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Now in our sixth calendar year!
PCR # 269  (Vol. 6, No. 20)  This edition is for the week of May 16--22, 2005.

This Week's PCR
Movie Review
The Saga That is Star Wars

Commentary by:
Michael A. Smith

theater seats

The Saga That Is Star Wars
 by Mike Smith
And for those who missed Mike's preview in #267:
"Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith"  by Mike Smith
The Quest For Decency In America
 by Nick King
Why I Hate Star Wars....He's Dead, Jim
 by Vinnie Blesi
Chan-wook Park....Matango
Inaugural column  by Peter Card
Sith For A Buck
 by John Lewis
One Pope To Go!?
 by Matt Drinnenberg
May 19th....Frank Gorshin....Money In The Bank....Jaws: The Story, Part 19
 by Mike Smith
Archives of Nolan's Pop Culture Review
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Archives 2002
Archives 2001
Archives 2000
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Deep Space.

The eerie blue-green planet of Aquilae slowly drifts into view. A small speck, orbiting the planet, glints in the light of a near by star.

The above are the first few lines in a 13 page story treatment submitted by a young filmmaker named George Lucas in 1973. It is a tale of spaceships and galactic battles. Of Jedi Knights and aliens. The title is, simply, "THE STAR WARS." From these pages a story of epic proportions grew, spanning six films and almost 30 years. This week, the final film in the saga, "Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith," opens amid much excitement and anticipation. Even though the end of the film is pretty much a given: Anakin Skywalker turns to the dark side of the Force and becomes Darth Vader, fans of all ages want to know WHY? To answer that question you have to go back to the beginning:

As originally conceived, "The Star Wars" was written in nine parts, like the old movie serials director Lucas enjoyed watching as a child. In proposing his film, Lucas realized that the fourth chapter, introducing Luke Skywalker, would be the one to film. The story had a beginning and an end so, if the film failed at the boxoffice, at least those that saw it would see a complete story. Originally planned as a Christmas release for 1976, work on the special effects pushed it back until May 25, 1977. To complicate the problem, theatre owners originally agreed to show "Star Wars" on 40 screens. That's 40 screens in the entire country! I'll bet that in most major cities you'll be able to find "Episode III" on 40 screens in the same town. In a show of the film companies' power (which has pretty much evaporated due to the influx of multi-plexes), 20th Century Fox told theatre owners that the only way they would be able to play their OTHER film of the summer, "The Other Side of Midnight," they would have to play "Star Wars." Based on a best selling novel, "The Other Side of Midnight" was thought to be a future blockbuster. The film did well, eventually grossing over $24 million. Which isn't bad since many of the theatres that played "Star Wars" were still doing big business when "The Other Side of Midnight" was released. Some were doing so well that they passed on switching films. And who could blame them? Since it's original release, "Star Wars" (now sub-titled "Episode IV, A New Hope") has grossed over $460 million in the US and almost $800 world wide. Not bad for an $11 million investment.

The popularity of the film took the film world by surprise. Fox had such little faith in the movie that they almost didn't release it, contemplating writing off the budget as a tax loss. A test screening changed their minds, but not before studio president Alan Ladd, Jr. signed over the sequel and merchandising rights back to George Lucas. The good news: a studio in financial trouble showed a major profit for the first time in years. The bad news: Fox shareholders were so upset with the deal Ladd made that they fired him.

'The Star Wars', May 1973Free to now make the films the way he wanted to (Lucas fought with Fox on "Star Wars" on everything from pleading with the studio cleaning team NOT to wax and buff the floors of the sets (he wanted the locations to look "lived in") to whether or not Chewbacca the Wookie should wear shorts! With creative freedom, and enough money to finance his vision, Lucas continued his saga with "Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back" (1980) and "Episode VI: Return of the Jedi" (1983). Though he didn't direct these films, he had absolute control over the stories and characters, something he has never relinquished.

In 1999 Lucas went back behind the camera for the first Episode of the story. Entitled "The Phantom Menace," the film introduced Anakin Skywalker as a child and featured a much younger Obi Wan Kenobi. The film was met with much disappointment by fans who had grown up with the original trilogy. Cute kids and babbling computer generated sidekicks was not what they expected. It should be noted that, in the time between "Jedi" and "Phantom Menace," Lucas had become a father. He wanted to make a film his child would enjoy and he certainly did that. Episode II, subtitled "Attack of the Clones," is much more character driven as Anakin, now a young adult, begins to discover who he is, both as a man and as a Jedi. In Episode III, Anakin fights his inner demons as best he can until he finally succumbs to the dark side of the Force. And it is this struggle that fans are lining up to see. Lucas has stated that he has no intention of making the last three episodes. At least not as feature films. He has hinted that if he does any more "Star Wars" related projects, they may be better suited for television. Which I'm sure will be fine with fans. But, until then, what began "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away" has finally reached the finish line. May the Force be with you!

Director George Lucas had most of the up and coming young actors of the 1970s audition for the original film. Try to imagine William Katt (The Greatest American Hero) as Luke Skywalker. Cindy Williams (Laverne and Shirley) or Jodie Foster as Princess Leia. Now close your eyes REALLY tight and imagine Kurt Russell, Nick Nolte, Christopher Walken, Perry King or Al Pacino as Han Solo. AL PACINO! Man, what a performance that would have been, though personally I would have loved to have seen Chris Walken at the controls of the Millennium Falcon: "Damn it Chewie, we need more cow bell!"

For one family, "Star Wars" became literally a family affair. Episodes IV-VI feature actor Denis Lawson as Wedge Antilles. In Episodes I-III, Obi Wan Kenobi is played by Lawson's nephew, Ewan McGregor.

Episode IV was originally rated G. However, a scene where Obi Wan Kenobi slices off the arm of an alien with his light sabre was added to give the film a more adult friendly PG. Episode III is the only film in the saga not rated PG. Due to it's very dark tone it earned a PG 13 rating.

Good Jedis have cool light sabre colors: Green, blue, purple. Bad Jedis' light sabres only come in red.

Episode IV was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It received 7 Oscars, including a special one for the sound effects. Episodes IV-VI won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects for the years they were released. By the late 1990s George Lucas and his gang at LucasFilm had competition. Though both Episodes I and II were nominated for their visual effects, they both lost the award, to "The Matrix" and "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" respectively.

This week's commentary, "The Saga That Is Star Wars", is ©2005 by Michael A. Smith.  All graphics this page are creations of Nolan B. Canova, ©2005, all rights reserved. All contents of "Nolan's Pop Culture Review" are ©2005 by Nolan B. Canova.