Saturday, November 21, 2015

Guest Post: My Son-in-Law is a Star Wars Geek (but in a good way)

My son-in-law, who helped mow up the last of the leaves in the yard today, also shines with today's Guest Post. He is a Star Wars fanatic. He has a great job while pursuing a Masters in Electrical & Computer Engineering and takes good care of our daughter and one of our grandsons. Even if the Gandson grows up to be a Star Wars Geek, that's fine by us. Take it away!:

The Force Awakens Wish List

As soon as the announcement was made for new Star Wars films, I started making lists of things I wanted to see in them.  I could probably talk about Star Wars for days on end, but here’s a few of the most important or most under-recognized things that made Star Wars great that I hope to see in Force Awakens. Disclaimer: I try to focus on things that apply at least somewhat to all six films and tie them all together, but the focus is really on A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, so don’t tell me I’m wrong because of Jar Jar... Also, this list relies purely on the original six films—these items stand regardless of what we may already know about The Force Awakens from trailers, merchandise, etc.  

Star Wars Feels Real

As much as filmmakers try to make it not so, most movies don’t feel real—especially when they involve magic, space travel, and science fiction.  A variety of plot holes, violations of science, and other things constantly remind us what we’re watching is just a movie.  Here are some ways Star Wars avoids a lot of that:

No Opening Credits

o   This seems like a small thing, but it’s one way Star Wars does a terrific job of immersing you in another universe.  Opening credits signals to the viewers that what they are watching is fake—we don’t want to see Harrison Ford pretend to be Han Solo, we want to see the actual Han Solo.

-          Absolutely No Science/Explanation

o   Along with the lack of opening credits throwing us immediately into a new world, Star Wars feels real to us because it doesn’t try to explain itself.  You don’t question how a lightsaber could really exist and how light speed really works or even care that there’s apparently sound in space, because no one ever tries to explain it.  It may sound like a contradictory idea, but once you bring scientific laws into play to explain something, it calls everything else into question.  Star Wars, on the other hand, gives us a universe in which everything just works and all the characters accept it that way, so we do, too.
(As an aside, this is what is really wrong with midichlorians.  I usually hear complaints that George Lucas ruined the Force with midichlorians because suddenly your ability to use the force is linked to your chemical makeup, but I laugh at those complaints, because the original trilogy makes one thing pretty clear about the Force—it’s genetic.  “My father has it, I have it, my sister has it…” Ring any bells, anyone?  The real problem with introducing midichlorians is that they try to explain something scientifically that we didn’t need to have explained that way and in so doing give our subconscious a chance to start expecting scientific explanations for what we’re seeing.)

-          Sound Effects

o   Virtually all of the sound effects in Star Wars are mixed recordings of real things.  Real engines, real machinery, etc.  Let’s just say there’s a reason Pixar called on Ben Burtt, the Star Wars sound designer, when they set out to make Wall-E, a film where instead of dialog, we only got sound effects for over half of the movie.

-          Dirt and Imperfections

o   Real people in real environments means dirt.  These worlds are almost always sandy, dirty, or icy and you never get the feeling the films are all about making the characters look attractive.

The Soundtrack

-          There are a lot of great soundtracks out there, and a lot of great composers, but no soundtrack has ever seemed to match Star Wars and no composer can match John Williams.  I love Hans Zimmer and the emotion his music brings as much as the next guy, but the key difference between Williams and other composers, like Zimmer, is that your average movie-goer would probably never know the difference between random tracks from The Last Samurai, Batman, Inception, Interstellar or Gladiator (all Zimmer films).  On the other hand, when you hear music from Schindler’s List or Jurassic Park, even though it’s still John Williams, you don’t think of Star Wars.  Everyone knows the Star Wars theme and anyone who has seen Star Wars—even just once or twice—sees images of Darth Vader or storm troopers when they hear the Imperial March.  Star Wars is a perfect example of movies where the soundtrack doesn’t just add some emotion and background noise, but actually contributes to and becomes one with the story.

Star Wars is for All Audiences

When I was young, I avoided PG-13 movies like the plague and one time while on a car ride with my cousins I mentioned that I had never seen a PG-13 movie.  My cousins, along with my aunt and uncle, claimed that I must have and didn’t believe me that all three original Star Wars films (the only ones that existed at the time) were PG until we got home and looked at the back of the movie case.  If you look at IMDB’s top 250 movie list, the vast majority of the movies have PG-13 and R ratings with A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back being the only PG movies in the top 20.  There seems to be an idea that movies to need to be somehow dark and deal with adult material to be successful, but Star Wars is a testament that amazing movies don’t require immorality, gruesome violence, language, or even mature themes.  Think about it—in six movies Star Wars has two mild swear words, almost no blood, and where any other Hollywood movie would have had an affair, Anakin and Padme actually get married before bringing Luke and Leia into the world.  We need more critically acclaimed, top-quality movies that we feel comfortable watching with our younger children and I’d like all the Star Wars movies to be on that list.

I should add that I’m not against all movies that you wouldn’t watch with your 4 year-old children—several of my other favorite movies fall into that category.  The fact is, it’s annoying when a series starts family-friendly, but then sours to the point that parents are forced to either let their kids watch things they’re not comfortable with, or pick a point in the story-line where the kids just have to wait to learn what happens next (and probably have it all spoiled for them before they can see it). That’s probably my biggest complaint about the Harry Potter series—it was fine for my generation because we matured as the books/movies came out, but with all the books and movies now available, a parent might have problems when their elementary school children want to read/see Harry Potter IV, as people start cutting their limbs off and killing each other, or Harry Potter VI, when dead bodies are re-animated in a creepy lake and do-I-really-need-to-go-on?


In the end there are a lot of things that make Star Wars amazing, but I think it’s fitting that the last thing I mention is that the one thing that made the original Star Wars legendary was the way it defied everyone’s expectations in a movie and did things that had never been done before.  So in conclusion, in addition to the things I’ve listed, I hope to see something I’ve never seen before—something that, like the battle of Hoth according to Myth Busters’ Adam Savage (and I heartily agree), remains unmatched for over 35 years.

Honorable Mentions

-          Weird Transitions between Scenes

o   You’ll probably laugh at me for noticing this one, but a subtle theme across Star Wars movies is seen in George Lucas’ obsession with getting the right cut between scenes.  It’s almost never the classic dissolve or a straight cut, but the new scene is always dragged across the screen, explodes outward from the middle, or something else unique (almost like an old PowerPoint presentation).  It’s the Star Wars way to let you know the scene is changing.  If you think hard about it, you can probably, like me, remember the way the scene slides up from the bottom as C-3PO is lifted from the sand after the sand people attack and the film transitions to Obi Wan’s home.  Or the way the end credits always start with the final scene being enveloped in black from the outside in.

-          Repeated Themes

o   This is a major part of Star Wars and the only reason it is left for the honorable mentions list is that themes of good vs evil and the repetition of themes are not strictly unique to Star Wars (unless you want to talk fan theories like the ring theory—but that’s a discussion for another time and a much longer write-up).  As George Lucas himself put it, the Star Wars movies are kind of like a jazz performance—each idea (or melody, chord progression, rhythm) is repeated, sometimes for hours on end, but each time it is presented differently, bringing new light to the idea.  As a simple and more obvious example, Anakin and Luke both face similar difficulties between choosing the light side or the dark side, but the two stories don’t feel repetitious in an “unoriginal” way because the repeated motif teaches us completely different lessons.  In the case of Anakin, we see someone who is presented with the strict and structured Jedi order, whose lengthy and detailed list of rules leave Anakin feeling so guilty for each of his mistakes that Darth Sidious has no problem convincing him he cannot possibly be a true Jedi.  On the other hand, Luke, who is instead taught to trust his feelings to know right from wrong, realizes that his mistakes do not define him, so when Sidious presents the same look-what-you-did-you-can’t-be-a-Jedi argument, Luke tosses his lightsaber away, announcing “You have failed, Your Highness. I am a Jedi.”  This cyclical repetition helps tie the entire series together and brings a familiarity to the movies that is probably a big part of why most of the “prequels haters” actually really enjoyed them the first time they saw them.

-          THX Opener
-          “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

-          R2-D2 and C-3PO
o   As cool as BB-8 looks, I’m not ready to let go of the original duo.

-          Something to make fun of later

o   Whether it’s Admiral Ackbark, Stormtroopers bumping their heads, or someone selling death sticks to Obi Wan in a bar, we all need some great jokes and things to parody later.


  1. My three nine-year-olds are most frustrated that we won't let them watch Episode III yet, due to its PG-13 rating. (Actually, it received an M classification here in Australia. "Films and computer games classified M (Mature) contain content of a moderate impact and are recommended for teenagers aged 15 years and over." So they impatiently await. It's probably my biggest frustration with the series; I let my 12 year old daughter watch III after constant nagging, but even she agreed it was a bit much for her!

    1. As the author of the article (responding anonymously to keep my terribly outdated Google profile hidden), I have to agree that's probably my least favorite part of the series, too. I still feel the series can loosely hold the title of "clean" and have a lot of respect for episode 3 because the sole reason it is PG-13 is because of action violence (it's hard to imagine a movie depicting the fall of the Jedi/Republic as well as why Vader is in his suit that isn't PG-13). I'm impressed that they still kept the movie pretty blood-free (hooray for lightsabers!) and didn't let any other inappropriate things creep in just because the movie covered such a dark chapter in the story and was therefore destined for more mature audiences.


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