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It’s been a while since my inherited VCR had been used for anything other than dust collection, but just the other day, I popped in my tape of the 1995 home release of Star Wars: A New Hope. No matter my feelings on the other films in the series, Episode IV holds that special spot of being the more heartwarming entry. We go from clear and present danger to the unknown to longing to adventure to rebellion and to destiny, over the span of about two hours, building to a well-deserved celebratory ceremony for our heroes and, by extension, our better selves.
After forwarding through the Leanord Maltin interview with George Lucas, I hit upon a peculiar occurrence: the movie was in total black and white. Now, as a VCR child, I knew to do a quick forward/rewind combination to fix the issue - which worked - but, after the events of January 6, 2021, this momentary disturbance (in the force?) sprung to mind some thoughts that I felt would make for a decent opening to this latest issue.
The pilot Wedge Antilles, at a briefing on how to destroy the Death Star, remarks “that’s impossible, even for the computer!” in response to the logistics of the mission. Luke Skywalker, the idealistic farmboy who’ll soon learn much about himself and his place in the Galaxy, reassures against this doubt immediately with kind confidence.
Far be it for me to go all Randal Graves from Clerks here, pondering on independent contractors caught in the crossfire, but I see something interesting about the themes in Star Wars, the temporary stripping of the film’s color by way of hitting play, and what we all witnessed happening at our Capitol.
It all reminds me of an old column (that’s no longer online) by filmmaker Alejandro Adams on the defunct Fanndor blog Keyframe, where he wrote on an out of sequence/serendipitous remixing of a screening for The Tree of Life. By accident and without intent, this reordering glitch of sorts had recontextualized parts of the film and added new dimension to something widely accepted as a masterpiece of cinema (Adams didn’t agree but did love the change-up and prospects). Around the same time, filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola had been experimenting with what he dubbed as “live cinema,” and even toyed with real-time editing of his movie Twixt.
There’s a wonderful romance to such discoveries, to such unexpected territory that suggests a cosmic sort of life built in to film.
In the case of the 1995 cut of A New Hope and its opening scene being seen in black and white, I pull an interpretation as guided by some unseen hand. Not that something or someone wanted me to see something in a new way - it’s still by happy accident - but real-world events mixed with analog technical issues and days old reflection, made for a revelation.
The colorful scene of Luke’s response to Wedge’s concern and the colorless siege on the rebel’s ship by the Empire at the beginning, played side by side in mind, adds uncertainty to the defined and provides clarity to the foreign, more so and perhaps primarily as a result of current events.
We’re thrust into this Galaxy far far away with the image of a small band of freedom fighters being hunted by the imposing force of tyranny. Troopers storm ahead with blasters firing, paving the way for their momentary commander to stroll on through. This is now reminiscent of President Trump having peaceful protesters pushed back most aggressively just so he could walk to a nearby church and hold up “a bible” for cameras. In black and white yet clear as day, the villains are front and center.
In the face of such brutal and ignorant behavior, what can those hoping for balance do to confront the horror of the clear-cut? The mission briefing later, in full color, has a looming grey over it, best represented by the apprehensive Wedge and the potential of a planet crushing assault by a fully occupied Death Star. Luke, in the eye of it all and with little evidence to his contrary, sees the possible from his humble experiences back home and from what he feels to be true.
Of course, we all know how this turns out.
It may be tenuous to suggest any dots that connect Death Star to Parler instigators, Antilles to shocked observer, and Skywalker to ____, but there’s something righteous too. There’s something to unity through the fight for justice that just might pull us all through the Covid era and this Trump climax. So many on either “side” have passed, but no matter where anyone stands, the push for accountability and truth over false power and repugnant divisiveness must go on.
The odds will only be in our favor as long as we’re quick to recall who we were and when we remember bulls eyeing womp rats back home. “It’s not impossible.”
Aren’t movies great?
Stay safe and mask up!