Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Cinema Bestius: Star Wars

This is a difficult column to write, given the recent, sad passing of Carrie Fisher and Kenny Baker, and because how in the galaxy can we find something NEW to say about this movie?

#11 – Star Wars
Star Wars is the ultimate gee-whiz “kid’s adventure” film (NOTE: There is an “adventure” sub-genre often referred to in literature and film criticism as a “boy’s adventure” book or movie – I’m using “kid’s adventure” instead, NOT because Star Wars is a “kids’ movie,” but because it is 2017 and not 1917.)

No more iconic film has ever been made. The characters, dialogue, visuals, and score have been laser-etched into our collective consciousness. Star Wars’ sheer ubiquity, I feel, means that people sometimes devalue it as cinema; like Stonehenge, it simply IS. In fact, with prequels, sequels, side “stories,” and character-based spinoffs, Star Wars has practically become its own adventure sub-genre.

You already know about Star Wars. You already know how you feel about Star Wars as a franchise, you probably already know which Star Wars movie you like best, and you know which room in which to display your glass lamp full of vintage Star Wars action figures. (You don’t have a glass lamp full of vintage Star Wars action figures? Sorry, guess that’s just me.) So to make this column interesting to you, my beloved acolytes, I have wracked my brain (my Pope Pate) to find something NEW on which to focus.
In the spirit of the twelve year-old kid living inside of all of us, I would like to focus on this film’s wonderful and deeply satisfying onomatopoetics. Yes, Star Wars deserves its ranking as the Pope’s 11th favorite film if only for the way it SOUNDS. The Pope has previously weighed in on the awful changes visited on this film by its creator and the joys to be found in the “de-specialized” version, the only place where you can hear the original Oscar-winning sound mix.

Let’s revisit a few iconic Star Wars noises. Feel free to spray your laptop screen with spit as you try to vocalize along:
That “pew-pew-pew-pew” sound at the very beginning, when that big spaceship chases that little spaceship!

The ominous “khhhhhhhhh-khuuuuuh” of Darth Vader’s breathing, followed by James Earl Jones reciting his dialogue in the deep voice of a vengeful God!
That foghorn “A-hoog, gah-hroog” sound of the sand person fighting Luke!

The “hrummmmm, whoooosh, kkkrrrrrkkkrk!” of clashing light sabers!
That catchy ragtime/cocktail music playing in the Cantina! (This was actually a 1977 radio hit!)

Chewbacca’s expressive range of “hhhrrrarwhwrrraaaah” growls!

R2D2’s expressive range of “pweeeet-bliip-bbrrrr” beeps!

The “P-too, P-too, P-too” of blaster pistols firing!
Han Solo’s “Wah-hoo!” when he flies in at the end to help Luke!

That sound when the Rebels blowed up the Death Star, which I can’t even begin to try to write out! It sure blowed up real good and loud.
The “thunk” of a plastic toy hitting the rug as my son, then about three years old, stopped playing, looked up at the TV screen, and was so transfixed by what he saw that he literally dropped what he was doing. I don’t think he was merely responding to the cool ships and action of Star Wars; I have suspected that this was the moment he got hooked on movies. Such is the iconic power of this film.

The Pope could go on and on. Besides the perfect casting, the ground-breaking special effects, the adherence to Joseph Campbell’s “Hero” template, John Williams’ best score, and characters that generations of kids have identified with, this movie is so great (and we have all watched it so many times) that I would be happy just listening to it. I would rather LISTEN to Star Wars than WATCH many recent films. There, I said it.

Star Wars’ Three Miracles: Pew pew pew, Boom boom boom, and “Bum bum bum, bum-da bum, bum-da bum…”

In nomine Lucas, et Ben Burtt, y spiritu Flash Gordon, Amen.


  1. Nice! Definitely one of the best sound designs of all time. Fun fact: R2D2's bleeps and bloops were made using an ARP 2600, a synth I have never had the privilege of playing (or affording). It looks like this.

  2. I love that lamp (I love lamp). Lucas revolutionized so much about the industry with this movie. He created an amazing world. He also made a REALLY GREAT MOVIE. I wish more people would remember that (including the studio machine making the new movies).

  3. There have been times I wished I had been born in a different time. But then I remember - I got to see Star Wars, in its original form, in a packed theatre. Many, many times. God, I've been lucky.

  4. Lately a lot of my friends have been defending Rogue One by saying that Star Wars wasn't even that great to begin with. Seeing it this high up on your list made my day. I think I may have to watch it again tonight.

    1. Your friends may be good people but they are conclusively wrong.

  5. Wow -- your wife "lets" you have a Star Wars action figure-filled lamp in your LIVING ROOM? She must be a pretty special lady.

  6. Nice angle, JB - it's so true, the sound effects of Star Wars are as iconic as anything about the movie. You left out my favourite though, the distinctive scream of a Twin Ion Engine Fighter - I can't really figure out how someone even imagined that to be the noise a spaceship would make.

    The last time I watched through the whole Septology I realized my Top 2 had switched places - Star Wars is so damn solid and deserves bonus points over TESB for being a completely standalone piece. It's probably the funniest of them too ("Aren't you a little short for a stormtrooper?" Think about how funny and badass it is that she just thought she was saying that to one of her captors). To me, back when there was just the trilogy, it always felt like the "one of these things that doesn't belong" but now I realize that's totally in a good way.