The genius of George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, is that he realized in the 1970s that America's young people were starving and thirsting for idealism.
Those were dark days. President Jack Kennedy, his brother Robert and Martin Luther King Jr. had all been assassinated during the 1960s. Riots in American cities had killed scores and gutted many areas of our cities. The Vietnam War, after such a bitter divide, had ended in failure. University students had been shot down on their own campus by National Guardsmen. The president was involved in the Watergate scandal and was forced out of office. After a two-year interim with Gerald Ford, the glum and droopy Jimmy Carter was moping about the White House and accusing us all of suffering from malaise. Hollywood was churning out cynical, depressing, "realistic" movies.
It's no surprise, then, that Lucas had a difficult time getting his movie green-lighted. He finally won the support of one studio head and was given a small budget of about $5 million. Hardly anyone, including the actors he had chosen for the movie, expected it to be a success.
It opened in 1977, and it hit with the impact of a sociological hydrogen bomb. Word of mouth spread like wildfire, and kids flocked to see it — not just once, but many times. It smashed and exceeded every box-office record up to that time. It grossed $461 million. Even today, only Titanic exceeds that record.
I'm not a fan of science fiction and had no interest in seeing the movie. However, I kept hearing so much talk about it, I dropped into a theater one afternoon. To my surprise, what I saw was just like the World War II movies I had watched as a kid. The good guys were all good. The bad guys were all bad. The good guys practiced the timeless virtues of love, loyalty, honor and courage. Except for the sets, it could have been any one of a number of World War II movies that always showed us triumphing over the bad guys.
I've always thought that Star Wars contributed to Ronald Reagan's election in 1980. I certainly have no proof of that. But Reagan's idealism and optimism would have been scorned and mocked by the burnouts of the 1960s and 1970s. The Star Wars generation, however, connected with this man because he spoke the same language as George Lucas. If Reagan brought morning to America, I think the dawn began with the original Star Wars.
Lucas also revolutionized the film industry with his spectacular advances in special effects and computerization. Without his pioneer work, The Lord of the Rings could never have been made.
But more important is that he has a good soul. Whatever's in an artist's soul inevitably comes out in his creations. You can look at the body of work done by Lucas and know that he is one fine man. Four other good souls in Hollywood — and there aren't many — are John Milius, Simon Wincer, Kevin Costner and Ron Howard.
I've never seen the point of paying money to be depressed. I can be depressed for nothing just by watching the news or volunteering to take care of terminally ill patients. Why pay $8 to $10 just so a Hollywood reprobate with garbage for a soul can pour it into your head? Unless a film or play can make me laugh or inspire me, I don't go.
I'm definitely of the old school, like Louis B. Mayer, founder of MGM Studios. He reportedly told his partner, who wanted to do "serious" movies, that "If you want to send a message, use Western Union." A very good plan. The world is full of gloomy but oh-so-earnest people who want to tell us all about the angst and ills of the world. Well, we already know about them. Instead of exploiting the angst and the ills, why don't you try to do something about them?
In the meantime, I'm a daisy-and-sunflower kind of guy this time of year. Summer is one of the best treats the planet has for us. Enjoy it. If you get too hot and sweaty, duck into a theater and watch the final episode of Lucas' Star Wars saga. Even if you haven't followed the story line, you'll enjoy the special effects.
July 2, 2005
Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years. Write to Charley Reese at P.O. Box 2446, Orlando, FL 32802.
© 2005 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.