Sad Hill Media

Film & Lesser Arts with Will Ross, Devan Scott, & Daniel Jeffery.

May 30, 2009

Star Wars (1977)

By Devan Scott

You may have heard of this movie.

I wasn't alive in 1977. In fact, I wasn't even alive within a decade of 1977. The Star Wars craze is lost on me. In less than a month, I'll be 32 years late in reviewing it. I've missed the boat. Anyone who's reading this has seen the movie. What started as a Flash Gordon throwback has since evolved into one of the pop culture's most ubiquitous franchises. So ubiquitous, in fact, that it's become nearly impossible to watch Star Wars as simply another film, just one that happened to be released at a turning point pop culture history. It's difficult to separate the film from the trend it sparked or the bloated franchise it spawned. This complicates the question of how the film stands up on its own merits. Is it really that good?

After viewing the film again, the answer is obvious: Sweet mother of god, it is. The simple truth is that there’s a perfectly good reason that Star Wars is so ridiculously well-known today. It’s an incredibly fun movie. Whenever I watch it, I find myself invariably overlooking the gaping plot holes, blatant inconsistencies, and considerable cheesiness. Instead, I’m drawn in by the sheer sense of fun and escapism. It’s light and breezy, but never feels forgettable or inconsequential. Self-seriousness is totally absent throughout the film, and there isn’t a hint of the sort of melodrama that characterizes lesser space operas. This is a good-natured, fun film through and through.

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This brings us to the tricky question: Why is Star Wars so entertaining? What makes it so endlessly enjoyable? The answer to this is more complicated, but I believe it can be largely boiled down to one thing: Simplicity. In fact, it is in this area where the weaknesses of the misguided prequel trilogy become the most clear. In Star Wars, the Force is explained simply as a mystical force. In the prequels, this elegant explanation is ruined as the Force is redefined as created by little creatures which can bend the fabric of space-time. In making Star Wars, Lucas took various elements from other, more complex works – space operas, fairy tales, myths, science fiction – and utilized them all to create a simple, lean adventure story. He borrowed plot devices from sources as diverse as Akira Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress and Arthurian legend, mixed with them special effects on par with Stanley Kubrick’s 2001, and threw all this into an action yarn as simple and effective as old Flash Gordon serials.

This isn’t to say Lucas merely ripped off a bunch of old masters; far from it. In paying homage to all of these old sources, he still managed to inject many astonishingly original elements in the mix. Most importantly, he fashioned an entirely fantastic, yet believable universe for the film’s characters to inhabit. One could argue that such a feat has never been pulled off as well as it has here.

And speaking of characters, what characters they are. Sure, the performances given by many of the actors border on uneven, but they all share one key quality. They’re all incredibly compelling. All the good guys are likeable. Luke Skywalker is as sympathetic a lead character as they come. Despite being raised in a far-off galaxy, he’s still just a young guy hoping to make a difference. His earnestness is balanced nicely with Han Solo’s attitude; the fact that Han Solo is such a fascinating scoundrel makes his eventual turnaround far more satisfying than it would have been otherwise. The heroes may be interesting, but the most iconic characterization is reserved for the movie’s villain. Darth Vader is about as memorable a bad guy as there has ever been. Rarely has a character so perfectly embodied evil; everything down to his voice, mannerisms, appearance, stature, and breathing suggest something too evil to comprehend lying beneath that mask.

Credit for realizing this story must be given to the production team, who were far ahead of their time in a great many aspects. It goes without saying that John Williams’ score is iconic, but equal credit must be given to Ben Burtt, who practically invented modern sound design with his work here. He hit a radio antenna guy wire with a hammer, and that became the iconic sound associated with laser guns ever since. If that isn’t genius, I don’t know what is. ILM’s visual work is also astounding; the quality of the work present here only serves to underscore how needless the CGI-laden Special Editions are. No film came close to matching the special effects work done in this film until, well, the next Star Wars movie.

Star Wars is at its best when viewed as simply a movie to be enjoyed. Yes, there is a whole ton of hype and cultural baggage that must be ignored. The payoff, however, is the revelation of a simple story, spectacularly told, of heroes, villains, an epic quest, and a couple robots. In space. And isn’t that all anyone can ask?

(As if you needed to know)

Anyone else think it's bad luck to open a blog with reviews of Star Trek and Star Wars?


Anonymous said...

I like the idea of these reviews because they are really extensive and really protray what you guys think, but maybe for future reference maybe you should make them alot smaller, because I doubt lots of readers have the patience to read it all

C said...

Yeah, I love it when people "protray" what they're thinking too.

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