“We seem to be made to suffer”
How can I review a film that I’ve watched countless times since opening the ‘Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition’ on Christmas Day, 1997? I’d heard so much about it, but missed it until I asked for the trilogy as a Christmas present. At one point, I knew the entire script, the sound effects…every second of the film was ingrained in my brain! How can I repress those memories to produce an unbiased review? The answer: watch it with a Star Wars virgin…my fiancée! She had never seen the trilogy before, and blatantly refused to watch them. However, she caved, and a few nights ago, I showed her one of the films that defined my late childhood…
At the end of the film, I asked for her score. She initially said “6/10,” but soon afterwards revised it upwards to “7/10.” My fiancee’s eyes are not attuned to the style of 70s/80s science fiction films. She’s used to the CGI fare of modern cinema. In her words, Star Wars was “a little too campy and cheesy.” But, as I always say to her: look past the effects (in thirty years, the CGI of today will look awful by comparison! And even then, the effects of Star Wars look pretty decent today!) and focus on the story and the characters. In that respect, Star Wars is simply a classic film. It contains timeless characters, great characters arcs, and a simple but brilliant story line. Okay, it’s impossible to review this film unbiased! I find my fiancée’s lack of faith disturbing…
“Before the dark times, before the Empire…”
Star Wars is a film that will never grow old. When George Lucas dreamt up his prequels, he should have gone back to his original science fiction film (wait, I don’t mean THX 1138!). Star Wars is simply good versus evil in a traditional hero-journey story! There are no trade negotiations, no awful comic relief/racist characters, an easy to follow plot, and relatable, loveable characters. Every scene feeds into the next scene. There’s barely any wasted motion in the entire two hours of the film. Everything is streamlined to make nothing superfluous. Right from the opening, blaring orchestral music, my eyes never, ever leave the screen. It’s not just nostalgia that keeps me glued to the film.
First of all, more important than anything else, are the characters. The droids, C-3P0 and R2-D2, start off the film. They immediately raise a smile with their one-way banter (and continue to do so throughout the film, especially when they land on Tatooine). Darth Vader immediately poses more menace in his first few minutes of screen time than most villains do in an entire movie. Luke Skywalker sets up his character arc by being a whiny teenager, until he finds out that he is the son of a great Jedi master. There’s Obi-Wan Kenobi, the old, wise mentor of Luke. Princess Leia is the heroine, tough but in need of rescuing. Han Solo is the typical selfish scoundrel, complete with Wookie bodyguard, Chewbacca. Everyone has their place, their beautiful quotes, and screen time to endear the audience towards them. It’s hard to pick a favourite! For quite a large cast, that’s rare!
Secondly, the plot. We are thrown into the action immediately, with the evil Empire boarding a ‘rebel’ ship and kidnapping Princess Leia. We then follow the story of Luke Skywalker, stuck in a rut until he bumps into the droids, and then bumps into Obi-Wan Kenobi, who shows him that he’s meant for so much more…(if you’ve seen The Matrix, substitute Neo for Luke, and Morpheus for Kenobi). From there, we go to Mos Eisley Cantina (a…”wretched hive of scum and villainy), to Alderaan (well, sort of), then to a final confrontation to stop the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the Death Star…The plot whips along at lightspeed pace, bringing us along, gasping for breath and speechless.
“Don’t get cocky”
Considering this film is from 1977, the action set-pieces, and special effects in general, still look legitimate today. Examine the opening scene: a towering spacecraft dominating the screen, slowly but surely. At once it shows that the Empire dominates everything, and that the following cinema experience will be bigger than anything you’ve seen before. From the Star Destroyer attacking the small Rebel ship, to the Millennium Falcon leaving Mos Eisley, to the final confronation between Rebel X-Wings and the mighty Death Star, the special effects combine with cracking action to deliver enough bang for your buck. Okay, so the lightsabre effects looks a little dodgy, and the lightsabre battle between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader is little more than two old men poking their canes at each other (but it’s all about the emotion!)…but everything looks a lot more convincing than the terrible Special Edition edits Lucas has made to the film…
I’d love to have seen the original Star Wars, unedited and untouched by Lucas’ aged hand. In the Special Edition, however, the obvious CGI impositions take away from the experience. They are jarring and hinder the story being told. We can imagine the Mos Eisley we don’t see on the screen; we don’t need to see it! And don’t get me started on the Jabba The Hut scene…They are truly the low point of the film, and shouldn’t even be in there in the first place!
“Use the Force, Luke”
Of course, it’s overly simplistic, with little room for nuance and darkness (that’s reserved for the sequel). It turned the gritty, dark science fiction of the 1970s (just think, in the same year ‘Alien’ was released as well) into light, fluffy, special effects-filled crowd-pleasers. It isn’t too complicated, and is essentially a kid’s film. But that’s the beauty of it: it appealsDon’t we all want to be Luke, meandering in our daily lives until we find out that we’re a large part of something bigger and greater than we ever imagined? Don’t we all want to wave lightsabres about, or pilot the Millenium Falcon or take down a Death Star with an X-Wing? It appeals to our childish nature, which is the reason I could never watch it from another point of view.
For a film that I can watch as a 30 year old, and still feel the same way I did about it as I did on that Christmas Day in 1997, it must be something special. There are an unlimited number of quotes for any occasion (“We seem made to suffer,” “I don’t like you either,” “…since, oh before you were born,” “I find your lack of faith disturbing,” “She’ll hold together…here me baby, hold together!” “I’m in it for the money…” I could go on!). It builds up exquisitely to a fist-punching finale (both for the characters and the audience!). Each character develops naturally, fulfilling a specific purpose in relation to the plot. Simply put, it is a classic film.
VERDICT: 8/10. Not a perfect film, but a classic film. Light, easy to watch, but hits all the right notes in plot, characters, sound, and special effects.