An article I wrote a little while ago, for the 40th anniversary of Star Wars, commemorating Marcia Lucas for her involvement in the trilogy. She is, I’d wager, the most important yet least recognised architect of Star Wars as we know it.
And now, I’ve finally reached the original.
It’s staggering to think, actually, that this movie is nearly 40 years old – and then even more so when you think about the cultural influence it’s had. This movie, filmed on a budget of eleven million dollars, spawned a franchise that sold for four billion dollars. It lead to a further 5 films, two television series, and hundreds of books and comics. There’s going to be another five films, the first of which will be released this Thursday, and then god knows how many more after that. It’s a film that’s ingrained in the zeitgeist, with a greater pop culture presence than any other single movie that’s come before or after it.
It’s actually, genuinely, slightly insane. This movie has had an impact on such a grand scale, it’s touched the lives of so many people across the globe. It has huge, huge numbers of dedicated fans. Honestly, genuinely, the achievements of Star Wars are exceptionally impressive.
Thankfully, it’s also a very good movie.
I think a lot of people will have commented on this before, but right from the beginning, George Lucas does a fantastic job of conveying the sheer scale of his universe – or, rather, his galaxy. We open with Princess Leia’s ship, which looks huge… but then it’s completely dwarfed by the size of the Imperial Star Destroyer following it! Immediately, within just a few moments, we’re introduced to a whole new world, which is clearly full of possibilities. It’s a hugely effective opening sequence; perhaps one of the best I’ve ever seen.
And, honestly, it continues well from there. I genuinely don’t think there’s a single thing this movie actually gets wrong.
One of the biggest issues I highlighted with the prequel films was the pacing; there’s no such problem here. Star Wars is a really well-written film, that does exactly what it needs to do with its runtime. It’s consistently entertaining; I was never bored by it once. The plot moves along at a good speed – we dwell on each beat long enough for it to have a proper level of impact, but never long enough for it to drag. In short, it’s a supremely effective story, all well told and well presented.
You can see that at the start, beginning as we do with R2-D2 and C3PO. I was actually quite surprised by that, when I was rewatching this, because I didn’t realise quite how long it was that we spent on these two; there’s a significant chunk of this movie wherein the pair of them are essentially our main focal point. And this is never boring! That’s an achievement in and of itself, really, given that one of them doesn’t talk, and the other is very much a comedy character.
And, of course, this is maintained all throughout the two hours that the film is running for. It’s really, readily apparent quite how well this film fits together; the transition from space to Tatooine, to the Death Star, to the Rebel Base – it all comes together to create a brilliantly textured, lived in universe, which provides an excellent backdrop to this wonderful, almost mythic, story.
We’ve also got a wonderful host of fun, strongly drawn characters, who really breathe life into this plot. There’s a reason, after all, why these guys are in the zeitgeist now; they’re iconic. Of course, a lot of that comes from the way in which George Lucas played upon pre-existing archetypes, and drawing from different aspects of mythos; you’ve got the young hero, the wise old man, the rogue, the princess. Star Wars does, after all, follow Joseph Campbell’s idea of the Hero’s Journey, almost entirely to a tee.
But Star Wars is much more than a paint-by-numbers, regurgitated plot. There’s something genuinely special here, and you can see why it touched the lives of so many people. Luke, the wide eyed audience surrogate, is a pretty perfect protagonist – everyone has felt listless and unfulfilled, searching for something new, the same way he has. Everyone has wanted to just fly away and be a hero (or, well, maybe that’s just me). It’s a great performance by Mark Hamill, who does a really good job as Luke.
The same is true again, then, of Han and Chewie, or Obi-Wan (known also as Ben, for reasons I am not entirely sure of). Harrison Ford and Alec Guinness were, I think, probably the best actors of the main cast – Alec Guinness was nominated for an Oscar because of his role as Obi-Wan, I think? That sounds right to me. They’re similarly impressive characters to Luke; Han, the rogue with the redemption arc, eventually coming back to help the rebels, is a real moment of triumph that stands out as you watch the film.
It’s also particularly interesting watching this film, and seeing Obi-Wan, in light of having seen the prequel movies recently. There are certainly discrepancies, which are obvious from the dialogue, in terms of how George Lucas’ plans changed between the making of the different films – my favourite is how Obi-Wan speaks to Darth Vader, calling him “Darth” as if it’s his first name. (Mental gymnastics to make that work: it’s almost a way of mocking him, reducing him just to the Sith title, not acknowledging any other part of him.) For the most part, though, I do think that having seen the backstory from the prequels does add to the movie; at the very least, they don’t significantly detract from them.
We’ve also got an impressive, imposing villain in Darth Vader, who has some real and genuine screen presence. It’s interesting, actually, watching it back, because he’s a little different to how I remembered – weirdly, he speaks a lot more than I remembered. I’d always assumed that, in this movie at least, he was more of a silent villain, with the breathing being his distinct audio cue. But no, it is in fact James Earl Jones’ deep, booming voice that we hear here – and quite often, too. It was a nice surprise, actually, because that voice is one of the best parts about Darth Vader. It’s part of what makes him so imposing, and gives him such a commanding presence – in this movie, you can see the groundwork being laid for someone who’s going to be known as one of the greatest villains of all time.
Naturally, we can’t forget Princess Leia either, who’s really well played by Carrie Fisher. It’s an excellent performance – Leia is a great character, who’s a lot of fun. The fact Leia exists as a character is a pretty cool thing too; we’ve got a female character who leads the Rebel Alliance, and even though she’s captured, she in in fact demonstrably one of the most capable and competent characters there – arguably moreso than Luke and Han, even, who kind of blunder through the rescue attempt rather haphazardly (which, I must stress, is part of their charm!) before ultimately pulling it off. In any case, though, it’s a fun and engaging portrayal from Carrie Fisher.
The version I was watching was the… it was an edited edition, though I confess I’m not entirely certain when it was from. I’d wager it’s the 2011 set, which are most recent; if it helps anyone identify it, Han and Greedo shoot at the same time. Also, there are some weird animals walking around Tatooine, and one of them actually walks past in the foreground at one point, completely blocking the characters from view. I’d always thought the people complaining about the edits were overreacting somewhat – I’ve never seen the originals, and it’d been so long I didn’t really remember/notice the edits in the first place – but I do understand it a lot more now. They’re rather obtrusive edits, and one is lead to question the point of them; I can understand things like the inclusion of Jabba, which, even if not particularly well realised, was something George Lucas wanted the first go around. I question the wisdom of covering the entire screen with a CGI animal’s backside, however.
In the end, then, the first Star Wars movie is a very good movie. It is justifiably considered a classic, and it’s deserving of the reputation it has garnered over the years. Though there are certainly things I’d have liked to have seen it – more female or POC characters, Luke having a stronger/more sustained reaction to Owen and Beru’s (rather grisly) deaths, etc – that’s very much a case of me looking to find the sort of thing I’d want in a 2015 film.
Really, there’s only one score I can give this movie – and that’s 10/10.