Star Wars (1977)
Release Date: May 25th, 1977 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: George Lucas Actors: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Cushing, Alec Guinness, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, David Prowse
he 20th Century Fox fanfare, followed by the thundering theme music (the two components almost inextricably linked to the roaring introduction of this space opera epic), the scrolling text, the massive underbelly of the Imperial Star Destroyer as it races across space, the futuristic transitional wipes between scenes, the first appearance of Darth Vader – the list goes on as nearly every scene is enormously iconic and unforgettable. And those aforementioned moments all take place within the first few minutes. “Star Wars” is a tremendously visionary film that never ceases to entertain, with nonstop adventure, thrilling action pieces, legendary special effects, and monumental character designs. Even the dialogue is affective and amusing, regardless of the occasional silly exchange.
Although director George Lucas is oftentimes discredited because of his borrowing of the basic plot from Akira Kurosawa’s “The Hidden Fortress” (purloining notes of samurai combat and their stalwart ethos certainly isn’t uncommon), concepts from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “The Wizard of Oz,” and even a few details from “Dune,” his creativity is still quite evident. The level of suspense, the interplanetary environments, character and creature blueprints, and development of the “Force” and its related mythology are all engrossingly unique. Additionally, few films before or after “Star Wars” have managed to include such a celebrated, recognizable score – thanks to the masterful compositions by John Williams.
It all begins in a time of civil war (thought-provokingly, long ago, as opposed to the more standard placement centuries into the future); a band of rebel warriors fight against the might of the tyrannical galactic Empire. Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) is forced to jettison stolen architectural layouts to the planet-destroying warship, the Death Star, in an escape pod in the care of her two trusty droids R2-D2 and C-3PO. The Laurel and Hardy-type mechanical duo is stranded on the desert planet Tatooine, until young Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and his uncle Owen purchase them from scavenging Jawa nomads. R2 carries a message for Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness), a reclusive old wizard who has mastered the use of the “force,” an energy field created by all living things. It’s an idea that hardly needs explaining, as pop culture has essentially given it universal recognition.
Luke eventually locates Obi-Wan and is persuaded to accompany him to the dangerous city of Mos Eisley. There they hope to procure a starship and a pilot to journey to the planet of Alderaan, where they can deliver the Death Star plans. It’s in this bustling, wretched hive of scum and villainy that they meet Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and his alien copilot Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew). The crew manages to escape the Imperial soldiers hot on their tails, but is unable to reach their ultimate destination – instead, they dock in the Death Star itself, where they must confront intimidating henchman Darth Vader and attempt a daring rescue of the imprisoned Princess Leia.
There is nothing recycled or uninspired about the visuals in “Star Wars.” The spaceships are highly detailed and singular, as are the billowing costumes, armor and weaponry, colorful sets and settings, and elaborate makeup and hairstyles (Leia’s bun-shaped tresses are by far the most famous). Nearly every alien that inhabits the complex worlds receives interesting prosthetics, clothing, languages, sound effects, and names (the franchise is particularly memorable for its complex, tongue-twisting monikers). Lightsabers clash about in swashbuckling duels, TIE Fighters zoom across the stars shooting neon-colored laser bolts, white-armored stormtroopers menacingly march through angular corridors, and a climactic attack run through the trenches of the Death Star are but a few of the incomparably mesmerizing tableaus.
“Star Wars” is the archetypal science-fiction fantasy, continuing to influence moviemaking decades after its release. Not a minute is wasted and every scene demands a repeat viewing to fully take in the minute details of cinematic wizardry, while the basic story is itself a classically triumphant, timeless tale of good versus evil and David against Goliath. It’s not surprising that, although considered by many critics during its initial release to be little more than a rehashed “Flash Gordon” type comic-book extravaganza (ironically, the action-packed matinee or serial fare Lucas intended to mimic), “Star Wars” garnered 10 Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, quickly became the highest grossing movie of the time, and has since become one of the most successful blockbusters ever made.
– Mike Massie