Myth, Media, and Culture in Star Wars: An Anthology by Douglas Brode and Leah Deyneka

5359b0b56b1163e-261x361.jpg Author Douglas Brode and Leah Deyneka
Isbn 9780810885127
File size 1MB
Year 2012
Pages 206
Language English
File format PDF
Category art


Myth, Media, and Culture in Star Wars An Anthology Edited by Douglas Brode Leah Deyneka THE SCARECROW PRESS, INC. Lanham • Toronto • Plymouth, UK 2012 12_094_Brode_Myth.indb i 5/8/12 9:23 AM Published by Scarecrow Press, Inc. A wholly owned subsidiary of The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc. 4501 Forbes Boulevard, Suite 200, Lanham, Maryland 20706 10 Thornbury Road, Plymouth PL6 7PP, United Kingdom Copyright © 2012 by Douglas Brode and Leah Deyneka All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote passages in a review. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Information Available Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Myth, media, and culture in Star Wars : an anthology / edited by Douglas Brode, Leah Deyneka. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-0-8108-8512-7 (cloth : alk. paper) — ISBN 978-0-8108-8513-4 (ebook) 1. Star Wars films—History and criticism. 2. Myth in motion pictures. 3. Culture in motion pictures. I. Brode, Douglas, 1943–. II. Deyneka, Leah, 1971–. PN1995.9.S695M97 2012 791.43'75—dc23 2012003282 ™ The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992. Printed in the United States of America 12_094_Brode_Myth.indb ii 5/8/12 9:23 AM For my son, Shane Johnson Brode, the original Star Wars kid. —Douglas Brode To my parents, Joe and Judy, and my sisters, Elisa, Larissa, and Tammy, who have tirelessly bolstered my Star Wars obsession. Thank you also to Professor Douglas Brode for creating such a fantastic Star Wars course and proposing the idea for this anthology. —Leah Deyneka 12_094_03_Ded.indd iii 5/8/12 9:33 AM 12_094_Brode_Myth.indb iv 5/8/12 9:23 AM Contents Acknowledgments vii Introduction: “Of That Time, of That Place” Douglas Brode ix 1 “Cowboys in Space”: Star Wars and the Western Film Douglas Brode 1 2 Is Star Wars a Modernized Fairy Tale? Arthur Berger 13 3 From Disneyland to Modesto: George Lucas and Walt Disney Craig Svonkin 21 4 May the Myth Be with You, Always: Archetypes, Mythic Elements, and Aspects of Joseph Campbell’s Heroic Monomyth in the Original Star Wars Trilogy Leah Deyneka 5 6 Not So Long Ago nor Far Away: New Variations on Old Themes and Questioning Star Wars’ Revival of Heroic Archetypes Dan Rubey From Sky-Walking to Dark Knight of the Soul: George Lucas’s Star Wars Turns to Tragic Drama John C. McDowell 31 47 65 v 12_094_Brode_Myth.indb v 5/8/12 9:23 AM vi 7 8 9 10 11 Contents Under the Influence of Akira Kurosawa: The Visual Style of George Lucas Michael Kaminski 83 Balancing the Force: How Media Created by Star Wars Now Defines the Franchise Crystal Renee White 101 A Long Time Ago on a Newsstand Far, Far Away: The Mythic Comic Book Hero in Marvel Comics’ Star Wars Jon Hogan 113 The Jedi Network: Star Wars’ Portrayal and Inspirations on the Small Screen Eric Charles 127 Gaming in a Galaxy Far, Far Away: The History of the Expanded Worlds, Canon Conflicts, and Simplified Morality of Star Wars Video Games Seth Sommerfeld 12 Quentin Tarantino’s Star Wars?: Digital Cinema, Media Convergence, and Participatory Culture Henry Jenkins 141 153 13 Star Wars and the Technophobic Imagination Cyrus R. K. Patell 169 Index 185 About the Editors 189 About the Contributors 191 12_094_Brode_Myth.indb vi 5/8/12 9:23 AM Acknowledgments Thank you to Professor Douglas Brode and all of the contributors for their dedication in bringing this anthology to print. I would also like to extend gratitude to the Syracuse University Library and the Inter-Library Loan department who proved to be invaluable in researching this extensive anthology. Finally, many thanks to my colleagues at the Syracuse University Bookstore who respected my publication deadlines and allowed me the opportunity to focus on completing this project. —Leah Deyneka vii 12_094_Brode_Myth.indb vii 5/8/12 9:23 AM 12_094_Brode_Myth.indb viii 5/8/12 9:23 AM Introduction “Of That Time, of That Place” Douglas Brode These are the legends that prove special since, like the Bible, Greek mythology, Shakespeare, and the collected films of John Ford, certain narrative works do not merely satisfy an audience at the time of their release only to disappear, sooner or later displaced by the next “big thing” to come ambling or roaring down the pike. While other stories, some extremely striking, perhaps well received at a specific juncture in history, come and go, we are talking now about those that pass the test of time. These are the legends that prove special in that, however pleasurable and/or profound they may have appeared long, long ago, in some past culture near or far, far away, they speak over the years, the decades, the centuries, even in some rare and remarkable cases, the millennia. More incredible, they do so to far-flung societies that often share nothing but such ongoing yarns and the basic ideas contained within them. These are our uber-stories, meaningful as well as absorbing after other tales, temporary in value, have fallen by the wayside, forgotten except by scholars of antiquity. In each such case, a combination of the universal story itself and the unique manner of its telling causes the piece to continue to move mass audiences and individual receivers, despite ever-changing fads and fashions. This includes the coming and going of political, philosophical, cultural, and religious outlooks. Indeed, in some cases, the iconic tales are responsible for those very changes. They are, simply put, the stories that most powerfully answer certain essential questions raised by the world’s first philosophers, back when man ceased to merely accept his own existence. At this point humankind rose above any animal origins by questioning life: What does it mean to be a man? What is our place in the universe? Why are we here, and ought we to pursue that final question from birth to death? ix 12_094_Brode_Myth.indb ix 5/8/12 9:23 AM x Douglas Brode Is in fact that, rather than daily existence and survival on the most obvious level, precisely what defines us? For some, it may seem preposterous and pretentious to compare a set of six science-fiction/space fantasy films of a popcorn variety to those works cited above. Yet it is worth remembering that Shakespeare’s plays were not taken seriously at the time of their initial productions, thought of, roughly between 1590 and 1610, as blood-and-guts time-killers for the least discriminating audiences, excepting those more refined comedies written for court audiences. People came to the matinees after visiting gaming houses, before heading for the brothels. They carried in turkey legs and threw the bones at any hiss-able villains, Macbeth the Darth Vader of his era and quite likely the progenitor, however unconsciously, of Anakin Skywalker. Yet as the years passed, and the more seemingly intellectual plays by Christopher Marlowe became quaint and curious relics, the high drama and low comedy of Shakespeare continued on, even after the prevalent values of the Elizabethan and Jacobean ages had turned to dust. Shakespeare is Shakespeare, whether done on film in modern settings or in the vivid conventions of Kabuki theatre. True, Star Wars is only a little more than thirty-five years old. Then again, this is the modern age, when as Alvin Toffler explained at its beginning in 1970, Future Shock causes most new contenders in the pop culture field to vanish before we, with our shortened attention spans, have even begun to adjust to them. In such a new reality, the survival of any objets d’art and/or entertainment products (if there is indeed a difference between the two) for three and a half decades-plus could be compared to three and a half centuries at a time when changes were glacially slow. The chapters included here, like those in Sex, Politics, and Religion in Star Wars, were all chosen for their quality in examining some aspect of Star Wars’ ongoing appeal and continuing impact. Here we focus less, perhaps, on the films themselves than the multimedia experience Star Wars, the franchise, has become, in every imaginable venue from toys and collectables to theme park rides to comic books and television shows. Individual readers will, of course, likely agree with some of the approaches that are collected here while disagreeing with others, precisely as with Sex, Politics, and Religion. That was to be expected, even hoped for. Yet if we set out to include chapters that take psychological and diverse other points of view on the original Star Wars film and its world of offshoots, we hoped to never lose sight of the fact that, on initial viewing, back in 1977 or, for some young person who happens upon it today and for the first time, George Lucas’s film was, and always will be, a Hollywood entertainment: a movie that assumed, as its primary purpose, the dual desire to please as many people as possible with moments of action and romance that, along with what were then state-of-the-art F/X (special effects), would thrill, excite, and allow for enjoyment in a theater, thus making a great 12_094_Brode_Myth.indb x 5/8/12 9:23 AM Introduction xi deal of money for everyone from Lucas himself to 20th Century Fox, the distributor. Star Wars, whatever it may have come to mean to us during that intervening period, was a film for its own time; to fail to recognize this at the outset would be to misread it entirely, no matter how many mythic elements we may discover in its subtexts. Like his counterpart and on some occasions collaborator Steven Spielberg, Lucas came of age in the 1950s, when the greatest role models tended to be Westerners: Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry, and Roy Rogers left over from the 1930s and 1940s, their careers revived and enhanced by the new medium of television. Soon TV had its own cowboy heroes galore, shows boasting the names of their factual or fictional heroes: Cheyenne, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Range Rider, Wild Bill Hickok, even a proto-feminist version in Annie Oakley. In each, kids experienced a good guy (or girl) who took on the forces of darkness in a Hollywood version of the historical west. Importantly, there was science fiction, too: Buster Crabbe’s Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials from twenty years earlier filled the early-afternoon post-school hours, soon joined by new shows such as Tom Corbett, Space Cadet. Ever since the end of World War II in 1945, the conquest of space had ceased to be simply an exotic fantasy, as in the past. With America’s space program attempting to penetrate the skies before the Russians, locked in a Cold War with us, could win that honor the concept of intergalactic travel was on everyone’s mind. A few of the new breed of sci-fi writers, most notably Robert Heinlein (who scripted George Pal’s Destination Moon film in 1950, featuring a nonfanciful depiction of how such a voyage would likely occur within the next twenty years), addressed outer space in the most realistic of terms. Mostly though, true science fiction (writing the history of the future) made way for more examples of cowboys in space. If Westerns and sci-fi shows boasted notably different costumes and set designs, what they had in common was an American version of the old Manichaean sensibility: There was good and there was bad. As John Wayne put it in The Alamo (1960), a man’s gotta choose between one and the other, then stick to his guns, be they six-shooters or laser pistols. And the holsters in which our heroes—a newly revived Flash Gordon plus Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers, Rocky Jones, Space Ranger—wore them looked pretty much identical. All that would change during the 1960s, when Lucas attended college, then ceased to be only a film buff and as part of a New Wave entered that industry. If we could still cheer for old-fashioned heroes during that decade’s early years, be they conservative/pro-Establishment (Charlton Heston in El Cid) or liberal/anti-Establishment (Kirk Douglas in Spartacus), such epics were gone by 1970. So were musicals, gangster films, and conventional romances, the genre films Hollywood had been churning out regularly since the turn of the twentieth century no longer speaking to a public at large. 12_094_Brode_Myth.indb xi 5/8/12 9:23 AM xii Douglas Brode These had been replaced by offbeat, edgy crime films such as Bonnie and Clyde and unconventional romances on the order of The Graduate, both released in 1967, the year that those old-timers who still ran Hollywood began to realize their era was over. The audience that had once flocked to see their films had aged, now staying home to watch those movies again on TV. Young people had emerged as the great new audience. They were a different kind of youth than their parents had been. With an ever-larger percentage attending college, many were inspired at its beginning by the election of relatively young John F. Kennedy as president. His assassination in 1963 undermined that emergent optimism, leading to a sense that a great dream for a better future had been whisked away before they had even begun to realize it. Many of those college students remained loyal to the Civil Rights cause Kennedy had championed, though now things turned violent as they marched South to try to integrate America. Meanwhile the war in Southeast Asia, which had never been declared and made no sense to a great number of young people, escalated, leading to an antiwar movement. By 1969, the radical so-called Hippie Era was in full (if surprisingly brief) swing. As always, popular culture found new voices to express the inherent ideology of those times. The old genre films could only continue to exist if reinvented. In the Western Little Big Man (1970), Indians were the good guys, Custer and the Seventh Cavalry racist imperialists rather than the all-American heroes of earlier films on the subject. The film that most perfectly captured the darkness into which America had plunged—the war still dragging on, a drug-plague enveloping the country, and then the Watergate scandal that caused President Nixon to resign—was Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976): Its antihero, Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), a dark philosopher/hack who cruises the neon nightscape, condemning all the whores, homosexuals, and druggies lining the ruined streets of New York, finally emerges from the newly installed porno palaces to become a would-be assassin of an important politician. The tone of such films, like the age itself, had turned from the bleak existentialism of the late 1960s to a harder, colder, all-encroaching nihilism during the 1970s’ first half. Shortly after the release of the first such film, Easy Rider (1969), its director/co-writer/co-star, Dennis Hopper, announced what he believed to be the film’s key message: “I don’t believe in heroes anymore.”1 By heroes, Hopper referred to those played by John Wayne and other old-time stars in countless “oaters” perceived as conservative in nature. Hopper had appeared in several, including Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), The Sons of Katie Elder (1965), and True Grit (1969). Wayne won the Best Actor Oscar for the latter, which appealed mainly to older viewers. Young people flocked to see Midnight Cowboy, an X-rated item that, title aside, was about antiheroes: street hustlers, nonviolent Travis Bickle, who survive in modern Manhattan. 12_094_Brode_Myth.indb xii 5/8/12 9:23 AM Introduction xiii Ten years later, Hopper supported the presidential bid of a longtime Wayne pal and onetime TV-movie cowboy hero, Ronald Reagan, who campaigned wearing a cowboy hat in front of the Texas Alamo, setting of Wayne’s most famous old-time hero film from 1960, before America darkened. Another great favorite of the late 1960s to early 1970s youth culture, Bob Dylan, like Hopper announced his conversion to conservative values and voted for Reagan. Simply put, enough was enough. America wanted to believe in heroes again, including those very youth-spokespersons who had decried such stuff less than a decade earlier. With Reagan’s ascension to the White House in a landslide victory, supported by young as well as older Americans, it only made sense that pop culture would likewise embrace if not the older order then some sort of reconfigured hero worship. By the late 1970s, old-fashioned heroes had already made a comeback, notably Christopher Reeve in Superman (1978). Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) would shortly bring the two most significant filmmakers of this upcoming era together to create Indiana Jones who, in his leather jacket and fedora, looked a great deal like the charming characters Wayne and Reagan had played back in the 1940s and 1950s. Here was retro entertainment, now played with contemporary glibness for a neo-audience that yearned to enjoy all the formulas, if now with “an edge,” necessary owing to all they—we—had been through. The first such hero was Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in the original Star Wars movie. Some observers insisted that the box-office sensation of Star Wars could be read by those who perceive public entertainment and national politics as inseparable, as an early indicator of how things would turn out at polling places in 1979. As Peter Lev has put it: Star Wars has often been discussed as a harbinger of the renewed American conservatism of the Reagan presidency. It is certainly part of the move toward simple, optimistic genre films in the late 1970s. The clean-cut well-spoken white youths of the film seem to come out of an idealized version of the 1950s, and the clear division between good and evil governments suggests the Cold War.2 Here we face the difficulty of analyzing Star Wars from any political position. On the surface, it could not be more liberal or antiestablishment. The heroes are rebels, Robin Hood figures set in what may be another dimension, and that certainly is a “created universe,” fighting against Fascist dictatorship. If the films were conservative, wouldn’t our audience loyalties be the other way around? Yet there are diverse meanings to the term “conservative.” Others include believing in traditional heroes rather than deeply troubled antiheroes; in an ultimate battle between Good and Evil; seeing men as the doers in life, women more as damsels in distress, each pretty princess needing to be rescued by “a hero”; an unerring belief that 12_094_Brode_Myth.indb xiii 5/8/12 9:23 AM xiv Douglas Brode God (or what we might rename The Force) exists, is benign, and will ensure that things turn out right in the end, no matter how many troubles we encounter along the way; and that a film ought to cross generations, bringing entire families to the movies in a ritualistic experience not all that unlike churches and other houses of worship. In that sense of the term, Star Wars (along with Indiana Jones and most everything Lucas, Spielberg, and other filmmakers of their vent turn out) is indeed conservative, or “traditional,” even if the people who created it perceive their vision as a liberal one and choose to vote that way during elections. It’s not for nothing that Martin Scorsese, whose Mean Streets (1973) and Taxi Driver had all but defined the early 1970s, found it difficult to get a film financed after the box-office disaster that was New York, New York (1977). Many viewers, older and younger, had gone to see that musical expecting a charming throwback to the MGM All Singing, All Dancing Extravaganzas only to be offended by the cynicism of the piece, which dared to feature an unhappy ending. When Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979) appeared, this brooding Vietnam drama struck many as a throwback to and final example of the kinds of films that had been so plentiful at the decade’s beginning, but that were now going out of style as an era of escapism replaced them. To a degree, Lucas and Spielberg re-created the old-fashioned Hollywood that they had loved in their youth. The 1980s, like the 1950s, would as a result largely be an era of what are referred to in the industry as Popcorn Pictures, made for entertainment rather than enlightenment. Clearly, then, the social context in which Star Wars first appeared had a great deal to do with the manner in which the public perceived it at that time. In many cases, audiences rose en masse at the end to cheer; in so doing, they acknowledged its quality, the manner in which it had satisfied their expectations. However, many viewers applauded as the film began; here, they acknowledged their love—America’s love and, considering the international appeal, human love—of the type of Hollywood movie it represented, and their own desire, after the better part of a decade of moral confusion and demanding complexity, to once more see the world as a simple place where things always worked out right. Perhaps Jaws (1975) and Rocky (1976) had paved the way, but Lucas crystallized what had been developing while setting the pace for a retrofuture with Star Wars. However we have seen it since, or will perceive it in the future, this was the true meaning of Star Wars at that time, in that place. NOTES 1. Interview with the author, spring 1971. 2. Peter Lev, American Films of the 70s: Conflicting Visions (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000), 168. 12_094_Brode_Myth.indb xiv 5/8/12 9:23 AM 1 “Cowboys in Space” Star Wars and the Western Film Douglas Brode When George Lucas stepped into an executive office at 20th Century Fox in 1974 and pitched his upcoming idea for an intergalactic adventure epic as “cowboys in space,” he was not the first person to have presented such an idea to major players in “the industry.” Some twelve years earlier Gene Rodenberry (1921–1991) said much the same thing to the powers that be at NBC when he hoped to launch his upcoming series Star Trek (1966–1969). According to most accounts, Rodenberry’s precise phrase had been “Wagon Train in space.” This referral, lost on many young people today, is to a previous series that had played Wednesday evenings on NBC between 1957 and 1962. Cancelled by that network following a successful five-year run, often ranking number two or even one in the Nielsens, Wagon Train moved over to ABC. There, for another three years, the show ran on Wednesday, Monday, and finally Sunday evenings, if with ever declining ratings. By 1965, Wagon Train was gone, as were the vast majority of Westerns that had flourished a decade earlier. As its title indicated, Wagon Train dealt with a caravan of pioneers traveling west across the American frontier. The pilgrims were led by a stern but fair wagon-master (originally played by Ward Bond, the lead assumed by John McIntire after Bond’s passing in 1960). He was abetted by a dependable trail boss (Terry Wilson), a comical cook (Frank McGrath), and a succession of handsome scouts (Robert Horton, Denny Miller, Robert Fuller), more or less the crew of Rodenberry’s “Enterprise” in embryo. Each episode focused on various members of the train or intriguing people they met in those diverse towns, forts, farms, ranches, and other remote places. Rodenberry’s idea was to reset that premise on the final frontier, advancing the concept from past to future, from horse opera to space opera. 1 12_094_Brode_Myth.indb 1 5/8/12 9:23 AM 2 Douglas Brode A definition of terms is in order here. Though often referred to as science fiction, and to some degree filling the rules of that genre, in truth Star Trek, like Lucas’s Star Wars, is better described by that alternate term. At its purest, science fiction obediently pays homage to the laws of science, fictionalizing what likely could or would happen in a future firmly grounded in what’s known in the present about space or time travel, future life on earth, and so forth. Space opera allows for a more creative range of the imagination. As Lucas would recollect on numerous occasions, Star Wars moved over to space fantasy, or space opera, the moment he made the decision to allow his audience to hear explosions during the pitched battles between spacecraft; of course, there can be no such thing as sound in space. The term space opera was first employed by Wilson Tucker in 1941 to describe far-out tales in that era’s pulp magazines, distinguishing between them and more serious-minded work by writers like Jules Verne or H. G. Wells at finde-siècle, Aldous Huxley and George Orwell during the twentieth century. Basically desultory, the term horse opera was seldom used to refer to a realistic story of life on the frontier such as John Ford’s sound-era movies, running from Stagecoach (1939) through My Darling Clementine (1946), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and The Searchers (1956) to The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962): that is, works in which that filmmaker attempted, within the limits of fictional narrative, to get individual details (weaponry, clothing, buildings) precise, the big picture as close to actuality possible. These were referred to as “epic Westerns.” Horse operas, on the other hand, were escapist-fantasy “oaters” (another dismissive term) of the sort that Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and William “Hopalong Cassidy” Boyd appeared in: delightful little diversions for children of all ages, seldom with any viable or meaningful connection to our actual pioneer era. In a horse opera, a hero could fire endless rounds from a six-shooter, shoot the pistol out of a bad guy’s hand, sing like a bird, leap from tall cliffs (there weren’t any tall buildings around yet) with a Superman-like bound, then fight for truth, justice, and the American way. Epics by Ford and others—Howard Hawks (Red River, 1948), Fred Zinnemann (High Noon, 1952), George Stevens (Shane, 1953), Anthony Mann (The Man from Laramie, 1955), and William Wyler (The Big Country, 1958) among them— featured complex characters with limited abilities, much like human beings in any modern drama. In most cases, the dramatic lines were no different from what we might encounter in a contemporary piece, other than the setting and period. Understandably then, a movie about corruption in the financial or business world such as House of Strangers (1949) could be remade as a Western (Broken Lance, 1954); a John Dillinger type of rural gangster (High Sierra, 1941) could easily be transformed into a film about a Billy the Kid type of rustic bandit (Colorado Territory, 1949), director Raoul Walsh making both movies. 12_094_Brode_Myth.indb 2 5/8/12 9:23 AM “Cowboys in Space” 3 Lucas drew on many elements for his conception of the Star Wars universe, from the high art of Akira Kurosawa’s samurai epics to the lowbrow fun of the Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon comic strips and movie cliffhangers. In filmed versions of each, the title character was played by Buster Crabbe, an Olympic award–winning swimmer whose acting abilities were limited at best. Yet his heroic mien (he also played Tarzan) seemed perfect for such parts. It’s worth noting here, in context, that Crabbe’s other great success came in inexpensive oaters about a lovable cowboy, “Billy Cody,” outlaw Billy Bonny reimagined as a good guy. As these, along with space-fantasy serials, were among the first Hollywood films to be released to television in the early 1950s, Lucas would have come of age watching Crabbe as a cowboy and in space. He could not help but notice, then, that such heroes were one and the same, in different garb, one in the future, the other the past. Even before hearing the term space opera for the first time, Lucas, like other members of the original TV generation, had to be aware of the similarities between the two genres. A fusion that proved popular as TV fare between 1950 and 1955 was The Phantom Empire (1935), a twelve-episode serial from Poverty Row producers Mascot. Gene Autry played a cowboy who discovers a society at once retro and futuristic, Murania, deep below his ranch. Though many people today mistakenly believe this serial played off Autry’s stardom as a Singin’ Cowboy for Republic Pictures, it was actually made before he took the lead in his first oater. So there it was, in front of Lucas’s eyes: the cowboy if not in space then certainly a spaced-out fantasy. Shortly, newly shot action shows for kids were divided between space opera and horse opera: Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers; Tom Corbett, Space Cadet; Rocky Jones, Space Ranger and The Lone Ranger, Buffalo Bill Jr., and Range Rider. By the time Lucas reached his teen years, earlier kiddie Westerns would seem a tad silly. No problem, however; the adult TV Western was born with Gunsmoke, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, and Cheyenne in 1955. The lead character in each had less to do with those played by Crabbe in B movies than John Wayne in films by Ford, Hawks, and Walsh: deeply troubled men who did their best to get the job done if often faltering along the way. For that matter Wagon Train had been based on a Ford film, Wagon Master (1950), in which Bond had played an all-but-identical role. Wayne eventually showed up as a guest star in one episode directed by Ford himself (“The Colter Craven Story,” 11/23/60). Roddenberry’s Star Trek show had been an attempt to do for TV what Wagon Train had less than a decade earlier: prove that a more adult version, this one character rather than action driven, could succeed. It’s no coincidence that during Star Trek’s run, the Western all but disappeared from the airwaves and theater screens. By 1970 Hollywood’s B oater, once a staple, was nowhere to be seen; violent Italian-made variations, referred to as Spaghetti Westerns, took up the slack. 12_094_Brode_Myth.indb 3 5/8/12 9:23 AM 4 Douglas Brode Likewise, the old-fashioned “A” Western also diminished, particularly after John Wayne and James Stewart appeared in Liberty Valance, Ford even then on the verge of retirement. Melancholy and anti-romantic, that endgame saga would be released months before “B” cowboys Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea paired for the first time in Sam Peckinpah’s Ride the High Country (1962), a sweet, sad farewell to the tightly budgeted films those old hands had perfected. After How the West Was Won (1962), a larger-eventhan-usual mega-epic (originally released in Cinerama) that included in its cast Wayne, Stewart, and Henry Fonda, the three seminal “A” Western stars, along with every tradition (some might say cliché)—mountain men, the Civil War, a wagon train, Indian fighting, outlaw gangs—it seemed impossible that Hollywood could ever again offer such a conventional genre piece. Instead, the clichés were spoofed, first in Cat Ballou (1965), eventually in Blazing Saddles (1974). Audiences now lovingly laughed at what they had once sincerely believed in. As for an epic, Sergio Leone offered an apotheosis of that genre in an ironic manner via Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), its very title announcing that what had once been believed was now grasped by the public as an elaborate fairy tale. The epic Western did survive by turning against everything it once stood for. Little Big Man (Arthur Penn, 1970) reversed the values of They Died with Their Boots On (1941) by positing Custer and the Seventh Cavalry (and, by abstraction, Anglo society) as the bad guys, the Sioux and Cheyenne as heroes at Little Big Horn. Some film historians insist that such movies were not Westerns at all but antiWesterns, cinematic attacks on the previous genre. Why the turnabout in attitude? The initial blow derived from the optimism of the early 1960s. When Jack Kennedy ran for president under The New Frontier banner, the old west suddenly seemed irrelevant. This appeared truer after the young chief-ex promised to put a man on the moon by decade’s end. “Don’t look back,” Bob Dylan would shortly say, speaking for his generation as well as his individual self. Star Trek, conceived if not aired at this period, featured a similar phrase, The Final Frontier. With the president’s assassination in 1963, our world was turned upside down and inside out. Optimism immediately dissolved, cynicism and pessimism appearing in its place, particularly after the assassinations of two other political figures who were similarly perceived as savior-like, Robert Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, in 1968. During that same year America had to deal with the ever-escalating undeclared war in Vietnam, the ever-more-angry and violent tenor of the Civil Rights Movement, and then, some five years later, Watergate and the unmaking of another president, Richard Nixon. No wonder this proved to be a difficult time for people to go on believing in the once bright American Dream. Nowhere had that success ethic been more enshrined than in the Western film, which said through its dramatic tales that Anglo Americans could con- 12_094_Brode_Myth.indb 4 5/8/12 9:23 AM “Cowboys in Space” 5 quer anything, turn wilderness into a civilization. Now, however, Americans began to wonder about the moral correctness of that process. Had the cutting down of great forests actually been anti-ecological, the Green Movement just then beginning? Was the defeat of Indian tribes racist, our nation forged on a genocidal crime? With such thoughts, people turned away from the genre that had once captured and enshrined a positive myth about America. This was the age of urban-angst-cinema beginning with Midnight Cowboy (1969), its title an ironic comment on the seemingly deceased Western genre, as the title figure is a Texas-born 42nd Street hustler, culminating in Taxi Driver (1976), in which the antihero eventually dresses up like a Mohawk with plans of massacring Anglos. “Travis Bickle” (Robert De Niro) is even named after William Barrett Travis, the once lionized commander of the Alamo (1836). Gradually, though, the public became exhausted with such stuff. After an era of glumness, people wanted to believe in Western heroes again. This would be attested to in real life when Ronald Reagan, former star of film and TV oaters, ran for the presidency and won. Often, Reagan campaigned in a heroic white cowboy hat, at one point posing in front of the Alamo, shrine of old-fashioned cowboy heroism. Following Reagan’s overwhelming electoral victory, numerous filmmakers attempted to bring back such heroes and the Western’s antiheroes as well. These included Clint Eastwood in Bronco Billy and Steve McQueen in Tom Horn, both released in 1980. Despite major stars, such films didn’t really catch on. In fact, the effective way to bring back the Western was not to revive the old settings, outdated the moment that Kennedy’s prediction came true in 1969 and we had begun the age during which space would be pioneered; rather reinvent the Western by repositioning its essence not on the old frontier but in an entirely other galaxy. That the result would be an epic fantasy rather than science fiction was made clear the moment the first Star Wars announced that this tall tale took place not in some far off future but a long time ago . . . once upon a time . . . on Tatooine! Lucas freely drew from both “B” oaters and Western epics, with their innocent heroes and jaded antiheroes. Just as gentle Stewart and roughhewn Wayne come together to fight an evil empire and its death-dealing representative (Lee Marvin) in Liberty Valance, so will idealistic Luke take on Darth Vader in the company of a seasoned noble-outlaw, Han Solo. Everything old is new again, just so long as the special effects are state-of-the-art, and the mythic confrontation of good winning out over evil in the long run is openly presented as what it always was: a fantasy of the way things ought to be, not a true image of the way they once were. Solidifying Star Wars’ immediate identification with the Western, the introduction of Han in A New Hope is drawn from two scenes in The Gunfighter (Henry King, 1950). This early example in the Western-noir cycle 12_094_Brode_Myth.indb 5 5/8/12 9:23 AM

Author Douglas Brode and Leah Deyneka Isbn 9780810885127 File size 1MB Year 2012 Pages 206 Language English File format PDF Category Art Book Description: FacebookTwitterGoogle+TumblrDiggMySpaceShare In 1977, Star Wars blazed across the screen to become one of the highest grossing and most beloved movies of all time. It was followed by two sequels and three prequels, all of which became blockbusters. Comic books, novels, graphic novels, and magazines devoted to the films have added to the mythology of George Lucas’s creation. Despite the impact of the franchise on popular culture, however, discussion of the films from a scholarly perspective has not kept pace with the films. In Myth, Media, and Culture in Star Wars: An Anthology, Douglas Brode and Leah Deyneka have assembled an intriguing collection of essays addressing the influences that shaped the films, as well as the impact the franchise has had on popular culture. Contributors to this volume discuss the Star Wars universe and what its connection to various cultural touchstones—from fairy tales and Joseph Campbell to Disneyland and Marvel comics—mean to viewers. Essays examine the films in the franchise as well as incarnations of the Star Wars universe in video games, comic books, and television programs, including the films’ influence on new generations of filmmakers. A companion volume to Sex, Politics, and Culture in Star Wars, Myth, Media, and Culture in Star Wars is a diverse collection of criticism that investigates the dynamic force that Star Wars has become in popular culture, from every imaginable angle.     Download (1MB) Sex, Politics, and Religion in Star Wars: An Anthology Avengers: The Ultimate Guide The Superhero Book Women and Images of Men in Cinema The Sagebrush Trail: Western Movies and Twentieth-Century America, 2nd edition Load more posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *