Features — 26 February 2016

By Kalama Hines

@HINESight_2020

What started in 1977 with “A New Hope” will be expanding on Dec. 18 with an awakening. Star Wars mania has recaptured the imagination of billions.

It hasn’t garnered mass adoration spanning nearly four decades for its entertainment value alone, however. Hollywood’s most successful saga is also lauded for its role as a driving force in Tinseltown’s technological advancements, as well as countless contributions to daily life.

With “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” due for release just one week before Christmas, box-office analyst Phil Contrino thinks the saga’s latest installment will be the highest grossing film ever. Not just highest grossing of the franchise, Contrino told CinemaBlend, it will surpass the previous box-office record held by “Avatar.”

While Contrino believes the seventh episode will “hit $1 billion without blinking,” Las Positas College Business Professor Erick Bell is much more concerned with the elation it will entice, 30 years in the making.

“When I was standing in line to see Return of the Jedi, I remember us being in a long line, and I was probably six to eight years old, and I just could not contain my excitement.”

That childhood excitement is something that will be coaxed from many fans of the Star Wars franchise.

Fans like Kurt Spalding, a sophomore in the LPC education program, whose fandom began when he was given the original trilogy (episodes 4-6) as a gift on his ninth birthday. He recalls binge-watching all three films “in awe” and “hungering for more.”

LPC math professor Ashley McHale’s first experience with the saga was the almighty “I am your father scene.” Having been privy to the series prior, the “punch line” of “Episode V: Empire Strikes Back” reeled in her intrigue immediately. The 1990s TV guide would later reveal a marathon, which she recorded to VHS and watched on repeat the entire following summer.

For countless “Warsies” the original trilogy holds a sacred place in their earliest memories, while many of them harbor a sour spot for episodes 1-3, often referred to as the prequel trilogy. LPC English professor Justin Garoupa, after conversations with fellow fanatics, believes that number seven gives everyone a chance to return their fandom to its imaginative roots.

“I’ve talked with students, former students and friends about this, just to get the look-feel back of the original trilogy… just to get the sense that the aesthetic and the weight of it was back was just so exciting,” Garoupa said.

Being that a large number of the saga’s supporters are now in their 30s and 40s, the excitement will be attracted not just by the saber-fighting sequences, but the details that have made them iconic. Not just the space battle scenes, but the graphics that have bred a new generation of imagery.

Star Wars’ creator, writer and director George Lucas also founded a visual effects company in order to provide the original movie, then simply titled “Star Wars,” with the visuals he felt it deserved.

Now, the San Francisco-based Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) has become synonymous with the words “Hollywood” and “film,” and is Lucas’ greatest contribution to the industry. ILM, part of Lucasfilm Ltd., is responsible for the special effects on such movies as “The Avengers” and “Jurassic World.”

In total, ILM has played a defining role in the graphics of more than 300 movies. The company has also had a hand in the development of Pixar Animation Studios as well as Photoshop, according to Wired Magazine.

“He (Lucas) not only helped invent a new generation of special effects but it launched a legendary company (ILM) that would change the course of the movie business,” Wired published in a story titled “The Untold Story of ILM, a Titan That Forever Changed Film.”

In addition to its immeasurable contributions to the film trade, and the endless entertainment it has provided to three generations, the Star Wars saga has granted life lessons to its devoted fan base.

Several such lessons have been compiled by Bell into a presentation he calls “Lessons Learned from a Wookie.” A collection of mantras taken directly off the screen, the devout Christian has given the hour-long motivational speech as a way to translate pop-culture to biblical teachings.

“He was called to be something greater,” Bell said of original trilogy antagonist Darth Vader. “But to fulfill his destiny he had to go through a dark side, how many of us in life, in order for us to get to our destiny, we have to go through something.”

Perhaps the movies’ greatest lesson for McHale came from its greatest teacher – Yoda. “Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.”

“What ever you’re trying to accomplish, do it with all that’s in you. Put your whole effort into it… And if you can’t do it, it’s OK,” McHale said.

The greatest lesson came from a single conversation, in the mind of Spalding.

“When Obi-Wan Kenobi told Luke that the truth we believe in depends on our own opinion,” Spalding told The Express in an email. “This made me understand that individuals are entitled to their own opinions and beliefs.”

For Garoupa, it is the saga’s continuous theme that should be taken into daily life.

“The idea that anyone who comes from anywhere may have something within them that is powerful and allows them to make great change,” Garoupa said.

A great change is precisely what was needed in order for a seventh installment to become reality. A change in ownership, to be exact.

Since the $4 billion sale of Lucasfilm to Disney just over three years ago, many Star Wars fans have been taken by the same enthusiasm stirred up by the announcement of “Episode I: The Phantom Menace.” Many have also been struck with apprehension.

Fear that they are in store for a let down similar to what they felt after watching episode one has fans like Spalding “concerned” whether the awakening will be a success or failure.

Disney’s recent history of success with films Sci-Fi films has helped alleviate some of that trepidation. Garoupa also pointed out several decisions along the way – choosing screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan (Return of the Jedi) and director J.J. Abrams (Star Trek Into Darkness) – as doing the same.

In the end, as Bell said, whether the movie is a success or not it is just that – a movie. And it is great, for fanatics the world over, just to have their childhood joy and excitement awakened from its long slumber.

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We are the award-winning student newspaper of Las Positas College in Livermore, Calif.

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