Revisiting ‘Star Wars’ (1977/1997)

sw-1With Star Wars 7: The Force Awakens coming up, I’ve decided to try and watch the Original Trilogy over the next few weeks. Partly to properly ‘prepare’ for the new film like every Star Wars geek must be doing over the next few weeks, partly because…

Well, its Alien and Prometheus all over again isn’t it? For good or ill, after SW7 hits, watching the original characters in the first trilogy just won’t be the same again. Its hard to watch Alien now without dwelling on the knowledge that the Space Jockey is just a bald giant in a space suit and the Nostromo crew weren’t (apparently) the first humans to explore the derelict. Likewise whenever we next watch the original films in 2016 and later, it’ll be in the knowledge of what comes after, what became of our heroes and the Empire etc. In a sense its exciting, but it’s also rather scary. I doubt that SW7 will be a disaster, but for so many decades now, we’ve all had our dreams of what follows Jedi.. will the ‘reality’ of a whole new series of movies measure up? Likewise, prequels featuring the theft of the Death Star plans and adventures of a young Han Solo… how much will these impact on our enjoyment of the Original Trilogy (as if Jake Lloyd being the origin of Darth Vader wasn’t bad enough)?

So anyway, before all that nonsense inflicts further damage on my childhood love affair with Star Wars, I shoved the Blu ray disc into my player and settled down for one more trip down the Death Star trench…

The thing that bugs me about watching Star Wars these days -and I do so rarely, this occasion being the first time in quite a few years- is that when I’m watching it, it doesn’t feel like Star Wars. At least, not the film I remember from when I was a kid in 1978 (to paraphrase the film itself, I hear Obi-Wan intoning “this is NOT the film you have been looking for…”). Of course what we watch now is the 1997 Special Edition… well, that plus whatever changes were made when the film got released on Blu-ray a few years back. The Star Wars I fell in love with, warts and matte lines and all, well, thats up in the loft somewhere on VHS tape; the Star Wars I have on DVD and Blu-ray is something else entirely.

sw1But that’s a gripe we’re all bored of by now so I won’t dwell on it. If the Force is with us (sorry) Disney will eventually release those original editions of Star Wars, Empire and Jedi – there’s been plenty of rumours circulating over the past few years, indeed, it now just seems a matter of when rather than if. I wonder if, when it eventually comes, it’ll be a case of be careful what you wish for? I’m sure those of us of a certain age who grew up with the originals will greet them with wild applause, but I do wonder if younger generations will moan at the dodgy effects and miss the fancy cgi shots.

Funny thing is, three things crossed my mind watching Star Wars again. First, Lucas really didn’t have a lot of coverage when he finished filming. You can see that only careful editing saved some sequences. I spotted a Stormtrooper dead on the floor one moment and up shooting back at Luke and Leia the next, and several shots extended by fast cuts to and fro (a Stormtrooper taking forever to fall over during the Falcon’s escape from Tatooine), and careful editing of the same life-size X-Wing taking off several times to give the impression of a fleet of them. I can imagine Lucas and his editors trying to make sequences work with the barest minimum of shots. Trying to make some of the space battles make sense must have been a huge headache. It’s a potent reminder of the difficulties making the film, that the cast and crew were making it up as they went along, that it really was the first of its kind, almost a prototype Star Wars. The leap in sophistication between Star Wars and Empire is huge.

sw3Second, well, frankly, what brass balls Lucas had to even attempt it. Watching Star Wars this time, I was so aware of how ahead of its time it was, how much of a leap of faith it must have been. Its so silly really, all that Force mumbo-jumbo, robots and aliens, a captive princess in white and a big bad guy in black armour. Of course as a kid I lapped it up, it made perfect sense for someone growing up on Marvel comics, but to world-weary adults, particularly in the fairly grim 1970s it must have seemed absolutely nuts making it. How many times did Lucas doubt what he was doing would ever work? Even the simplest thing, giving character to R2 D2 and C-3PO, one a robot that beeps and the other an English guy in a gold suit. It shouldn’t work, but it does. Lucas has come under so much criticism over the years, what with the prequels and special editions and everything (if SW7 is bad, imagine the ire Lucas will get for ‘selling out’ to Disney’s Evil Empire) but it has to be said, the guy was something of a genius with Star Wars.

Third, and this is a strange one after all these years. The score by John Williams. Its just too good. Imagine watching the film with just dialogue and on-set sound effects prior to dubbing etc. How cheap and tacky and daft the whole mad thing must have seemed. Yet John Williams created this huge gorgeous symphonic score with all his sheer sincerity that the story was real and epic and operatic. Frankly, Star Wars didn’t deserve such a fantastic score, but thank goodness it got one. The music elevates it, to, well mythic opera. Imagine it with a cheesy Disco score… the mind boggles.

9 thoughts on “Revisiting ‘Star Wars’ (1977/1997)

  1. Now that control is out of Lucas’ hands, they’d be mad not to release the original versions. It’s almost literally throwing money away not to put them out. I imagine the special editions will remain the ‘official’ versions, probably forever, but there are so many who want those originals…

    There are so many elements of groundbreaking genius in the film, but I agree that Williams’ score really is the magical element that makes it all work. I mean, of course there are lots of other great things if you’re a sci-fi fan, but giving it that grand orchestral score cues a more casual viewer to think “classical epic” or something — it subconsciously elevates it above “people with silly names running around in silly costumes”, which I guess is how much sci-fi was viewed (and, in many respects, remained so for quite a while after, ’til geeks completely inherited the media!)

    1. Your comment re: geeks inheriting the media has set me thinking. You’re absolutely right, and its unfortunately dumbed down the media too. Geeks are their own worst enemy, and the screams and hooting I see on youtube videos from Comicon every year as Hollywood’s finest parade infront of them just reinforces my feeling that in some ways the inmates are running the asylum now. You can see in the films that are made how many creative decisions are predicated on what “the fans might think is cool”. Its something that spoiled the new Trek films and has me concerned about the impending Star Wars films. Maybe part of it is that geeks themselves are making movies now having grown up into adulthood. Some films are so bad, so ineptly thought out, they are like the mad comicbook fantasies of frustrated teenagers. I only hope that Blade Runner 2 retains the adult mindset of the original rather than adopt the lowbrow mentality of the current crop of genre movies.

      1. I think the geeks are making the movies, as well as controlling them through their response. Sometimes that works — directors like Edgar Wright, for instance; and I think the Marvel movies are hewing closer to the comics than previous superhero movies because they’re made by people who started off as comic book fans. But as you say, other times it results in substance-free fantasies. I don’t know if there’s a solution to that, really, because the public are lapping it up.

  2. I tend to find Star Wars exists now as a sort of fragile sense-memory of how strange and new it was to a six-year old.
    There are echoes of it when I watch the original, or see certain bits of merchandise or memorabilia [have you seen the books reprinting the original Topps trading cards? – shivers of nostalgia!]

    But I think it’s crazy to expect a new Star Wars film to evoke that feeling again: it can’t. SW was a time and a place [a childhood a long, long time ago] and like all childhood memories, it exists in its own bubble. It’s just an impossible notion that a new film could ever ‘be’ that.

    Though I will be honest, what I’ve seen of Ep.8 is touching some of the same nerves for me: I won’t say I have high hopes, but I don’t have low expectations for it.].

    As for Blade Runner 2: have you watched Prisoners yet? I watched it again a couple of weeks ago on Blu: damn, that’s a really solid film. And his Sicario is out this week, reputedly excellent. Plus, Roger Deakins has let on that they’re not going for the same visual style as the original, which can only be good news: I love the way BR looks, but it’s been copied to death and back. I think we’re in the least fanboy hands possible: mature, intelligent film-makers. If this sequel has to be made, this is the best possible eventuality.

  3. Hi Matt, yes I’ve seen Prisoners, streamed it on Amazon Prime and really enjoyed it, and have recently bought the Blu ray for a second watch. Damned fine film, watching it really got me feeling more positive about Blade Runner 2 (I’m working on a blog update on all the latest news regards BR2, hopefully get it up this weekend). I’ve just ordered on blu the directors first film, Incendies, as it seems widely considered his best film to date, and should be seeing Sicario next week at the cinema if things fall into place. How odd to be excited about a film director again! But yeah, BR2 seems to be in a good place at the moment, so I’ve (surprisingly, I’ll admit) got high hopes for it. All depends on the script, really…

    Regards Star Wars, yeah, its odd to know The Force Awakens is coming soon. The prequels were distant enough in tone and setting to not feel like ‘proper’ Star Wars at all, but these new ones are deliberately aiming for that Original Trilogy vibe, and some of it looks a bit too slick and polished. Don’t really trust Abrams after what he did with Trek. We’ll see. Have you seen those sneak pics of Original Trilogy Stormtroopers from the Rogue One set? I got chills! That film looks REALLY interesting and has more excited than SW7 funnily enough.

  4. Matthew McKinnon

    So in light of the new Force Awakens trailer appearing, what did you think of it? And how are you getting on with re-watching the original trilogy?

    1. I’ve had to delay re-watching TESB due to re-watching Daniel Craig’s Bond movies prior to watching Spectre (got Casino Royale and Quantum watched over the weekend, with Skyfall tonight and tickets booked for Spectre tomorrow), but it’ll hopefully happen next weekend.

      Regards the Force Awakens trailer, I really tried not to watch it. I lasted all of about six hours before relenting. I have this daft intention of not being spoiled but what chance is there in the face of the impending attack from Disney’s marketing department? They are selling the toys already and the film isn’t even out yet, which says something about how Disney intends to get its $4 billion back as soon as possible.

      1. Matthew McKinnon

        I think the toys thing is a necessity: I mean, you need a certain amount of lead time for kids [like we were, along time ago] to size up what they want and start asking for them for Christmas.

        There has been a remarkable amount of restraint otherwise – for which we can thank JJ Abrams – in not releasing anything that might constitute a spoiler [books, soundtracks etc] until the middle of December when the film is released. That’s pretty brave.

  5. I do wonder if the new movie is for the kids (to sell the toys) or for us adults who remember the original trilogy. There seems to be something weird going on, I agree, with the marketing so far. Lots of nostalgia-inducing glimpses in the trailer, desert planet/Falcon/TIE fighters/X-Wings…Everyone expects the film to be huge, and of course it will, but I wonder which generation is most excited about this new film. Is it the kids, or is it the parents?

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