On Star Wars

Good. Bad. I'm the Guy with the Lightsaber.

By Bruce Bethke

I. Introduction

The history of American cinema can be described as a case study in evolution by means of punctuated equilibrium. The “equilibrium” part of this expression is fairly easy to understand: making movies is a hellishly expensive and labor-intensive business, and whenever you have that much money and that many people’s careers on the line, the innate conservatism of the group always comes to the fore. There is a film industry truism that nothing succeeds like success, and another that holds that the quickest way to find success is by clinging tightly to the coattails and following closely in the footsteps of someone else who’s already found it. The net result of these two ideas is that movie studios quite naturally have an ingrained tendency to become cinematic sausage factories, churning out mile after mile of motion picture by-products while very rarely departing from the established recipes.

It’s the “punctuated” part of the expression that makes for an interesting discussion. Every now and then, while the rest of Hollywood is busy making remakes of adaptations of old TV sitcoms, a filmmaker comes along with a movie that is so fresh, so different and so seemingly original that it makes everyone else spill their kiwi frappuccinos in their rush to grab its coattails. More to the point, every now and then a film comes along that upsets the paradigmatic fruit cart and so insinuates itself into the larger zeitgeist that it becomes a cinematic watershed, and in some way the history of  …

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