Tuesday, July 10, 2012

From Long Ago and Not Far Away, a Star Piece

By Dan Hagen
Starting the day with a surprising message from a stranger can be one of life’s little pleasures.
It was this: “ABOUT YOUR 1977 REVIEW OF ‘STAR WARS’ IN THE TIMES-COURIER. I'll bet that's the strangest subject line you'll see today, at least from someone in Pittsburgh.”
Luke Skywalker painting by Tom Carlton
The message was from Dave Malehorn, a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. While working up a column on the 35th anniversary of the film, he asked his brother Steve to look up some local background and ran across my review.
Actually, I had forgotten that I ever wrote a review of “Star Wars” at the age of 23, when I was working as a reporter for Betty Boyer and Bob Themer at the Charleston Times-Courier. It was, after all, 35 years ago. But I’ll never forget my first experience of that movie.
Paul Beals, Marta Ladd and I walked into one of the two now-vanished Mattoon movie theaters and emerged into the evening two hours later dodging laser fire, swinging swords made of light and virtually vibrating like tuning forks. I think we knew we’d seen a film that would define a decade.
Dave said, “Steve went to microfilm archives at Booth Library to learn just when the film ran at the Will Rogers in summer, 1977 (July 15-August 11th, thus ‘held over’ three times, for a total of four weeks; I would have bet good money it was more).”
“I think your concluding comments about romantic ideals are right on the money, and shed light on this phenomenon,” Dave said. “From your column July 15th, 1977:
“The fact that the public has been captivated by the picture… makes it clear that Lucas’ thoroughness and dedication (‘Star Wars’ took four years to make) has produced something that can reach the child within the adult and bring him out to play.
"The movie shares two of the magnetic appeals of romantic fiction. It awakens, for a brief period, our sense of personal efficacy. Our ideals are noble and we need not even question them. We have only to get on with the action. And despite the terrible odds, we know we are capable enough to have a fighting chance at realizing our ideals.
"The other romantic element the film evokes is that staple of science fiction, the sense of wonder. As some point in our childhood, most of us believe the world to be vast and full of great potentials, of marvelous sights and heroic challenges. For the majority of us, who are not fortunate enough to retain this eager appetite for life through to adulthood, a movie like ‘Star Wars’ serves to remind us just how good it felt.”
My opinion at the time was influenced by Ayn Rand’s book “The Romantic Manifesto,” and, although my ardor for Rand has cooled since the experience of the Bush-Cheney presidency revealed her political ideas to be heartless, disastrous bunk, I haven’t changed my opinion of the movie.
In retrospect, it’s clear that the American audience — having been battered by the necessary but dispiriting revelations of the Vietnam War and Watergate — was thirsting to drink deep at the well of romanticism, and so “Star Wars” came along at the perfect moment. They continued to swim happily in that well with “Superman,” Indiana Jones and so forth.
And I'll bet King Features still smarts over the fact that they didn't let Lucas do “Flash Gordon,” which would have been “Star Wars.”

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