40 Years On: Star Wars (1977)

Luke-Leia-Han-star-wars

Team photo: Lucasfilm/20th Century Fox

2017 marks 40 years of STAR WARS. The galaxy far far away (….) has been part of my life since I’ve been watching movies. For me, George Lucas’ creation is a cornerstone of who I am. I may not have been around in 1977 for the original release, but I did get to see it on the big screen in the 1990s, and subsequently went straight out to rent the sequels on VHS (remember those?) from my local library (remember those?).

If you really have never seen Star Wars, it follows farmboy Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) who is swept up in an adventure to rescue Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) who has intelligence to cripple to Tyrannical Galactic Empire. With the guidance of old hermit Obi-wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) and dashing rogue Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Luke becomes the new hope for a free galaxy.

This year’s Star Wars Celebration was particularly celebratory, with an appearance and much fond (and not so fond) reminiscences from Lucas himself, the premiere of THE LAST JEDI trailer and a loving and teary tribute to Carrie Fisher. Lucas probably shocked the floor when he proclaimed that “It’s a film for twelve year olds”. That’s not to say that Star Wars, or being really fond of it, is immature, or even that you should put away childish things you love. Star Wars is innocent, it’s fun, and its escapism. It captures imagination and it caused a much smaller me to run around the garden swinging a broom handle (adding the vroom myself) happy as Larry. Then there were the games in the school playground when I always wanted to be Darth Vader (is that weird?).

One of the first blockbusters was an indie film. Lucas was fed up with the wheeling and dealing involved with working with major studios, he wanted to avoid reaching the inevitable stage where they could say “we own you” as soon as a major hit was produced. Looking back now, the practical effects essentially made in someone’s garage and filmed in a car park look understandably old-fashioned, but in some cases they feel all the realer for it. The budgetary limitations are still evident but less obvious in the “Special Edition” that were cleaned up, enhanced and extended to bring particularly the first film in line with the more polished presentation of the rest of the trilogy.

The opening sequence of the Rebel Blockade Runner fleeing the imposing triangular juggernaut that is an Imperial Star Destroyer and subsequent messy boarding skirmish has to be up there with the greatest first scenes ever committed to film. It’s exciting, it sets the tone and it shows us things we’ve never quite seen before. The fizz and fun of the Cantina scene, the ominousness of “That’s no moon” and of course the spectacular WWII movie-inspired Death Star trench run finale also spark the imagination.

As Harrison Ford famously quipped, “You can type this sh*t, but you can’t say it”. There’s a reason the two best scripts pre-FORCE AWAKENS were for EMPIRE and RETURN OF THE JEDI – Lucas didn’t write the dialogue. The best exchange in the film comes from Ford going off-piece, improvising Han’s “everything’s fine now” intercom conversation during the prison break sequence. Ford smartly spotted that it would result in a better performance if he, and by extension Han, really didn’t know exactly what they were going to say to the person on the other end of the line when their plan went awry. Elsewhere, Lucas tries to pack too much sci-fi exposition into too small a window, resulting in garbled, strangely paced dialogue (“Will-you-forget-it-I-already-tried-it-it’s-magnetically-sealed!”).

Luckily the dialogue is made up for by the great character moments: how Leia takes complete charge of the situation when she is “rescued”; Han’s progression from self-serving scoundrel to hero when he has something to fight for; the most shocking and brutal image of the saga setting Luke on his path, and you really believe him when he says “There’s nothing here for me now”. A special mention should also go to the actors who rely almost entirely on their physicality – David Prowse as Darth Vader, Anthony Daniels as C3-PO and Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca – who make their characters completely their own.

Four decades on and, for me, I still feel the Force of Star Wars. The otherworldly yet familiar galaxy Lucas and his craftsmen created got bums on seats, but the characters and and the spectacle kept them coming back time after time. Here’s to another 40 years of both rewatching and brand new adventures…. SSP

About Sam Sewell-Peterson

I'm not paid to write about film - I do it because I love it. Favourites include Sam Mendes, Guillermo del Toro, Bong Joon-ho, Steven Spielberg, Danny Boyle, Edgar Wright, Taika Waititi and the Coen Brothers. All reviews and articles are original works owned by me. They represent one man's opinion, and I'm more than happy to engage in civilised debate if you disagree.
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