George Lucas about to be honored with most prestigious award in the arts

6 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Flash Gordon is 35 years old and it’s STILL better than Star Wars.

WASHINGTON — Less than two weeks before the release of the new “Star Wars” movie, George Lucas is about to receive the nation’s highest award for lifetime achievement in the arts. It may well be one of Hollywood’s biggest success stories, but when the original “Star Wars” film was released in 1977 many people, including creator George Lucas, believed it would be a flop. “I don’t think anyone could have predicted what a smash hit and what a cultural phenomenon it was going to become,” said Jonathan Kuntz, professor at UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television.The second installment (or the fifth) in the Star Wars saga created by the numerically confused George Lucas, it has since been hailed as THE GREATEST FILM EVER RELEASED. Twentieth Century Fox, the film’s distributor, hesitated over the film’s $8 million budget and wasn’t convinced a science fiction movie would fill theaters.

I am talking about a film so epic, so fantastic, so wondrous, so amazing and so out-there that most people just didn’t get it, preferring to plonk themselves in front of safe Skywalker and his new green pal Yoda instead. To those who like their SF grounded in science, Star Wars is reprehensible “skiffy” in the pejorative sense, a flight of fantasy cloaked in science-fiction’s clothes. It’s an odd choice at first glance; in the late 1990s Howard was directing films like Ransom and Edtv, but Lucas probably chose him because of their past together; Howard had starred in American Graffiti and directed Willow for Lucasfilm, though given the interminable politics of the first Star Wars prequel, maybe Lucas wanted the man who would go on to direct Frost/Nixon at the helm. Given the budget constraints, Lucas agreed to a lower salary in exchange for full merchandising rights to the movie and any sequels — a deal that would prove brilliant and make him very, very rich. Released on December 5, 1980, Flash Gordon was the anti-Star Wars, all lurid reds and yellows combined with scenery-chewing so sustained its cast had to undergo daily check-ups for overbites by the on-set dentist.

Prior to the film’s release, Lucas organized a private showing to a group of film director friends and most, including Brian De Palma, gave it a thumbs down. Still, Lucas was so convinced the movie would flop that on May 25, the day it was released, he went on holiday to Hawaii instead of attending the premiere.

A Star Wars film directed by one of those is an interesting concept, and we can only speculate whether it would have been better than Lucas’s film, but it’s not the only potential Star Wars film that never got made. But authors such as Smith, Leigh Brackett and Hal Clement, writing serialised fiction for Amazing Stories and other magazines, in large part created the iconography of sci-fi. The secret to the success of “Star Wars,” studied and analyzed in universities the world over, rests primarily with its multigenerational appeal, Kurtz said. “Audiences of all ages could identify with the characters,” he said. “Even little kids three or four years old got the basic structure of the story and enjoyed being sucked into that kind of adventure.” The space saga, inspired by the Flash Gordon movie serials of the 1930s, tells a classic story of good versus evil in a “galaxy far, far away,” and mixes in visual effects, a romantic plot and battle scenes. “‘Star Wars’ is a non-stop action movie with goofy characters and humor and portrays so many alien worlds,” he added. “It opens the door on a fascinating new universe.”

When he was foiled in that pursuit, he went off and made Star Wars, but not without borrowing some of the best bits from his favourite show, including the opening crawl and the ‘wipes’ between scenes. You can’t fault the first few seconds of Star Wars, especially when its opening crawl gives way to a giant Star Destroyer catching up to Princess Leia’s consular ship. Stumbling upon secret plans for a military Grand Base, Kinnision is thrust into numerous adventures that climax when he destroys the base by using his Lensman abilities. It’s well-known that Lucas worked on the original script for years, tweaking things here and there and taking on board suggestions from friends he had given the script to read, and what we know as Star Wars slowly emerged from an outline known as The Journal of the Whills, a “Mace Windy, a revered Jedi-bendu”. And yet Flash Gordon tops it with its own legendary opening, a voice-over chat between two villains who look like they’re playing an Atari video game where the goal is to destroy planet Earth.

But just as Obi Wan neglects to mention to Luke that his father’s blade was the very same that butchered dozens of Padawan children, George Lucas doesn’t namecheck the dozens of laser sword precedents in popular sci-fi novels. Notably, the book does not feature an appearance from Han Solo; as he was frozen in carbonite at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, it makes you wonder what Lucas’s, or Harrison Ford’s plans for the character were. The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell was a cult classic that had been doing the rounds among Hollywood’s creative cliques for some years when George Lucas adopted the archetypal patterns of the “monomyth” as the framework for Luke Skywalker’s mythic adventure. Similar to the final version (but without Solo being frozen in carbonite), Brackett passed away after handing in her draft, which was reworked by Lawrence Kasdan, who also helped script The Force Awakens.

Set between the prequels and the original trilogy, it was announced in 2005, writers were recruited – Russell T Davies, the man behind the Doctor Who revival, turned down the opportunity to join the writing team, but Matthew Graham, one of the creators of Life on Mars accepted the offer, and it was reported that James Marquand, son of Richard Marquand, director of Return of the Jedi, would helm an episode. The Marvel TV shows are proof that TV and films in the same universe can work alongside each other, so don’t be surprised if Disney make this a reality. In truth, the dialogue in Flash Gordon is just as monumentally bad, but the actors utter it with their tongues so far up their cheeks they need breathing apparatus to function. What Sam J Jones (who fought off competition from Kurt Russell and Arnold Schwarzenegger to land the role of Flash) might lack in acting ability, he more than makes up for with his lack of whining: there’s no moaning about going to Tosche station to pick up some power converters for him.

There is also a persistent rumour that Lucas originally planned one small but key scene in the first film to be very different, but I think we can dismiss that as nonsense; apparently, when meeting Greedo in the Mos Eisley Cantina, Han shot first, but that can’t be true can it? While Skywalker comes off as a tiring teenager who thinks the world revolves around his lightsaber, Flash is a true hero, taking time out from quarterback duties at the New York Jets (not a tough gig, admittedly) to save the world. While Princess Leia shrugs at the destruction of her home planet and hooks up with the first dirty little smuggler she lays eyes on, Princess Aura actually cares about the people of Mongo, leaving a trail of men in her wake as she does so.

Like all the nastiest villains, he doesn’t give a crap about anybody but himself – even his own daughter isn’t off limits for a spot of state torture. There is no such confusion with Klytus, who, if anything, is even meaner than Ming the Merciless, and gets the gruesome, eye-popping demise he deserves.

Okay, so Prince Barin got his costume for a Robin Hood-themed wedding, but at least he didn’t borrow it from a dishevelled snooker player à la Han Solo.

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