Professor attributes movie hype to culture, capitalism

When Edward Schiappa was a graduate student in 1980, he saw a midnight showing of “The Empire Strikes Back.” Ever since, he’s been mulling over a theory of the “Star Wars” phenomenon.
Schiappa, associate professor of speech communication, is convinced that the hype and hoopla over this “Star Wars” saga has two simple explanations: Cultural psychology and capitalism. He believes society lacks any kind of cultural community and people are drawn to such communities.
“‘Star Wars’ permeated our culture thoroughly through newspapers, magazines and television,” Schiappa said.
The hype is evidenced by the abundant amount of “Star Wars” characters, frequent photos of George Lucas in the media and excitement among “Star Wars” enthusiasts.
Throughout the past month, Jason Arndt, a theater major and “Star Wars” buff, has been extremely excited for the premiere of the “Star Wars” prequel.
“I recently purchased the magazines of Time and Premiere,” Arndt said. Both had articles on ‘The Phantom Menace’ or its creator. “In addition … I read ‘Star Wars, the Visual Dictionary.’ I guess you could say I was attempting to get myself in the mood for ‘Star Wars’.”
According to Schiappa, Joseph Campbell is the foremost expert on myths and author of “Hero With A Thousand Faces.” Written in 1949, the book emphasizes that certain myths appear in all cultures.
In Lucas’ movies, this myth is played out. He carefully studied and incorporated the idea of evil and good forces and a mythological hero struggling against the odds into the “Star Wars” saga.
And 22 years after the release of the original, the “Star Wars” story and its characters continue to gain popularity among the public.
Schiappa said that these days, there is a longing for this kind of mythological story and the extent to which many fulfill their voracious appetites for “Star Wars” is unbelievable.
Jay Vaughn, “Star Wars” enthusiast and resident of Los Angeles, Calif., claims that “Star Wars” fanatics camped outside of the famous Mann’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood for months in order to purchase tickets to the movie’s premiere.
“These groups of people were highly organized, equipped with cell phones and computer connections to the Internet,” Vaughn said. Many fanatics split up the tedious task of waiting in line by breaking it up into shifts with their fellow “Star Wars” comrades.
Sports and national politics are about the only other two things that people jump at to create such cultural events, Schiappa said.
Schiappa said it is too early to tell if the movie will succeed, and that the success will depend on whether or not the characters resonate with movie-goers as they did 20 years ago.
“The movie lived up to my expectations … however, what’s missing in this episode is the element of surprise,” said Jared Yeater, an English major and self-styled “Star Wars” aficionado. “We know all of the characters and the movie is just a visual representation of what we already know.”
Yeater said Lucas compensated this lack of surprise with more emphasis on special effects.
On the other hand, Arndt was not satisfied with the movie. “It was a visually stunning film, but many of the characters seemed to be pasted on and lacked vigor.”
Despite the differences between Arndt and Yeater, they both enjoyed episodes four, five and six more than the most recent “Episode I: The Phantom Menace.”