#316) Star Wars (1977)
Directed & Written by George Lucas
Class of 1989
NOTE: This post is about the original 1977 version of “Star Wars”. No “A New Hope” here.
The Plot: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, a civil war rages between the indestructible Galactic Empire and the oppressed Rebel Alliance. Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) has stolen the technical plans for the Empire’s secret “Death Star”, but her attempt to give them to the Rebels is thwarted by the dark lord Darth Vader (David Prowse, voiced by James Earl Jones). Leia hides the plans with droids C-3PO & R2-D2 (Anthony Daniels & Kenny Baker) and sends them to the desert planet of Tatooine. The two droids encounter farmhand Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who stumbles upon a hidden message from the princess. Aided by reclusive Jedi Knight Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi (Alec Guinness), rogue smuggler Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and his furry co-pilot Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), Luke ventures into space to save the princess, learn about the mystical Force, and restore freedom to the galaxy.
Why It Matters: The NFR calls the film “legendarily expansive and ambitious”, praises Lucas, and calls the special effects “effective and intelligently integrated with the story.”
But Does It Really?: There are two eras of filmmaking: pre-“Star Wars” and post-“Star Wars”. A lot of movies on this list were game-changers, but “Star Wars” may be THE game changer. The movie inspired several generations of filmmakers, and its technical breakthroughs changed how movies are made (and marketed). But at its core, “Star Wars” is still a fun, exciting, imaginative film, the perfect blend of every great fairy tale, sci-fi story, and classic movie. The ensuing fandom can be a bit nauseating, but never forget that it all stems from two hours in the ‘70s that ignited the collective imaginations of filmgoers around the world.
Shout Outs: No direct references, but among the countless movies alluded to throughout are NFR entries “The Wizard of Oz”, “Twelve O’Clock High”, “The Searchers”, “Psycho”, “Lawrence of Arabia”, “2001: A Space Odyssey”, Lucas’ own “THX 1138”, and of course, “Flash Gordon”.
Everybody Gets One: Most of the team will return for “The Empire Strikes Back”, but this is the only NFR entry for Peter Cushing. A veteran of Britain’s Hammer horror films, Cushing was cast as the evil Grand Moff Tarkin due to his “lean features”. Cushing enjoyed being in “Star Wars”, though admitted he never understood what a “Grand Moff” was.
Wow, That’s Dated: Luke’s Farrah Fawcett-ian hair is your first clue. And while some of the optical effects have not aged well, I’ll take them over disruptive CG tweaking any day.
Seriously, Oscars?: By the time the 50th Oscars rolled around in 1978, “Star Wars” had already surpassed “Jaws” as the most successful movie of all time. “Star Wars” received ten Oscar nominations (second to the 11 scored by more traditional Oscar fare “Julia” and “The Turning Point”) and won six awards, plus a special Oscar for Ben Burtt’s sound design. “Star Wars” received the most Oscars that year, but the winner in all the major categories was fellow NFR entry “Annie Hall”.
- Now that’s an intro! John Williams hits you over the head with the fanfare, the expository text scrolls by, and suddenly giant spaceships are flying over your head. The beauty of this whole opening sequence is that it gives you just enough information without feeling overwhelmed, and fills in the rest with music and effective imagery.
- I’ve watched a great deal of ‘70s films for this blog already, and with that context, what a refreshing oddity “Star Wars” must have been in 1977. There really was nothing like this film in the cultural landscape of “Rocky” and “The Godfather”.
- I miss Carrie Fisher. Not Princess Leia, Carrie Fisher. Rare is the Hollywood star that could be articulate and insightful about their own life, and hilarious to boot.
- One of the things that sequels inevitably do is remove some of the mystery of the first film. It must have been fun theorizing what was under Darth Vader’s helmet before it turned out to be charbroiled Hayden Christensen.
- Say what you will about Lucas’ clunky dialogue (and I will), but he is a master world-builder. Even the arid landscape of Tatooine is fun to explore.
- Mark Hamill never gets the credit he deserves as an actor. Sure, Luke whines a lot, but Hamill gives him a clear character arc and always plays Luke with complete sincerity.
- Why do 3PO and R2 scream when they’re in danger? Are droids being programmed to emote? What scientific purpose does that serve?
- I won’t get into it here, but the Obi-Wan scenes are ripe with future continuity errors derived from the prequels. “I don’t seem to remember ever owning a droid.”
- Speaking of Obi-Wan, stories of Alec Guinness’ displeasure with “Star Wars” are legendary. Yes, he hated the shoot, but according to his voluminous biography, he always hated shooting a film, even “River Kwai”. This all being said, ever the professional, Guinness gives an unsurprisingly nuanced performance.
- So many Imperial officers in this movie aren’t British. When did Vader change that hiring policy?
- The Cantina sequence takes the world building to a whole other level. We get all kinds of crazy looking aliens, Harrison Ford gives Han Solo an extra cocky introduction, and the tempo of the film really starts to pick up. My one question: Did Ben and Luke pay their tab?
- Han shoots alien Greedo to avoid an encounter with crime lord Jabba. What a great demonstration of Han’s character that needs no further meddling.**
- I do love the grandiose reveal of the Millennium Falcon, followed by Luke’s “What a piece of junk.”
- While meeting with Tarkin, Leia shows off her disappearing-reappearing British accent. Apparently this was Carrie Fisher’s first day of filming, and the accent was quickly dropped.
- Man, Cushing’s great in this too. That’s a performance by an actor who knows exactly how his character serves the story.
- Obi-Wan knows a surprising amount about TIE Fighters for someone who’s been exiled on a desert planet for 20 years. Maybe the Force has great wifi?
- For me, the film picks up once we get to the Death Star. The first hour is set-up, and now we can watch these strongly defined characters play off each other without rattling off sci-fi mumbo-jumbo.
- “The Force will be with you. Always.” “And also with you. I mean, and with your spirit”.
- Once Luke and Han rescue Leia, the dialogue begins to sound fun and natural. I detect the uncredited assistance of “American Graffiti” writers Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck.
- We have a Wilhelm scream! That stormtrooper did not die in vain.
- Luke and Leia both handle the deaths of loved ones very quickly. I guess the last stage of grief in this galaxy is shootin’ space Nazis.
- Somewhat appropriate that the most complex relationship in all of these movies is between two robots.
- The final battle sequence is a ramped-up variation of every WWII dogfight, and brings the film to a satisfying climax. I still get a chill when Han shows up at the end.
- Why make Chewbacca take part in the closing ceremony if you’re not going to give him a medal? Did he decline the medal for religious reasons? Is this somehow tied in with Life Day?
The never-ending legacy and impact of “Star Wars” deserves its own post. In fact, this one!
**2019 Update: WHO THE FUCK IS MACLUNKY!!?