What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
NOTE: This installment of Point-Counterpoint is being done as part of something called the The Everything Star Wars Blog-a-Thon being hosted by Coffee, Classics, and Craziness and I’m Charles Baker Harris (And I Can Read).
It’s the first time I’ve participated in an event hosted by them, but then again this is the first time we’ve done an installment of Point-Counterpoint for a movie. But it was such a great topic with such great potential we simply couldn’t resist.
This movie is on my list of essential films.
You can see all the contributors to this blog-a-thon here:
Let’s explain the premise here. Dubsism’s own J-Dub and his buddy The Unknown Blogger agree that the original “Star Wars” movie released in 1977 is really a different style of movie dressed up as a space epic. They just don’t agree what kind of movie “Star Wars” really is. Today, they are going to fire up their light sabers and duel it out.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Unknown Blogger has made several appearances here at Dubsism, and this probably won’t be the last. For purposes of full disclosure, T.U.B. only pops up on this site from time to time as he left the world of professional sports journalism a few years back vowing never to return, but occasionally he can’t help but having a rant here.
First of all, just let me say what a complete jack-off J-Dub is for sucking me into this argument. I know the only people who will read this are the same ones who get dressed up like Captain Kirk to go those shows at some shitty convention center in some crap city nobody cares about. But because my alma mater’s football team can’t seem to cover a point spread, I’m on the hook to J-Dub for some nonsense like this. So here goes…
One thing that always stuck with me from college was some silly “Film as Literature” course. The only reason I took it was the T.A. was smoking hot. Sure, she was some hippie-type who dressed like Janis Joplin and reeked of patchouli, but she had a rack beyond words. But it was because of those 40DDs that I saw the connection between George Lucas and the Japanese film-maker Akira Kurosawa. That matters here Lucas borrowed all the elements from Kurosawa which make for the fundamental western.
1) Sweeping Vistas
Go back and watch the original Star Wars and count how many wide angle shots there are to establish the setting. If you did it as a drinking game, you’d be face down in a puddle of your own barf before Luke and Obi-Wan get off Tatooine. Once you do that, picture every Western you ever seen and try not to see the giant panoramic shot to show you’re in the “Old West.”
Don’t think it’s a coincidence that the dueling sunset on Tatooine looked a lot like a similar scene in Kurosawa’s “Dersu Uzala” which preceded Star Wars by two years.
2) The “Iconic Weapon”
In Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” (which is the basis of the epic Western “The Magnificent Seven”), the samurai sword plays such a pivotal role in he story that it almost becomes a character unto itself…you know, just like the Jedi’s light saber.
But in the American west, the iconic weapon was the “six-shooter”…which just so happens to look a lot like the “blaster” Han Solo has hanging off his hip like he’s some sort of space cowboy.
3) The Partnership
In every Western, the “good guy” always has a partner. The sheriff always a deputy. Butch Cassidy had the Sundance Kid. Wyatt Earp had Doc Holliday. Name a big moment of triumph for Luke Skywalker in which Han solo is not present…
4) Scene-for-scene matchups
George Lucas himself admits the opening sequences on Tatooine either borrow heavily from, or are straight-up lifted from “The Searchers.” A lot of people know that, and most who know both films can see it. But what many don’t know the fight in the “Cantina” scene in Star Wars was taken from the 1961 Kurosawa film “Yojimbo.”
5) The complexities of “Good vs. Evil”
Almost no kind of movie relies more of the “good vs. evil” angle than a Western. To that end, some of the best Westerns complicate that by showing you the “good guy” isn’t always entirely that “good,” and the “bad guy” isn’t entirely “bad.”
This is another Kurosawa joint cribbed by George Lucas. Kurosawa used this in “The Seven Samurai,” and it was distilled to an ever purer form in “The Magnificent Seven.” Whether they be swordsman or gunslingers, the team in either film assembled to fight for the villagers are a bunch of cut-throats and mercenaries who while they are carrying the banner for the side of “good,” you always have the feeling that they would go either way depending on what’s in it for them.
Star Wars kicks up the distillation of this idea. First of take, take the band of mercenaries from either “The Seven Samurai” or “The Magnificent Seven.” Not only are they a bunch of “hired guns,” but they use the “few versus many” approach…because audiences almost always pull for the outnumbered guys. It doesn’t work when the “bad guys” are outnumbered, because everybody wants them to lose at the end anyway.
Don’t even try to tell me that doesn’t carry over “Star Wars.”
Things really get complicated when we get into idea that protagonists aren’t always “good guys” and antagonists aren’t always purely evil. The perfect example comes in the film George Lucas admits was his inspiration to become a filmmaker.
John Wayne’s “Ethan Edwards” in 1956’s “The Searchers” is the protagonist, but he’s a nowhere near being a “good guy.” He’s the perfect representation of the struggle between good and evil that lives in all of us. Good Westerns make the perfect vehicle to exposing that struggle, which is exactly why “Star Wars” has three such examples.
The first is Han Solo. While he doesn’t believe in the sorcery known as “The Force,” but he’s a complete mercenary who battles with the urge to do whatever will benefit him regardless and his innate sense to do the right thing.
But the best examples come in the father-son combo of Luke and Darth Vader (sorry if I spoiled that for anybody…). Luke spends the whole movie learning to control “The Force,” and Obi-Wan Kenobi exists largely to warn him about the “Dark Side.” Forget about whatever the sequels/prequels tell you about Vader, “Star Wars” is full of little tidbits that Vader is actually more like Han Solo. While Solo has no use for “The Force” and Vader is the exact opposite, they are both mercenaries who are into whatever is best for them. Vader became part of the Empire because that’s where he could attain the greatest power…all while suppressing his urges for “good”…all of which would have become ruinously obvious had he chosen not to strike down Obi-Wan Kenobi.
I don’t know what’s funnier…that “Star Wars” is a Western without a single horse or a cowboy hat, or that all this started because of my gambling habits and infatuation with boobs.
The comparisons are virtually linear; all you have to do is look at the characters.
Starting with the Legend of King Arthur, you can’t tell me that in the original “Star Wars,” Luke Skywalker isn’t damn near a perfect Arthur – the reluctant, whiny boy who would be king. All he needs to be a perfect match is to have pulled a light saber out of a stone.
Then there’s Obi-Wan Kenobi, who is a straight-up “Merlin the Magician” even including the part where he tells Luke/Arthur what a great knight his father once was. Of course in both cases, Merlin/Obi-Wan has to omit a few crucial facts in that story.
Then there’s Luke’s sister Leia, who may as well have been named for Arthur’s sibling Guinevere. Neither of them know who their real parents are, and a love triangle develops between Luke/Arthur, Leia/Guinevere, and “Star Wars” equivalent to Sir Lancelot…Han Solo.
Ironically, there are some difference between “Star Wars” and Arthurian legend, but those difference are complete “photo negatives;” the sourcing is still plainly apparent. For starters, the aforementioned love triangle has a much happier ending in “Star Wars;” they team up to destroy the Death Star. In Arthurian legend, the love triangle contributes to the downfall of Camelot.
Then there’s the matter of the super-natural “Black Knight” (gee, I wonder who that might be) and his relationship with Arthur. In the legends, the “Black Knight” has several possible identities depending on the version, but they all tend to see the “Black Knight” being a member of the Knights of the Round Table and/or Arthur’s illegitimate progeny in some form. In “Star Wars” this is flip-flopped so the “Black Knight” is Luke/Arthur’s father.
As for World War II, just look at the simple stuff, like why are the soldiers of the Empire called “stormtroopers?” And who better to command “Stormtroopers” than guys who look straight out Field Marshal Rommel’s Afrika Korps?
Not to mention that whole “Empire vs. The Rebellion” may as well be “The Axis vs. The Allies.” If that weren’t enough, don’t try to tell me the battle scenes when the Rebels are attacking the Death Star don’t look just like American dive bombers engaging a Japanese battleship.
Then there’s my personal favorite. Don’t forget the Nazis had an overwhelming obsession with the occult…and we all saw what happened to that one Imperial officer who trash-talked “The Force.”
There’s so much World War II in this movie you shouldn’t be surprised when there’s yet another sequel in which the 17th generation replacements of Luke, Leia, and Han aim to defeat the Empire by storming the beach at Normandy.
Doubt that? Obi-Wan Kenobi already built a Bridge Over The River Kwai.
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