quotes are often considered somewhat corny, but they can be quite poignant at times. In Brian Selznick’s novel Wonderstruck, a stunning work about finding one’s place in the world, the quote is pinned to a bulletin board. Ben, a young boy, will never forget about it. He is still a child and not quite able to grasp its meaning yet, but it sticks.
The stars always have been fascinating to mankind. Despite the fact, that we are nowadays able to fall back on scientific explanations and purge their mysterious shine into something less romantic, something very special inhabits the thought, that we can all look up and see them during a clear night. In that moment, it doesn’t matter who we are, where we come from and where we go. Thousands of us are gazing at the endlessness of existence and time and it calms us, because it makes us realize how small we are. This is not the most soothing thought on first glance, but it also implies that everything is possible and nothing is forever. Human suffering will never end, but we will always have these small moments that make it worth and they will come eventually. We just have to hope.
It’s something inherently human, but when the opressing systems surrounding us get too suffocating, most people don’t even dare to rise their head anymore. That’s the moment when all hope is lost, and people lose their human drive. The drive to make things better, to keep on fighting, to be happy. The complex and intertwined injustices of this world, destroy all the beautiful things that we are capable of inside. The stars become merely meaningless matter, floating through space, exactly like us.
The big picture is always depressing, but we as humans have (mostly) learned to push that aside and focus on the small things, like love and wonder. They make our stay on here worthwhile, and that’s why they are often what drives us into devastation. This world can often feel loveless and devoid of hope. We are too detached from each other to permanently express the love we need ourselves. And yet, we’re all in this together. We are all a part of what makes it so beautiful and worthwhile and terrifying and painful. It’s all inclusive in the experience of human existence. Some of us have the possibility to create something beautiful and inspiring, a spark that reignites the light in people that have already given up to some degree. Even when the spark eventually goes out, we have succeded as soon as we pass it on. That spark is what keeps us alive, because it’s hope for the future and it’s the reason we rebel against the status quo.
It feels very strange to open an essay on a Star Wars film like this.