It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire … Before those words crawled up movie screens in May 1977, what did people think the future was going to look like? What did pop culture sound like on the eve of Star Wars? With Kurt Andersen, Annalee Newitz, Alyssa Rosenberg, and Chris Taylor. This is part I of a V part series.
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Our Postmodern Myth: “Star Wars” is Back
There’s a big old spoiler alert hanging over this whole radio show. You’ve been warned!
We’re beginning 2016 by confronting what is already its biggest cultural phenomenon. The Force Awakens, the latest installment of Star Wars, on track to make $3 billion and more around the world.
What does it mean that this particular, high-capital story survives as a global dream? And maybe the most familiar alternate universe ever created outside a world religion: a Greek pantheon for the modern day?
Star Wars is full of paradoxes: it’s profoundly flat; imperial filmmaking in celebration of rebels and saboteurs; a forty-year-old hit that remains forever young. The essayist Chuck Klosterman proposes to nationalize Star Wars, turning the franchise into a lucrative public works project for the nation’s out-of-work actors, set dressers, and engineers. (It’s “the only thing America does that everybody likes.”) And our guest Amanda Palmer tells us it was a geek movie that never seemed that geeky, as well as a violent movie that never seemed that violent. In the end, George Lucas‘s creation must have approval numbers that popes and politicians could only dream of.
Why does Star Wars still mean so much to so many? With a group of our favorite people, we’re counting the ways (with special thanks to Eric Molinsky, host and producer of Imaginary Worlds, who did a five-part series on the cultural significance on the franchise — listen here):
It’s a postmodern myth.
There’s a moment in the original Star Wars, when Luke Skywalker, played by Mark Hamill, looks out at the horizon as dusty Tatooine’s two suns set.
There are no words, but John Williams’s score is working overtime, sounding the note of potential energy: a young person with gifts and a great destiny who’s still just wishing he were anywhere but here. Almost anyone can imagine himself standing on that bluff and watching the sun(s) go down.
Watch that scene (you have permission to find it corny!) But it’s also got the mystery of Star Wars’s eternal appeal packed into just 36 seconds: another orchestrated, saturated, uncanny image for all time, conjuring not just before — Achilles, Lancelot, and Dante — but after: Spider-Man, the X-Men, Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen and most recently, Rey, the Skywalker stand-in for the latest film.
It’s (almost) a silent film.Speaking of which, George Lucas always put a lot of stock in the power of Star Wars‘s score and images to get along on their own. So in 1977, he anticipated the globalizing trend that’d hit Hollywood decades later — a move away from repartee and puns and into a world of spectacle and SFX. Watch Star Wars work like a silent film in the famous throne-room finale, in the last scene of the new movie, and in that “I am your father” confrontation:
It’s a theology for the post-religious — and a political shorthand.
Yes, there are thousands of people all over the world to check “Jedi Knight” on census forms just to scramble the religious picture of the 21st century. And “The Dark Side” has become a shorthand in politics to be embraced by Dick Cheney and shunned by Larry Lucchino, the outgoing Red Sox president who once labeled the Yankees “The Evil Empire.”
But there’s something a little deeper and more peculiar in the vague cosmology of “The Force” put forward in the movies: a balance between emotional attachments and inner peace, between individualism and teamwork, between self-interest and philanthropy, that speaks to the unique spiritual drift of the 20th-century consumer.
It’s a product of the depressed ‘70s — but it still works the same way.
Alan Andres reminds us that those first movies opened during American doldrum days, with bad news everywhere in the ether: the Fall of Saigon, Watergate, the fall of Skylab, the Church Committee, Chappaquiddick, and the Iran hostage crisis. The tone of sci-fi was suitably dark: Soylent Green is people! We were a rebel nation that had come to seem like an evil empire (until Reagan came along and declared that the Soviets were the real imperial enemy).
It may be true that, more than anything, George Lucas wanted to offer a generation of young Americans a different, optimistic story with a batch of good role models in tow. But still he had The Emperor — the bad guy of all Star Wars bad guys — sit in an oval-shaped throne room: Nixon, determined to crush the latest guerrilla uprising.
Somehow, underneath the swashbuckling escapes and screwball dialogue, people forget that in Star Wars, the viewer really can’t root for anyone who doesn’t commit mass murder.
The Empire blows up Alderaan with a weapon known as the Death Star in order to quash organized resistance. But then the heroic Rebels blow up the planet-sized Death Star — along with, it is estimated (!), 843,342 souls in the crew and staff — to stick it to the Empire.
And that’s just a start! Tell us what Star Wars means to you (and may the Force be with you all in 2016)!
In the mid-1970s, English classical actor Anthony Daniels was asked to audition for a role as a droid in a new science fiction film by a little-known Hollywood director. The film turned out to be Star Wars and the director, George Lucas. Star Wars went on to become one of the biggest blockbusters of all time; while Anthony Daniels turned C3PO into one of the most famous robots in cinema history.
The Lucasfilm president was handpicked by George Lucas to take over his company and the franchise. She’s aware that all her film mentors have been men; "I need to bring other women along," she says.
Susan Stamberg, then host of All Things Considered, and NPR’s then movie critic Tom Shales discuss the new movie “Star Wars,” later renamed “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.”
The “Poster Boys” on How Star Wars Posters Changed Design ForeverAIGA Eye on Design | AIGA Eye on Design
Ahead of the release of the latest entry in the Star Wars saga, the Poster Boys pull out the history books to uncover the story behind nearly 40 years of Star
This one gets super-nerdy. Jeremy and Chris geek out about interfaces in science fiction films, from Logan’s Run to Iron Man, applying the principle of apologetics along the way. To kick off, Chris humours Jeremy’s crackpot theory about the Star Wars universe, and to wrap up, Chris unveils a very special event taking place the evening before dConstruct.
In his day job at Cooper, Christopher designs products and services for a variety of domains, including health, financial, and consumer; as well as teaching, speaking, and evangelising design internationally. Prior experience includes developing kiosks for museums, helping to visualise the future of counter-terrorism, building prototypes of coming technologies for Microsoft, and designing telehealth.
His spidey-sense goes off semi-randomly, leading him to speak about a range of things including interactive narrative, ethnographic user research, interaction design, sex-related technologies, free-range learning, generative randomness, and designing for the future.
He is co-author of Make It So: Interaction Design Lessons from Science Fiction (Rosenfeld Media 2012), and the force behind the blog scifiinterfaces.com.
A new “Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens” trailer as appeared! And, as was fated, we are here to deconstruct it within an inch of its life. Dark Side IKEA end tables! John Boyega quotes us the odds! Bespoke evil ships! And is that a glimmer in your eye, or just some lens flare? Plus we give some love to BB8, everyone’s favorite robotic soccer ball.
Dan Moren reports in from the Star Wars celebration, and Serenity Caldwell phones in from her car. This is serious business, people.
The smartest man in the world, Greg Proops joins Matt this week to discuss his role as Fode in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Greg shares how he was cast alongside Scott Capurro while performing stand-up in Edinburgh around 1997, what it was like meeting George Lucas for the first time while wearing a blue latex outfit & full character makeup, and his reaction when he found out he was turned into a completely CGI character. Plus, Matt brings up the rumor of Benicio Del Toro originally playing Darth Maul in another exciting installment of I Wasn’t There Too.
It’s a special bonus episode of The MovieByte Podcast where TJ, Joe, and Clark talk about — actually dissect might be a better word — the first new teaser trailer for ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’. There’s no shortage of opinions, fun, and just generally geeking out. You won’t want to miss this!
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