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How "Star Wars" changed the world (as we knew it)


 Corporate branding at its very finest.

I have another new essay at MSN Movies now, on How Star Wars Changed the World. Yes, it was 30 years ago today (well, Friday, May 25, to be specific) that the Death Star blew Alderaan into space dust, contributing to galactic warming and allergy problems throughout the GFFA. An excerpt:

What "Star Wars" did best was combine corny stock characters and "Amazing Stories" plotlines with state-of-the-art Industrial Light and Magic visual effects and Dolby (later replaced with Lucas's patented THX) Surround sound. No more rockets made out of cardboard toilet-paper tubes with sparklers stuck in the rear for thrusters. Mix that with a wisecracking, almost postmodern sense of humor (more gung-ho earnest than the arch self-awareness William Goldman pumped into the Western in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" eight years earlier) and an old-fashioned Hollywood military-symphonic score by John Williams, and you have a rousing, roller-coaster space adventure for children of all ages, as the marketers like to say.

Sure, the movie was criticized for being infantile, but that misses the point. It's aimed at a sensibility somewhere between infancy and the second year of college (or high school). A space fantasy with the emphasis on interstellar swashbuckling (and with romantic mush kept to a minimum), "Star Wars" appealed to the 3- to 12-year-old boy in all of us -- and still does.

But although all those things may have contributed to the "Star Wars" phenomenon, they don't explain why it "changed everything", or what accounted for "the mania" (as George Harrison used to call that unaccountable epochal thing that engulfed him and three other lovable mop-tops). Because it wasn't really the movie itself that shook the world (not like the Beatles' music shook up pop/rock music, anyway); it was the popular response to the movie, and the motion picture industry's response to that response. [...]


To see "Star Wars" in 1977 was to experience a moment in pop culture that seemed universal. This may have been the last such unifying landmark for the boomer generation -- with the Beatles at one end and "Star Wars" at the other.

Unless you remember what it was like in the summer of 1967 -- the so-called "Summer of Love," when "Sgt. Pepper" was simply in the air, everywhere, or the summer of 1977, when lines for "Star Wars" seemed to last for months (and people waited in lawn chairs with coolers full of beverages) -- it's hard to describe the feeling, because it's not likely to happen again.

Coming Soon: A piece about other movies that "changed everything" -- from a few years before "Star Wars" ("Nashville," "Jaws") to "The Phantom Menace," the movie that (for many, including me) was so dull and misconceived that it tarnished the luster of the "Star Wars" mythology forever, by reducing it to something purely technical and mundane. (It began with a crawl about the taxation of trade routes and a blockade of shipping to the tiny planet of Naboo, fer cripes sake! As the opening was paraphrased -- and demolished -- on "The Simpsons": "It is a time of uncertainty: The empire's ambiguous tariff statutes mandate close reexamination of galactic export quotas. Interim Princess Agoomba has co-chaired a subcommittee to draft amendments to existing trade policies.")

Whaddaya think? How did "Star Wars" change your world, and why? What other movies changed everything? What did they change -- and how?

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