Star Wars episodes 4, 5 and 6

I never went to see Star Wars in a movie theater when it originally came out. Later, I saw parts of the earlier films (not sure how that happened), and some of the later films, complete. What with a new one recently released, and some talk of it on forums, I thought it was time to add the original three films to my collection, and watch them all the way through.

I found somewhat to my dismay that the original films are not available in digital format; newer sequences have been added (replacing the original ones) in almost all digital releases except for maybe one that is almost impossible to get a copy of. Star Wars devotees have gone so far as to reconstruct digital versions of those movies that are closer to the originals, risking copyright infringement attacks.

I settled for a modern copy – blue-ray plus DVD – from Walmart. Friday night I sat down and watched them, one after another.

Background (per Wikipedia, of course)

The first film in the series, originally entitled just “Star Wars,” was released 25 May 1977. It was created by a man named George Lucas. He was a filmmaker and had already made some other films, but had been working on the Star Wars idea for quite some time. He had always envisioned it as a series, but could only land a contract to make three films. Thus, he modified the story of the first film (the fourth in his series) so that it could stand by itself if it had to. He then sought help from other writers to develop the follow-up screenplays. His first helper was a woman named Leigh Brackett, a legendary science fiction writer who was over 60 when Lucas asked for her help. She had been married to and collaborating with Edmond Hamilton, a man 10 years her senior, since 1946. Hamilton was associated with the editor Farnsworth Wright who worked for Weird Tales magazine, was a Californian born in 1888 and had seen action in World War 1.

How these people got their inspiration for their work and story picks is not much discussed in their online biographies, yet is of interest to me.

But to continue with the background story: Lucas is a Californian from Modesto, about 10 years older than me. After he graduated USC’s School of Cinematic Arts with a Bachelor of Fine Arts (1967) he tried to join the Air Force and then the Army. They turned him down due to disqualifications. He resorted to instructing a documentary cinematography class for the U.S. Navy. I find this fascination with the military odd and unexplained. It has been noted that many artists who began their careers in the 1960s were connected with the military.

Lucas is said to have been influenced by Joseph Campbell, a scholar in comparative religion who in turn was influenced by many noted “modern” thinkers. Lucas has characterized himself as a “Buddhist Methodist” and lives in Marin County, where there is a sizable enclave of successful people from the entertainment industry and related activities.

He ended up being the principle writer on all three of the original films, plus the prequel trilogy, produced much later.

The Story

Superficially, the movies are strictly Space Opera, Buck Rogers style, to a degree approaching camp. [Camp: banality, mediocrity, artifice, ostentation, etc. so extreme as to amuse or have a sophisticated appeal – my dictionary.]

They trace the adventures of one Luke Skywalker, a young man first unaware of his previous political connections, but sympathetic to the cause of the Rebel Alliance, a group opposed to the vicious rule of the Galactic Empire, which has developed a planet-killing weapon known as the Death Star which they hope will quell any remaining resistance. The Alliance has a plan to destroy the Death Star, and Luke ends up being key to its ultimate success.

An extensive string of major and minor additional characters fill the story with an almost unending stream of twists and turns. Ray guns are constantly being fired, space battles regularly occur, and ancient secrets are revealed, as the rebels and their antagonists chase each other through a universe (or galaxy) filled with a huge variety of beings, stars, planets and moons. Superluminal speeds are commonplace!

At the end of the first movie, the Death Star is destroyed, but the evil Darth Vader narrowly escapes the blast. This episode is now entitled “A New Hope.”

In the second episode, “The Empire Strikes Back,” Luke begins his training with Yoda as a Jedi knight, but interrupts it to go out and save his friends. During this episode Luke learns that Vader is his biological father.

The third episode, “Return of the Jedi,” first involves the group’s attempts to rescue Han Solo – a rascal but skilled pilot – from imprisonment, and ends on a moon called Endor, with a huge battle that, at the last minute, allows the rebels to destroy the second version of the Empire’s Death Star, incomplete, but functional. Luke learns that the rebel leader Princess Leia, is his twin sister. At the end there is great rejoicing as the area emerges from a long period of spiritual suppression.

According to the sequel stories, which begin 30 years after this (as all the actors from the original are now 30 years older), a new suppressive group called the First Order has emerged and attempts to gain control of the galaxy. This group is overtly inspired by the Nazis, according to writer/director J.J. Abrams, including the stories that they survived post-WWII in exile at various secret locations.

What I see as the most important theme

Superficially, this is just another epic Space Opera story. Its popularity, which has been almost unprecedented in the history of the film business, could be attributed to its central theme of good versus evil (where good always wins in the end), the skill of its story telling, and the attention paid by its creators to the details of cinematic art and technique.

But we should add a few other factors to the phenomenon of popular appeal: marketing push on the one hand, and on the other, the true depth of the human psyche.

What other films stand high on the list for popularity (by gross earnings)? Gone with the Wind, Avatar, Titanic, The Sound of Music, ET. And by franchise: Marvel (comic book superheros), Harry Potter, James Bond, Middle Earth, followed by many others involving magical powers.

Magic

To me, magic is the key theme in all these popular works.

I have been taught that at one time we were all capable of what today would be called “magic.” It can be broken down into a long list of spiritual abilities.

The appeal of stories involving magic lies, I think, in the abiding – if subconscious – question: Why don’t we have those abilities any more?

Almost all these stories address this question in a similar manner: Magic can be used for good or for evil. And because it can be used for evil, it is best left alone.

Most people, as much as they love these stories, would probably agree with this.

But is it true?

It is possible we are mistaken in some way about this. Star Wars gets as close to any popular story I know of in addressing this issue.

The Force

In Star Wars, the power of “magic” is in The Force. We are introduced to this concept in the scenes involving Luke’s Jedi training. The idea of such a Force is an ancient one, though I am by no means an expert in tracing the idea. However, its name betrays the slant of its namers. Force, in our language, is a physical phenomenon. However, the concept in one of its forms – that used by Frenchman Henri Bergson – élan vital (translated by materialists as “life force”) was translated by Bergson’s English translator as “vital impetus,” which is similar to Hubbard’s idea of a living urge, or an urge to be alive, or the simple essence of Life.

Thus, the whole Jedi concept may be purposely (or unwittingly) misleading. As a being becomes more and more disconnected from himself (or itself), and its own abilities, it will turn to material technologies to make up for its own loss of power. Its only power then becomes the threat of using those technologies on those it wishes to dominate. Those who refuse to be dominated can be exterminated, but that does not kill their love of freedom. Thus, most criminals end up concentrating on ways to substitute the love of freedom with more material attachments.

As the highest-level storytellers, we may suppose, are not interested in the spiritual freedom of their audiences, these films are not meant to help anyone achieve that, but only to “teach lessons.” And the primary lesson is that there is a Dark Side that is very powerful.

LRH has discovered that there is much more to this story than what these movies are showing us. I recommend his work for this and many other reasons.

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