Essential Cinema: Star Wars (1977)

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For as long as I have loved movies, I have loved Star Wars. I grew up with it and I always assumed that it was a film that I would never be able to review. I thought (and hoped) that I would never be capable of seeing the flaws in it because my judgment would be clouded by nostalgic recollections of my childhood experiences. Revisiting Star Wars recently (for the first time in years, I might add) I realized more than ever how true Ebert was when he said that “it’s as goofy as a children’s tale, as shallow as an old Saturday afternoon serial, as corny as Kansas in August…” The dialogue is stale, the costumes are weird, many of the characters have little depth, and some of the performances are poor. But I guess I should finish Ebert’s sentence: “…and a masterpiece.” Yes, Star Wars is all of these things, undeniably flawed, but somehow it is simultaneously one of the greatest examples of escapist entertainment in the known universe.

Fans of Star Wars are everywhere. It is one of the most popular movies of all-time. It is a classic science fiction film, but you don’t have to be a sci-fi nerd to fall under its spell. People have studied the philosophy behind it. Lesser films have tried to recreate its magic. Children have raced across backyards while engaged in violent duels with lightsabers (I don’t think I was the only one!). IMDb members have voted it to number 16 on the site’s famous “Top 250.” The world has made Star Wars its own.

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It is astounding that such a “corny,” “shallow” movie has captured the hearts of so many audiences. The success of Star Wars is simply a testament to the magic of great storytelling. The film becomes a real place to those enchanted by it; that’s why movies such as The Wizard of Oz, The Shining, The Godfather, and Casablanca are beloved classics. They all take us away from the very start. Here, the first words we see are: “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” Like much of the Star Wars universe, the words make little sense, but the audience simply goes with it. Who are we to say it didn’t already happen?

The film marches forward to the triumphant sound of an iconic John Williams score. The opening scene introduces two droids: C3-PO, a gold-plated robot that provides most of the movie’s best lines, and R2-D2, a little, childlike robot. Then come the Stormtroopers, clad in identical glossy, white armored suits and armed with laser blasters. Rebel soldiers rush forward to oppose the Stormtroopers with helmets resembling oval-shaped bowls tightened onto their heads by chinstraps. Next, Darth Vader, one of the most unforgettable villains in science-fiction, steps through a cloud of smoke. The excitement and the urgency of this first scene is vital to pulling us into Lucas’s imaginary world, but like any great adventure film, Star Wars moves on to better scenes and more fascinating characters and locations.

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However simple-minded the plot or shallow the characters, Lucas and company seem to never run out of ideas. Make no mistake, Star Wars has its corny moments, but there is definitely genius present as well. Its story, partly inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress is straight-forward and easy enough for a child to follow; this fact surely added to the popularity of the film. The sets are wonderful and varied, ranging from the sand dunes of Tatooine to the slick, black innards of the Imperial space station, the Death Star. Furthermore, the art direction and of course, the special effects, are fantastic and help the Star Wars galaxy earn a permanent place in our memory.

If I had the time and the initiative that it would require, I feel like I could write a small book on Star Wars. I would probably fill the book by listing the many reasons why it is a good movie, dissecting each scene, setting, plot twist, and character until no stone is left unturned. Next, I would probably discuss its enormous influence on cinema and why so many viewers have fallen in love with it. Then I would recall my boyhood fantasies in which I was a Jedi knight. I would remember how captivated I was by its universe and how unpredictable and exciting it was compared to where I was growing up. I would look back upon those days of innocence and imagination and become fully convinced of the true greatness of Star Wars.

This review originally appeared on The Bishop Review during “Sci-Fi Week” in April 2013.

14 responses to “Essential Cinema: Star Wars (1977)

  1. Nice review. It’s easy to bash George Lucas these days, but I still love Star Wars. Perhaps I’m being nostalgic but I don’t care, it’s one of the first movies I remember seeing. I must have watched the original trilogy about twenty times on VSR.

    • Yeah, I don’t really care for Lucas much, but there are several of his films that I’ll always like. Nostalgia is definitely a big part of why I still love the Star Wars films. Thanks!

    • It’s a wonderful series of films if it clicks with you. If it doesn’t, then it’s certain to come off as weird, corny, and shallow. After revisiting it again recently, I can certainly understand both views. But yes, you are missing out. 🙂

  2. I have and always will have a place in my heart for Star Wars. I’m not old enough to remember it first time around but I remember seeing the re-releases in the cinema. I can still watch them and be utterly beguiled by them, even though I know every scene inside out. Like you say, they’re cheesy and shallow but they’re pure escapism.

    • Same here. The films create a universe that really has a fun and engrossing atmosphere. They’re corny, but great to come back and watch again on occasion. It was a definite childhood favorite for me.

  3. Excellent review! 🙂 But it’s not flawed in any way! What are you on about?!? Lol. I understand the love – I’m right there with you on that. Why is this (original) trilogy SO damn good?! Yes, it’s hard to fully explain or understand. But it really is a masterpiece. 🙂

  4. It amazes me that Star Wars becomes increasingly popular with the passage of time. Corny? Yes, but as you’ve pointed out, it is great storytelling.

    Thanks for posting this review. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a review of this movie.

    • The fact that it’s still an active franchise even today, probably contributes to that popularity. And it’s a great movie for kids too, really quite imaginative.

      No one really writes about Star Wars anymore. It’s been written about so much that it’s pretty much impossible to say anything that’s completely original. Here I just wanted to pay tribute, and I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

  5. I grew up w/ two brothers who love Star Wars, but only watched the first three movies in parts. I did see them again later on, but never really became a huge fan like a lot of people do, though I certainly understand its appeal. It is incredible how much staying power this franchise has, and seems like it keeps going strong even after Lucas sold it.

  6. Clearly I am one of society’s outcasts I just don’t get Star Wars, never have. For me it is easily the most over-rated movie of all time. In the UK it was released at the same time as Close Encounters which I just found it a far superior movie. But the worst sin that Star Wars committed was to distract a great director away from what could have been a far more fulfilling career of great and more diverse movies

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