"Want to save Star Wars VII? Then let's talk about Casablanca."

#Opinion

Sat, Nov 10th, 2012 21:00 by capnasty NEWS

On Grantland, Brian Phillips has written a fabulous piece on how to make sure that Star Wars episode 7 doesn't suck. How? By looking back at a classic films like Casablanca. Check out this gem of an explanation:

Casablanca and the original Star Wars trilogy have a ton of very obvious stuff in common; it's just that since there's no particular reason to compare/contrast them, they seem to occupy non-overlapping movie universes, like Wreck-It Ralph and Last Tango in Paris. But think about it. In a very general sense, both stories revolve around a dramatic triumvirate made up of (1) a cynical, self-protectively closed-off hero who learns to open his heart to a larger cause (Rick, Han); (2) an earnest, unworldly hero who operates as a transformational figure within that cause (Luke, Victor Laszlo); (3) a girl who is complicatedly drawn to each of them (Ilsa, Leia). In both stories, the cynical hero has a devoted sidekick who travels with him through thick and thin. In both stories, a powerful figure allied with an evil government redeems himself by betraying that government at the last possible second. In both stories, a colorful bar in an exotic desert location serves as the backdrop for a dramatic escape. Both stories involve an untrustworthy gambler (Lando, Signor Ugarte). Both stories involve an obese crime lord, though in fairness Sydney Greenstreet is a cooler special effect than Jabba the Hutt. Neither main protagonist ends up with the girl. (OK, in Return of the Jedi, the main protagonist winds up being twins with the girl, but whatever.)

These similarities aren't infinitely deep. The real story of Star Wars is the redemption of Darth Vader, while Captain Renault's redemption in Casablanca is just a by-the-way bonus. But the resemblances are intriguing. Why do they exist? I don't think the answer is that George Lucas deliberately copied Casablanca; I think it's that Star Wars and Casablanca are both made out of a million spare parts from other and older stories, and some of the action-romance archetypes that George Lucas drew upon in Star Wars had also been drawn upon 35 years earlier by the committee of accidental geniuses that made Casablanca. I'm not even talking Joseph Campbell-level ur-myths; I mean pulp novels, Hemingway stories, Westerns, antique movie serials, Black Mask, Amazing Stories, One Thousand and One Nights. The two films have a kind of grandparent-grandchild relationship -- genes that happen to be expressed in one place expressing themselves again, in a totally different form, decades later.

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