Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Rulebook Casefile: The Way the Worlds Work in Star Wars

One last note on the world-building in Star Wars: I pointed out before that stories have to reflect the way the world works, even if they’re not set on our world at all, and I used the prequels as an example of movies that fail to do so. It’s only fitting to circle back around now and contrast the original trilogy.

The prequels were rightly criticized for getting lost in the minutia of trade embargoes, but the fact is that this wasn’t an inherently bad idea, it was just poorly done. In the original trilogy, Lucas has a similar level of geopolitical complexity, but he weaves it into the fabric of the movie far more seamlessly, and it subtly magnifies the power of the story.

This isn’t simply the story of a bunch of rebels who get tired of the king’s tax collectors, raise a big banner and march on the castle. These rebels hold official positions and travel under diplomatic cover, the empire barely tolerates the oversight of a toothless Senate (sounds vaguely familiar), distant provinces operate autonomously, etc.

This brings us back to another thing James Kennedy pointed out last week:
  • Luke might not enjoy being a farmboy on Tatooine, but he’s really good at it. He works hard and draws knowledgeable, canny conclusions about the stuff that happens around him. He knows the area and he knows the value of money. We'll see this again and again going forward.
Indeed, economics is everywhere in the Tatooine part of the movie, and, unlike in the prequels, it makes us care more. It makes this world real, despite all the weird inexplicable stuff going on (what exactly are they farming, anyway?)

This brings us back to another reason that Hammil’s performance is so remarkable: he creates a world that’s much bigger than what we see onscreen. What are Womprats? Where’s Anchorhead? We never find out, but Hammil effortlessly convinces us that he knows, and that’s all we need.

Indeed, this is true for every performance in the movie. In retrospect, Harrison Ford’s infamous on-set complaint (“George, you can type this shit, but you sure as hell can’t say it”) probably refers not to overly simplistic lines, as is generally implied when that quote is cited, but to all of the bizarre unexplained specifics that the actors were expected to casually sell to the audience (“Nerf-herder!”).
In other words, Ford was complaining about how good the dialogue was, not how bad: it required him to do an unprecedented amount of work creating a larger unseen world. Luckily, he proved himself wrong: he could say it, and helped make a wonderful world come alive, both within and beyond the film frame.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Not disagreeing with your point about the dialogue, but just to needlessly clarify: it's commonly held that Ford really was referring to a lot of the dialogue. The crew had a tendency to ask Lucas if they could say certain lines another way because they sounded corny or whatever, and he would generally refuse, so Ford and Hamill developed a trick of just saying certain things their own, slightly different way and he usually didn't even notice.