How Old is Star Wars?

Star Wars is 39 years old this year. Looking back on Star Wars from now is like being in 1977 and looking back at films made in 1938. Thats films like The Adventures of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn or James Cagney in Angels With Dirty Faces. Those are the only films from that year I can recall ever seeing, and back in 1977, those films seemed so old.

Looking back now at Star Wars, it’s hard to feel its really as old as those films seemed to me back then when I was eleven years old. Back then I even thought those great 1950s sci fi movies that I loved were old- films like Forbidden Planet, made in 1956. But in 1977 that was ‘only’ 21 years before. Thats the equivalent of looking back today on films released in 1995- films like Toy Story and Apollo 13 and Heat. Those films don’t feel very old (indeed something like Heat feels like it might have been made only yesterday). But maybe they do seem so old to eleven year old kids watching The Force Awakens now (I wouldn’t recommend that an eleven-year old kid watch Heat but you know what I mean).

This is a pretty scary game. Blade Runner is 34 years old this year, the equivalent of being in 1982 and looking back at films made in 1948. Thats films like Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes, or John Huston’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre starring Humphrey Bogart. I’d say the former is pretty timeless but the latter a bit old-school compared to Ridley Scott’s film. But compared to films made now, Blade Runner doesn’t feel ‘old-school’ at all, not to me.

Or The Abyss, from 1989. That’s 27 years ago. That’s like being in 1989 looking back at films from 1962, such as the first James Bond film, Dr.No, and David Lean’s magnificent Lawrence of Arabia, or Burt Lancaster in The Birdman of Alcataz. Great films, but in 1989, they felt pretty old. The Abyss doesn’t feel that old now though, hell, I remember watching it at the cinema like it was only a few years ago, not decades ago.

2001: A Space Odyssey is 48 years old, which is the equivalent of having your mind blown by Kubrick’s masterpiece in 1968 and looking back at films made in 1920. Can’t say I’ve ever seen any of those films from 1920, although I’ve certainly read about some of them, like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde starring John Barrymore. Of course they were silents and in black and white, a lifetime away from the widescreen glory of 2001‘s feast for the eyes and ears. But maybe to youngsters today, 2001 feels just as old and dated when compared to the films they have now with their virtual worlds and CGI characters.

Anyway, I was just thinking about Star Wars closing in on its 40th Anniversary and wondering what 39 years really means. But its led to all this other rambling about movies and it’s freaking me out. So I’ll stop now before I feel as old as I really am.

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6 thoughts on “How Old is Star Wars?

  1. I think about these kind of things all the time… too much, actually (hence the following long comment!) It can really make you feel old, whatever age you are.

    I think there are two things in play when it comes to films in particular. One is, obviously, our personal perspective on time as we age, which is always bizarre. I remember a letter in the Radio Times a couple of years back, where a bloke was saying Doctor Who nowadays just wasn’t the same as all those years ago when he was a child, when Christopher Eccleston was the Doctor. Six or seven years is almost nothing when you’re an adult (I still haven’t “quite got round to” Moon or District 9, and they’re seven this year), but of course to an 18-year-old it feels like half a lifetime.

    Secondly, there’s something in how films have evolved and developed — or not — in those timespans. Star Wars doesn’t look like it was made yesterday, but it also doesn’t look as different from a 2016 film as it does from The Adventures of Robin Hood. I think Blade Runner even less so — even with all the 3D and CGI and digital photography and action-driven plots we have in big movies today, I can imagine a film just like Blade Runner, with that pace and using model and shot on film and so on, coming from a dedicated auteur today.

    I don’t know what this tells us (has the visual language of film stalled, or has it just matured?), but I think it only exacerbates the confusion wrought by our personal perspective.

    1. Yes, I agree as we get older we experience time and memory differently. I’m surrounded by guys at work who weren’t even born when I was watching Blade Runner back in 1982, and how they view some of the films I love (or express utter ignorance of some of them) never fails to horrify me.

      Regards films themselves over time, I think there is no doubt they have advanced technically, particularly visuals/fx and audio, but other than that I think they have actually gone backwards. Screenwriting is formulaic and predictable, acting/casting more concerned with some kind of ideal than a sense of reality. Directing is safer and less challenging, enforced by studios trying to keep things open to everyone (a global market now requires more homegenized movies).

      1. Hollywood’s screenplays are regularly (and rightly) bemoaned, but I hadn’t thought that about direction before. Now I do, I rather agree. As recently as the late ’90s/early ’00s there were mainstream films like Requiem for a Dream or Fight Club that feel like they were trying new and interesting things, but I struggle to think, off the top of my head, of a recent Hollywood movie that felt similarly experimental.

      2. Funny you mentioned Fight Club- Fincher is one of those directors who has either gotten lazy or sold out to the system. His last few films are competent but hardly anything near as exciting as his early films. Maybe its just how films are made now.

      3. I get the impression that Fincher ‘Burtoned’ his last two films — that’s what I shall henceforth call it, anyway. By which I mean, he took on projects that were obviously Fincher-like and then quickly turned them around in a Fincher-like fashion. I very much enjoyed both of them, but it’s true that they aren’t as thrillingly on a filmmaking level as his earlier work.

        He doesn’t have any movies lined up, per IMDb, so hopefully he can find something interesting to get invested in, rather than just speedily knocking out an adaptation of a currently-bestselling thriller.

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