It’s been said Francis Ford Coppola once quipped to George Lucas that he might as well establish “Star Wars” as a religion due to the slavish devotion of its fans. It may sound like a joke, but those who came of age during the heyday of the original trilogy realize that (for a while) this joke was close to reality.
Although there had been cinematic cultural touchstones before, (most notably “Gone With The Wind”) and the year before “Jaws” established itself as the first true blockbuster, when “Star Wars” was released in the summer of 1977 something unprecedented happened. It was truly a unique cinematic experience-an amalgam of a director’s influences that synthesized into something refreshingly new, yet familiar and comfortable at the same time. While deceptively appearing to be nothing more than an action-oriented space romp, the film works on many different levels: metaphorical, historical, religious and philosophical. Its visual effects set a new standard for the industry and were shamelessly copied for years to come. For audiences who saw “Star Wars” during its initial theatrical run, the film was a culmination of cinema’s promise to provide a magical unreality: to be truly transported into a world that doesn’t exist (or as Roger Ebert stated in his review for the film, “The movie’s ‘happening’, and it’s happening to me”). It influenced almost all aspects of film production after its release, but perhaps it’s greatest power was the way it was embraced by the public as something much more than a movie-it was an EVENT.
For over 20 years, the “Star Wars” saga reigned as the epitome of filmed fantasy and appeared to be an unrepeatable motion picture milestone, but it happened again in 1999. Unfortunately for Mr. Lucas, the film that provided that magical unreality wasn’t his return with The Phantom Menace, but was the Wachowski Brothers’ The Matrix, which, in addition to its amazing visuals, had a story that was intellectually stimulating as well. With the recent release of the first of its two expected sequels, The Matrix seems poised as the heir apparent to “Star Wars” dominance as a generation’s defining cinematic moment.
Although superficially as different as night and day, the two film series share quite a few similarities that make a case for what it takes to make a moviegoing phenomenon (and quite possibly explains why Lucas has not been as successful creatively with his SW prequels).
The story continues in part two of A GLITCH IN THE FORCE>>>