Star Wars has become a presence in my house once again. My four-year-old hasn't seen the movies yet, but he has become aware of everything Star Wars. He knows the characters, knows about lightsabers and is concerned with who is a good guy and who is a bad guy. (How to explain Boba Fett, who fights against the good guys, but is really only working for the money?) In any case, I have been pondering the movies again. I like to think about the concept of them as "cult" movies, in that, even though they're extremely popular, their fan base is extremely devoted in the same way a similar cult audience would be to a smaller movie. I still haven't decided.
But I have also come to the conclusion that the movies aren't really that "cool." It's hard to explain; they're lovable, but they're a little too nerdy and serious to be cool. Everything in them is to be taken at face value. However, searching a little deeper, I have found certain things about the movies that are cool, indicating that Lucas knew a little something about his cool film history. And hence my quick list.
1. Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee
Peter Cushing played Grand Moff Tarkin in Episode IV (he died in 1994), and Christopher Lee played Count Dooku in Episodes II and III. These two guys were the stars of the Hammer horror films of the 1950s and 1960s, and they made tons of movies together including The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Horror of Dracula (1958), and The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959). They are genuine cult stars, and it makes sense that George Lucas must have seen at least a few of their classics before he cast them.
2. Billy Dee Williams
He was the closest the Star Wars movies ever came to Shaft or Superfly. As Lando Calrissian, he even gets his own revenge plot. He tries to strike a deal with the crime lord, gets screwed and jumps into action. Billy Dee Williams was in a few lesser-known action/Blaxploitation films like The Final Comedown (1972), Hit! (1973) and The Take (1974), and after his appearance in Episode V, he was in more late-night cable classics like Nighthawks (1981) and Fear City (1984). Of course, comic book fans remember that he played Harvey Dent in Tim Burton's Batman (1989), and should have become Two-Face at some point. Even better, there was once a series of Lando Calrissian novels that I would love to have seen as movies. How cool would that be?
3. Boba Fett
I didn't realize this until around the time that Episode I was released, but bounty hunter Boba Fett became a genuine cult phenomenon of his own, inspiring tattoos, t-shirts, fan clubs, and goodness knows what else. All this based on a handful of lines of dialogue and only a few minutes onscreen in Episode V. Do people love Jango Fett just as much?
4. Leigh Brackett
Leigh Brackett (1915-1978) was a woman with a unisex name, so she was able to get away with a long career of writing pulp science fiction novels, some Westerns, and a handful of classic screenplays (including The Big Sleep and Rio Bravo). She's credited on Episode V, even though she died two years before the movie was released. The debate still rages as to just how much she contributed. Some say that she wrote an early draft that was mostly discarded, and Lucas kept her name on mostly out of respect. Others point out that that movie's warm, human touches are most certainly Brackett's doing. A leaked copy of her draft also shows that some of the basic structure of the story was hers.
5. Samuel L. Jackson
Samuel L. Jackson may be overexposed these days, but for some of us he'll always be Jules from Pulp Fiction, and he brings a bit of Jules everywhere he goes. His Mace Windu in Episodes I-III may have been stuck with some of Lucas's most wooden dialogue, but Jackson still managed to get a few "motherf--kin'" good moments out of it.
6. Peter Suschitzky
The Polish-born director of photography on Episode V had also shot The Rocky Horror Picture Show! Then a few years later, David Cronenberg hired him for Dead Ringers (1988) -- one of the greatest movies ever made -- and he continues to work with Cronenberg to this day.
7. Han Solo, the Rascal
I don't think Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is cool all the time, but there are certain moments during which he's a serious badass. In the original 1977 cut of Episode IV, he owns the Cantina sequence (forget the controversial 1997 cut in which he's forced to shoot Greedo in self-defense). And who hasn't swooned at his lover's exchange with Princess Leia in Episode V, just as he's about to get dunked in carbonite?
8. Alec Guinness
Alec Guinness reportedly hated his dialogue and his character in Episode IV, though he loved the paycheck. It's hard to tell from watching Obi-Wan Kenobi, but in his career, he was one of the greatest of all comic actors, capable of almost any kind of face or voice. He made a series of British comedies for Ealing Studios that remain brilliantly funny to this day, including Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), and The Ladykillers (1955).
9. Princess Leia in her "Jabba's Palace" outfit
OK. maybe she wasn't so much cool as she was hot, about 27 at the time, looking like the cover of a trashy sci-fi novel, and sparking boys' fantasies for a generation.