Don’t worry if you are the one person in Ireland who hasn’t joined the long and slow queues for the popcorn and sat down to watch the new addition to the Star Wars cannon – no plot spoilers here. I will just echo what you have heard elsewhere – this is a worthy addition to the set, being much closer to the original three in feel and style.
It is this that brings an area of fascinating reflection (for an old git like me, at least!). In making the successor a true follow up to the episode Six, the film has very much stuck with the technology rules that were in play when #6 was made, some 35 years ago. This makes the film look quaint and quirky in many ways, because our idea of technology has moved on so much. The originals did not at the time feel like that. Certainly it was not the stylised future of 2010 A Space Odyssey – that simply was not possible given the sheer number of locations and pieces of equipment that needed to be created. It was, however, firmly set in the future, so the technology reflected what we thought the future would be about back then. More so, it reflects the technology leaps we just didn’t see coming.
Here’s a few, to illustrate my point:
Computers Don’t Speak.
In what possible future does a robot interact with the world by a series of beeps and squeaks, requiring the clumsy cinematic device of the actors having to do the old pantomime trick of repeating everything… “What’s that R2, there’s someone behind me!” Nowadays we are so used to technology talking to us, from Sat Navs to the checkout in Tesco. Back in the late 70’s this was absolutely unheard of, and not really imagined.
Computers are really big
The only place you see computers in operation are on the big empire platforms – the death star and the like. Handheld devices are rarely on display (apart from weapons). This reflects that the late 70’s paradigm was still that computers needed to be massive if they were to be powerful. The closest thing to portable technology was a robot that wheeled itself around or walked in an ungainly fashion alongside you. Of course you can’t imagine Star Wars without its (love em or hate em) robot characters, but you wouldn’t see them created today. Certainly not without smooth, sleek human features and the ability to do heavy work. You want a device to translate for you… it’s your mobile!
Weapons are really big
When it comes to heavy weapons, Star Wars goes big (really big). Set aside weaponry the size of a small planet – one of the wonders of the first film was a sequence showing the underside of a spaceship that just went on and on. Not only were we meant to swoon at the scale of the thing – it was also an important symbol of military might. In the 70’s, if you wanted to show your military strength, the only way to go was BIG. This was the era when the B52 ruled the sky, when the aircraft carriers were the size of a small village. Things have changed these days – the kings of the sky and sea are significantly smaller, and whilst we are still in awe of technology size it is not so much a symbol of military power.
You can fix your transport
The 70’s was a time when things got fixed, and much of the fixing you would do yourself. Opening up the bonnet of the family car and pulling the engine apart was pretty much the routine weekend activity – polishing the carbon off the spark plugs so that my Vauxhall Viva would start and even get above 40 mph is one of my less happy memories! In that context it is no surprise to see various cast members descending into the bowels of the Millennium Falcon with a large wrench to try to get the thing back up to light speed. Today, we repair very little and you wouldn’t go near the modern engine without a computer to tell you what needs changing. The spare part comes bubble wrapped and you plug it in.
All of this is part of the Star Wars universe. This is exactly as it should be and it is an essential part of the attraction of the franchise, almost beyond the characters and the arc of the story, and as it has got more distant from the real world it has become more charming. Sticking with it is a no-brainer, it is pretty much sacrosanct. It is the essence of a winning formula.