What am I doing here? What have I gotten myself into? What do you even say about one of the most beloved science fiction franchises in movie history? I grew up with the Star Wars series, but I'm certainly no expert. I don't have any information for die-hard fans you can't find elsewhere. What I can do is help those of you out there who haven't already seen any of the movies decide if it's worth your time. I can help you decide if the original series is worth checking out if you saw the new ones and are unsure. So if you've seen the original Star Wars movies recently I won't be offended if you decide to leave, but if you haven't seen them recently or ever, hopefully I can assist in decided whether you'll enjoy watching George Lucas's Star Wars (1977) with my final review for my Childhood Favorites Week. I'll be sure to keep it spoiler free as long as I can.
Star Wars is an epic sci-fi fantasy adventure film, and as such it has several prominent characters, but it can be said with some level of certainty that Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is this movie's protagonist. He's a small-town boy with dreams of seeing the universe, and these dreams start to come true when his uncle buys two droids who are (sort of) on a mission involving the Rebellion against the Galactic Empire. Luke joins up with local Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness), and together they hire the smuggler Han Solo (Harrison Ford) to fly them on their mission to save Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher). Together they go on adventures, join space battles, and face off against the evil Empire ruled by the sinister Darth Vader (acted by David Prowse and voiced by James Earl Jones).
Talk about in medias res. Not only does George Lucas start us off in the middle of the series (the first movie is "Episode IV"), and not only does he start us off in the middle of a galactic revolution against a corrupt interplanetary government, but the movie itself starts us off in the middle of a battle, with Princess Leia's spaceship being boarding by an Imperial starcruiser. We are given our emotional and ethical coordinates immediately: Princess Leia and her rebels are the good guys, the Galactic Empire and its militaristic embodiment Darth Vader are the bad guys (an anti-government position common to 70's and 80's cinema which modern audiences ought to appreciate). The plot may be generic, but the story is told with a wonderful level of detail and tension control. Also, for those of you skeptical about the genre, there's a minimum of science fiction nonsense (babbling about how future technology works, etc.). The movie just goes and expects you to either enjoy coming along for the ride or remain parked at Mos Eisley.
The biggest worry for most people regarding sci-fi oldies like this one is whether or not the special effects are just going to look silly to a modern audience. And with movie like Tron I can totally understand this type of skepticism (despite my love for Tron). For Star Wars, however, this is not the case. Star Wars exists because of George Lucas's love of storytelling, not because he saw some fancy new technology and thought, "Hey, I could make a movie with that!" All of the spaceship battles are done using models, and these models are incredibly detailed a combination which results in spaceships that look about as realistic as spaceships can. There are exactly two scenes where I think an audience used to contemporary sci-fi might feel the special effects are somewhat lacking, and they both have to do with the lightsabers and take up only a couple of seconds of the movie.
When rewatching this movie my main feeling with regard to the special effects was "I cannot believe this movie came out before Alien." The model work and practical effects do all the lifting required to create an immersive science fiction universe. Which makes me wonder why, in 1997, the original trilogy was rereleased with extra sequences using modern computer-generated imagery. The CGI, while not as awful as some I might mention, really just doesn't look that great. It has aged much worse than the original effects from the unedited movie and just doesn't fit in with the rest of the film's aesthetics.
For you movie nerds or film students out there, this movie doesn't have a whole lot going for it in the cinematography department beside working around the models and special effects. Lucas does, however, imitate the cinema of the famous Japanese director Akira Kurosawa (especially his samurai films). He uses wipes in a similar way, and George Lucas has stated that Star Wars was influenced in no small part by Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress (1958). While I definitely see the similarities in film style and story structure, the experience of watching the two movies are incomparable (not because one is objectively better than the other, but simply because they're very different movies).
If you've seen the new Star Wars movies and aren't sure whether you'll like the originals, one of the biggest differences I felt between the two was the focus on storytelling. The original Star Wars does an amazing job creating a complex world with really just a ridiculous level of detail, and the writing for the newer Star Wars movies shifted to a more narrow focus on character development (fewer characters have emotional complexities) and placed more emphasis on orchestrating epic battles. This first installment has a diverse cast of enjoyable characters on both the good and evil side of the fence. On top of this, there are really only two battles in the movie (one on foot and one in space) and they're saved for the end so that they feel more climactic, whereas the new movies do silly things like open in the middle of a massive battle (the battle that opens this episode lasts a few seconds and serves more to illustrate the political tension between the Rebllion and the Empire).
Because of this, the original Star Wars spends more time fleshing out the details of its awesome universe while the newer movies fail to live up to their potential. Even just based on the opening crawl of the first movie, there's an immense amount of interstellar politics to work out between the Rebellion and the Galactic Empire that just never gets dealt with. I was disappointed with the new movies when they came out, but not nearly as disappointed as I was after revisiting the first voyage. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe in time, when we've had longer to appreciate the new movies, I'll regret these words. But at this point, the storytelling in the recent films just looks like garbage compared to their ancestors.
Thank you to everyone who stuck with me for my Childhood Favorites Week. Here's your reward: some lists.
My Top 5 Beers (most purely enjoyable)
1. Star Wars
2. Top Gun
3. Back to the Future
4. Raiders of the Lost Ark
5. Independence Day
My Top 5 Zizeks (most fun to think about)
1. Raiders of the Lost Ark
2. Top Gun
3. Star Wars
4. Independence Day
5. Back to the Future