A New Hope, Arthur C. Clark, C-3PO, class, Comic relief, friendship, George Lucas, George Takei, Isaac Asmiov, Laurel and Hardy, merchendise, R2-D2, Return of the Jedi, science fiction, Star Trek, STAR WARS
To be honest I’m really not much of a fan of science fiction. I have no real love for Star Trek, except of course George Takei, and even then the man himself far outweighs any real concern for the character Sulu. I’ve tried in the past to read Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clark, and perhaps I started with the wrong books, but there’s a cleanliness to their works that just doesn’t really appeal to me. I’ve remarked to a friend of mine who writes fantasy/science fiction in his spare time that most of it feels too clean for me. I cite works like Alien, Borderlands, Mad Max, or The Matrix as the only real examples of the genre that I believe match my particular aesthetic, because they’re dirty. It may just be my working class background and my upbringing on John Wayne films, but stories of working people, or people that have to fight to really survive, has a greater appeal for narrative.
This of course leads me to STAR WARS.
It’s a testy task, attempting to tackle STAR WARS (please forgive that alliteration) simply because what began as a simple story of a young man on a moisture farm in Morocco blowing up a space station and then living out his days with his life-partner Chewbacca in their time share in Boca(let’s see what chaos that will wrought), quickly became a commercial sensation as George Lucas, the original writer and director of the film A New Hope, accidently created the first epic in decades. One of my professors of early English literature would often use STAR WARS whenever he needed students to understand the idea of “the epic” specifically the idea of a purely good hero and purely evil villain. Because Luke Skywalker, the hero of the story, demonstrates little fault and rises to overcome a force greater than himself, he exemplifies the archetypal character of the hero. His nemesis and part time action figure/coffee mug/Lego figurine, Darth Vader, is purely bad possessing only the desire to destroy or manipulate others demonstrating his qualities as an evil character. My professor would break there acknowledging Darth Vader’s change of heart as he watched Luke being tortured by Emperor Palpetine in Return of the Jedi and would qualify that STAR WARS is almost the perfect epic.
Let me stop my analysis there however to address the fact that far more people than myself have observed this symbolism in the original trilogy. In fact there are papers, books, and academic conventions, fan fiction websites, online forums, fan conventions, podcasts, and extended universe novels in which STAR WARS is discussed, debated, and fleshed out far past the original film which was only 121 minutes. Far more bloggers and writers and fans have written about STAR WARS and the symbolism and social significance of the film to the point validating it becomes a fruitless measure.
Though on one side note a friend of mine, who is counting, much like I am, the seconds till the next film, told me that he was planning on using STAR WARS to teach mythology to his middle school students. Naturally the eight year old boy inside of my head threw over his desk, pumped the metal horns in the air, and screamed, “FUCK YEAH MAN THAT SO FUCKING AWESOME YOU ARE THE COOLEST FUCKING TEACHER EVER YOU ROCK!” Of course I did none of these things in real life; I simply smiled and said, “Dude that’s fucking awesome.” My, what a coward I am.
It’s at this point my usual contester emerges, well if there’s nothing left to talk about what’s the point of even discussing this film? Everybody knows about, or has seen STAR WARS. What can we possibly contribute to the conversation at this point?
This is a fair question and to be honest I didn’t originally have an answer to it. These essays are attempts to demonstrate the social significance of a work, and looking at STAR WARS you can’t get more public recognition than that…but therein lies my out. STAR WARS, as I said before, has largely become a commercial product rather than an artistic product. Not long after the film came out George Lucas was able to acquire the merchandizing rights to the film and released posters, action figures, sleeping bags, beach towels, lightsabers, statues, cards, books, and then eventually games and an extended universe written by other authors making him one of the richest men in the world. Life lesson kids, if you make something cool, make sure you keep as much control over it as you can, or at least possess the foresight to retain merchandise. Now before my reader thinks I’m about to criticize Lucas for being greedy I’m not (if I was writing about the pre-quels then maybe, maybe), but instead my point is to look back at the actual film A New Hope, the one that started it all, and find beneath all the extended universe and commercial product two characters that made STAR WARS worth watching; the two are in fact the oldest characters and begin the plot in the first place.
If anyone hasn’t seen STAR WARS…get out. Seriously get the fuck out. Kidding (not kidding). Seriously? You’ve never seen STAR-. Come on, seriously. Seriously? Wow dude…just, wow. Okay. I thought people like you were just a myth like Bigfoot or Jimmy Carter.
If you haven’t seen STAR WARS the film begins with a brief explanation entailing a galactic war between the Empire that used to be the Republic, and a small band of rebels fighting it. The opening is set in space and is one of the most iconic moments of the entire franchise. The viewer is left sitting in space before the camera pans down to a blue planet before two ships emerge. One is being fired upon, the second is a titan swallowing up the screen. A few more lasers are fired and the viewer is able to observe a Star Destroyer chasing the Corellian Corvette, and no I do not have that information memorized I had to Google it. What’s important is after the ships are introduced the viewer is taken within the Corvette and the first two characters we see are a golden humanoid robot named C-3PO and little cylinder named R2-D2.
It’s easy to miss how important these two are within the actual film because so much of STAR WARS has left the movie and become commercial product or cultural cliché. Looking back at the film recently I noticed something I never had before despite the fact I had watched the film at least thirty times over the course of my life: C-3PO and R2-D2 take up almost the first half hour of the film. This may not at first appear to be so significant but when you take into account that one of these characters communicates only in whistles, squeaks and beeps that thirty minutes becomes a demonstration of Lucas’s ability as a young filmmaker. Silent movies today are entirely archaic, and usually watched only in the one hour course credit undergraduates have to take to satisfy a humanism slot or else in film festivals for hispters and the elderly. Yet despite contemporary audience’s blasé attitudes of such works, the kind of people who would never watch a Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin film will be happy to show you their R2-D2 tattoo or t-shirt.
STAR WARS shouldn’t capture my attention so much as it does, and I acknowledge that the film opens with a shoot out and Darth Vader breaking a man’s neck, but after that it’s the two droids in the desert trying to find civilization. If you described the film in only those terms, nobody would ever want actually watch it. I think what keeps me interested is the fact that C-3PO and R2-D2 have a dynamic that borders on Laurel and Hardy. If you’ve never seen them don’t feel bad they were a comedy duo from the forties and fifties.Stan Laurel was a skinny man and his partner Oliver Laurel was rather heavy-set often playing the straight man. While the pair were a creative force on their own, in the major films they starred in they often served as the comedic relief to the more dramatic figures who were played by good looking men. If that sounds familiar it’s a narrative pattern that’s been replicated numerous times throughout the years, the best recent model, or at least the most recognizable, being Timon and Pumba. C-3PO is often falling into some kind of trouble and R2 must in turn usually rescue him from it. The relationship is one of mutual dependence however for as the opening demonstrates when apart neither has any real success, C-3PO is captured by Jawas and R2 several moments later thus leading back to their reconciliation.
Along with that is the bizarre love/hate relationship C-3PO and R2-D2 have. Observe just a few lines(line breaks mean different parts of the film):
C-3PO: Don’t call me a mindless philosopher, you overweight glob of grease.
C-3PO: I would much rather have gone with Master Luke than stay here with you. I don’t know what all this trouble is about, but I’m sure it must be your fault.
[R2 beeps an angry response]
C-3PO: You watch your language!
C-3PO: Just you reconsider playing that message for him!
[R2 beeps a question]
C-3PO: No, I don’t think he likes you at all.
[R2 beeps again]
C-3PO: No, I don’t like you either.
[C-3PO is tangled up in wires after a run-in with tie fighters]
C-3PO: Help! I think I’m melting! This is all your fault!
[R2-D2 makes a series of beeps that sound like chuckling]
C-3PO: That malfunctioning little twirp, this is all his fault.
C-3PO: I’ve just about had enough of you. Go that way. You’ll be malfunctioning within a day, you near-sighted scrap pile. And don’t let me catch you following me begging for help because you won’t get it.
C-3PO: You must repair him! Sir, if any of my circuits or gears will help, I’ll gladly donate them.
Luke Skywalker: He’ll be all right.
Looking at this last quote is significant because I recognized writing this that C-3PO has the first and last lines of the first STAR WARS movie. He and R2 in fact begin the journey that sets everything into place. If the pair of them hadn’t landed on Tatooine then they never would have been bought by Luke’s uncle Owen, Luke never would have met Ben Kenobi and then Han Solo and Chewbacca, Leia would most likely have been killed by the empire, and the Death Star would probably would never have blown up thus ensuring the victory of the Empire. And looking back to C-3PO’s last line you see that no matter what these two rely upon one another and possess a real friendship. Droids shouldn’t be able to think, demonstrate animosity, humor, or empathy yet these two do and rather than recoil at this emotion that defies typical robotic convention they simply continue to behave in relation to one another.
It begins and ends for me with the image of these two bumbling droids that sent everything in motion and therein lies a real artistic achievement for the film has made me empathize with robots before any other character. They are the first and last voices of the STAR WARS universe which is why when I discovered this clip on YouTube I made my wife roll her eyes and she discovered me tearing up.
BB-8, the little soccer ball droid as he’s sometimes referred to, was established early in the trailers for the upcoming film, and apart from being the new toyline for the next step of this story arc, he is also set to become the next droid that wins the audiences heart and that returns me to my original idea of the “clean” science fiction universe. C-3PO and R2-D2 aren’t clean and polished humanoid robots, instead their obvious machines fit to function within a universe that requires manual labor and occasional interaction between peoples of separate species. C-3Po’s mantra reveals this:
C-3PO: And I am C-3PO, human-cyborg relations. And this is my counterpart R2D2.
C-3PO is by design created to be a tool with a “personality” to fit the communications between the various species. Anyone who has watched the film knows that there are thousands of languages, both organic and technical, and as such moisture farmers, technicians, engineers, and common everyday folk would require a bot like him in order to manage just living in this multi-ethnic/multi-galactic society. He serves the purpose of helping everyday folk. Yes he has golden skin, but as the trilogy progressed it became clear that was only because he worked originally for a royal family.
As for R2-D2, apart from being the cute robot that whistled for the kids, he also had a job which was to store information and manage the various machinery that existed, bypassing obstacles such as locked doors, security protocols, more locked doors, and don’t forget his Swiss-army knife assortment of gadgets. These two droids are creations of a species trying to make out a living and survive in the universe rather than being masters of it.
STAR WARS wasn’t about showing how far advanced society had become. Yes there was light speed and droids that seemed to possess a functional A.I. without enslaving humanity, but everything wasn’t perfect. Human beings were still killing each other, forming governments, and fighting for power and position and right in the middle of this class struggle were two bumbling droids. Looking back then at the clip of the two of them meeting BB-8 I feel a tremendous sense of excitement. It feels like a real opportunity is about to begin again. A new generation is about to discover the universe and bring in their own characters, ideas, and changes and, hopefully, breathe some new life into this story before sending us into a new land we’ve never seen before.
No matter what though, STAR WARS will forever be to me C-3PO and R2-D2, because once you strip away all of the outside universe and commercialization and hype and hoopla and bullshit, you have a wonderful film about two friends finding their way back together and changing the lives of people across an entire galaxy.
No article of STAR WARS should ever be complete without paying attention to how the fans have helped make this relationship what it is, and the best example I could find is of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost dressed up as these two and re-making the film with cheap cameras and costumes. How can you beat that?
One last story, the first Comic Convention I ever attended was with my wife. I was Han Solo and she was Slave Girl Princess Leia, and we wandered around, took some photos with a Darth Vader and an Indiana Jones, bought some He-Man action figures for my little sister, and saw Billy Dee Williams in person. But on the second floor we found a room and the pair of us didn’t leave for almost a half hour. You some engineers had built remote control R2-D2’s and were moving them around as a free form demonstration. Kids were running and laughing around, the guys controlling them were dressed up as Jedis, and the best part of all was the picture below. There’s a moment when you merge with your seven year old self as you realize you get to have your picture taken with R2-D2. There’s nothing like it in the world.