I saw Guardians of the Galaxy last night. It’s very fun, a tremendously entertaining movie. I liked it a lot, in case you’re on the fence about it. Rather than review it, though, I thought I’d make this point: jt’s basically Star Wars. So if you haven’t seen it, and don’t want the plot spoiled, stop reading right now. Go see it, and then come back. I’ll wait.
Okay: it’s Star Wars. It’s basically about a mismatched crew of vagabonds, flying around the universe, who join together to destroy a round ball that has the power to destroy a planet, or lots of planets. In Star Wars, it’s a very big round ball; the Death Star; in Guardians, it’s the Orb, small enough to fit into the palm of a bad guy’s hand. But they’re both metallic round balls. They even look a bit alike.
The main character has a mysterious past, involving an absent father and a dead Mom. In Star Wars, his last name is Skywalker; in Guardians, he’s Peter Quill, but wants people to call him Starlord. Skywalker=Starlord, close enough? I’ll admit, in Guardians, Starlord is more like Han Solo than Luke–a sort of vagabond outlaw type, who has in the past been hired by an evil businessman–Yondu Udonta in Guardians, Jabba the Hutt in Star Wars. But there’s a mystery about his parentage in both cases, and the absent father figure has left him with a legacy involving some kind of mysterious power: the Force in Star Wars, the ability to sort of control the Orb thing in Guardians.
There’s also a sidekick character. Peter/Luke makes friends with another vagabond, Rocket/Han Solo, who has a very large, very deadly sidekick with limited language skills: Groot/Chewbacca. Rocket and Han are both very good with blaster-type rifle weapons. Both Groot and Chewbacca moan to communicate, though Groot also can speak three words of English. (And major props to Vin Diesel, who endows “I am Groot” with many many meanings).
There’s also a bad guy who is tall, wears black, and has a deep bass electronically enhanced voice: Ronan/Darth Vader. But in both cases, he reports to another even more evil bad guy: Korath/the Emperor. Who he communicates with on some kind of screen thing, and also sort of plots against.
In both movies, there’s (of course) a girl, attractive and a good fighter: Gamora/Leia. Both seem to be of quasi-royal blood. Gamora is the adopted daughter of Thanos, though lent to Ronan, who she hates and wants to destroy. Leia, of course, is a Princess. Her exact connection to the Emperor is unclear, but the Star Wars universe clearly has a kind of monarchical governmental structure, which she’s part of, though she’s joined the Rebel Alliance. Gamora has green skin; Leia has her easily mockable hair style, which looks as though she glued two Danish pastries to the sides of her head. They’re distinctive looking, in other words.
Both movies are built around big escape scenes. In Guardians, our heroes have to fight their way out of a massive prison. In Star Wars, they have to break Leia out of prison, then escape the Death Star.
Both movies have a big bar scene, involving a planet that can be accurately described as ‘a wretched hive of scum and villainy’: Knowhere in Guardians, Mos Eisley in Star Wars. Both planets have, of course, bars, and our heroes go there to relax, among a motley bunch of aliens. In the Knowhere bar, the entertainment seems to involve a version of cockfighting involving small dinosaurs; in Mos Eisley, it’s a jazz combo. Not quite equivalent, I suppose. But our heroes do have a drink, though they get drunker in Guardians.
And, of course, in both movies, the threatened planet has some fairly memorable characters. Nova Prime (Glenn Close) in Guardians, and General Dodonna in Star Wars.
This leaves out a few major characters. The Guardians universe doesn’t seem to have equivalents to Obi-Wan, unless you count Yondu, an older mentor figure to Peter Quill, but not really very similar to Obi-Wan at all. And no one on Star Wars strikes me as terribly equivalent to Drax. My wife suggested C3PO–he shares Drax’s conversational literalism. But Drax is a fearsome fighter, and C3PO way isn’t. My wife also suggested R2D2 as similar in some respects to Rocket, which works a little better. But I’ll stick with Peter/Luke and Rocket/Han for now. There’s also one of the most compelling characters in Guardians, Gamora’s cyborg half-sister Nebula. Also known as the character that allows Guardians to pass the Bechdel test.
Of course, one of the most awesome elements in Guardian is the soundtrack, involving Peter Quill’s beloved early ’80s mix tape. When we see the five Guardians, in slow motion, heading off to battle, to the sound of the Runaways singing “Cherry Bomb,” I laughed out loud, it was so perfect. But the music in Star Wars is pretty distinctive and memorable too. Suffice it to say that neither movie would be anywhere near as fun without its musical score.
The main point, though, is that both movies are space-opera-fun. As the last three Star Wars movies trudged tediously on, the movies lost the sense of humor that made the first one so enjoyable. Star Wars was never profound, never self-consciously ‘great’. It was a ball. It was the funnest B-movie ever made. That’s what makes Guardians so remarkable, and so successful. It’s not afraid to make fun of itself. It finds a remarkable comedic rhythm and never forgets to maintain it. It’s a comic book, in the best sense of the word. And so was the original Star Wars.