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Matt's Star Wars Review
I saw Star Wars for the first time when I was five years old. Star Wars is one of a handful of films that I could point to as inspiring my love of film. I'm not 5 years old anymore, and with the impending release of yet another trilogy (Episodes 7-9), I thought this would be an opportune time to take an objective look at the original films.
Star Wars was released to critical acclaim (and academy awards) in 1977. To say it made a lot of money would be understating things. More than that, Star Wars resonated with the people that saw it in a very profound way. It has worked its way into our culture and our vernacular, and the film business was forever changed (for good or ill). That being said, it wasn't a hit with everyone. Like the rest of Science Fiction and Fantasy, people either love it, or they hate it. In terms of film history, the Star Wars films are shining examples of what a blockbuster should look like.
- Good movies begin with source material. Sometimes that means a novel, sometimes a script. Star Wars was a script, and it was very well written. The dialog is sharp, the plot is compelling and there are very few wasted scenes in this film. That being said, while it is brilliant in its world building, there is not a lot of sophistication going on here. Most science fiction has political underpinnings, but the first Star Wars film is thematically all over the place. R2-D2 and C-3PO, once on the planet Tatooine, are captured, and sold to the Skywalkers as slaves. The empire is clearly an overbearing government entity resembling tyranny, but the realities of life under the rule of the empire is never really explored in any meaningful way. Likewise, the genocide committed against the Jedi is mentioned, but does not become integral to the storyline until The Empire Strikes Back - when the true gravity of what being the last of the Jedi means is explained to Luke.So the seeds of many different thematic messages are planted, but in the end, none are actually paid off. But none of the above diminishes the rating because the melting-pot effect of all the storytelling tropes and devices was done on purpose. George Lucas took a lot of different elements, from a lot of different sources to make this movie, and the result was somehow a fun, cohesive, whole. Star Wars would be one of the rare occasions where you want to sit back and enjoy the experience.
- When we talk about the role of women in film, and how female characters gradually became stronger over the years, it is usually Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor we talk about. It's not that hard to see why, but I have always thought Leia Organa was a strong character well ahead of her time. Far from being a push-over, she spends most of the movie ordering people around, and for a damsel in distress, she spends an awful lot of time shooting the bad guys. Leia's characterization and Carrie Fisher's performance is one of the many reasons Star Wars is still good more than 30 years later.
- In terms of tone, Star Wars is a relatively light-hearted film compared to its two sequels. There is a lot of humor in this film, but it's clever, and never goofy. There are moments of drama and tragedy, but the film never dwells on the negative. The joy showcased here is a characteristic of an era of film that is long gone.
The Special Editions
I could write an entire article on the special editions alone, and why they suck. Instead of doing anything that long winded and self indulgent, I've decided that only a handful of points really need to be made on the subject. It really is a unique situation in the history of film, and as such, it really can't be ignored.
- First of all, the act of creating the special editions is not the issue here. We could look at the Special Editions as a strange form of "director's cut". It is the systematic elimination of the original cut of the film that really poses the problem. Altering a film that is considered a classic, with new and improved visual effects shows disrespect, both to the fans and the other members of the crew that made the movie.
- From a pure technical standpoint, restoring the scene with Jabba the Hut makes no sense. If you actually watch the scene and read the dialogue, it contains no information or details that we don't already know from the scene with Greedo (R.I.P.). The redundancy issue is what landed that scene on the cutting room floor to begin with. Putting something like that back into the movie disrupts the pacing of this film. I'd also argue that introducing Jabba the Hut in this film undermines the build-up to his introduction in Return of the Jedi.
- The special editions were released in theaters in 1997. I was 11, and so excited to see Star Wars on the big screen that the larger implications of the changes didn't even occur to me at the time. My friends and I then went home to our VHS copies and more or less disregarded the Special Editions altogether. This story only matters because, we never sought out the "new and improved" versions of the film after we saw them in the theater. At 11, we were the target audience, and no matter what Lucas' intention might have been, upgrading the effects really didn't make much of an impression on us. It was more of an interesting novelty than anything else. We were attached to the story, the characters, and the galaxy far far away, and our love for the films had very little if anything to do with the effects.
- No matter who your favorite character in Star Wars might be, Luke Skywalker, played by Mark Hamill, is the star of this film. While he's not introduced until about 15 minutes into the film, it is he that provides the first real emotional resonance in Star Wars, and it is his heroic journey we follow through the Star Wars trilogy. Hamill brings a lot of different qualities to this initial performance. Luke is young, bright eyed, idealistic, and maybe a touch arrogant. Mark Hamill's performance as Skywalker is iconic to this day, and while his career in live-action film did not go far beyond Star Wars, he did a lot of voice work. He even developed another cult following for his voicing of The Joker in Batman: the Animated Series.
- The Legend of Harrison Ford really begins here with his portrayal of Han Solo. He is the picture of the overconfident, wise-cracking rogue in this film. An excellent, hard boiled counterpoint to Hamill's Skywalker. Han Solo was an instant fan favorite, and Ford would be one of the greatest leading men of his day. Ford's performance might be the strongest in the film.
- Carrie Fisher's performance as Leia was as iconic as it was groundbreaking. In my opinion, she is possibly the most unsung of the original cast members of Star Wars. Fisher brought a perfect balance of strength and vulnerability to the character. She was excellent.
Music, Cinematography and Special Effects
- In the history of film scores, there are the good ones, the bad ones, the classics, and then there's Star Wars. Composed by the legendary John Williams, the music of Star Wars is so iconic. even those that are not Star Wars fans can recognize it. This is a first class effort by one of the greatest composers that ever lived. There will never be another John Williams, and the influence of his compositions will persist in film long after he passes on.
Williams' work on the first Star Wars is only the baseline for a large tapestry of musical cues that stretch over the course of the trilogy. Most notable here will be the main theme, the Luke Skywalker theme, and the Princess Leia theme. I defy anyone not to be moved by beauty of these compositions, and I absolutely recommend listening to the Star Wars soundtrack.
- The cinematography here is most notable during the desert sequences on the planet Tatooine. Once off Tatooine, it's almost all sets. The set designs are all excellent, whether they are in the Millennium Falcon or plumbing the depths of the death star, there's not an unbelievable moment in this film. It's all very convincingly done.
- Star Wars won the Oscar for Special Effects the year it came out, and it's not hard to see why. Getting the ships to fly in space and have it be convincing was an achievement at the time. The special effects work didn't stop there though. The intricacies of the ship designs, the make-up done on all the non-human characters was also top-notch. Watch for the scene in the Cantina at Mos Eisley Space Port. It is classic. There was no CGI in 1977. Everything you see here was done with matte paintings, practical effects, models, puppets and every other technique that was available at the time. It all adds up to immerse the viewer in this strange and exciting galaxy, and it's a monumental achievement.
The Bottom Line
No one, not even George Lucas could have predicted the impact that Star Wars would have. The original Star Wars is a classic film, one that I firmly believe everyone should watch at least once. It's a joyous adventure and a truly singular cinematic experience. 10/10