Star Wars: The Legacy Revealed (2007) / Documentary

MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably PG-13 for violent images
Running time: 100 min.

Interviewees: Peter Jackson, Tom Brokaw, Kevin Smith, Jonathan Young, Joss Whedon, Mary Henderson, Camille Paglia, Joan Breton Connelly, Newt Gingrich, J.J. Abrams, Elvis Mitchell, Steven A, Galipeau, Dan Rather, Stephen Colbert, Linda Ellerbee, Nancy Pelosi, John Lyden, Kevin J. Wetmore Jr., Carl Silvio, Leon Wieseltier, Carl A. Rubino, Edward Hudgins, Matthew Bortolin, Marc Ecko

Star Wars: The Legacy Revealed is a documentary, executive produced by Emmy award-winning documentary series leader Kevin Burns, set to debut on the History Channel on May 28th, 2007, in celebration of the ravenously popular film series' 30th anniversary. Featuring modern philosophers, academics, news reporters and acclaimed authors, as well as filmmakers, critics, politicians and those who have a finger on the pulse of popular culture, the two-hour documentary examines the six-film series as an epic work worthy of study, fitting it into the overall tapestry of the heroic tradition of storytelling, from Homeric poems and the Bible all the way to 20th century Westerns and Samurai films of George Lucas's youth. There's no question that Star Wars has left an indelible mark on popular culture. This film provides a look at how such a futuristic treatment of old-fashioned entertainment would be an enduring source of escapism and inspiration for modern generations, as well as those of the future.

While some historians and learned professors might scoff at putting the Star Wars films on the same pedestal as masterworks like "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey", this documentary does make for a compelling case that the Lucas saga definitely fits in with the grand tradition of great storytelling of that iconic mold, utilizing many of the same finely-honed staples of epic craftsmanship that give to new generations the same effect that must have kept those who heard the stories of Achilles and Odysseus in rapt attention. Indeed, it borrows from the best of the classic storytelling traditions, filled with such time-honored characters as wizards (Obi-Wan, Quigon), warriors (Chewbacca, Mace Windu), damsels (Leia, Amidala), jesters (Jar-Jar, C3PO and R2D2), pirates (Han Solo), monsters (Jabba the Hut) and mentors (Yoda) that are all part of the hero's quest, as well as his arc of maturity that sees him going from a dreamer to a leader of men.

The documentary is broken up into segments, each discussing some aspect of the hero's journey of both trilogies -- Anakin Skywalker's three-part tragedy in Episodes I-III and Luke Skywalker's journey of redemption in Episodes IV-VI. It starts with a look at the culture that shaped George Lucas' childhood growing up in Modesto, California, where a young boy would read comic books with depictions of worlds fantastic and foreign, and he'd view the matinee serials, such as "Flash Gordon" and "Buck Rogers", taking him to places and dimensions where one can only dream of.

From there, we learn of the influence by writer and professor Joseph Campbell, who frequently wrote on the archetypical aspects of mythology, religion, and the classic narrative forms. Lucas openly credits Campbell as a major influence on his work, especially on the material found in Campbell's seminal 1949 book, "The Hero with a Thousand Faces", which told of the hero's journey, tracing common elements drawn from ancient mythology and religion. The documentary dissects aspects of the hero's journey with examples found in Lucas' film series, relating the various characters, images, and scenes to Campbell's three-staged structure of the "monomyth", whereby the hero departs on his journey, is initiated, and then returns in his new form as the undisputed champion of all obstacles.

Although there have been prior documentaries to discuss the classical and mythological aspects of the Star Wars epic saga and the influence of Joseph Campbell, most notably in the Bill Moyers interviews of Lucas in the 1988 doc, The Power of Myth, and again in 1999's The Mythology of Star Wars, where The Legacy Revealed ultimately differs from all predecessors is in bringing these other documentaries up to date with the newer chapters of the Star Wars saga, right up the most recent release, Episode III. It also looks beyond the mythology to examine the influence of the film series on popular culture, as well as on other creators of today's epic films and television series, including such notable directors as Peter Jackson, Kevin Smith, Joss Whedon, and J.J. Abrams.  Interestingly, all of the interviews are conducted with people outside of the sphere of the production Star Wars films, studying the material from a third-party perspective, dissecting the films from the standpoint of their influences from previous sources, and of their influences on those that continue to be made today.

With six films and hundreds of characters to explore in 100 minutes, it's a given that The Legacy Revealed is not striving for in-depth analysis of the Star Wars saga so much as trying to give an overview of the series as modern-day mythology, filled with the very same elements you'd find in any of the great masterpieces that have enthralled people for centuries from every corner of the globe and all walks of life. It is condensed and concise, covering much ground in very little time, with each segment of the film practically worthy of making into its own documentary, should the chance ever arise.  Particularly interesting are the allusions Lucas draws between the symbols and colors of the "dark side" forces and the rise of the Nazi regimes into power, as well as the broad context of the thematic material that mirrors our own present-day politics and culture. For example, it's practically impossible not to draw parallels between Anakin's, "You're either with me or you're against me" and George Bush's, "You're either with us or you're with the terrorists", though it may just be serendipitous coincidence.

Although it does go by fast, The Legacy Revealed makes up for its abbreviated treatment with some very well-edited visual examples of the subjects discussed, including clips from the movies themselves, which do provide some adequate replacement for in-depth discussions on any of the particular topics.  Talking head interviews are reduced down to choice sound bytes from the the news and entertainment professionals, and the overall package is tight, efficient, and presented in eye-catching fashion.

Although you probably can enjoy this documentary without having seen all six Star Wars episodes, it is highly recommended that you familiarize yourself with the events of the movies, as it does assume that viewers will be intimately knowledgeable about the characters and events within the films;  many of the examples discussed and depicted would be major spoilers to those who have yet to see all of the films.  That said, Star Wars fans who haven't read the the works of the noted authors interviewed on the myth and legend behind the Lucas opus will probably find the material fascinating throughout, and probably hungry for more.

As someone who has a strong lifelong interest in Ancient Greek and Roman culture (I have a degree in Classical Civilization), I have consistently defended the more recent story arc of the Star Wars saga (Episodes I-III), mostly because I found the attention to detail and obvious allusions to Greco-Roman history, literature, and ways of life to be rich and rewarding from an artistic standpoint.  When I do discuss these elements with people who are jaded against Lucas' vision in these newer films, I always sense that those I have talked to (and even argued with) come away with a better and more respectful opinion of the films as having been more well-designed than they originally gave them credit for, and even if some aspects will forever tend to bother them (Jar Jar Binks, Anakin's whininess), this documentary actually takes those into account as well, providing ample examples of what Lucas had been aiming for.  Taking one example, the character of Jar Jar Binks is related to the Ancient Greek and Roman literary use of the "parasite" (or flatterer) as a staple comic character to provide identity, release of tension, and a means to further the hero's engagement of peril.  Provided this context, it is much easier to understand Lucas's inclusion of the character, rather than the knee-jerk tendency to see it as merely a whoring effort to market licensed products to children.

Star Wars: The Legacy Revealed isn't the first to discuss the Star Wars films for its mythical and artistic merit, and certainly will not be the last, but for those uninitiated, it makes for a great place to start in terms of thinking of the films in a deeper, broader context than just as the stories of Anakin and Luke.  Although we might take them for granted today, future generations will look back on the Star Wars phenomenon and judge us by our attraction to the stories, and how it has permeated our modern culture, influencing other creators of fiction, philosophers, and politicians to help to communicate messages that we can all understand and appreciate.  Like all great works of fiction, we can look at them and see ourselves, our hopes, our dreams, and our core sets of beliefs.  Though the stories themselves are about fictional characters living in a time and era not of our own, our admiration and fascination with them say more about us and our subconscious needs and desires than you'd initially think on first glance.  The Legacy Revealed shows that, after three decades of living in the post-Star Wars era, the films continue to be an enriching source of entertainment and thoughtful reflection for millions today, and perhaps billions more in future generations.

Qwipster's rating:

2007 Vince Leo