Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Star Wars


  Often times a movie, despite it's status as a classic, will date poorly and show it's age. It may still be a good movie, but one has to adjust their expectations or make allowances for poor special effects... (i.e. Planet of the Apes, Superman The Movie) yet Star Wars is simply transcendent. The performances, production design, special effects, and everything- it's all timeless. Now, I grew up on the 90's Special Edition versions. I saw them in theaters, and at 5 years old, I got the box set on VHS as my birthday gift. To this day it's something I haven't forgotten. So, I grew up with the added special effects and the extra CGI bits. As I grew older, I realized there was a massive fondness for the original, untouched versions. Which I had personally never seen. Through a bit of luck, and a keen eye, I happened across the original, original trilogy on VHS. Lo and behold, even without the added CGI and special effects- this movie still looked great. In my opinion, there is to be found a neat balance between the original theatrical versions, and the special editions- but my point is, there doesn't need to be an updated version. It's completely fine as is. It's classic, and it earns that title with flying colors.

  As the music flairs and the yellow lettered logo blazes across the screen, followed suit by the iconic opening crawl... I realize I'm feeling more than just warm and fuzzy nostalgia. George Lucas engineered this movie to evoke a certain feeling. It is the ideal Satuday matinee, built from the ground up to remind us of simpler times and swashbuckling heroes like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. Darth Vader is the penultimate matinee villain. He's enigmatic, powerful, brooding, iconic, and most of all, evil. Luke Skywalker is the typical storybook protagonist. He's young, imaginative, bright, comes from simple beginnings- hardworking, honest. He's a farm boy. Who gets coached by an old wizard to save the damsel in distress and topple the dark lord. It's text book stuff, classic stuff. It's done justice here in a very neat way. It takes that sort of storybook archetype and brings it into the realm of Sci-Fi with laser swords and spaceships.

  Even with that comparison, Star Wars owns it's characters and gives them fresh and unique personalities. Princess Leia is no simple damsel in distress, she's a kick-ass lady who ends up taking the reigns of a rescue mission that was underway to rescue her. She's a bit sarcastic, yet also caring and witty. She has guts yet she's also sympathetic. It's a delicate balance that's pulled off with gusto by actress Carrie Fisher. Great role, great actress. Mark Hamill plays Luke with an innocent naivety, which is not only timeless and iconic (as if any of these roles/actors, aren't?) but it makes him a pitch perfect hero for this tale. Harrison Ford takes the cake, or at least most of it, as the eponymous Han Solo. Scoundrel, smuggler, captain of the Millennium Falcon- everyone has heard a Han Solo quote at one time or another. It's inescapable. Nearly every line of swagger-drenched dialog out of that guy's mouth is instantly quotable. I would quote one right here, but there's so damn many to choose from. He's the original bad boy of sci-fi. Step aside Kirk, this guy actually breaks all the rules.

  With a fantastic cast like that, and an amazing round of supporting characters that nobody could forget in a hundred years- Star Wars not only captures the imagination, but the heart as well. Characters this well acted, rallying behind such a universal cause like freedom from tyranny... what's not to love? They blast and quip their way through the unforgettable corridors of the gargantuan Death Star and then escape to space in their own little fighter ships to blow it up for the finale. Such a fun time to be had overall. It's not a perfect movie though. The first half is a smidge languid in it's pacing, but that's probably the most tell-tale sign of the times. Not to say it's boring, but we don't get to our main character for almost 20 minutes. I'm fairly certain that could've been tightened up a bit. You'd almost think the movie was solely about the droid duo, R2-D2 and C-3PO with how much time we spend exclusively with them in the beginning. Alas, this is not even a complaint as their dynamic is fun and sets the tone for the adventures to come.

  Speaking of dynamics, once things get underway, Star Wars is kind of a buddy cop movie in space. Luke and Han shooting up the death star to rescue Princess Leia just has a certain "buddy cop" charm to it. Luke is young and a rookie to the whole space adventure business, new to saving the galaxy and all that, and Han is the seen-it-all, snarky, veteran. He'd just as soon pull down a paycheck instead of rescue someone, but since he has to, he'll grudgingly do it. It's a wonderful duo that we honestly don't get enough of. So much tension and hostility between them at first, and it organically evolves into quite the classic friendship. You really get the sense that these characters have warmed up to and grown fond of each other. Rather than just the plot navigating these characters down a pre-cut path. The prequel trilogy falls victim to that kind of robotic character progression that these movies never had an issue with. Again, it's an absolute delight to watch.

  The movie is chock full of striking imagery and designs that have become so popular, entire generations of filmmakers have been trying to replicate them, mock them, or outright duplicate them. Nothing trumps the original. The imperial Stormtroopers for example. Their armor, their helmets. The entire look is classic at this point. Instantly ingrained in the public's eye. The lightsaber... do I even need to explain? The hard and world-worn look of the ships and the planets, the real lived-in, everyday feel to things. A far cry from the sleek and polished decks and bulkheads of the idyllic Star Trek future. This is a universe in which you feel like there's a million stories to be told from every spaceport and seedy alien bar. Things feel rich in backstory. That kind of atmosphere is not easy to generate, yet Star Wars does it. The franchise has flourished because of it. Background species have been named, given languages, the character might have their own spin-off book. It's massive in scope this world that Lucas created. The world franchise itself truly found it's footing with Star Wars and it's sequels. It's beyond impressive.

  Of course you can see some signs of aging in the effects and things like that. Clearly. Especially when you just watched Episode III the night before, a veritable pinnacle of modern technology. However, it's not glaringly obvious. The things on the screen have a sense of weight and scale to them that CGI is rarely capable of replicating. The massive star destroyers and their low-flying, overhead entrances is still tremendously effective and shocking. The roar of the X-Wing fighters, and the explosions of ships as they impact on the surface of the death star- it all has a sense of reality to it because it was made with practical effects rather than computer effects. Also, these weren't just any practical effects. These were meticulously produced and cutting edge at the time. The amount of care and expertise that went into them greatly contributed to their continuing longevity. They still look good on screen. Maybe not the best, but it's certainly no point of contention with me. I still have a blast watching all the ships and their space battles. It's still thrilling, and honestly isn't that all that matters?

  Anyways, the camaraderie between the main characters is classic, and enjoyable, and only one part of what makes Star Wars great. This movie can't be discussed without talking about how innovative it was. From it's pioneering special effects, to it's treatment of it's subject matter. It took a high-flying, swashbuckling space adventure... and took it seriously.  That was more or less unheard of at the time. Not to mention the fast pacing. From "go" this movie has something exciting happening. It reshaped the landscape of what sci-fi movies could be. It brought it down from high concept, preachy cinema, and delivered a modern blockbuster to the masses. It sparked a cultural phenomenon the likes of which have yet to be seen again. Aside from the characters, themes, and pacing- the music in the movie itself is outstanding. It's easily 50% of the experience. It's the standard for broad sweeping epic orchestral scores. It practically defines the word "iconic" at this point.

  Even without it's cultural significance, Star Wars holds it's own against the movies of nowadays with long-lasting appeal and longevity that nobody could've predicted. It is more accessible and watchable than alot of other movies from it's era. Movies that have long since been outclassed, or outdone in major ways. Star Wars has done more than stand the test of time, it has remained relevant and ever-present in our current culture. It's not a movie that people think of as "old". It transcends such terms and manages to just be... Star Wars. For some people it's a generational rite of passage. They grew up with it, thus they can't wait to introduce it to their kids, and then the cycle repeats. It's such a good movie overall that it can take it. People find ways to rediscover it constantly, and I for one will never get tired of it. Of course I speak more of the trilogy on the whole than this specific movie itself, yet it's a triumphant and ceremonious beginning to one of the most exciting and groundbreaking movie franchises... of all time.

  In conclusion, on it's own merits, Star Wars is a good movie. It's aged better than anything else you'd find from that time period, and it still manages to be an engaging, exciting, and action packed movie unlike any other. I can see how a brand new audience would find it just okay, considering the level of modern filmmaking has essentially been built on the back of the Star Wars franchise. It might not seem like anything new to a fresh face, but that doesn't mean it's any less of a good movie. The acting is solid, the writing is solid, the dialog is often exceptional, and so is the pacing and action scenes. It's quotable to a fault, and one of the most iconic movies ever. Top shelf entertainment, any day of the week.

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