May 2, 2002

Cornell Cinema

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According to Tariq Jalil, Stars Wars may be the quintessential symbol for all things wrong with America: gluttonous American consumerism, religious frivolity, debilitating addictions, its terminal sense of emptiness, Hollywood fanaticism, and its egocentric disregard for all things not American. However, Jalil might question the message set forth in his documentary A Galaxy Far, Far Away himself. Is Star Wars JUST a movie?

It’s hard to believe that a fictional piece of entertainment could be the paramount symbol of the decay of the American psyche, and all of this nation’s shortcomings. But, Jalil certainly suggests this is true through several accounts of Star Wars fanatics from around the country who are the stereotypical degenerates of society. The majority of the subjects on which he chooses to focus have been waiting in line for over a month so that they can attend the first showings of The Phantom Menace, the first Stars Wars prequel released in the Spring of 1999.

However, Jalil seems to rely on an MTV style of documentary editing and direction to show us this clan of inexplicably fanatical followers. The camera’s view becomes increasingly myopic as Jalil introduces us to alcoholics, drug abusers, the mentally unbalanced, and the emotionally distressed participants in this marathon wait.

It seems that Jalil wants to reel us into supporting his thesis that such a display of devotion for a movie is a travesty in our time through high octane hits of drama.

For example, Jalil presents the viewer with a scene in which hundreds of shoppers fight for collectable merchandise sold at a Toys R’ Us prior to the Phantom Menace premiere. These images of people scrambling for toys are then juxtaposed with images of hungry masses in Kosovo fighting for their rations of food. Now, this comparison does bring certain aspects of the frivolity of American consumerism to light, however it appears to be a one-sided, dramatic device meant to drum up feelings of shame.

Yes, it is a starch contrast between the “battles” that occur in the American marketplace versus those that occur in poorer countries. However, it also must be noted that the expenditure of American dollars is important to the flow of wealth around the world. Anyone who has studied economics understands the inequalities inherit in the world economy, but to blame them on zealous Star Wars fans seems slightly absurd in the context of this film.

Here’s why. Yes, Stars Wars is just a movie. But, maybe this series of films represents something beyond the decay of America. We hear a dozen or so accounts of young men who identify with Luke Skywalker and his relationship to his father, Darth Vader. Jalil presents this in a way that seems to want to sway the viewer into thinking that these men are simply insane.

However, Jalil may not be giving his subjects enough credit. It’s obvious through the interviews that these men are aware of their connections with the movie. It’s not they’re brainwashed into this obsession, it seems more that these films helped them to understand difficult life-lessons.

It’s not that they live in the fantasy world created by George Lucas, but that the themes presented in these films reflect certain shortcomings of modern society create an alternate vantage point through which people may examine these issues and their effects on themselves. This is a studied cinematic device of science fiction films.

In viewing A Galaxy Far, Far Away, listening to the director’s political agenda will certainly hamper the underlying merits of the documentary. Instead, turn to the film’s subjects. Challenge yourself by critically viewing the film’s devices of editing, and piece together the picture of this very different, very complex subculture of American society.

Archived article by Laura Thomas