A long time ago, in what feels like 2023, like a galaxy far, far away… there existed a world before Star Wars… *cue Star Wars theme song*
The year was 1977. When I Need You was the #1 song on the pop charts. Carrie Fisher had only been in one movie, George Lucas had only directed one movie (that hadn’t been rejected by the studio), and the most anticipated movie of the month was not Star Wars. It was Smokey and the Bandit.
Then on the fateful day of May 25th, Star Wars (the New Hope was a later addition) premiered to a dainty few 32 theaters, the only ones who could be coerced into showing it.
Little did they know…
Star Wars’ worldwide gross would be six times that of Smokey and the Bandit. The cantina song would enjoy two weeks at #1 on the pop charts. Harrison Ford would become such an overnight sensation that a crowd tore his shirt in half when he went to the record store. Francis Ford Coppola would telegram Lucas’ hotel asking for funding assistance to finish Apocalypse Now.
*Insert chyron: Earth, 2023 at the bottom left of the screen*
It feels almost disgraceful to watch New Hope on anything other than a 35mm projection, in a space brighter than a blacked-out theater, and while eating anything more or less than a traditional buttery popcorn and soda. It’s a movie that trumpets at every one of your senses “I AM A MOVIE, TREAT ME AS SUCH.” What we wouldn’t give to travel back 46 years ago to see it then, for the first time: before they’d re-edited the original trilogy and banished them to the fortress of bootleggery and before the barrage of science-fiction essence super-everything had numbed our palettes. Ah, to view Star Wars in a time when it was new…
But we can’t have that. We won’t have that. No child from here on, even seeing it with virgin eyes, unless they came from a Kimmy Schmidt underground bunker scenario, would ever likely have that experience. Alas, let us not look at what we think we have lost, but what remains- A ridiculously and astonishingly long-lasting movie that kicked off a franchise that echoes today. And most assuredly, as the bank rolls in, the future as well.
Here I should confess that I have no nostalgic history with these movies- I did not grow up watching them, and because the most die-hard fans in the world subscribe to this series, I can’t even honestly call myself a Star Wars fan. But even I, an un-true fan, and even today in this hyper-saturated Star Saga universe in which we live, can profess that when you watch A New Hope, you know you’re watching a world and a story that’s easy to imagine generations of families falling in love with. That is in at least a small part due to the material coming from what we are already familiar with. Lucas created Star Wars wanting to make a science-fiction Flash Gordon-style serial with the upgraded effects of 2001 Space Odyssey. He merged that style with his love for the mythology he read in Joseph Campbell’s books with made for the classic hero’s archetypical journey set in a gorgeously crafted galaxy some long distance away.
This galaxy is introduced with fantastic pizzaz- a war- and a rapid pace that never tires through all three movies. The set pieces are alternatively romantic, rugged, and per character and team, the matte paintings are spectacularly encompassing, and the sliding transitions are… dated in a very charming way.
The charming transitions have nothing on the comedic pulse that sounds through all of the space operas to come: C3PO (Anthony Daniels) and R2D2 (Kenny Baker) as the #1 Thing 1 and Thing 2 duo. An uppity know-it-all jabber-mouth robot and a sweeter robot that only beeps and boops? It’s the very future Pixar movie’s general yin and yang character dynamic.
While I have some questions about the treatment of these kidnapped metal friends of ours, with the fact that they are purchased and C3PO is later told that “their kind” won’t be served in the groovily musical, but robotist(?) cantina… There is only time to forge ahead to their hero purchaser- Luke Skywalker.
According to the documentary Empire of Dreams, Luke’s original last name was Skykiller (sk-ary), and at one point in the drafts, he was a 60-year-old general. Which, wouldn’t you love to see a 60 year-old-Luke in a Star Wars version of Book Club? In the final draft, Skykiller was fixed to Skywalker, and in the final round of Brian DePalma’s and Lucas’ auditions for fresh-faced new talent, Mark Hamill was picked for the part. He had that gosh-darn angelic sincerity necessary for a TV serial-esque farmboy hero whose story the entire trilogy would follow.
Hamill is serving such a full 70s camp performance that you have to wonder if Paul Thomas Anderson used roughly 100% of the characteristics in making Dirk Diggler in Boogie Nights. Luke’s good ‘ol boy “It’s not impossible, I used to bull’s eye womp rats in my T-16 back home.” energy is balanced with the beautiful chemistry of the cocky and world-weary Han Solo (Ford) and the spunky believer Princess Leia (Fisher). The rest of the crew is rounded out by trusty Chewbacca (a very warm Peter Mayhew) and aided by the teachings of a perfectly cast Merlin-esque Obi-Wan (Alec Guinness). Now there’s a dream team worth fighting for!
The second movie in the franchise brings elevated creatures, peak Leia and Han nerd spats; “-You stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking, nerf herder!” and we learn that Darth Vader (spoiler alert) is Luke’s father. The movie is fabulous, but it couldn’t stand alone like many sequels. All relationships have been pre-established, and while their chemistry is outstanding, the circumstances surrounding them would need some explanation. Have you ever sat in front of the couple in movie three of a series, and one part of the partnership hasn’t seen the first two and so throughout the movie, you hear them whispering questions about ‘who’s that?’ and ‘Why are they doing/going/trying/ that?’ The mass amount of nerds who’ve most likely watched The Empire Strikes Back to that soundtrack.
Speaking of the soundtrack, please allow for a brief intermission so that we can state that this series brought about one of the most iconic and beloved scores of all time. Thank you, iconic and beloved wizard John Williams. Now we return… to the Jedi!
In Episode VI, we are treated with more great words of wisdom from the Jedi masters; a fun A-team drag race with the stormtroopers in the Redwoods, some creepy cute Ewoks, and an entire musical number complete with backup dancers. Rebellion leader Leia finally gets her task when she rescues Han Solo from the carbonite and is rewarded with the ‘slave Leia bikini’, gifting a solid third of Comic Con’s cosplay looks from then to infinity. And then, Luke’s hero’s journey and thus our trilogy ends with a final father-son duel and a relatively easily-overthrown emperor. Then, to tie off the snappy wrap-up, a galaxy-wide celebration is held after Leia tells Han not to worry about her love for Luke- “he’s my brother” (Let’s not mention the kiss, like, ever okay?). The End!
Much like Peter Falk says about The Princess Bride, Star Wars has it all; never-before-seen creatures, princesses, evil emperors, daring escapes, callous villains, wise teachers with magical powers, groundbreaking visual effects technology, timeless scoring, love interests, very chaotic family dynamics, and so much else that we’ve run out of room to mention! These films, made in the precious way they were, could have only happened at its precise time in history. It has changed and morphed and taken on many iterations. Still, the legacy of the originals and what it created, and Luke Skywalker’s unfinished quest to make it to the Tosche Station to pick up his power converters, live on forever.