“Star Wars, give me those Star Wars, don’t let them end!” sang Bill Murray to the tune of John Williams’s Star Wars anthem in a galaxy far, far away. With the release next month of The Force Awakens, it should be noted that there have always been a few critical eyes on the cultural reach of George Lucas’ empire.
For instance, fresh from the release of the original Star Wars, Arthur Lubow in Film Comment calls the film a triumph of the will over technology, an “anti-modern message in an ultra-modern wrapper.” In other words, it’s an anti-modernist film with too many parallels to Nazi ideology for Lubow’s taste. He doesn’t think it’s intentionally a “fascist movie,” just that the “Nazi mixture of heroism, self-sacrifice, and mysticism” may be an unrealized secret to its appeal.
Twenty years later, Robert Horton, also in Film Comment, says “enough a’ready” after the release of yet another special edition of one of the earlier films. He enjoys the movies’ “pleasing brew of Zen, Homer, and cowboy code” but it’s overarching cultural resonances feel thin to him. Star Wars fandom is like a religion, but isn’t one. Which hasn’t stopped the terminally ill from requesting previews for The Force Awakens.
In The New Atlantis, an unnamed author, in interpreting the Star Wars universe, smugly makes a telling distinction between s.f. and sci-fi, which he defines as the serious and the cartoon types of science fiction, respectively. (We can ignore the fact that the writer, at the time of writing, assumed we had reached the “final” film, Revenge of the Sith.)
Not that George Lucas ever hid his model in the space opera serials of the 1930s-1940s. Yet the Sixties and early Seventies produced a revolution in science fiction, aspects of which seeped into the Star Trek franchise—which the author argues trafficked in larger ideas than the clichés and archetypes of Star Wars.
Along with 1975’s Jaws, Star Wars really was the revenge of an empire, an empire called Hollywood. The summer blockbuster phenomenon marked an end of the New American Cinema/American New Wave’s explorations and experimentation that made mainstream movies in the late 1960s and early 1970s something to think about.