Sunday, November 18, 2012

Star Wars (1977) - Birth of a Modern Religion

Star Wars, Nothing But Star Wars

Original movie poster Star Wars
"Star Wars" (1977).

Few films become such cultural phenomena as "Star Wars" aka "Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope" (1977).  Even today, it manages to make the news, as Disney/Pixar prepare to justify their purchase of director George Lucas' production company for $4.5 Billion by reportedly planning to crank out as many related films and television series and so on and so forth as they can. There even is talk of bringing back the iconic original stars - Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill - for future projects, forty years later. It really doesn't matter whether you like the franchise or not, it's too big to ignore. It is there and isn't going away any time soon. If you enjoy film, you should know something about "Star Wars."

Land cruiser Star Wars
Luke's mode of  transportation in "Star Wars" reminded people they still didn't have their own flying cars

Mark Hamill stars in this 20th Century Fox production as Luke Skywalker. Luke is a simple farm boy on a planet "long ago and far, far away" who has big dreams. Dissatisfied with his life, he runs away and joins up with renegade spaceship pilot Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Solo's cohorts (the alien ape Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), the elegant robot C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), and the small robot R2-D2 (Kenny Baker). They receive a strange message from a young woman, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), and set out to rescue her from the Death Star in which she is imprisoned by chief henchman Darth Vader (David Prowse and James Earl Jones) and the Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing). Along the way, Luke receives advice from the mysterious presence of Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guiness).

C3PO R2D2 Star Wars
The two cutest robots in the galaxy, C3PO and R2D2, in "Star Wars."

The cultural impact of this film is difficult to grasp. "Star Wars" so far has spawned five sequels, with another three (at least, the next one planned for 2015) currently planned, all of them blockbusters. The term "Jedi Master" has entered the lexicon, and "May the Foorce be with you" became a catchphrase along with many other aspects of this film. The spin-offs are countless, and it was all the brainchild of one man: .

Darth Vader and Princess Leia Star Wars
Darth Vader has a point to make with Princess Leia in a widely parodied scene of "Star Wars."

The genius of Lucas was that he took basic science fiction, as established in film ("Forbidden Planet"), Television ("Star Trek") and books (the Isaac Asimov "Foundation" series), and melded it with fantasy ("The Lord of the Rings"). In early drafts, Lucas actually planned to have Luke Skywalker and his family be dwarves. Well, JRR Tolkien still has that realm pretty much to himself, but you could see where Lucas' imagination was headed.

Harrison Ford as Han Solo and Chewbacca firing weapons Star Wars
Chewbacca was a great sidekick to Han Solo in "Star Wars."

This science fiction/fantasy combination pried films away from over-reliance on gadgets and hardware - though there are plenty of those in the "Star Wars" universe. The key idea is that there are forces beyond the mechanical that govern fate. This is personified by Obi-Wan Kenobi and the power of "the force," whatever that is. There are many other historical elements grafted on ("Stormtroopers" was the name for German shock troops of World War I), but using the science parts of science fiction only as a means to get at the real story of enlightenment and self-realization is what set the saga apart.

Alec Guiness as Obi Wan Kenobi and Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker Star Wars
Alec Guinness ruled as Obi Wan Kenobi, giving "Star Wars" drama a serious edge.

It is difficult to find any criticism of this film. The film exists in its own corner of Hollywood and lives on. It's almost uncanny how much its fans are devoted to it.  In an earlier age, a thousand or ten thousand years ago, people would have found solace in icons and rituals. Today, they discover it in light sabers and TIE fighters.

Star Wars opening Weekend
Lines around the block on opening weekend of "Star Wars" in 1977.

Perhaps the most damning thing that can be said is that it typecast all but a few of the actors. Carrie Fisher never escaped her "Princess Leia" image and still, to this day, references it, and Mark Hamill will forever be Luke Skywalker. Harrison Ford showed that it was possible to escape that prison, but only by playing off of his swashbuckling role to become one of the top action stars of all time.

Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, Harrison Ford as Han Solo, Star Wars
The three happy leads of "Star Wars."

The score by John Williams, who cut his teeth in science fiction with his stirring "Lost in Space" themes, is an enduring classic. My head over-analyzes this and tells me that "Star Wars" is a simplistic, cartoonish film best left to children. My heart, though, overrules those foolish thoughts and places "Star Wars" squarely on my Top Ten Films list. There's nothing wrong with cartoonish if it is done well and has a knowing air about it, and "Star Wars" succeeds on both scores. The Indiana Jones films successfully adopted a similar tactic, also with awesome results.

Star Wars a new Hope Carrie Fisher Mark Hamill Harrison Ford
Carrie Fisher always manages to be the center of attention in "Star Wars."

While some of the later "Star Wars" films were not always that exciting, "Star Wars: A New Hope" without question is an absolute must-see for just about everyone.

Below is the original trailer from 1977. We also have a collection of sexy Carrie Fisher shots from her "Star Wars" days here and some more behind the scenes shots from "Star Wars" here.


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