Director: George Lucas
Star Wars has been in the news a lot lately what with Lucas selling to Disney and all. Also I spent all of last week watching Episode V on loop at work (the joys of working in a toy shop at half-term with a Star Wars themed week!!) so I finally thought I’d watch them properly – the original trilogy, the good films, anyway. “Lucas also created a mythology that has been embraced by young and old alike.” (617, Joanna Berry, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) We’ve had dads in the store who are more interested in playing with the light sabers than the kids are! It amazes me that kids born 30 years after the first film know who Yoda, Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, C3PO, R2D2 and Chewbacca are, along with all the newer characters of course. It’s a film, well a trilogy, that really has spanned the decades and generations and is still as fresh as it was on its initial release. Now I’m of the opinion that the prequels (I, II, and III) aren’t all that terrible. They don’t have that special quality the original trilogy has but aside from the quite frankly disastrous decision to create Jar Jar Binks they’re not too bad – Ewan McGregor is excellent as a young Obi-Wan, doing a remarkable job of filling the awesome shoes of Sir Alec Guinness! And they complete the story – you finally discover how such a sweet kid like Ankin became the big bad of the universe. But enough about the prequels and on to the main event.
There is something special about the opening credits (much like those of the Harry Potter series) when you see those unique scrolling subtitles disappearing up the screen coupled with the iconic music you know you’re about to embark upon an epic journey. And what a clever and neat way to provide the necessary back story. The cult phenomenon surrounding Star Wars continues to increase over the years rather than diminishing – and it’s one that reaches an incredibly varied group of people, not just nerds and geeks. And to think that like Joanna Berry says, “Star Wars could have turned out a bit silly.” (616)
“Lucas had much bigger ideas.” (616) It’s hard to watch A New Hope without thinking about just how iconic everything has become – Darth Vader’s unique breathing, Leia’s hairstyle, the Stormtroopers, Chewbacca’s whine, R2D2 and C3PO bickering like an old married couple, and the list goes on. I so want to be a Stormtrooper – their costumes are amazing!! And it’s all pervaded our everyday life especially the Jedi’s (an inordinate number of people put Jedi as their religion on the latest census don’t you know!)
“Writer-director George Lucas’s film was not expected to be a success. A “sci-fi Western” with a virtually unknown principal cast (Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher), studio bosses were so convinced the movie would flop that they happily gave Lucas the merchandising rights to any Star Wars products for free.” (616) I bet they will regret that decision for the rest of their lives considering just how popular the franchise is and has been all these long years later, with no signs of stopping.
Harrison Ford is perfect as Han Solo with this air of sex appeal surrounding him. There is this wonderful cockiness about Ford’s Solo. He’s very much the self-assured bad boy which makes him the favourite. And it’s the role (along with the impeccable Indiana Jones of course!) that really launched him to blockbuster star status where he has remained all these years. Princess Leia provides a wonderfully strong, capable and feisty role-model for any girl. She is the driving force behind the rebellion and very much an equal to any of the male characters. It’s the defining role for Carrie Fisher, her career never again reaching the success of Leia. I love the relationship between Han and Leia. They are so persnickety with each other that you know there is only one outcome for them.
The combination of Dave Prowse‘s physical performance and James Earl Jones’ vocal performance create a menacing foe, right up there with all the truly great cinematic villains. R2D2 is such an adorable and tenacious little droid played perfectly by the oft overlooked Kenny Baker. I never really liked Luke Skywalker all that much – he always came across as a petulant child, certainly in A New Hope. And like Carrie Fisher Star Wars is the shining moment of Mark Hamill’s career, one unable to survive following the conclusion of the trilogy. Sir Alec Guinness is magnanimous as Obi-Wan Kenobi, taking on the key role of Luke’s guide on his coming of age journey.
The sets are exquisite and all the tricks Lucas employs to create this out-of-this-world and yet entirely believable universe are outstanding especially when you think about the fact the first film was made in the 1970s. “A couple of decades before computer-generated images could be used to create fantastical worlds and distant planets, Lucas, using incredibly detailed models, clever photography, and well chosen locations […] tells the story of another universe.” (616-617) I have to admit that the prequels actually appear less real or rather less tactile due to their over reliance on computer generated imagery. It’s such an intricately created universe with innumerable species, creatures and vehicles … and it all ties together seamlessly. Light sabers are an awesome feat of imagination and just like Obi-Wan says “an elegant weapon” even if they are deadly. Everybody wants one and if they say they don’t then they’re just flat-out lying!!
The soundtrack is glorious ad one that’s imbedded deep within my brain (along with Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter) It’s the sort of thing you find yourself humming without even realizing you’re doing it. So much of the Star Wars universe has become shorthand for any number of things and appears in popular cinema, television and even adverts to this day. There are numerous references in The Big Bang Theory (2007-, Chuck Lorre), my favourite being Sheldon’s resemblance to C3PO, and one of the best moments in Paul (2011, Greg Mottola) where the red neck band are actually playing the Cantina band number from Mos Eisley. It’s become so much a part of everyday life that May 4th is widely regarded as Star Wars day … “May the 4th be with you!” The destruction of the Death Star is most definitely the set piece of the film and has influenced many films in the decades following its release – most noticeably for me in Independence Day (1996, Roland Emmerich) … but then I’ve watched it recently so it’s fresh in my mind.
The battle between Vader and Obi-Wan has always been an epic one (good vs evil; light vs dark) but for me it’s taken on a whole new meaning since watching the prequels and thus having the knowledge of the history behind the two characters. There is an intense spirituality within Star Wars most obviously evidenced in the Jedi religion and the belief in the Force. I particularly like the idea that no one truly leaves you even in death. It’s a powerful thing to believe in.
“In giving the world Star Wars, Lucas succeeded in making much more than just a movie (one that would eventually get its own exhibit at the Smithsonian, no less); he made a world, a new style of cinema, and an unforgettable outer space opera that has been many times imitated but never bettered. And you never can see the strings.” (617)