In 1988, Lucas had testified before a Congressional panel that he opposed the “colorizing” of old black-and-white films because the process distorted their legacy. Yet he suppressed the original versions of the earliest Star Wars films, refusing to release them on DVD. When Steven Spielberg put out a slightly revised version of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (with, for example, walkie-talkies replacing guns in the hands of the pursuing feds), he included the original cut in the video pack. Terry Gilliam’s Brazil is available in three versions, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner in five. But if you want to a glimpse of Star Wars as you loved it a long time ago, you’ll need to get your old VCR or laserdisc player out of the basement. (Fans have made digital downloads of the laserdisc.)
The Oscars that Star Wars won for Special Effects and Editing went to a movie we can no longer see in its exact form. And though it would simply be good business for Lucas to reissue the originals—the billionaire would make another bundle, and perhaps retrieve the lost allegiance of his most fervent admirers—he has refused to do so. His reconstruction is the only official Star Wars. Says one fan, “It’s like you’re being force-fed somebody else’s memories instead of your own.”
Two years after the DVD debacle came The Phantom Menace, the first in a prequel trilogy. Fans who cued for the trailer came out ecstatic, with one saying, “I think God must be ashamed as a creator once He saw the preview for this movie, and realized He hasn’t made something this good.” Their ardor cooled once they saw the full movie, with much stentorian debate on excise taxes and, that ultimate insult, Jar Jar Binks. Lucas’s computerized comic character took the rap for all that was starchy and silly in the film. (Some French critics loved Jar Jar, and so did many young viewers who were the age of previous-generation fans when they had first seen Star Wars.) The elder fan base was devastated; yet Jedi squires went back a dozen or more times. “It’s like abuse victims returning to the site of their abuse,” says filmmaker Andrew Semans, “in order to conquer it somehow.”
All these disappointments naturally cued conspiracy theories. Here’s one, from a fellow named Brandon: “George Lucas talked about making prequels, but they never made it past screenplay before he died on the Van Wyck Expressway in a fiery car crash in 1989.” A more widespread opinion is that Lucas the 30-year-old rebel, Hollywood’s Luke Skywalker, had become old and corrupt: Emperor Palpatine or even Darth Vader. In an interview with Charlie Rose, the filmmaker acknowledged that comparison. “I was sort of fighting the corporate system…. But now I’ve found myself being the head of a corporation. So there’s a certain irony… that I’ve become the very thing that I was trying to avoid. That is Darth Vader. He becomes the very thing that he’s trying to protect himself against.” And Lucas has become the uncompromising father that his metaphorical children, the Star Wars fans, must outgrow and overthrow.
Philippe’s hurtling, highly caffeinated doc locates the anger and the fun of fandom. His hyperbolic subjects mock the embarrassing 1978 TV show The Star Wars Holiday Special (“It’s like finding your mom and dad’s sex tape”), sing peppy songs called “George Lucas Raped My Childhood” and rail against the money spent on merchandise. A mother, Faye Anastasia, stands in front of a wall of Star Wars tsotchkes and wails about Lucas: “The man has ruined my life. He took my husband away, he took my son away, and consumed every dollar that I’ve ever had that I could never save. Every toy in this room that you see behind me is a chip away at my heart for the last 30 years.” It’s the testimony of a spurned lover. As one person says: “That’s how you can tell they’re Star Wars fans — because they hate Star Wars so much.” If they can no longer be members of the church, they must be the most agonized apostates. Indifference is not an option.
In a DVD extra, the filmmaker interviews fans at this summer’s San Diego Comic-Con about Lucas’ proposed 3-D versions of the films. “If they’re gonna do it in 3-D,” says one excitable young man, “then George Lucas…might just as well put ropes so afterward everyone who goes see it can just hang themselves.” He calms down, thinks of the filmmaker’s Disneyland ride and adds, “I think if people just want a great 3D experience they should just do Star Tours over again.”
Attack the Block
What if a bunch of kids in a rundown, working-class neighborhood found an alien? If they’re the youngsters in Super 8, the summer hit written and directed by J.J. Abrams and produced by Steven Spielberg, they protect the creature. If they’re the teen gang in the Brit sci-fi comedy Attack the Block, they whack it to death. Mind you, the extraterrestrial in Joe Cornish’s film is no sympathetic E.T. It’s about the size of a Jurassic Park raptor, looks like a gorilla with “glow-in-the-dark jaws”—imagine the ugliest, nastiest Muppet—and will chomp to death anyone it encounters. Oh, and the thing’s got friends. The South London sky sparkles with hundreds of tiny cylinders bringing the monsters to Earth. But since it’s Guy Fawkes Night (cf. V for Vendetta), when the locals set off fireworks, nobody notices the alien invasion except for a gang of street kids and the young woman they just mugged.
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Attack the Block, like Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead, revels in the forced cohabitation of seemingly irreconcilable genres with a cheeky, mostly cheery brio. It’s a mashup of Night of the Living Dead (a few folks resist an eerie infestation) and District B13 (young people in a housing project use their homey-honed skills to fight off more powerful antagonists). Wright served as executive producer here; and Shaun costar Nick Frost is on hand as a dope-den denizen who performs a quick autopsy of the first dead alien and says, “Well done, lads. You discovered a species unknown to science, possibly nonterrestrial in origin, and you kicked its f—in’ head in.”
A Brit TV fixture as half of the Adam and Joe comedy duo, and co-author with Wright of Spielberg’s new Tintin movie, Cornish said he got the idea for Attack the Block when he was mugged, noticed that the young assailants were as scared as he and began researching their lives. Turning his private horror into social-worker empathy, and somehow transforming that into a sci-fi/horror script, he selected nonprofessional kids, some from the area the film is set in, as his stars. (The DVD’s extras show the casting and rehearsal process.) The standout is John Boyega, as Moses, the 15-year-old gang leader. Boyega sports a star quality that, seemingly at will, can channel Denzel Washington, Sidney Poitier or Samuel L. Jackson.
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The kids, who begin as thugs, worm their way up to hero status by applying hard-won street wisdom to the business of eluding and offing the alien horde. They are also notorious consumers and quoters of pop-cultural detritus. They joke about calling Ghostbusters, refer to the dead alien as Gollum, Gremlin and Dobby the Elf, and hope to get money by selling the critter’s corpse to a newspaper, but not the Sun. (“The Sun‘ll dress it up like one of those Page Three girls”). When one kid has seen too much spilled blood, he says, “Right now I feel like going home, locking my door and playing FIFA”—the soccer video game.
The most bookish of the lads, Jerome (Leeon Jones), tries to get the awful e-word out to the world, but realizes, “This is too much madness for one text.” Maybe Stateside audiences thought the same of Attack the Block, whose title was inspired by South Korean director Kim sang-jin’s anarcho-teen Attack the Gas Station! from 1999, and which opened here the week that news reports blared the widespread torching of poor neighborhoods like the one in the film. (It earned about $4 million at the U.K. box office, $1 million in North America.) But Cornish’s comedy has high spirits and a pile-driving pace that should keep home viewers laughing happily between the screams.