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Guardians of the Galaxy isn't Star Wars and That's OK


Marvel took a gamble this summer on a third tier comic property called Guardians of the Galaxy.  Even the most ardent fans of what the Marvel/Disney machine have been pumping out of their cinematic universe were concerned that Guardians of the Galaxy might be the first flop.  The string of successes and increase picture over picture for properties like Iron Man, Thor and Captain America allowed Marvel Studios to take the risk.  As we saw it ended up being the number one grossing movie in the US and third worldwide for 2014.  I feel that Marvel accomplished this by taking most of the things that made Star Wars THE space epic sensation that it was and doing the opposite.
Guardians of the Galaxy was able to ditch the now traditional music score made famous by John Williams and used in most genre films thereafter.  James Gunn opted for 70’s pop music to guide us through Peter Quill’s encounters with strange worlds and stranger characters.  Just as John Williams opening fanfare and George Lucas’ crawl sucked us into the world of Star Wars, James Gunn did the same with 10 cc’s “I’m Not In Love” and Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love”.  The Guardians soundtrack had such an impact on the movie and the moviegoing audience that the soundtrack was just recently certified Platinum.  
With Star Wars, George Lucas gave us Luke Skywalker as the main character and our introduction into a larger world.  With Guardians, we got Peter Quill, a scoundrel, thief, and a womanizer on a good day.  He teams up with a band of equally questionable characters.  Gamora (the killer), Drax (the destroyer), Rocket (bounty hunter, ex-con), Groot (Rocket’s muscle).  A pretty sharp contrast to Luke, Leia, Chewbacca, C-3PO, and R2-D2.  Granted Han Solo’s scoundrel has more in common with Quill than Luke Skywalker but he’s the exception and not the rule.  The characters of Guardians are motivated by their own agendas through most of the movie.  It isn’t until the end that they decide to work together for the greater good at their own expense.  With Star Wars everyone except Han Solo is working for the greater good from the outset.  Their goal is to topple an evil Empire from ruling the Galaxy with an iron fist.  
Guardians was able to use fullly CGI characters that didn’t make people throw things at the screen. Where Jar Jar Binks was loathed, Rocket and Groot showed that you can create fully CGI characters that connect with the audience and are believable.  With three words Vin Diesel and the animators at ILM sold Groot as a real character.
Star Wars took place a long time ago in a galaxy far far away.  This kept things mysterious.  How long ago? How far away?  I always felt this was done so as not to make comparisons to Earthbound sci-fi hits such as Star Trek, Alien, 2001 A Space Odyssey, etc.  Guardians kept us within our universe and tied to Earth.  Peter Quill was born on Earth and taken to the stars.  There are obvious ties to current Marvel Cinematic Universe features such as Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The First Avenger, and The Avengers.  For us geeks, it pulled us in closer to the world created by James Gunn.  For more casual fans, it allowed them to see something familiar, something they’ve seen elsewhere and enhance that Marvel brand.  
In the end I’m not trying to say that Guardians of the Galaxy is a better movie or franchise than Star Wars.  Guardians was able to finally move away from the Star Wars model of space epic that many filmmakers have tried to copy unsuccessfully over the past 38 years.  Guardians broke that mold and gave us a new space epic to root for.  A new space epic that has us all humming songs that most people have never heard before and others haven’t heard in decades. A new space epic that can give us the nostalgia we’re craving and the newness we’ve come to expect.  A new space epic that proves this genre can make us feel the way we did that summer in 1977.  Now that Marvel and Lucasfilm are in the same house it makes it all the more special.  After all, it’s all connected...