Star Wars (1977)    3 Stars

“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”


Star Wars IV: A New Hope (1977)

Director: George Lucas

Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher

Synopsis: Luke Skywalker joins forces with a Jedi Knight, a cocky pilot, a wookiee and two droids to save the universe from the Empire’s world-destroying battle-station, while also attempting to rescue Princess Leia from the evil Darth Vader.

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The rousing John Williams fanfare that introduces Star Wars is one of those movie moments that sends shivers down the backs of most movie fans; it’s up there with Dooley Wilson’s gravelly rendition of As Time Goes By and Gene Kelly’s euphoric capering in the rain, and it introduced the world to a new kind of movie whose roots lay as firmly in the Saturday morning Westerns of the 40s and 50s as with their SF counterparts. I still remember the thrill of anticipation that shot through me in the cinema when, as an impressionable fourteen-year-old, I watched those yellow words scroll into deepest space as that music washed over me. Even without all the hype that accompanied the release of Star Wars (long before it acquired its New Hope tag), I would have known that I was in for something special.

Thirty-five years later, countless facsimiles of the original may have left it looking a little faded at times, and a modern audience might find its pace a little stately and its special effects somewhat primitive, but there’s no denying that Star Wars can still cast a spell over those of us who were around when it was new and fresh. It’s perhaps one of the last successful major movies in which the clean-cut heroes don’t appear to be relics from another era.

The story, of course, was never new or fresh: it was a simple fairy-tale, updated to a time far in the future (or past), about the rescue of a beautiful princess from the clutches of an evil villain clad in black. But this fairy tale had light sabres and robots, storm troopers and aliens. Mark Hamill plays Luke Skywalker, the simple but restless farm boy who yearns for a better life, and he’s perhaps one of the film’s few weak links. Hamill’s career faltered badly after the Star War movies, and it’s not difficult to see why – his acting style belongs to the Sixties, and his callow farm boy is overshadowed by Harrison Ford‘s buccaneering bad boy, Han Solo. In fact, it’s Ford who’s the real star of the movie, despite the fact that his is a supporting role, and it was a part that made his career. An actor of Hamill’s limited range simply didn’t stand a chance in the face of Ford’s barnstorming performance.

Carrie Fisher at least sustained a respectable career, although her role is often overlooked in the looming shadows of the likes of Darth Vader (Dave Prowse, voiced by James Earl Jones) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness), Skywalker’s nemesis and master respectively. Even the robots, in the cowardly humanoid C3PO (Anthony Daniels, whose performance would be worse than Hamill’s if it wasn’t for the fact that he’s playing a robot), and the plucky little R2D2 (Kenny Baker), get better parts than Fisher’s Princess Leia.

I might be wrong, but the ending of Star Wars suggests director George Lucas was more hopeful than certain of there being a sequel, with a bad guy flying off into outer space. It’s an ambiguous fate, to say the least, and one suspects he would have been left to float lifelessly for eternity if an audience for the movie hadn’t materialised. Three years later, the franchise felt confident enough about its future to finish with a cliffhanger involving one of its key characters. Technically, the second movie was every bit as good as the first – it’s story was easily more sophisticated – but it never managed to capture the sheer excitement engendered by the first movie, and by the time Lucas returned to the saga in the 1990s that excitement had been swallowed up by a bloated sense of self-importance that rendered it unrecognisable from these humble beginnings.

(Reviewed 18th September 2012)