Harry Potter: Episode 1

J.K. Rowling bottled a potion that sent America, and the rest of the world, into supernatural Pottermania?and she packaged her potion in hardback books.

The story may seem to be a new one, but the formula for Potter’s wee-warlock success has been around arguably as long as stone tablets and the stylus?at least as long as George Lucas.

The pint-sized protg seems to be a carbon-copy epic hero straight from the same press that rolled out the likes of Gilgamesh, Herculese and Luke Skywalker?only Potter came complete with a few cool, new accessories.

Potter resembles most epic heroes, and the similarities between “Star Wars” and the Harry Potter series require a particularly concerted effort to miss. These similarities become as visible as Billy Graham at a bar mitzvah when you take a look at the profiles of young Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter:

Young boy loses both parents. Young boy raised by aunt and uncle. Young boy’s past is hazy. Boy seems to be gifted with some mystical power.

Mentors eventually arrive to teach young boy about his mystical powers.

Young boy combines with comrades to save all races everywhere from the forces of the Dark Side. Young boy has help of comrades, but eventually must face the final trial alone with his mystic powers.

Young boy wins. Universe is saved from the Dark Side.

But Skywalker and Potter aren’t the only homologous pair of characters from the original trilogy and the Potter series. The shaggy Hagrid and reliable Ron make tidy counterparts for Chewy and Han Solo respectively, although there may be some run over of Han’s characteristics in Hagrid.

Likewise, the astute Hermione may not be Potter’s sister, but she fills the somewhat precocious Princess Leia’s spot in the story’s formula quite nicely.

Obiwan finds the wise Dumbledore as his substitute in the Potter series. And Rowling might as well come right out and call Voldemort and his professor-assistant the Emperor and Darth Vader.

Episode 1 also makes no attempt to stray from the formula. Again, we have more mentors who find another young boy with extraordinary abilities. We have another precocious princess and the Council (the higher power for good). And, of course, there’s the ever-present, evil Darth Sidius (the Emperor) and his minion Darth Maul.

Stating these similarities has begun to make this article sound like an attack on Rowling’s and Lucas’ originality. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool fan and firmly believe that both the Star Wars saga and the Potter series depend heavily on intense creativity.

In reality, only 30 or 40 original plots exist, and whoever can tell them better in Hollywood brings home the blockbuster bacon.

America and the rest of the world love the formula stories. We love to see the little guy become a hero. It gives us all hope because most of us are little guys. We enjoy the suspense of wondering how the hero will rise to success against all odds.

All we demand is that the story, no matter how old or retold it may be, is entertaining.

Keeping these stories entertaining exacts an acute inventiveness, which Lucas and Rowling both possess in abundance.

At the heart of their inventive success lies escapism. Lucas takes us to another galaxy?far-removed from ours physically?while Rowling takes us to a culturally separate world that supposedly exists right under our noses. Both worlds intrigue us beyond measure because they take us out of our own work-a-day world into a place where boys are heroes and fireplaces are portals into a vast witch and wizard travel system.

The magic (excuse the pun) of these stories, then, lies not in the skeleton of the story, but in the flesh that the authors hang on the bones.

Rowling and Lucas give us odd details that draw us in until we not only find our imaginations escaping into these worlds, but we find ourselves wanting these worlds to be reality.

We see Ron Weasley’s (Harry’s bosom pal) family twirling gnomes over their heads and hurling them out of their garden like it’s as normal as having ears. Luke fixes droids like it’s as commonplace as brushing his teeth.

We secretly wish that we had some Floo powder and a fireplace to walk into. We re create scenes while talking to fans (in the tradition of the late Chris Farley).

We have light-saber fights, always thinking that our light saber noises and Darth Vader breathing sound more real than the next guy’s. James Earl Jones has got nothing on some of us.

No matter how old we are, we catch ourselves hoping that Put-outers (the lighter’s fictitious opposite), Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans and Nimbus 2000s will soon be available in supermarkets and toy stores everywhere. We fantasize about the books?as if it’s not strange enough that we’re over 18 and reading children’s books.

We love Luke and Harry.

Is all of this anything of which we should be ashamed? Should we shove the books quickly under a cushion when our roommates or members of our families walk into the room? Should our Harry Potter books occupy a different shelf than the one that our textbooks do?

Never! The day that we stop entering escapist worlds like the ones that Hollywood and superbly creative authors invent is the day we become imagination-anorexics. In a country where we are incensed by the Taliban’s ban on televisions in Afghanistan, we should have realized long ago that we wear our media consumerism like a badge of honor.

I’m 21-years-old and turning somersaults in anticipation of the release of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” I know that I’m not alone in my anticipation acrobatics.

Recently, when the producers of the upcoming blockbuster film brought preview audiences into theaters, they told them only that they were going to see a “family film.”

Sustained and lengthy applause erupted when the title of the film was announced.

The millions of dollars that we do and will spend on these films proves that America’s appetite for formula films and stories has done anything but wane.

For non-Potter fans: If you’ve read the books and still don’t like them, then you’re entitled to remain firmly ensconced in your slightly anti mainstream position.

If you haven’t read the books, at least give them a try, even if it’s behind closed doors. If you can do it before the film is unleashed, so much the better.

Call it Luke Skypotter, Harry Potwalker, call it whatever you like?It’s an old story with a new twist and it’s going to make a lot of people rich this weekend.

I’m sure that I’ll be $7.50 poorer, but I’ll have my bright badge of consumerism pinned proudly over my escapist heart.

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