Leading up to The Last Jedi, the SuperBro team is bringing you reviews of every Star Wars film, and this week we’re looking at the one that started it all. In case you haven’t read the Rogue One review yet, check it out here first. Read it? Good. Let’s get into it, then.
Star Wars, first released in 1977 and written and directed by George Lucas, is one of the most impactful sci-fi films of all time. It changed the nature of cinema to the blockbuster-focused world we know today and spawned the most beloved film franchise in history. Its generation-spanning legacy should be a hard one to live up to, but the reason this film has been so influential is because Star Wars truly is an amazing film, worthy of its impact.
While many fans consider The Empire Strikes Back as the strongest film in the series, I would personally give Star Wars the edge there. While I’d say the films are roughly equal in quality, the task that the original pulled off so flawlessly deserves greater praise. And that task was creating a distinct, exciting, and believable new universe without getting bogged down by heavy-handed world-building. What director George Lucas did is something that modern visionaries like George Miller and Guillermo del Toro have since followed, and even Lucas himself failed to emulate it later.
The genius thing about Star Wars and how it builds its world is that it’s almost all implied or done visually. In crafting an immersive new fictional world, it might be easy to get bogged down in exposition explaining everything. But Star Wars deals mostly in allusions. It isn’t afraid to throw out lines about the Clone Wars or the dissolution of the Senate without much explanation. The strength in this strategy is the implication that behind every scene we see, there’s dozens of more stories happening we don’t get to see. While this may be the first entry we see in this saga, it’s made clear that the universe goes far beyond what the audience is being shown. It was there before the film started and it will continue after it ends. This is what enables the Star Wars universe to be as massive as it is today.
But that carries beyond the dialogue, as the film leans on its visuals as much as any good movie should. This is a universe that is very lived in. It’s dirty, run down, and is full of people from all different cultures. It’s a sharp contrast from the shiny, developed sci-fi worlds seen in so many other works of fiction. Every piece of machinery or clothing, every weapon or ship: they all have a history behind them that’s unique to them. Again, it makes this very alien galaxy feel more real, which does wonders for the viewers’ immersion.
What really sells this visual aspect are the groundbreaking practical effects. There are some choppy cuts whenever someone sheaths or unsheathes a lightsaber, but beyond that it has aged very well. The importance of practical effects to the film comes down to how real and believable the alien worlds feel. Everything you see on screen, no matter how fantastic, is actually real. Massive sets and props bring us in to the settings, giving the feeling you could walk through them as easily as the characters do. It’s something George Lucas, fascinated with the modern CGI technology he employed so liberally in the prequels, didn’t seem to understand. It created an aesthetic so iconic and recognizable, you don’t need to be told you’re watching a Star Wars movie to realize it.
We haven’t even gotten to the story content of the movie yet, so let’s take a look. Drawing from a large variety of inspirations, George Lucas crafted the ultimate modernist film. The Star Wars universe is one with a clearly defined good side and bad side. The Force flows through everything and connects all- good and evil. The dark side is corruptive and totalitarian; the light side is peaceful and harmonious. In this way, Star Wars in an ultimate tale of good versus evil.
Star Wars is a rare example of a perfectly paced and structured film. Every scene serves a purpose to itself, its characters, and the movie as a whole. Whatever you’re being shown builds a character, develops a theme, or drives the plot in an engrossing way that builds as it goes on. It does everything it needs to in the time it gives itself, and leaves the door open for more adventures beyond its own scope. This is part of why it’s such a rewatchable movie.
The real hook of Star Wars, as I’ve stated, is this fantastical otherworldly story and setting that’s made to feel real. It’s perfect fiction, and this carries through to its characters. Luke Skywalker is maybe one of the greatest traditional protagonists of all time. His motivation is a simple one, and most importantly, intensely relatable. He’s a simple farm boy who wants by any means to escape the small life he’s forced into. At the beginning of the film, all he wants is to hang out with his friends, and even dreams of going to an Imperial Academy. The thought of rebellion excites him not because he necessarily has strong anti-Empire sentiments, but because he feels it’s the path to his greater calling. The part of his life he was kept from, the history of his father, is tied to it, and his motivation is fulfilling his destiny. Through the course of the story he learns what that means and pays a price for it, emerging changed on the other end. It’s a simple story told perfectly.
The entire cast is, of course, one of cinema’s most memorable. Harrison Ford gave generations their definition of cool and suave in Han Solo. The very epitome of a lovable rogue, Han is there to balance out the good kid in Skywalker. He’s morally grey and in it for the money, but learns there can be real personal stakes in fights as well outside of just saving your own skin. The way he delivers the iconic line “May the Force be with you” sums up his struggle in the movie. He says it in a genuine tone of encouragement that’s clearly new for him, as if he can’t believe he means it as much as he does. It’s a reference to what, according to him, was a hokey religion, but it’s all the setup his triumphant return at the Death Star needs.
I’m always amazed at the physical performance given by Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca. You can understand his character entirely without any real dialogue. This is a trait shared by the film’s true main character, R2-D2. Through the spin of a revolving head, the tone of a beep, and the defiance of a clear order, you know who Artoo is without ever hearing it from himself. Princess Leia is, in my opinion, a very advanced portrayal of a royal female character. She needs rescuing by the male heroes, but acts so strongly as a monarch for the sake of her people, you can’t help but immediately admire the character. She then takes an active role in her own rescuing, and Carrie Fisher gave a performance to rival that of any of the cast. I’m not going to go through and list the qualities of each character, but I’ll of course shout out the presence the voice of James Earl Jones brings to Darth Vader, along with some of the coolest character design for any film villain ever.
I’ve talked a lot about the visuals, but film is an audio-visual medium, so I must also mention the audio aspect. John William’s score does not just fit the movie or enhance it, but it is the movie. The emotions and themes of Star Wars are one with its score. From the overwhelming control of the Empire, the pull of the Force that resonates with Luke, or the heroic and captivating main theme, to know Star Wars is to hear Star Wars.
Lastly, if you’ve never had the opportunity to see a non-Special Edition version of the movie, I highly recommend you search one out. It’s not a drastic improvement, but the film feels more at home in its own skin.
For a film not just iconic because of a large fanbase, but because it is an example of what makes stories so worth telling, I can’t give Star Wars anything but a 10/10. Thanks for reading, and keep up with us at SuperBroMovies for more reviews in the future.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi hits theaters December 15, 2017.