Hoisting up my Geek Flag: A Tribute to 30 Years of Star Wars

The year was 1977. I stood with my sister outside a movie theater in a line that curled around the building. My father towered beside us, his light Irish skin going red. It was hot, like only Arizona can be. The sun blazed in the sky and heat waves shimmered up from the concrete. I was sweaty and tired, but I didn’t care. I was five years old, and my world was about to change.

I was going to see STAR WARS. Star_warsonesheet_l01_4

Thirty years later, this lingering memory makes me wonder. After all, why should a sci-fi space epic have such a lasting affect on a writer trying to pound out gritty, little crime tales?

I realize now that Star Wars was one of my first creative writing teachers.

Elements of the basic patterns of fiction (The Quest, The Initiation, The Union, The Choice) are each recognizable in the Star Wars saga. Luke’s decision to accompany Obi-Wan to Alderaan turns into a QUEST for Princess Leia, a quest that forever changes Skywalker. Luke’s quest leads him to Yoda who INITIATES him into the role of a Jedi knight. Han and Leia, despite their differences and despite obstacles (like being frozen in carbonite), are drawn together, an example of the UNION. Luke and Anakin are both confronted with a life altering CHOICE, at the high point of their story’s plots.

Today, as I take a crack at my first professional screenplay, the original Star Wars also serves as a textbook example of structure.

Star_wars_2

According to acclaimed screenwriter Syd Field, act one introduces the main character and launches the stories chief premise. This occurs approximately 30 minutes into the film, depending on its length. About 30 minutes or so into the original Star Wars, Luke finds his aunt and uncle murdered and agrees to accompany Obi-Wan on his mission. This decision is the first plot point, an event that moves the action forward.

By the end of act two, our heroes have faced several obstacles: the tractor beam, storm troopers, and the trash compactor. These event lead to the second plot point, the death of Obi-Wan at the hands of Vader. This gloomy event, together with Han Solo’s refusal to join the attack on the Death Star, is necessary for the dramatic, happy resolution of act three, where Luke succeeds in blowing up the Death Star. Millennium_falcon_escape

Perhaps the younger generations will look to the Harry Potter books for inspiration, but for me and mine it was Star Wars. It wasn’t simply groundbreaking special effects or fantastic creatures that put our butts in front of the screen, time and time again. It was a story told well.

So, how about you, murder fans? With the 30th anniversary behind us, what are your first memories of the original Star Wars? And did the films influence any of the writers out there?

12 thoughts on “Hoisting up my Geek Flag: A Tribute to 30 Years of Star Wars

  1. simon

    I was 9 and I saw it in one of those old fashioned movie theaters where the screen was a block long. It was hard not to be affected when you see Star Wars and Close Encounters that way.

    I must see the movie again. It’s been 10yrs since I last saw it.

    I’m also one of those people who keeps books and movies as guides on how to do things right.

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  2. B.G. Ritts

    I was 29 (and had CAPTAIN VIDEO and STAR TREK under my belt) when STAR WARS premiered. That opening story sequence crawling off into ‘infinity’ said the special effects were going to be wonderful — and they were. I was as interested in them as in the story.

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  3. J.D. Rhoades

    I went with a whole bunch of friends, enough that we took up pretty much an entire center row of the old “Town and Country Cinema.”

    And we were all really, really stoned.

    When the opening crawl came on, my friend Gray stood up and started reading it out loud. We quickly shushed him, giggling madly all the while. When the Millennium Falcon first went into hyperspace with the stars spinning all around it, the whole row, in unison, went “WOWWWWWW…” and the whole theater broke up.

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  4. pari

    I went to the first showing in Ann Arbor with a group of friends. Like J.D., our general grasp on reality at that moment had been enhanced . . .

    We did the same thing, took up a row close to the front, our necks straining backwards against the seat to see the entire screen. I remember being entirely mesmerized from the second that epic music came on and we skated on the words in that endless vision of space.

    Mike, I love how you so nimbly analyzed the structure of the movie and screenplay. That was a swift and interesting lesson.

    I’ve always thought of Star Wars (the original — not the weird sequels and pre-quels)as being a traditional fairy tale.

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  5. Mike MacLean

    Simon, BG

    How do you feel about the new “improved” special effedts added into the original?

    JD,

    Your Star Wars experience sounds exactly like an episode of That 70s Show.

    Pari,

    There was a great documentary on the History Channel, exploring Star Wars universal themes. Iโ€™m pretty sure they mentioned the fairy tale connection as well. The program made me appreciate the whole Star Wars saga even more, including the much-maligned prequels. Iโ€™ll be the first to agree that Lucas made plenty of very annoying missteps on this latest batch. But if you can overlook Jar-Jar and the sometimes stiff, sometimes melodramatic dialogue, the storytelling is incredibly mythic and well structured. I really recommend the History Channel show if you get a chance to catch the repeats.

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  6. pari

    Mike,I wish I had real cable; mine is for cheapos.

    While I suspect the structure and storytelling at its core remains strong in the other SW movies . . . I can’t get past all the crappola — especially in the latest one. I don’t mind Jar-Jar, it’s the pace and fluidity of the movies that have sacrificed for heaven knows what.

    Maybe they’ll have that History Channel show somewhere else where I can get it.

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  7. B.G. Ritts

    … How do you feel about the new “improved” …

    They were lovely, but it’s somewhat like producing a remake of the movie. (I also don’t much care for colorizing old black and white films — and I can’t imagine someone putting color to an Ansel Adams photograph.)

    Films are what they were, and taking what’s already there and saving/fixing it’s fine, but enhancing with new ‘stuff’ destroys the original. Sure the original’s special effects look dated, but they were ‘on the edge’ at the time and that gives us something with which to compare how far SFX technology has evolved. People are still watching the original ‘Star Trek’ episodes — and they really have dated effects.

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  8. Ken McConnell

    From my blog…Thirty years ago this week, my parents took me and my brother to see a new movie called Star Wars. I was barely a teenager and I can still recall several moments in the theater that day. I remember when my father laughed at R2-D2 falling over like a tin garbage can after being shot by Jawas and I remember thinking the picture was over when the Millennium Falcon reached the forth moon of Yavin.

    My brother and I went on to see that movie countless times over the next year. We simply could not get enough of the dirty, used and totally familiar universe that George Lucas took us too every time we saw that movie. It turned me into a lover of science fiction and it sent me on a decade long journey to learn film making. My friends and I formed a movie production company called HMH Productions and we cranked out dozens of short 8mm films filled with space ships, aliens and really cool special effects. Despite being made from cardboard, string and pieces of broken plastic models, some of the effects we pulled off were just as amazing as the stuff the guys at ILM pulled off.

    I started to write my own stories. They were terrible as most youthful writing is bound to be, but it kindled an interest in creative writing that would stay with me for the rest of my life. I later studied film making at college and even helped make several low budget movies. Many years later my writing improved and eventually I wrote my first sci-fi novel Starstrikers, based on those stories I wrote as a teenager. Today I still enjoy writing and perhaps some day I will even be published.

    Star Wars made an indelible mark on my life and I am forever indebted to the courage and creativity of the people who made that film. It is my all time favorite film and I will sit and watch it over and over and still enjoy it as much as I did as a young boy back in the summer of 1977.

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  9. Fran

    One of my fellow teachers down in Las Cruces used to teach about archetypes and story structure and plot points, and then, just about the time her students’ eyes started to cross, she showed them Star Wars. And they got it, every time.

    It’s still an amazing movie.

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  10. Mike MacLean

    Pari,

    I think you pinpointed one of the main problems, especially with CLONES–it just didn’t flow. I felt the third film of the new batch redeemed Lucas, although I have friends who totally disagree.

    BG,

    I totally agree. You wouldn’t repaint a Rembrandt.

    Ken,

    I’m there with you. It’s still an amazing film. Thanks for sharing.

    JD,

    Minus the pot, I AM Eric Forman. And my dad was soooo Red.

    Fran,

    I think you said it better than I.

    Reply

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