By Colin Moore
Here’s a box-office giant so ingrained into popular culture that even the idea of writing a review seems pointless. What hasn’t been said about the story of a sandy-haired moisture farmer and his heavy-breathing adversary? Nothing, but as long as people endear themselves to movies over entertainment forms like…lawn darts let’s say…”Star Wars” will be a film worth revisiting.
Is there a more impressive opening shot in the history of cinema? For those first unsuspecting audience members back in ’77, it must have been a suckerpunch. A modest rebel transport races into frame, taking laser blasts from a massive Imperial star destroyer. The ships’ proportions accurately reflect the balance of power in this civil war. The Empire has the galaxy in a government-sanctioned death grip. In a final move to crush all opposition, it has constructed the Death Star, a moon-sized doomsday device with the ability to obliterate planets. But the blueprints have been intercepted and, on the verge of capture by Darth Vader (David Prowse), rebel hottie Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) entrusts the data to a pair of bickering robots (the droids R2-D2 and C-3P0) to find help. The adventure ramps up once the droids are united with cinema’s now iconic grab-bag of underdogs. Counted among them are Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), a young thrill-seeker, Obi-wan Kenobi (Sir Alec Guinness), a hermit with the ability to harness an energy field known as the force, and Han Solo (Harrison Ford), a wise-cracking smuggler and ace pilot.
”Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope”, or simply ”Star Wars”, is the first entry in what is commonly referred to as “the original trilogy.” In terms of the greater Star Wars saga, inclusive of three later-produced prequels, it sits somewhere in the middle, after ”Revenge of the Sith” and before ”The Empire Strikes Back”. The story uses/adapts scores of familiar fantasy archetypes, as Lucas drew inspiration from works such as King Arthur, Joseph Campbell’s hero-journey study ”The Hero with a Thousand Faces” and Akira Kurosawa’s ”The Hidden Fortress” (note the two traveling peasants). And there seem to be others. According to sources such as Wikipedia, ”Dune” author Frank Herbert and director David Lynch noted several similarities between ”Star Wars” and Herbert’s book, estimating that “the odds against coincidence produced a number larger than the number of stars in the universe.” What an incredible statistic they’ve discovered.
Yet ”Star Wars” is an undeniable classic. Whatever it’s borrowed from fantasies of the past has been decorated and magnified into something truly epic, a movie that can finally rival our dreams of the future, however worn and clunky. Thanks to Lucas and his Oscar-winning crew of artisans, Star Wars created the standard for stories told within an elaborate onscreen universe. From Luke’s twin-sunned home of Tatooine to the polished Death Star corridors, we’re shown such a variety of sets and vehicles, robots and humanoids (many with their own beeps and languages), that more important defects like weak character development seem secondary. In a pre-Oscar interview special, Harrison Ford once said he would play Indiana Jones again in a New York minute but denied the same for Solo, calling the character “thin.” History isn’t complaining.
The Empire Strikes Back
The Death Star has been destroyed and Luke and Han adorned with medals the size of C-3P0’s head, but the Empire is far from quashed. Now under the command of Darth Vader, Imperial forces have regrouped and are spraying the galaxy with tentacled probes. The rebel threat must be routed out and Skywalker terminated, or taunted into such a state of anger that he turns to the dark side. Sinister stuff, but for this second act of the trilogy, almost necessary. This is war after all, and given the Empire’s stunning defeat in Star Wars, Lucas is wise to help the villains save face. He awards this round to the Empire.
But who could predict these twists? Luke losing a hand. Vader his dad. Han frozen into a carbonite popsicle. Hats off to Lucas and screenwriters Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan (“Raiders of the Lost Ark”) for these bold moves. In the first of the film’s surprises, Luke splits off from his friends in search of Yoda (voice and puppetry care of Frank Oz), an elvish 900-year-old Jedi Master. He will continue Luke’s Jedi training while Han and Leia run a parallel adventure, squabbling and falling in love while on the run from Vader’s forces.
”The Empire Strikes Back” does what many great sequels do, upping the ante while recapturing the original’s spirit, though director Irvin Kershner (”RoboCop 2”) also put more effort into humanizing the major characters, droids included, and replacing the original’s giddiness with a more mature style of humor. The film is unique too in that it has no beginning or ending. With the basic story and characters established in the previous installment, Empire drop us straight into the chase, with more ambitious effects sequences this time around. The Walker attack on Hoth, the Falcon’s scramble through an asteroid field, and Luke’s duel with Vader are some of the best realized of the series. For a good many critics and fans, Lucas saved the best for second.
Return of the Jedi
With Han thawed, Jabba put down, and Boba Fett slowly winding through the innards of the Sarlaac pit, the Rebellion is on a roll of sorts. But the Empire has been busy too, and threatens a final solution with a second Death Star. Following the pattern set by other films in the series, our heroes separate to take care of business. Now a full-on freedom fighter, Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) volunteers to lead the attack on the Death Star while love birds Han and Leia work to deactivate its force field on the nearby moon of Endor. For young Skywalker however, the conflict only gets more personal when old secrets are confirmed. Leia is his sister. Vader is his father. And to become a Jedi, Luke must face his enemy again, on his turf.
”Return of the Jedi” is the final film in the ”Star Wars” saga and arguably one of the most anticipated sequels in the history of film. Han Solo’s fate and the truth behind Darth Vader’s highly quotable confession, “I am your father,” were first answered for the world on May 25th, 1983, six years to the day that the original ”Star Wars” made its debut. Lucas again developed the story and served as executive producer while hiring another, Welsh filmmaker Richard Marquand, to direct. Other directors under consideration include David Lynch and Canadian director David Cronenberg. Both turned Lucas down to work on other projects, though even as a “What if?” exercise the imagination starts racing.
The film itself is probably the lightest of the original trilogy, returning to the airy exhilaration of ”A New Hope”. As the final chapter, Jedi has a job to do, conclude the story and meet the expectations set by its predecessors. It does, despite the addition of the teddy-bear-like Ewoks, a turn-off for some fans who preferred an edgier ”Star Wars” universe. Between Jabba’s palace, Endor and the closing space battle, Lucas again expands his universe with creatures, technology and action set pieces we’re not likely to see anywhere else. If this is why you watch, your tank will be pleasantly full. If the movie has a weakness though, it’s in its characterization. Jedi is first and foremost a plot-driven film, reducing most of the principals to predictable busy work and comic relief (perhaps the reason Harrison Ford wanted his character killed off). Not Luke though. If the title doesn’t spell it out, the movie will. ”Jedi” quickly makes it clear that this is Skywalker’s story, and the others, like ourselves, are just along for the ride. A worthy romp.
Blu-ray details and extras :
First things first, these aren’t the theatrical versions of “Star Wars” and it’s sequels many of us would prefer to have on Blu-ray; these are, of course, the Lucas approved tinkered-with ‘Special Edition’ versions that have, unfortunately, been tinkered with even further here. From blinking eyelids on the Ewoks to making Vader more vocal in the final few moments of “Jedi”, it’s all a bit nauesating. When will Lucas realize that it’s the story, not the special effects, that we love about this series!?
The films though, I have to say, look and sound magnificent. The 6.1 soundtrack will stir every one of your speakers and the video transfer is gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous.
There’s apparently 3 loaded discs of special features that comes with the “Saga” pack – all six films – but since we weren’t sent a review copy of either Blu-ray set, and can’t afford to be shelling out big bucks simply to review something, we had no choice but to settle for the cheaper set. And as far as extras go on this pack, there’s not really anything on here to speak of – well, besides some ho-hum commentaries (Note : We will endeavour to get the ‘Complete Saga’ reviewed; just might take some time for a price drop to allow it).
So is this ‘sequel’ trilogy worth buying? Well, it’s worth having for the video and audio quality of the Blu-ray’s but don’t grab it if you’re expecting it be as choca-bloc with extra features as the Complete Saga release is – nor, for that matter, expecting it to feature untouched versions of the movies.