Friday, May 25, 2012

How STAR WARS Is Changing Everything!

STAR WARS is to cinema what The Beatles are to music.

STAR WARS recreated modern culture: entertainment, technology, craft, and industry.

It remade how movies look, sound, and are experienced, and how they are crafted, budgeted, marketed, merchandised, and franchised.

But most created a global generation of creators.

Here's a view on it from someone who lived through it and was happily changed by it.

Chapter quick-links:

--- Fun can be High Art, too: ---

"Here's where the fun begins."

How did this happen?

The '60s generation, which George Lucas is part of, is so storied because they ignited a cultural renaissance that changed global society, a Big Bang that we are still expanding from. One outgrowth of that creative revolution was that the counterculture saved Hollywood.

Young people had quit going to slick films that didn't speak to them by the late '60s and Hollywood was going bankrupt. In desperation they gave the reins to hippie creators. Overviews of this New Hollywood era like "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls" and "A Decade Under The Influence" reveal how the resulting films -more daring, more realistic, more nuanced- reversed their bad fortunes and progressed a better cinema.>

Now, you can go with their unfortunate snide postscript that 'the auteurs did serious pictures with depth, but then George and Steven dumbed it all down into blockbusters for the masses'.

"I find your lack of faith disturbing."

Or...go with the reality that all of these directors were applying a modern, realist sensibility to what used to be dismissed as 'genre pictures', and that Lucas and Spielberg are part of that same pantheon.

Left to Right: Easy Rider; The Godfather; The Exorcist; American Graffiti

Genre pictures as Art:

    EASY RIDER (biker pic)
    PATTON and APOCALYPSE NOW (war pic)
    M*A*S*H* and ANNIE HALL (screwball comedy)
    THE GODFATHER (gangster pic)
    THE EXORCIST and JAWS (horror pic)
    PAPER MOON and BOUND FOR GLORY (period piece)
    ROCKY and RAGING BULL (sports pic)

Those outmoded genre labels no longer really applied, because the counterculture auteurs had now raised these forms into cinematic art.

These classics were made by smart film buffs who recognized how these stories should have been made, and lifted the subject matter to the level it always deserved. This is the same generation that resurrected the forgotten CASABLANCA, invented Art Houses for showings of Italian Neorealism and Japanese directors and French New Wave, canonized the Silent Film comedians and the Marx Brothers, archived comic strips like "Prince Valiant" and "Krazy Kat" in coffee table books, filtered comic books through Pop Art and deconstructed them in Underground Comix, and upgraded dusty crime pictures to 'Film Noir' shaded with expressionism and existentialism.

They knew what it was like to live and breathe this material when they were young, process it through higher education and hindsight, and filter their film works through the bold faith of a youth coupled with the insightful craft of an adult.

"Don't call me a mindless philosopher, you overweight glob of grease."

STAR WARS is actually richer than those films.

It is a polyglot that references all genres of film, myth, and text at once. Not one of these films or those before them, for all of their unimpeachable merits, does that. As such, it is a metatext for the entire creative century. Its prism of the past for the present anticipates the following future of hybrid art from cyberpunk to steampunk, postpunk to hiphop, WATCHMEN to FIREFLY, RAW magazine to JUXTAPOZ.

In the 20th century, modern life had become fast and complex, and was best expressed in the mosaic; whether it's Pablo Picasso's overlapping abstractions, Hannah Hoch's or Romare Bearden's collages, John Coltrane's 'sheets of sound', or the cover of SGT. PEPPER, meaning was conveyed in multiplicity. If you knew all that stuff, you knew, and if you didn't, you're Mr. Jones.

"Something is happening here
and you don't know what it is..."

In the wake of ON THE BEACH and PLANET OF THE APES, early '70s Science Fiction had become message pictures warning about where we were heading. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, SOYLENT GREEN, and THX-1138 were valuable for social criticism and heady enough to earn critical credibility, but that ethical outlook soon strayed into a pessimistic solemnity. Pointing out a fire is a good thing, jumping into it without hope is a wrong move. Yet Science Fiction and Horror could only find validation from academia when they subscribed to the dark side. This unfortunately played to that critical failing which mistakes the depressing for depth and bitter disappointment for insight. That defeatist view is actually a form of spiritual cowardice which succumbs to the disease of despair instead of the antidote of the possible.

STAR WARS was the welcome antidote to pessimism, reminding us that the optimism of the counterculture strove for a funner, better world. Joy was just as valid and more essential than darkness, and for audiences exhausted by Watergate and roiling times, that view was exactly what they needed.

"Seriousness is the only refuge of the shallow." -Oscar Wilde

Lucas' triumph was also in proving that 'pop trash' and 'genre culture' were just as worthy as the 'realistic' stuff, and that smart films can still be fun.

At first, the critics knew that. TIME magazine declared it "The Year's Best Movie" when it was only May, and a televised countdown that year of the 'Greatest Films Ever Made' had STAR WARS already in the Top 10.

"He doesn't like you."

But gradually the Huffs and Tsks slung euphemisms like "effects pictures", "high concept", "popcorn flicks", and "blockbuster" in disdain for these rabble-driven affairs, and went to worship Woody Allen without his permission.

"Ohhh, the Great Unwashed! (throws wrist to forehead) Quickly, Jeeves, turn on UPSTAIRS DOWNTON! The vapors!"

The idea that blockbusters are 'simple pictures for simple people' is simply elitism, of course.

The earlier work of Lucas and Spielberg like AMERICAN GRAFFITI and JAWS were initially recognized for the same depth of craft and story as parallels like MEAN STREETS and THE EXORCIST, in particular by young critics informed by a similar outlook and cultural background. But STAR WARS and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS expanded the palette to a speculative fiction range that started to make conservative 'realist' critics uncomfortable.

That's because they tend to respect introspection but lack imagination. Or think that these are mutually exclusive. Dry dramas suffused with muted angst reassure them of their reality, while -for centuries- any story with imagination was dismissed as 'flights of fancy', 'boys adventure tales', 'potboilers', or 'escapist fare'. It's the same blinkered way in which narrow critics relegated the visionary Jules Verne to the 'Juvenile Fiction' shelf, heard Bebop's sophistication as cacophony, and called comic books subliterate trash while EC was pumping out subversive art.

The learned opinion was invalid here because it was based on reflexive prejudice and dismissive ignorance.

"Every normal human being is interested in two kinds of worlds; the Primary, everyday world which he knows through his senses and a Secondary world or worlds, which he not only can create in his imagination, but also cannot stop himself creating."
-W.H. Auden, 1967

But the mass success of the films also troubled newer critics, who feared that the victory of personal artistic films won by New Hollywood was now in danger of losing out to a backlash of kitsch crap.

To be fair, there was cause for concern. The late '70s was propelled by a rising wave of younger people who embraced hedonistic excess or slick fun over communal spirit and political revolt, and the mainstream age became ever glossier, finecombed, bubblegum, and hollow by the minute. Alarmed critics saw it all as one dumb throb of Hype, full of loud emptiness and signifying nothing. The sheer freshness and vitality of STAR WARS and the epic scope and careful character of CE3K won initial kudos, but with their seismic social success, what would Hollywood copycats wreak in their wake?

"Brought to you by the makers of Mr. Prolong/
Better known as Urge Overkill/
The pimping of the pleasure principle."

-Parliament, 1977.

It was a valid concern but applied to the wrong suspects. Lucas and Spielberg were friends, peers, and equals to the best respected of the New Hollywood creators like Scorsese and Coppola. Their craft, intelligence, and works stands with the best of the class. But if their imagination surpassed the limited scope of some starchy critics or clueless awards shows, whose failing is that?

You might see quaint photos, from when Beatlemania first hit New York, where unhip Businessmen mocked it wearing bad Beatle wigs and danced around. They look clueless and stupid because they were. The exponential legacy of the band only makes their obliviousness more archaic and laughable. They're a drag, and a well-known-drag; we turn the sound down on them and say rude things.

Next time, Mock Turtle, know the difference between genius and junk. Lucas and Spielberg may have made auteur films that happened to be popular, but personally I think it's their acolytes afterward that truly lost the plot. I could go on about how Dante, Zemeckes, and Columbus tended to make mall movies for the suburban bubble, and how that approach devolves into real Effects Catastrophes like GODZILLA, TRANFORMERS, and G.I. JOE...but I just did, so next.

“Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths.”
― Joseph Campbell

What was undeniable from any perspective is that George and Steven changed the paradigm of film in favor of the people.

--- STAR WARS reinvented
the future from the past: ---

"That wizard is just a crazy old man."

L to R: Metropolis; The Hidden Fortress;
Darkseid of The New Gods;
2001: A Space Odyssey

The film is a prism that taught young people to 'refine the past, redefine the future'. It divined its light from many sources.
    Books from "John Carter Of Mars" to "Dune", from "Lord Of The Rings" to Joseph Campbell's "Man Of A Thousand Faces"
    Pulp Science Fiction magazines from the '10s to the '40s
    Westerns like THE SEARCHERS
    Easterns like THE HIDDEN FORTRESS
    Middle-Easterns like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA
    Early Science Fiction films from METROPOLIS to Saturday matinee serials
    Comic Strips like "Buck Rogers", "Flash Gordon", and "Prince Valiant"
    Comic Book influences from Doctor Doom to Darkseid, from PLANET COMICS to Cody Starbuck
    The arthouse cred and SFX acumen of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, and offspring like SILENT RUNNING and DARK STAR
    The metaphysical New Wave Of Science Fiction books, and the used universe aesthetic of SOLARIS and Metal Hurlant/Heavy Metal.
And then there was Big Picture stuff like:
    World War II
    The Space Race
    The Counterculture values

"Where did you dig up that old fossil?"

John Williams skipped the atonal electronic scores then current in the downer flicks and modeled his score deliberately after the triumphant orchestral themes and marches of great '30s film composers like Erich Korngold and Max Steiner.

Even the classic art deco 20th Century Fox logo intro was brought back from mothballs as a triumphant celebration of the past by the present.

Sly Stone said, "If it was good in the past, it's still good." The sharp kids got that about STAR WARS, and backtracked to all these sources with equal respect. Or they ate their popcorn and had a good time, which is nice, too.

STAR WARS Reissue poster, 1978
(by Drew Struzan & Charles White III;
in the spirit of J.C. Leyendecker and N.C. Wyeth)

--- Before and Aftermath: ---


"It's an energy field created by all living things."

STAR WARS clearly made no claims for arriving full-cloth by itself. It wore all its many influences as precisely the point. But it also succeeded on the crest of many social undercurrents that lifted it up.
    From the early days of SF fandom, when Forrest J. Ackerman created the first pen pal networks and attended the first 1939 convention
    to the rise of '60s fanzines and small comic conventions
    to the letter-writing campaign to save STAR TREK, and the networks of fans who then created the exponentially successful TREK conventions in the early '70s
    to the art cred of new speculative literature like "2001", "Slaughterhouse-5", and "Gravity's Rainbow"
    to the modest success of LOGAN'S RUN (1976), an unusually large-budget SF film that spawned comics, books, and a brief television series
    and especially to the success of toys and merchandise for STAR TREK and PLANET OF THE APES in the mid-'70s, even after those franchises were considered dormant

The support system is in place, and the precedent has just been set by an unlikely film.

Before JAWS (June 1975), movies were released gradually across time by regions, building up word-of-mouth momentum. Only exploitation movies had wide simultaneous release, which was meant to grab a quick buck before advance word sunk them.

When JAWS was dumped into wide-release as a summer quickie, it became the highest-grossing film ever released. Crowds knew it was a smarter take on monster pics, full of craft and character beyond the shocking thrills, and came back again and again. Lines formed around the block for every showing and stayed that way for months. Hollywood was blindsided by this reaction, but Lucas saw the value in opening wide close to Memorial Day, when kids are out of school and the summer would drive droves into air conditioning.

May 25th, 1977 was when everything changed.>>>


"Don't everyone thank me at once."

One advantage STAR WARS had was no competition. In the few years after, there were few at the studios canny enough or fast enough to grasp how to respond. There were incredibly long gaps for impatient fans wanting more. The announcement that the second STAR WARS would take another three years was almost an inconceivable wait. (The talk was there would be '12 Adventures Of Luke Skywalker', and at this rate we wouldn't be done till 2010!)

This was endurable for awhile because the film was still thrilling the throngs months and months after it had opened. There were no multiplexes with multiple showings yet, so you went to the traditional contained theatre and stood under the hot sun in a line measuring 12 parsecs. In fact, it came right back when it left. Normally, a film may have a reissue on a tenth or twentieth anniversary. STAR WARS was rereleased on its first anniversary when it had barely left the dollar theaters! And it made money all over again.

What came next were only films that had already been in process. At first there were just grinders like THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN and LASERBLAST. But verrrry gradually the great successors rolled out:

    SUPERMAN (Dec 1978)
    ALIEN (May 1979)
    STAR TREK: The Motion Picture (Dec 1979)

L to R: CE3K; Invasion Of The Body Snatchers; Superman; Alien

It's important to note not just how great these films were, or how successful they all became, but how diverse they all are. And that they pretty much owned the times they debuted with little or no competition. It also gave audiences time to really appreciate each film as a work, instead of being lost in a cockfight competition.

"What a piece of junk."

Which is where we mention that the Suits threw out also-rans like BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS, METEOR, SATURN 3, FLASH GORDON, KRULL, and THE LAST STARFIGHTER along the way. Disney was so rattled that they just remade their own 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA as THE BLACK HOLE with a pinch of 2001 at the end. If these films looked like what some hapless Suit thought a Sci-Fi or Fantasy film was, well, yeah. Which I say to make the point that these bandwagon movies were committee-driven instead of creator-driven.

(If you were a kid and liked these films, don't take my flip quips to heart. If some yob with a blog dissed ESCAPE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN, I'd probably get miffed, too. 'Like and let like', I say.)

1977 to 1982 is a golden age for great SF films, but also a learning curve for the new Hollywood machine.

By 1980, you finally had the true sequel THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, plus bonuses like ALTERED STATES and SOMEWHERE IN TIME. And in 1981, the gears start turning with RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, along with scattered gems like SUPERMAN II, TIME BANDITS, EXCALIBUR, and OUTLAND. These films were spread out across the year, paced carefully to give each one room to profit. But it wasn't till 1982 that The Machine had finally got into full gear, producing what is arguably 'The Best Sci-Fi Summer Ever'>:



    *(THE ROAD WARRIOR was actually the 1981 sequel, MAD MAX 2, from Australia. The first hadn't been a hit here, so they renamed the sequel in the United States.)

See that gap? That's because the first three made immediate money and the next four were written off as flops. In that time, the STAR WARS model still held sway: people rung blocks all day for months on hit films. Months. The latter films were crushed by that kind of competition, and were only saved by the new rise of home VHS tapes and cable showings a few years later. I remember enjoying BLADE RUNNER, appropriately in a huge vintage 1930s theatre, with only three other people.

Another factor that would make or break films was that you could only see them in the theater, so you had to go back repeatedly. A fraction of people had HBO then, and the very lean choices on VHS were impossibly expensive. STAR WARS wouldn't be shown on TV or be affordable on tape until 1984. The theater was the temple of the times.

L to R: E.T.; Star Trek II;
Blade Runner; The Thing

There were also parallel attempts that year like MEGAFORCE, CONAN, AIRPLANE II, SWAMP THING, and CAT PEOPLE. The distinction is the classic one. The best of all these films were by fans/auteurs who knew what they were doing. The worst were by hacks who didn't know to respect the material or the audience.

"The plans you refer to will soon be back in our hands."

1982 is a watershed year because The Machine is now in place. They know the market, the release pattern, and the media (like Entertainment Tonight and Time) to promote it. And they know the two times to release the big guns: either Summer or Christmas. If 1977 is when the SF blockbuster was invented, then 1982 is when the Summer Of Competing Blockbusters came to fruition.

The wilderness years are over and our modern system is here, for both good and ill.

--- The STAR WARS Effect: ---

"It belongs to us now."

Ultimately, STAR WARS became the wave that floats all boats.

The global success of STAR WARS single-handedly...

    made Science Fiction and Fantasy viable industries in the mainstream
    resurrected STAR TREK in films and new TV series
    created a cottage industry of merchandise: mags, books, posters, toys, etc.
    accelerated the importation of Japanese animated series like "Battle Of The Planets" (Gatchaman) and "Star Blazers" (Space Battleship Yamato), which opened Anime and Manga to the West
    saved Marvel Comics and Fox Studios from bankruptcy
    rewrote how movies are greenlit, budgeted, crafted, marketed, merched, and released
    advanced all the technology to make films
    generated enough popular demand to initiate multiplexes
    improved movie theaters with THX sound and, later, digital projection
    paved the later success of Fantasy, Comic Book, and Video Game films
    created a generational tide of fans

After John Williams, movie scores returned to full symphonic suites from heirs like James Horner ('80s), Danny Elfman ('90s), and Mark Giacchino ('00s).

The San Diego Comic-Con was a modest hive of comics mavens when STAR WARS did a poster giveaway for publicity in 1976. Now it's bigger than God with lavish extravaganzas footed by all the major and minor multimedia empires, covered by all the major and minor media.

Without its success there would never have been franchises/cash cows like LORD OF THE RINGS, THE MATRIX, TOY STORY, HARRY POTTER, TWILIGHT, and HUNGER GAMES. Or television series like the five new STAR TREKS, ANDROMEDA, FARSCAPE, FIREFLY, LOST, and its own CLONE WARS and REBELS.


--- "The love you take is equal
to the love you make": ---

But beyond the superficial level of accountants, there is the deeper level of how the film inspired and empowered the creatives.

"It binds the galaxy together."

STAR WARS fans didn't want to just consume the movie, they wanted to create it themselves.

The first question on their minds was, "How was that done?"

They bankrolled the first waves of media culture. The SF start-up magazine STARLOG suddenly went from pulp to glossy along with satellite mags like FUTURE (hard science) and FANGORIA (horror films). STARLOG -essentially the TIME magazine of Science Fiction in its day- became so important as the monthly community lifeline that every year legions of genre celebrities flooded them with birthday greetings. There were studied theses in academic rivals like SCIENCE FANTASY FILM CLASSICS and FANTASTIC FILMS: the mythological subtext of STAR WARS; a long treatise on the original INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS as a criticism of McCarthyism; and a radical and prescient theory positing all of Superman's powers as actually being telekinetic. And the seminal FAMOUS MONSTERS reminded you where all this came from.

Film studios had given up on SF films right before STAR WARS and dismantled their Special Effects departments. Lucas had to invent the Industrial Light And Magic department just to do his film. But magazines like STARLOG and CINEFEX taught a new generation of teenagers and children how SFX were done and about all the pioneers like O'Brien and Harryhausen who perfected them: blue screen, green screen, motion control, glass matte paintings, optical printing, stop motion, maquettes. They also introduced the young to the canon of great films, shows, and books and interviewed the casts and creators. They relayed the continuum into the community.

Beside mags, the fans bought soundtrack albums, official film storyboard books, ship and set blueprints, the published scripts and the bootleg drafts, and even under-the-table bad bootleg VHS dubs of STAR WARS years before it was released publicly.

And of course toys. When they finally came.

"I thought you said this thing was fast!"

As impossible as it seems, there were no STAR WARS toys when the film came out and wouldn't be for awhile. Lucas was smart to release a novelization well in advance and a Marvel Comics adaption a few months early. Between those and the cover story of STARLOG #7, he hooked folks like me who hit spinner racks, Waldenbooks tables, and drugstore mag stands. Once we were hooked, the Hildebrandt poster and the rest were scooped up. But there were no toys. You had to buy a voucher from Kenner for four action figures, which would be delivered in a little white box well after Christmas in February, a full nine months after the film opened. Measured in Kid Time, this was like aeons. And after decades of 12" G.I. Joes and Barbies, their 4" simplicity came as sort of a shock. But they sold enough figures that next year to outnumber the present population of the United States!

This generation was insatiable to know how to do everything, based on their inspiration from STAR WARS: Special Effects, Scriptwriting, Directing, Music, Sound, Cinematography, Storyboards, Set Design, Editing, Costume Design, Creature Design, Posters, Credits, and Logos. Just as The Beatles inspired untold millions to jump into music, so this film drove a tsunami of talent into every phase of production for films, and eventually games, software, digital art, and toy design.

It's why sculptors and game designers now can become superstars at conventions. And why fans will watch the 'Making Of' features on discs as intently as they watched the film.

"How is it done? I want to do that for a living."

Doubt their impact on the 'mainstream' culture? Your smartphone, desktop, laptop, and tablet were created by STAR TREK fans.

"I can't think of a story meeting I've ever had without STAR WARS being evoked at some point." -Jon Favreau >

If you want to see this come full circle, watch the movie SUPER 8 (2011). This sweet ode to the films of 1977 to 1982, and the teen auteurs it inspired, is made by J.J. Abrams who was one of them. Their rooms look like my room did. That Chewbacca trading card, that cover to Detective Comics #475, the Starlogs. It's all there, and wonderfully done. [Or you could watch STRANGER THINGS (2016), or read PAPER GIRLS (2016).]

Then, of course, J.J. Abrams made the circle complete, first reigniting STAR TREK with his retelling of the original crew (2009), and then helming the critically acclaimed and monstrously-lucrative comeback film, STAR WARS: Episode VII, The Force Awakens (2015).

A Rey of new hope.

--- Creative Culture: ---

"We don't serve their kind here."

There is no geek culture. There are only creators.

There's this media myth called the Geek. It's based on the fact that media archetypes are essentially like being in High School Forever: reward the Football Hero, swoon for the Prom Queen, party with The Bully, and knock the Nerd. (And follow the Popular until they aren't.)

Even the U.S. Congress resorted to these stereotypes about Nerd-calling in referring to educated people with computer savvy. As Jon Stewart pointed out on The Daily Show, "Really? Nerds? You know, actually, I think the word you're looking for is 'experts'." (Audience explodes in cheers.)

"You're who?"

It may be all geek to them, but let's drop those fratboys. Let's reject Geek. We wear it like a Scarlet G, but enough. We're too grown for their word.

I reject 'Geek' and 'Nerd'. These are cruel words used by those who lack imagination to hurt those who use their imagination to make a better, funner world.

When you walk around Comic-Con, you're in a Disney World of every variation of creativity. Look at the hundreds of thousands of varied faces and interests and personal styles there and try to point out the Geek. Only a news crew can, when they shoot the only cliches they know (cosplay of film characters). The reality of the event is too much to quantify and the crowd more so. This is just...everyone, and it sure isn't High School anymore. It's the diversity of the real world beyond hurtful stereotypes.

I recognize us on smart shows like SPACED, but not in the grating cliches on BIG BANG THEORY.

The people libeled labeled Geeks or Nerds are not nebbishes, perma-virgins, dweebs, malcontents, librarians, math-heads, Slave Leia's, Klingon-abbees, inflexibles, misanthropes, obsessives, cockatoos, mice, or ugly ducklings. They are not loners on the margins of some fantasized Barbie and Ken mainstream. They are smart, funny, thoughtful people of every personality type, shape, and background who are engaged with the possibilities of the world. They read, they think, they make, they reimagine. They are capable people who can actually do things or say something meaningful about them, instead of just buying or voguing things.

They have never been just daydreamers, they are visionaries.

They are not the weird people. They are the interesting people.

They're your daughter or your best friend, or you, if you're reading this.

"You're braver than I thought."

The people called Geeks are the Experts who learned how to do everything fun and cool. They were inspired by STAR WARS or STAR TREK or something very cool like them.

This generation of creators led to the myriad Special Effects and Digital Effects companies; to Pixar and all the CG animation studios; to video games and software companies; and to entire syndicated networks like the SciFi Channel (now SyFy), The Cartoon Network, and Adult Swim.

They put us on the moon and placed the satellites that bounce the call to your cell phone that they designed. They turned Dick Tracy's wrist-TV into your video conference meeting. They're why your car can park itself or your bus runs on electricity, how you MapQuested your trip or GoogleEarthed the streets of other countries.

They write WIRED magazine and LOST and THE AVENGERS, expand the Internet, do all of the flashy TV commercials, design all the Apps, and made casual wear, action figures, and pop trivia essential in the hip office.

They are the life's blood of Silicon Valley, which is the engine of the economy. They're the bulk of staff at Apple, eBay, Amazon, Craigslist, Electronic Arts, FaceBook, YouTube, ThinkGeek,and any design agency.

They are Wikipedia, AintItCool, Anonymous, Rotten Tomatoes, MoveOn, Entertainment Weekly, Good Vibrations, Funny Or Die, Crackle, and Huff Post. They are Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. They are Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, and Elon Musk. They are the Cosplayers, the Webcomic makers, the IT gurus, the DJs, the Steampunks, the Fan Fiction writers, the Indie Rock and Hiphop bands, the Film and Art and Fashion students, the Plush makers, the Modern Primitives, the Comic Shop owners, the Podcasters, graphic designers, illustrators, and voice talent.


They conjured all the devices and programs that let you make movies, music, and art of your own.

If it was cool and imaginative and fun, they made it.

"So I believe that dreams -day dreams, you know, with your eyes wide open and your brain-matter whizzing- are likely to lead to the betterment of the world. The imaginative child will become the imaginative man or woman most apt to create, to invent, and therefore foster civilization."

-L. Frank Baum, 1917.

They aren't just the consumers that prop up the economy, they are the creators who enable it.

As they always were, but now more than ever, creative people are the architects of the real world.

L to R: Brother From Another Planet; The Blair Witch Project; District 9; Moon

"I don't know, I can imagine quite a bit."

Now we live in a time when the flood of new film franchises is almost simultaneous. This is not just because Suits have become adroit enough to milk us (The Architect). More crucially, it's because we have grown up to become the creators in the industry (Neo).

It's our imagination that ripples the social waves. We are going from galley slaves to captains.

Quality is the tell. Let's look at how 'subliterate trash' like Comic Books have been redefined by a generation of filmmakers who knew better, for a global audience that responds to that quality.

Since the '60s, Comics have undergone continuous renaissances that have broadened and deepened their scope, and made superstars out of their artists and writers. It's inevitable that a comic-culture wave of auteurs is, like before, showing Hollywood the merit of genre material and how to do it at the better level it deserves.

'Refine the past, redefine the future.' They knew what it was like to live and breathe this material when they were young, process it through higher education and hindsight, and filter their film works through the bold faith of a youth coupled with the insightful craft of an adult.

Tim Burton admits to being clueless about Batman as a character, but Christopher Nolan knew him inside out; Burton coasted on goth style and Jack Nicholson, while Nolan respected the great Comics writers and artists by making great character films. When Kenneth Branagh pitched his ideas for a Thor film, the Marvel Comics chief admits that Kenneth knew their mythos better than even they did. Joss Whedon seamlessly integrated all the storylines and styles of other Marvel films into his astounding AVENGERS, but more importantly, he made an ensemble character piece with wit and imagination that honors the true mythos of Marvel Comics, the creators, the fans, and thrills the general audience.

But it's not all capes and clang. Meanwhile, fans/creators have made critically-acclaimed pictures without many viewers realizing they were from graphic novels: GHOST IN THE SHELL, FROM HELL, GHOST WORLD, ROAD TO PERDITION, PERSEPOLIS, AMERICAN SPLENDOR, V FOR VENDETTA, TAMARA DREWE, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, SCOTT PILGRIM, BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR, THE DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL; and TV series like THE WALKING DEAD, JESSICA JONES, PREACHER, and LEGION.

There's even a rich world of acclaimed comics-inspired films that don't come from actual comics at all: THE MATRIX, UNBREAKABLE, THE INCREDIBLES, DR. HORRIBLE'S SINGALONG BLOG, PUSH, HAUNTERS (Korea), CHRONICLE, and series like MISFITS and THE FADES (both U.K.).

L to R: American Splendor; V For Vendetta; Persepolis; Scott Pilgrim

Is V FOR VENDETTA 'subliterate' when it is inspiring actual democratic change in the world? When did MANHATTAN or HOWARD'S END ever do that?

Who galvanizes the viewers and the critics with TWIN PEAKS, LOST, and GAME OF THRONES?

Maybe it's time to snap out of the 'Praising The Pretties' media routine and quit segregating the interesting people out of reality.

Newspeak like 'Geek Chic' only glosses over the once-ostracized putting the free in Freak. Are the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and Rolling Stone devoting constant columns to this culture as just a hot trend...or, more likely, because the staff is part of this vast culture?

THE ESCAPISTS, by Brian K. Vaughan and Phillip Bond (2006),
based on Michael Chabon's Pulitzer winner, "The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay"

Lazy journalists will write cringe-inducing 'Bam! Crash! Zow!' articles about these works half-a-century out of date. But a generation of fans now writes professionally for all the major outlets. The days of the bad translator are ending when the person who speaks the language is finally hired. TIME magazine counted the WATCHMEN graphic novel as one of The 100 Best Novels of the past century. Alison Bechdel's graphic novel FUN HOME was considered one of the best books of 2006 by The Times of London, the New York Times,, the Los Angeles Times, and more. And MAUS won the Pulitzer Prize.

Which leads to the ultimate question: if Geeks are outside of the mainstream, how come they are the ones creating it?

From the top grossing films for thirty years, to the devices that we all use, to the popular culture we converse in, to the new creative ideas that generate all the wealth, to the music that matters, to the vast array of creative undergrounds that always pave our cultural future...the mainstream has been our doing for quite awhile.

So, for the record once and for all, we are not in that conceptual closet anymore.

We are the tributaries that create the mainstream.

"Still, she's got a lot of spirit."

By the same token that they can't exclude us anymore, we shouldn't exclude each other.

White suburban dudes are often getting their geek props, but I'll be more impressed when proper due is finally given to overlooked oceans like the female >>>> or the Asian >>> or Black >>>> fan communities.

Hello, always here, always a part of it, too (waving arms)...

Girly Vader finds your lack of faith disturbing.

Update, 2015:

STAR WARS: The Force Awakens
The new stars of the third STAR WARS trilogy: John Boyega and Daisy Ridley.
Art by Drew Struzan.

Update, 2017:

Sabine Wren; Jyn Erso; Dr. Aphra; Rey
Jessika Pava

--- "Remember, the Force will be with you...always." ---

STAR WARS had a unique perspective on spirituality that hadn't been expressed before in mainstream films.

I grew up through a religion that controlled people through guilt. It constricted joys and emphasized suffering. The best you could be was a pawn in a chess game between a Good and Evil you should fear equally.

STAR WARS took a Buddhist stance that instead empowered you personally with real choice over your own faults or strengths. This sheared the shackles of dogma right off of me in one swoop.

For that alone, I owe it the deepest gratitude.

--- Jedi vs. Sith ---

There's a dark side and a bright side to all this, of course.

What's wrong:

"I have a very bad feeling about this."

In many ways, all the success of STAR WARS is eating itself.

Contest Media: STAR WARS became the biggest film of all time for awhile. Since then, entertainment pundits reduce every new release to a money score. Films are ruthlessly vetted over mass bucks in opening weekend, rather than on their quality or long-term success. From BLADE RUNNER to JOHN CARTER, many fine films got bum-rushed by this accountant narrowness.

Popularity contests are for High School. Drop the cock fight and spread the spotlight.

Insane Budgets: STAR WARS cost $10 Million to make. EMPIRE doubled that. Now, it costs $100 to $200 Million just to design a poster. Meanwhile economies falter and kids starve. I avoid the obvious schlockbusters as much out of economic protest as from their lack of quality.

Franchise-Building: The new F word is Franchise. LORD OF THE RINGS was a legitimate literary trilogy. Splitting TWILIGHT into two parts to milk teens is just greed.

Dumb Summer Glut: For every STAR WARS you were bound to get a gaggle of GALAXINAs. And now the budgets of small countries are spent foisting TRANSFORMERS and loud clattering CG animals on us weakly weekly.

"If money is all that you love, then that's what you'll receive."

Merchandising: Just listen to Kevin Smith talk about Joel Silver and Warner Brothers wasting the entire '90s trying to turn a wrongheaded SUPERMAN film into an excuse for horrible toy revenue...(shudder).

[Proving that Suits never learn, they recently threw Bryan Singer's magesterial -and successful- antidote SUPERMAN RETURNS (2006) under the bus so they could regress to making wrongheaded Superman films with Zack Snyder instead.]

"Don't be too proud of this technological terror you've constructed."

Ronnie's Raygun: A paranoid Reagan devised an impossible missile defense system that got tagged 'Star Wars' by a zombie press, and the courts enforced their right to do so over Lucas' objections.
(Some of you kids missed this bad movie, but they remade it recently as the Bush years.)

Rupert Murdoch: STAR WARS' profits pulled 20th Century Fox out of bankruptcy, where it was later bought up by this scheming megalomaniac and corporate criminal to destroy journalism and democracy through apprentices like Fox News.

"Only a master of evil, Darth."

"He has too much of his father in him.":

The Father Complex: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK has one of the greatest surprise reveals in film history. This was rapidly devalued by everyone and their left asscheek. James Earl Jones was playing the villain in CONAN a few months later; when he laughingly remarked that some of the dialogue with the hero reminded him of that moment, the director rewrote it to make it the same revelation!

Susan Faludi, the Pulitzer-winning journalist, writes in "Stiffed: The Betrayal Of The American Male" of the counterculture's true conflict: they asked their parents and elders to live by the ethics they taught instead of betraying them in practice, and were demonized for the request. It's a very clear pattern that countercultural films from ROSEMARY'S BABY and THE GODFATHER, CHINATOWN and ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, to CARRIE and THE SHINING, APOCALYPSE NOW and EMPIRE used the paternal rift as a metaphor for betrayed social (/familial) pacts.

But now Hollywood steals that specific Darth riff for every hero/villain confrontation. 'You're evil!' 'But I made you.' BATMAN, ALIEN 4, THE X-FILES, SPIDER-MAN 3, MINORITY REPORT, BATMAN BEGINS, IRON MAN, THE DEPARTED, THERE WILL BE BLOOD, THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE ...

At least TOY STORY 2 had fun with it!

What's right:

"Stay on target.":

The inspiration of STAR WARS is exponential.

It has become the ultimate timeless allegory of the triumph of progress over repression.

It energized a generations of creators, who now share the saga their kids.

> "The Force is still strong in Katie"

It revolutionized tech innovation: computer-aided special effects, theatre speaker systems, editing software, games, personal devices, and applications.

The best disciples focus on storytelling and character at the core of their worldscapes.

Smart fun craft has been made. People have felt great and wanted to share that.

E P I L O G U E :

"You have taken your first step
into a larger world."

Some movies should only be seen on the big screen where they are bigger than you. CITIZEN KANE, WIZARD OF OZ, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, 2001, THE GODFATHERs, STAR WARS, APOCALYPSE NOW. They're too big and they deserve the space. They make you come to it and respect its true granduer.

May there always be a big screen to see wonderful movies on.

STAR WARS also came out on my birthday. It was the best gift that has never stopped giving.

Thanks, George!

© Tym Stevens

See also:

-Why EMPIRE and LAST JEDI are actually the Best of the STAR WARS films

-2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY - Its Transcendent Influence on all Pop Culture!, with Music Player

-TWIN PEAKS: Its Influence on 25 Years of Film, TV, and Music!, with 5 Music Players

-How SPAGHETTI WESTERNS Revolutionized Rock Music!, with 3 Music Players

-The Big Bang of STARSTRUCK

- THE CANON 1: 50 Books That Created Modern Culture, with Music Player
- THE CANON 2: 50 More Books That Created Modern Pop Culture, with Music Player
- THE CANON 3: 50 Recent Books That Created Modern Culture, with Music Player

-Camille Paglia: "Why George Lucas Is the Greatest Artist of Our Time"

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