Directed By: George Lucas
Written By: George Lucas
Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Alec Guinness, Peter Cushing
Never again will I write a review as redundant as this one. The greatness of Star Wars is a cinematic axiom, beyond the reach of any criticism. To offer an opinion on George Lucas’s watershed creation, is to offer an opinion on the air we breathe or the water we drink, so secure it is in the annals of moviemaking.
It’s difficult to pinpoint where it is that Star Wars delineates itself as legendary rather than a big budget, sci-fi smash up. Like Rocky before it and the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings sagas that followed a couple of decades on, Star Wars speaks to that inner-child fantasy, where an unlikely, innocuous soul, is whipped from their dreary circumstances as if by the hand of God, and reveals themself to be someone truly special. The story of Luke Skywalker is essentially an underdog story; a testy, isolated teenager dwelling in dust as he farms for moisture, who in the space of a few days becomes a Death Star shattering rebel fighter pilot in command of The Force. What child wouldn’t imagine themselves in Luke Skywalker’s shoes; a young man who, as it happened, is the most important being in whatever long ago, far away galaxy we’re in. It’s also a narrative simplicity which serves as an antidote to all of the cruelty and cynicism that had characterised Hollywood up until that point in the decade. The moral ambiguities challenged to surface through Watergate and Vietnam are without evidence in Star Wars; it’s classical storytelling meets wild imagination and a healthy budget.
Luke (played by Mark Hamill), finds himself amidst the epic clash of good and evil when a pair of droids, C-3PO and R2-D2, harbouring plans to the evil Empire’s space station, flee to Luke’s isolated home planet Tatooine. With their subtle human ticks, 3PO and R2 are the film’s most loveable and comical creations, endlessly devoted to each other but seldom on the same page, like a long suffering husband and wife.
Contrivances ensue as Luke and his uncle Owen happen upon the droids when they buy them off junk traders, only for Luke to inadvertently trigger the message from within R2 which points him in the direction of an old hermit, “Ben” Obi-Wan Kenobi (played by Alec Guinness), who happens to be inextricably tied to the Skywalker family history from his days as a peace keeping Jedi. The artifice of the plot is never worth scrutinising however, rather it’s part and parcel of that childlike, dreamy fantasy which drives Star Wars; in a far away galaxy it could have been any of us that were just a few conveniences away from being a hero.
The film isn’t without its glaring faults. Outside of American Graffiti, George Lucas never has displayed a firm grasp on the cadence of sentient speech. At times the dialogue here plays like part after school special coursed with clunky exposition, and part lame James Bond comedy, without any of 007’s tongue in cheek irony. Harrison Ford as Han Solo, a smuggler employed by Obi-Wan and Luke to transport the plans after they resolve to join the Rebel cause, brings such a palpable cool to his performance that he manages to wring wit from Lucas’s writing; in Ford’s hands the stilted one liners play like a Dangerfield routine. Alec Guinness also brings a grandfatherly warmth to his performance; assured, wise and cool in a different sense, the gravitas he lends the drama is essential. Indeed, dialogue withstanding, the verve of Lucas’s characters is one of the chief joys of Star Wars. Each of them, though simple, is so individual and exciting. They’re emblematic of the film as a whole; as basic as they come, but always interesting.
What truly sustains Star Wars is the sense of adventure that encompasses the characters. The film has a tremendous urgency, well paced with a constant air of excitement that only grows as the film progresses. The gang soon find themselves aboard the Death Star as they try to rescue the imprisoned Rebel leader Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), leading to a whirlwind of action sequences. There are dog fights, mono e mono showdowns with the Empire’s Darth Vader (black clad and personifying all evil), and a confrontation with an overgrown serpent in a trash compactor. The film flows from set piece to set piece tirelessly, whilst never losing sight of the personalities at its heart. And underpinning it all is Lucas’s imagination, which appears to have no limit. This is an entire galaxy he renders. The scope is staggering, each visual creation so distinct and teeming with the director’s childlike glee in being able to bring his own youthful fantasies to life.
Severe corniness withstanding, (undoubtedly Star Wars can’t help but show its age through its stilted tendencies, and Hamill and Fisher are no match for their onscreen counterparts), Lucas brings that same glowing affection for his world that he brought to American Graffiti. Star Wars is escapist cinema, universal in its charming enthusiasm and exciting in its non-stop juggling of action.