Star Wars is Back
PHOTOGRAPHS BY ART STREIBER
Not very long from now in a theater not very far away...
It is a time of hope in the galaxy. In late December, Disney completed its purchase of Lucasfilm and announced that it would be making new Star Wars movies. Soon a director was found—JJ Abrams! The next episode is due in theaters in just two years. Suddenly the Saga is again full of possibilities.
New Jedis! New Darths! And a new chance to return the faded franchise to its former glory. But listen up, JJ: As you try to restore order to everyone’s favorite universe, you must beware—the forces of mediocrity, silliness, and CGI overkill never rest.
To help ensure your success, our band of rebels searched from Alderaan to Tatooine to find the
74 THINGS EVERY GREAT STAR WARS MOVIE NEEDS.
Do them. There is no try.
1. AN IMMERSIVE UNIVERSE
Comedian and superfan CHRIS HARDWICK on the epic story that shaped a generation.
"who is my favorite Star Wars character?" you may not be won-dering to yourself. Obviously I'm a sucker for the A-listers —Han, Chewie, Luke, R2-D2, Threepio, Ben, Leia Organa (most people forget she had a last name before we found out it was Sky-walker). They're the Avengers of the Star Wars universe (acceptable comparison—both Disney properties now). I'd even pour out a 40 of blue milk in memory of poor, doomed, mesquite-flavored Aunt Beru. But even though we see him for all of two minutes, my favorite character is in fact the astromech droid R5-D4.
Star Wars fanatics, take a paragraph break. Casual Star Wars likers, here's a weecapitulation (translation: short retelling): Owen Lars, Luke's uncle, meets the diminutive Jawa traders that Threepio can't abide (disgusting creatures!) while in search of new droids to help around the farm and keep the Larses' sand igloo less sandy. After an unceremonious lineup, Uncle Owen selects R5. The leveled head... the striking orange/ red bands... why wouldn't he? R5's moment has arrived. They have given the rose to the winner. All he has to do is roll in a straight line to Luke, an un-arcing victory lap, if you will. But guess who's not on any Star Wars posters or holiday specials or lunch boxes? That's right: Arfive emmer effin Defour.
He blows it. He craps out. "Bad motivator," Luke says. R5 drops the ball on the last yard marker of a playing field that would be a better sports reference if I understood sports. He's R2-D2's flat-topped, less-successful sassy relative. The Frank Stallone of droids. HD DVD to R2's Blu-ray. Craig Kilborn to R2's Jon Stewart (and C-3PO's Craig Ferguson). He's the droid who almost makes it.
I felt that. I lived that when I was growing up. Every time I had a shot at popularity, I fell on my face. My penchant for tournament chess was my bad motivator. I often wondered what could have been for R5-D4 while listening to the song "Could've Been" by Tiffany (a lie for comic effect). Also, I loved that you could theoretically stand him on his head.
My sordid past with R5-D4 illustrates a broader point: No matter what your degree of interest in Star Wars, it is possible to have a favorite character—a character you deeply identify with—who has absolutely nothing, really, to do with the movies. Classic Tale Alert! I saw Star Wars in the theater when I was a tiny human—tiny enough that I remember standing on the seat because I was so excited that I couldn't sit down. (A practice I would find to be frowned upon in my adult life.) I could drone on like a broken chain saw (well, broken in the On position and, I guess, with a magically unlimited power supply) about how the film changed my life. The company I founded, Nerdist Industries, coproduces an annual charity run called Course of the Force, in which a lightsaber is passed torchlike from nerd to nerd, starting at Skywalker Ranch in Northern California and ending in San Diego during, obviously, Comic-Con. I own an original film-crew shirt, Han-in-Carbonite ice trays, Sith saber chopsticks, and grown-up onesie footie pajamas—they're fleecy! I am, yes, a Fan.
But even people who don't claim fanboy status were probably grazed in some way by the most famous space tale in the histoiy of ever. It has so permeated our culture that if an asteroid took us out tomorrow, the sentient insectoid archaeologists of the distant future would probably find a stratified layer of droid pieces and Wookiee hands. I think I know why: The Star Wars universe feels bigger than the filmed story. The first movie felt like just one tale out of thousands that could have been told.
In videogames, they call that an open world. Playing the main character, you can go wherever you want, do whatever you want. Are there objectives and a score? Sure. But there are side quests— you can also take time out to, like, watch eight hours of in-game television. There are stories within stories within stories, and this is true of Star Wars as well—even without the aptly named Expanded Universe of Lucas-licensed books, comics, Legos, etc. Star Wars was an open-world game before there were open-world games.
Part of why that’s true is rampant consumerism. When it came time to turn Star Wars characters into toys, instead of making elaborate versions of just a few good guys and bad guys, toy company Kenner made everyone into an action figure. Luke and Han? Sure. But how about Twin Pod Cloud Car Pilot and Power Droid? I mean, something had to fill that Darth Vader-helmet carrying case (still have one). The aliens had the most robust detail of any movie aliens up to that point. So it didn’t matter if a creature was onscreen for four seconds—it had an action figure and was therefore in my Yoo-hoo-stained fingers. Having that tangible thing in my mitts inspired me to ask questions and fill in blanks. I learned to expand my own universe. It was personal fanfic, and it turned the stories in my head into Star Wars stories. The open world was now my sandbox, and I wanted to keep playing in it. If that meant buying every toy, well, so be it, because guess what? More stories.
An example: Let’s talk about Jabba the Hutt. Where did this chortling, felonious slobber-blob come from? Was it an entire planet of criminal gastropods, or was he just a middle child? Return oftheJedi won’t tell you, but a quick trip to Wookieepe-dia—a massive Star Wars wiki— tells you that his full name is Jabba Desilijic Tiure and he hails from the planet Nal Hutta (weirdly, not the original home planet of Hutt-kind). It seems that pretty much all Hutts are the slimy, cat-eyed dirt-bags they appear to be (does this make me racist?), with the exception of Beldorion, who has the distinction of being the only Jedi Hutt. You’ll find Beldorion listed under the heading of Notable Hutts, which is a name I swear I will call a band someday. This information took the place in my brain previously occupied by our 23rd president, Benjamin something-or-other.
If you’re wondering, like a good geek, whether all those stories count, here’s a little advice: Don’t. Don’t obsess about canon. Embrace the infinite stories Star Wars has provided and now will keep providing. Novels, comics, off-brand action figures from China... it’s all Star Wars.
In fact, in the orthodox Star Wars canon—which is to say, only the movies—R5 fails because he’s a piece of intergalacticjunk peddled by shifty junk dealers. Now, NPR’s 1981 radio dramatization of Star Wars suggests that R2-D2 intentionally sabotages R5-D4. That’s like being tripped in the lunchroom by the popular kids. (Do I identify? Identify I do.)
Here’s the interpretation I prefer: In the first issue of the comic Star Wars Tales, in September 1999, writer Peter David has a story that says R5-D4 was actually a Jedi named Skippy. David says R5 sabotages himself so Leia’s vital message can be put into the right hands. In other words, the little red droid might look like a bumbling dweeb, but on the inside, somewhere next to that blown motivator, is a wise and powerful hero willing to sacrifice his honor for the good of the galaxy. In David’s comic he gets killed, but let’s not worry about that, because in yet another tale, R5-D4 becomes a heroic Rebel spy in Mos Eisley and lives a long, successful life.
I may not be a Jedi—I may never wield a lightsaber or get imprisoned by Jawas—but I can internalize those values. In the end, all that time I spent in the Star Wars universe fostered galaxies of creativity and made me a better person here on Earth, because it taught me that everyone counts. That's why I can sincerely and with a straight face say: "May the Force be with you." (And if you happen to have been raised Catholic like I was, then it will be impossible for you not to reflexively respond, "And also with you.")
2. Fitting Deaths
Dignified / Painful: Electrocuted by Emperor while saving son.
Dignified / Quick: Cut down with lightsaber only to disappear and return as some sort of force ghost.
Humiliating / Painful: Digested slowly over 1,000 years by a Sarlacc in the great pit of Carkoon.
Humiliating / Quick: Sliced in half by a pissed off Jedi, Eaten by Jabba's pet Rancor while henchmen laughed.
ANYBODY CAN SWING a lightsaber—even Han Solo uses one to cut open a tauntaun. But for advanced butchery skills, talk to a Jedi. Those guys have finesse. You pull a gun, they pull a lightsaber, and vvrrzzt! Arm, meet floor. Aggro smuggler, hungry abominable snowman, Sith lord—whoever you are, you're walking out of here minus at least one appendage. It's a brand of badassery for Force-wielders only: "I don't need to kill you. I can just lop off the part of you that annoys me the most." (Unless you're C-3PO. Everybody dismembers C-3PO.) II But why? Severance pay is a universal currency, sure, but more likely the lightsaber's ability to instantly cauterize human wounds made it easier for Lucas and crew to slice and dice their way through a saga intended for the entire family. No blood, no foul, right? Let the (parts of) bodies hit the floor, -peter rubin
BY DAMON LINDELOF, SCREENWRITER, LOST CO-CREATOR
The Force requires no explanation.
Where it comes from. How it works. It doesn't matter. And it's time to stop piling on about midi-chlorians—they've taken more abuse than a Bothan spy. Instead, let's remember what the galaxy felt like before we ever heard of them. What it felt like was mysterious.
We forget how crucial the idea of mystery was to the original trilogy. Apart from the crawl, setting the stage for civil war, we were completely on our own. Our brains were exploding with questions. Who is Obi-Wan Kenobi? Why is he our only hope? What's up with this Lord Vader, and good God, what is going on under that helmet?
We knew nothing. Which is precisely why we were so willing to bond with a young moisture farmer named Luke Skywalker—he knew nothing either. Unaware that the droids his uncle had just purchased were critical pawns in the war raging across the galaxy, Luke was driven out into the desert not just by curiosity ("I wonder if he means old Ben Kenobi?") but by a deepening sense of his own destiny. And we couldn't help but wonder, was it a coincidence that this kid ended up with the one beep-boopy robot that could turn the tide of a galactic war—or was it fate?
This idea—that a cosmic force was guiding Luke along a path predestined yet shrouded in mystery ("Difficult to see. , Always in motion is the future.")—was the special sauce of Star Wars. The Force surrounded us and penetrated us and bound us all together. And yes, maybe that does sound a little porny now, but those were simpler times.
But the Force was far from simple. Nowhere was this made more clear than on Dagobah, a training ground where a tiny green Confucian would ask questions but rarely give answers. Yoda's lessons often gave way to deeper philosophical moments about good and evil, fathers and sons, love and hate. And yeah,I spent three years debating exactly what the hell happened in that cave. Do you remember what that felt like? Three years between Empire and Jedi. Years spent wondering if Vader was telling the truth about being Luke's father. What Jabba would do with his carbonite slab of Solo. What Yoda meant when he told Obi-Wan, "There is another." Another? Seriously? Another what?!
I'm finally wondering again. In just a few years, I will once more travel to a long time ago, to a galaxy far, far away. I have no idea what will happen when I get there. It's a mystery. And I wouldn't have it any other way.
John Williams' score was real music for a grounded reality: a dirty, distant galaxy with machines that looked used. It had a character-based musicality. The music kicks in and you're like, "Oh, some stormtroopers are definitely going to be around." Music themes today are so digital and clean, they've lost that.
OF THE numerous gnarly ways to die in the Star Wars universe, where even an agile Jedi runs the risk of being struck by an AT-AT blast or tossed into a sarlacc's gaping maw, perhaps none are as scary— or as simple—as the Choke. Any Vader-aping kid knows how the Choke works: By placing his thumb and forefinger an inch or so apart, Darth could use the Force to suffocate whatever bungling underling happened to be putting a twist in his cape that morning. Part of what makes the trick so nifty is its almost theatrical simplicity: In a franchise full of high-sheen visual effects, the Choke was proof that there was no greater weapon than the mind. Vader wasn't opposed to getting his hands dirty, of course, and could physically throttle a Rebel trooper with ease. But he was at his scariest when he lifted only a few fingers. Witness the moment in A New Hope when he Force-choked an unctuous Death Star lackey into vein-popping convulsions. Vader didn't wail or growl like other big-screen monsters; he just stood there, quietly crushing the poor sap's trachea. It's a terrifying introduction to the power of the Force—and to a villain whose most unsettling trait wasn't his strength or his nihilism but his sheer determination. No wonder he took the audience's breath away, -Brian Raftery
7. HIDEOUS THINGS THAT LOVE EVEN MORE HIDEOUS THINGS
The most common complaint about Return of the Jedi is that it dipped precipitously into cuteness. And sure, the Ewoks grated. But for every infantilized chipmunk warrior, there's the glistening corpulent gastropod of Jabba the Hutt; for every sweet, grandfatherly Yoda, there's a monster with stage-four halitosis and thick ropes of drool swinging from its jaws. (Let it never be said that George Lucas didn't understand the repellent power of moisture.) That galaxy was a nasty place—yet as empirically gross as the creatures there could get, there was always someone who loved them. Do you know the name Malakili? Likely not; it's one of those identities that caught on only after he had an action figure, which was originally dubbed simply Rancor Keeper. The rancor, of course, is that thing in Jabba's basement; when Luke brings the portcullis down on its head in Jedi, it's Malakili, tubby and shirtless, who weeps like a baby over the felled beast. And when Jabba issues his lecherous diktats, longtime companion Salacious Crumb is there to cheer his every word like a cracked-out cheerleader. No exceptions, no judgment, just unconditional adoration. So don't laugh at the mourning Rancor Keeper. Instead, learn his lesson: Beautiful or not, everyone deserves a little affection, -Peter Rubin
8. WEIRD FOOD
There's not a lot of food in the Star Wars trilogy—a bit of emergency Rebel-ration on Dagobah (I see mini-marshmallows in there), live amphibians at Jabba's palace, a funky fireside stew at Yoda's place. But the most famous Star Wars consumable is the blue milk served at chez Lars.
Before he splits Tatooine for a date with a Death Star, Luke does a bit of family-dinner-table whining to his Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru about how unfair his life is. Although we know Beru has vegetables in the kitchen (fennel and salsify can be seen there the next day, and Japanese eggplant appears in production stills), the main course remains out of view—but not the beverage. Tens of thousands of references to this "blue milk" can be found on the Internet. But I've got news for you: It ain't milk.
All milks are colloids, essentially water in which protein spheres and fat globules are held in suspension. The protein and fat scatter visible light in such away as to appear white. Now, skim milk can look bluish, because without much fat more light bounces off small clusters of protein molecules called casein micelles, which tend to scatter shorter (blue) wavelengths. But even if it were completely fat-free, milk could never look that blue.
And why would farmers have fat-free milk anyway?
It makes no sense. You could argue that the milk on Tatooine contains some completely alien protein, but even then you'd have to explain where the heck this blue milk came from. Clearly, this is a desert planet with no signs of herding animals capable of being milked by humble farmers. Bantha?
Ha! Everyone knows they stick to the rocky canyons and tend to be domesticated by sand people. So what is the blue milk? I say it's vegetable based—that is, soy milk. It's clear that the Lars homestead includes some kind of hydroponic garden capable of growing a soy-type bean, and even if the family had to rely on dry legumes, these could easily be stored in Tatooine's climate. What's more, purple/blue flavonoids are relatively common in the plant world, and they're good for you to boot.
Furthermore, I speculate that the Lars family is vegan. This would explain their dour, grumpy demeanor, and as we see later from their remains, they're already suffering considerable loss of bone mass.
I rest my case.
9. HEROIC JOURNEYS
Many of the greatest stories in history (The Odyssey, Dante's Divine Comedy, Die Hard) tell essentially the same tale. A hero is called to adventure. He at first resists the challenge, then accepts. He heads off into the unknown, where he learns about himself, returning smarter, more self-aware, and newly able to take out terrorists two at a time. Star Wars is this story. Luke, a whiny, insecure farm boy, ventures into the bowels of the Death Star, then returns with the self-possession to evade Vader and blow that moon-sized battle station to bits. Over the original three-movie arc, Luke faces his fear of succumbing to the same temptations that claimed his father and emerges stronger of will than even the goddamn emperor, who has bent the whole universe to his desires. This, of course, is no accident. George Lucas was a fan of Joseph Campbell, the famed mythologist who traced the hero's journey through works of literature across cultures and time. And while on the surface Star Wars is the story of a fight between Rebels and the Empire, Lucas was smart enough to put the personal journey at its core. We love these stories because they are about people who find something within themselves that even they didn't know was there. That discovery gives them the power to defeat the most overwhelming enemies and situations—and because it comes from inside, this power can never be taken away. We all need, in big ways and small, to believe that if we dig deep enough we can find the confidence, the abilities, the self-possession to defeat whatever dark powers life arrays against us. We root for the hero because we root for ourselves, -Robert Capps
10. MORAL RELATIVISM
11. HIVES OF SCUM AND VILLAINY
Luke Skywalker is a bumpkin. Before heading off to fight the Empire, he apparently never gets much farther than a country store that sells power converters. Over the course of three movies, his every foray into urban-ness strips away a layer of naivete, shattering his innocence so utterly that he is almost completely corrupted. Luke doesn't find peace until the end of Return of the Jedi, when he cremates his father's remains—alone, in the woods.
George Lucas, it seems clear, hates cities. The spaceport of Mos Eisley is just the beginning, a speck of urban blight amid Tatooine's pastoral moisture farms. After escaping the first Death Star—itself a moon-sized megalopolis— our heroes flee to the tropical forests of Yavin 4. The Empire Strikes Back sites its places of refuge on two deserted, unsettled planets—icy Hoth and swampy Dagobah. Cloud City offers nothing but backstabbers, droid-disarticulating factories, and piggish laborers happy to freeze a guy in carbonite. Return of the Jedi reprises A New Hope—another Death Star, another forested moon. Guess who wins? And I'm not even going to get into Coruscant, the corrupt, citified capital planet of the Republic and the Empire.
Lucas wasn't the first to juxtapose vile cities with bucolic nature—it's a long-standing tradition among storytellers, from William Shakespeare to Alan Moore. In the original trilogy, every city is perilous but also attractive. It's where the universe is happening, albeit darkly. And every new city comes with a special new danger, especially to a farm boy like Luke (even if he has a lightsaber). —TIM DE CHANT
The lightsaber, Obi-Wan Kenobi informs us, is "an elegant weapon fora more civilized age." Sure, but it still cuts through bone like wampa butter.
The weapon's mix of lethality and grace inspired a whole generation of kids to take up competitive fencing. "That scene where Luke and Darth Vader are inside Cloud City and they're crashing through a window—that was so cool," says Sean Buckley, an All-American in sabre for St. John's University. "My friends and I would get these $1 toy lightsabers, and we'd do that fight in the backyard. I was always
Luke, because I had the hair."
The best Star Wars duels were choreographed, and often performed, by Bob Anderson, a British Olympian in sabre who donned the Vader mask for fight scenes and gave his duels dramatic rhythm— flurries of frenetic violence followed by strategic lulls. It's during those ebbs in combat that we absorb the symbolic enormity of good literally facing evil. Watching a couple of battleships slug it out in the heavens just doesn't have the same emotional wallop.
The duels in the prequels suffer for the lack of Anderson's guidance. Sure, the combatants bounce around like caffeinated superballs, but their fights can't measure up to the tension in the original films. They're missing those quiet moments, when the focus isn't on clashing lightsabers but on the opponents' expressions. Most true Star Wars aficionados would trade a thousand Yoda backflips for a single moment of Luke Skywalker coming to grips with the truth about his paternity. As any veteran of the Battle of Endor can tell you, superior technology doesn't always guarantee better results. -BRENDAN I. KOERNER
13. PEOPLE SUSPENDED FROM THINGS
Poor Luke. When he isn't stuck upside down to the roof of a Hoth cave, waiting to be lunch, he's floating in a tub of rejuvenation goo, recovering from his wounds. Or hanging on for dear life from what we can only assume is Cloud City's HDTV antenna. Or caught up in an Ewok net like a Hanna-Barbera villain. He isn't the only hanger-on. Han is mounted on Jabba's wall like a Big Mouth Billy for the entire interregnum between Empire and Jedi. Threepio rattles along on Chewie's back for Empire's third act. And Obi-Wan and Anakin dangle off stuff for most of the prequels. It just wouldn't be Star Wars without characters awkwardly suspended from (or in) things. That's jeopardy! But seriously, Luke didn't deserve to be left hanging like that. Or, at least, not so many times. -Peter Rubin
There's not a pilot in the galaxy who'd let a kid blindly swing a lightsaber around on his ship. Well, maybe one. But at least Han Solo busts Luke's chops for subscribing to "hokey religions," confirming what the audience has suspected since the movie began—the whiny runaway and the old guy in the robe are nuts. It's the third time Han has splashed cold water on the proceedings, after gouging his passengers on the fare to Alderaan and leaving Greedo gibs all over the cantina floor. The guy's a self-interested cynic. He's also the soul of the original trilogy.
Half the magic of Star Wars is rooting for the good guys, and you can't do that without balancing the saccharine with the sarcastic. Luke's good from start to finish; his only evolution is on the axis of power. Han's heel-to-hero journey is the true transformation. And what do you do when the guy starts to believe in something besides himself? Introduce Lando Calrissian, an even smoother criminal, to stir the pot.
Think a roguish everyman isn't integral? Try not having one. The prequels went that route—no one in them points out how ridiculous the machinations are—and we sorely missed it. If audiences are ever going to believe in the power of the Force again, they'll need a foil: someone more interested in himself than in hoodoo.—Stu Horvath
Ventilation shafts, thermal ports, and random conduits play a surprisingly large role in the Saga. A mechanical world, this is, and we get to see all of it—including the backend infrastructure. Even a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, server rooms were tangled eyesores.
We wouldn't have it any other way.The gritty HVAC, electrical, and waste-management substructures show that this is a fully formed universe—it isn't just eye candy. And the mechanical details also help the story: They can be exploited by the characters, whether it's to escape into a trash chute, swing across a chasm after stealing a kiss, or have a heart-to-heart with Dad over, well, whatever that bottomless pit was. Most important, though, they provide a hidden place for Jedi and Sith to wage their shadow wars. While the eyes of the galaxy are focused on large-scale robot battles or X-wing-TIE Fighter dogfights, the true fate of the universe is usually being determined in a yawning air duct somewhere. So, yes, don't forget the ducts and vents and compactor rooms. But seriously, do a little better with the guardrails. —Robert Capps
BY CARLTON CUSE, CO-EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, LOST
How did they do that? Watching the original Star Wars movies, that was always the question burning in the back of my brain. I wasn't just engrossed in the story, I was amazed at how they made the impossible possible—back when the impossible was still impossible. How did they make the spaceships look so detailed and real? How did they make the walkers move? How did Yoda work? It was part of the sense of deep wonder and mystery I felt.
Of course, it wasn't perfect. You could see the tremor in Yoda's ears, the slightly hinky look of the Death Star during the Rebel attack. In one shot, the sky on Tatooine is clear; in the next, it's cloudy. Nowadays, anyone who is film-savvy knows that artists at computers can make Brad Pitt reverse-age,turn Andy Serkis into Gollum, or let Jim Cameron invent all of Pandora. Modern audiences accept that anything the imagination can think up can be created onscreen. But during the making of the original trilogy, that was far from the case. No one had ever made movies like Star Wars, in part because they didn't know how to.
The new stories will most likely be better told, and the visual look, I'm certain, will be seamless. But to me it will be like the difference between a computer-generated film score and a live orchestra. Both can play Mozart, but it's the flaws and small imperfections of real performers that give it life. The combination of puppets, models, miniatures, men in monster suits, hand-painted matte paintings— and the imagination it took to meld them all together—added an intangible level of magic to the original Star Wars films that I will forever miss.
17. MODES OF TRANSPORT
[Diagram] Rebel: Flying vehicles. Imperial: Walking vehicles.
18. THE DARK SIDE
Despite the obvious downsides to accepting Star Wars' Faustian bargain, we all grasp the Dark Side's primal appeal. The malignant half of the Force tempts the part of us that yearns to kick ass without having to give up Cheetos or hit the gym. The Dark Side is a potent shortcut to awesome power. That power affords its practitioners more than just the means to rule a system or three. It gives them dominion over an entire galaxy, whose inhabitants quake with fear whenever an Imperial Shuttle approaches. In fact, Star Wars' good guys seem perpetually in danger of getting wiped off the face of the cosmos. There seems the very real possibility that the Dark Side, fueled by hatred and malice, truly is the more powerful half of the Force. If fashion is any indicator, the Rebels are right to be afraid. Has any Star Wars character ever exuded more presence than Darth Vader, with his knee-high boots and unapologetically massive codpiece? And then there's Darth Maul and his spiky, body-mod tattoo chic. The typical Jedi, by contrast, sports a bland brown robe and a blank expression. You can guess who had better luck with the ladies on Jabba's pleasure barge. -Brendan I. Koerner
BY JANE ESPENSON, WRITER, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, HUSBANDS
I was fortunate to work on Star Wars: Detours, the not-yet-released animated comedy set in the Star Wars universe. In one episode, our teenage Leia has a premonition about her future and gets a glimpse of Chewbacca, Luke, and Han. "I have a dog!" she exclaims. "And two boyfriends who are bad for me, but in different ways." I didn't write the line, but I sure wish I did.
So then, are Leia and Luke and Leia and Han the central pairings of Star Wars? Meh, I don't think so. Luke and Leia: no, for obvious reasons. Leia and Han: They barely get a chance to start.
The two central couples that define love and marriage—who bump along squabbling but remain infinitely loyal— are Han and Chewbacca and R2-D2 and C-3PO. There's a chance, of course, that the experience of co-creating Husbands with Brad Bell has just given me gay goggles when looking for romance, so let's see if there's anything to back this up. A quick search for fanfic ...yep! There it is. Both pairings. And even in Detours, with Lucas himself looking on, we wrote an episode with a broad wink to the married vibe of Han and Chewie.
So these droids, and this man and Wookiee, bicker like old married folks, find their way back to each other when separated, and on occasion do nice things like talk people into buying them as a set. But is that romance?
I'd argue that in long-established couples, a well-worn gripe is like a quick grasp of the wrist—it's an "I'm here," an "I remember."
Whatever you call it, these pairs are central to what made the original Star Wars movies work. The sense that the characters have histories together, that they trust and rely on each other—that's part of what makes the world feel real and makes us identify with the characters—man, beast, or droid.
20. WITTY BANTER
[Scene: Two writers are being typically verbose about nothing in a local coffee shop.]
WRITER ONE: Heed well, for I am about to make a potentially earth-shattering declarative statement.
WRITER TWO: I urge you to continue with all due speed. Also, hand me a doughnut.
W1: Get your own doughnut. I'm not your servant, despite your Hutt-like demeanor. And here is my position—I say that the dialog is the best thing about Star Wars.
W2: Wait. Not the X-wings, not the lightsabers, not the Force, but the talkity-talk? The dialog even Harrison Ford supposedly categorized as undeliverable?
W2: I demand that you explain immediately. And if you take that last doughnut, I will destroy you.
W1: It's good dialog, not because you learn what Quarter Pounders are called in France or what Andre is having for dinner (spoiler: soup), but because it works. On some strange level, some odd,still place that many more-acclaimed scriptwriters never manage to reach, it's believable. It's terse; it could not be less flashy or less artful. But through the commitment of the screenplay and the actors, the worlds we don't see onscreen spur our imaginations— what is the Kessel Run? What does a womp rat look like?
W1: Exactly. Star Wars created its own reality in careful snippets of unembellished and often unexplained dialog. No one looks to the art of Jack Kirby for how to draw naturalistic fingers, and no one looks to the Peter Pan ride at Disneyland for a believable portrayal of London at night.They go for two-fisted bombast, for flying in the clouds on a pirate ship.
W2: I do like pirates. Arrr!
W1: Shut up, I'm on a roll. Think of the crimes Star Wars could have been guilty of: pretension, over-verbosity, ponderousness, cloying sentiment. And here's another thing ...those first three movies? Still funny. Luke's impatience with Han at the cantina, Leia's nerf-herder moment, Lando's "lt's not my fault!" as Chewie threatens to dismember him. The banter is sparse and precise, and that's why Star Wars hasn't aged like most fantasy films have.
W2: Well, I will concede that Chewbacca is funnier than Jar Jar.
W1: I have tumors funnier than Jar Jar.
21. ST0RMTR00PER FASHION
Say what you will about their herd mentality and abysmal marksmanship. Stormtroopers are chic. Look at the stark white geometry, the fluid curves and decisive lines that form the silhouettes. Stormtroopers, snowtroopers, sandtroopers—they're just such stylish bastards. It's the details that make the outfits work. The cocksure hardiness of that snub-domed Stahlhelm headgear always impresses me, as does the smart black ribbing on the barely visible underlay turtlenecks. And so influential! The swooping, almost mullet-ish skirt of the snowtrooper smock prefigured the skirts Jean Paul Gaultier designed for men in the mid-'80s and the kilts American designer Marc Jacobs favors for red carpet events. The hyper-exaggerated pauldron on a sandtrooper's shoulder does more than just denote rank; it adds a splash of kicky color to the muted "used future" aesthetic that today inspires designers Ann Demeulemeester and Rick Owens. It's not only for brevity that I omit certain variants—scout troopers are simply less exciting from a high-fashion perspective. It's those New Hope-era Imperial stormtroopers that still turn my head 35 years later. On their days off, I bet stormies dress like Kanye West. —Mary H. K. Choi
22. AN UNDERWORLD
It's no accident that Luke Skywalker's first step into a larger world takes him into a den of iniquity. When a galaxy falls under the shadow of an oppressive imperial regime, commerce doesn't grind to a halt—it goes I underground. And even a square old Jedi like Obi-Wan knows that when the Man shutters all the stores, you take your business to the back alley. Had the Mos Eisley cantina sequence been merely a parade of latex-masked aliens, we might have dismissed Star Wars as flimsy space opera. But when Han and Greedo got it on, that hint of Casablanca assured us that there was more to it than good guy versus bad guy. Some of these starfarers were out to play the middle.
That realization sharpened in Empire, when more bounty hunters entered the picture. A single 10-second pan across the grizzled bandages of Dengar, prickly robotics of IG-88, and the now legendary armor of Boba Fett raised two very important questions: What kind of dirty deeds were I these guys up to while the Empire wasn't looking? And when can we get a peek?
The payoff—finally meeting Jabba and his menagerie of toadies and toughs in Jedi— isn't just a final, unflinching glimpse of the Star Wars underworld but a ringside seat at the fight to wrest Han from its slimy clutches once and for all. -Gus Mastrapa
Senate deliberations, trade federations, security legislation— not only are the Star Wars movies more political than many "political films," they can be positively wonky. And that's a good thing. Or rather, it can be.
The narrative in the prequels seems to reflect George Lucas' liberal views on the "imperial" presidencies of Richard Nixon and post-9/11 George W. Bush. But they acknowledge the frustrations that can lead to a desire for consolidated power. As Queen Padme Amidala puts it when the Galactic Senate dismisses her pleas for help: "I was not elected to watch my people suffer and die while you discuss this invasion in a committee."
It's a sentiment not entirely from a galaxy far, far away.
Here's Anakin Skywalker: "We need a system where the politicians sit down and discuss the problem, agree what's in the best interests of all the people, and then do it." If people don't agree? "Then they should be made to."
Here's President Obama: "Our founders designed a system that makes it more difficult to bring about change than I would like sometimes." Easy there, Mr. President. The Senate overcoming its impotence leads to the dark times. To the Empire.
So, yes, Star Wars movies need politics. But it's easy to get the mix wrong. People don't go see these things for a nuanced take on the Patriot Act. Luckily, by the time Darth Vader's spaceship chases down Princess Leia's in A New Hope, the filibusters and quorum calls are over. We're in the midst of a civil war.
The machinating is in the background, like the subwoofer hum of a tractor beam generator. Politics are off camera: Leia threatens Vader with the displeasure of the Imperial Senate. Grand Moff Tarkin tells Commander Tagge that the emperor has dissolved that council. Skipping the issue of how one gets elected Grand Moff—it's unclear if Tarkin had to press the flesh at the Tatooine caucus—this emphasis on action rather than legislative sausage-making (nerf or otherwise) is key. Liberty might die to the thunderous applause of Galactic Senators, as Padme intones dramatically, but take it from a guy who has covered his share of State of the Union addresses: A room full of craven, sycophantic politicians clapping ain't all that compelling.
24. TOUGH PRINCESSES
As far as grandiloquent statements capable of kick-starting universe-saving epic sagas go, "Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope" is pretty workmanlike. But then that's just how Princess Leia, who gets the original Star Wars trilogy moving with her scratched holographic cry for help, rolls. Like all heroes worthy of the title, Leia's an aristocrat in spirit as much as in fact, which is why no
one ever laughs when she wears cinnamon buns of hair over her ears and why, even chained to a quivering mound of slugflesh, her golden bikini has become the ultimate geek pin-up. (Grace under sartorial duress seems to be a trait Leia inherited from her mother Padme, whom George Lucas decked out in all sorts of unfortunate, faux-futuristic red-carpetgear.)
Give Leia a gun, make her work with a wide-eyed noob and a seen-it-all sarcastic, throw her in a garbage pit, force her to watch the destruction of her home planet, and she can hold her own—with maximum brashness and minimal incompetence. A little of Carrie Fisher's own seen-it-all, bracing cynicism inevitably snuck into Leia's vibe. Smarter than Luke (when you look back at the whole incest vibe in the original film, that's all young Skywalker— he was never really up to Leia's speed) but with more heart than Han (until he unfreezes, that is), Leia, just like Padme, is the necessary spur, the force that keeps the Force on track.
One of the most fitting aspects of Disney's recent acquisition of Star Wars is that it effectively turns Princesses Leia and Padme into Disney princesses, a cohort in serious need of some chicks who like lightsabers more than pink, and, at least in Padme, finally gives the princess roster a heroine whose true love story takes a darth turn. But it's in Leia's love story that the importance of the Star Wars princess is fully revealed: When Leia tells Han she loves him as he's about to get dipped in carbonite, he cheekily negs her with an "I know." Han's way charming, way Han response to Leia's confession is way quotable, but—just like with her opening plea to Obi-Wan—it's Leia who's brave enough to stop playing it cool and say what's necessary, prodding the men around her to rise to the occasion—and to her level. In Star Wars, princesses go first. — WILLA PASKIN
Even though Star Wars movies take place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, all the characters seem to think things were much better an even longer time ago, even farther away. Whether it's Obi-Wan Kenobi pining for the elegant weapons of his more civilized Republic or Leia remembering images of her mother, the past is always present. Forget the Force; what binds all those people together is nostalgia.
Narratively, the movies themselves look backward to the cliff-hanger serials of the 1940s (ironic, since most of George Lucas' friends were making movies about gray-shaded, post-Vietnam America). Even the nominally heroic Rebellion was retrograde. Leia's crew wasn't trying to build a new, modern government. They were a counterrevolution, just trying to put things back the way they were. What was the point? We saw the Republic in the prequels, and it looked terrible—trade embargoes, divided Senate, widespread infestation of midichlorians (something like bedbugs).
But to Leia, Luke, and friends, it was a golden age. The heroes were grander, the spectacle more amazing, and the stakes higher. So of course they pine for their own history. And so do we: Remember the good old days, when Star Wars movies were perfect? -Adam Rooers
26. BOOKS ABOUT THE MOVIE
RIAN JOHNSON, WRITER/DIRECTOR, LOOPER
For my 14th birthday, someone gave me Thomas G. Smith's book Industrial Light & Magic: The Art of Special Effects. It detailed the miniatures and glass matte paintings and optical printing by those early ILM pioneers that added up to a world I believed in deeply. When I saw these guys in blue jeans on their knees in dirty warehouses manipulating models for shots I remembered, the magic I had experienced watching the movies was punctured.
As a result, a very important thing happened: The magic was put within my reach. They did those tricks with stuff my parents had in their garage (except for the optical printer, obviously). I got a Super 8 camera, pulled out my Star Wars toys, and got to work.
Richard Edlund, John Dykstra, Phil Tippett, Dennis Muren—their groundbreaking practical-effects work was as important to my generation of filmmakers as the work of Willis O'Brien and Ray Harryhausen was to theirs. But thanks to my treasured ILM book, the work wasn't secret. They told us how they did it, and that changed my life. But the biggest testament to their artistry is that today, when I put on my well-worn copies of the original, unaltered films, I am conscious of their historic accomplishments for all of 10 seconds before I'm 5 years old again, watching the magic and not the trick.
27. FUNNY DROIDS
THE CLUE IS right there in the name: In the Star Wars universe, robots are called droids, as in androids, as in humanlike. Even when they're shaped like trash cans, droids act like people—they're brave (or cowardly), noble (or evil), and funny. No easy task for something made of metal, wire, and science fiction. "The medical robot, the maintenance robots, the protocol droids—we all love R2," says David Hanson, founder of Hanson Robotics, a company that builds extraordinarily personlike robots and the software to make them personable. Star Wars, Hanson says, changed expectations of what robots could be—leaving roboticists with the challenge of living up to that new view of the future.
In the old days, the ideal robot obeyed sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov's three laws of robotics (don't hurt anyone, protect yourself, obey humans). But after Star Wars, bots could be "kind, good, and willing to risk themselves for a just cause. Even though R2 is a secondary character, he stands out in my mind as a kind of archetypal protagonist," Hanson says. C-3P0 and R2 could save the day, "not because they have some sort of Asimovian governor, but because they choose to and because they know what's at stake and what the consequences are."
That empathy makes the droids excellent comic relief. Threepio expresses all the fear and neuroses that none of Star Wars' biological characters can (except maybe Admiral Ackbar, with all that fishy concern about traps). The droid hates space travel—in a space movie. Slapsticky R2 is always ready with a taser zap or a fart noise. And when Chewbacca sadistically terrorizes that mouse droid on the Death Star, it scurries away making a noise funnier than anything Harrison Ford comes up with. Against a backdrop of derring-do and special effects, it's the droids who remind us what it means to be human, -Erin Biba
PLUS: 28. Binary load lifters 29. Binary vaporators 30. Offensive, almost certainly unintentional ethnic stereotypes 31. Lightning shooting from freaking hands 32. Chiseling traders 33. Monsters hidden under surfaces 34. Superficial tusks 35. Names with diphthongs 36. Slapstick 37. Holograms 38. Prosthetically impressive hairstyles 39. Guns on towers 40. Sand 41. Furry creatures who are good 42. Reptilian creatures who are evil 43. Shackles 44. Honorifics 45. E-11 blaster rifles 46. Operatic resonance 47. Entire planets with only one biome 48. Engine noises 49. Boots 50. Gloves 51. Masks 52. Hats 53. Hidden compartments 54. French horns 55. Repairs 56. Swinging from ropes 57. Spaceships with parts that rotate, fold, or disassemble 58. Beeps 59. Vistas 60. Alien beasts of burden 61. Height 62. Comlinks 63. Weird helmets 64. Trash disposal systems 65. Tractor beams 66. Animals that are terribly suited for the planets they live on 67. Faulty hyperdrive systems 68. Long odds 69. Sidearms 70. Hoodie robes 71. Star destroyers 72. Anger 73. Hatred 74. Suffering
PRODUCTION DESIGN BY ANDREW TROSMANS. STYLING BV KlT SCARBO GROOMING BY SEAN JAMES PAGES 82-83, SUIT: BESPOKE; SHIRT: KIT SCARBO; TIE: YOHJI YAMAMOTO; SHOES: CONVERSE PAGE 85, SUIT: THEORY; SHIRT: AMERICAN APPAREL; TIE: VINTAGE '60S; BELT: H&M; SHOES: JOHN VARVATOS. PAGE 90. SUIT: THEORY; SHIRT: FRENCH CONNECTION; TIE: BARNEY'S CO-OP. BELT: DIESEL; SHOES: CONVERSE.
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[Source: Wired Magazine USA March 2013, P.82-95]