A long time ago, in a living room far, far away (well, Elgin), I remember sitting down to watch Star Wars for the very first time. Now, twenty-odd years, a full franchise and hundreds of pounds worth of merchandise later, I am sitting down to watch it again in anticipation of the saga’s encroaching release on Blu-ray.
The problem with Star Wars, however – and there’s a sentence I never thought I’d type – is that it doesn’t feel like a movie. It feels like so much more than that. A childhood spent mimicking the sound of a YT-1300 light freighter (not) making the jump to lightspeed; the rush of endorphins that dutifully follows the recitation of the series’ theme music, a deep conviction that Han Solo shot first, and a general aversion to any religion which doesn’t grant you Force powers and a complimentary lightsaber. It’s a part of who I am.
And it all started here: in garish yellow print before a jaw-dropping pan through space, right into the centre of a heated exchange between an asthmatic masked invalid and a princess of dubious nobility. Right in the centre of the action are two droids – the heart and mouth of a franchise that is taking its first gasps of life. R2D2 (Kenny Baker) and C3PO (Anthony Daniels) – or The Simpsons’ gay droids from Star Wars – are given a message meant for Alec Guinness (Alec Guinness) and carted off to the nearby planet of Tatooine, where they are quickly captured by a gang of intergalactic hoodlums and sold to a young farm-boy (Mark Hamill) and his Aunt and Uncle.
When Darth Vader (David Prowse) and Darth Vader’s voice (James Earl Jones) realise that precious information has been leaked, he sends his gleaming white Stormtroopers in search of the escaped droids. R2D2, determined to complete the mission set him by Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and deliver the plans to Mr. Guinness, leads Luke Skywalker and C3PO away from the farm moments before his relatives are searched and killed by Stormtroopers. United in the desert, Alec Guinness tells Luke that he once knew his father, having fought with him in the Clone Wars (you had to be there…or maybe you didn’t) as Jedi Knights.
With nowhere else to go, Luke accompanies Alec, along with chauffeurs Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) to the planet Alderaan aboard Han’s ship, the Millennium Falcon. Finding the planet in ruin, literally, they encounter a fighter ship nearby and inadvertently follow it into range of a giant, moonlike structure’s tractor-beam. Captured by this Death Star, Luke and Han discover that the princess is being held captive and is to be executed. Setting out to save her while Alec Guinness disables the space-station’s tractor-beam, they run afoul of a group of Stormtroopers and are forced to make an immediate escape. Fleeing aboard the Falcon, minus Alec Guiness who was killed in battle with Darth Vader, our heroes are followed back to a rebel base on Yavin IV, where they are forced to stand up to the Death Star before it can attack, and destroy Vader’s Empire once and for all.
As if you didn’t know. Star Wars, and this original film in particular, has punctured public awareness and dominated pop culture like no other. Phrases like “May The Force be with you”, “These are not the droids you’re looking for” and “The regional governors now have direct control over their territories” (OK, maybe not so much) have become common-place, almost independent of their source. While Trekkies hid in their basements, practising their Vulcan nerve pinches and sharpening their home-made bat’leths, the masses embraced Star Wars completely, as the droids left their mark on the Hollywood walk of fame and Jedi even became a practised religion in its own right.
A beautifully organic high-concept that kicks the traditional fairy-tale into orbit, George Lucas created a film that speaks to people of all ages, helping to form the blockbuster concept and inspiring a generation of filmmakers to pick up the mantle. The film’s legacy is incredible, not only making way for another five instalments but sowing the seeds for Pixar (through Industrial Light and Magic) to later reap, patenting a lived-in future to be fervently mimicked by everyone from Ridley Scott and James Cameron to Joss Whedon, as well as instigating innumerable other stylistic and technological innovations without which modern cinema couldn’t conceivably exist.
While there may be naysayers who claim Star Wars to be derivative, poorly written and over-blown (and who may, dare I say, even have a point), there is no denying that Star Wars is much more than the sum of its parts. Taking characters from The Hidden Fortress (1958), scenes from The Dam Busters (1955) and elements of the setting from Dune, Lucas has nevertheless worked his influences into something endlessly compelling, beautifully realised and utterly timeless; something that has inevitable gone on to pay its own dividends in terms of homages (take a bow, Robot Chicken and Family Guy). Star Wars may just be a kids movie, a Saturday morning matinee in the vein of Flash Gordon, but it’s so rewatchable, so entertaining and so completely majesterial that that is of no consequence whatsoever.
Laying foundations that will be built upon (and…well, the opposite of built upon) by its two sequels and three prequels, Star Wars has continued to represent the very best in sound design, special effects and blockbuster filmmaking, overcoming its flaws with an inherent quality that is perhaps best evidenced in John Williams’ continued loyalty to the franchise. Say what you will about clunky dialogue (who wouldn’t have a bad feeling about this?!), infantile comic relief (BUT SIR! C3PO remains my favourite character) and Lucas’ incessant tinkering that accompanies every re-release (OK, I’ve got nothing), but only a crazy person could find fault in a film which has brought us Williams’ titanic ‘Main Title’ and iconic score (‘The Imperial March’ didn’t come until later, the unmatched ‘Dual of the Fates’ until even later still).
But, whatever Star Wars means to cinema, however much money it made George Lucas (at last count: lots) and regardless of how thankful James Cameron is that he was spared a career as a truck driver, I will always remember Star Wars as that little film that blew my mind. For years all I wanted was to be a Jedi, a Corellian spice smuggler, or, Hell, a Jawa if I flunked school. I loved Star Wars like I’d never loved a film before, and continue to love it to this day. Seriously, just ask my lightspeed impression, it’s very convincing.