In reviewing the original Star Wars trilogy, one of the most popular franchises of all time, I will do my best to avoid overusage of the words “iconic” and “classic,” even though nearly everything in these films fits those descriptions. Few movies have such a perfect blend of comedy, action, romance, and imagination, which have yielded such a widespread and devoted following and a universal appeal.
The first film was a bolt from the blue in 1977. My mom remembers seeing it on a recommendation, being surprised at a jam-packed theater, and being so captivated by this new level of cool that she returned to watch it 7½ more times (yes, she once paid to see only half of it; that’s all she had time for one afternoon, and that was better than not seeing it at all). Every aspect of George Lucas’s brainchild exemplifies those two words I mentioned earlier: the commanding presence and deep voice of Darth Vader (surprisingly, James Earl Jones was not credited on the first two films’ initial release), the endearing companionship of R2-D2 and C-3PO, Kenobi’s wise introduction of various mythic elements like the Force and lightsabers, the astounding size and power of the Death Star, the roguish appeal of Han Solo (the role that made Harrison Ford a true movie star), the danger and humor of their rescue of Leia, the trigger-happy escape that makes one wish for an arcade, and the explosive finale. Plot points and individual scenes have become so ingrained in popular culture that their parodies and homages are more ubiquitous than even those of The Wizard of Oz and other films that have been around much longer. Among the film’s most arresting aspects was John Williams’s music, the greatest movie score of all time. Without it (as well as the groundbreaking visual effects and Ben Burtt’s ingenious sound effects), Star Wars might have been simply a cute little sci-fi film, but the bombastic score is what truly earns it the title of space opera. By today’s standards, the characters and their interactions might be considered a tad cheesy, but like Indiana Jones, they tap into their creator’s love of pulpy adventures and are so much fun that viewers today merely enjoy the ride and quote the film verbatim. It made household names of Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher, and in my opinion, the original remains the best film in the entire saga.
Rarely are middle films the most popular, but The Empire Strikes Back has grown over the years to be the most esteemed of all the Star Wars films. It featured the memorable battle on Hoth, the introduction of wise outcast Yoda and dashing Lando Calrissian, the deepening of Han and Leia’s romance, and that classic shocker involving Luke’s parentage, a revelation so iconic that children today will be lucky if they can see the original surprise before some all-too-common spoof (there, I used them just once). As lauded as Empire Strikes Back is, I hold an unpopular opinion: it’s my least favorite of the original trilogy. Perhaps it is carryover from my mom recounting how she was disappointed when she first saw it, with the cliffhanger ending followed by three years of waiting, but I prefer the first and third films. Its darker tone doesn’t carry quite as much humor as its predecessor, and Luke’s training with Yoda slows everything down, even if it’s a necessary step in his progress as a Jedi. Plus, not once, not twice, but three times does the hyperdrive fail to work, a fact that allows for a great climax but a less-than-pleasing middle. I know practically everyone else disagrees, but that’s my opinion. It’s still a fantastic film that thickens the epic plot and relationships to unparalleled new levels; I just like Episodes IV and VI a bit better.
Why is Return of the Jedi just a little better? It’s not simply because of the presence of the satisfying conclusion, but the absence of any inner dislike on my part. Just as I didn’t mind Jar Jar Binks in The Phantom Menace, I don’t mind the Ewoks of Endor, who, compared with Binks, actually serve a purpose and manage to be more than just cutesy sidekicks. With all the weird and quirky aliens seen in Mos Eisley and Jabba’s palace (some of which are admittedly silly), I don’t understand why the Ewoks supposedly detract from the picture. Their primitive warfare with the Empire’s walkers creates some cheer-worthy victories; so what if they’re cute too? The slowness on Dagobah is kept to a minimum, and the film as a whole seems much more exciting than Empire. The battle on Jabba’s sail barge is one of the best, while the speeder chase through the forest is the most thrilling sequence of the whole film. (That chase also features an old-fashioned film technique at its best; the high-speed race through the trees was filmed by a camera just slowly advancing through the woods, which was then sped up for the finished product.) In the end, what this film and basically the whole saga is about is the fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker, and, even though he had been solely villainous before Episode VI, even disregarding his depicted fall in the prequels, I actually felt sorry for Darth Vader. That’s one aspect that George Lucas definitely succeeded in; Luke’s confrontation with the Emperor and Vader’s subsequent salvation are what all the other films prepare and anticipate, a sad yet satisfying climax for one of the best trilogies of all time.
Who would have guessed that a cool idea in the mind of a young filmmaker would blossom into such a monumental success of a franchise? It’s not yet over too; by the end of this year, we’ll have the beginning of the next chapter in the Star Wars cinematic universe, courtesy of J. J. Abrams. Based on his work with Lost and Star Trek, I have high hopes for The Force Awakens this December. There’s nothing quite like the original films, though, with Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, R2-D2, Darth Vader, characters as endlessly watchable as they are iconic (I couldn’t help myself).Best line from Star Wars (could have been the whole script): (Han Solo and a general) “May the Force be with you.” Best line from The Empire Strikes Back (could have been most of the script): (Darth Vader) “If you only knew the power of the Dark Side. Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.” (Luke) “He told me enough! He told me you killed him!” (Vader) “No. I am your father.” Best line from Return of the Jedi: (Han Solo, captured by Jabba) “How we doin’?” (Luke) “Same as always.” (Han) “That bad, huh?” Rank: 60 out of 60
© 2015 S. G. Liput
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