Star Wars (1977)
Starring: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Alec Guinness, Peter Cushing
Plot: A young farm hand and his companions become the Rebellion's last hope to stop the evil galaxy-spanning Empire from using its most powerful weapon, the Death Star, a moon-sized battle station capable of destroying entire planets.
"A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..." With these simple words, the epic space opera that was Star Wars opened up a new world to moviegoers of all ages. Most everyone who first saw it can remember the giddy excitement as John William's inspiring musical score broke out and the expositional paragraphs scrolled up the screen.
Produced on a modest budget, it was a juggernaut that not only revolutionized the way Hollywood blockbusters were made, but began a special effects revolution, inspired a whole new generation and created an unprecedented cross-marketed merchandising campaign.
Though admittedly influenced by other, classic films such as Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress (with some obvious similarities between some of the characters and events) it goes beyond being a copy or even a remake of these movies. Referencing his own childhood favorites from Westerns to Flash Gordon, Lucas hit all the right notes with his ode to pulp serials, creating his own modern mythology blended from existing, classical archetypes. These included the heroes from Skywalker and Leia to Solo, Chewbacca and the droids C-3PO and R2-D2 as well as the villains, including one of moviedom's best: the Sith Lord Darth Vader, voiced by James Earl Jones.
In fact, the story is made up of the elements of a typical fairy tale: good vs. evil, with heroes, damsel in distress, a castle (the Death Star), etc. with a dash of New Age spiritualism (as presented by The Force) added in for good measure. Thanks to the memorable characters and dialogue, a quick, determined pacing, and the exciting situations filled with both adventure and melodrama, it works wonderfully.
The Award-winning special effects (since revisited) were poor by today's standards, but at the time they were state-of-the-art, and though done on the cheap, the scale models, rubber suits, and crude laser blasts still worked because they helped drive the story along, and efficiently evoked a whole new Universe of make-believe. And who can forget the imaginative, bizarre Canteen sequence or the thrilling dogfights that hearken back to World War II air battles?
The acting from the then-unknown leads is rather poor across the board, verging almost on the camp, but the story and characters are what really drive the film and everything else takes second place. The experienced supporting cast fares better, with famed British actor Guiness doing a fine turn as the last Jedi Knight, as does Hammer Films stalwart and character actor Cushing as the malevolent Governor Tarkin.
Even after so many years and so many viewings, Star Wars remains a thrilling and entertaining experience, and is one of the most beloved fantasy adventures ever made. It is a milestone in Hollywood cinema, and a definite American classic.
Note: the Special Edition version, which includes many new "computer generated" scenes, destroys the flow and feel of the original film by making the old one's special effects look primitive by comparison. Stick to the original, if you can find it.
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