“Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.”
Revisiting the original Star Wars has been a terribly significant experience for my film journey, more so than I would have expected. I opted out of rewatching the old trilogy as many did before seeing The Force Awakens last year, so it’s been quite a few years since I’ve seen the original films. After enhancing my understanding of film and immersing myself in a wide variety of titles in recent years, I expected to simply be entertained by Star Wars. However, I was truly blown away by this viewing. I can say with confidence that Star Wars is a groundbreaking piece of cinema and one of the greatest sci-fi adventures ever committed to the screen. It’s an epic, ambitious film that ceases to hit the brakes, making it one of the most enjoyable, immersive films I’ve seen of late.
I need not touch on the plot details with this one, but it’s clear that one of the most impressive things about Star Wars is how well it builds its world. We immediately jump into the action: a big scary overlord is fighting against a rebellion, and he’s taken the princess. We see massive spaceships racing through the darkness of the universe. We get quirky characters of different races, vibrant atmospheres and a whole slew of different planets. George Lucas has one of the strongest visions for the complex world (or worlds) of his film, more so than just about anything we’d seen in a movie up to this point. Every second of footage is a carefully crafted piece of immersion that pulls you into the Star Wars universe and dispels criticism that these films are simply sensational cash grabs. The story, while simple at times, never ceases to be unique and captivating. The original trilogy is a pretty standard rundown of Joseph Campbell’s “hero myth,” but it is carried out with such passion and grandiose that Star Wars may very well be the most exciting execution of the hero myth to ever hit theaters.
It’s often easy to forget that this movie came out in the 1970s. The production value is through the roof, and the environments are impressively detailed. While we often catch a glimpse of more dated special effects, the movie is so overwhelmingly successful that these moments feel more charming than disruptive. The spaceships are just as thrilling as they were upon release, as is just about every other piece of tech in the Star Wars universe. The Death Star continues to feel like one of the most epic objects presented in a film, and its ultimate destruction feels as satisfying as ever. Of course, John Williams shouldn’t ever be left out of a discussion of these films. One of the most iconic, powerful scores to any film, the music behind Star Wars carries a wondrous sense of sci-fi adventure that drives the movie from start to finish, bringing a spot on sense of ambiance to every scene.
Anyone who has seen The Force Awakens was likely ecstatic to see our classic heroes back in the action. While I think the new movie drew a bit too heavily from the well of nostalgia, it’s understandable for them to do so. Han Solo, Luke, Leia, Chewy, and many other characters have become staples of American culture. There are the charming, humorous sidekicks that keep a smile on our faces throughout the story (C3PO and R2D2), but this is mainly an adventure about heroes. Luke Skywalker fits the mold of the conventional protagonist, a young Jedi learning the ways of the Force in order to combat the evils of the Empire. Then there’s the more daring, unconventional hero Han Solo, played to perfection by Harrison Ford. George Lucas has created a tremendous universe, but it takes a talented set of actors to really bring it to life. The acting can feel silly at times, but the portrayal of these characters is lifted to galactic heights due to a collective sense of energy and adventure that runs through the Star Wars trilogy. It seems every actor is on board with the epic scale of what Lucas is attempting to create, and the payoff is one thrill ride of a story.
To speak about the first movie specifically, (or A New Hope, as it has come to be called) it’s important to note that Lucas refuses to get bogged down in exposition. Setting up an entire universe and laying out its rules is a difficult task for the first film of any saga, but Star Wars always manages to keep its audience entertained while explaining key information at the same time (while the prequel trilogy seriously fell short in this area). A New Hope feels like a standalone adventure, even though it was only the first of a larger story arc. Any Star Wars ripoff that came after it failed to nail down the pacing the George Lucas carefully planted into the story. I came away from this viewing with a sense of amazement that I had actually just watched a 2 hour movie. The film uses each scene to accomplish a pivotal plot point, and nothing is wasted or added for its own sake. It’s not often discussed, but I think this is one of the most important things about the success of this movie. Every scene is exciting, but every scene is important. If other deep space epics could get this formula down, I think we would see a far stronger set of films where it’s a lot easier to get invested in the story.
Some have fallen back on the notion that Star Wars is simply big budget entertainment without much cinematic merit. While this movie is undoubtedly a summer blockbuster with a lot of money dumped into its production, you can’t deny the cinematic greatness Star Wars accomplishes. For a snazzy blockbuster film, each scene carries a surprising amount of weight and accomplishes a great deal towards creating an epic story. George Lucas brings a powerful vision to the screen with a powerful movie. Star Wars establishes one of the most exciting trilogies ever made, a trilogy that I look forward to diving further into very soon.
Films Left to Watch: 922