Posts Tagged ‘George Lucas’

The 2016 ‘Star Trek’ movie urged viewers to tolerate and embrace differences even as some Americans sought safety in homogeneity

April 28, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 28, 2017

Author’s note: I am once again on a bit of a Star Trek kick. Having just written, respectively, about the most recent and the first Trek movies, I now intend to discuss the cultural and political implications of the latest Star Trek and Star Wars features (that’s the purpose of this post). Be on the lookout for a vignette about going to see Star Trek: The Motion Picture in the movie theater, after which I’ll return to more varied subjects. MEM

The Star Wars franchise is a largely apolitical one. Creator George Lucas conceived of his space saga in largely black-and-white terms. The color lines were literal in some cases, as when the towering evil black-clad Sith Lord, Darth Vader (David Prowse, voiced by James Earl Jones), menaced the elfin, virtuous white-clad rebel, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) in 1977’s Star Wars (retroactively retitled Star Wars: A New Hope).

Lucas later introduced some more nuance and ambiguity, with moody protagonist Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) donning dark-colored apparel for the latter half of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and most of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. And to his credit, Lucas attempted to explore what happens when peaceful societies are overtaken by complacency, greed and corruption in his prequel trilogy.

But even in the prequel trilogy, Lucas was pretty light on specificity; other than “Don’t vote to establish a standing army” or “Don’t entrust leadership of your enfeebled and embattled republic to a creepy politician who is also secretly a master manipulator and skilled warrior with awesome telekinetic powers who can shoot death lightning from his fingertips,” he offers no solid prescriptions for preserving peace and democracy. This is, perhaps, no surprise: The franchise is called Star Wars, after all, not Star Governance.

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Enter Jar Jar, Anakin and stereotypes: Revisiting ‘Star Wars: The Phantom Menace’

September 27, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Sept. 26, 2016

In January, I excoriated the The Star Wars Holiday Special, the worst feature-length production in that fantastically popular science-fiction franchise. Today, I come to examine what is widely agreed to be the property’s second-worst movie. I write, of course, about the much-loathed 1999 release that kicked off the prequel trilogy: Star Wars: The Phantom Menance. (Disclaimer: Completists ought to stick “Episode I” in the middle of that title; feel free to punctuate it to your pleasure.)

Until this past weekend, I’d seen The Phantom Menace once and once only: Shortly after its initial theatrical release, some 16 years after the debut of Return of the Jedi, which had capped the original Star Wars trilogy. At the time, anticipation for the film ran high, thanks not only to the years-long interregnum but to a marketing blitz that included oodles and oodles of — well, stuff. (Mel Brooks, it would seem, got it exactly right in this clip from his 1987 film Spaceballs.)

In case you don’t remember the merchandising onslaught, I direct you to this passage that Libby Brooks wrote for The Guardian in June 1999, a month before The Phantom Menace opened in British movie theaters:

Devotees can choose from over 375 different products. The range offers talking figures of the key characters, including Jedi knight Obi Wan-Kenobi and his foe Darth Maul, double-handed light sabres, computer accessories and costumes, as well as the new Lego Star Wars collection.

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Cheeps and Chirps for April 26, 2016

April 26, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 26, 2016

Here are some recent odds and ends from my Twitter feed. I hope that “Cheeps and Chirps” will be a semi-regular feature on my blog. (Ideally, it’ll be more regular and less semi than “Recent Readings”…)

• Check out this great hockey name!

• Aging man (almost) yells at kid. On Wednesday, I saw a bicyclist (I think she was a college student) bicycling with her helmet dangling from her handlebars. I had to restrain myself from scolding her. #GetOffMyLawn #AgingManYellsAtKid (Except I didn’t actually yell at her.)

• About that pitcher who was fired by ESPN last week… Curt Schilling, who has regularly made a habit of posting right-wing memes on social media that disparage Muslims, the LGBTQ community and liberals — excuse me, libtards — in general, recently lost his job. Unsurprisingly, right-wingers rallied around him. I attempted to remind conservatives that their hero of the moment had extracted $75 million from the coffers of the state of Rhode Island for a video game company that was a tremendous bust — hardly embodying the free market that conservatives claim to reveal. But hey, it’s OK to tout Schilling as a conservative icon as long as he regularly hates on lefties and queers, right?!

This old Saturday Night Live skit would be…problematic today. And rightfully so.

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‘The Star Wars Holiday Special’ is a widely mocked backwater in one of science fiction’s most durable franchises

January 28, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 28, 2016

I came down with a cold last week, meaning that for a few days, it was difficult for me to concentrate on anything, or even to extract myself from bed. Once I started recovering, on Friday, I was in desperate need of mindless entertainment. (A bout with illness two winters ago, in 2014, led me to discover two smartphone games, Dumb Ways to Die and Smash Hit.)

That was one reason why I watched 1978’s infamous Star Wars Holiday Special on Friday. There were a few others. One is that after seeing The Force Awakens earlier this month, I’ve been on a bit of a nostalgia trip for Star Wars, to the extent that I’ve watched a variety of short YouTube films on different Star Wars video games (mainly the past two versions of Battlefront and various editions of Rogue Squadron). Another reason is that one of the podcasts I enjoy, How Did This Get Made?, did an episode on The Star Wars Holiday Special late last year.

In addition, I had a very vague memory of seeing a snippet of the CBS special when it originally aired, and I recalled having enjoyed that bit. Finally, The Star Wars Holiday Special contains the debut of one of the franchise’s most beloved characters, the menacing bounty hunter Boba Fett, and I confess to being curious about his premier.

Frankly, just about every bad thing I can remember hearing about The Star Wars Holiday Special is true: It is poorly written, badly acted and shoddily produced. After watching it the other day, I couldn’t tell you what audience the makers were trying to reach or to please, and honestly, I doubt they could have told you that either while they were filming the thing.

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Among the stars, war: ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ revives a classic space opera but isn’t as compelling as the originals

January 7, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 7, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens brings together a mix of old and new characters from the mega-successful science-fiction movie series in order to launch a new sequence of cinematic space adventures.

But you probably already know that.

The plot of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is set in motion by a search for Luke Skywalker, the hero who helped topple the evil Galactic Empire at the conclusion of the original Star Wars film trilogy. The missing Jedi, who wields the mystical, magical power of the Force, is sought on the one hand by the evil First Order, an Imperial remnant that retains its predecessor’s taste for mass destruction, and on the other hand by the Resistance, an ill-defined successor to the Rebel Alliance that is long on scrappiness and diversity but seemingly short on everything else.

But you probably already know that, too, because this movie has been selling tickets like gangbusters. Before it was in theaters for three weeks, The Force Awakens earned $1.5 billion worldwide, making it the sixth-highest-grossing feature in history — all without even having opened in the world’s second-largest film market. If the picture is as popular in China as it’s been elsewhere, it could just be a matter of days before the seventh Star Wars movie overtakes Avatar’s $2.8 billion in tickets sold to become the most successful movie of all time.

Which frankly leaves me feeling somewhat baffled, because while The Force Awakens — or Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens, to use the complete title — is an occasionally enjoyable movie, I’m hard-pressed to call it a great one. Director J.J. Abrams and his fellow screenwriters, Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt, extend the space saga originally created by George Lucas mainly by updating the formula of the original Star Wars and adding a handful of new characters.

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Considering why the original ‘Star Wars’ was such a hit and why the animated ‘Lord of the Rings’ was not

October 7, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 7, 2015

As I wrote earlier today:

J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, a fantasy-adventure trilogy first printed in 1954–55, was a seminal publication. Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings, an animated feature based on Tolkien’s work that was released in 1978, is an obscurity.

By contrast, I saw the original Star Wars during an extended first run in 1977, and I immediately fell in love with the movie: I instantly wanted to buy all of the Kenner toys based on George Lucas’s movie. For years, I bought and devoutly studied novelizations of the original trilogy of movies as well as original Star Wars novels. (In the latter category, Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye and Brian Daley’s trilogy of Han Solo adventures held prized places on my bookshelf and in my heart.)

So why did I cotton to Star Wars so thoroughly while The Lord of the Rings left me cold? Part of it was the quality of Bakshi’s movie — as discussed earlier, I generally found it to be adequate, whereas I thought Star Wars was out-and-out thrilling. But there are also major differences between the narratives woven by Tolkien and Lucas, and I wanted to explore those.

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Boyish charm isn’t enough to thrust ‘Buck Rogers in the 25th Century’ to greatness

January 31, 2013

In the late 1970s, there appeared a genius who made many exciting science fiction adventures. His initials were GL, and his name, of course, was — Glen Larson?!

Larson is hardly as famous or successful as filmmaker cum Disney sellout George Lucas, creator of the iconic Star Wars saga. But Larson had some high-flying space opera of his own. In a short span of time in the late nineteen-seventies, Larson produced both the cheesy second-tier Star Wars knockoff Battlestar Galactica (which was revived to critical and popular success a decade ago) as well as an incarnation of 1928 pulp scifi hero Buck Rogers.

The 90-minute pilot for Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, which also received a theatrical release, debuted in 1979. It kicked off a two-year, 37-episode run (per, yes, the Internet Movie Database) that lingered in reruns and memory for a while. Then Star Trek: The Next Generation debuted in 1987 and it, along with wholly new science fiction franchises such as Stargate and Independence Day, started to push BRit25thC — as no one, to the best of my knowledge, actually calls it — into obscurity.

Recently while browsing through videos at my favorite second-hand entertainment store, I discovered a pristine-seeming box set of the entire Buck Rogers series, priced at just $10. After some hemming and hawing, I carried it to the checkout counter with my selections.

I recently watched the extended pilot episode/theatrical movie, and… Well, I suppose it’s fitting that Buck Rogers in the 25th Century remains a distant memory for most.

From concept to execution, Buck Rogers is a thoroughly middlebrow operation. Some stuff is done well, but very little could be called great. (One exception would be the very cool design of the Terran starfighters flown by the good guys.) There are some jarringly bad notes, such as the embarrassing title sequence with a close-lidded Rogers languidly embracing scantily clad space babes and the hokey spaceman adventure song that accompanies. (Imagine a song in the style of the Muppets classic “The Rainbow Connection,” only about the original Battlestar Galactica and sung by a third-rate John Denver imitator, and you begin to get a sense of how bad the song is.)

Sadly, there’s never enough of the well-done stuff to make this adventure soar, alas. And there was never quite enough of the jarringly bad stuff to motivate any mildly friendly BR25C (as no one to my knowledge dubs it) to turn off the film and do something else — which isn’t to say that I didn’t contemplate doing so…  Read the rest of this entry »

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