Before I start, a quick apology. This isn’t a great review by any means. One, I rushed it. Two, In writing about a film that everyone knows, I found I had problem figuring out exactly what to say. What you’re getting here is a stream of consciousness. The Empire Strikes Back review will be better.
In anticipation of The Force Awakens, the Shattered Lens are taking on the other films in the Star Wars Saga. It’s next to impossible for anyone to avoid seeing anything related to the new film as the fever grows and we reach the December 18th release date.
There are a few movies where I wish I could’ve been there during their theatrical release. How great would it be to see audiences squirm during Ridley Scott’s Alien, Steven Spielberg’s Jaws or William Friedkin’s The Exorcist? I was a little too young to see the original Star Wars when it premiered in May of 1977, but I can’t imagine it wasn’t amazing. I wouldn’t be familiar with the films until 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back. That was the film I saw first. Then Star Wars on VHS and finally Return of the Jedi in the cinema when I was 9.
Still, I grew up knowing what Star Wars was before I could really read. Thanks to an older brother who was enthralled with the film at 7, there were Star Wars curtains in our room and Star Wars bedsheets/blankets. We had action figures and models to play with. Since LED’s in toys weren’t the norm, our lightsabers consisted of whiffle-bat plastic rods with cuts in them. Swing the sword a bit and you’d hear the “hum” of the blade. It was an awesome time.
Years later, when my little brother was born in the mid-1980’s, we kept him occupied with movies. Once he learned what Star Wars was, it was almost always the film he’d pick out to watch. I took him with me to catch all three of the Prequels during late night runs. We’d spend the wait with our own lightsabers, re-enacting Episode I fights or just talking about what we hoped we’d see. Earlier this year, during my last visit to my friends in Oregon, I was able to introduce a new generation to the magic of it all.
All of that is me, gushing over one of my favorite set of films. You have my sympathies.
So, how did a little sci-fi film in the late 70s manage to become such a pop culture beacon today? Was it the special effects, so ground breaking that we still use its techniques (such as the Green Screen)? Was it the sound design? The cast, perhaps, made up of a mix of relative unknowns and seasoned film veterans?
I’d argue that the film’s biggest success is the overall impact in the Motion Picture industry. Lucas and the production team were forced to make some innovations to get the vision they wanted. To that end, Industrial Light & Magic was created, and the effects studio pioneered special effects for years to come. Pixar wouldn’t have happened without Star Wars and ILM, since they were just a branch of the company that Lucas couldn’t quite find a use for, supposedly. The best comparison I can make for anyone unfamiliar with ILM is Weta Digital and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. You know when you watched those three films, you were seeing effects that everyone would want to use down the road. That’s just my view. The ties to classic myths were also strong, as Lucas was heavily influenced by Joseph Campbell. Campbell’s Hero Journey is basically the template used for A New Hope (and for The Matrix by the Wachowski’s, if you watch them side by side). Ben Burtt would go on to win a special award for Sound Effects in the film. His work would eventually end up being the backbone of Skywalker Sound.
From a casting standpoint, most of the principals were relative unknowns at the time. Lucas worked with Harrison Ford on American Graffiti some years before. Mark Hamill was brought on board after auditioning at the behest of his friend, Robert Englund (which I found out during writing this). Carrie Fisher loved the script and was also cast as Princess Leia. For some added weight, Lucas managed to cast both Sir Alec Guinness and Peter Cushing. I’m still not entirely certain of how he pulled that off.
Star Wars (or A New Hope as I’ll refer to it) takes place 30 years after the events of Revenge of the Sith. The Galactic Empire is in control over everything, the Jedi are no more. It’s a near complete victory, save for the fact that the plans for the Empire’s greatest weapon were stolen. When a Star Destroyer intercepts a Rebel Cruiser with Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) on board, she’s captured for interrogation. This is, of course, after she sneaks the plans for the Death Star in her trust R2 Unit, R2-D2 (Kenny Baker). R2, along with his companion C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) manage to escape the Star Destroyer and land on the desert planet of Tatooine.
The Droids are discovered by Jawas and are then sold to Owen Lars, his wife Beru and their nephew, Luke Skywalker. Luke wants to join up with the Alliance and become a starfighter, but the family needs him on the farm. After stumbling on to the message the Princess hid in R2-D2, he looks for his old friend, Ben Kenobi (Alec Guinness), who turns out to be more than what he seems.
In order to get to the Princess, they need someone to get them there. This is where the coolest character in the entire series appears. For a price, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and his buddy Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) take Ben and Luke in their spaceship, the Millenium Falcon to search for her. They get captured by the Empire, practically stumble upon the princess and she rescues them by way of a garbage chute. They get the plans, escape the Death Star and collaborate on a rebel assault to destroy it before it can do more harm. That’s the bulk of it, though admittedly, I’m leaving a lot out. It’s a simple tale, but an effective one as well.
Overall, A New Hope is still the template for a lot of Sci-Fi films. Battles in space, a little bit of swashbuckling, and some humor here and there are all elements borrowed by many films and games since it was released. Some handle Sci-Fi better (Mass Effect, Dune) and others fail in comparison (Jupiter Ascending, anyone?), but most modern works pay some homage to Star Wars in a way.
Tomorrow, we take a look at The Empire Strikes Back, arguably the best story in the Star Wars saga.