Posts Tagged ‘Star Wars.’

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

It is difficult to decide what Star Wars’ fans like to do more: Watch Star Wars, or identify all the influences and cultural references within the Star Wars film universe? Countless books, articles and blog posts have attempted to decipher the shoulders that George Lucas stood upon in making his space opera. Most people by now have heard that Lucaskuro9 created a tale that fit Joseph Campbell’s meta-myth structure, or that he gave life to characters similar to those in the samurai films of Kurasawa, or that he sometimes blatantly copied old Flash Gordon television serials.

Star Wars’ fans devour this seemingly arcane information, and I am a Star Wars’ fan. As such, I have always been intrigued with the sometimes obvious, sometimes obscure cultural references contained within Lucas’ masterpiece. But, as a student, and now professor of European history, one reference/influence has always struck me above all others. George Lucas obviously created his evil Empire in the guise of the ‘fascist aesthetic’ most infamously formed by the German director Leni Riefenstahl, and her 1935 Nazi propaganda film ‘The Triumph of the Will.’
Leni Riefenstahl was a famous, talented, groundbreaking German filmmaker in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. And like many of her German cohorts of the era, Riefenstahl became a follower of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party. She used her immense talents for the party, directing a number of full length propaganda films. ‘The Triumph of the Will’ is her most influential and troubling work. ‘Triumph’ is a roughly two hour celebration of the 1934 Nazi party rally in the Medieval city of Nuremberg. 120 minutes of Nazis goose-stepping and cheering the ‘Führer’. If you have in your mind’s eye an image of fascist spectacle, it has probably been molded by Riefenstahl’s film.

Riefenstahl’s films were as artistically influential as they were politically abhorrent. Filmmakers could not ignore her innovative cinematography. Her techniques of wide Triumph-of-the-Will-2shots, crane shots and sweeping cameras were co-opted by many after her. When I first saw ‘Triumph’ as a sophomore in college, I realized Lucas was one such director. Riefenstahl made the 1934 Nazi rally look massively popular and powerful by setting a camera high above the whole parade grounds, recording thousands upon thousands of Nazi party members lined in rows. In such shots, the Nazi hordes are a man-made sea, being parted by the all- powerful leader, Adolf Hitler. In the same film, Riefenstahl records Hitler high above the masses, standing upon a giant concrete viewing station and watching stoically as his SA and SS march by on the parade ground. When viewing such scenes, it is impossible not to see Darth Vader 7dafa3515f1704408b38da906ceba044and the Emperor marching through masses of Imperial Stormtroopers. Lucas made such scenes even more powerful by using John Williams’ ‘Imperial March’. In this, he was no different than Riefenstahl, who used music in much the same way. Of course, the music she chose for her celebratory film made the Nazi Stormtroopers seem heroic, whereas Williams’ march makes Vader’s Stormtroopers dreadful. For Lucas, the Empire and its’ leaders become the personification of political evil by being the reincarnation of Riefenstahl’s Nazis. The empire is fascism revived.
With such thoughts in mind, I must say I was excited to see if J.J. Abrams would continue utilizing the ‘fascist aesthetic’ of Riefenstahl for ‘The Force Awakens’. I was not disappointed. With modern computer graphics, Abrams was able to do so even more effectively, and spectacularly than Lucas.


Abrams’ ‘First Order’ feels fascist. The military outfits, the giant image of the supreme STAR-WARS-THE-FORCE-AWAKENS-First-Order-Bilderleader and the symbology that surrounds the movement illustrates that Abrams continued the fascistic look of evil from Lucas’ galaxy. Like Lucas, Abrams used Riefenstahl as the ‘First Order’s’ reference point. Just look at the apocalyptic speech by General Hux, as he prepares his troops for the destruction of the Republic. Wearing military haute couture, Hux stands on a massive concrete platform with red ‘First Order’ banners hanging behind him. He speaks to thousands of ‘First Order’ troops lined in formation. When he is finished, the troops raise their left hands in salute. Hmm, that definitely looks familiar, doesn’t it?

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Riefenstahl and fascism are living on in this new Star Wars galaxy. Happily, Rey, Fin, Chewy, Leia and Luke will be fighting it in Episodes VIII and IX. We must do the same in our own galaxy.

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By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

Like so many others, I am absolutely psyched for December 18th, 2015.  If you need to ask why, then you probably are not going to understand my excitement. On that day, the new Star Wars is released, and like many within my generation, I will be star-wars-episode-7-the-force-awakens-trailers-poster-640x330lined up at a local theater with bated breath waiting to experience the continuing adventures of Luke, Leia, Han and Chewie. However, I will NOT be dressing up. I’m not that crazy.

I’ll tell you who is crazy though…

Last week after the third and final trailer for Episode VII was released, a strange Twitter trend began.  Evidently, a small group of fools have decided that they should boycott this new Star Wars film because it is ‘promoting a multi-cultural agenda’ and, hence is evidently ‘anti-white.’  A few extremist internet trolls have even argued that the film supports ‘white genocide’.  White genocide…….white genocide.  Lord.

When I first read this my immediate thought was, ‘what is wrong with people?’  Perhaps it was simply a ridiculous hoax? Nope. No such luck. There are obviously people out there who truly believe this garbage.

But, when I started to look into this ridiculous story, I grasped a larger more worrying trend.  As movies begin to slowly get more diverse (far too slowly for the most part), racist responses to film casting are becoming more common.  Star Wars is just the latest, and most extreme example.  In 2012, the first Hunger Games film faced a similar racially charged response.

Amandla Stenberg is 'Rue' in THE HUNGER GAMES.

Amandla Stenberg is ‘Rue’ in THE HUNGER GAMES.

The futuristic, dystopian film had many white fans upset that a character who they assumed was white was played by an African-American actress.  Similar online anger was spewed in 2014 because of the remake of Annie.

So, what to take from this? Why does this bother so many people? I believe the Twitter reactions in these cases point to the heart of modern racism, and why it is still a huge problem within our society.

On an individual level, racism is a system of thought that breeds dehumanization of whatever group is identified as the Other.  Of course, we can look at innumerable examples of racism in American history for illustrations of such beliefs and practices. But perhaps the most obvious example, and most extreme example of dehumanization of the racial Other took place in Nazi Germany.  Nazi Germany was a totalitarian state based upon the ideology of ‘Aryan’ supremacy.  For the Nazi state, this supremacy was constantly attacked by the supposed racial degeneracy of the Aryan’s immortal enemy,

Nazi anti-Jewish propaganda

Nazi anti-Jewish propaganda

the Jew.  Ad nauseum, Nazi propaganda portrayed the Jew not only as dirty, slovenly and treacherous, but also as a dangerous, even deadly, non-human.  Jews were vermin, they were bugs, they were bacterium. The ‘bacillus of Judaism’ was to be destroyed.

Such dehumanization attempts to destroy humanity’s natural desire to empathize.  All humans empathize with others. We can literally feel the physical and emotional pain of others by putting ourselves in their situation,  It doesn’t even need to be a loved one. Humans can empathize with any random stranger.  It comes absolutely naturally.

Empathy helps explain why we love film as much as we do.  Most people want films with action, adventure and a great story.  Those things are great, but without the human element, without characters we can empathize with, action and adventure falls on it’s face. If you want proof, just think about how people responded to the prequel trilogy of Star Wars (Episodes I, II, III). George Lucas’ telling of how Anakin Skywalker turned to the dark side, and eventually, into Darth Vadar. These unbelievably anticipated films should have been classics. Instead, they were critical and popular flops. Why?  Many felt that Lucas depended upon ‘cool’ computer graphics too much, ruining the magic feel of the original trilogy. That had something to do with it. But, what ruined those films was the fact that the human beings in the

We should care, but we don't.

We should care, but we don’t.

audience were not able to care about any of the characters.  We couldn’t empathize with them.  Bad acting, bad story development and bad scripts ruined the films.  When Natalie Portman’s Queen Amidala dies in childbirth, most of the audience yawned. When Anakin/Vadar finds out about the death of his wife (Portman), and reacts with a guttural bellow of pain, the audience laughed. There was absolutely no empathy, and it was understandable.

The twit tweeters who want to boycott the new Star Wars, or who were angry at the Hunger Games or disturbed by the new Annie illustrate their lack of empathy.  However, this lack of empathy does not come from bad acting, or a trite script. This lack of empathy is a sign of the pernicious horror of racism. For those who complain when a character is ‘not white’, or not the correct race, they are truly illustrating that they can’t, or they consciously don’t want to see these characters as human.  For the twitter trolls, the actor and the character he or she plays can only ever be a racial category: An Other.   Finn, Poe Dameron, Rue or Annie become only ‘black’ or ‘Hispanic’.

This is the heart of racism, and why we should take such Twitter trolls seriously.

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

There are so many great theme songs from movies, television shows, videos games, and more. A bit of news came out late last week that got a lot of people talking online, and it got my favorite theme song of all-time stuck in my head. It also got me thinking about what are my favorite theme songs. While there are so many great options, here are my favorite theme songs of all-time:

Honorable Mentions (Alphabetical Order): The Big Bang Theory, Family Guy, Home Improvement, Indiana Jones, Saved by the Bell, Seinfeld, The Simpsons, Stars Wars – Main Theme, Super Mario Bros., Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle – 80s cartoon.

5. Star Wars – The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme)

I’m not much of a Star Wars fan, but if I hear even a few notes of the Imperial March, I’ll be whistling it for no less than the next hour. Or, if I’m in a situation where whistling is unwelcome, it plays in my head on loop while I cup my hand over my mouth and breathe like Dark Vader. The Star Wars theme itself is also fabulous, but I’m going with the Dark Side on this one.

4. NBA on NBC Theme

Any basketball fan, and especially any Chicagoan, over the age of 30 should have fond memories of this John Tesh composed theme song for the NBA on NBC broadcasts. For Bulls fans, it should make you feel all warm and happy inside, because whenever we heard this tune in the 90s, it meant we were about to get 48 minutes of Michael Jordan eviscerating another team.

*Sigh* – I miss this theme. TNT, ESPN, ABC – somebody please talk to John Tesh and bring back this music before NBA broadcasts!

3. Jurassic Park

I was 11-years-old when Jurassic Park came out in 1993. I don’t know a single person of my generation who doesn’t love Jurassic Park. We were all wide-eyed kids staring at the silver screen in disbelief of the “real” dinosaurs that summer, and we all have – still to this day – an unhealthy obsession with velociraptors and T-rexes. The Jurassic Park theme could conceivably be the theme song of my generation, if it weren’t for the next song on this list….

2. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

“This is a story all about how my life got flipped, turned upside down….”

Go ahead and finish it. You know you’re physically and mentally incapable of resisting the urge.

1. The Legend of Zelda

If you are not into video games, put aside any potential bias for a moment and hear me out. The Legend of Zelda is one of the longest-running, most famous, and most popular video game series of all-time. One of the reasons the game is so iconic is because its theme is so damn good.

Just last week, news surfaced that Netflix is in talks to produce a live-action Legend of Zelda series. If the show does happen, I sincerely hope each episode’s title sequence has this epic orchestral rendition of the theme playing. Do yourself a favor and listen to this beautiful version, especially if you’ve never heard it or if your memories of Zelda are restricted to sounds coming from your 1980s TV and Nintendo Entertainment System.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

Over the last couple weeks, my wife and I have been devouring the first season of Game of Thrones.  Yes, yes, we are behind the times.  I know the fourth season is currently on HBO.  Please forgive our pop culture delay, and don’t give any spoilers in your possible comments to this post. Thanks much.

Now, most everyone has heard of Game of Thrones by now, and realize that the series is a melange of fantasy/action/drama/political thriller.  The series is set in an imaginary land and time that is inhabited by 1434624mysterious creatures such as dragons and ‘white-walkers’.  But, the show does not revolve around magical beasts. There are no main character elves or dwarves, like in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, or Hutts and droids like in Lucas’ Star Wars.  In Thrones, all the characters are human, and the emotions, the drives, the beliefs are all too recognizable. For a fantasy series, Thrones is strangely, and brutally familiar.  However, this familiarity stems from more than just the characters; the setting, though a make-believe land, feels like earth. The imaginary time period seems like a ‘real’ era of human history.

Game of Thrones takes place in a bizzaro European Middle Ages.

Everything in the show has the feeling of the medieval world; the clothing characters wear; the weapons that they use.  The castles, and/or hovels, characters inhabit.  The social hierarchy that exists, with lords, ladies, priests, warriors and peasants (this is even the terminology.) The political factions that are constantly scheming for power.  All of this, and much more, makes Game of Thrones seem to be a strange fantastical attempt to relive a ‘true’ past. The series is a sort of Renaissance Fair writ large; and writ bloody; and writ sexualized.

Winterfell

A typically medieval scene from Thrones

Game of  Thrones‘  medievalism is not unique. References to the world of the Middle Ages are a common aspect of twentieth century fantasy tales.  The most famous example is Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.  Though mentioned previously that Rings was more fantastical than Game of Thrones, what with hobbits, wizards, orcs, etc, the overriding aura of the two stories are more similar than different.  Like in Thrones, knights, steeds, magic and castles are all a part of Tolkien’s fantasy land of Middle Earth.  Tolkien’s fantasies are not alone. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and George Lucas’ Star Wars, though less obvious than Thrones or Rings, has the Medieval touch as well. Seemingly set in modern Britain, the Potter tales transport readers to the more magical, hidden ancient world of wizards, trolls, castles and ghosts just out of sight of the muggles.  Taking place in a galaxy far, far away on the other hand, the plot of Star Wars revolves around a brave knight (Luke Skywalker) utilizing magic and rare sword skills (only Jedis use the lightsaber) struggling against the forces of pure evil.  To defeat this evil, Skywalker must fulfill seemingly impossible quests. It is an Arthurian legend with a space cruiser. 

Why do these modern fantasy tales so readily depend upon medieval tropes ?  If this question never occurred to you, it is probably because you have always been inundated with these cultural themes.  After a lifetime of fantasy medievalism, we now simply accept the utilization of the historical era’s ideas, language, clothing and notions as a natural part of fantasy tales. It seems so natural in fact, that to plunk down such a tale in a different historical era seems odd, if not absurd.   Imagine if Game of Thrones depended upon Ancient Greece for its influence. Picture in your mind’s eye the Starks, Lannisters, and Baratheons wearing togas. Ridiculous, isn’t it?

The reason this seems absurd has much to do with our understanding (or stereotypes) of the Middle Ages. Whenever covering the period my history courses, I tell my students to think about what terms and ideas they associate with the Middle Ages. They respond as you might suspect.  My students imagine kings, queens, castles, knights, serfs, etc.  But, they don’t stop there. Some students invariably enter the realm of fantasy.  They will tell me that they think of witches, dragons, magic, and wizards when they conjure up an image of the long gone world.  My students understand these things did not exist during the Medieval period, but the ivanhoeideas come to their mind regardless. They just can’t help it.

My students are dredging up more than just the fantasies of Tolkien or George R.R. Martin.  Their associations of fantasy and the Middle Ages are much older than those two twentieth century writers. The early nineteenth century, and the Romantic movement is truly to blame. The romantics’ obsession with the Middle Ages as a time of wonder, magic and heroism must be the starting point to grasping why medievalism entwines so readily with our contemporary fantasies.  Responding to the cult of rationality associated with the Enlightenment, the Romantics created a Middle Ages that was mythical, irrational and magical. These modern Europeans created a legendary memory of the Medieval period that lives on even today. Game of Thrones is just the latest rendition.

 

 

By Blake Whitmore, RMU Student.

 

Fictional characters are as real as we make them. They can live forever. They entertain, inspire, and sometimes terrify us. Their death can upset us; their accomplishments can please us. There are a whole lot of fictional characters, so what makes some so iconic? I have decided to take a look at my favorite fictional characters and figure out just what makes them so memorable.

 

1. The Doctor- Part of the most cross generational show on television, Doctor Who, the Doctor has entertained, educated, and inspired generations. The Doctor himself is a complicated character with an interesting story arc. He started out as a grumpy old man who traveled through space and time with his granddaughter, on the run from his own people, the Time Lords. Fast-forward through 50 years of character development and you see a badly damaged man trying to do his best to save and inspire humanity. Without Doctor Who science fiction writing and television would not be the same.

 

2. Han Solo-There is a lot of talk about Star Wars VII, and with that comes the triumphant return of the coolest gunslinger in outer space, Han Solo. He was the lone ranger of the future until running into Luke starwars4Skywalker and Princess Leia. Throughout the original trilogy Solo learns the importance of working with others to fight for the common good and restore peace and humanity to a struggling galaxy. Han Solo was a great practical smuggler with sarcastic wit.

 

3. Dr. Hannibal Lecter- The NBC series Hannibal was just signed for a second season and with it returns the terrifyingly brilliant Dr. Hannibal Lecter. He is a super intelligent psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer. For fans sometimes the lines are blurred between antihero and villain. Lector walks this fine line throughout all adaptations of him and that is what makes him so interesting. He is charming and smart, but then you remember he eats people. The creation of Lecter has been highly influential when it comes to writing a great villain.

 

4. Sherlock Holmes & Dr. John Watson- The first duo to make my list is the consulting detective and his loyal friend and author/blogger. Sherlock’s snarky, anti-social, attitude coupled with his powers of deduction and supreme intelligence made him a man that women, and even men, cannot resist. You hate him, but you still love. Without Dr. Watson recounting their tales of adventure what happened at 221B Baker St. would never have been quite as entertaining. Current adaptions of the pair are BBC’s Sherlock and Elementary on CBS. Funny fact: Sherlock never said, “Elementary, my dear Watson,” in any Arthur Conan Doyle story.

 

5. Batman- The superhero with no superpowers, but loads of money, Batman is one of DC Comics flagship characters. Nothing makes for a hero like serious childhood trauma, or the murder of Dr. Thomas and Martha Wayne. Batman being a vigilante made him all the more popular. The character became so popular he got his own comic book in 1940 and the rest is history. Television series, movies, and a whole lot of merchandise followed making Batman an extremely influential comic book hero.frank_miller-batman

 

6. Indiana Jones- Dr. Henry Walton Jones Jr. is an archaeology professor that wears a tweed suit, but much like a superhero, after the lecture is over he dons his fedora, grabs his bullwhip, and becomes Indiana Jones. It is the idea that after the grueling workday is done, he can have an adventure and save the world at the same time that makes Indiana Jones an appealing character.

 

7. Dracula – The second villain to make my list is the bloodsucker that spawned the modern day vampire. He is cunning and clever. Since the original novel Dracula has been the subject of a number of films. As of 2009, an estimated 217 films feature Dracula in a major role, a number second only to Sherlock Holmes (223 films). Films involving vampires have used the image of Dracula for their basis of vampires’ characteristics. It is evident that without the original Dracula our monster movies could be very different.

 

8. James Bond- He has had many faces over the years, but 007 always introduces himself last name first with a cunning tone. Originally created in 1953 by writer Ian Fleming, Bond is subject of the longest running film franchise in history starting in 1962, with Dr. No starring Sean Connery. James Bond is a handsome British Secret Service agent who often fights what seem like campy super villains. Bond is an inspiration to spy characters and we just can’t get enough of him.

 

9. Romeo & Juliet- This could not be a list of famous and influential fictional characters without at least one mention of Shakespeare. There is nothing more appealing than forbidden love. Many of Shakespeare’s works have been adapted and performed on stage and film, but, in addition to Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet is possibly the most recognizable storyline. Often with a little less death, the story has been told to all ages hundreds of times over since Shakespeare’s time. What would love stories be like without them?

 

10. Harry Potter- The newest character on the list, Harry Potter hit the shelves in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in 1997. Throughout the series, which goes on in six more novels, Harry works to overcome the leading antagonist and his parents’ murderer, Voldemort, who wishes to become immortal and conquer the wizarding world. Harry’s tough beginning to heroic victory makes him a much loved character. J.K. Rowling created what is possibly the most successful series since J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.


As a writer, I dream about creating a character as influential and memorable as the ones I listed. All of these characters have spawned film franchises, books, comic strips, cartoons, and television series. They will live on forever entertaining and inspiring future generations to come. They are the greatest people to never live.

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty.

It was just announced that Disney has acquired LucasFilm for $4 billion, which consequently means Disney now owns the rights to all things Star Wars and Indiana Jones. It was also announced that Disney is targeting 2015 for the seventh Star Wars film, which will be the first in a new trilogy.

 Based on the reaction I’ve read so far, Star Wars fans seem extremely excited. More films are on the way and the already massive Star Wars universe will continue to expand across all media.Image

I’m not a fan of Star Wars, though I love Science Fiction and Fantasy. So, I’ll let someone else fantasize and prognosticate about where the Star Wars franchise should go from here.

 As a non-fan, but someone who loves movies and storytelling, this announcement made me wonder about this question: when are sequels warranted?

 Is a sequel of a film or book warranted every time the first installment was good? Crime & Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky is my favorite novel, yet I’ve never craved Crimes & Punishments: The Return of Raskolnikov. Likewise, my three favorite movies (Chasing Amy, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Braveheart) are all essentially standalone films, and I crave no expansion to those stories.

 However, I also love some films that are a part of a larger continuity, such as the current Marvel Universe films (The Avengers, et al.) which are six films in with at least six more to come. And I’m excited for all of those films.

 So when should there be a sequel? The answer is simple, really. A story – be it movie or film or TV series – deserves continuation when there are more GOOD stories worth telling in that continuity.

 I’m sure Star Wars fans will argue that there are plenty of good stories left, and given that there are countless books, video games, and TV shows set in the Star Wars universe whose stories are not represented in the film canon, the fans are probably right.

 In a story universe like Star Wars or Marvel, there is always room for continuation: there are more aliens and superheroes and worlds and conflicts. The possibilities are limited only by the imagination of the writers and their ability to craft a good story set in that universe.

 Unfortunately, as we are all aware, money drives decision making. Successful franchises and stories are constantly pushed past their logical endpoint because the companies producing the material know the built-in audience is a built-in source of revenue.

 One of my favorite shows on TV for a while was WGN’s Supernatural. From the first episode, the show was building to a climax that took five seasons to reach. The final episode of Season 5 was intended by the writers and producers to be the final episode of the series, and it was one of the best and most satisfying endings of any show or movie I’ve watched. However, the show’s popularity nudged it into more seasons that felt completely unwarranted. As much as I loved the show, I wanted it to end on that perfect note. The show is now on its third season since that “ending” and I haven’t watched any of it. Endings are the hardest part of a story to write, and if you find a great one, you just can’t ruin it.

 But when money is influencing storytelling so heavily, the number of stories ruined like this will just continue to grow. And it’s not like money’s influence on storytelling is new. Going back to Dostoevsky, 146 years ago he wrote his novella The Gambler in a hurry because it was being penned in order to pay off his own gambling debts.  

 So, while I’m not in their numbers, I have my fingers crossed for the Star Wars fans. I hope this new era of films and properties will bring you stories you love. While I don’t blame any company for trying to make a buck, I hope it’s not at the expense of the story.