After reading Krafty’s Blues Brothers post a second time, I now realize he didn’t mean to say that there are thematic similarities between The Blues Brothers and Star Wars (just that both are highly imitated)… but this is how I took it on first reading, and it got me thinking:
- Land Cruiser = Blues Mobile
- Rowdy alien bar = rowdy redneck country/western bar
- Death Star = IRS building
- Alec Guiness = Ray Charles
- Carrie Fisher = Carrie Fisher
- There’s something to this!
Where it becomes a stretch is when you try to draw parallels between main male characters: Jake and Elwood are the consummate partners, whereas Han Solo and Luke have a very different ‘upstart vs. wily veteran’ rivalry that powers much of the Star Wars plot. Then it hit me that Jake and Elwood are really more like C3P0 and R2D2: inseparable buddies who are with us from the movie’s opening scene and loyally adhere to a single mission while other plot arcs and characters with more compromised motives swirl around them. Even the body types are identical, with each group having a more moderate tall/thin member and a more impetuous short/fat member.
(Incidentally, this kind of analogizing was done to much better effect by some genius on youtube, who pointed out the underlying similarities between Star Wars and Magnum P.I. opening credits.)
On a slightly more serious and hopefully more insightful note: Krafty poses an interesting point about why the movie felt so seminal at the time (aside from our age and its R rating). I think it featured two key elements of 80s movie-making that were just coming into focus:
1. Cutting, dark humor. I heard an interview once where someone claimed that the National Lampoon ushered in a new era of American humor with Animal House (which Belushi of course starred in) whose touchstone was no longer Jewish humor (characterized by ‘What a fool am I!’-type jokes) but rather more biting English and Irish traditions of humor (‘What a fool you are’). While The Blues Brothers wasn’t as dark or cutting as, say, Monty Python or even Animal House, there’s a gleeful kind of absurd and unexplained quality to a lot of the jokes that seems to come from the same place as David Letterman dropping refrigerators off buildings and making a musical beat out of it on his show around the same time. In other words, while the humor itself isn’t necessarily dark, the willful disregard for clearly-explained jokes seems to come from that same contemptuous, cynical place.
2. The being-cool and rocking-out factor. The Blues Brothers were simply cool, and while their coolness was on display throughout the movie, the musical scenes where they would sing cool R&B songs and do flips and stuff was the cudgel with which their coolness was impressed on the viewer. I can’t think of any movies before 1978 where you were simply invited to enjoy someone singing and being cool in the middle of a movie, but starting in the 80s, it becomes a staple: Tom Cruise rocking out in his underwear in Risky Business, the infamous Van Halen air guitar hamburger scene in Better Off Dead, Ferris Bueller performing Twist and Shout to the entire city of Chicago, etc. I’d never thought about it before, but I’m sure the watershed moment for this trope must have been Grease in 1978, which, by dint of being a musical, had Travolta suddenly being cool and and rocking out in all kinds of contexts. Movie execs must have realized the potential in this and started writing it into movies without worrying about how incongruous air-guitaring hamburgers might seem to future generations.