The end of a cultural phenomenon


"Star Wars" is an American cultural phenomenon.  I still remember one evening back in 1977 when my family piled into our van and headed over to the drive-in movie theater to watch the first "Star Wars" installment.  I remember peering through the windows of the van at the huge screen, trying to catch the dialogue on the lousy speaker device that we hooked onto the van’s window.  I remember seeing Chewbacca for the first time.  I couldn’t figure out why George Lucas would cast Sasquatch in a feature film, but the image left a lasting impression with me.  At the time, Darth Vader, C3P0, R2D2, the Jawas, and the Tusken Raiders were exotic creatures; now they are an integral part of American pop culture.  I was dazzled by images of the Millennium Falcon zooming through space, dodging TIE fighters.  I thought the Death Star was very cool.  I still can’t figure out why a prehistoric creature was living in the Death Star’s trash compacter, but I won’t quibble over small details.  Or why Obi-Wan Kenobi disappeared when Darth Vader struck him down, while Darth Maul impaled Kenobi’s mentor Qui-Gon Jinn with a lightsaber.  “Star Wars” was an amazing tale (it still is), and the cinematography was ground breaking.  The movie’s plot was a simple story of adventure and tragedy told and retold in many other manifestations.  Nevertheless, it touched a chord with Americans at the time, and the movie went on to become the highest-grossing film of all time until it was dethroned by Spielberg’s “E.T.” in the early 1980’s.  It still ranks as one of the top five films of all time.

Fast forward to May 2005.  The sixth and final installment of the “Star Wars” saga, affectionately known as “The Revenge of the Sith,” will debut this week in theaters across the U.S.  I am fortunate because the American movie theater here will debut the movie on May 19th, the same day it opens in the U.S.  (“Star Wars” will not arrive in Korean theaters for awhile.  The time difference between Korea and the U.S. means that we will be able to see it about 14 hours before U.S. movie goers will.)  The movie debuted today in London and at the Cannes Film Festival.  A darker, more ponderous tale than were the previous two installments, the latest “Star Wars” film received muted critical acclaim.  The movie has been well received, although it may not do as well at the box office because of its dark theme and PG-13 rating.  The previous two installments, “The Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones,” were generally panned by critics and suffered from declining box office interest.  This film will likely do better, and may be regarded as highly as the first three films were.  The film’s debut marks the end of a 28-year-run for the “Star Wars” saga.  It’s a bit sad to think that the film’s opening signals the end of an epic saga.  Although “Star Wars” will continue to live on in video, video games, action figures, Monday Night movies, and in comic books and books, the film series that spawned the phenomenon is coming to an end.  I wish that George Lucas would consider making a new set of films that start where “The Return of the Jedi” ended, however unlikely.  If “Star Trek” and “James Bond” can mutate into different iterations, surely “Star Wars” could.  I’m sure “Star Wars” purists would disagree.

I will try to catch “The Revenge of the Sith” sometime this week.  The movie will be very popular, and I may have to wait in line to see it.  It will be worth it, though.  The final “Star Wars” film represents the end of an era, and I have to pay homage to its conclusion.

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