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The Quad: From binary suns to Beskar, ‘Star Wars’ impact endures across generations

(Anubha Gupta/Daily Bruin)

By Michael Waldman

Jan. 19, 2021 4:42 p.m.

For me, it started with VHS tapes of the original trilogy at my grandparents’ house. For others, their first glimpse of a galaxy far, far away was in theaters in 1977.

Now, almost 44 years after Luke Skywalker turned off his targeting computer and used the force to take down the first Death Star, a new generation of fans is emerging thanks to a masked bounty hunter and a gregarious green baby.

“The Mandalorian” on Disney+ combines high-quality production value with an action-packed story of the title character’s journey through the galaxy alongside Grogu, an infant belonging to the iconic Jedi Grand Master Yoda’s species.

But pushing the envelope, as some critics believe “The Mandalorian” showrunners Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni have, is nothing new for the decades-old franchise.

When the original “Star Wars” – later renamed “Star Wars: A New Hope” – was released in May 1977, the cinematic effects were revolutionary, said Jonathan Kuntz, a lecturer at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television.

“The first ‘Star Wars’ was a shock to everybody,” Kuntz said. “And it just knocked you over because of the special effects, (and) because of the kind of attitude of the whole film.”

The film became such a phenomenon that TFT professor George Huang said even his parents – who viewed going to the movies as a waste of time and money – couldn’t help but get swept up in the fervor of a film that revolutionized movies and science fiction.

“You’ve got dogfights, you’ve got your sword fights, we’ve got laser battle fights,” Huang said. “I mean, that was something that was up until that time, just unseen. Most science fiction films (tended) to be more makeup driven – things like ‘Planet of the Apes,’ movies where you saw aliens. The idea that you could have this whole giant canvas and do something like an old-time Western but in space was phenomenal.”

The original trilogy’s Western motif carried through to “The Mandalorian,” which features the gunslinging Din Djarin in a lawless post-imperial galaxy.

Peter Hartlaub, the culture critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, said Filoni – who he called a fan of the franchise – and Favreau deserve credit for the show’s thematic ties to George Lucas’ original films.

“You’ve got a super fan and you’ve got this talented filmmaker who understands big budget movies, and you put them together,” Hartlaub said. “For ‘The Mandalorian,’ (they) took spaghetti Westerns, the Clint Eastwood ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ type vibe, which is similar to what George Lucas was doing, and they put it into a TV series.”

The mix of species from all around the galaxy seen in the original “Star Wars” in locations like the “wretched hive of scum and villany” of the Mos Eisley Spaceport also endures in “The Mandalorian.” Whereas in the 1977 film viewers see strange-looking Wookiees, Tusken Raiders and Rodians interact during the Galactic Civil War, episodes of “The Mandalorian” counter with “Frog Lady,” an Ugnaught and hundreds of ice spiders.

Hartlaub said Lucas’ planned trilogies paved the way for the phased filmmaking that has influenced studios like Marvel and facilitated the unwavering fanbase grown around a mutual love for “Star Wars” — highlighting another one of the franchise’s unique cultural impacts.

“’Star Wars’ really ran with (the) idea that popular culture is something that you personally identify with, to the point where that’s how you’re choosing your friends and socializing,” Hartlaub said. “You see people now saying, ‘I’m a DC person,’ ‘I’m a Marvel person.’ The tribalism of watching a movie is something that really started and flourished with ‘Star Wars.’”

While singular in fans’ identification with it, “Star Wars” was by no means the original science fiction film. The highly-acclaimed “2001: A Space Odyssey,” released in 1968, featured futuristic technology, but Kuntz said it lacked the “well-worn future” Lucas’ “Star Wars” provided — a strategy other filmmakers would later attempt to emulate.

“(In ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’) everything is almost sterile, the way it looks,” Kuntz said. “But (in) ‘Star Wars,’ everything looks like it’s been around for decades. It’s worn out, (you) bang on things to make it work, stuff like that. So it had this kind of used and lived-in feeling that we hadn’t seen before.”

Kuntz said Industrial Light and Magic – the visual effects company founded by Lucas in 1975 – continued to be on the cutting edge of different styles of effects, pioneering the use of CGI in the “Star Wars” prequel trilogy of the 1990s and 2000s.

Lucas has since parted ways with “Star Wars” and its production company Lucasfilm after selling it to Disney for $4.05 billion in 2012. Disney has produced five feature films along with TV series including “The Mandalorian.”

Though Hartlaub said Disney’s “The Mandalorian” and “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” were pieces of content true to the standard of “Star Wars,” the enduring catalyst that was “A New Hope” may be tough to match.

“I don’t think (anything) would have happened as fast (in changing science fiction),” Hartlaub said. “And I think ‘Star Wars’ was kind of the perfect film to do it.”

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Michael Waldman | Assistant Sports editor
Waldman is currently an assistant Sports editor for the men's volleyball, women's volleyball, track and field, beach volleyball and men's soccer beats. He was previously a reporter on the women's basketball and beach volleyball beats. Waldman is a second-year political science major at UCLA from Alameda, CA.
Waldman is currently an assistant Sports editor for the men's volleyball, women's volleyball, track and field, beach volleyball and men's soccer beats. He was previously a reporter on the women's basketball and beach volleyball beats. Waldman is a second-year political science major at UCLA from Alameda, CA.
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