Star Wars

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Contrary to popular opinion, Star Wars isn’t the greatest film ever made. But neither is it, as some people would lead you to believe, the anti-Christ. Instead it’s a very enjoyable film that has been blown out of all proportion by geeks and fanboys – yeah, walking carpets and lightsaber-wielding old men are fun, but they’re not the height of cinema.

One of the reasons why the original films work and the new ones don’t is that Lucas was restricted by money and technology. Here he isn’t able to hide his deficiencies behind a barrage of CGI, meaning that he has to craft an interesting story. Of course this means his ‘vision’ is constrained, but when your ideal vision contains ten ton of needless effects, it’s providential that the film came out before the advent of digital technology.

It’s also worth noting that for all of Lucas’ sighing and moaning about the state of film effects in the 70s that the original film still looks pretty great even now. There’s something more tangible and believable about effective model work – you feel like you can reach out and touch the Star Destroyer at the beginning. And although you occasionally get the odd dodgy shot where you can see Death Star landscapes that are blatantly model kits stuck together, it’s no more blatant than the horribly phoney CGI storm-troopers in the prequels – both take you out of the film for a moment; only in the case of the prequels the out of place effects work is far more frequent.

Something else that’s worth noting is the newly installed Jabba scene. For all the money that must have been spent on it, the CGI Jabba looks far less convincing than the puppet. And the scene, besides needlessly setting up the later films – it’s far better to have Jabba remain a mystery until you finally meet him – adds nothing to the film. It seems to be nothing more than an effects test for the prequels that followed closely on the heels of the ’97 special edition release of the original trilogy.

Of course, the most controversial addition/alteration to Star Wars is Greedo shooting first. Quite why Lucas did this, I’m not sure, but it dilutes Han’s character. The reason why he was every kid’s favourite is that he was a badass. But now he’s a slightly more ordinary hero. And although the alteration didn’t rape my childhood like some pathetic fanboys exclaimed, it does reflect poorly on Lucas – the tinkering is pointless.

But even though some of the alterations are annoying, Lucas can’t destroy a very enjoyable film. For instance, in light of the dire attempts at humour in the prequels, it’s quite shocking how amusing Star Wars is. Just take the banter between the robots – they’re like a bickering couple. And then you have the Han and Chewie relationship. Who knew that an ex-carpenter and an overgrown dog could have such good chemistry? And then you have pure slapstick moments like when R2-D2 gets captured by the Jawas – the way R2 falls over with a thud is magnificent.

But the film also has pathos. Take the scene where Luke looks at the setting suns, yearning for adventure, or when he’s confronted with the dead bodies of his guardians. It’s here that the film comes closest to transcending its B-movie origins. However, speaking of this scene, it’s quite shocking to realise that this film was given a ‘U’ certificate in Britain. After all, this is a film where you see charred bodies and where someone gets their arm chopped off. It may not be Peckinpah, but it’s not The Care Bears Movie either.

Another piece of violence that I adore in this film is when Vader strangles some Rebel officer and then tosses his dead body into a wall. It’s so casual. It immediately sets Vader up as the baddest man in the galaxy. Too bad Lucas had to ruin the character in the prequels.

Something else that works for the film is how wet Luke is. He’s the naïve, hopelessly optimistic hero that has probably never thought about a girl, let alone been with one. And then you have Han, the mercenary who loves money and is full of wisecracks. Both are a million miles away from the bland Jedi that poisoned the second trilogy. These are people that you can invest in and care for – they feel like flesh and blood, as opposed to the characters in the prequels, who talk and behave like automatons.

And purely from a personal point of view, I love the stromtroopers in this film. They must be the most hopeless fighting force in the universe. Not only can’t they shoot straight, but they’re irredeemably stupid, too. Just take the scene where they’re scouting Mos Eisley for our heroes. At one point they tap on a door, proclaim it to be locked and move on. That’s real thorough! And then you have the scene where the Millennium Falcon is swallowed by the Death Star. Some stormtroopers walk in, and after a two second search, proclaim it to be empty. Wonderful! And another thing I love is the way they don’t bat an eyelid when one of their pals gets gunned down by Princess Leia at the beginning. Stupid and heartless; a wonderful combination (clumsy too, as proved by the infamous scene where one of the morons clonks his head on a door).

But a few other things that I’ve pondered over the years – why is Vader always fiddling with his joystick in his TIE fighter, why does an overly enthusiastic rebel pilot excessively bounce in his cockpit and why does Obi Wan only become a ghost instead of becoming ‘more powerful than you can possibly imagine’? I doubt we’ll ever have the answers…

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