george lucas

Favourite Films on Friday: #09, The Empire Strikes Back

The Empire Strikes Back‘s place here is almost token. No list would be complete without it, but it’s standing in as a representative of quite how important Star Wars has been for me. After all, more than perhaps any other film ever, Star Wars has leaked out into all corners of our pop culture. Books and comics and games, sure, but far far beyond that. Lightsabers, dark sides and Wookiees, these things leaked out in the consciousness of a generation. Over the last 30 years, all this stuff bled out beyond the confines of three films so thoroughly that barely a minute of Empire‘s running time goes by without something you’ve seen riffed on elsewhere, whether on a screen or in real life. This would probably true even for someone who had never seen the films. That kind of shared vocabulary means that Star Wars is an easy – and fun – topic to theorise and joke about. Every lazy stand-up comedian has got at least one joke referencing Star Wars in their repertoire. So what is there left to say? I already got my Kevin Smith on to talk about Return of the Jedi, positing that the films are just a huge playset, full of toys. (I’ll add a quick observation: have you ever noticed how little characters in the film seem to respect Darth Vader? Outside of the film, in our world, he’s one of the most revered baddies of all time, an example to be carted out when discussing how design or mystery or costume can build a character’s appeal. But most of the Imperial officers are open with their disdain for the Force, and treat him with all the hushed reverence of a Pizza Hut employee arguing with their manager.) There’s no point in telling you the story, laying out the characters or describing how things look. This is Star Wars, and that was all magically inserted into your brain when you were about seven years old. It’s the middle child of the trilogy, which means it actually steps further away from traditional blockbuster structure than its siblings, and has the reputation as being the ‘dark’ one. It ends on an absolutely sublime cliffhanger, all moody and foreboding, but it’s the film is still exceedingly warm and friendly overall. It is, however, more mature in a few other ways; there’s something in the way it’s shot which looks more cleanly professional than the others, and the characters crystallise best into almost-real people in this one. And it’s got the bit where Han Solo says “I know”, a.k.a. the coolest moment in cinema history. (Another little point: I don’t think most people realise how minimal George Lucas’ influence over this film was. Lucas and Star Wars are two names married together in a way few other franchises and directors are, so it’s odd to realise that not only did he not direct, but that his only writing credit is for providing the story.) But it’s all the same Star-Warsy nonsense that I love, really, with made-up words, silly voices and gigantic worms that live inside comets. Of this, too, it’s possibly the best example: we’re introduced to Boba Fett and Yoda, two of the series’ best characters and purest action-figure fodder. It also brings in Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian, Space Pimp; a ridiculous character of another type and one of whom I’m increasingly fond. It’s a Star Wars film, is what I’m saying. A brilliant Star Wars film. You know what that means, don’t you?

Favourite Films on Friday: #21, Raiders of The Lost Ark

You know Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s full of those famous cinematic moments. The bit where Peter Griffin fights a giant chicken as a the propeller of a biplane swings lethally round. The bit where Bart Simpsons oh-so-carefully grabs the money jar, then flees a rolling Homer boulder. Where Bart/Puss-in-Boots/JD from Scrubs just about grabs his hat in time as the door comes down. And who could forget that famous last shot, of the endless warehouse – a lot like that other one full of hula hoops, or that older one full of Charles Kane’s stuff – where Paul gave Steven Spielberg pointers about making a film about an alien? You know, all those classic moments. …It’s an understatement to say Raiders has settled into the vocabulary of pop culture. It’s practically a part of our collective unconscious now. Most people could explain the film without having seen a single frame. It’s the most natural fate, perhaps, for a film which eats up as much film history as Raiders does. The opening moment melts from a vintage Paramount logo to a mountainous backdrop. It steals itsshots wholesale. Indy himself is an amalgam of a thousand pulp heroes, gruff, sexy, hard-edged . Like Star Wars, the film is a product of Lucas’ fascination with old-school pulp. And like those films, its brilliance seems to be at least half by accident (Ford was a reluctant bit of casting, some of its best moments and lines weren’t in the script, which starred one ‘Indiana Smith’). But all that trivia, all that marginal stuff, the shadow of the legacy it left and the legacy it tipped a fedora to… it doesn’t matter when you’re watching Raiders. The film itself is more than that: it’s elegant, well-paced, thrilling, knowing but never self-conscious, not afraid to be a little silly, pretty just often enough and more commonly handsome. Just watching it cuts through all that effortlessly, like an overly elaborate sword display brought to an end by the punchline of a single gunshot. You know, that classic moment.