Spoilers may occur
If ever there was a nostalgic movie, Stars Wars is right up there. I actually didn’t discover Lucas’ trilogy (1977-1983) until I was in my teens. The story has a power beyond what it is, and made me want to be Luke Skywalker, use a lightsaber, and fly the millenium falcon. All three films are original, and bring something new to the table. It’s tough for me to pick a favorite, though The Empire Strikes Back (1980) is often referred to as the jewel. When shooting began on the first film in 1976, many figured the project to be a sci-fi flop. Crew members stood around laughing at a man in a dog suit (Chewbacca). Within two months of its May 1977 US opening, the film had recouped its $9 million budget, and would go on to surpass the previous record holder Jaws (1975) for most successful film ever at the box office.
The story of Star Wars (1977) is simple, and works because it’s so entertaining and inspiring. As opposed to the prequels (1999-2005), the original trilogy (1977-1983) has well-defined and memorable characters.
Star Wars (1977) is a coming of age saga. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) starts out as the everyman, he has the same insecurities and fears as we do. He is the apprentice, living with his foster parents. Through chance (or destiny) he meets Obi-Wan Kenobi, who becomes his mentor. Luke is restless and eager for adventure. Much like for example the Tintin character, the adventures Luke goes on are probably more interesting than his personality. He is the blank sheet who is taking in knowledge and experience, on his path to manhood.
Director George Lucas:
“He (Luke) has the talent, he just has to recognize the talent in himself, and then he has to work very hard to nourish that talent, in order to be able to use it in the real world. That is one of the central issues”
George Lucas on why it’s so important to listen to your inner feelings:
”It’s an issue of quieting your mind, so you can listen to yourself (…) follow your bliss. It’s to follow your talent, is one way to put it. That’s the way I see it. The hardest thing to do when you’re young is to figure out what you’re going to do.”
My favorite character is cynical smuggler Han Solo (below, left) played by Harrison Ford. The humor of the character is basically the blue print for Indiana Jones. Solo’s roguish cockiness is the perfect foil for Princess Leia’s aloof protests of disinterest. Han Solo is essentially a selfish character, his name solo speaks of his independent nature. During the story he learns to commit himself to a cause outside of himself, and care about other people. To think of someone other than yourself is a lesson we can all learn from. Han Solo is a thief with a heart of gold. Harrison Ford is also the only member of the cast to go on to have a string of hit films outside of Star Wars.
Famously remembered for her haircut! Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) is the damsel in distress, but she is not just a passive pretty face to be rescued, she is a woman of action and is not afraid to speak her opinion. As a leader of the rebellion, Leia needed to project a confidence beyond her years.
Alec Guinness memorably plays retired Jedi knight Obi-Wan Kenobi, a blend of the wizard Merlin and a samurai soldier. Guinness was picked to play the mentor of Luke because he had a certain screen presence as a well-known character actor.
“What Luke is doing in the beginning of Star wars is finding his own responsibility, his place in the world (…) Obi-Wan sends him on the path of self-discovery”
During the opening moments of Star Wars, no one made more of an impression than Darth Vader (David Prowse). Standing two meters tall and dressed in black body armor and a flowing cape, Vader was an instantly recognizable symbol of evil, whose power, incredible confidence, ruthlessness, and faceless mystery struck terror into the hearts of cinemagoers around the world. However, his voice (by James Earl Jones) and breathing are part of what made the character so haunting and effective.
George Lucas about the popularity of Darth Vader:
“Children love power, because children are the powerless. So their fantasies all center on having power, and who is more powerful than Darth Vader”
An inspiration for Star Wars was the filmmaker Kurosawa.
“I admired Hidden Fortress. I was inspired by a device Kurosawa used in Hidden Fortress that I liked very much, which I used in Star Wars, which was to take the two most insignificant characters and tell the story from their point of view. In this case, it’s R2 and 3PO.”
With so much emotion and tension, C3PO (Anthony Daniels) and R2D2 (Kenny Baker) provide slapstick and release. They are the comedy team of the thin guy and the fat guy, only they happen to be robots. C3PO and R2D2 are a little beside the action looking at it, so they are with us the audience on the journey. C3PO is the bumbling sidekick and seems more like us, what would we do in that situation? We’d probably panic and that’s what C3PO does.
George Lucas was influenced by stories he knew as a child, Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers. Later on Lucas read the nonfiction book The Hero With A Thousand Faces (1949), by famed mythological professor Joseph Campbell, which was used on college campuses across the US. In the book, Campbell said myth is the metaphor for the experience of life. Campbell was interested in the threads that tied all the mythologies together.
The mythological process is that everyone sees themselves in the story. The light saber could be a reference to King Arthur and the Excalibur sword, the death star could make us remember the Greek tale of Odysseus entering the underworld.
Mythic stories were originally designed as cautionary tales, they are stories that instruct us how we should conduct ourselves. Myths emerge out of religion, and are a way to make sense of the universe.
The empire depicted in Star Wars is sterile and lifeless, there are no women anywhere. Hitler’s personal bodyguards where called stormtroppers, just like the anonymous white stormtroppers in Lucas’ film. The mask represents someone who has lost their humanity, so they are just going to do what they are told, but not necessarily what’s right. Darth Vader’s helmet look like the helmets worn by German soldier’s during WW2. The empire represents a system, a faceless power that is threatening to squelch us all.
You can perceive the Star Wars mythology as a metaphor for our culture as the machine. Is the state going to crush humanity, or is it going to serve humanity.
Joseph Campbell, the author Lucas had read, thought that the big question of our time was would we live for the machine, or would we live for humanity. In Star Wars, the technology is symbolic of the loss of humanity, Darth Vader’s robot body, the imperial walkers, or the death star, which looks like a planet, but is a machine. Inside of the death star the construction is empty, and an interpretation is that the heart of the evil Empire is hollow.
The message could be, don’t rely on technology, rely on yourself, that one person can make a difference, and the importance of friendship. It’s how people use technology which defines them as good or bad. We are all in this together, and we need to cooperate to survive.
Film critic Roger Ebert: “George Lucas’ space epic has colonized our imaginations, and it is hard to stand back and see it simply as a motion picture, because it has so completely become part of our memories. (…) Star Wars effectively brought to an end the golden era of early-1970s personal filmmaking and focused the industry on big-budget special-effects blockbusters, blasting off a trend we are still living through. “
Ground breaking special effects, new worlds, vehicles and props caught the imagination of audiences, such as the spacecraft Millennium Falcon, light sabers, and memorably introducing us to “the force”. Lucas and producer Kurtz surrounded themselves with the best special effects experts in their field. They would be called upon to be inventive and highly innovative. To emphasize just what a valuable contribution they made to Star Wars, its subsequent seven Oscar wins were for Best Art direction/Set Direction, Best Visual Effects, Best Costume Design, Best Film editing, Best Sound Effects, and Best Original Score written by John Williams. Director George Lucas was also nominated for best director, but lost out to Woody Allen.
Favorite quotes, uttered by Obi-Wan Kenobi: “May the force be with you, always”, and “Who is the more foolish, the fool, or the fool who follows him”
My rating is 8.0
For further reading, check my review of The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Readers, any thoughts on my review above? Or Star Wars in general? What is your favorite of the Star Wars films, and why?
History Channel – Star Wars the legacy revealed (2007)
The Mythology of Star Wars documentary (2000)
GEORGE LUCAS – HEROES, MYTHS & MAGIC – AMERICAN MASTERS (1993)
Star Wars MTV Movie Special (1997)
From Star Wars to Jedi: The Making of a Saga (1983)
Film Review Special – Star Wars 20th Anniversary
Empire of Dreams – The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy (2004) (the least interesting of the docs I watched)
Film review, Roger Ebert