Some have come to think that the early Star Wars films are not as visually exciting as the prequels. And they are for the most part correct. The technology to create compelling images wasn’t there in the mid ’70s, but George Lucas was a technically progressive filmmaker. His love of gadgets meant that he was determined to create an experience that people had not seen on the screen. And he succeeded to such an extent that he unintentionally created what amounted to an amusement park ride of a film that enticed the audience to see it over and over again. And so Star Wars fever started with the release of A New Hope in 1977.
Episode IV: A New Hope (1977) Yes, it’s a classic. And yes, there’s a lot of corny stuff in this film, but Lucas does it so well, that’s it’s really difficult to say anything bad about this film — but that’s not going to stop me from pointing out some flaws. First off, the obvious problem of Ben/Obi-Wan’s age. Yes, there’s no way Lucas could have the timeline between Episode III and IV sketched out in 1976, but he should have done a better job linking the two movies when he decided to embark on the prequels. Ben was simply too young at the end of Episode III to look like Ben twenty years later. Also, the story that Ben tells Luke about how Darth Vader killed his father was just bad storytelling. I mean, Lucas knew he had a sequel in his back pocket when A New Hope achieved success, so why did he make Ben out to be such a lair. Secondly, what did R2D2 really know. At the end of Episode III, we know that C3PO had his memory wiped, but not R2, so why was R2 programmed not to recognize Ben (or so it seemed)? And why did Ben say that he didn’t seem to remember ever owning a droid when clearly it was revealed otherwise in the prequels (Poor R4)? It was just sloppy filmmaking to not address these issues in 2005 when he was trying to bridge these two films?
Oh, and regarding Han Solo paying off Jabba: why the hell didn’t he just cruise over to Jabba’s place and pay the worm after the first film? I mean his ship was “the fastest in the galaxy” but he couldn’t seem to find the time to pay his debts. Other than those quibbles, the film was pure popcorn fun. Plenty of cool space battles, heroic characters, and a plot so black and white that it begged for re-watching. And yes, in 1977, this was the film to go to over and over again. Since we didn’t have DVDs, the Internet, or any kind of on demand features, if you wanted to experience the thrill of this movie again, you had to go back to your local cinema.
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) One of the strongest sequels I’ve seen a long time. The characters were very similar to the ones we left behind at the end of Episode IV, but then they grew as the movie progressed. Luke embarked on his Jedi training with Yoda, Han solo and Leia were able to take their relationship past the bickering sexual tension that was in the previous movie (and the early part of Episode V), and even Chewy showed that he was more teddy bear than brutally bearish. The revelation that Darth Vader was Luke’s father was a great plot twist, and it set up the larger narrative as “the salvation of Anakin Skywalker,” but there was a real bonding of friendship among Han, Leia and Luke in this film (even though they weren’t together for most of it) that really came through. The cliffhanger aspect to the film was a bit of a disappointment, but these films were designed to be part of serial, so it was completely in line with the narrative arc to leave the viewer hanging. Still, it’s a much darker film than its predecessor, but it’s one where we see the characters stretch out and grow.
Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi (1983) One of the greatest disappointments in film history. Okay, maybe not in the entire history of film, but it’s pretty close. I’m not sure what happened on this film, but the characters were so wooden and unrecognizable that it was surprising that I was watching a Star Wars film. That’s not to say that the elements Lucas was known for weren’t there (i.e., big, battles, cool photography, great special effects and the like), but it seemed that the franchise had run out of steam with a plot that had been long in the making, but short on delivery. Yes, we already knew that Vader was Luke’s father, but just to make sure, we had to have a dying Yoda confirm it so we were sure Vader wasn’t lying about it. Then there are the Ewoks. What the hell was Lucas thinking? A teddy bear rebellion that topples the mighty Empire with the dark side of the Force as its ally! Laughable, but savvy enough to market these “yap yap” spouting balls of fur to young kids, while teenagers like me were wondering why Lucas was messing with us. What other surprises did we get. Oh yeah, the gross-out revelation that Leia was Luke’s sister. Once that was laid bare, it didn’t take much to start recounting how smitten Luke was with his sister in the first two movies, and how she kissed him twice (shudder). Also, once the Emperor is finally killed at Vader’s hand and Luke effectively kills his dad, what’s left to do? Oh yeah, listen to the Ewoks sing some kind of “yub nub” song and see Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Yoda appear to Luke as some kind of holy trinity before the final fade out to the credits. In 1983, at the end of this film, I turned to my friend (with whom I attended the first screening) and said, ” That was a piece of shit.” He protested and said that he thought it was a great ending to the trilogy — but confessed that his favorite character (Boba Fett) was killed off in a very casual way, and for that he’ll never forgive Lucas. Me? I could never forgive Lucas for short-changing his fans with this horribly conceived film.