Sunday, October 23, 2005

My Sunday Post: Response to those saying Serenity is the new Star Wars

One of my favorite podcasts is Dragonpage. They run three different feeds that deal with science fiction. One is for books, another for T.V. and movies and the third is called Wingin' It because it's more free form and they drink beer while doing it. Anyway, they are huge fans of the movie Serenity and there was a recent discussion about how they all agreed that Serenity was the new "Star Wars." By the title of my blog you can tell where I sit in that argument. Yep. I say, close but no cigar. And by close I mean Star Wars is here and if you travel a few thousand light years on a slow boat you may get to Serenity over here. Yes. They are in the same galaxy but Star Wars is still far and away the more influential film of its day. Read the post. Comment if you like. I will argue with you if you like as well. BTW, extreme geek alert. Don't say you weren't warned. I take my Sci-Fi and Fantasy very seriously. And go check out Dragonpage. It just may save your life... (OK the last part is over the top.)

I recently saw Serenity. Being a Joss Whedon fan I was disappointed that I never caught Firefly on TV and equally disappointed when it was cancelled. Oh well, I thought. It probably wasn't very good. Then I heard a movie was being made and thought that maybe something was up. I borrowed the DVDs from my cousin and watched them all in three days. I was siked to see the movie and disappointed that there was not going to be any more series episodes. The movie was spectacular. I was blown away. Because the movie requires a sense of movement and drama that TV series don't the way the story progressed and the characters developed in such a short time was so awesome. I loved how Joss Whedon progressed the Buffy characters through the season and there was never a throw away. Here he compressed the best of a season into one movie. Even when the scene should be corny I felt chills like when River, in half shadow, is standing there with her weapons surrounded by dead Reavers. I pray that I see her again on screen. All the characters were fully developed and believable as far as a sci-fi movie can make them.

Joss is a genius and my world is better to have his stories in it. That being said, I think that Serenity the movie owes more to others that came before it than it is an original concept in itself. The characters, story, design and effects exhibit shades of many of my favorite classic movies and shows: Star Trek, Spaghetti Westerns, Rawhide, Dawn of the Dead, The Matrix and of course Star Wars. I love all those movies and genres and I don’t think it bad to take inspiration from them. In fact the genius of Joss Whedon is that he can blend all those inspirations and make them work. Not only work but also work better than it should, all with great, funny, poignant dialogue layered with insightful commentary on relationships and life. Joss Whedon is my hero in fiction writing. I wish I could write a story arc half as well as he can. I wish I could write dialogue one-eighth as well.

That being said, I’ve been hearing on your show that you people are comparing the experience of seeing Serenity to seeing Star Wars for the first time. Now I can understand if you didn’t see the movie sitting in a theater in 1977 for the first time. Then I’d understand because you were reared on the influences of the twin gods of George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg. Lately it’s been cool to bash these guys but you have to remember back to those bygone days when movies were magic again! What Star Wars did to film was incomparable. What it did for merchandising (no matter what you think of it) was insane. What it did for special effects was absolutely mid blowing. His story was genius that hinted that we were looking at just one small part of a rich and detailed universe. His characters in a word: archetype. His overall arc, dramatic. That was the problem; he could never live up to the initial expectations in the prequels. He lost something along the way. He aged and became less maverick, less egotistic and lost his verve. The story suffered. Granted his dialogue was never too great to begin with but in a strange way it worked, corn and all. The characters in the prequels were unforgettable. The angst ridden Anakin, the young idealistic queen (although elected queen? Why even bother, Princess Leia was a princess because of Bail Organa not her real parents!), Jango Fett. Clone Warriors, Darth Maul, Count Dooku and the vile, cunning Senator Palpatine, I mean Chancellor no wait I mean Emperor no wait Darth Siduous, Mace Windu and of course the young Obi-Wan Kenobi who IMHO was fantastic and the best most tragic character of both trilogies. Actually, Obi-Kenobi’s character benefited the most from the prequels, more than Palpatine and a little more than Yoda. It’s just that they were great characters in a great story arc that was in the wrong plot with the wrong dialogue.

But despite the failings of the prequels I would still rather have a Jedi Star Fighter or Darth Maul action figure than say, Mal. Or Jayne. Or River. Well, actually I’d take River (the girl is flexible, I give her that) over Darth Maul at my current age but as a kid, no contest. Although Natalie Portman? Or Slave Girl Leia? Hmmm… That’s a different email post.

See as a kid or even a young teen, Star Wars blew me away. It was unique in almost every way including the way it took an old mythic tale and made it new. It also harkened back to the good old days of Science Fiction Serials. The guy was boy genius and the crew that he surrounded himself with was first rate, top notch. The images, design, characters, space ships, action, weapons were never seen before. C’mon, lightsabers? You can’t beat it. And Oh yeah, Psychic warriors? Jedi. Mal? Han Solo. Chicks with blasters? Leia Organa Skywalker-Solo. An oppressive government with unlimited resources? The Empire. A dark warrior who in the end realizes the error of his ways? Darth Vader. Should I go on? No.

I loves Serenity. I loves Firefly. But the new Star Wars? I think that it pales in comparison to the impact and sheer iconography of the first and original Star Wars. I mean the original Star Wars changed movies. Just because the studios couldn’t imitate the success of the original thinking it was all about the Special Effects basically ghettoizing a whole genre of movies doesn’t change the brilliance and impact it had on people all over the world in 1977.

Believe me, I want another “Star Wars.” I want to be blown away by a movie. I want to walk away wanting more. Serenity was great for different reasons. Lord of the Rings, the movie was as close as anyone has come in the last thirty years. Yes, it was based on a classic novel but the love that Peter Jackson and his crew had for the book showed. Even when he changed things he stayed very close to the original vision. As much as one can with the limitations of expositional story in movies. (The Lord of the Rings kinda reads like the bible in some points and I found myself drifting, yet I digress.)

Anyway. That’s how I feel about it. I want to give Serenity the movie and Firefly the series its due, but I don’t think it’s in the same category as far as influence of mythic proportions as the original Star Wars.



The Phoenix said...

Serenity the new Star Wars? Not even close. Star Wars is forever etched into our culture. Serenity is a very good sci-fi adventure. There is no comparison.

I think the main character of Serenity is really a rip off of Han Solo anyway. The concept also has a lot of Blake's 7 in it as well.

Blake's 7 was a sci-fi drama in Britain from the early 80s. It's about a crew of outlaws on a special spaceship called 'The Liberator.' They were constantly pursued by the Galactic Federation, in particular, this cunning warrior hired by the Federation to capture or kill Blake's crew.
Blake and his #2 Avon had constant tension, and you wondered when would one of them kill the other - but they were still a team.

Sound familiar????


ObilonKenobi said...

I had heard about Blake's 7 but never saw an episode. This is the second time someone has mentioned it to me. I will have to see if I can check it out.

Of course, I am in total agreement. Serenity, while good fun is not Star Wars in any way. Most of the characters in Serenity seem like homage to other characters from the best of many science fiction TV and Movies.

Kyle Stemen said...

When first saw commercials for Firefly, I thought it was a rip off of Outlaw star (anime series). I mean they both have girls that they get in boxes (I'm talking about River for Firefly and Melfina for Outlaw star. Forgive me if I'm mis-remembering).

I only watched a couple of episodes of Firefly and the movie. I still think the theme is close to Outlaw star's.

ObilonKenobi said...

I've also heard that Firefly is comparable to the anime Cowboy Bebop but I've never seen it. Anyone?