Friday, March 29, 2013

East Meets West

(Originally Written for Jedi News)

My constant line throughout this column is that, where it matters, I-III is exactly the same as IV-VI. It’s on this point that I’ve been most sharply criticized. I still stand by what I said when it comes to quality and style of filmmaking, dialogue, and performance.

However, there is a very subtle difference in elemental composition.

Star Wars started out as a love-letter to 1930’s Buck Rogers serials. While this remains the main inspiration, many other homages to classic filmmaking styles leave their mark all over the films, from war films to historical epics. Even classic performers are homaged, from Sydney Greenstreet (Jabba) to Buster Keaton (Jar Jar).

The most prevalent filmmaking homage is that of Akira Kurosawa’s classic Japanese Samurai films. George Lucas was enamored of eastern philosophy, and you can see that influence most heavily in the Jedi order.

And that’s the thing. While the Jedi are important to IV-VI, they’re allowed to take a backseat more often compared to I-III, where they’re the main focus and much more in the spotlight.

Naturally, this is how the story goes, and the story works the way it’s told. And, for me and many others, we love that. The space-samurai were our favorite parts of IV-VI, so seeing them in I-III in all their glory (and why they ultimately failed) was manna from heaven for us. However, if you were the type of fan who preferred, for example, the spaghetti-western feel of Han Solo or the bounty hunters, I can understand why I-III might not necessarily be your favorites.

That’s not to say that those elements aren’t in I-III. Attack of the Clones gives us gunslinger Jango Fett, who for my money is more interesting than his “son” ever was. Phantom Menace’s Mos Espa has all the old west Scum & Villainy feel as Mos Eisley. Even the Podrace pilots feel more like a ragtag bunch of bandits than anything else. Dexter Jettster, while owning a ‘50s diner, was an old prospector.

In fact, truth be told, nearly all of these types of elements are shared in all six films, as I’ve been saying all along. However, even I must admit that there is a difference in how these elements are balanced between the films, and when it comes to I-III, the balance tends to shift overwhelmingly to the Jedi. To the eastern filmmaking and philosophy influences that was largely just under the surface of IV-VI.

Here’s the thing to remember: I reiterate that if that wasn’t your favorite part of IV-VI I can understand you not being grabbed by I-III. That being said, this does not make I-III inferior for shifting its balance thusly, nor does it make IV-VI superior for going the direction they go. It all evens out, and balance is brought to the Force.

It’s just like having preferences of film genres. The great thing about Star Wars is, while it owes the most to science fiction and fantasy, at the end of the day it’s really all genres in one.

Let’s just hope they remember that for VII-IX.


  1. "gives us gunslinger Jango Fett, who for my money is more interesting than his “son” ever was"

    Honestly I've never thought either character was very good...The only reason Boba worked was that he was collected, mysterious, and dangerous, which was all shot in the foot when he got chucked into the Sarlaac.

    Jango by comparison doesn't fare much better (though the name reference is awesome) considering he continually fails throughout the movie and also doesn't quite go out on a high note. So both characters fall a bit short of their reputation, IMO.

    I agree for the most part with the rest of the article (though obviously you and I have our differences about the films being "exactly" the same, and I would also argue Jar-Jar's 1920s influence to come from, slightly difference source).

    1. Jar Jar was mainly influenced by Chaplin and Keaton, even aping some of their gags. Any possible superficial resemblance to anything untoward is purely coincidental and doesn't hold up too much under scrutiny.