Monday, September 14, 2015

Star Struck

If you're a reader of this blog, you surely don't need me to remind you that Star Wars: Episode VII is coming in December. Burned by the prequel trilogy, I've been steadfastly keeping my enthusiasm in check. Still, I'm not going to pretend I won't be heading to my theater on opening day -- nor will I pretend that some degree of "getting ready" for the movie seems appropriate. To that end, friends and I are planning mini-viewing parties over the next few months to watch the existing films. (Yes. All of them.)

We began recently with the original, Star Wars. (Well, the mostly original. We weren't willing to haul out a VCR and jump down in quality far enough to watch our only handy non-Special Edition copy of the film.) Again, because you're here reading this blog, you don't need me to do a traditional "review" of the film. But I thought it worth posting a "pseudo-review," that is: a handful of thoughts I had watching the movie this time.

It's really impressive what a hearty stew Star Wars is, combining so many different ingredients. There's Errol Flynn-inspired swashbuckling and sword fighting. There are Old West shootouts. The climax is a long World War II airplane dogfight. Plus, this first film plays high fantasy beats more overtly than its sequels -- referring to the Force multiple times as a "religion," and to its practitioners as "wizard"s and "sorcerer"s. A huge part of the original appeal has got to be that there really is something for everyone in this movie.

It's notable how fast the movie starts, particularly compared to the two films that would complete its trilogy. The camera just pans down, and BOOM! Spaceships shooting at each other! And this battle was presented with great visual effects that still captivate today (needing no Special Edition meddling). I can only imagine how much it must have impacted theater audiences in 1977.

All the significant characters get their own moments to shine. There are of course the obvious heroics of Luke and Han, the sacrifice of Obi-Wan, and the way Leia is no mere damsel-in-distress, but takes charge of her own rescue. But you also have R2-D2 literally putting out fires, and even the clearly comedic C-3PO gets to save the day. (My friends noted that 3PO actually turns out to be the more convincing liar in this movie; he twice deceives stormtroopers on the Death Star, while Han Solo's "boring conversation" fails miserably.)

On the other hand, the characters are sometimes shockingly unaffected by death. The loss of Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru, and of Obi-Wan Kenobi, do get appropriate weight in the story. But Leia never really feels the impact of her parents' deaths (nor, moreover, the loss of her entire planet). And after the Death Star battle, Luke shows more concern for R2-D2 than for his longtime friend Biggs, with whom he was just finally, briefly reunited. (The Special Edition calls undue attention to this latter example, by restoring a scene between Biggs and Luke that was cut from the original release.)

Yes, there's some hokey dialogue. Yes, there a couple moments of less-than-stellar acting. (But also some solid performances too.) Still, the strange and potent concoction that is Star Wars overcomes those minor flaws. Even if you're watching it for the hundredth time. Even if you're unwillingly thinking of Robot Chicken sketches all through the cantina scene. Even if you're cursing George Lucas for making "who shot first" a thing, and for inserting a terrible CG Jabba the Hutt into the movie.

In short: this right here? This is the stuff.

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