Saturday, September 19, 2009

Why Matters, Star Wars Does

"A more elegant weapon, for a more civilized age."

I was all set to pick this entire movie apart for this post, even watch the entire trilogy to get enough reference material if I had to. Turns out I only had to watch about the first half hour because the scene below is the only thing I need to refer to. Skip to 3:00 in:

For those that may not remember, Luke Skywalker is just a hick. These droids have found their way to his family and one insisted on delivering a message to Ben Kenobi, who is merely an old hermit as far as Luke knows. Once the message is delivered, it’s a whole lot bigger than Luke ever thought it would be. R2-D2 is carrying inside of him the only hope that the Rebellion against the Empire has. If they don’t get the Death Star plans, and soon, it’s over. “This is our most desperate hour. Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.” Can’t get much plainer than that.

Look at Luke’s face after the message, though. What’s his reaction? Is he ready to run out and do whatever he can to help? No, there is just an uncomfortable silence. It’s almost as if he knows he is supposed to do something, but doesn’t really want to because it’s going to be so inconvenient. Obi Wan seems to be waiting for Luke to say something, but instead he just stares back, slack-jawed.

Obi Wan finally says that Luke has to come with him to Alderaan because he can’t get this done alone. Luke's reaction is, “Uhhh…sure is getting late.” He’s got too much work to do, it’s so far away, etc. By the end of the scene he has completely forgotten about Princess Leia’s plea and starts grumbling about how he’s going to explain to his uncle where he’s been all day. This is all despite the fact he was arguing with his uncle the day before about letting him leave and go somewhere else. Once it's time to put his money where his mouth is, he chickens out. This sure does bear a striking similarity to a recent post I read. In fact, I’m very surprised nobody Over There picked up on this and used it to shame we geeks into writing more.

The theme of Star Wars is the theme of the underdog. It’s the theme of fighting back against impossible odds, not because it looks like you’re going to win, but because the only other choice is death or submission. It’s the theme of the responsibility of those who know what’s going on to do whatever they can about it. I’m sure I will catch some grief for this comparison, but in a way it’s On the Waterfront in space.

Now I don’t want anybody to misinterpret what I mean by making that comparison (Vickles, I’m looking at you). I am not saying Star Wars is better than or equal to Waterfront, that Mark Hamill is better than Marlon Brando, that George Lucas invented the theme of the reluctant hero, or even that Star Wars executes that theme better than any other film in the history of cinema. What I’m saying is that both films share a theme that is vitally important in our country right now, and that both are good in their own right.

Even though this is a defense of Star Wars, I must point out that Waterfront has the better and ultimately more courageous hero in Terry Malloy, despite the lack of a lightsaber. Consider that Luke Skywalker really did nothing special. When he had a choice, he chose to stay at home and not make waves. Only the Empire murdering his family convinced him to leave with Kenobi, but at that point Luke had nothing to lose. Terry was admittedly motivated by the fairer sex, and men do irrational things when put in that position, but he still had a lot to lose by going up against Johnny Friendly. Both Luke and Terry may have become heroes to those around them, but only Luke has to live with the knowledge that if he had gotten home a little earlier or if the storm troopers had been a little more patient, he would have died and the Rebellion would have been crushed because of his cowardice.

I think Star Wars is the better metaphor for what is happening today, for my generation, anyway. Trying to get many of them interested in what is going on right now is like Obi Wan asking Luke to come with him to Alderaan. They just don’t want to be bothered with all that stuff and would much rather go to Tachi Station and pick up some power converters. As sad as it is, people from my generation (and definitely the younger generation) can probably relate more to Star Wars than Waterfront because they know more about fictional sci-fi lore than they do real American history. Tragic, but if nothing else they need to understand the urgency of getting off their asses and doing something. Sure, they'll still need to see the big picture, but that's where we come in. Then, one day, they will be able to appreciate Waterfront; it's a process. Hopefully nobody’s aunt and uncle has to be murdered by a death panel before they start caring, though, because by then it will be far too late.

Also, the space battles are cool:

1 comment:

  1. I’m sure I will catch some grief for this comparison

    I got your back.