This week in Sci-Fi Sundays, Jonathon Dabell takes a look at Star Wars (1977) starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher.
Why even bother writing a review of Star Wars (1977)? The very act of writing a review of it is virtually redundant. There are so many reviews, books, making-of documentaries, tie-ins and spin-offs associated with the movie already: it has probably received more attention than most other films in the history of the medium. Its fans are legion; there exist people who can recite the entire film word-for-word; there’s barely a corner of the globe folks haven’t at least heard of Star Wars. Even more bizarrely, the film’s religion ‘The Force’ – or ‘Jediism’ as it is now classified – has become the seventh most commonly practised religious belief on our planet, despite being fictitiously invented just for the movie! Without question, Star Wars has left an indelible mark on the wider world.
The reason for its phenomenal success? There are many… but the keys ones are that a) it is extremely entertaining; b) it invites us into a new galaxy, at once richly fascinating and true to its own rules of existence; and c) it came at a time when 70s cinema was filled with gritty realism and extreme permissiveness, providing audiences with a path back to magical escapism (something which had become unfashionable throughout the decade). In fact, the timing of the release of Star Wars could hardly be more perfect.
The plot deals with an intergalactic war between the forces of darkness (the Empire) and the forces of good (the Rebel Alliance). Rebel Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher, sporting filmdom’s coolest female hair-do) is captured and imprisoned aboard a gigantic space station – the Death Star – by the Empire’s main villain, Darth Vader (David Prowse, voiced by James Earl Jones). Shortly before her imprisonment, she manages to record a plea for help and stores it with two loyal droids who are jettisoned off into space.
The droids, C3PO and R2D2, wind up on a desert planet called Tatooine, where they are eventually found by a young, impulsive, adventure-craving farmer named Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Having seen Leia’s recording, Luke is determined to help her… so he tracks down a reclusive old magus named Obi Wan Kenobi (Alec Guiness) to seek his assistance. Soon Luke, the droids, Obi Wan and a pair of mercenaries-for-hire, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), zoom off to attempt an audacious rescue of the princess from the seemingly impregnable Death Star.
Star Wars is one of those films where all the components seem to click together with uncanny effectiveness, resulting in mainly wonderful results. John Williams’ stirring score, the state-of-the-art special effects, evocative costumes and masks, and weirdly wonderful character and planet names all contribute towards the greater good. Even the dialogue – much ridiculed by Harrison Ford during the shoot (“George [Lucas], you can write this shit, but you can’t say it!”) – has a goofy infectiousness and quotability that makes it work, in spite of itself.
The performances are actually surprisingly good – Hamill’s impetuous young hero is really likeable (every young boy who watches the film wants to be him); Ford’s experienced rogue-with-a-heart-of-gold even more so (every older kid wants to be him!). Admirably serious support is provided by Guiness as the secretive and mystical Obi Wan and Peter Cushing as a particularly evil and creepy superior of the Empire, while Fisher is wonderfully spirited as the not-so-helpless princess.
Individual scenes linger in the mind – moments like the hero’s being trapped in a closing garbage crusher, or Obi Wan and Vader facing each other for one last magnificent duel, or a group of Rebel fighter crafts attempting an unlikely raid against the Death Star, are right up there with the most viscerally exciting moments in cinema.
It might be argued that Star Wars is a film for the guys, though its basic plot of good .vs. evil – of the white-robed Luke Skywalker doing battling with the dark-clad Darth Vader – is basically a futuristic rendition of any classic fairy tale. As such it has enough appeal to cater towards both genders.
After Star Wars, the cinematic landscape was never quite the same again. This might not always have been a good thing (some of the imitators and rip-offs are awful beyond words – check out The Humanoid (1979) if you’re brave enough), but that is hardly the fault of Star Wars itself. This film is great fun and, for many, remains a hugely important and unforgettable film experience.
MoM Rating: 9/10