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Review of Stars Wars: Episode 1


The Hollywood industry is structured around the collective and corporate authorship and decisions by committee; the focus groups and marketing pie charts rule over the Romantic genius. Therefore it produces films which are characterized by a bricolage, post-modern, or, to use more contemporary language, plug-in structure. As noted by Jay David Bolter, in order to appeal to different market segments a single movie combines a number of genres and styles. Like Eisenstein's montage of attractions, a contemporary Hollywood product fires a sequence of unrelated stimuli into its audience, designed to hit whoever happens to be in the dark. A chase scene; a 70s reference; a love story sub-plot; a character borrowed from last year's hit; an early 80s reference; and so on. In short, Hollywood strategy is blanket bombing, not laser guided missiles.

Star Wars: Episode 1 is no exception to plug-in architecture of Hollywood movies, although its segments seem to hold better than in a typical Hollywood product. Still, it is less a coherent building than a set of Photoshop filters. Despite the perfect digital composing, the human characters seem to exist in their world, separate from fully digital sets. The race on the Tatooine where young Skywalker first shows his stuff forms a self-contained mini-movie of its own. The computer-generated creatures add the comic gigs. Lovers of desert landscapes get the sands of Tatooine; the northerners can enjoy the forest of Naboo; while the dwellers of New York and Tokyo can enjoy the super density of Coruscant, this ultimate metropolis which tops whatever Rem Koolhaas can ever imagine.

What I saw was of course wonderfully crafted. It was truly epic both in its scale and the attention to detail. Indeed if our civilization has any equivalent to Medieval cathedrals, it is special effects Hollywood films. Assembled by thousands of highly skilled craftsmen over the course of years, each such movie is the ultimate display of collective craftsmanship we have today. But if Medieval masters left after themselves the material wonders of stone and glass inspired by religious faith, today our craftsmen leave just the pixel sets to be projected on movie theatre screens. A kind of immaterial cathedral made of light, with noise of film stock mixed in together with human labor during the movie projection. The religious references are still present, both in the story (for instance, Skywalker was conceived without a father) and in the virtual sets.

Article  1999