‘Star Wars’ timeline: stories from a long time ago

6 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

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

President Obama’s address to the nation on Sunday night will force him to miss the 38th annual Kennedy Center Honors performance celebrating the achievement of five artists. 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. 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. Even a cursory peek at the posters for Flash Gordon and the first Star Wars movie reveals that the latter has similarities with the former (I’ll delve into the comparable characters below). 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. 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. 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. 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. 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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