Saturday, June 06, 2015
Summer of Star Wars: Star Wars
Written and directed by George Lucas, Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope) is the story of a young farmhand from a distant planet who finds two robotic droids that is carrying a secret plan as they seek the help of two smugglers and an old knight to save a princess from the evil empire and aid the rebellion to destroy its secret weapon. The film is a space opera that is set in planets far away in the galaxy where a young man learns about who he is and the powers he would have to help save the galaxy from the darkness. Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Cushing, David Prowse with the voice of James Earl Jones, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, and Alec Guinness. Star Wars is an enthralling yet rapturous film from George Lucas.
Set in a galaxy far away during a civil war between the Galactic Empire and a group of rebels representing the old Galactic Republic. The film revolves around a young farmhand who encounters two robotic droids as one of them carries a message as well as secret plans that would help the rebellion destroy the Empire’s newest weapon in a large space station known as the Death Star. With the aid of an old knight who was part of an elite group of peacekeepers known as Jedis, the two get the help of a smuggler and his alien first mate to not only save the princess but also give the plans to the rebel forces to stop the Empire. It’s a story that is very simple where it’s not just an entire galaxy at stake but also a world of good that has been covered by darkness for so many years.
While there are flaws in George Lucas’ screenplay as it relates to his dialogue, Lucas is able to create characters that are engaging such as the droids in the protocol droid C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and the astromech droid R2-D2 (Kenny Baker with sound effects by Ben Burtt) as the latter is carrying a message from Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) to an old Jedi Night in Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) and secret plans that might help destroy the Death Star. Upon landing on this desert-planet called Tatooine where Kenobi was supposedly last seen, the droids are bought by a farmer named Owen Lars (Phil Brown) and his nephew Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). The latter of which would discover Princess Leia’s message as he knows someone named Kenobi as he would eventually learn that a man named Ben is actually whom Princess Leia is asking for. At the same time, Luke would learn about his father who was a Jedi knight that was killed by one of Kenobi’s old pupils in Darth Vader (David Prowse with the voice of James Earl Jones).
The characterization of Luke is an interesting one as he is this young man that is eager to get out of Tatooine and become a fighter as he is an accomplished pilot. Yet, circumstances would finally realize that he does have a destiny to fulfill in not just wanting to help rebellion but also become a Jedi like his father. With Kenobi’s help, the two team up with a couple of smugglers named Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and a large dog-like creature named Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) who would take them to a planet for a price. Solo is an unusual character as he is modeled after many Western archetypes as he has no qualms killing people if it helps him such as a scene where he kills a smuggler who wants to collect a bounty on Solo’s head. Though Solo is reluctant to save Princess Leia, he only decides to help her once he realizes how much money he can get which shows an ambiguity to who he is. Princess Leia herself is anything but a damsel-in-distress as she is quite adept in shooting with a blaster while being very opinionated and knowing what to do in tense situations. Especially where is confronted by a member of the Imperial government in Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing) to find the whereabouts of a secret base.
The character of Darth Vader is an interesting antagonist as someone who is seen wearing black with a helmet and breathes through a mask. He is someone that can pretty much get the job done and get some answers but he is also very intelligent in knowing that not everyone will be swayed easily. Like Kenobi, he is also a trained Jedi knight but leans towards the dark side and knows when to use the Force to do things. He and Kenobi would have a confrontation in the middle of the film as it would play into exactly what Kenobi would do in order for Luke to learn the ways of the Force for the film’s climax.
Lucas’ direction is quite vast for a sci-fi film in terms of not just the world that he creates but also in how he would introduce it starting with this chase between a small space cruiser and this large Imperial ship called the Star Destroyer as it comes in from above the frame. It sets the tone for what is to come though the film actually opens with some exposition about this civil war between the Empire and the rebellion. With some of the locations shot in Tunisia for the scenes in Tatooine and other locations in Guatemala, much of the film is set in space as it plays into a galaxy where it’s very diverse and very different. Tatooine is seen as this desert world where it’s sort of unruly and desolate but it is a place where things can happen. Even for someone like Luke Skywalker who feels like he doesn’t belong as he is among the small group of humans who wound interact with all sorts of aliens in the world.
The world of outer space is also quite big in terms of the way it is presented with Lucas using a lot of wide and medium shots as well as the look of the Death Star that looks like a large moon that can shoot a giant laser to destroy a planet. The way Darth Vader is first presented is among these rich compositions that Lucas creates to establish what kind of man he is. The light saber battle between Vader and Kenobi plays into the world of traditional sword fighting but involving and old man and a tall one where there aren’t a lot of big movements but rather on instinct. Many of the battles in space are presented with these very intense visual effects that mixes miniatures and optical effects to make it feel as realistic as it can. Especially for the film’s climatic battle against the Empire at the Death Star where it has a lot of thrills and moments that are just gripping. Overall, Lucas creates a spectacular yet engaging film about a group of people trying to save the galaxy from an evil empire.
Cinematographer Gilbert Taylor does brilliant work with the film‘s cinematography from capturing the sunny look of the scenes set in Tatooine as well as some of the interior lighting for some of the ships in space including Solo‘s spaceship the Millennium Falcon. Editors Richard Chew, Paul Hirsch, and Marcia Lucas, with additional work by George Lucas, do amazing work with the editing as it includes some unique rhythmic cuts for some of the film‘s action scenes along with a few dissolves and some stylish transition wipe that play into the film‘s mixture of adventure and action. Production designer John Barry, with set decorator Roger Christian and art directors Leslie Dilley and Norman Reynolds, does fantastic work with the design of the Death Star and some of its interiors along with the Millennium Falcon and its interiors plus some of the places in Tatooine such as the Mos Eisley Cantina.
Costume designer John Mollo does nice work with the look of Darth Vader as well as the Imperial officer uniforms and the look of the its soldiers in the Stormtroopers. Makeup designers Rick Baker and Stuart Freeborn do excellent work with the look and design of the creatures in Tatooine including the little Jawas and some of the aliens at the Mos Eisley Cantina. Special visual effects supervisors John Dykstra and John Stears do phenomenal work with the special effects in the way the lightsabers look and the way lasers are presented as well the battle scenes set in space.
Sound designer Ben Burtt and sound editor Sam F. Shaw do incredible work with the film‘s sound work from the way R2-D2 and other droids sound as well as some of the sound effects of how TIE Fighters sound in space as well as other aspects in the film‘s sound work. The film’s music by John Williams is great as it is one of the defining film scores with its orchestral bombast filled with lush string arrangements and vast brass section to play into its many themes along with a few playful pieces.
The casting by Diane Crittenden, Irene Lamb, and Victor Ramos do wonderful work with the film’s casting as it includes notable small roles from Phil Brown and Shelagh Fraser in their respective roles as Luke’s uncle Owen and aunt Beru, Denis Lawson as the rebel X-wing pilot Wedge Antilles, Garrick Hagon as Luke’s friend/rebel X-wing pilot Biggs Darklighter, and Jack Purvis as a chief Jawa. Peter Cushing is superb as the Death Star commander Grand Moff Tarkin as an Imperial governor who tries to get Princess Leia to reveal vital information into the rebel base as well as keep Vader in line.
Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker are fantastic in their respective roles as C-3P0 and R2-D2 with Daniels providing some unique movements and dialogue that makes the character a fun and sometimes annoying persona while Baker provides just movements that makes R2 such a loveable droid. Peter Mayhew is excellent as the Wookie named Chewbacca as Mayhew brings a unique physicality to the role as well as creating some of his own language that makes him sort of a moral compass for Han Solo. David Prowse is brilliant in bringing the sense of physicality and presence that is Darth Vader that is added by the phenomenal voice work of James Earl Jones who adds a lot of eerie textures to the role of Vader. Alec Guinness is amazing as Obi-Wan Kenobi as a former Jedi knight who helps Luke in saving Princess Leia and carry out the Death Star plans to the rebels as he would also teach Luke the ways of the Force.
Carrie Fisher is incredible as Princess Leia Organa as a princess who is captured by the Empire as she refuses to give information while being a badass with a blaster that makes her a far more compelling character. Harrison Ford is remarkable as Han Solo as this anti-hero who takes part in the journey for money to pay a debt while being someone that is reckless and funny. Finally, there’s Mark Hamill in a marvelous performance as Luke Skywalker as a young farmhand who dreams of flying and being part of the rebellion as he learns about his father and the destiny he is to take part in.
***The Following is Based on the 1997 Special Edition and its Subsequent Revised Editions of the Film***
The film’s 1997 special edition and its subsequent versions not only would feature some new scenes under Lucas’ direction with the contributions of editor T.M. Christopher and sound designer Ben Burtt, along with visual effects supervisors Dave Carson, John Knoll, Joe Letteri, Bruce Nicholson, Alex Seiden, and Stephen Williams,. The changes and added scenes aren’t just controversial but also play into the debate of film revisionism. One notable change that is controversial is a scene where Han shoots Gredo in cold blood as it plays into his anti-hero persona. In the special edition and later versions to follow, it would have Gredo shooting first and Han firing afterwards. It is a change that isn’t very good and certainly messes with Han’s development from anti-hero to hero.
While some of the visual effects do help polish the film as well as new sound effects and design by Ben Burtt to add more layers. There’s elements in the film that don’t work such as the Jabba the Hutt character who would be seen in Return of the Jedi as he appears in a computer-animated format in a scene with Han Solo that was originally deleted from the original film. In this special edition, the scene is restored but with Jabba the Hutt as this creature who is trying to get Solo to pay the debt that he owes him. There’s other scenes that are restored such as a brief conversation between Luke and Biggs before the climatic battle which is a good scene that was added. Then there’s the explosion of Alderaan in the scene where the Death Star displays its power as the original explosion was big but primitive in its 1977 release. In its revised and subsequent versions, it is much bigger with a force field that actually makes it look ridiculous.
***End of Special Editions Tidbits***
Stars Wars is a tremendous film from George Lucas. Armed with a great cast, amazing visual effects, a phenomenal score, and a thrilling story. It is a film that isn’t just one of the finest sci-fi adventure films ever made but it’s also cinema that manages to appeal to audiences of all ages. While the 1997 special edition and its following revised versions are a mixed bag, the original version is still a fascinating yet engrossing film that still holds up and proves to be just as fun to watch as it did back in 1977. In the end, Star Wars is a glorious and sensational film from George Lucas.
Star Wars Films: The Empire Strikes Back - Return of the Jedi - The Phantom Menace - Attack of the Clones - Revenge of the Sith - The Force Awakens - (Episode VIII) - (Episode IX)
Related: The Hidden Fortress - Holiday Special - Caravan of Courage - The Battle for Endor - The Clone Wars - Fanboys - The People vs. George Lucas
Star Wars Anthology Films: Rogue One - (Untitled Han Solo Film) - (Untitled Star Wars Anthology Film)
George Lucas Films: (THX 1138) - (American Graffiti)
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