Year: 1977, summer.
Place: Odeon, Leicester Square.
Occasion: Having my tiny mind blown into tiny little bits of adoring Star Wars flotsam
Yes boys and girls, the time has come to try and put down a few choice words about my all time favourite film of all time, bar none.
Yes folks, Star Wars
Author’s note: Anyone who, like me is old enough to have seen this movie upon its original 1977 release will almost certainly refer to it (as I did just now), as simply Star Wars, by default. We do it without thinking. It is not in our nature to easily call it anything else. Only out of courteousness to our younger brethren do we try and take the trouble to either say ‘Episode IV‘ or ‘A New Hope‘ and it doesn’t come naturally. These were terms unknown to us at the time of seeing the film. The film I went to see that smashed my mind in was called STAR WARS, and with that title did it become absorbed and completely assimilated into my child consciousness. You young whipper snappers don’t remember but Star Wars only became numbered and subtitled in 1981, when it was re-released in ‘Double Header’ screenings with The Empire Strikes Back. Even now, I refer to Episode IV as just Star Wars and rather unfairly expect those around me to know exactly what I mean. Please allow me the indulgence of not always qualifying the episode or subtitle when referencing this movie in the following text. Hopefully, it should be pretty obvious when I mean Star Wars (the overall term), or Star Wars (the 1977 movie). Just humour the old fart for ten minutes. Thanks, it’s not easy being me sometimes!
Anyway, it’s a damn pleasure to be hosting this retrospective and I apologise if we run long again. Those of you who may have read my Episode III retrospective will know all about running long!
I’ll try not to be quite that epic but hey! It’s Star Wars y’know? It’s a ‘run long’ kinda gig!
It’s very hard to explain to anyone too young to remember, what the world was like ‘before’ Star Wars, and how its arrival changed the lay of the land in so many ways. Of course, in some respects I’m including myself here, as my living memory ‘pre’ Star Wars is only that of a mere six year old child. Historians will wax lyrical all day about this aspect or that aspect, the cultural impact, the social significance etc etc ad infinitum. In other writings, I myself have referenced back to Star Wars as being a pivotal turning point in the cinematic fortunes of sci-fi (although strictly speaking, it isn’t really sci-fi at all). The movie’s colossal success caused a complete Hollywood turnaround, and a veritable stampede to green light and throw war chests of cash at ‘space’ projects that otherwise may not have ever seen the inside of a movie theatre. Good or bad, they all owe a debt to the success and game changing qualities of Star Wars.
But I’m not here to play at being a film historian, or to overly talk about things that would be merely ‘learned’ rather than those that are directly ‘experienced’. No, I feel that I must try and limit my efforts here and keep this retrospective focused on my own subjective, possibly even biased point of view and see where the chips fall. All I can promise is to be honest and passionate about the first film that changed my life.
Ok so I’m six, it’s summer and I’m getting my usual Saturday morning fix of dry toast dunked in milky Camp chicory coffee. On the TV it’s Arabian Knights, The Banana Splitz and of course Tiswas. All of a sudden Tarrant and co. are showing this clip of some strange amazing crazy movie. There are weird looking golf ball shaped ships with ice cream wafer thingies stuck on the sides darting around shooting bright bolts of green light at a big hamburger shaped thing with a cockpit on the side and radar dish on the top. Inside the giant hamburger two guys are sitting in these amazing motorised, cantilevered gun chairs firing red laser bolts back at the golf balls from huge twin recoil exterior quad cannons. I remember one of the guys saying “I got him, I got him!” after managing to destroy one of the golf balls. Then the other, older guy said “Great kid, don’t get cocky!” I didn’t know what ‘cocky’ was, but I was totally transfixed on this marvellous spectacle. What the hell is this? I couldn’t understand the orientation of the chairs and guns either (and to my credit, they never do explain how Han and Luke are able to be ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ of the ship, but sit as if they were side to side, or front to back). Every now and then the camera would flick briefly to the cockpit of the Hamburger where a very pretty lady with strange donut hair was sat next to a giant hairy Bigfoot dog thing. I didn’t really know what to make of that either, but it was cool, and soon enough all the baddies had been kaboomed. The clip ended with the impressive and exquisite multi layered explosion of the last of the golf balls and then ‘snap’ I’m back in the room. Once again It’s all Custard Pies, the Phantom Flan Flinger, Chris Tarrant, Lenny Henry and Sally James, and even the rather breasty t-shirts of Miss James’ couldn’t stop me thinking about this insanely cool thing I just saw (although to be fair, I was only six).
What was it? Star Wars you say?…..bloody hell’s bells I think I just wee’d in me Action Man y-fronts a bit !! Aaaaaaaagghhhhh!!!
If memory serves, they played the clip more than once on that morning’s show, and each time I saw it; the need to see even more of this crazy fantastic movie grew and grew like a…….like a….well like a thing that grows and grows very bloody quickly.
I’m not sure how exactly it came about, but one way or another a trip to London to see my uncle Fred was organised and I guess the hype that had already built up around Star Wars was such that perhaps it was a no brainer for him to take us all to see it. I clearly remember the giant chocolate milkshake I had somewhere in Leicester Square opposite the Odeon, and seeing the movie hoarding out front, and the queues of people waiting to see it. Finally it was our time, and I remember taking my seat (in what seemed to be the biggest, squarest, plushest chair this side of Jim’ll Fix It. It felt like sitting in a pink velour covered Captain Kirk seat. And so the curtains opened and the 20th Century Fox fanfare did its legendary cue. Then…
A long time ago
In a galaxy far far away…
I’m beaming from ear to ear, and almost giddy with pent up excitement.
And then, filling the screen and making me jump in delight:
S T A R
W A R S
With a thundering, triumphant fanfare blast of brass and strings, one of the greatest movie overtures heralds the greatest intro to the greatest movie I have ever seen. Words began to wind their way up the screen, and disappear off into space. I didn’t understand all of the text (I thought for instance that ‘custodian’ was the name of the ship princess Leia was traveling on), but then it happened. Yes folks that much parodied, much imitated but never matched, amazing scene as the camera pans down to a massive planet, and Leia’s ship, zooming overhead from the right is being shot at by an unseen adversary who’s wedge shaped ship then begins to pass overhead also. Starting with an already big looking pointy tip, the ship is revealed frame by frame to be of staggering proportions. Its passage overhead takes several long seconds to complete, and in each of those seconds, as more and more of this triangular behemoth travels past the camera, filling the wide cinema screen with its bulk, the awe builds – what is this bloody thing? It’s mahooosive!!! I’m sitting in my pink velour chair, mouth agape, dumbstruck, awestruck, completely and utterly at the mercy of this impossibly amazing experience. The sub bass is rumbling through my seat, into my body and practically cooking my internal organs. Finally, after what seems like ages, the giant ship fully passes overhead, and we can see its sliced fat diamond shaped rear end stuffed full of impossibly huge star drive engines blazing away with intense colour and light.
Switching then to a front view, we see the tiny ship still trying to get away from the obscene, impossible wedge pursuing it relentlessly.
This intro has grabbed every single person in the theatre by the balls and demands their total undivided attention, regardless of age or gender. It is a truly epic, and flabbergasting thing to behold for the first time, you cannot take your eyes off of it and it still gives me goosebumps watching it even now. In my opinion, George Lucas never captured anything like the majesty and spectacle of that opening with any of the other movies. I guess to do exactly the same thing more than once would not have worked, but he certainly never found another way of capturing lightning in a bottle either. It’s one hell of a way to open your movie, that’s for damn sure.
Soon enough, after a futile and somewhat pointless show of resistance (especially considering their predicament and the fact that Leia later tries to maintain the fallacy that she’s on a diplomatic mission), we are introduced (or if you are watching the movies in episodic order, re-introduced) to Darth Vader (who, again if you’ve just watched Episode III, has now grown in stature somewhat). It’s a great character intro as he menacingly strides through the hatch onto the rebel ship, his stormtroopers standing to attention. It’s like a sort of ‘Here I am, I’m the big bad, fear me and quake in your boots’
The last paragraph has highlighted a potential pitfall for me in writing this retro. As a confirmed ‘old fart’ I naturally think of Episode IV not in terms of its internal chronology with Episodes I to III, but as a standalone feature, or the beginning of a saga with the other two original trilogy movies. Forgive me then if I flip flop between viewpoints, it’s tough for us old nags sometimes.
Ok so there’s surely no point in detailing the plot to much, as we all know the movie follows the two droids C3PO and R2D2 on their blundering journey to track down Obi Wan Kenobi. Along the way we meet ‘the new hope’ in the form of a certain young farm boy with a secret Jedi lineage (although thanks to the prequels, it’s now not so secret). You know the rest yadda yadda Mos Eisley, Canteena yadda yadda Han Solo, point five past light speed yadda yadda Death Star, foul stench yadda yadda Kenobi and Vader duel, Luke, Han and Chewie rescue Leia, yadda yadda rebels attack Death Star yadda yadda Luke uses the force (and a little help from Han) to help blow up Death Star and send Vader spinning off into space. Cue much celebrations with the rebels, and the princess handing out medals (although Chewie doesn’t get one, bless him).
Now then let’s take a deeeeep breath…….and continue with a statement of absolute and undeniable fact:
Episode IV as a standalone movie already had its fair share of plot flaws or contrivances built in from day one, most films do, when you analyse them a little too closely. It’s also fair to say that the sequels made things a little messier in places. However, add the events of the prequels into the mix and Episode IV really starts to unravel a bit too much for my liking, and certain elements now don’t make any sense at all, which is rather annoying.
In the interests of trying not to exceed about a million words, I have decided that I can’t even begin to start going in to detail about the various mismatches and inconsistencies created in Episode IV by the events documented in the prequel trilogy (particularly Episode III), as there are too many and it would run the risk of dampening my high spirits anyway. I feel that I would rather keep the tone of this, the retrospective of my most favourite movie of all time somewhat above all that. Take the high road, and enjoy the air, I say.
On second thoughts, perhaps in order to give you a flavour of what I’m talking about, and seeing as how I mentioned it in the Episode III retrospective, it would be ok to focus on just one thing that doesn’t add up. It’s probably not even the most important or noticeable flaw either, but it’s the one that for some reason sticks in my craw and irks more than others. Here is a transcript of some of Obi-Wan Kenobi dialogue to young Luke in Episode IV:
Kenobi: “I have something here for you. Your father wanted you to have this when you were old enough, but your uncle wouldn’t allow it. He feared you might follow old Obi-Wan on some damn fool idealistic crusade like your father did”
Luke: “What is it?”
Kenobi: “Your father’s Light Saber. This is the weapon of a Jedi……
Thanks to events depicted in Episode III, none of the above dialogue from Kenobi is now actually true, except for the bit about it being Luke’s father’s Light Saber. I’m sure Lucas would probably put all this in the same category as the whole Kenobi ‘Jedi point of view’ excuse for telling Luke that Vader betrayed and murdered his father. Trouble is, it’s just a step too far, and Episode III makes it clear that other than the time Anakin came to the Lars farm on Tatooine was with Padme when he was a Padawan. He had no relationship with ‘Uncle Owen’ beyond that. Luke and Leia are also born after Anakin has turned, and after the Mustafar duel. He never gets the chance to bequeath his Light Saber to his son, as he does not know, or have any relationship with his son. In fact the only thing that George Lucas made sure happened in Episode III to make sure any of it works is getting Obi-Wan to (rather inexplicably) pick up and effectively ‘steal’ Anakin’s Saber once he had done his swift ‘two arms, one leg’ slice and dice on him. That’s it, none of the rest fits at all and Obi-Wan should really say “I have something here for you, I pinched it from your father” – It’s more honest at least.
Ok, at the risk of further bringing the buzz down, I really would like to say something about the ‘Special Edition’ version of the movie.
As we all know, once CG technology had become sufficiently advanced to make George Lucas happy, he hatched the idea to tinker with his movies (starting with Episode IV) and ‘fix’ certain scenes or elements that he was unhappy with. The ‘fixed’ movies were then re-released into theatres in the years immediately prior to the appearance of Episode I in 1999. I almost think of the SE versions of the movies as Lucas’ trial run for many of the techniques he was planning to employ on the prequels. A bit like when governments indulge in a little ‘Blooding’ of their raw, green inexperienced military forces by picking a small fight somewhere out of the way. Lucas was ‘Blooding’ ILM before the task of doing Episode I. Anyway, the results vary from the almost unnoticeably good, to the very noticeably bad.
On the plus side of the ledger, we have some very nice enhanced X-Wing and Falcon shots, some of which many (less trainspottery) fans might not even notice had improved at all. There are also improved blades on the Light Sabers during Vader and Kenobi’s duel, although for some reason, there are still shots in that duel (not to mention the shots of Luke with his new saber) where the blade still has a ropey look to it. I’m not sure why they were not able to be consistent. However, definitely on the minus side, we get a load of pointless CG droids, Rontos, and slapstick Jawas, as well as a reinstated scene between Han and Jabba just before the take off from Mos Eisley. The CG created Jabba is all kinds of horrendous, and it almost beggars belief that they got it so amazingly wrong. It’s a completely pointless scene that did not need to be restored at all, and destroyed Jabba’s previously mysterious and dangerous standing within the original versions because you do not see him until Return Of The Jedi. Of course we’ve now already seen him at the pod-race in Episode I too (complete with Jabbawife or whatever), so i guess it’s all completely screwed anyway. The scene is absolutely awful, and I remember thinking how unconvincing and ‘wrong’ Jabba looked even at the time (1997), let alone now. As for Han walking over his tail……
Watching the SE version again, It actually looks very patchy. I think a lot of the CG has not aged well, and does not blend with original set elements very well either. To my eyes, it’s quite an unhappy jostle between obviously dated and to be fair and frank ‘Low Budget’ 70’s set dressings and surroundings with mid 90’s CG standards.
I would sum it up like this: The original movie is 5 stars, no doubt about it. All things weighed up and considered (good and bad), the Special Edition scrapes a 4. If you really loathe the SE versions and think 4 is over generous, then consider for a moment that the SE is still Star Wars (I mean Episode IV), y’know my all time favourite movie of all time, and by that rationale it has to scrape a 4.
Now then, I could continue with the SE bating, as there are so many other ‘changes’ in it that drive us original fans to distraction, but I’m going to reel it in as we’re approaching the wrong side of 3000 words and i have other things to talk about. Suffice to say, fan favourite SE peeve has got to be……wait for it……can you guess?
Greedo shoots first.
Huh? Yes folks, it may sound like a very minor thing, but in the scene at the Canteena when Greedo pulls a gun on Han and they have an awkward conversation at a table about Jabba, and the bounty on Han’s head. The original movie had Han shooting first. Yes, Han shoots Greedo (who also discharges his weapon, but misses). Now, fair do’s; Greedo is not a nice bloke, but even allowing for that, plus the idea that blaster fire was unavoidable, Han shoots first, effectively killing Greedo in cold blood. This sets up the premise that Han has a personal journey to take before he can become a hero, which makes his character richer and more interesting to see develop. In the SE version of that scene; George Lucas decided that at this point, he wanted Han to always be a hero and underdog, and changed the timing of the blaster fire to make Greedo the one who shoots first. This repaints Han as only defending himself from an aggressor, and is still a hero awwww! So pointless, yet so indicative of Lucas’ thinking.
Right then, that is quite enough of that, and from this moment on, I am referring to the film in its original form, as this is the version that ‘thankfully’ is indelibly inked to my permanent brainery. I still absolutely love Episode IV, and although I am a massive fan of Episode V, and agree with many of my peers that in many ways it is by far the best of all the movies, I cannot place it higher than Star Wars (sorry, Ep4 dammit!!). Oh nuts to it, I cannot be arsed to keep writing ‘Episode IV‘ (balls, I just did), so it’s going back to just Star Wars for the close out of this retro.
Yes, as I was saying. The Empire Strikes Back is so good, and as an adult, is the one I would want to watch most often and enjoy. It is a terrific film (even in SE format, as there was so little that Lucas felt needed changing), but and this is an absolutely crucial ‘but’ – BUT, it is not the movie that blew my mind, it is not the movie that changed the world. Empire is not the movie I saw in the Odeon, Leicester Square.
Star Wars is the movie that started this whole thing rolling, and created the fan that I still am today. It is the father (so to speak), and therefore, even though I would watch and enjoy Empire more readily than Star Wars; It is still STAR WARS – Episode IV that is my toppest all time most top film of all time.
I’ll leave you with one of my favourite moments in the movie.
Luke is hossing his X-Wing down the Death Star trench at top speed and is going to use the force to fire the torpedos. But Vader and his two wingmen have Luke zeroed and locked in. Just as Vader is about to open fire (on his own son?), one of the wingmen is blown to smithereens and in the chaos the other wingman and Vader collide. Wingman explodes, Vader tumbles uncontrollably and harmlessly away. And out of the coolest starlight, and at a very awesome and racy angle; Han Solo returns in the Millennium Falcon with a “Yahoo!!” – Yahoo indeed, it’s a shout out loud moment “Yahoooo!”
And with the dispensing of all three Imperial fighters, Solo utters the immortal line:
“You’re all clear kid, now let’s blow this thing and go home!”
For me, the film hits its peak right there. That ship, rocketing out of nowhere with a cool starlight flare behind it, bloody top notch.
No matter how old I get, I can still tap into the wonder and awe that i felt as a little boy watching Star Wars for the first time, it’s a great thing to be able to do, as it’s a wondrous and beautiful place to spend a couple of hours. I now look forward to revisiting Episode V, hopefully see you all then.
May the force be with you (sorry, just had to say it)