Like everyone, Star Wars has been on my mind of late. So when I saw the original trilogy pretty cheap on VHS a while back I snapped them up, for a more faithful(ish) experience compared to the far too tinkered with blu-rays that are out there. These were never formative films for me in the way that they were for so many others, or the way the James Bond films or Jurassic Park (1993) were for me. I saw them as a kid, recalled liking them, but that was the extent of it.
For me, Star Wars (1977) is miles away the best film in this franchise. It delivers a lean narrative, heavily influenced by classical adventure story tropes, with a sense of fun. It goes character intros (without labouring unnecessary mythology), a big action beat, regroup, bigger action beat. It really is as simple as that. But within that structure Lucas delivers a film that would spawn a legacy probably unmatched in some ways in film history. That the storytelling feels so informed by classical tales is not altogether a bad thing. Lucas is repackaging beats that have been go-tos for centuries, but making them feel at least a little inspired. It helps that with all the classical inspiration, the film is also happy to do a few unconventional things. For example, Darth Vader is revealed in no time flat. Most films would hold that back for an age, whereas this one sends him out front and centre within five minutes. The world-building of the film is an interesting aspect. We are exposed to different worlds early on and that is effective. But it’s based totally on design and physical details (or often a single physical detail) rather than any level of in-depth world-building.
Carrie Fisher gives the pick of the performances and gets reasonable screen time to go along with that, unlike Star Wars The Force Awakens (2015). Her badarse heroine s is perhaps the most original feeling character too. As good as the characters of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo are, they are very much archetypes. Lucas’ propensity for kiddie characters is apparent from the get-go too, though not overbearingly so. It’s one of the paradoxes of the Star Wars phenomenon I guess that those characters are pretty interminable in the movies, but also played a large part in driving the phenomenon that the series would become. This one is more of an ensemble piece than I recall, with Obi-Wan and the droids playing large parts, along with the three central figures. Given our current CGI saturation, the effects in Star Wars jar initially. But that fades quite quickly as the artistry, particularly in the model work, becomes apparent. That level of design artistry is so important, because let’s face it some of the character design could have gone so wrong. Designs like those of C3PO or Vader, could have looked totally silly if they were not executed so very well.
Of all the achievements of this film (and I think the original trilogy more broadly), it is John Williams’ score that may be the pinnacle. By now truly iconic, in the world of the film it is so lush and heightening. It’s not just that the score is so damn good, it’s that Lucas uses it so well. The introduction of the character of Luke, such an important moment for the entire franchise, is basically made by the soundtrack. The sound design is similarly exceptional, the whooshes of the dogfights obviously, as well as smaller flourishes like Vader’s laboured breathing. The editing though has the bemusing quality of a film student looking to impress. It is distracting and recalls Homer Simpson’s obsession with star wipes so much that I was almost a little bummed we didn’t see one here.
Verdict: Star Wars is a film of simple charms –clear adventure storytelling, a worthwhile set of sci-fi worlds, decent characters and great space-set dogfights. Here, George Lucas delivers those charms in a way that he, or anyone else, has never been able to replicate since. Pint of Kilkenny