It's a fact: Star Wars is a blatant plagiarism of an
ancient Asian legend, and the long lines of devout Star
Wars freaks are really unscrupulous Asian copyright
busters. From Indonesia to Thailand to Nepal, videos are
available for sale or rent before they're even released in
the US and UK due to this nerdy camcorder-clutching bunch.
Video salesmen in neat neon-lit video shops, in fish-gut wretched markets, from
cities like Bangkok to teeny provincial towns out in bandit country, sell or
rent videos with either, "not for sale or rent" constantly running on the
bottom of the screens, or the silhouettes of a cinema audience and the sounds
of giggles and gasps over the soundtrack. Their agents get into press shows in
the US and Europe and furtively record the screen, selling their copies at
insane profit when they get back to Asia. According to the Guardian, there is
but one copy of The Phantom Menace in Hong Kong, and it's being copied
and distributed in mainland China complete with audience silhouettes and crappy
sound. That one must turn a pretty penny.
Asia missed out on the first Star Wars movies because not many people had
tellies then. The second lot are bound to get popular when people realize they
are plagiarized from an ancient legend that has had a profound influence on
Just like Star Wars, there are two epics with the same families, and one
preceding the other. The Ramayana is the most famous legend, carved on
kilometers of temple walls from Angkor Wat to Borobudur, and it closely
resembles the first Star Wars films. The prequel to the Ramayana is the
Mahabharata, and I deeply suspect The Phantom Menace and its parts will
closely resemble it.
All of Star Wars is steeped in Eastern mythology anyway. Luke's a Jedi,
right? Balinese go worship at the local Chedi. Coincidence? I rather think not.
The legend itself is so startlingly similar to Star Wars, both in plot
The plot's the same; you can go check that out for yourself: Princess gets
kidnapped by the forces of evil, goodie and his swashbuckling mates go and
rescue her, and destroy the forces of evil too. The only difference is that
while Luke Skywalker becomes a Jedi Knight, Rama, the hero of the Ramayana,
blossoms as the human incarnation of Vishnu.
The original Star Wars was the most expensive movie ever made, and
inspired filmmakers to concentrate on mega-impressive "blockbusters." The
Ramayana has inspired thousands of temples to be built, from Angkor Wat, the
largest religious building in the world -- a snip at 886 years old -- to the
dinkiest backyard spirit house in Thailand. The temples built in honor of Rama
and his chums, and their heroic deeds, are the biggest and most ambitious in
the world. Kilometers of bas-reliefs at Angkor Wat show Rama battling the
forces of evil. If you walk clockwise around the ninth century temple of
Borobudur in Java, the story unfolds in a comic-book series of carvings. The
scale of these carvings, and the intricacy and care and love shown by the
craftsmen, were the special effects of the day.
The Ramayana has been called the epic to end all epics. The story is so popular
that once upon a time the Indian elections had to be rescheduled so they didn't
conflict with the serialization on the telly. Millions of Asian mums try to get
their kids to respect and follow the Way of Rama, as spelt out in the story.
Every child from Nepal to Indonesia to Southern Viet Nam has heard the story
and cannot fail to recognize it in the Star Wars films.
Yet the original Star Wars pretty much passed Asia by. But that was in
the '70s, when television sets were still rare and electricity sporadic. Now
that people watch more telly, the movies are set to make a killing. The
Handycam toting copyright busters have already got there: The Phantom
Menace is available on video in the Russian Market in Phnom Penh, Panthip
Plaza in Bangkok, and just about everywhere in Hong Kong.
Your faithful correspondent, Oliver Green, Freaking Speally