Directed by: George Lucas » Written by: George Lucas, 1977 » Region/Time: U.S.A., 121 minutes.
Starring: Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker » Harrison Ford as Han Solo » Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia Organa » Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin » Alec Guinness as Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi » Anthony Daniels as C-3PO » Kenny Baker as R2-D2 » Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca » David Prowse as Darth Vader » James Earl Jones as Darth Vader (voice).
“Kid, I’ve flown from one side of this galaxy to the other and I’ve seen a lot of strange stuff, but I’ve never seen anything to make me believe that there’s one all-powerful Force controlling everything. There’s no mystical energy field that controls my destiny.” – Han Solo
What can be written about a film when so much has already been written? Star Wars celebrated its 30th anniversary a few years ago and, as such, there are even more numerous articles spread across the internet than usual. Interestingly enough, the vast majority of the articles are autobiographical reflections of the filmgoer and his/her memory of being infected with cineophilia by Star Wars. Star Wars was not that movie for me (there were two others, coming later in this list), but my opinion of the film has changed drastically over time.
I’m not sure when I first saw Star Wars, but I always remember being aware of it. The film seems to have seeped into my pores somehow. The first film I recall seeing in the theatre was The Empire Strikes Back, so presumably I must have already seen Star Wars. As a child, I had a large collection of Star Wars figures and even collected the bubble gum trading cards. When my friends and I ran around playing after school, everyone always fought over who got to be Han Solo. I remember laying on the snow one particularly frigid and windy winter day during recess, bundled up in my toque, scarf and gloves and pretending to be Luke Skywalker lost on Hoth, seeing Obi-Wan Kenobi’s spectral figure through the blowing snow. Despite all this, I wasn’t much of a stickler for the mythology of Star Wars. Other friends immersed themselves in comics and novels and interviews and hints and suggestions of the larger “universe” of Star Wars—I was too busy obsessing over the Dr. Who universe to be bothered with Star Wars.
And so, as the true reactionary I am, I moved from Unthinking Devotion into my second Star Wars phase: Mild Derision. As I was constantly forced to defend Dr. Who against my Star Wars loving friends, I had to develop some witty put-downs, none of which I can remember now but probably revolved around how annoying Luke was (“But I was going into Toshi Station to pick up some pooower converters”) and, as I write that quote, how lame the dialogue was. Of course, I would mostly lose the battle due to the vastly inferior special effects used in Dr. Who.
As I got older, my tastes in reading expanded from the good Doctor’s world to include the world of more serious Science Fiction and other literature in general. The childish, simplistic plot, cartoon characters and childish sense of humour became obvious to me and I entered my third Star Wars phase: Contempt. I also felt resentment that, because of its popularity, real Science Fiction films would never be made, just more and more Space Opera Fantasies.
It was not until 1997 and the lead-up to the re-release that I entered my final Star Wars phase: Enjoyment. By then my burgeoning love of cinema was becoming a full-on addiction, and I found much to appreciate in Star Wars that I hadn’t seen before, including references to Akira Kurosawa’s samurai films and John Huston westerns, Jungian archetypes, as well as the brilliant editing of Marcia Lucas (George Lucas’ then-wife) and framing of cinematographer Gilbert Taylor (who was also director of photography for A Hard Day’s Night and Dr. Strangelove). One of my favourite film-going moments was sitting in the cinema with an ecstatic crowd watching the re-release, seeing the 20th Century Fox fanfare followed by the words “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” before the Star Wars theme rang out – few moments have been as indelibly exciting as that.
As a final point, no appreciation of Star Wars would be complete without discussion of the musical score. Although My Neighbour Totoro has suitably cute music, A Hard Day’s Night has indispensable music, The Conversation has excellent, character-specific scoring and Casablanca’s music is stirring (though unmemorable), this is really the first film on this list with a memorable score. John Williams had already rocketed to fame with his theme to Jaws by the time Star Wars was completed (and would compete against himself at the same Oscars for Close Encounters of the Third Kind). Listening to the soundtrack recently, I was shocked by how specifically I was able to match up musical cues with moments from the film. Indeed, there is almost no moment of the film without scoring, highly unusual and unpopular at the time. Indeed, the sparse and solo-piano heavy score of The Conversation was much closer to the style of the time. Using many leitmotifs or themes to identify characters, concepts and locations (there is a “Force” theme, an “Empire” theme, a “Rebel” theme, a “Jawa” theme, etc…), John Williams created a full orchestra score borrowing heavily from more classical composers, such as Wagner (leitmotifs) and Holst (arrangements and rhythmic structures), as well as film composers Max Steiner (bombast) and Bernard Herrmann (dissonance). Although a classical score married to science fiction seemed counterintuitive at the time, it was a masterstroke allowing viewers something familiar to latch onto in this futuristic space opera.
My latest viewing of Star Wars was on the 30th anniversary – May 25th, 2007 – and I learned an important life lesson: never play a drinking game to Star Wars that involves drinking whenever your pre-chosen character speaks. Should you end up playing this game and are so unfortunate as to have the extremely chatty C3PO as your character, I have only one thing to say to you:
“May the Force be with you.”
Up Next in the Film Canon: One of the most meticulously assembled screenplays ever filmed pays tribute to British Ealing Studio comedies of the 1950s.