Thirty years ago, American film audiences pressed low in their seats as a massive white wedge of machine parts passed overhead. With the release of George Lucas’s Star Wars, the smooth, silvery flying saucers that had dominated postwar sci-fi became embarrassing reminders of an obsolete vision of the future. Lucas envisioned a World of Tomorrow dominated by black, white, and gray; hard-edged, massive, and inorganic forms, covered with a salty acne of apparatus. The film’s visual program was a departure from the saucers and occasional capsules writ large that sci-fi audiences had grown accustomed to, but its colorless symmetrical ships should have been recognizable to at least a small portion of its audience—those familiar with contemporary art. In a 1967 essay on minimalism, Clement Greenberg, America’s most influential critic, could have been describing Star Wars: “Everything is rigorously rectilinear or spherical. Development within a given piece is usually repetition of the same modular shape, which may or may not be varied in size.”
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