SUB-GENRES: Action / Adventure
DIRECTED BY: George Lucas
WRITTEN BY: George Lucas
PEW PEW: Star Wars is riddled with tense cat and mouse chases and swashbuckling action. The series positively glows with it, and is perhaps the greatest example of pure ‘pew pew!’
CAT FOOD: With simplistic morality, there’s not a terrible amount of social commentary in this picture. I would point out that a religion has been hunted to the brink of extinction by a fascist Galactic Empire, leaving only a few to keep the flame lit.
Well, of course I have to cover Star Wars. Star Wars is the very reason why science fiction is the longest relationship I’ve managed to sustain! For as long as I can remember, Star Wars has been there. Being born right after the release of the final film in the original trilogy, I was never exposed to a world without the series and its magic. It was never a secret that a certain somebody ended up being a certain somebody’s father. Dad rented a second VCR to record the trilogy onto one lo-fi videocassette and it (complete with an ending that only featured part of the ewok village celebration due to the length of the tape) stayed with me until I begrudgingly bought a copy of a ‘special edition’ VHS trilogy pack sometime in 2003.
I’ve since developed a refined sensibility that there are other great sagas and that ‘the Wars’ aren’t the be-all-end-all of the genre (it wasn’t easy), but the movies are still pretty close to the greatest things ever. Even the worst of them stir something up in me the same way seeing a toy one remembers from one’s childhood does. Funny thing is, the original Star Wars isn’t even really a great movie.
It’s cut together in a dated manner, replete with ancient wipe and fade transitions, there are heinous plot holes, its science is dubious at best, its heroes are even kind of lame sometimes, and its universe revolves around a completely black and white morality that is kind of juvenile, if one really thinks about it.
Even in the face of this, Star Wars is still brilliant magic.
Basically, there’s this huge civil war happening as scattered rebel bands have united to form an alliance that challenges the fascist and quite blatantly evil Galactic Empire. After plans for the Empire’s super weapon are stolen by the rebels in an attempt to exploit a weakness in its design, one of the gnarliest villains of all time is dispatched to track down the plans and deal with those responsible for their capture.
So here’s how George Lucas pulled this off. For starters, the imagery is breathtaking — the earthen landscapes are somehow made to look alien, the subtle hints at Japanese cinema abound, and there are cool looking ships, gadgets, and aliens everywhere!!! Before we ever know anything about him, the film’s iconic villain, Darth Vader, is a supreme badass. Even the droids (Threepio is my favourite of the original trilogy’s characters) look impossibly real and add humour and commentary when we need it most.
The sound of the picture is so unique that it directly influenced the decades of cinema that followed. From Vader’s ominous mechanised breathing and the roar of the TIE fighters’ twin ionised engines, to the satisfyingly cool blaster report and lightsaber crash and hum, the sound design is priceless, even at its most subtle. John Williams’ score is also quite possibly the greatest score ever composed, drawing out every last bit of excitement and space opera melodrama the film has to offer.
Best yet, George Lucas presents us with an entire galaxy that uses its own lingo and history — we are thrown right down smack dab in the middle of this huge fucking story with only subtle clues as to what’s going on.
Starting right in the middle of this sprawling opera is only the second most brilliant thing George Lucas ever did. I maintain that the whole reason this series was able to do what it did is that Lucas finally decided on leaving us with a boring, mild-mannered, teenaged farm boy as a protagonist. Luke isn’t the Buck Rogers / Flash Gordon-type hero. He’s smaller in stature, lonely, starry-eyed, and maybe a little whiny. Luke Skywalker is 75% of the teenage boys who went to see Star Wars in 1977.
So what’s so great about that, you ask? I’ll tell you: If we were thrust into this huge galaxy, in the middle of a behemoth of a story, and we bounced around between heroes as the conflict evolved, we’d probably be rather lost. But since we begin at ground level, on a barren desert planet, and with a normal, everyday human who has spent his life away from all of this, we are provided with a guide who knows as little about the story as we do. In a sense, we experience the galaxy as Luke does, only learning things gradually as they become important to his journey.
Aided by brilliant performances from stalwarts Alec Guinness and Peter Cushing, and relatively unknowns (at the time) Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford, Star Wars’ story for whatever it lacks, is engaging, involving, and terribly exciting. Fantasy stereotypes like the kidnapped princess, the outlaw cowboy, and the wise elder serve to bolster the adventure aspect of the film, and the only half-heard banter between Han Solo and his ‘walking carpet’ add further humour. It all adds up to a ridiculously entertaining picture.
Had I been there in 1977, I’m sure I would have rated this film higher. I’d not have been so numb to it and would have been better able to recognise its revolutionary qualities. As it stands, as a film compared to all that has happened since, the original Star Wars is perhaps more than a little lacking. The lightsaber duel between Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi is particularly underwhelming, and I can’t even watch the assault on the Death Star because it’s a mind-numbingly flat and almost entirely impersonal blaster-fest that seemingly goes on forever with nothing but “pew pew ‘copy that gold leader!'”
Even so, the dramatic personal and interpersonal conflicts in Star Wars are the key. As black and white as the moral decisions are, it doesn’t detract from the fact that something big is happening and these incredibly human heroes are scrambling around in the dark trying light the way.
Star Wars is a great movie because it’s a cool movie. Adults and children alike can unite and witness an epic battle between good and evil.