The Force Is Strong With This One: Kevin Smith


There was a time during the early 90’s when Star Wars didn’t permeate every facet of the news. It was a dark time for fans. There weren’t any Episode I rumors. There certainly were no Episode VII rumors. You wouldn’t have seen any new Star Wars action figures at your local Wal-Mart or even Toys “R” Us. You wouldn’t have heard many folks discussing the films much outside of sci-fi conventions.

Thankfully, it didn’t take too long for Star Wars to begin reappearing in subtle ways here and there. Timothy Zahn’s pivotal Heir to the Empire was published in May of ’91 and made the New York Times bestseller list. Fans began to hear rumblings of George Lucas’ plans for filming a new trilogy of films. Still, Star Wars was hard to come by.

The number of Star Wars references found in movies and television had almost completely disappeared by the year 1994, the same year that director Kevin Smith‘s debut film Clerks reached theaters. With the low budget Clerks, Smith brought something completely new to the table. Here was a film that put the author’s knowledge of popular culture on front street. It was clear that he wore his heart on his sleeve and fortunately for us, a large portion of that heart belonged to Star Wars.

The original theatrical poster for Kevin Smith‘s Clerks.

The pair of sarcastic employees who serve as the titular clerks in the movie; Dante Hicks and Randal Graves, discussed pop culture like no one else had ever heard of. Suddenly, there were characters on the screen who were making references to Star Wars in ways that only true fans could relate to.

In one iconic scene from Clerks, Dante and Randal converse about the second Death Star in Return of the Jedi and argue over whether or not the laborers involved in its’ construction deserved to lose their lives during the Battle of Endor.

"“My friend here is trying to convince me that any independent contractors who were working on the uncompleted Death Star were innocent victims when it was destroyed by the Rebels.”"

It was obvious that the man responsible for writing such material was a serious fan of the Wars. Smith would continue to inject a healthy level of Star Wars humor into much of his material throughout his filmmaking career. Along the way, the writer and director would create his own cinematic universe akin to George Lucas‘ galaxy far, far away. The Askewniverse; named so in reference to Smith‘s View Askew production company, followed the misadventures of a pair of would be drug peddlers named Jay and Silent Bob. With each new View Askew release, the loudmouthed Jay and his tight lipped counterpart found themselves on a collision course with the film’s protagonists. Fans of Smith‘s work would come to recognize Jay and Silent Bob [portrayed onscreen by Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith, respectively] for playing a role much like that of droids C-3PO and R2-D2 in Star Wars, unintentionally saving the day all the while providing a heavy dose of comedy.

In the clip below, Kevin Smith discusses with MTV News how Star Wars directly influenced much of his early work in film:

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Smith followed Clerks with Mallrats in ’95, when Jay and Bob were given even more of a spotlight, this time in full color [Clerks was filmed in black and white]. Mallrats follows the story of two love scorned teenagers who find solace from their troubled relationships at the local shopping mall. As with his previous film, Smith once again would instill his love of all things nerdy into the script. There were plenty of great Star Wars references, with Smith himself providing perhaps the most memorable of the bunch.

Near the end of Mallrats, Silent Bob is tasked with installing a video player in order to broadcast some incriminating footage of the sleazy Shannon, played by a young Ben Affleck. It’s a frame up of the most devious kind, the details of which will not be shared here. Bob is nearly complete in his mission when the VHS tape he’s holding falls from his grasp, landing much too far away for him to reach on his own. In a clever nod to Luke Skywalker‘s escape from the wampa cave on Hoth, he calls upon the Force in order to retrieve the out-of-reach video tape. The trick works [in a sense], and a bemused Bob succeeds in saving the day yet again. When Jay remarks that he actually pulled off “the Jedi mind trick”, Smith‘s Silent Bob finally allows himself his only line of dialogue in the entire film by quoting Jedi Master Yoda himself…

"“Adventure? Excitement? A Jedi craves not these things.”"

Enjoy the antics of a young Jay and Silent Bob, shown below in a clip from 1995’s Mallrats: WARNING: This clip contains language that is NOT suitable for younglings.

Smith continued to send Jay and Silent Bob on many adventures over the following decade, with both himself and Jason Mewes making memorable appearances in 1997’s Chasing Amy and 1999’s Dogma. In 2001’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Smith pulled out all the stops in wrapping up the adventures of his Askewniverse characters. This time, the Star Wars connections were even more over the top and obvious. Even the title of the movie was a clear reference to The Empire Strikes Back.

In what was intended to be the final chapter of Jay and Bob‘s adventures, the duo discover that their likenesses are being used for a movie without their permission, therefore preventing them from earning any profit from said movie. They set out on a journey to Hollywood and encounter many zany characters on their way, which lends the movie ample opportunities for some classic cameos. In one such cameo, Carrie Fisher appears as a nun who gets more than she bargains for after picking up our hitchhiking heroes. Though only a short scene, Fisher shines with her trademark wit and grace.

Carrie Fisher gives Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith a ride in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.

Kevin Smith yields his bong saber as Bluntman aka Silent Bob in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.

The real highlight of J&SBSB comes with an explosive entrance by Mark Hamill during the film’s climax. Hamill is an absolute delight in the scene, playing an exaggerated version of himself who in turn plays the villain of the “movie within a movie”, Bluntman and Chronic. His outrageous turn as Cocknocker pits him against our heroes in a duel lifted straight from a Star Wars movie, complete with “bong sabers”, Smith’s own take on the elegant weapon for a more legalized age.

To watch Kevin Smith‘s outrageous antiheroes face off against the mighty Mark Hamill, check out this incredibly funny clip from Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back: WARNING: This video is NOT safe for younglings. This video includes adult language and heavy use of drug references! Enjoy:

Following the release of Clerks II in 2006, Kevin Smith began to focus on other projects outside of film. In February of 2007, Smith and longtime friend/producer Scott Mosier launched SModcast, a weekly podcast that featured the two discussing a myriad of subjects ranging from the mundane to the surreal. The wry humor of Mosier and the pot influenced merriment of Smith helped to create a perfect storm of hilarity that eventually led to the creation of the SModcast network, an entire program of shows hosted by Smith and his friends. Of course, there would be no shortage of Star Wars talk throughout the hundreds of SModcast episodes that followed.

The SModcast network has continued to grow since its’ inception in ’07 and now includes many shows in which Smith sits down with guests to converse about film, comic books, family, and more. Smith would eventually find himself interviewing Cocknocker himself; Mark Hamill, during a two hour episode of Fat Man on Batman; a podcast which revolves around Smith‘s adoration of the Dark Knight.

To listen in on the incredible conversation between Kevin Smith and Mark Hamill, you can find the two-part episode here and here.

Throughout his entire career, Smith has carried a burning passion for Star Wars and a love for his fellow fans. As reported by DSOTF a week ago, Smith recently spoke of his visit to the set of Star Wars: Episode VII during a panel at San Diego Comic Con. It wasn’t the first time that he has gushed over the Wars in front of hundreds of fellow fanboys.

In August of 2012, Smith appeared as a guest at Star Wars Celebration VI in Orlando, Florida. There he would entertain well over a thousand excited Star Wars fans during his live stage show An Evening with Kevin Smith. While taking questions from the audience, Smith impressed the crowds with his knowledge of Star Wars all the while providing tremendous laughs. The highlight of the evening came not with a joke, but a touching story that Smith would share about a childhood friend and their mutual love of Star WarsSmith is a masterful storyteller and there was not a dry eye in the house by the time he was through reminiscing.

To hear a sentimental Kevin Smith regale the Star Wars Celebration VI crowds with tales both hilarious and maudlin, check out the full live audio recording here.

It’s clear to see that Star Wars fans owe a tip of their hat to Smith, whether they’re a fan of his films or not. He’s a self professed fanboy who has always displayed his love for the saga proudly, even when it wasn’t cool. Star Wars has come a long way from the dark times of the early 90’s and has once again become an inescapable touchstone of popular culture. Kevin Smith is one filmmaker who has never made apologies for his love of Star Wars and in doing so, has helped preserve its’ legacy through his unique brand of humor.