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Ned Vizzini Ned Vizzini
'Star Wars 2' Fits Right Into the Palm of Your Hand

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May 22, 2002

"Star Wars 2" (and, really, what else do you need to call it?) is a success because of George Lucas' reconnection with the audience that built him: 20-something-year-old men and children. In 1977, when the first "Star Wars" movie came out, those people had mind-sets informed by the mass media of their day: TV. Now, the mass media have a new overlord, video games, and Lucas has wisely chosen to offer up their aesthetics on the big screen. He's just advanced to the next level.

Take note, people over 22. The opening space-car chase of "Star Wars 2" (where Hayden Christenson delivers the simmering, "Oh, master, I forgot you didn't like flying") is near theft of F-Zero, a Super Nintendo video game that debuted in 1991 and still defeats DVDs and music as choice dorm room entertainment across America. Later on, in the movie's conveyor-belt battle/chase, thudding presses and a giant sphincter dispensing hot lava shamelessly take from Prince Of Persia, a PC classic that made "Jordan Mechener" a household name among a small but influential group of teenage boys. (Yes, that's right, the ones who run your website now.)

Every single color, angle and shadow rendered in "Star Wars 2" never saw a piece of film. Pixels, from beginning to end, they were. Like Mario was. Like Yoda is. There are many moments in the movie that make you entirely forget it's a film and wish you were playing along. Lucas must be happy becuase he's tapped into a vein that moves units.

Just as "Star Wars 1" (or "IV, A New Hope," whichever) opened up Hollywood to the concept of blockbuster merchandise, "Goldeneye," 1995's Pierce Bronsan James Bond vehicle, revealed how video game tie-ins could spark profits. "Goldeneye" spawned a Nintendo 64 title, Goldeneye 007, that won accolades as one of the greatest video games of all time and sold over 2.5 million copies. Since then, every action movie including the re-release of "Empire Strikes Back" and, yes, "Spider-Man," has busted out of the gate with an accompanying game.

It has been a fact for several years that video games gross more, annually, than movies (roughly $10 billion compared to $8.7 billion). Game Boy is the best-selling consumer electronic of all time. The PlayStation2 is more of a necessity in the modern American household than a DVD player, probably because the PlayStation2 comes with a DVD player, plus it can run Grand Theft Auto 3, which wraps up Columbine and 9/11 and delivers them for indescribable entertainment.

Cultural critics continue to treat video games as fleeting forms, like back issues of Time kept only by nutty archivists. Yet in addition to the millions of people who bought X-Box last Christmas, millions more downloaded emulator software to put Nintendo classics up on their PCs at home. In the battle over Napster and file sharing, no one stood up for the rights of Koji Kondo, creator of all the music to Mario and Legend of Zelda, or clamored for Sonic the Hedgehog's architects to get restitution for the copies of their work being enjoyed around the world, but hey, the programmers must be happy. Programmers don't need much.

Video game culture has not completely erased our respect for the real, analog world. "Final Fantasy," which bowed last year to critical disdain and commercial malaise, showed us that computer-generated humans can't yet jump, run or scream effectively. It did, however, manage to make a character look like Ben Affleck and sound like Ben Affleck without paying Ben Affleck a dime.

Digital movie-making has also discovered how to use computer-generated backgrounds for better character focus. Matte paintings in the 1970s "Star Wars," created with actual paint, were much more realistic than the glorified Photoshop of the early 2000s "Star Wars." Yet we love the new stuff because it looks so like a video game.

It stands to reason that media convergence wouldn't happen quite the way folks planned. Microsoft put all its hopes on WebTV but people thought it was too much work to "browse" their TV; they'd rather surf. Video games have caught on becuase they're fun--and you can win. Video-game movies are the new standard. The DVD of "Final Fantasy" allows one to "play" the movie on a PlayStation2. In 20 years, don't you think you'll find a controller in your theater?

Copyright 2002, Newsday, Inc.


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