A long time ago...
Nearly 45 years later, Star Wars still puts most popcorn cinema since to shame. It’s a film that operates almost elementally on a high level to transcend its flaws into something timeless.
Prior to this most recent viewing, I watched for the first time American Graffiti, the film George Lucas made before Star Wars. I see more of a connection than I would have anticipated. Both depict a certain type of coming of age in almost mythic terms, each set of protagonists broadly defined but fully developed. And, most importantly, both have among the best uses of sound and music that I have ever heard in a film.
Star Wars is a space opera, almost literally: John Williams’ score defines the arc as much as any other individual component, particularly in the film’s first half, where every individual shot and cut aligns with a specific moment in the score, a masterclass of composition and editing. From the soaring brass of the main theme, through Leia’s angelic theme, through the heart-pounding drama of the attack on the Death Star, Star Wars’s soundtrack is full of brilliant romantic themes escalating and colliding and transposing, telling a full story by themselves.
The story is all broad strokes with iconography to match: the Empire, stark and geometric with a Death Star whose interiors are almost expressionistic. The Rebellion, meanwhile, wears earthy tones and uses battered equipment, an organic counterpoint to the merciless death march of authoritarianism.
The script has hiccups, for sure. The line “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” is said twice, but it somehow feels like 15 times. The first half hour is almost entirely a C3PO show. And there’s almost no room for shading or grayness in the film’s moral directness. But that’s okay! It’s a straightforward story, and that allows every component of the production to hit hard and in unison.
And before I move on past the film’s pimples, I should note the acting is very hit or miss. Mark Hamill isn’t doing much to deepen a character that’s simple on the page, carrying Luke like a whiny 12-year-old most of the time. Carrie Fisher has trouble bouncing between Leia’s various roles in the narrative. Harrison Ford, Peter Cushing, and Alec Guinness are all great, though.
There would come better Star Wars stories after this one, with richer character development, more satisfying plot arcs, more ambitious storytelling, and more nuanced morality. But there will never be a better Star Wars film qua film than the original, and that’s why it’s my favorite in the series and one of my favorite movies, period.
(I viewed Harmy’s Despecialized Edition for this review)
- Review Project: 2009 Top 100