Saturday, November 17, 2012

Star Wars Discussion I

Hello friends,

Today I have a special treat. Author/Editor Bryan Thomas Schmidt and I are discussing the original Star Wars trilogy. Below is our conversation about the first movie, A New Hope.

Please feel free to comment.

BTS: So Jon, I watched the 2004 Special Edition release. It's all I have on DVD. I was awed by the clarity of the scenery. Tried to remember all the changes besides Greedo shooting first. The opening sequence still is one of my favorites ever with the droids, the Rebels fighting, the introduction of Vader, etc. It's just great stuff.Which version did you watch?
JS: I also watched the SE version on DVD. It looked fantastic. Some of the added effects, like the new people and creatures populating Mos Eisley, irritated me because I thought they detracted from the film, but overall the improved CGI was a blessing.
BTS: You know, it's funny you say that because I noticed the inclusion of Boba Fett in the Jabba scene when they replaced the original Jabba (that scene actually wasn't in the first theatrical version I saw). Also every time a Greedo alien shows up (forget their species) they are wearing the same damn outfit. I mean, seriously, George, you can digitally fix all that other stuff and you can't show that species with sartorial sophistication? But yeah, I did think some of the improved scenes were good, especially the panoramic stuff. But it was fun to rediscover old scenes. I loved, for example, rediscovering all the droids on the Jabba Walker. The first time I saw that it had gone by so fast and it's been a while, so I rewound and really paid attention, trying to identify as many as I could from my old toys. The stuff in Luke's workshop was fun as so much of the detail had not stuck in my mind. Which things stood out to you like that?

JS: Both of those scenes, plus the cantina. I also found myself paying more attention to the costumes and set design. When I was seven years old, the Star Wars universe was so cool and exciting to me. I was glad to discover that was still the case. If I could, I would build a full-sized version of the Millennium Falcon in my backyard and live in it. Or maybe an Imperial Star Destroyer....

BTS: LOL You know, there's a full size Millennium Falcon somewhere. They had it on the set. Wonder what all those parts ended up being recycled for. Or if they're in storage on a backlot in Hollywood somewhere or maybe up in Marin County at Lucasarts. I'd settle for a living room made up like the Falcon's gathering room with 3D chess and a little floating attack ball I can duel with. That would be plenty cool. But yeah, Mos Eisley and the Cantina were awesome too. For world building, Star Wars has had a huge influence on my thoughts about aliens. I certainly was inspired to invent various races in my Davi Rhii space opera series and even give one or two large roles because of Star Wars. I've also had to think more about how would they drink or eat or how would their bodies be different because of Star Wars, Star Trek, etc. And then, of course, it's not by accident my solar system has two suns or various planets with aspects of those we've seen in various Star Wars films. Plus I had an evil empire of sorts and a dark lord. Yeah, it's heavily influenced me. What are some obvious influences on your work?
JS: Too many to name, and probably more than I'm consciously aware of. First off, the hero's journey isnever far from my heart when I'm outlining a new project. I usually try to find new ways to present or subvert it, but it's in there somewhere. And worldbuilding, definitely. In A New Hope, I feel that Lucas takes a deft approach by presenting all these species and places and names to us, but moving the story along without including long, intricate explanations about how everything fits together. I think I've always tried to emulate that approach.
BTS: Yeah, I tend to scrimp on description and try and let things get revealed more broadly/explained as the context of the story requires. I think, for one, that it's more realistic to how we experience the world around us. And for another, it really does drag down the story. Just because it's there and looks cool doesn't make it significant enough for a long explanation. We want to know what we need to when it matters, otherwise, we just enjoy the view, if you know what I mean. Readers are the same way. The hero's journey is a big thing for me as well. Also, the coming of age aspects of A New Hope heavily indluence my writing in both novel series as well as some shorts and it continues to resonate with me: Who am I? Why am I here? Is there a grander purpose? Can I make a difference? Luke asks those questions and I have asked them myself.

Moving along in A New Hope, I really enjoy the tightness of the story structure. Not one wasted scene or moment. None of the fluff so many movies today have for humor or to flatter the artist, actor or set designer, etc. Everything in there has a specific pay off and purpose. It's truly a great example of story structure and story telling. I know you remarked on that as well in your opening quote.

JS: The film is just balanced so well. As Luke's story unfolds, we get all the information we need exactly when we need it, but it never feels rushed. Now, that doesn't always work in a novel because people enjoy seeing more depth of character and situation, but its a good basic structure. When I get stuck outlining a story, I often harken back to a movie like this and try to deconstruct how the plot unfolded, how the vital information was passed along and when. Then there's the delicate balance between the character roles, like Grand Moff Tarkin and Vader, or Ben and Luke. The symmetry is elegant. Mentor and student. One dies, while the other lives to fight another day. Just a Ben passes the torch to Luke, Vader will take Tarkin's place as the Emperor's chief servant.
BTS: Well, yes, it's very symmetrical, which is a typical way Hollywood deals with symbolism. It's interesting that in the EU and the books, I don't recall that relationship between Tarkin and Vader being portrayed that way, however. In many ways, Tarkin's loss frees up Vader to take a larger role and to develop more as a character. Empire, after all, is the first place we see him really show humility when he has those chamber comm chats with the Emperor. We also see his helmet coming off and get a sense of his not being as invincible as he seemed, etc. Other than the Emperor and Tarkin, Vader gives orders, he doesn't take them from anyone. And that, too, is telling. I'm still amazed with Carrie Fisher's strong performance. Considering she was 17 at the time the movie was made, the youngest co-star, she comes off much older with great confidence. Seeing her stand up to Vader and Tarkin--played by Peter Cushing, no acting slouch--in one of her first major roles remains remarkable to me. Although, I must admit, she's never quite as hot in A New Hope nor Empire as she is in the bikini scene we'll revisit in a week or two. At least to me.

JS: I suspect that Lucas was still clarifying Vader's role (within the empire) in his head while filming ANH. There's a bit of a mixed message about Vader's place in the hierarchy, but I really liked that. It added to his mystery. I remember I had a baseball-type card of Vader and it listed his title as "Lord of the Sith." That just exploded my mind with questions and possibilities. Who were these Sith and what did being their lord entail?
I agree about Ms. Fisher. She had so much presence. I'm pretty sure her confidence and attitude bleed through in my female characters. If I ever meet her in person, I'll have to thank her.
BTS: Yes and the confidence as her appeal, rather than skimpy, sexy look is one thing A New Hope did differently than the typical 50s B movies which inspired it, actually. Leia is hardly the stereotype damsel in distress. She's an equal partner in her escape after Han and Luke free her and in the further actions they take to thwart the Empire. Which I think is VERY significant. Even in the 1970s, the films were still using women in very stereotypical ways, especially in science fiction and fantasy films. And to have such a strong female who's not just a woman but a fighter, a leader, etc. was making a statement that defied the norm. Which is, I believe, influential today. I made my lead women strong in the Davi Rhii books, for example. Your lead female character in the Shadow books is a princess but hardly the kind sitting back needing rescue. She leads the way in many ways. Were you influenced in that by Star Wars, per chance?
JS: I'm sure I was. The idea of a female co-lead who is more of a partner than an accessory is important to me. I think Lucas handled Leia's character well, especially during the escape from the Death Star. She completes the ensemble of Han, Luke, Chewie, and the droids. And once we see how well that unit functions together, like a family, we spend the rest of the series wanting to get back to it.
BTS: Well, it was indeed a fine ensemble, and, I think perhaps, that's why he separated them in Empire. At the beginning, they're together, just as we like them, but then through the middle, we just want them back together again but they never quite come together until the middle of Jedi. Then they are separated again at the last third of that. It's an interesting structure. But it also fits the hero's journey, as each hero has their own journey in a sense. What are other great examples of ensembles that just soared together? Firefly comes to mind. Star Trek as well.

JS: Battlestar Galactica (both versions), Big Bang Theory, M.A.S.H.. M.A.S.H is interesting because they changed the cast occasionally and still retained the compelling interactions.
BTS: I was thinking mainly science fiction, but you're right. I'd add Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, The Waltons, and a lot more to this if we go broader for sure. Other than the SE changes, did anything not hold up for you? Any surprising moments or disappointments in the rewatch? I still think Biggs' relationship was not set up like it should have been because they cut that earlier scene. It would have been meaningful to have just a little more hint of that relationship up front. Luke mentions the name but I think it would have made his death a bit more poignant as a motivator for Luke. I also found the Obiwan-Darth fight going by faster than I'd remembered. Not that it was wrong, but it sure played out bigger in my memory. It's hard to be surprised by a movie you've watched so many times over the years, but I hadn't watched it straight through in a good 5-7 years, I believe, so I did notice those. What about you?
JS: I still get annoyed when Obiwan first gives Luke his lightsaber and Luke almost hits the old guy when he turns it on. I wonder why Han only uses the quad-laser cannons on the Falcon once, when they are escaping the Death Star, and then never again in the series. I appreciate the Obiwan-Vader for the fact that Alec Guiness was old when they filmed it and David Prowse could hardly see anything through the mask. But as far as disappointments, only some of the SE stuff.
BTS: LOL Yeah, the quads scene is one of my favorites, too. And the lightsaber moment is rather classic. As silly as Luke was with it, I'm almost surprised he didn't turn it on and have the beam go through his eye or something. Heh. What about favorite moments that still give you chills? The battle stuff generally holds up as some of the best sequences in any scifi film, to my mind, let alone on film period. I still love the tension of the prison break, where there's no way out. The opening battle, as I mentioned. I love the power of the moment they find the Jawas burned out ship and Luke realizes he's alone. The introduction of Han is still a fun scene. And the Death Star escape sequence. Last but not least, the trench battle scenes, in particular. It amazes me still what they pulled of with such limited technology. I remember my cousin and I trying to do home made films and we couldn't get the ships to move on string without spinning, let alone looking real. And yet they build stuff from scratch. Yes, they had way more money than we did, but the film remains a technological marvel that changed the landscape for filmmakers to come.

JS: Haha, you said it all. Everything you mentioned is wonderful, especially the trench flight scenes. I still get goosebumps when I watch them. Another of my favorites is when Obiwan trains Luke with the remote aboard the Falcon. Lucas was trying to explain a concept--the Force--that would shape the entire series (and beyond), yet he used simple, effective scenes like that one to get the message across. No ten-minute training montage of Luke doing sit-ups and sprinting on the beach.

BTS: It's true. I paid particular attention to how well he wrote the Force explository dialogue. It was short snippets, not long speeches, expressed as simply as possible. And he made really good use of skepticism from others in both that scene (Han), the Imperial command meeting scene etc. to show that not everyone believed in it, which also told us a lot about it. Talking about all of this is getting me inspired to watch Empire, but before we wrap up. Favorite lead and supporting characters. For me, despite being more like Luke in real life, Han has always been who I wished I was so to speak. But supporting characters-wise, I'm always amazed at how much Peter Mayhew did (the only one of the actors I've met in real life) with Chewbacca. But I also really liked Cushing as Tarkin in this. I even stole a couple of quotes from him as winks to my Davi Rhii audience. "This bickering is pointless," for example.

JS: Favorite lead of this movie is Vader, too. I've always felt a closer connection to his story than anyone else. He's one of my favorite movie villains ever. As for supporting character, probably Obiwan. I love Sir Alec Guinness and I consider his casting as Old Ben to be one of the best decisions Lucas ever made. Second, he is Luke's guidepost, his foster father, his "Merlin." Such a great role.

BTS: A great role and a great actor. I don't know what to say about your relating to Vader there. Maybe I don't want to dig into that. But what about memorable lines? Some of my favorites are Tarkin: This bickering is pointless." Obiwan: "Mos Eisley spaceport. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy." Han Solo: "Boring conversation anyway...Luke! We're gonna have company!"C3P0: "Listen to them, they're dying, R2! Curse my metal body, I wasn't fast enough. It's all my fault!" Han: "Look your worshipfulness, let's get one thing straight. I take orders from just one person: ME!" Leia: "It's a wonder you're still alive." C3P0: "Hang on, R2. You've got to come back. You wouldn't want my life to get boring, would you?" Tarkin: "Evacuate? In our moment of triumph? I think you overestimate their chances." What about yours?
JS: Nice ones! (And yes, let's not dig too deeply into my psyche...) Vader: I find your lack of faith disturbing. Cantina Thug: I have the death sentence in twelve systems. Vader: Don't be too proud of this technological terror you've created. Han: Sorry about the mess.

BTS: Hey those are all good ones. Awesome. Well, this has been a blast, but I'm chomping at the bit to get on to Episode V, Empire Strikes Back. So you all out there, feel free to share your favorite moments, characters, lines, and thoughts on how A New Hope has influenced you, then go watch Empire, and we'll meet at my blog in a week to discuss again. If you missed our opening post, you can find it at Meanwhile, May The Force Be With You and watch out for Lord Sprunk!