STAR WARS at USC

15 05 2005

Alot of USC references in today’s three posts. Sorry about that. They’re really about more than that, though.

Star Wars - YodaHad a great experience today — USC showed the new STAR WARS film ahead of its Wednesday night midnight premiere (that’s actually really really Thursday morning, for those of you keeping count) and brought editor Ben Burtt down to talk during the break between the two screenings. They asked me to moderate the Q&A and I must say that it was a ton of fun (for me, I can’t guarantee how it was for the students, faculty and alumnae who got to see the film for free).

First of all — the film.

I’ve always loved the first two or three STAR WARS films (kill me, okay? My wife always found my fondness for Lucas’ STAR WARS over Spielberg’s CLOSE ENCOUNTERS suspicious, though not enough to call off the wedding). I’ve also found the second, EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, to be my favorite of the bunch though there’s nothing to compare with the first time you ever saw the Millenium Falcon warp into hyperspace. So, it will come as no surprise to you that:

1) I prefer the character and epic iconographic storyline more than the light saber fights and “car” chases.
2) I though the last two films sucked rotten eggs.

I’m happy to report that, despite a few moments when the dialogue creaks more than an old mansion in any cheesy horror movie, and a few others when the film veered towards video game (though never arriving there with quite the conviction that the first two embraced), this film moves more towards the earlier films than I had any right to expect. There’s a real sense of mythic storytelling and, for anyone who’s fallen in love with any of the first three films, the way in which this one moves inexorably towards the original first STAR WARS (renamed, confusingly, Episode 4) will bring a smile to your lips and applause to the theatre. In fact, when Darth Vader’s mask slid over his head and the first wheezing breath rang out on the soundtrack, there was applause from the audience.

Part of the joy of this film, in fact, is seeing the series come full circle and, in this third episode, hook up with the world that we know of Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, R2D2, C3P0, and Obi-Wan Kenobi (there’s even the gentle meshing of the Yoda character into the chronology). While it isn’t necessary to know the earlier films in order to appreciate this one, I don’t think you’d enjoy it as much. And though i can’t imagine anyone who hasn’t seen the initial trilogy being at all interested in this film, if you’re one of those who’d like to prove me wrong, I’d heartily recommend taking a look at all three movies of the original trilogy before seeing this.

The screening, in Norris Theatre, was completely digital and it looked and sounded better than anything I’ve ever seen in that theatre.

As for the Q&A, I was a part of it and so can’t really talk about it in any real way except to say that I learned quite a bit from Ben Burtt, who after doing sound, editing, writing, directing and even acting in all of the six STAR WARS films, is incredibly articulate about the process. One interesting note that he talked about — he edits on an Avid, with a ProTools set up to his left and a workstation with Maya to do visual effects on his right. It’s a combination of all of skills that are becoming increasingly necessary in this world of film editing nowadays.

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