UF Professor Goes Back To The Future With “Star Wars”
GAINESVILLE — With the 1977 blockbuster “Star Wars” returning to the wide screen Friday, ardent fans of the film wonder if a new generation of movie-goers will embrace its old-fashioned story and mix of special effects with the same enthusiasm as original audiences.
“The younger audiences may be jaded a bit by the saturation of science fiction movies and special effects epics from the last two decades,” said Andrew Gordon, a University of Florida professor and noted expert on the George Lucas film. “But, if I had to guess, I would say those who have not seen Star Wars’ on the wide screen will want to experience it in the way it was meant to be seen.”
With the re-release of “Star Wars” and subsequent re-releases of its two sequels, “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi,” attention and interest once again have turned toward Gordon’s detailed analysis of the movie, “Star Wars: A Myth for Our Time” that was first published in the Fall 1978 issue of Literature/Film Quarterly.
When “Star Wars” launched into the American pop culture landscape 20 years ago, it revealed more about our society’s past than its future, said Gordon, an associate professor of English at UF.
“I had studied science fiction films for some time and was sparked right away by Star Wars’ and its immediate audience appeal,” Gordon said. “My article on Star Wars’ is the most cited piece I have ever written.”
“Star Wars” and its fast-moving scenes of star ships thrusting into hyperspace and dogfight gun battles taking place in far-away galaxies paved the way for a new crop of successful science fiction films including the “Star Trek” series.
But “Star Wars” actually is more a nostalgia movie than a movie set in the future, Gordon said. It combines influences of mythology with traditional American pop culture placed in a storybook setting, he said.
” Star Wars’ is a modern fairy tale using early forms of movie-making from the 1930s and 1940s,” Gordon explained. “It is a combination of a multitude of old stories, such as The Wizard of Oz’, Flash Gordon’ and old Westerns, blended together to create a myth of its own.
“In the theater, people would gasp during certain scenes, hiss at the villian and cheer the hero in the end,” Gordon said. “I hadn’t seen this level of audience participation since the kiddie matinees from the 1950s.”
Gordon said the characters in Lucas’ classic represent the conventional, well-defined roles of good and bad that are reminiscent of older films and traditional stories.
Luke Skywalker is the reluctant young hero primed to take over for the old and wise Obi-wan Kenobi. Darth Vader clearly is the villain, clothed in black and surrounded by evil. Princess Leia is the beautiful and brave heroine, while Han Solo is the likeable, wise cracking warrior who in the end reveals his goodness.
” Star Wars’ took us back to a previous generation at a time when Americans had lost heroes,” Gordon said. “The country wanted to return to an earlier age that was simpler. When we knew exactly who the heroes were and who the villains were.”
When it was released, “Star Wars” largely was dismissed by many critics as a childish movie that was “corny or hokey, strictly kids’ stuff”. Gordon argues that the movie appeals to young and old precisely because of its old-fashioned plot.
Although the 1997 version includes some new characters and enhancements to sound and visual effects, whether young viewers will head to the theaters for the return of “Star Wars” is uncertain.
When UF sophomore Kelly Koukos was 4 years old, her mother sometimes would arrange her hair like Princess Leia’s, with braided buns on each side of her head. Still, she has no plans to see “Star Wars” in the theater.
“I’ve seen it on TV and I liked it,” said Koukos, 19. “But I’d rather go see a love story.”
- Karen Meisenheimer