15 June 2011

Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope)

For as long as I've been alive, in every format of recorded video I've ever had access to, this has been my go-to movie. I know it so well I can fall asleep to it, sometimes before the droids get to Tattooine (~0:08:50), and if not then, then almost always before we meet Luke Skywalker (~0:16:30). It's also been my go-to for discussing story structure, as it hits all the right beats clearly and concisely, and is one of the most written-about screenplays in the history of cinema. (It's also my go-to cautionary example, how the constraints George Lucas had to face brought out the kind of ingenious problem-solving that made this film everything it is; versus the obstruction-free environment of the prequel trilogies [and even as early as Return of the Jedi] which led to a squandering of talent and resources and hard-won goodwill in an uninspired sloppy cash-grab.)

But it's that second thing that made me sit through the movie tonight. Like Magnolia and Dr. Strangelove before it, I went through and did a beat analysis breakdown of the whole story, noting even roughly when each scene-cut took place. Just to get my head back into thinking about big-picture stuff so I can give a good hard push on my script this weekend. That's the only reason I could tell you how many minutes in certain scenes happen. Act Two begins after Luke tells Ben, "There's nothing for me here. I want to go with you to Alderaan and learn the ways of the Force." The next scene (~0:42:45) has Ben and the gang standing on a cliff face, describing the first gauntlet they must beat: Mos Eisley Spaceport. ("You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy," after all.)

The Midpoint (or call it Act Three, if you prefer thinking of a film as four equal-length acts; screw Syd Field, man) comes when their mission changes, from waiting for Ben to deactivate the tractor beam so they can all get away (their first mission of delivering R2-D2 to Alderaan having already been rendered null when their destination evaporated) into trying to rescue the captured princess from the black knight deep inside the well-protected castle (~1:08:18). The turn into Act Four (or Act Three, you Fieldians) is even easier to pinpoint: after having won a minor dogfight and escaped the castle/Death-Star, they deliver R2's plans (and the princess) to the Rebel Fortress (which is where they were headed all along, before the battle over Tattooine that sets everything in motion. From there they plan the attack (~1:41:00) to bring the whole thing down, and the majority of the final act is the big Death Star Trench sequence.

There's nothing I can't say about this film that hasn't been written before, probably. But I could say enough to fill ten blogs. I've seen this movie too many times. I admit it. I'm not a fanboy, exactly, but I'm not exactly not one either, if I'm being honest. Anyway, I grew up on it, with the toys, the t-shirts, the Pizza Hut drinking glasses, the bedsheets and bedroom curtains. The truth is, yesterday I was wearing some weirdo vintage Star Wars t-shirt my parents bought me for Christmas. So whatever. Anyway I'm mostly excited by it at this point as an exercise in combining and "modernizing" (if you will) Joseph Campbell myths and universal story elements. Even the ways it diverges from the screenplay formula are perfect examples of how to do so. And returning to it is often, at this point, a way of meditating on the relationships between scenes and sequences, sequences and acts, acts and story.

That's what I did. That's what I'll keep doing. The truth is, I've seen it too many times to look at it and just see another movie. This is a thing in my blood, a story embedded in my DNA when I was still learning how to view movies and stories and heroes. I can tear it apart and dismantle it and I can see all the parts and how they work and why, and I can marvel that they do, and occasionally I'll see through the rose-colored lenses and suddenly catch on a flaw (especially when fine-toothing like tonight) but throughout it all, there's something more than sum-of-the-parts in this bastard, and it's both magical and comfortable. It's childhood adventure, escapist fantasy, and clockwork perfection. No amount of looking under the hood is going to undo that. Seems like that's about as good a testament to its power as anything I can think of.

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