Star Wars for the Ignorant

The Star Wars pre-trailer trailer was released and a torrent of commentary and opinion was released through every media outlet available. Rampant speculation about a big budget action film is a great way to build anticipation for another episode of a movie franchise.

Imagine the thrill of this writer, http://www.cnn.com/2014/05/02/opinion/beale-star-wars/index.html?hpt=hp_t3, who got his essay/rant posted as a link on the front page of the CNN website. Of all the points of view, insights, speculations, and ruminations that are currently available, this writer makes it to CNN. Way to go, sir! A great coup!

Except the piece is factually incorrect.

The entire article pivots off of this sentence: “But here’s the thing: George Lucas’ creation, basically a blown-up Flash Gordon adventure with better special effects, has left all too many people thinking science fiction is some computer graphics-laden space opera/western filled with shootouts, territorial disputes, evil patriarchs and trusty mounts (like the Millennium Falcon)” I cannot speak for the writers of Flash Gordon who were writing in the twenties and the thirties but I am certain about the origins of George Lucas’s creation.

George Lucas was interested in being an excellent storyteller as much as an expert cinematographer. Joseph Campbell, a professor of world mythology and a clear, concise writer, was ascendant in the sixties and the seventies. His most provocative thesis was the existence of a universal set of plot lines, which he presented in his book “A Hero of a Thousand Faces”. Mr. Lucas read this text carefully and crafted the plot of the first three movies on Joseph Campbell’s scholarship and arguments. Bill Moyers discussed the Star Wars plot at length with Joseph Campbell on a PBS television presentation titled “The Power of Myth”. (Campbell has another book using the same title.)

Star Wars, especially the first movie, was extraordinarily sophisticated on many levels, which is why the movie was so successful across the globe. Before the groundbreaking special effects and use of science fiction conventions, the story was captivating by itself.

The writer of the CNN opinion piece was ignorant. The editorial staff at CNN is guilty of the same crime. More of the shame is that the origin of Star Wars is a compelling story. Joseph Campbell’s books are still worthwhile reads although some of his conclusions have been scaled by the next generation of scholarship. Star Wars was not an accidental success although many of the actors thought as much during filming; the movie was cinematic storytelling at its best.

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