Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Podcast Review: The Projection Booth: The Star Wars Episode

Recently The Projection Booth podcast released a marathon six hour episode on the 1977 George Lucas film Star Wars. The Projection Booth, hosted by Mike White and Rob St. Mary, produce one episode a week, usually reviewing a cult classic.  For the Star Wars episode Mike and Rob reflected on their own histories with Star Wars and interviewed several folks with a deep knowledge of the franchise and the fan culture it created.

Even though Star Wars made Lucas a cultural hero to a post-Vietnam generation, he never embraced the original version. So for the 1997 re-release he included CGI special effects, additional scenes, and most infamously the "Greedo shot first" uproar.  Personally, I was never annoyed with the revisions, although the dance sequence in Return of the Jedi bordered on camp.  As long as the original versions are kept available to the public, I have no problem. But Lucas is determined to erase them from existence, much to the chagrin of everyone.

His contradictory statements about the creation of Star Wars have added to the confusion.  Back in the 70s Lucas often spoke of there being nine films to the saga, sometimes twelve.  After completing the prequel trilogy in 2005, Lucas pronounced the story finished - as he originally envisioned it!  Then another about face came in 2012 when he sold the rights of Star Wars over to Disney with a big reveal: he had planned further installments.

The podcast features interviews with two authors who have written extensively on these issues. Chris Taylor author of How Star Wars Conquered the Universe and Michael Kaminsky author of The Secret History of Star Wars. Both shed light on the origins of Star Wars. Both books reveal Lucas never really had a grand vision and made most of the story up on the fly. For influences he turned to comic books, classic science fiction, Kurosawa's cinema, and Frank Herbet's 1965 novel Dune.  In many ways, Lucas did what Quentin Tarantino accomplished a generation later, mashed up a rich multitude of influences and created something vibrant and alive.

The trailers for the new J.J. Abrams version of Star Wars look encouraging.  Fans hope they will get the movie they've craved since Return of the Jedi.  No Jar-Jar Binks.  The core cast from the original will be back.  Toned down CGI effects. Hopes are running high.

I was born in 1979 so I missed the initial run of A New Hope, although I remember seeing Return of the Jedi in a theater. Jabba the Hut terrified me, but I loved the Ewoks, and was perplexed when Vader removed his mask.  I came to know Star Wars through home video, watching those VHS types over and over again.

In the early 90s Bantam published a trilogy of Star Wars novels by Timothy Zahn.  Those novels were okay, but never captured the transcendent experience of watching the movies. 

Finally in the mid-90s, Lucas announced plans for another trilogy and fans suffering from withdrawal waited with intense anticipation as the new millennium beckoned. The release of The Phantom Menace met with mixed to downright hostile reviews.

White also interviewed Alexandre O. Philippe, director of The People vs. George Lucas, a documentary on the fan vitriol that's accrued against Lucas over the years. While the fanboy temper tantrums get annoying, some pertinent questions are raised on the creative choices Lucas made.

In The People vs. George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola laments how Star Wars consumed Lucas's talent and we will never get to see the other movies he envisioned.   Imagine an alternate universe where Lucas, content with the success of Star Wars, sold over the rights in 1977 and went on to pursue his own personal projects? We'll never know.

For any fan of Star Wars, listening to The Projection Booth episode is a great way to prepare for The Force Awakens. Mike and Rob provide a great perspective on the history of Star Wars. Check it out!