Posts Tagged ‘Harrison Ford’

Blade Runner (1982)

Director: Ridley Scott

Starring: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, Daryl Hannah

It is true of most films set in the future that, once said future becomes the present, the world never quite evolves quickly enough to line up with what we’ve been conditioned to think of how the world of tomorrow was supposed to look. Earth as depicted in “Blade Runner” is no exception. We’re nearing close to the era in which this story takes place, and yet the world as we know it looks pretty ordinary by comparison. It is also true that tales such as “Blade Runner” are works of fiction meant to entertain us and, if at all possible, challenge us to open our minds to limitless possibilities. In that regard, “Blade Runner” does its job as impressively as any science-fiction film worthy of the designation ‘classic.’

The setting is Los Angeles and the year is 2020. Although our technological advancements have skyrocketed, humanity still possesses a dubious sense of morality. Extrasolar exploration is a reality, although much of the grunt work is done by artificial intelligence known as Replicants. Saddled with a short, four-year lifespan, their light burns twice as brightly as any human’s. Fairly recently, members of this slave race have gone all Twisted Sister on their masters and decided they’re not gonna take it anymore. This group, known as the Nexus 6 series of Replicants, wants what any young person facing an end to his/her existence wants: MORE LIFE! The revolt is as swift as it is violent, and forces bloody but necessary retaliation. In the aftermath, all Replicants are to be killed on sight. To this effect, special law enforcement officers known as Blade Runners are assigned with the task of identifying and eliminating them. But, of course, “murder” and “execution” are such nasty words, so we refer to the extinguishing of a Replicant as “retirement.”

Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is one such Blade Runner although, at the time we first meet him, he considers that part of his life to be over. When four Nexus 6 replicants are found to have illegally returned to Earth, Deckard is dragged kicking and screaming back into the service. He heads first for the Tyrell Corporation where all Replicants were created. There, he discovers that Dr. Eldon Tyrell’s assistant, Rachael (Sean Young) is a Replicant. Rachael is a special case as she has been given false memories… those of Tyrell’s niece… so that she may live out her life believing that she is human. That plan is shot all to hell when Rachael later tries to provide physical evidence of her humanity to Deckard, who reveals in detail the lie that is her life. This causes Rachael to effectively run away from home. After Deckard tracks down and kills Zhora (Joanna Cassidy), he is informed that Rachael has been added to his hit list. Knowing Rachael to be a danger to no one, Deckard objects to this strongly.

Deckard goes looking for Rachael but is himself found by Leon (Brion James), who comes close to killing Deckard before he is shot through the head by Rachael, using Deckard’s gun. Deckard takes Rachael back to his apartment where he promises not to hunt and kill her like the others. Rachael attempts to leaves but Deckard prevents it, initiating intimate contact that Rachael at first resists, but to which she soon submits.

The remaining two Nexus 6 Replicants, Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) and Pris (Daryl Hannah), form a bond with genetic designer J.F. Sebastian, with the intention of using him to get to Dr. Tyrell. Roy and Sebastian go to see Tyrell who informs Roy that, although he is proud of the great accomplishments of his ‘son,’ he can do nothing at so late a stage to alter Roy’s lifespan. Realizing the futility of his situation, Roy murders his creator. It’s also implied but not shown that he does the same to Sebastian. While Roy is en route back to Sebstian’s apartment, Deckard confronts and kills Pris. Enraged at the sight of his lover’s dead body, Roy pursues Deckard. The hunted becomes the hunter. The one-sided fight/chase escalates to a rooftop, where Roy has the option of either killing Deckard outright, or standing by and watching as Deckard falls to his death. Shockingly, Roy selects a third option and saves Deckard’s life. Both men exhausted, they each sit down. Sensing the end is near, Roy laments the loss of his life experiences… that which is unique to him. As Roy dies, Deckard appears to look upon his foe with an understanding and genuine sympathy. He then returns to the apartment to find Rachael, and the two leave for parts unknown.

Of the many different versions of “Blade Runner,” the three most recognizable are the 1982 theatrical cut, the 1992 Director’s Cut, and 2007’s Final Cut. I have, to this point, never seen the Final Cut and so I am as yet unaware of what alterations were made. It is the Director’s Cut with which I am the most familiar, and so it is that this was the version I used for the purposes of this review. Although marketed as an action film, “Blade Runner” draws its narrative inspiration from film noir. In the “Theatrical Cut” this also included a voice-over narration which has remained absent from all subsequent versions of the film. There’s an awful lot of ambiguity which surrounds the plot, not least of which is the deliberately vague ending (again, altered from a more concrete conclusion presented in the 1982 version). Perhaps most controversial of all is the subject of whether or not Deckard is himself a Replicant without even knowing it. It’s a point of contention among even those who worked on the film; director Ridley Scott asserts that he is, while Harrison Ford disagrees. Personally, I lean more towards Ford’s side of the argument while admitting that evidence does exist that would justify either point of view, such as the unicorn dream. It’s just the sort of debate that I suspect author Philip K. Dick, who wrote the story “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” on which the movie is based, would have loved. Pity that he died shortly before the film’s release.

The film’s eye-catching cinematography  depicts a corporate, technology-driven society not entirely unlike the one we’ve come to know. This includes many giant advertisements emblazoned on every street corner and skyscraper. The most amusing of these is the recurrence of the logo for the video game company Atari. No one could have guessed that it would be a short time before Atari was no longer the standard-bearer in its field, nor could they have predicted the video game crash of 1983 which almost killed the industry. Beyond its nearly peerless cinematography, “Blade Runner” also boast a terrific soundtrack. It can be said that the best film scores act as an additional character. The synthesizer-heavy score by Vangelis is one of the most alluring and unforgettable aspects of “Blade Runner.” Somehow, when this movie was first released, critics didn’t understand the brilliance of what they’d seen. Even with the more recent, superior revisions, you still get some folks who’ll dismiss the movie because it doesn’t condescend to spoonfeed them everything. Everybody has certain types of movies that just don’t appeal to them and I generally will sympathize, but not when it comes to an all-time work of sci-fi art like “Blade Runner.”

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Star Wars - The Force Awakens (2015)

Director: J.J. Abrams

Starring: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Max von Sydow

Praise be to the most dedicated of “Star Wars” fans whose love for the franchise has never wavered in spite of its many recent wrong turns, nonetheleast of which was the pretty, yet creatively bankrupt prequel trilogy. Those who squealed with glee at the very first images of the trailer for “The Force Awakens” have seen their undying faith rewarded. The seventh entry into the long-running film series, and first chapter in an all-new trilogy, does more than restore “Star Wars” to its former glory. It may well have provided it with one of its greatest chapters yet.

Almost entirely ignoring the prequels, “The Force Awakens” picks things up in a post-“Return of the Jedi” universe essentially in real time (i.e. approximately thirty years later). Although the Empire was defeated back then, they were not completely eliminated. In their place is the First Order. Also not extinguished is the Dark Side of the Force. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) found this out the hard way when his Jedi-in-training were slaughtered by the one Dark Side-leaning pupil among them. Feeling responsible, our favorite Jedi has chosen exile. Even his closest friends and family are uncertain of his whereabouts, and it is the search for Luke which drives the plot of “The Force Awakens.”

Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), Luke’s student gone bad, is among those who would like to learn the location of his former master, albeit only to destroy him. To this end, the leader of the Knights of Ren tracks the movements of a droid named BB-8 to the desert planet of Jakku (a dead ringer for Luke’s former home of Tatooine). BB-8 is carrying one half of a map to Luke’s supposed location There, the droid is aided by a Stormtrooper gone AWOL named Finn (John Boyega) and a spirited young girl named Rey (Daisy Ridley). The pair find the Millennium Falcon… a ship known to both of them through tales of the war between the Rebellion and the Empire from a generation ago… and flee the planet. It isn’t long before Rey and Finn run into the Falcon’s former pilots, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), who join and assist the new generation of heroes on their journey.

In one of the film’s more heavily criticized moves, the villains once again have an ultimate weapon,  a planet-sized monstrosity that dwarfs either of the two Death Stars. Its main firing mechanism is powered by draining the energy from a nearby star, hence its name: “Starkiller.” Also, as with both Death Stars, the Starkiller conveniently has an overlooked weak spot for the good guys to exploit. This is only a problem if you get too nitpicky about the similarities between the original “Star Wars” and this movie. I didn’t mind so much because my attention was focused more on the new characters of “The Force Awakens,” in particular Rey and Kylo Ren.

Kylo Ren, being a follower of the Dark Side, is a Darth Vader worshiper. Alone in his quarters, he sometimes seeks counsel from Vader. As Vader did, Kylo Ren faces inner conflict. But, while Vader was a good man seduced by the Dark Side, Kylo Ren is an evil soul struggling with the temptations of Light. He is very much like his idol in one respect: Kylo Ren is in the hearts and minds of all the other characters even when he is not present. His betrayal of Luke had a ripple effect, ending the marriage of Han and Leia (Carrie Fisher) and sending the former back into a life of piracy.

Although we find Rey on a world similar to where we found Luke Skywalker on Tatooine, Rey appears to have been leading a life of greater hardship. Whereas Luke grew up with an aunt and an uncle, no such family structure appears evident for Rey. She’s got it so bad that she scrounges through the wreckage of old Empire starships just to have enough to exchange for food rations. You’d think she’d jump at the first chance to get off that rock but, in her naivety, Rey is waiting for whomever originally left her there. While we exit “The Force Awakens” having gleaned a bit of Kylo Ren’s history, there’s a lot about Rey’s story which… while strongly implied… has been left up in the air for Episodes VIII and IX to expand upon, and that’s how it should be. One thing we do know is that, as Vader once said of Luke: “The Force is strong with this one!”

When this movie was first announced, my lack of faith was disturbing. My attitude had been affected by the disappointment I’d felt (and still feel) as a result of the prequels, and a complete indifference towards all other “Star Wars”-related material released in the last ten years. But, the more I was seeing and hearing about this movie, the more it reached out to that part of me that still remembers the excitement of seeing the original three films for the first time. “The Force Awakens” is the “Star Wars” movie I wished I had gotten in my late teens. At the risk of being accused of a knee-jerk reaction, I’m calling it my second favorite “Star Wars” film behind only the flawless “Empire Strikes Back.”  If I can find anything to gripe about, it’s the lack of memorable new tracks in the John Williams score (something that “Empire” had in spades). So what if the plot is a little derivative? It captures the essence of “Star Wars” in ways which the prequels never could. It has awakened in me a new hope for the future of the franchise.

Apocalypse Now (1979)

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Starring: Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Martin Sheen, Frederic Forrest, Albert Hall, Sam Bottoms, Larry Fishburne, Dennis Hopper, Harrison Ford, Scott Glenn

It was madness that sent thousands upon thousands of young American men halfway around the world to “make the world safe from Communism.” It was the Draft which ensured that many who never would have entertained the possibility of military service would never come home from this war. Back home, it was lies and deceit coupled with the horror stories reported on the news that inspired anti-war protests. Lyndon Baines Johnson could have been regarded as one of the greatest U.S. Presidents of all time for certain key accomplishments, but the tragic mistake that was the Vietnam War will forever tarnish his legacy. Those who survived and returned home would often wind up so emotionally scarred that the madness only deepens as time goes on. Though their tour may have ended, Vietnam never truly left them.

Captain Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen) faces quite a conundrum. When he is in Vietnam, there is only the mission, otherwise he can’t wait to get out. But on the occasions when he is returned home, all he can think about is getting back. So, while in Saigon with nothing to do, the special ops soldier drinks himself half to death until someone hands him official papers telling him which way to jump. This time, he’s been summoned to his most unusual mission yet, a top secret assignment which will have him traversing into Cambodia, where he is to locate and “terminate” the rogue Special Forces Colonel Walter Kurtz (Marlon Brando), who is said to have gone insane and has been carrying out his own “missions” without any authorization from the U.S. Military. Willard has been sent on missions where he’s had to kill specific people before, just never an American. Never an officer, and certainly not one who at one point was being considered for promotion to the rank of General. Willard hitches a ride on board a Navy Patrol Boat, along with its crew of four. On several occasions, they run into trouble, once inadvertently murdering the innocent passengers of a civilian boat while checking it for hidden weapons. Each successive obstacle causes further paranoia among the crew, with some resorting to hallucinogenic alternatives to the reality of their situation. Willard himself, although bothered by these events, remains focused on his mission. There are casualties among the crew, but eventually Willard reaches his destination, finding the previous soldier sent to do the same mission (Scott Glenn) and an American civilian photo-journalist (Dennis Hopper), both seemingly worshipping the Colonel, and finally Kurtz himself.

Despite changing the location of the story, adapted from Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella “Heart of Darkness,” from the African Congo to the jungles of Vietnam, the question raised by the source material of what defines civilized behavior is every bit as well-represented. “Apocalypse Now” features one of my favorite opening scenes of any movie. As the song “The End” by The Doors plays on the soundtrack, we know even without considering the Vietnam setting that this is a story which is not destined to end well for anyone. Terrific use of the rotating blades of the ceiling fan in Willard’s room in mimicking those of the helicopters flying outside. I also love the way Martin Sheen instantly lets us in on his character’s state of mind. Willard may be good at what he does, but he’s also prone to flying off the handle, which leads me to suspect that it was no accident that he was picked to go after Kurtz. I find myself in complete agreement with the actor in that my two favorite film roles of Sheen’s are this one and 1973’s “Badlands.” Laurence Fishburne, then 14, lied about how old he was in order to win the role of the 17-year old “Clean.” By the time production was finished, Fishburne had reached his character’s designated age. Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall and Dennis Hopper are all masters of their trade. Bizzare as it may sound, Col. Kurtz sits somewhere around fourth or fifth in my top five of Brando’s film roles, but he’s still an absolute joy to watch… even when the things Kurtz has to say don’t really make much sense. Dennis Hopper has always been a scenery-chewer, owing a lot to his ability to play characters of questionable sanity. He turned his manic meter up to 11 for this one, and I love that about him.

The behind-the-scenes account of “Apocalypse Now” is almost as intriguing as the film itself. I’ve yet to see the documentary “Hearts of Darkness” for myself, though what I have heard really makes me want to check it out. Tensions between Brando and Hopper were such that Brando refused to be on set as the same time as his co-star. Martin Sheen nearly died for this movie, suffering a heart attack after the first 12 months of the film’s arduous production. The story also goes that, for the opening scene which I love so very much, Sheen had just celebrated a birthday and did not have to act like a man who’d had one too many drinks. “Apocalypse Now” wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows for director Francis Ford Coppola, either. In addition to playing referee between an overweight Marlon Brando and Dennis Hopper, Coppola also had a typhoon to deal with, unreliable Filipino extras,  nervous breakdowns, rising production costs and having to replace his original lead actor, Harvey Keitel, after just the first two weeks. That he ended up creating one of if not THE greatest war movie of all-time is a miraculous sign of just how much blood, sweat and tears went into piecing this masterpiece together.

All of that being said, some directors just don’t seem to know when to leave well enough alone. Of all those who release special extended director’s cut editions, James Cameron easily has the best track record. Francis Ford Coppola has thankfully never attempted to “improve” his “Godfather” movies, but 2001’s “Apocalypse Now Redux” was a bitter disappointment, and a clearly inferior film to the more familiar 1979 cut. I have no problem criticizing this version with extreme prejudice! Nearly an hour’s worth of footage was added, and none of it makes anything resembling a welcome contribution. Especially puzzling is the decision to reinstate the French rubber plantation scene. This scene does so much to slow down the pacing of the movie that it would be like if Peter Jackson had integrated the much-talked about “Tom Bombadil” scene from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” into 2001’s “The Fellowship of the Ring.” The crew can get where they’re headed just fine without having to make that elongated pit stop. The first time I saw “Apocalypse Now,” it was on a fullscreen VHS copy from my local video store. It made such an impression on me that I had not returned the tape before running out to purchase my own copy, this time in widescreen as it is meant to be viewed. If you haven’t seen “Apocalypse Now” and have been unsure as to which version is the best one to watch, I’m telling you now that the original version is the only one your eyes should ever witness. To do otherwise would be madness.

11. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Starring: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, Ronald Lacey, John Rhys-Davies, Denholm Elliot, Wolf Kahler, Alfred Molina

Unlike most of my favorite films, I can’t seem to pin down exactly when I saw “Raiders of the Lost Ark” for the very first time. Rough estimate would be between the ages of 8 and 10. Back then, it was a really fun adventure movie which happened to be set in the 1930’s. Now, as an adult, I can better appreciate the mythological and archeological material. I’m also more familiar with the source material, the old 12-part adventure serials that used to play in the theaters. When you watch this movie, you can tell exactly where the “To be continued…” card would show up as Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) faces one seemingly inescapable danger after another.

As this is set in the 30’s, the Nazis, being the most evil of all evil the modern world has ever known, are the bad guys. They are working with the French archeologist Belloq (Paul Freeman), a longtime adversary of Indy’s. In relation to our hero, Belloq is the Moriarty to Indy’s Sherlock. The two men are more alike than Indy is willing to admit and, as Belloq points out in one scene, they could be just the same if Indy were given the right push. Belloq is great, but I find myself the most interested by the Nazi gestapo named Toht. Actor Ronald Lacey’s performance is so snake-like that he fits right in among the dozens of slithering carnivorous reptiles which cross Indy’s path in this movie.

There are two actresses with the last name Allen whom I am fond of, though they bear no relation to one another. One is Nancy Allen of “RoboCop” and several Brian De Palma films. The other is Karen Allen, who plays Indy’s feisty love interest, Marion Ravenwood. Among the leading ladies of the Indiana Jones series, there has only ever been one who was a match for Indy, as Marion’s return in “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” suggests. When the other options are a whiny ‘dumb blonde’ and a Nazi sympathizer, you have to call it a no-contest. Where Indy differs a lot from other adventure film heroes is his capacity for screwing up quite often, in choosing the wrong partners for his archeological expeditions, and in his relationships with women. Marion’s a tough lady, and is quick to tell Indy where to get off when he’s done her wrong. But there’s always been love there between them. Another good movie to watch with Karen Allen in a starring role is “Starman,” but she is at her best here as Marion.

Astonishing are many of the films action sequences. In particular, I love the truck chase in Act Three. Indy is chasing down the Nazis, who are headed for a transport from Cairo to Berlin. In the process of intercepting them, he gets beaten up, shot, nearly run over, and dragged by a car with only his whip to hold onto. It’s the part where he goes under the car just before being dragged that’s the most intense part of that whole sequence. He survives, of course, but not without suffering cuts and bruises to nearly ever inch of his body.

All four movies have an object of historical and religious significance as their MacGuffin, each having their own place in real-life mythology.  As the title suggests, the object which both Indy and the Nazis are after is the Ark of the Covenant. The other artifacts of history which appear in the series are the Holy Grail, the Sankara Stones of India, and the Crystal Skulls of Mesoamerica. Many fans balk at the idea of aliens appearing in “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” I won’t disagree that the movie itself is of lesser quality than what came before, but the idea that aliens (or inter-dimensional beings) are a dealbreaker is funny to me. Isn’t it Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) who declares the Ark to be “not of this Earth”? The case could be made that he’s not talking about the stars, but the heavens. But the “aliens” from the fourth film are no different. To quote Dr. Jones himself, it “depends on who your god is.” With that out of the way, I’ll watch “Raiders” a dozen times over before I feel the need to watch “Crystal Skull” again.

21. The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Director: Irvin Kershner

Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, David Prowse, James Earl Jones, Peter Mayhew, Kenny Baker, Frank Oz, Alec Guinness

Out of the original three “Star Wars” films, my favorite has to be “The Empire Strikes Back.” A “Star Wars” fan dating back to not long after I first learned how to read, I didn’t warm up to “Empire” right off the bat. Back then, I wasn’t too keen on stories where the bad guys gained even the smallest of advantages over the heroes. But if there is one constant about a long-lasting war, it is that both sides must suffer setbacks before the conflict is settled. After destroying the Death Star in the first movie, this time it was the Rebellion’s turn to taste the bitterness of defeat.

The series was truly at its creative zenith here. During a time when George Lucas still knew how to make decisions that didn’t blow up in his face, he turned the director’s chair over to Irvin Kershner, who was initially hesitant. After all, how could anything top “Star Wars”? Lucas also hired others to write the screenplay, the first being Leigh Brackett, no mere amateur by any stretch. Brackett was responsible for writing or co-writing the screenplays for movies such as “The Big Sleep” starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, and several John Wayne star vehicles, nonetheleast of which were “Rio Bravo,” “El Dorado,” and “Rio Lobo.” With that background, in addition to her credentials as a sci-fi author, Brackett was a perfect fit. Sadly, shortly after turning in her first draft of “Empire,” Brackett succumbed to cancer in early 1978. Although Lawrence Kasdan was in the early stages of his career, his screenplay for “Continental Divide” earned him the attention of both George Lucas and his friend Steven Spielberg. When Brackett passed away, the job was Kasdan’s. He did not disappoint, and when Lucas and Spielberg joined forces for “Raiders of the Lost Ark” the following year, they knew who to hire for scriptwriting duties.

Another giant risk Lucas took was with the character of Yoda. This may be recognized as “Darth Vader’s movie,” and Han Solo is as macho as ever, but even these strong characters are outclassed. Like the shark from “Jaws,” the entire movie hinges on the Yoda puppet, voiced by Frank Oz, appearing as nothing short of convincing. Luke Skywalker’s Jedi sensei is by far the most interesting character in “Empire.” It is Yoda who is responsible for my favorite scene from any of the “Star Wars” movies. More than any of the big space battles, the lightsaber duel, the Han/Leia romance angle or the infamous reveal of Luke’s true parentage, the one moment in “The Empire Strikes Back” that makes the hairs on my arms stand on end is the scene where Yoda uses the Force to pry Luke’s X-Wing fighter out of the swamps of Dagobah. He uses this to show Luke what he could be capable of, if only he would set aside preconceived notions and believe that the impossible is actually possible.

“Empire” boasts the most diverse group of locations for our heroes’ adventures. In addition to Dagobah, we have the ice planet of Hoth, the cloud city of Bespin, and even an asteroid field where the Millennium Falcon hides from the Empire inside a “cave.” This movie also features what I believe to be the finest musical score in the legendary career of composer John Williams. “The Imperial March” has solidified its place in pop culture. Several other tracks are quite memorable, such as “Asteroid Field,” “Lando’s Palace,” “Han Solo and the Princess,” and the track which accompanies my favorite scene, “Yoda and the Force.”

As alluded to above, George Lucas hasn’t been free of mistakes, especially concerning the prequels which must not be named. He has also erred by going back and making changes to the original “Star Wars” trilogy on a number of occasions, changes which no one among the fanbase had called for. Before writing this review, I had the great fortune of watching the original 1980 theatrical cut of “The Empire Strikes Back” (on the Limited Edition DVD) for the first time since before the release of the 1997 “Star Wars” Special Editions. It is clear to me, now more than ever, that this is the only version I should ever watch from here on out.

Like any great second chapter, this one uses what worked the first time around to its benefit, while simultaneously raising the stakes. Of the few complaints about “The Empire Strikes Back” that pop up, the one I’ve heard most often is that the ending isn’t really an “ending.” I can understand this frustration, even as I disagree with it all in the same breath. To me, it’s a perfect artistic move to have this end on something of a cliffhanger. Things are looking pretty bleak by the end. We’re fairly confident the Rebels will eventually win the day, but we’re not quite sure how. That’s a great hook for your next chapter. If “The Empire Strikes Back” is guilty of anything, it’s setting the bar at an almost impossibly high level. What it can NEVER be considered as is a bad movie, not just by true fans of “Star Wars” but of film in general.