SDMB Movie Club - week 15 - Star Wars

(Obligatory links to Some Like It Hot from week 14 and week 1 for new people.)

And now we’ve reached a movie that everyone has seen. If you haven’t seen it, you’re lying. You may think it’s a piece of sophomoric claptrap with no-talent actors and a pathetic script and hackneyed special effects, or you may think it’s the greatest film of this past generation. Probably somewhere in the middle, though.

I’ve watched this film countless times but I’ve never tried to observe it critically. It’s always been a simple enjoyment, a Saturday-afternoon-popcorn movie where you cheer for the good guys, boo the bad guys, sit on the edge of your seat, and have a smile on your face when the movie ends. It’s chock full of homages, influences, and references, and it’s been the recipient of more acknowledgements in other films than anything else I can think of.

Some people would point at Joseph Campbell’s “Universal Myth” and show how Star Wars follows the same plot points - call to adventure, refusal of the call, supernatural aid, various thresholds, etc - and they’ve got a good point. Others would argue that it’s not science fiction, it’s a SPACE OPERA DAMNIT. Maybe it’s an allegory to Vietnam, how the technologically-reliant superpower was defeated by guerrilla forces, and how Luke gives us an example of a heroic fighter battling for a just cause.

Maybe I’m just pissed at how Lucas edited the Special Edition to make Greedo shoot first. The deus ex machina of Solo’s return and redemption is made more powerful in context of the cold-blooded murder. You got it wrong, Lucas, you got it wrong!

So. How do you guys view this movie?

Don’t forget to mention the ‘rescue the princess’ part of the plot taken from Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress. C-3PO & R2D2’s characters also are based on the comic-relief servants in that film.

Since I’m in the generation in which this was the first movie I ever remember seeing in the theater, I do rank it as one of my favorite films, of course not for its contribution to filmmaking but for its magical storytelling. In some ways I compare what Lucas did to what Tolkien did – take the old legends and myths and make them new in the retelling. Though where Tolkien had an amazing attention to detail and created a rich historical story, Lucas had a more light-hearted and focused on entertaining type of story.

Star Wars is an ultimate sort of campfire story, as such it makes an excellent couple-hour movie. The characters don’t need to be described in detail because they are fairly familiar archetypes. This is how we feel so connected to them despite the science fiction world they inhabit, and that is what brings us into that world. Not to start a big debate, but just for a moment compare “The Force” as mystical energy – something that does seem familiar – to “The Force” as generated by midichlorians. This is too foreign to us, there’s no counterpart to the symbiotic mystical-energy lifeforms. (Mitochondria? Maybe the closest – but few would draw this comparison. Though in Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle In Time trilogy, the symbiotic role of mitochondria is an important element. )

Finally, I’ll comment on the Greedo & Han Solo scene : I own the older version, so I only had to see the ‘missed shot’ once (in the theatrical re-relase). I didn’t even think about it then, but after hearing about it again I have to say it’s terrible. That one moment for me is my favorite moment in the movie, perhaps one of my favorite movie moments ever. When he says, “Yeah, I’ll bet you have …” and just flicks his wrist nonchalantly while blasting the guy was when I thought Han Solo was the coolest person in the entire universe (certainly in his own galaxy at least).

I wouldn’t use the words ‘cold-blooded murderer’ to describe him – more of a hyperaware & confident mercenary unafraid to kill. He knows that Greedo has the blaster and is perfectly willing to kill him. Perhaps he even senses that the moment is upon him just by looking at the green guy, so it is a sort of ‘reaction shot’. The whole conversation he’s completely collected and in control and knows that he’s going to get out of his problems with Jabba. It’s as if, to him, he made the choice to kill Greedo when he dropped Jabba’s shipment. Later, we see how he reacts to situations he can’t personally control, and then finally how he has gained a spirit of cooperation and compassion for his friends.

To be honest…I never saw anything in the movie either. It’s just like the western “Insert almost any Western title here

Very little character developement. Nothing but a sci fi western.

Well, I agree with the previous posts that Star Wars is a traditional story set in a SF setting.

What I think is the real importance of that movie, is how cinematic SF was perceived after that. I mean, it opened the doors to a mainstream audience, proving that SF could be a phenomenal money maker if handled properly (or not). Would Alien have been made without Star Wars ? Blade Runner ? Terminator ? and countless others (from the cheesy to the sublime). I think that these opportunities will be SW’s true legacy.

It’s hard for me to discuss this movie critically since I saw SW in the theaters at the age of 7, and was captivated enough to cultivate a heavy duty SW fixation that has lasted to the present day.

Mark Hamill is certainly awful in every way. In my family, if someone is whining about something, everyone else will start whining “But I was going into Tosche Station to pick up some new power convertors WAAAHHHHH.”

I sometimes say I have a mixed marriage, because the Better Half is not a SW fan. In fact, while we were waiting in line to see Phantom Menace, he opened his mouth and blurted out that he had never seen the original trilogy, which I think caused several persons to have heart attacks right there in the parking lot. I resisted the urge to slink away and pretend I didn’t know him.

After Phantom Menace, he did agree to watch the other movies, and was less than thrilled with SW. It’s interesting to watch them with someone who has never seen them before (if you can find one). However, he got more into it with ESB, which is the best of the trilogy, IMHO, and was amazed that it had such a cliffhanger ending so we immediately had to watch ROTJ to end his suspense. I honestly didn’t think it was possible for someone to know so little about the basic plot of SW.

I think it’s interesting that SW is so high on the list, but I suspect it wouldn’t be if no more movies had been made. It’s a film that in many ways is famous for being famous. Most of the ideas that the general population associates with Star Wars are in fact from the other films.

Again, being a kid, I wasn’t fully appreciative of the special effects when I first saw it – they could have filmed it in space for all I knew. But I do remember my dad, a geeky engineer type, jumping out of his seat as he marveled at the special effects. I think they work extremely well with the story – they move the plot along, and seldom seem as if they are being included simply for the sake of seeing a cool explosion.

pananajack, I noticed the similarity to the Madeline L’Engle mitochondria thing as well – it’s a relief to find someone else who has made that connection. I kept ranting about it when Episode I was released, and no one ever knew what I was talking about!

Except that when L’Engle did it, it actually worked.

What I find odd is the fact that special effects don’t seem to have advanced any since Star Wars. I mean, nowadays, whenever anyone mentions effects, it’s automatically assumed that they mean CGI. In the original trilogy, though, the only computer-generated effects are depicting, well, computer-generated effects (the Death Star plans, the targetting radar, etc.). They managed, using the good old technologies of models, greenscreens, etc., to create effects which any techhead today would swear were impossible. I can’t for the life of me comprehend why they changed the Death Star explosion in the Special Edition… The original was the greatest explosion in cinematic history, but the new one looks just the same as all the other cheezy space explosions that you see twice an episode in the recent Star Treks.

I don’t know about the others, but Star Trek: The Motion Picture was created directly due to the success of Star Wars (they were originally planning to start a new series, with the same crew… instead, they put that off and did TNG a few years later).

[Ooby-Doob Benubi]
“And you must be… the crybaby!”
[/Ooby-Doob Benubi]


I certainly do consider Star Wars to be a “Space Opera”, although I don’t consider that there is much distinction between that and science fiction (just my personal opinion). What I liked best about [i}Star Wars* is that, in addition to this amusing story that’s being told, they put a lot of effort into creating an entire universe. Some other sci-fi movies put a bunch of actors in funny costumes and say, “Be aliens.” But SW… that cantina scene is a classic, and I’ve yet to see it remade successfully in any film.

So many individual parts of the movie (well, the whole trilogy, actually) have become cultural icons. If you really think someone is evil, you either compare them to Hitler or Darth Vader. Ewoks, Jawas, Wookiees… all instantly recognizable by the vast majority of the population. Star Destroyers… who DOESN’T think those things look hellacool? And the Imperial March, a track so infamous that it even gets applied as Mr. Burns’ theme music.

The visuals, the story, the acting, the music, the whole universe that’s created… neither one stands out as wholly spectacular on its own, but each one uplifts the other, ultimately creating a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

And, let’s face it… that Leia cinnamon roll hairdo was hot.

Opening shot.

A large space ship flys past the camera obviously being persued and fired upon by another. Laser blasts fly by, going in both directions. Then the trailing ship starts to pass. And keeps passing. And keeps passing. And keeps passing.

This shot may be the most significant moment in SW. It changes science fiction film for all time. Because, suddenly, the scale changes. No longer are there any limits to what can be imagined. Lucas, in one fifteen second shot, tells us that there are no more limits. If we can imagine it, we can build it. If we can build it, we can film it. I was an adult (barely) when SW came out the first time. I was blown away by this scene. The rest was just as good for me.

BTW. Did anyone ever notice the little tiny metal dice hanging in the window of the Millineum Falcon? They only show up the first time you see the cockpit when Chewy is powering before they leave Mos Eisly. His head brushes them. They are not there in later shots. But, I got a hoot out of the space age equivelent of the fuzzy dice.

Mifune’s character translated into Han Solo pretty nicely. Great movie.

Lucas also snagged a few scenes from The Wizard of Oz.[ul]
[li]Scenes of Luke pining away at his Uncle & Aunt’s farm are lifted from Judy Garland’s perfomance in Oz.[/li]
[li]The trio of heros disguising themselves as Monkey-guards/Stormtroopers,[/li][li]while rescuing Dorothy/Leia from her cell,[/li][li]where the Wicked Witch/Darth Vader has her imprisoned, and soon to be executed.[/li]
[li]Chewbacca’s character is modelled on The Cowardly Lion. Huge, comically fearful, but ultimately loyal.[/ul][/li]To prove that I’ve spent way too much time thinking about this, take a look at this illustration I made a while ago.

You know, delphica, I had the same reaction to that and about the same response. I would have put it in but didn’t want to start a discussion on the Phantom Menace (or risk the same blank looks, but I figured dopers would know it.)

According to Ernie Cline, Lucas plagiarized The Dukes of Hazzard. Listen here. (2622k .mp3 file.)

I’ve heard Lucas say in an interview he was setting out to tell a fairy tale. You’ve got your princess in distress, the wise wizard and his apprentice, the evil king, etc. He wasn’t out to make the next Citizen Kane or anything; just an enjoyable film. He did that I think. I love watching Star Wars for the sheer entertainment value. No, it wasn’t original, but it was never meant to be. It’s a melodrama that took off and hit a chord with the American public.

How many parts of pop culture have been touched by this movie? Who doesn’t recognize the lines “Use the Force” or “Luke, I am your father?” The action figure market was changed IIRC by the introduction of the 2" figures as opposed to 12" dolls. It set the standard for special effects until CGI became a viable option.

The plot, acting, story, etc - that’s all secondary to the impact this film had on filmmaking techniques and the impact on an entire generation’s culture. That’s why it deserves to be so high on the list of best films.

BTW - I prefer the original Han shooting Greedo scene too. Greedo had a gun pulled on him and said he was looking forward to this for a long time after Han says, “Over my dead body.” What the hell else was Greedo looking forward too other than killing Han? It seems perfectly obvious to me that Han was acting in self-defense even before that stupid Greedo shooting first bit.

Simply the greatest B-movie ever made. Not B in it’s budget or efferct, but B in it’s basic, yet time-tested archetypal plot and character development. The hero, the mentor, test, ordeal, etc. (I recommend The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure For Storytellers and Screenwriters). It is grand fun, probably no other movie so successfully creates purely escapist entertainment.

Setting aside Lucas’ increasing boneheadedness over the years, I think the key to the “Greedo shoots first” bit is in the inclusion of the scene with Jabba soon after. Certainly the impression I thought the original version gave was that Jabba had essentially written off his loan to Han, and had put a bounty on him simply for revenge and to set an example. If he went along with Greedo, even if Greedo refrained from killing him himself, Han would face only death or much worse at the hands of Jabba.

In the new version, the scene with Jabba plays out much too casually. Given that the Harrison Ford’s part of the scene was actually filmed contemporaneously, I can’t imagine what he or Lucas was thinking at the time, but after his close brush with death at Greedo’s hands, Han seems awfully non-plussed by the appearance of Jabba himself in his hangar. He shifts into fast-talk mode as matter-of-factly as if he’s trying to avoid a bar tab, rather than a death sentence. Jabba, for that matter, seems rather restrained and jocular for someone we’ll later see throwing a slave girl to a monster for his amusement. Here he has Han at his mercy, and seemingly could seize the Millenium Falcon to cover the debt, but instead his attitude seems to be: “Oh, you scamp. How can I stay mad at you? Of course you can take off on a charter flight to raise some cash to pay me. I’m sure you won’t just blow me off again, 'cause you know it would make me ever so cross.” (big pouty Jabba face here)

With Jabba that easily talked around, then maybe killing Greedo does seem a bit extreme unless Greedo shoots first. And if that scene was only originally excluded in the first place for technical and economic reasons, I suppose Lucas has actually gone all these years thinking that the original film was “wrong”, and blind to the fact that the edit worked much better than the original intent.

Don’t forget that Star Wars also turned around the then-current trend of “serious” and “somber” movies – most of the big-name movie titles before its release tended to be heavy (and somewhat depressing) stuff like The Andromeda Strain, IIRC. Star Wars reminded folks that movies could be fun for the sake of being fun.

And on a less thrilling vein, Star Wars also started the trend of “summer event movies”. It’s because of Star Wars that we now get overhyped crap like Independence Day and Pearl Harbor

I have little to add here other than to say that I’m thoroughly enjoying this discussion.

I was eight when Star Wars came out. I think the biggest impact it had on me at the time (other than the fact that it was the coolest movie ever ) was the absolutely midboggling amount of merchandising. You could not get away from Star Wars crap.

Among many other things, my brother and I had Star Wars bedsheets. They must have been made of half polyester, half wool, half barbed wire because they were astoundingly uncomfortable.

I second the merchandising aspect!

I had to laugh when people made fun of the commercialism with TPM. For most of us, the coolest part was getting the toys, more than seeing the movie itself.

I mean, to be the first person in your class to get an IG-88 (with TWO guns) made you the BMOC.

Firstly, the whininess of Luke is deliberate. I really don’t like how people bring this up to point out how annoying Luke was or how bad an actor Mark Hamill is.

Luke was meant to be a whiny kid who was impatient to be a hero in the Academy. In ESB he mellows a bit, but Yoda complains about how he always ‘looks away, never where he was, what he was doing’.

In ROTJ, though, the first time we see him he is calm, confident, powerful, and is much more Jedi-like. That development of his character was intended from the very beginning, so it’s unfair to say it is annoying when there is a good reason for it to be that way.

Slightly off topic, but I always thought Jaws started the summer blockbuster event.

I was 5 when Star Wars came out. It’s the first movie I remember going to see in the theater. It changed my whole kindergartener world! Suddenly, there was more out there than just my house, my neighborhood, my school – there was a whole universe! Planets with two suns! Space ships with princesses! My mother took me to see it a bunch of times before it left the theater. There’s some big stuff in there for a little girl to contemplate. Losing your whole family, leaving your home to set out on a dangerous quest, finding a new faith …

And I still have my Star Wars blanket :slight_smile: