Heres’s a Reminder Why You Shouldn’t Listen Too Closely to What Critics Say

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BACK WHEN I TAUGHT college part-time, I told my opinion writing students about the struggle I had with movie and television reviews.

I was usually disappointed when I watched something after reading a positive review because it seemed whatever the critic praised was never quite as good as they said it was.

Bad reviews just made me avoid a lot of films and shows. I regretted that after I saw them later on TV and found that in many cases they were a lot better than the reviewers thought they were.

Only once did I see a movie that was actually a LOT better than the positive review I read about it — a rare case of the film exceeding the very high bar the critic had set.

Since movie reviews are opinion articles, I always asked my students to guess what was the one movie that really surprised me, and I added that the review was in Time magazine. I was drawn to it in the supermarket check-out line by a headline on the cover that boldly said — Inside: The Year’s Best Movie.

In 13 years of teaching opinion writing, not a single student was able to guess what it was.

One of the best movies ever?

The movie that surprised me so much has had its title fractured by sequels and their titles over the years, but I still think of the original by only one name – Star Wars.

It turns out that Time was the only big media supporter of Star Wars back in May 1977. As the magazine wrote when they looked back on their coverage 35 years later:

“Few of the Hollywood insiders who had heard of this science-fantasy project thought it would soar. Hatched by George Lucas after a life’s immersion in comic books, cheesy movies serials and Greek epics, Star Wars had no stars, no sex and, the cognoscenti thought, no chance of becoming a hit; two studios turned the project down before Alan Ladd, Jr. of 20th Century-Fox said yes.

Outside the movie business, though, Lucas’s vision had one big early supporter: TIME magazine.

In an article intended for the cover of the May 30, 1977, issue, TIME writer Gerald Clarke proclaimed Star Wars “a grand and glorious film that may well be the smash hit of 1977, and certainly is the best movie of the year so far. … The result is a remarkable confection: a subliminal history of the movies, wrapped in a riveting tale of suspense and adventure, ornamented with some of the most ingenious special effects ever contrived for film.”

Star Wars was ground-breaking in many ways, but the special effects were incredible by Hollywood standards at the time, and that was especially true when the Millenium Falcon makes the jump to hyper speed.

No other film had ever had special effects like that, and if you get lucky the next time you go to Disneyland, you might get to pilot the ship and make that hyper speed jump yourself on the Millenium Falcon ride.

Celebrating Star Wars where it all started

What brings this back right now? It’s a recent story in The San Francisco Standard about a celebration in the small San Francisco Bay area town of San Anselmo for the 50th anniversary of the movie that has its roots there. Here’s how The Standard described it:

“In 1977, on the second floor of 321 San Anselmo Ave., filmmaker George Lucas and his team rushed to edit reshoots from Tatooine. A few years later, Harrison Ford learned to use a bullwhip in the parking lot out back.

‘Both Star Wars and Indiana Jones were created here — just down the street that way,” said (Star Wars creator and director) George Lucas, to the cheers of locals at a 2013 dedication ceremony for the new 8,700-acre Imagination Park, which he built and donated to the town. “Now we have a little monument here to remind everybody that this is where the whole thing started, right here in San Anselmo.” …

In 1973, not too far from the beige corner building or the new park’s statues of Yoda and “Indy,” Lucas began to write Star Wars. And 50 years later, even though the movie has attracted hundreds of millions of fans worldwide and has spawned eight official sequels and prequels, plus countless toys, books, films, video games and even a Disney+ TV series with Baby Yoda, Lucas still lives on the same hill in San Anselmo.”

A lesson about listening too much to so-called “experts”

The story in The San Francisco Standard is a look at the impact that George Lucas and Star Wars has had on San Anselmo, but for me, it’s another reminder that listening too closely to so-called “experts” — in this case, the movie critics who mostly sneered at Star Wars back in 1977 – is perilous for everyone.

As we learned so often from the Covid era, the “experts” we listen to are often not so expert after all.

It’s a lesson we got over and over during the lockdown, but I learned it way back in 1977 when I stood in line for hours to see Star Wars despite what so many movie experts (aka critics) were saying about it.

I never regretted standing in that line – or the life lesson I learned from it.

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