Director: George Lucas
Cast: Mark Hamill, Alec Guiness, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, James Earl Jones
Series: Star Wars
MPAA Rating: PG
Length: 123 Minutes
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This review is of the 2004 DVD Re-Release, which includes re-touched footage and added sequences from the 1997 Special Edition (a.k.a. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope). However, while reviewing the film I actively ignored the Special Edition add-ons, and this review will be based on the original footage as well as my memories of the original cut of the film. In a specially marked section I will discuss the Special Edition footage, which includes a few spoilers for Star Wars and Return of the Jedi.
What a film.
The perfect marriage of inexperience, hope, the perfect cast, and passion. Really, this isn't just a cultural milestone, or another nerdy franchise, this is a powerfully good film.
Centuries from now, I can see this film still being important, and its legacy will probably never fade. This is one of the most joyous adventures ever committed to celluloid. This is the greatest science fiction story ever told.
This is Star Wars.
It's hard for me to not get a little teary eyed while talking about Star Wars. I'll never forget watching Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi on my dad's old bootleg VHS copies. Each VHS was a double (or triple) feature of old sci-fi and action films, as well as a few brand new hits like Terminator 2: Judgement Day, pilfered from the local Blockbuster Video. The two tapes with Star Wars films on them were absolutely the most worn of the bunch (perhaps only seconded by my Jurassic Park VHS, which came a little later).
As a child, Star Wars and its sequels were a truly magical place, where adventure was always the game plan, and these odd characters became familiar faces; old friends that never failed to make you smile. Han Solo and his cynical wit and charm. Luke Skywalker and his starry eyed optimism and drive. Princess Leia and her brilliant mind, sharp humor, and beauty. Those wily droids, Chewbacca, Darth Vader.
Star Wars is just pure joy for me. While watching it I feel a warm feeling in the blackened, scarred pit that is my soul (for at the feet of my soul lies my stomach...). It makes me feel good, no matter how awful my day has been, or it reminds me that when things seem lost, a little perseverance goes a long way. It is fun, it is smart, it is beautiful.
I love you, Star Wars.
Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) is aboard a star cruiser headed for her home world of Alderaan, when suddenly an Imperial Star Destroyer (read: big ass spaceship) under the command of the evil Jedi and Commander of the Armies of the Galactic Empire, Darth Vader (James Earl Jones), attacks the small cruiser and takes everyone aboard as a prisoner. Just before the attack though, Leia managed to sneak a hidden message to a band of resistance fighters called the Rebel Alliance off the ship in the memory banks of a small astrodroid.
The droid, R2-D2 (Kenny Baker), and his counterpart, C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), land on a desert planet called Tatooine, where they encounter a young man, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who dreams of escaping his dusty home, and heading towards distant planets in search of adventure. A strange series of circumstances leads Luke and the droids to an old hermit named Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness), who dicovers the message hidden in R2-D2, and requests Luke's help in delivering it. In return, Obi-Wan offers to train Luke in the ways of the Jedi Knights and their mystical connection with an energy known as The Force.
The team hires a rougish smuggler, Han Solo (Harrison Ford), and his co-pilot, Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), to help them get across the galaxy undetected, as the Imperials and Darth Vader scramble to find the hidden plans to their new space station, which itself hides a devastating secret.
What I believe really pushed this film's popularity into the stratosphere is the cast. Each one of the principal cast turns in a performance that's simply perfect. There's cracks here and there in their work, like Leia's on-again, off-again English accent, but overall, they were a group of talented people in the right place at the right time. That's really all there is to it. There was a lot of luck (or The Force) involved in the production of this film, and the cast were the best possible group of people to have worked on this film.
John Williams' score and the overall aesthetic are basically perfect too. Oddly enough, during viewings of The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, The Wanderer pointed out how much of John Williams' music was in the film, and he was absolutely right. It was almost non-stop. He pointed out that it was probably to make the awful acting a little more plausible, which made sense. Watching this movie, however, more or less confirmed his idea. There's a lot of silence and empty space in the soundtrack, leaving room for the actors or special effects to do their jobs on their own, but when the music starts it's so good I get chills every time.
Speaking of special effects...
...This is the part where I talk about the Special Edition material...
The Special Edition add-ons are mostly bullshit. Besides being awful, pre-new millennium CG, that's been slathered in a bucket of post-millennium CG touch ups that make it look worse, it's a needless, distraction from the real film at hand. Everytime the film switched over from the original, re-touched footage (with occasional necessary or enjoyable CG add on here or there, like the Millennium Falcon landing on Yavin 4, or the Death Star consoles being written in the Aurebesh) I found my mood rapidly shifting from sublimely euphoric, to pretty fucking annoyed.
Also, let me be clear...
Han shot first. It makes sense for his character and the situation, the edit of Greedo shooting first looks awful, and there's not even carbon scoring on the wall behind Han where the blaster bolt hits. Fuck that scene.
Perhaps even worse than the Greedo scene however, is the Jabba scene not long afterwards. Which is the most chaotic sequence of celluloid frames that have ever been edited together. You have either a 1997 CG, or 2004 CG Jabba, a bunch of dudes in obvious 70's costumes, Boba Fett, and the most awkward moment of CG in any of the Special Editions. When Han steps on Jabba's tail it looks more like he tripped on a wormhole that warped him into the second dimension for a moment, before he slips back into his normal form. It's just the worst. Maybe not "Hayden Christensen Force Ghost" the worst, but basically a hop, skip, and jump away...
...but enough about that tripe...
So what is Star Wars? Well, it's the most successful independent film of all time, the most beloved and famous sci-fi franchise on the planet, and just a damn good adventure film that paved the way for everything from Raiders of the Lost Ark, to (regrettably, in some instances) the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is a two hour dose of triumph for the human spirit.
This is Star Wars.