First of all, I would like to say that this article is not an indictment against the three “new” episodes (I, II & III) of Star Wars; on the contrary of a lot of people, I think that those films brings something extremely interesting to the saga, which is the retroactive construction of a myth (I still remember my shiver in theater at the end of the Episode III, when we observe the birth of Dark Vador) which managed intelligently to introduce how the Jedi went from faithful servants of a democratic Republic to rebels to the same regime when it turned into a permanent autocratic State of Emergency.
However, one thing that I find incredibly superb in the three first episodes (IV, V & VI) and that makes all the difference between the episode from the 70-80’s and those from the 2000’s: the ground.
In fact, the original Star Wars was shot in several places in the world which gives a very various and rich landscapes to express several planet’s specificity. On the contrary, the new series of films principally used semi or full computer generated landscapes (except for some scenes in Naboo where we can recognize Seville or Como). It is important to precise here that my argument is nothing in favor of “realism” or credibility of the movie. It is almost the opposite actually, George Lucas in the 70’s was not necessarily disposing of the same techniques than he has now, and some shots of the original films are charming by their clumsy attempt to set characters and aircraft in a landscape that is clearly dissociated from them…
What really makes this difference is what I would call gravity but that could maybe be named in another way. What I mean by that is the fact that bodies are attracted to the center of the earth (and presumably in Star Wars to the center of any planet) and therefore have a weight that provoke their contact with the ground. This contact always have a material repercussion, some dust is lifted, some snow is squashed, some branches on the ground crack (in the Episode VI, Han Solo is even betrayed by one of them) etc. The three new episodes also have those noises, of course, but for some reason, the viewer don’t buy it, gravity is not transcribed in the right way. When in the old movies, one can hear the infinitely small noise of a worm or of snow melting in contact with human heat, what one can hear in the new movies, is the simple, precise and cold sound of a noise reproduced in studio.
This problem is eminently philosophical as Star Wars is definitely a movie that, because of its pantheist theology manifested by the Force, wants inherently to celebrate the continuous arrangement and rearrangement of bodies of the universe. In fact, if one forgets the stupid and contradictory allusion made in the Episode I about some obscure “midi-chlorian“, one can definitely associate this notion of Force to the Spinozist philosophy that conceives God not anymore as a transcendental creator but rather as the immanent creature in its entirety. In this vision the bodies of the universe compose good (or joyful) or bad (or sad) relations with each other as explained by Deleuze in his class about Spinoza with his example of the wave (see also my essay Architectures of Joy for more details). Deleuze chooses the wave to illustrate what this notion of good or bad relations means. A human body who never encounter the ocean, will indeed suffer from the wave which push and slap him (her) whereas a swimmer or a surfer will know how to compose the infinitely small particles of his (her) body to compose an harmonious relationship with the wave and use the latter to be carried by it.
In a similar (and rather angelic) way, Star Wars introduce the Force as the current that link all bodies together. The good side of the Force lauds an harmonious relationship between all of those bodies when the dark side attempts a continuous destruction of relations between bodies.
There would probably be something interesting to write about the relations between the characters of the saga here, but I would like to continue about the relations between the ground and the various bodies present in the films.
The fact that gravity -which is fully part of the Force whether one composes good relations with it and not- is present in the old episodes of the movie is clearly expressing a celebration of the force. Bodies encounter other bodies and a reaction between both is provoked, whether this one is obvious and loud (the Empire’s laserproof giant walkers walking on the snow) or much more subtle (the droids walking and rolling in Tatoine’s desert’s dunes). Unfortunately this reaction does not exist in the new episodes as the ground is often a studio ground and the noise (proof of its encounter) produced is artificial in that case.
If we want to see Star Wars as the orchestration of the encounters of bodies within the frame of this Spinozist God/Nature or called here the Force, we must acknowledge the importance of the gravity and the reaction that this one provoke between bodies. By giving up this notion and filming most of the scenes of the new movies in studio (for reasons that would probably interesting to explore) and composing landscape like paintings rather than environments, Georges Lucas betrayed a bit the original spirit, if not theology, that he spent so much time to elaborate in his first approach of the saga. By doing so, he unfortunately offered more arguments to the numerous people who still see in Star Wars a grotesque film for geaks when it is in fact, a wonderful monument of our contemporary mythology which science fiction seems to be one of the rare discipline to contribute to.