I went to "Star Wars" for the air-conditioning. For that, and the promise of cool mindlessness - a kind of iced tea for the brain cells.
It was a day when you needed a Social Message like an overcoat, and the movie came as advertised with cute little robots, a princess to rescue, good guys and bad guys. It was your better, basic souped-up sci-fi western with some bumper-sticker philosphy.
But there was the moment when Alec Guinness, playing the Robed Prophet role, appears in the desert of a distant planet to give advice to our young hero. Sounding like an escapee from Cyra McFadden's "Serial" tales of Marin County, he intones: "Let go of your conscious self and act on instinct. Stretch out with your feelings." In the midst of all this heavy equipment, the robots and spacecraft and ray guns, he comes on like a Gary Guru of the Cosmic Force. It was then that it occurred to me that the "Star Wars" watchers aren't just there for the temperature.
The mixture of technology and psychology, of Buck Rogers and Carl Rogers, that runs through the 2 1/2 hours fits our gin-and-tonic fantasies.
It's not just about bad guys and good guys, but about bad technology and good technology. The good guys are on the side of truth, beauty and the cosmic force, but they aren't opposed to machines. Nor do they fight missiles with stones. The real battle is between one techonological society that supports a Lone Rider and praises his instinct, and a techological society that overrules individuals and suppresses instinct.
Without heating a movie into a symbol, I had the feeling that "Star Wars" played out our own Good News and Bad News feelings about technology. We want a computer age with room for feelings. We want machines, but not the kind that run us. We want technology, but we want to be in charge of it.
More than a century ago, Emerson wrote: "Things are in the saddle/And ride mankind." But what did Emerson know about the things in the saddle now? Push-button holocausts, power plants that turn off a city of two cars we can't fix. The things that bump in our nightmares are quite literally "things."
There's no way to drop out of technology as if it were school. The kids who went back to till the soil with their hands ended up with a tractor, a parttime job or a return ticket. The conferences that rail against the machine age are usually attended by people who fly in and tape-record speeches. Even the seminars on Getting Control of Your Life are run by people who are run by Social Security cards, automobiles and dangerous habits like breathing air and drinking water.
The final scene of "Star Wars" fills all our fantasies about battery parts, computers and instincts. About people and things.
There is our young hero in his one-man space ship, pitted against a battle station the size of the moon. He is flying his handy-dandy machine right down the narrow slot to drop-shot a bomb, like a golf ball, into a small hole. It is, of course, the last moment. Thirty seconds till disaster.
As he comes careering in, chased by The Bad Guy, he turned off his computer bombsight (but not his engine) and takes aim by "instinct." He plugs into The Force, you see, goes with the flow, and sinks his bomb like a putt.
The good guys win, and the air-conditioned audience applauds - for the main and his instinct, in the saddle, riding technology ito the sunset. The good technocrats win the day, and that's not a bad fantasy for the summer of '77.