MOVIE REVIEW: Star Wars (1977)

STAR WARS – Original theatrical (1977) version
As released on the 2006 Lucasfilm Limited Edition DVD

Directed by George Lucas

In 1977 my parents took me to see Star Wars for the first time, like millions of other kids my age.  By the end of the year, terms like “The Force” and “Millennium Falcon” were commonly spoken among children like secret code, while remaining merely gibberish to their teachers.  Because of the availability of cool action figures and vehicles by Kenner, Star Wars became much more than a mere movie.  Its world building potential meant that kids were using the characters and settings to make their own adventures.  It became…forever.  A part of culture.  The image of Darth Vader will be found by future archaeologists the same as ours today find carvings Apollo and Zeus.

We memorized this movie.  Lines like “It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.”  We could recite them with perfect cadence and intonation, albeit an octave high.  But we didn’t understand all the words we were saying, or what it really meant.

Reviewing this movie is like revisiting an old friend to reminisce about the good times.


For the most authentic Star Wars re-watching experience, the 2006 Lucasfilm double DVD edition provides the theatrical version most of us grew up with and knew by heart.  There was no A New Hope, no episode number.  We saw Star Wars three times in the theatres.  After that, everyone had to wait for TV broadcasts or video rental if you wanted to watch Star Wars.  Except back then, there were only “fullscreen” tapes available for rental at the local store.  For many years, we completely forgot about certain alien creatures that were cropped out for home video!  This DVD is a reminder of those times, and how lucky we are today to have so many viewing options available.  (Including a new 2019 Disney+ version of the film. I say “Maclunkey!”)

When he conceived Star Wars, George Lucas had plenty of backstory sketched out.  He assumed he only had one shot at making it, and so chose what he felt was the best and most exciting part of the overall story.  In a way, Star Wars always had a leg up on everything that came later for that reason.  The origin story of the farmer boy that leaves home to save the world is a setup taken from classic lore, and put on screen in an original way by turning it into a space fantasy.  With the benefit of hindsight, could it even lose?

Actually yes — if the special effects weren’t as convincing as they are.  Those artists took Ralph McQuarrie’s crucial conceptual art and turned drawings into filmable 3D objects that look worn, used and real.  Using bits of plastic battleship model kids and parts taken from cameras, a universe that looked as real as the world we live in was created.  Then they innovated further using blue screens and skill, creating dynamic space battles that surpassed anything we’d seen before.  One key innovation was the idea to choreograph the space battles based on actual World War II dogfight footage.

Sir Alec Guinness (Ben Kenobi) and Peter Cushing (Tarkin) were the two most recognizable stars to the parents in the audience, but Harrison Ford was an up-and-comer who impressed everyone that loved George Lucas’ other coming-of-age story, American Graffiti.  Even though Cushing and Guinness had no idea what their dialogue was really about, they turned in incredible character performances.  The hero trio of Ford, Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher were perfectly tuned.  Meanwhile, Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker provided the roles of perspective for the film.  Indeed, Lucas said that only C-3P0 and R2-D2 witnessed the events of the entire saga.  Finally, Peter Mayhew and David Prowse provided the physical acting necessary for the roles of Chewbacca and Darth Vader.  These performances were topped off with sound effects by Ben Burtt and a brilliant Vader voiceover by James Earl Jones.

Lucas has been mocked in his later years for getting terribly wooden performances out of great actors in the prequel trilogy.  When he was young, making Star Wars, he was different.  His direction is alive and he gets spontaneous feeling performances from the entire cast.  Whatever he was doing in 1999 with The Phantom Menace, he was a different director in 1977.  Of course, much credit must also be given to the editors who carved this movie out of the celluloid.  Yet none of that would have had the same impact without the groundbreaking score by John Williams.  Williams is so important to the entire saga that he composed the scores to all nine films.

In other words, Star Wars is all but a perfect film.  On its own, without any sequels or prequels, it was already one of the best things ever, and what kid could resist that?  On a technical level, it’s a masterpiece achievement.  All this contained within a simple, engaging story drawing upon the tenets of classic mythology.  Consciously it’s blowing your mind, and subconsciously it’s tugging at your Jungian psyche.

The best part about watching the 1977 theatrical version of Star Wars is simply the ease of slipping into that world and really believing it.  When the 1997 special editions hit, the effects may have been improved, but awkwardly jarring additions were made:  The insertion of jerkily-moving Dewbacks.  An extended entry into Mos Eisley with distractingly fake looking Rontos.  A poorly-edited reimaginging of the Greedo faceoff.  And of course, Jabba the Hutt himself, perhaps the most hideous of all the additions due to the extremely primitive animation of the 1990s.  The rest of the changes, such as a restored Biggs Darklighter scene and an improved Death Star battle, are not so bad.  Incidentally, there is nothing wrong with the Death Star battle as it was in ’77.  The problem is that every time an addition is made in every reissue of a Star Wars film, it takes you right out of the movie and into reality once again.


Further Observations

When you pull the focus back and look at Star Wars in a greater context, more insight and meaning can be wrenched from the stone.  Both in terms of cultural impact, and how it relates to the Skywalker Saga as a whole, we can look deeper into this film and enjoy it even more.

One thing we appreciated a little bit as kids, but I really admire today, is the amount of sheer labour that went into making Star Wars.  It’s so much easier to appreciate in this original unrestored version.  If you can see the line between matte painting and live set, you realize:  oh my God, all of that big portion of the screen is actually a set!  And that matte painting is really, really good!  The amount of work to do both, and match them as close as they did is quite impressive without the aid of a computer.  Also, observe techniques used to make shots more dynamic.  The Falcon flying, for example.  The actual model isn’t moving much, but the starfield behind it is.  That makes it look as if it is really burning some rubber.

Here’s something to think about.  One of the biggest action set pieces of this movie involved Luke and Leia swinging across a chasm from a rope.  It blew everyone’s brain, that huge looking vertical shaft with the retracted bridges.  The Stormtroopers are coming at them from two directions, as Luke takes his leap of faith.  While in 1977 we also saw the male and female lead together as a team with possible romantic foreshadowing, today the scene actually has more meaning.  Now, it is the children of Anakin Skywalker finally united after two decades of separation.  The New Hopes.  It’s actually a pretty heavy moment in the whole saga when you think on what that means.  Obi-Wan and Yoda hid those children away as babies in the hopes that one day, they would take over the fight.  The moment we see them swinging across the chasm, we realize that dream has been realized.  From whiny space brat to brave hero in two hours.  It’s also clear from her courage and familiarity with a blaster that Leia is a “Force” to be reckoned with too.

Children loved the adventures but didn’t fully appreciate what Luke was experiencing.  You can feel that Uncle Owen tried, but wasn’t the father figure that Luke wanted.  Then Luke loses the only parents he ever had, his aunt and uncle, and is whisked off-planet for the first time in his life by a new father figure, Ben Kenobi.  In addition he’s told a bombshell of a truth (with a hidden lie):  his real father wasn’t a navigator on a spice freighter.  His uncle had been lying to him his entire life about who his father really was:  a Jedi knight, who fought in a “damn fool idealistic crusade” called the Clone Wars.  He then learns, in a second revelation, that the universe itself is more than it seems, and that an all powerful Force is behind everything.  And then he loses that father figure almost immediately after!  Today that would send most of us into months of therapy, but Luke soldiers on and picks up on this Jedi stuff pretty quickly!  In the end battle, he is forced into a leadership position when Red Leader is shot down by Darth Vader.  “We’re going in, we’re going in full throttle,” he says to the remaining squad.  His older best friend and role model Biggs is on board, and so is hot shot pilot Wedge.  “Right with you boss,” he says without hesitation.

A weighty moment is the final (corporeal) meeting of Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi.  A physically imposing David Prowse in the Vader costume has the presence necessary to convey the anger behind the words:  “Your powers are weak, old man.”  You can almost hear the voice of Hayden Christensen from the Episode III Vader behind the voice of James Earl Jones.  The hate, as he now calls the man he once knew as “master” by the epithet “old man”.  It was always a foregone conclusion who would win this battle, but we children were amazed when Old Ben disappeared before our very eyes.  And what did those final words of his really mean?  “If you strike me down I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”  Surely a disembodied voice was not the “more powerful” that Ben was referring to?  This is something that the oft-criticized sequel trilogy finally delivered and expanded upon, where the prequels did not.  In episodes VIII and IX, we learn that powerful Jedi spirits can even interact with the physical world, and join with the living to defeat the ultimate evil.  In this way, Obi-Wan Kenobi has a role in concluding the nine-story arc of the Saga (even utilizing the voices of Sir Alec Guinness and Ewan McGregor).

Another minor tie to the sequel trilogy is Han Solo’s offering to Luke Skywalker to come with him instead of joining the Rebellion on their “suicide” mission.  The only other person we see him offer to “job” to is Rey in Episode VII.  Any viewing of any Star Wars movie is always enriched by watching other Star Wars movies.  Last week I watched Rogue One.  Since that standalone film was designed to add backstory and blend the saga together even more tightly with the original movie, watching it adds richness and foundation to the original.  Knowing what happened to the previous Red Five, for example.  All the films have this ability to amplify the others.

Though dense with unfamiliar terms, throwaway dialogue built worlds.  The Kessel Run, for example, spawned half of the movie Solo.  Some of the most iconic lines in the whole original film were throwaways:  “You fought in the Clone Wars?”  Apparently so, when he was known as “General Kenobi”!  We didn’t learn a damn thing more about the Clone Wars until Episode II, released a quarter century later.  And so watching the prequels and even the animated Clone Wars series adds depth to the experience.  When Luke asks “How did my father die?” you see the hesitation on his face before Obi-Wan lies to Luke.  In that hesitation lies all the prequels and animated series.  The line about the Clone Wars planted the seed for pretty much everything about the prequels.  The only difference was that as kids, we assumed the clones were the bad guys not the good guys.  (Well, I guess they were both but we won’t delve further here.)

The quality and success of Star Wars were both necessary to launch a thousand imitations.  As kids we became familiar with the concept of “knock offs” pretty quickly.  Battlestar Galactica seemed like a B-level Star Wars.  You could even buy knock off toys at the store like glow-in-the-dark “space swords”.  For the real thing, there could be no substitute.  We were able to prolong and expand our love of the movie with the Kenner action figure line, the Marvel comics, the John Williams soundtrack records, and even “The Story of Star Wars” on vinyl.  This really gave kids a canvas to use their imaginations.  Today, some of the kids that played with Star Wars toys in a sandbox are making their visions real in official spinoff shows like The Mandalorian, that hearken back to what we liked about Star Wars in old ’77.


Conclusion

If you really want to recreate the authentic 1977 Star Wars experience, you won’t find it on your Disney+.  Even hardened cynics must concede that Disney has done some cool stuff with Star Wars recently, but if they really wanted to do something “Force”-ful, they could reissue the ’77 cut one more time.  If they never do, the 2006 DVD is always out there.  There’s nothing better than the real thing.

6/5 stars

42 comments

  1. I grew up with the special editions, so they’ll always be my preferred versions (Yub Nub can get stuffed). But I do recognise that certain things were better in the original.

    The Jabba scene would be the most egregious however. No way in hell would a crime lord come out into the open like that. He’d get Fett or someone to do the talking for him.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. More than likely true. A guy I knew said they should have included the scene, as it was filmed, and just tweak the dialogue so that the guy coming to see Han at docking bay 94 is a henchman. Easy enough to do. Get Harrison to overdub a line where he calls the guy “Bill” or something.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Agreed. Episode II remains my least favourite of them all. As for the sand…I don’t even see a good reason why Anakin should be from Tattooine? A whole galaxy, and that’s where he’s from? Same place they hid Obi-Wan and Luke?

          Oh wait, it’s because Lucas wanted to go back and have fun desert scenes again.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I was 10 and my Parents took me to the movies to see this back in 77. I still remember it like it was yesterday even the lineup that went around the block as well. I had never seen anything like that.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I remember seeing this in the theaters. It was amazing and I still get mesmerized by it even today. I hate watching the special edition versions, but that is all I have I believe on DVD. I have the VHS tapes but no VCR (not the original VHS tape). Great write-up and insight there Mike! Are you doing them all???

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good question but no…no plans to anyway. This took eight hours and I hoped to spend my Sunday listening to lots of rock. That didn’t happen. The hours went by so fast but I can’t repeat that performance!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. 6/5 indeed! I was only 3 years old when IV hit theaters, but I saw Empire and there was my childhood good to go. I have that same set because I insisted on the original theatrical release, I wouldn’t be without it. The charm of it all, before they mucked with it, is the real deal. Maybe a blu-ray someday, just to keep up with the times. Thanks for writing this up!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What a great review. I remember the excitement of going to see Star Wars. It was talked about all the time on tv. Your father said “what’s the big deal about this movie Star Wars”? Well, after seeing it he realized the big deal. All of the neighbourhood kids were crazy about it. When it first came out on video we had to rent it and a VCR for the weekend, so we could watch it several times. I think it cost us $75.00 just to rent. We didn’t yet own a VCR because they were so expensive. I think our VCR/DVD player cost $69.00. Then came pay tv. We had to have Superchannel because they showed Star Wars. We watched it over and over again. I wonder how many times I have seen that movie. More than any other movie, for sure!

    Like

  6. My parents took my sister and me to a drive-in to see Star Wars. She was born in 1980 so I don’t think it was anytime sooner than ’83. (We didn’t have a VCR until ’87.) I still get crap from my Mom for falling asleep after 5 minutes. Oh well. I saw Darth Vader. That was all I needed to see, lol

    As for the other movies enhancing this one, it doesn’t work that way for me. I took Obi Wan’s meaning that he would become more powerful as a metaphor. That he would become the inspiration for Luke. I only saw 7 and a bit of 8 and now I read that they come up with an explanation that doesn’t make sense to me. If Jedi do become more powerful in death, then why didn’t they stop the Dark Side? Why would you have Luke do it? I like filling in the gaps with stuff that makes sense to me. I don’t need it overexplained.

    And I will not concede that Disney has done anything cool with Star Wars recently other than make a pile of dough, lol

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We know now that George was always intending to go further into the metaphysical. I’m glad Disney did it instead of him. I didn’t want to see a trilogy on microscopic organisms controlling the universe. But that’s where he was going, and you can see elements of that in the World Between Worlds, Mortis, the Father, Daughter & Son, all that stuff. I’m glad Disney/JJ chose to keep the feel closer to the OT.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, I’m in full agreement that where George was going was by far worse, but bettering his vision was a bit of a low bar for Disney to hop over, lol. Really, I’m happy the Star Wars fans are happy.

        What is the World Between Worlds?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I think George was trying to introduce time travel. There’s a portal you can go into and view anywhere in the galaxy at any time. The Emperor couldn’t open it and was trying to trick Ezra in Rebels to open it so he could (presumably) change history.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. I don’t know who Ezra is, lol. Really, I don’t know much of Star Wars well outside of the original trilogy. I hear people go on about this “expanded universe” and I couldn’t be bothered. Just give me some good movies, lol

          Time travel would have opened a huge can of gaping plot holes.

          Liked by 1 person

        3. I would not be happy if they added time travel.

          Ezra is going to be important to The Mandalorian or a future spinoff of that show. Last week’s episode revealed that Rosario Dawson is still looking for Ezra after he disappeared at the end of Rebels. So either he shows up in Mando next year, or Rosario is getting her own show.

          Liked by 1 person

        4. Mando is not the be-all and end-all that fanboys make it sound like, especially on Youtube. It’s notorious for its slow pace. One episode progresses the story, the next two do nothing. However last week’s episode was the best of the series. Rosario was awesome.

          Liked by 1 person

  7. Great write up Mike as usual about a cultural phenomenon. I used to write my own stories based on Star Wars and fixed up some gaps that my childhood brain thought could be enhanced. It was the springboard to further my imagination a d get creative. I bought into the EU when Lucasfilm had em and they became part of the story but when Disney purchased it and made EU not part of the story anymore and confined the books to Legend status I was a bit pissed. Lol.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Don’t blame Disney. Keeping the EU intact was never gonna be the plan. George has always overwritten the EU when it interfered with his own stories. One example — Spaarti cloning cylinders. George wanted to do cloning his own way so he invented Kamino for the sake of his story.

      There was simply no room in the EU for a sequel trilogy. They gave Leia three kids, they turned one to the dark side, they had Luke get married (HAHAHAHAH!), no there was simply no way George would have written around the work of all those book authors. He would have wiped the slate clean. And he did — that deal with Disney is one he signed off on.

      Heir to the Empire and the Thrawn trilogy were great. What George SHOULD have done was make a sequel trilogy when those actors were younger. Not the prequels that, quite frankly, we kids were not interested in. We wanted to know what Luke, Leia and Han did NEXT. We didn’t want to know about a bunch of characters we never heard of. But George was always fucking with us. “It’s 12 movies.” “No it’s gonna be 9 movies.” “No, it’s 3”. “Well now I’m making the prequels so it’s 6 movies, always has been 6 movies, always will be 6 movies, nobody but me will ever make Star Wars movies, it’s my thing.” “By the way it’s 9 movies and JJ will be making them.” LOL. The guy NEVER had a plan. Except to kill the EU because he was never bound by another writer’s story.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yep Lucas was always changing his mind on how many movies. You are right, he missed a massive opportunity to create a sequel trilogy while the actors were still young.
        But because he didn’t it was always heavily advertised once upon a time that the EU stories after Jedi are “stories based on Lucas notes”. I got suckered in. Lol.

        Maybe more like notes from the Lucasbooks people. Anyway they formed a large part of my reading life. I’m with ya on the Thrawn and Heir books and I also liked the much mangled Yuzhan Vong series. It was way too long for my liking but the concept of these Jedi’s fighting a race of people they can’t feel in the force is intriguing.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. They were definitely NOT based on his notes! If you read interviews with the author Tim Zahn, he came up with his ideas and then sent them to Lucasfilm for approval. The only notes he got were changes to make. LOL

          I read the first 4 books of the Vong series. I agree that it was too long. That’s why I never finished. I had about 10 of the books but never made it far.

          However I do think Disney WILL make the fourth trilogy that George once promised and I think the best possible idea for that trilogy is an invasion from outside the Galaxy.

          Liked by 1 person

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