So, I actually re-watched this the other week but hadn’t written the blog yet.
However, when I saw that today is Star Wars’ 35th Anniversary I just had to get this done in time to post today.
Can I just say how delighted I am that Star Wars made the lists in 1998 and 2007? (#15 in 1998; Lucky #13 in 2007.) And that genre snobbery did not get in the way of AFI recognizing what is truly one of the greatest films of all time, and a film that revolutionized the way we watch movies? I think if the AFI list were made today we’d see a LOT more SF/F on there, but for them to have recognized a SF movie as the 15th greatest movie of all time back in 1998? *applause*
Anyway, as you might have guessed, I am a Star Wars fan. Huge. Big fan. I grew up watching this movie on endless repeat. I have all the lines memorized (even the alien language lines). I had the toys. ALL the toys. (You think I’m kidding? I even had the little bat creature who’s got one second of screen-time in the Cantina scene.) I was Princess Leia for Halloween and a Jedi Knight the next year. I was Luke Skywalker on Dagobah just this past year. (Yoda was my date. Perfect gentleman, lemme tell ya.)
I love Star Wars so much, in fact, that I was actually terrified to re-watch it for 100 Days with my critical eye turned on. Could this movie stand up to the other Greats? Would the dialogue, the characters, the story beats, any of it stand up to the other great classic movies I’ve watched?
Short answer? Um, yeah. Hell yeah. I had no reason to be afraid. (Fear is the path to the Dark Side, after all.) As I’ve found with most of the movies I’ve watched so far in this project: There’s a reason this movie’s a classic.
Here’s the imdb synopsis: “Luke Skywalker, a spirited farm boy, joins rebel forces to save Princess Leia from the evil Darth Vader, and the galaxy from the Empire’s planet-destroying Death Star.”
I think this one really is a classic for the common man. You don’t need a Film Degree to see why this is great. It’s a fairy tale. Its told like a fairy tale, it’s styled like a fairy tale, it is painted in the black and white shades of that binary fairy tale language. Even to the point of color coding the weapons (Green=Good; Red=Bad), the costumes (Darth Vader=All black; Princess Leia=All white), even the sets (Leia’s rebel ship is pure, blinding white; the interiors of the Death Star are a dingy gray). This attention to detail is something I really noticed this time around. That black/white/good/evil juxtaposition is in every frame, every choice. It’s really masterful. This is another film where I think you could watch it without the dialogue and still understand 90% of the plot. Of course, then you’d miss out on the hilarious and infinitely quotable dialogue (“Will someone get this big, walking carpet out of my way?”).
(This is totally OT but in the first scenes the stormtroopers set their blasters to stun to capture Princess Leia. I think this is the ONLY time anyone EVER uses the stun function on their blaster in the films. Am I wrong?)
Another great thing this movie has is stakes. “Stakes” is writer talk for “what’s at stake?” What are your characters fighting for? In Star Wars, it’s right there in the opening crawl, they’re “fighting to restore freedom to the galaxy.” The whole GALAXY. Even the smaller stakes in this movie aren’t that small: a whole planet gets blown up before the movie’s even half over. Because the stakes are so high, the tension moment to moment stays high.
BUT the other thing this movie does well is to have smaller moments of conflict and tension. Han’s being pursued by bounty hunters. They escape the guards only to end up in the trash compactor. The droids escape the space dogfight only to be captured by jawas. There are personal and community stakes.
Speaking of, I think one of the reasons this film isn’t just a classic but actually became part of the very fabric of our popular culture is because of the wonderful community in this film. The crew aboard the Millennium Falcon aren’t just comrades, they’re family. A dysfunctional bickering family, sure, but still family. (And I don’t mean just Luke and Leia). Leia comforts Luke at Obi Wan’s death. Chewie is Han’s BFF. Han comes back to save Luke. 3PO is devastated when R2’s injured (and they’re both robots). Everyone likes each other, everyone cares about the other people deep down even if they occasionally call them a “big, walking carpet.”
Incidentally, this is something I think the prequels were missing. In the prequels, all the characters bickered and fought, but no one seemed to actually like each other (not even Padme and Anakin) and none of them seemed to have each other’s backs. In the original Star Wars loyalty and sacrifice for your friends is one of the core themes running through the whole trilogy. The prequels were really, really missing that glue.
Which is another reason that you NEED to have Han shoot first in the Greedo scene. One of the really wonderful threads in this movie is watching Han’s character arc. Leia doesn’t really have one (except to slightly soften toward the others). Luke’s arc is really the classic hero’s journey from naive farmboy to conquering hero. Han’s is the one I’m really invested in. He goes from a cynical lone wolf only out for profit to a trusted and loyal friend and comrade. He needs to shoot first to show his coldness, his detachment. Without that, his arc is unnaturally stunted.
I’m actually really glad I trusted my gut and watched this with my critical brain on. I think it had some valuable writing lessons for me and, anyway, it’s always a good day to watch Star Wars. 🙂
What did I learn from this movie? Community. Write characters the audience can care about, yes, but also write characters who can and do care about each other.
Can I see why this movie has become a classic? A-yup. Great characters. Wonderful design aesthetics. Compelling story. Good dialogue. GREAT world-building. Infinitely re-watchable. There isn’t really anything this movie (in its original cut) does wrong.
Favorite part(s)? The whole movie basically, but if I gotta pick only a few moments? “Into the garbage shoot, flyboy!” and all the Han/Leia banter. The part where Han returns to save Luke at the Death Star.
And, of course, the Throne Room scene which has some of the best music ever written EVAH. But also because they’re so damn happy. Leia’s wearing her This is Serious Business Princess-Face then breaking into a smile at Luke. Han winking when she gives him the medal and she shoots him a Stern Face. R2D2’s OK! The whole damn Rebel Alliance saluting them. And everyone smiling. So good. I still get a little lift in my gut every time I watch this scene.
Overall rating: ***** (I LOVED it!)
And now, in parting–because I can’t resist–I say only: May the Force be with you. Always.