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Limelight: A galaxy far away
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 21 - 04 - 2005


Limelight:
A galaxy far away
By Lubna Abdel-Aziz
Nothing in the history of our galaxy and nothing in the 100-year history of motion pictures comes close to the saga of Star Wars. Exploding on our planet a quarter of a century ago, its stellar attributes instantly assumed mythological proportions. The force was definitely with it, lifting it to heights never before reached by mortals. Star Wars became the most popular, profitable, successful science fiction adventure fantasy film of all time.
This earth-shattering, mind-boggling, heart-swelling, soul- stirring sensational achievement was the product of one man's imagination -- his name -- George Lucas -- his inspiration drawn from his own safely guarded memories and recollections of all the fantastic tales of childhood adventures, of comic books, TV shows, afternoon matinees of the wild, wild West, of cowboys and Indians, of Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, James Bond, King Arthur, Kubrick's A Space Odyssey, Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress, JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, of warriors, wizards and witches, of fairies and elves, of all the lore that youngsters grow up with. While most of us watched and enjoyed, George Lucas learned, absorbed, and digested. One day he woke up and recreated these essential elements into one all-encompassing saga, and he called it Star Wars.
His first record-breaking blockbuster released in 1977, a mythological tale of space age heroism and the eternal fight between good and evil, was in fact Episode-IV. Lucas's concept was far too vast to be condensed into one film. From the very start Lucas conceived it as a six-episode-tale-setting of three sequels and three prequels. The first trilogy of Star Wars, Episode IV -- A New Hope, he himself directed. It was followed by Episode V -- The Empire Strikes Back (1980 dir. Irwin Kerchner), and Episode VI -- Return of the Jedi (1983 dir. Richard Marquand). The trilogy completely enchanted our galaxy, grossing over $1.2 billion and Lucas was now ready to tell us how it all started. The prequels began with The Phantom Menace, Episode I (1999), returning Lucas to directing, 22 years after his first Star Wars. A whole new generation was to be introduced to the Rebel Army, the Evil Empire, and the battles of the galaxies, but did they care? Had their parents forgotten about the first? Have they lost interest through the decades? By no means! Phantom had fans lining up the streets for tickets breaking all previous records of Star Wars. Three years later Attack of the Clones Episode II, was another blockbuster, and now our galaxy awaits Revenge of the Sith Episode III, the sixth and last film in the series, opening 19 May, the 28th anniversary of the release of the first Star Wars.
This final film will finally answer the question as to how and why the hero Luke Skywalker's father Anakin, a sweet-natured boy, succumbs to the dark side, and to his inevitable fate to become the terrifying evil villain, Darth Vader. " The Sith is the evil sect that corrupts Anakin by drawing him into the dark side of the Force." The Force is the cosmic power that balances the universe. Says Lucas: "We are going to watch him make a pact with the devil." Following the tremendous impact and unheard of profits of his Star Wars, with 21 Academy Award nominations, seven Oscars, over $3.4 billion in revenues. Lucas had become a very rich man and an unequalled power player in Hollywood.
George Lucas the creator of the greatest films ever made, came upon a film career purely by accident. An aimless, disenchanted youth growing up in the 1950s, his only passion -- fast cars. Saved from what could have been a fatal car accident, Lucas began to take life seriously. He enrolled at the renowned University of Southern California (USC) Film School where he met another would-be legendary filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola. Together they would make two of the most remarkable trilogies of all time, Coppola The Godfather and the younger Lucas, Star Wars. Lucas's first hit film was American Graffiti (1973) which cost $1 million and grossed $115 million, dollar for dollar the most profitable film in the history of Hollywood, making Lucas a millionaire at 29 and the most sought after young director in the world.
It took Lucas four years to develop his next project, Star Wars. Shot mainly on location in Tunisia, Guatemala and California, he used an advanced technology to a degree heretofore unseen, and brought back the popularity of the science-fiction genre. The film cost a meagre $11 million and brought in $780 million in 1977. It was topped only by The Phantom Menace (1999), which amassed $922 million, second only to Titanic.
Now our galaxy awaits with bated breath the release of Revenge of the Sith, the last of the six episodes, the third of the second trilogy of the magnificent saga of Star Wars. Confused? Not if you are a child of the Star Wars era, if your vocabulary includes such words as clones, robots, wookies, jedis, droids, galactic empires, and expressions like "may the force be with you", to "destroy the Evil Empire" (even President Reagan borrowed the expression), and bring "freedom to the galaxy". Not if your mythical characters of giants and fairies, of princesses and prince charmings have been replaced by R2D2, C-3PO, the Dark Lord Darth Vader, Tarkin, Yoda, Chewbacca, and of course your heroes Obi-Wan-Kenobi, Princess Leia, Han Solo, and Luke Skywalker or Luke S, as in Lucas.
Some cinemas will be screening the film from mid-night opening night, and New Zealanders will be the first to see the last instalment of the endless epic drama. Books, toys and related souvenirs are already big sellers, however if you are the parent of little ones, George Lucas has a word of caution: "I don't think I would take a five- or six-year-old to this." This picture is darker and is not recommended for children under nine, and the end of Anakin Skywalker may be too terrifying for the tiny tots. We see him travel to a hellish planet with erupting volcanoes and molten lava and literally "end in hell", a hell more seething, more smouldering, more stunning than we have ever seen before.
By the time Lucas had reached Episode VI not only was he a billionaire, but he had finally reached a goal he had set for himself in Episode I "making an entirely digital film". He has now done it using digital cameras, digital effects and even digital characters. In the first Star Wars Yoda, a major supporting actor was a rubber puppet. In the last one he was 100 per cent digitalised. A supporting actor completely digitalised? What next? A leading actor? Indeed, shots that were to be re-done by Ewan McGregor who plays Anakin were digitalised because he was unavailable for re-shooting. Is this the beginning of the end of human actors? We shall see! Has Lucas reached the end of the road in filmmaking? Is there anything he can do to top the wonder of Star Wars ? Wisely he has no such plans. He shall continue to direct "small movies that please me, and if they fail that does not matter." He certainly can afford it.
"Some believe that in 100 years Star Wars will be a religion", or as Lucas himself put it: "Nothing more than a pretty minor footnote in the pop culture of our time." Whichever it may be, for the time being it is bigger than anything we have ever seen, and very soon George Lucas will be even bigger than he has ever been.
As for us, we shall forever cherish the heroes and villains, of robots, droids and wookies, that came to us "from a galaxy far, far away", almost 30 years ago, to entertain as well as to instruct us -- that as long as we are fighting on the side of Good, "Remember, the force will always be with you."


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