Star Wars (1977)

22 Nov


Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

What can I say about “Star Wars” (or as it has since been called, “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope”) that no one else has said about it before? It was a cinematic game-changer when it originally released in 1977. It changed the way we look at film. Many have tried to imitate its brilliance with little to no success. It made the science-fiction genre respectable again. It began a revolution in special effects, thanks to Industrial Lights and Magic. And it’s still influential now, even after almost 40 years since its original release.

I agree with everything said by those who have hailed it as a masterpiece. In fact, it’s one of my all-time favorite movies. So what can I say about it that no one else has? Probably nothing. But I’ll review the film anyway.

There is one thing I will say about it. I have never seen the Special Edition, and frankly, I don’t care to either. Seeing what was done with “updated effects” in “E.T.” was painful enough, and so I felt I didn’t need to see Jabba the Hutt’s appearance in an extended version or the possibility that Greedo shot first instead of Han. With that said, I am reviewing the original theatrical cut (which was titled “Star Wars” without the subtitle “A New Hope”) because that’s the only version I’ve seen and held in high regard.

With that said, the effects back then still hold up pretty well. I believe I am seeing starships soaring into space; I believe I’m within the vastness of space; I believe I’m seeing a real battle in space; and the practical effects are outstanding as well, adding more to the universe. The technical aspects from back in the day still look impressive even now. (Some of the computer graphics are noticeably dated, but even then, I don’t mind too much.)

For those who don’t know the story, even if it’s a rare few, the film is about a civil war in the galaxy. The Rebel Alliance is in hiding and the evil Darth Vader (performed by David Prowse, voiced by James Earl Jones) seeks them out after they’ve stolen plans for the Galactic Empire’s Death Star, a space station with enough power to destroy planets. Rebel leader Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) hides data containing the information in a droid called R2-D2, which escapes with fellow protocol droid C-3P0 (Anthony Daniels), before she is taken prisoner. R2-D2 and C-3P0 manage to make their way onto a desert planet, Tatooine, where they are captured by traders and sold to moisture farmers, where they meet Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), the farmers’ young nephew. Luke receives the message Leia left in R2-D2 and thinks he knows who the message is intended for—an “Obi-Wan” Kenobi, who may be an old family friend named Ben Kenobi (Alec Guinness).

Believe it or not, that’s only the first half-hour of “Star Wars.” While we’re introduced to these new worlds, we’re getting a good sense of back-story. It was a masterstroke on writer-director George Lucas’ part to begin the film from the perspective of these two droids—two strange beings we’re learning about and learning from. And the opening shot is just brilliant—a Rebel fighter ship being overpowered by a much larger Empire ship; it lets you know right away that the Empire has the upper hand. I also like that Luke, despite being the main character, isn’t introduced for about 20 minutes. It keeps us guessing in that sense.

Anyway, Luke meets the aging Ben Kenobi and learns that he was once known as “Obi-Wan” when he was a Jedi Knight. He’s a teacher of the mysterious Force, a mystic energy that can help bring balance to the universe. Luke also learns that his late father, who he never knew, was once a Jedi Knight before he was destroyed by the dark side. Kenobi convinces Luke to join him and the droids on a quest to rescue Leia, join the Rebels, and destroy the Death Star. They hire a smuggler/pilot, named Han Solo (Harrison Ford), and his first mate, hairy Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), and they set off into space to carry out the mission.

At the heart of “Star Wars” is a science-fiction coming-of-age tale with Luke in the center of the action, accepting his destiny as a soldier in the fight for freedom in the galaxy. He gets his chance to join the battle against evil and is not the same person he was by the time the movie ends. It’s a strong arc that gets better by the film’s second sequel.

The performances are adequate but suitable for the material. (Sometimes I have to wonder what Lucas’ intent was when he was directing Fisher, who delivers an on-again/off-again British accent.) They play familiar types with enough personality to make them individuals and their portrayals are improved upon in the sequels, “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” (both of which, I’ll get to later). Mark Hamill is the would-be hero with some learning to do, Harrison Ford is the cocky, wisecracking ally, Carrie Fisher is the kind-hearted but stubborn warrior princess, Alec Guinness is the wise old leader, Anthony Daniels is the worried comic-relief, Peter Cushing (as villainous Governor Tarkin) is a leader that’ll remind you of a Fuhrer Nazi, and David Prowse/James Earl Jones is an intimidating dark lord who will use the Force to get what he wants and doesn’t care who stands in his way. They’re interesting enough so that you want to know where they go from point-one. And I give the actors credit for not sleepwalking through their roles in order to cash nice paychecks—they feel like they belong in this universe.

“Star Wars” has been copied many times to capture the same magic and style and tone, but many filmmakers forget that “Star Wars” was famous for being its own thing while paying homage to various sources—Greek mythology, religion, adventure serials, Akira Kurosawa, even World War II, among others. Lucas took these ideas and crafted a story within certain traits that made “Star Wars” his own. Compare that to most filmmakers who practically rip off other movies. “Star Wars” is its own thing. It has a unique blend of adventure, masterful storytelling, appealing characters, inventive concepts, and new worlds. It was the beginning of something special that would make its mark in motion picture history, and for good reason.

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