Director: George Lucas
As I’ve grown older my love for the franchise has abated, and not because of the quality or lack there of with newer additions. I think I just don’t identify with the ethos. While I can certainly endorse the notion that there’s good and evil within all of us and the choices we make matter, the evil people in this galaxy are often sneeringly evil and inexplicably stupid. And in good stories I should be able to either identify with the antagonist or at least understand them. And that never happens here.
So I’ve wondered if I still adore this movie because of nostalgia; I was a toddler when I first saw it and I have a soft spot for many movies I first saw at this age. Certainly as I’ve grown older I’ve noticed flaws in the script, flaws in the acting, and ridiculous dialogue. When clinically evaluating the movie, I can pick it apart.
–What’s the point of C-3PO other than to play Gilligan?
–Why does Luke’s personality change from spoiled brat to eager hero in the span of thirty minutes? You would think his parents’ deaths wouldn’t make him less cynical.
–Two primary characters that don’t speak English and need their sidekicks to translate everything for the viewer?
But when I actually watch Star Wars, it’s a visceral experience. First of all, George Lucas might owe his whole fucking career to John Williams. Even when I’m watching the shitty Star Wars movies, that opening note and the trumpets are glorious. But what surprises me are the moments in the movie that are subtle, something Lucas is rarely accused of being. Take for example, the scene where R2 is captured by the Jawas:
This scene had me on the edge of my seat as a kid, and I still love it. And while the eyes peeking out from behind the rocks is creepy for sure, it’s the SILENCE that drives this one home. Why Lucas didn’t have a slow crescendo to cue the viewer to be nervous I don’t know, but hey, great restraint there dude. Even when the Jawa leaps out and attacks, there’s no loud drums to accentuate the moment. It just is.
Speaking of creeping me out, it’s not long after this we meet the sand people.
It’s not a perfect scene. Being introduced to them from their perspective was the wrong call; the first time we see them should’ve been through Luke’s viewfinder. And it could have used about fifteen more seconds of build-up. But I’ll be damned if this still doesn’t make me shiver. The noise they make is bone-chilling.
Alec Guinness’s appearance is still confusing to this day. He’s brilliant, as he was in nearly everything he did. But watching him with Mark Hamill is sure jarring. It would be like if Meryl Streep took a supporting role in a Fifty Shades of Grey and it totally working.
My favorite sound effect:
I don’t want to go on forever, but to highlight some other early moments I love:
–The Cantina scene. Lucas sets the atmosphere here very well, again with almost no dialogue except for some chatter in alien languages. I love that after Obi-Wan kills two aliens, the customers turn their heads and the band just starts playing upbeat music again. It’s a well-worn trope, but it’s hilarious. For the record, I don’t give a shit if Greedo shot first. Han’s ruthless either way.
–The garbage compactor scene. It should accomplish two things: being gross, and creating a feeling of claustrophobia. It does both. That we only barely see the serpent that takes Luke under the water is subtlety that Lucas ditched in later movies.
What is less effective are actual battle scenes. The fight between Obi-Wan and Darth Vader is cool, but the special effects department failed here with all the flickering. And the X-Wing/Tie-Fighter scenes are a bit frantic for me. The visuals are great, but the editing is choppy. Worse yet, during the climactic Death Star battle, the dialogue goes from bad to insulting.
“Watch for enemy fighters!” (enemy fighters! as opposed to allied fighters!)
“Evacuate? In our moment of triumph?” (who talks like this?)
“Keep your eyes open for those fighters!” (thanks again, Captain Obvious)
“I can’t hold ’em!” (well, of course, you’re just flying in the back doing nothing)
“R2, try to increase the power!” (to what?)
Also, I really hate “Use the force, Luke!” The sentiment is fine, but that’s the best they could come up with? Regardless, Guinness delivers the line like he’s calling to him through a long tunnel.
Even with all the griping though, the moment of truth is shot well:
So do I love this movie, or do I just love a bunch of individual scenes? Does it make a difference? Despite its flaws, I think what still makes it for me is the enthusiasm of the cast. While Hamill is a fantastic voice actor, he’s not that great on screen. But he throws himself into this role and I love him for it. It’s what Hayden Christensen couldn’t or wouldn’t do.
More than anything I can’t wait until I get to watch this with my son for the first time.