Saturday, January 2, 2016

Steven Hart: Star Wars does not draw on literary classics but on classic pulp SciFi

I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens on New Years Day with my daughter, her boyfriend, and their friends. Yes, I enjoyed it. Director J. J. Abrams and co-writers Michael Arndt and Lawrence Kasdan have crafted a wonderful balance between the wit and action of the first movie released in 1977 and fresh material that old fans and new can appreciate. But this post is not a review of this latest entry of the franchise.

This post revives Steven Hart's 2002 essay at Salon.com, "Galactic Gasbag" that slams any promotion of the original Star Wars movie as inspired by Joseph Campbell's works on comparative mythology. As I watched the new movie, I thought often of Steven, an investigative reporter, brilliant man, critic, fiction writer, and friend. He died last year on January 20, a shock and great loss to me, his family, and all who knew him.

According to Steven, Lucas never said anything about basing Star Wars on classics such as The Odyssey or consciously tapping into mythology and archetypes Campbell studied until the franchise had become "a pop culture milestone." The belief that Lucas had created Star Wars with ancient mythologies and literary classics in mind grew as increasingly more critics shoveled similar analyses, and Lucas pushed it further when time came to promote the prequels, Steven argues.

After turning Lucas over a gentle flame about his box office flops, which Steven perhaps implies do not reflect the mind of an scholarly thinker, Steven turns up the fire on Star Wars itself as being not original but a bricolage of old Science Fiction novel images and figures. "More damningly, the real roots of 'Star Wars' are obvious to anyone not blinded by snobbery or the need for self-inflation," he writes:
They lie not in “The Odyssey” or the “Upanishads,” but 20th century science-fiction magazines such as Astounding, Amazing Stories and Galaxy. The “true theology” of “Star Wars” was written not by Virgil or Homer, but Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, Frank Herbert, E.E. “Doc” Smith and a host of other S.F. writers.
The original “Star Wars” and its sequels are echo chambers of tropes and images from literary science fiction, used in ways that strike a careful balance between affectionate familiarity and outright plagiarism. The first glimpse of Luke Skywalker’s desert homeworld, Tatooine, evokes the setting of Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel “Dune”; Lucas even throws in a shot of a skeletal desert serpent reminiscent of Herbert’s gigantic sandworms. The amazing visuals suggest an eye nourished by the magazine art of Frank R. Paul, John Schoenherr, Kelly Freas and Chesley Bonestell.

Even when he was alive, I didn't argue with Steven, so I won't start now. You may read the rest of Steven Hart's article, "Galactic Gasbag" at Salon.

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