I sat in a dark theater embraced by the cool dankness waiting for what was promised as a miracle. I had suffered through the drought of science fiction films from 1968’s 2001 and Planet of the Apes until the late seventies and this movie promised to end that drought. I doubted it. No one had any idea of how to make good science fiction movies anymore. Spielberg had approached that possibility with Jaws, but it wasn’t really a scifi movie. Would this obscure George Lucas deliver?
I sat slack jawed, weepy eyed and stunned through my first viewing of Star Wars. In 1977 the scrolling introduction mentioned something about a “new hope” but I had no idea this would be the fourth installment in what would become six films. I just knew that everything had changed and nothing would ever be the same again. Over the next 12 months, I returned to my local cinema (this was in the days before VHS so movies would stay in the theater for months) and watched Star Wars over 33 times. Sometimes, I would show up in the middle and watch to the end. Sometimes I would watch until the trash compacter scene. It was pure scifi addiction.
In the years that followed, the movie studios tried to reproduce Lucas’ achievement and failed. Star Wars knock offs proliferated but they never got it right. What made this movie work so well?
First, Lucas just dropped us smack into the middle of a galaxy far, far away. He did not explain the alien lifeforms, the planets, or even the politics. He allowed me, the moviegoer, to join him in the work of figuring out the backstory and setting. He trusted me to figure out the story without having to feed it to me. This was classic “show, don’t tell”.
Second, he created characters who were real and stand alone and defied stereotypes (Leia was the first female action movie figure instead of a typical damsel in distress) and at the same time had enough of the scifi tropes in their personalities that there was a sense of familiarity. Take the cliche and adopt and adapt it.
Third, he used classic storytelling elements — a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Fourth, he created moments of hilarious humor followed by deeply moving emotional moments. The scene where Luke gazes over the dead, burning bodies of his foster parents and then looks away in disgust is still simple yet emotionally gut wrenching.
Fifth, he gave us the Laurel and Hardy comedy pair in the droids. One of them was over the top silly and the other silent and subversively serious. R2D2, would save the day always with his hidden talents.
As I have watched the stories unfold regarding this new movie, “Guardians of the Galaxy” I began to sense the same kind of potential. Here was a movie based on a very obscure Marvel comic book line. There would be no familiar characters from the rest of the Marvel Universe. And, there would be no anchor of familiarity with the galactic civilization in which this story was based. But, I knew, in my heart and in my soul and in my mind this movie could be another “Star Wars”. I could only hope and I think I was right.
I took my daughter, Casey and our friend, Lisa to the first showing last night. There were no scrolling narratives at the beginning but the opening 5 minutes were some of the most gut wrenching introductions to a movie I have seen since J. J. Abrams killed off James T. Kirk’s father in “Star Trek”. Wow, I was stunned at the depth of this scene and I knew, I just knew that this movie would play off of that opening scene and if it pulled that off, it had to be great.
I laughed. I laughed some more until it hurt! I clapped with joy. And, I wept more than once. All of those classic elements from the original Star Wars were there but in their own, unique and singular fashion. The musical score from the 70s and 80s was perfect. I found myself singing along as Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord mimics Karaoke with a handheld critter. Don’t ask. It was brilliant! And, the comic team of a certain genetically enhanced raccoon and his friend, a walking plant took the relationship with C3PO and R2D2 to a new level. In fact, everything about this movie was familiar. But everything about this movie was totally foreign and different. They pulled off one of the most daring and risky moves in recent history.
I predict Guardians will make the most money of any of the recent Disney/Marvel movies. I predict that moviegoers, like me will go and see it over and over and over to enjoy every nuanced line, every missed moment because our eyes were watering with joy, laughter, or sorrow. I predict Guardians will usher in another round of wannabes, but they will be pale reflections.
I was concerned about the future of space opera scifi when Disney announced new episodes of Star Wars. But, the team from Marvel that worked with the team from Disney has created such an epic, classic movie with Guardians I am now in eager anticipation. I can’t wait until I can sit down in front of a dark screen and listen for that familiar fanfare and see that scrolling intro to J. J. Abrams’ next Star Wars installment. The fact that Marvel/Disney has reached out to young, enterprising directors who think outside the box for the next few Star Wars movies as well as these wonderful Marvel movies gives me hope that imagination is new again; that nostalgia has been resurrected and given a new hope, a new skin for future generations.
I cannot give Guardians of the Galaxy enough positive stars. It was fantastic, fun, moving, exhilarating, alien, bizarre but the most satisfying movie experience I have had in many years. Go see it and bring lots of tissue. You’ll be laughing so hard you’ll cry and then you’ll be crying so hard you’ll laugh!