July 2, 2013

Star Wars (1977)
Grade: 90/100

Director: George Lucas
Stars: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher

What it's about. Star Wars was for several years the top-grossing film of all time, at least in terms of inflation-unadjusted dollars. Allegedly, the movie saved 20th Century Fox from bankruptcy. Certainly, it cemented George Lucas' legacy as one of the best directors of the 1970s.

This sci-fi fantasy stars Mark Hamill as the earnest and excitable Luke Skywalker. Luke is starved for adventure on his uncle's farm on an arid planet. His uncle (Phil Brown) acquires two robots to operate the farm machinery. They are C-3PO (voiced by Anthony Daniels), a whiny comic android, and R2-D2 (voiced by Kenny Baker), a chirping and resourceful robot shaped something like a Dalek.

R2-D2 plays a video for Luke that makes him suspect the robot belongs to Ben Kenobi (Alec Guinness), an elderly desert nomad. Despite an encounter with the exotic Sand People, Luke locates Kenobi, who proposes that Luke accompany him and the two robots to visit the distant planet Alderaan to rescue Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), the beautiful young woman in the video.

It won't be easy, though, since the evil empire is after the robots, since R2-D2 contains plans for the empire Death Star spaceship, which rebel organizations seek to exploit for its destruction. Nonetheless, our heroes manage to escape their planet and head towards Alderaan, with the aid of reckless but courageous mercenary Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and his Bigfoot first mate Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew).

It turns out that Kenobi is obsessed with the Force, an ever-present energy source that can be tapped at will by those privy to its power. Kenobi instructs Luke in the Force, lessons that come in handy later. Our heroes reach Alderaan to find it has been obliterated by the Death Star, under the command of aged bad guy Tarkin (Peter Cushing) and his right-hand former man, sinister Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones).

Tarkin also plans to execute Leia, who is held prisoner on the Death Star. Fortunately for her, Solo's ship, the Millenium Falcon, is seized by the Death Star. Luke, Solo, the two robots, and Kenobi wreak havoc on the Death Star and are able to free Leia and escape with her.

Now, the question is whether the rebel alliance can use the plans in R2-D2 to find a weakness to destroy the Death Star before the latter blows up the rebel base. Key to rebel plans is a small spaceship assault on the Death Star, starring crackshot Luke and his wingman Solo.

How others will see it. The spectacular success of Star Wars has led to five sequels, with at least three more in the works. The film was also praised by critics, even receiving Best Picture and Best Director Oscar nominations, highly unusual for the genre. The film received 11 Oscar nods in all, and won seven Oscars in technical categories.

Today at imdb.com the film has a remarkable 542K user votes. The user rating of 8.8 places it among the highest ranking movies on that website's vaunted Top 250. The user ratings decline slightly among older demographics and women, but even women over 45 award it a lofty 8.1.

Only the most hardened and culturally averse grouch can actively dislike Star Wars.

How I felt about it. Seeing this film again for the n'teenth time, I remain impressed by its sense of humor. Anthony Daniels' cowardly whining is invariably a stitch, and we also find the sarcasm between leads Luke, Han, and Leia to be a source of endless amusement. In fact, the film itself is not far from a comedy, despite the still-impressive special effects and costumes, and the outsized scale of its sets.

Comedy is what sets the film apart from its would-be imitators, especially Dune (1984). But comedy is hard to pull off, as Lucas himself would learn with the Jerry Lewis-like Jar-Jar Binks in the 1999 sequel. Perhaps it is the chemistry and likability of the characters that makes the difference, since the 1977 and 1999 movies shared the same writer and director.