Friday, July 17, 2015

Review: Star Wars (1977)

Directed by: George Lucas
Produced by: Gary Kurtz
Written by: George Lucas
Executive Producer: George Lucas
Cinematography by: Gilbert Taylor
Production Designed by: John Barry
Edited by: Richard Chew, Paul Hirsch & Marcia Lucas
Costumes by: John Mollo
Music by: John Williams

Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Cushing, Alec Guinness, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, David Prowse, James Earl Jones

1977 / 121min / Rated PG

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...

The galaxy is under the rule of the Galactic Empire who possess a terrible weapon, the Death Star, which has enough power to destroy an entire planet. Led by Princess Leia, a small band of rebels steal the plans to the Death Star. When she's captured by Darth Vader, Leia hides the plans with a pair of Droids who fall into the possession of farm boy Luke Skywalker. Young Luke is thrust into adventure as he joins Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi in a quest to save the princess, the rebels and the galaxy itself.

In 1977, a phenomenon was born. Now it can be debated if this phenomenon had a positive or negative affect on the filmmaking of the last 40 years. But as it stands, George Lucas's Star Wars is one of the single most successful endeavors in movie history.

And yet, the path to it's release was not without it's struggles. Lucas's original screenplay, originally titled The Star Wars, was far too long to be made into one movie. Multiple studios passed, believing the costs of production would be too high (ironically, one of these studios was Walt Disney). Finally, Alan Ladd of 20th Century Fox agreed to finance Lucas's script. Lucas's script went through numerous rewrites, eventually achieving the form with which we are all familiar today.

Production was not so easy for Lucas eithee, as he faced numerous technical difficulties on set and sometimes clashed with members of his production crew in his atempt to micromanage every aspect of the film to achieve his vision. Members of the crew often didn't take their work seriously, feeling they were working on a "kid'a movie" and often laughed during filming at parts they felt were unintentionally funny. Even Kenny Baker (R2-D2) thought it would be a failure, with Harrison Ford even commenting his confusion as to why the princess had "buns on her head." Alan Ladd proved to be Lucas's only ally at Fox as studio executives fretted over rising budget costs.

Yet, despite these difficulties and the preconceived notions about the film'a success by those involved, Star Wars proved to not only be a critical and commercial hit beyond anyons'a imagination, but changed the way movies have been made for the last forty years.

Whether or not that impact has been positive, Star Wars on its own is a resounding success on every front. From story and plotting, characterizations and music to (most notably) visual effects, it's no wonder Star Wars reshaped the way the general public views Science Fiction as well as the moviworld going experience.

There'a very little to criticize about this first installment into the Star Wars franchise. Though Lucas had envisioned a larger space saga, he focused entirely on making Star Wars a standalone movie. It's sad that this approach is being largely abandoned today as filmmakers focus so much on franchisd-building and leaving plot threads open instead of making one good movie. By not worrying about any subsequent sequels and this film alone, Lucas achieves near-perfection.

Though his story is heavily influenced by old Saturday morning Sci-Fi serials and plenty of familiar fantasy elements, George Lucas's story feels fresh and new, presenting a very original concept and universe. His plotting is tight, his psce always moving forward with very little unnecessary fluff present to drag things down.

The movie really takes off in its second half once everyone is brought aboard the Death Star, always maintaining a high level of fun and excitement. The film's climactic space battle is pulse-pounding and visually spectacular, which helps to make up for what's perhaps the biggest plot hole; the long trench that conveniently leads to the Death Star's fatal weakness. Still, it's so much fun and engrossing you can't help but overlook it.

Though his dialogue is sometimes stiff and awkward, it's hardly noticeable because the performances of the cast are infused with so much confidence and energy that you hardly give the dislogue'a stiffness a second thought.

And that's perhaps Star Wars's most successful aspect; the characters and the actors inhabiting them. There isn't a weak leak amongst the cast and the chemistry between leads Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher is so natural and infectious that it's a shame the three of them don't come together soon. The actors bring so much energy and excitement to their performances that they elevate the film's excitement and sense of adventure.

Sir Alec Guinness is a stand out in a mostly supporting role. He brings a level of maturity and wisdom to the proceedings. He's the most restrained of the cast which keeps things fairly grounded. The most unfortunate aspect of his character is his ultimate fate before the film launches into its final act, but it's still well handled and given the appropriate amount of weight and impact.

Darth Vader doesn't have much to do as he mostly stomps around and follows Governor Tarkin's (a commanding Peter Cushing) orders, but he's instantly menacing and memorable. His presence is always felt throughout and James Earl Jones's voice work is spotless.

Even by today's high standards, the visual effects hold up pretty well. In many respects, I even prefer the practical effects as well as the use of miniatures over today's abundant CGI. Something about the models seems more real while the CGI spaceships of today lack that same realism. The same goes for the sets which are unpolished and seem used, helping to ground them in reality and make it seem as though they're used day-to-day.

Of course, perhaps just as key to Star Wars's success as any other element is John Williams's iconic and unforgettable score which reshaped film music for the rest of the century. It's pretty much flawless and helps add to the film's sense of adventure. I think it could be argued that without Williams's touch, Star Wars would perhaps have not been as successful and vice versa as it also helped make Williams.

Star Wars deserves it's place as one of history's most revolutionary and iconic movies. Despite the problematic production, everything came together to make a movie that's just about as perfect as you can get and one of my all-time favorites.

Story: 5 / 5
Plot: 9 / 10
Dialogue: 4 / 5

Characterization: 10 / 10
Development: 10 / 10
Acting: 20 / 20

Pacing: 5 / 5
Tone: 5 / 5
Overall Enjoyment: 10 / 10

Music: 10 / 10
Visuals: 10 / 10

TOTAL: 98 / 100

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