May the Force be with you
Star Wars is a 1977 epic space opera film written and directed by George Lucas that was later renamed Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope. The film stars Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Cushing, Alec Guinness, James Earl Jones, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, and Peter Mayhew.
Before we jump right into the thick of Star Wars' historical significance, it's probably necessary to flash back to 1975, two years prior to Star Wars' initial release. The day was June 20, 1975; the release date of Steven Spielberg's Jaws, a film that paved the way for establishing one of Hollywood's prototypical business models of high concept premises being backed by heavy advertising. Jaws was responsible for lifting Hollywood out of its five year slump and causing a massive overhaul in the film industry. Without the success of Jaws, who knows when the summer blockbuster would have become a major thing in the cinema, if ever? Jaws would also go on to become the highest grossing film of all time. That is, until George Lucas gave the film industry another overhaul just two years later with the release of Star Wars, which went on to out gross Jaws. The success of Star Wars is a watershed moment in motion picture history. Not only did it spawn an ever-growing industry of spinoffs, novels, comic books, video games, and toys, but it gave studios even more inspiration to move away from more lovey-dovey, personal films to big budget, high energy blockbuster spectacles that would appeal to younger audiences nationwide. Just to be clear, I don't believe that Star Wars should be considered a kids film, although it is certainly a film that young children will love and adore. Hell, I first saw it when I was about 11 or 12 years old. I don't quite remember. On its surface, Star Wars is a simple, straightforward space adventure. In 2017, that might not sound like much. But back in 1977? Seeing something like the Imperial ship fly over space in the film's opening minutes must have been nothing short of sublime.
What Star Wars had going for it that Jaws didn't was a wide array of special effects. Whereas Jaws thrived on its suspenseful thrills and realistic terror, Star Wars wowed audiences with its neat spacecrafts, shoot-em-up blaster battles, and the first of many light saber fights. Add to that a good story and memorable characters and you have yourself the beginning of what would become a cinematic behemoth that would eventually vacuum up money by the billions. I always wonder if George Lucas sat back in his chair one day and thought to himself, "Look at what I have created. Did I really think it would turn out like this?" Honestly, could Lucas have expected Star Wars to become the franchise so loved and passionately celebrated by millions of people everywhere? You wonder if the likes of J.K. Rowling and J. R. R. Tolkien asked the same question at some point.
The story of the original Star Wars is so wedged into pop culture that I feel little need to state it here. However, I don't want to be rude to any and all of you readers who may have never seen Star Wars before. Plus, it's only fair given the way I generally structure all my reviews. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a civil war has broken out between the Rebel Alliance and The Galactic Empire. Rebel spies (A.K.A. Jyn Erso and crew from Rogue One) have stolen the plans for the Death Star, the Empire's super weapon capable of destroying entire planets. Rebel leader Princess Leia (Fisher) hides the plans within the memory bank of the small droid R2-D2 (Baker). Leia's ship is attacked and captured by Imperial forces under the command of Darth Vader. However, R2-D2 and his cyborg buddy C-3PO manage to flee in an escape pod down onto the desert planet Tatooine. While wandering Tatooine, R2 and C-3PO are captured by Jawa traders, and are later sold to the family of Luke Skywalker (Hamill). Luke accidentally triggers part of a message that Leia leaves inside R2, in which she requests the help of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Luke believes that Obi-Wan might have a connection with the old hermit Ben Kenobi (Guinness). Luke and the droids manage to find Ben Kenobi, who reveals himself to actually be Obi-Wan. From there, the two meet up with greedy smuggler Han Solo (Ford) and strike a deal in which Solo will take Obi-Wan, Luke, and the droids to Leia's home planet of Alderaan to deliver the Death Star plans in exchange for a hefty sum of money.
Lucas was coming off his successful 1973 hit American Graffiti, but the seeds of Star Wars were planted before then. Lucas completed his first feature length film, THX 1138, in 1971, and it was shortly after the film's release that Lucas had first come up with an idea of doing some sort of space fantasy film. Initially, it was Lucas's intention to make an adaptation of the Flash Gordon space adventure comics, largely because of how much he enjoyed them in his youth. He was unable to obtain the rights, however, and this led to Lucas creating his own Flash Gordon. Writing began in January 1973, and Lucas tried to get Universal Rights to fund his idea.
They passed. Just like they did with American Graffiti. So Lucas decided to go to Universal Pictures, who picked up American Graffiti. Nope. They passed too, calling Lucas' Star Wars idea "a little strange." A lot of studio heads didn't give a damn about science fiction since it wasn't particularly popular in the mid 70's. You could point to 60's works like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Planet of the Apes which were big on the more psychological arguments that science fiction normally addresses without intending to be entertaining spectacles (although Planet of the Apes can be appropriately regarded as an entertaining adventure). Lucas had a different vision. He wanted a science fiction world that could hearken back to the type of non-pretentious fun that Lucas' generation experienced. It wasn't a movie that stiff studio heads could discuss business over in a stuffy board room. It was a film that was loose, humble, and, above all else, fun.
- You don't need to memorize every Star Wars related Wiki page out there to find the film an enjoyable 125 minute ride. The premise is simple and easy to follow, and there's plenty of action sequences to keep you entertained. It's something so straightforward, and yet so effective. When your movie's sense of fun is a high point, you've certainly done something right.
- The pacing. Star Wars is a film in which a lot happens, and yet, it never comes off as sluggish or rushed. The film moves along at a steady pace keeping you simultaneously informed and entertained. There's not one dull moment or point where the plot feels stuck with nowhere to go. Many little moments throughout the film continue to be discussed to this day, such as the infamous "Who Shot First" scene between Han Solo and Greedo in the Mos Eisley Cantina.
- We can praise Star Wars and all its success to no end. However, there is one problem that I'm sure many fans are aware of, but simply choose to ignore. That is the fact that some of the acting is pretty bad. Mark Hamill has an awkward time speaking some of his lines, such as his robotic insult towards the Millenium Falcon ("What a piece of junk!"). Fisher suffers from largely the same problem, not acting nearly as distraught as she probably should be during certain scenes. And Harrison Ford? I can't believe I'm daring to say that he looks nervous and on edge in his early scenes, as if Ford feared that he could get fired with just one screw up. Ford actually found the dialogue to be very difficult, and he originally wasn't allowed to audition for the film because he starred in American Graffiti. Hamill, Fisher, and Ford all get better in the later films, but someone who certainly isn't bad is mister Alec Guinness, who looks perfectly comfortable playing an elderly Obi-Wan.
Let me leave you with this. It is not enough to call Star Wars a great film. There are great films that come out every year, and a lot of them come and go with little to no traction. Star Wars was not a fad that just peaked and fell back in the late 70's. It was the beginning of an eventual multi-billion dollar franchise that is still coming out with new and exciting films in the 21st century. But it doesn't end there. Star Wars is a primary example of the inherent power of the cinema and, more specifically, the visual medium. The ability to catch the attention and approval of people by the millions is a powerful thing, and Star Wars is one of those rare gems that has been able to do it for decades. A simple, fun space adventure turned into something more. Much more. It turned into a world that has only gotten better with age; a world that children and adults of all ages can love wholeheartedly.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: