*It was the robots. Call me silly, but when I went to see the first (and my last) “Star Wars” flick back in ’77 and the film’s droids R2-D2 and C-3PO came on the screen, I just couldn’t trust the rest of the movie. R2D2 and C-3PO are cute and humorous, and when it comes to robots, I’m old school.
In my book, a robot is built to serve and look ominous. It assists me in my assorted quandary and when it comes to my enemies, takes care of serious business. The “Star Wars’ robots are loyal and possess wondrous capabilities, but I’m not looking for my robot to be Shecky Green (a young Star Wars fan is saying “Who”?). I don’t want it cracking one-liners.
My idea of a robot is still Robby the Robot, which made its screen debut in the 1957 movie, “Forbidden Planet.” Robby could talk, and though on occasion he did appear to present a dry disposition, he wasn’t programmed to chew the fat or be cute. He was a robot.
Even among the mechanical—-especially so–there is honor in being the strong silent type. Thus, in the beginning of the mid ‘60s “Lost In Space” TV series, I loved the stoic way of “B9”, the official moniker of the show’s Robot.
However, during three TV seasons B9 got sillier and sillier, particularly during episodes that featured it in farcical situations with meddler and mischief maker Dr. Smith. If I hadn’t a mad pre-teen crush on 13 year-old Angela Cartwright’s “Penny”, I’d have stopped watching altogether.
Besides, for me, the robot of robots, over both Robbie and B9, was Gort, from the 1951 movie, “The Day The Earth Stood Still.” Gort’s gig was to guard Klaatu, the lone alien with whom it accompanied to earth, and the flying saucer that brought them here.
The silver, seven-foot Gort didn’t speak; didn’t do shit, really, except stand frozen sentry outside their space ship. In the movie, Klaatu describes Gort as member of a galactic police force whose irreversible duty is to “preserve the peace” by annihilating any instigator.
Indeed, when at some point the U.S. military messes with Klaatu, Gort gets busy, firing a disintegrating beam that instantly evaporates soldiers, their guns and tanks. While the 1951 movie version of Gort was peace-loving (Gort of the film’s 2008 remake was more aggressive), if instructed, it could have destroyed all of earth. You didn’t fuck with Gort.
But it wasn’t just the robots that turned me off “Star Wars.” Despite the thoroughly sinister Darth Vader, the movie had a corny feel, where, to the beat of John Williams’ righteous musical score, any given trauma was continually saved by one just-in-the-nick-of-time exploit or another.
The space ships weren’t cool-looking, the storm troopers were lame and the heroes predictable. The film wasn’t edgy or dark enough for me. To this, “Star Wars” fans usually retort, Oh, you should check out “The Empire Strikes Back,” etc. Too late. I was already done with it all.
I know. Here I am pooh-poohing the “Star Wars” series, while reminiscing about space-age space-—Hollywood’s stone-age impression of the future—when in fact, fans of the George Lucas franchise and I have in common an overzealous sentimentality for our fantasy of choice. (And, it’s all fantasy, y’all; spare me reprimands of how many ways “Star Wars” robots could whup my robots.)
With all that is happening in the world today, I can’t blame folks camping out for days, braving the elements to see “The Force Awakens.” These days, we’re all eager to lose ourselves in something, real or make-believe, where “good” appears to have more than a fighting change. I can relate. Trust me, if Gort were on the scene today, he/it would have a handle on all this wickedness out here. Believe that.
Steven Ivory, veteran journalist, essayist and author, writes about popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio, TV and the Internet. Respond to him via [email protected]