The greatness of the original Star Wars

One of the reasons the prequels were considered so bad is because they paled in comparison to the originals. As we know, part of why is that Lucas needs producers who give him enough leash but know when to tug to restrain him. This thread is less about the production politics and more about the work itself. If you wish to mainly discuss Lucas or the prequels, please start another thread. It’s fine to talk about them but only to illuminate a point about the original Star Wars.

  1. What elements made the originals so good?
  2. Star Wars has a great & unmistakable soundscape. Why? It seems to have used animal screams and metallic sounds a fair amount. In what way? What else made the sound so great?
  3. The plot structure and main characters of Star Wars owe a lot to Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, down to Darth Vader being both The Father and The Shadow at the same time. How did Star Wars make good use of the monomyth, Campbellian mythology and Jungian psychology?

For a generation of moviegoers, the sights, sounds, and feel of that opening scene simply blew us away.

The easily understood plot and attention to visual and auditory effects kept us involved.

The right movie at the right time.

What made them so great? Simple: They were fun.

There’s a reason why the toy line was so wildly popular, too.

This’ll probably be a wildly unpopular point of view, but the first 3 weren’t that great in terms of cinematic quality.

What they were is decent, fun movies that were the right kind, at the right place and time. I mean, in 1977, what other action/sci-fi/fantasy movies that were appropriate for kids and enjoyable for parents were there? None that I remember. I mean, the other movies I recall seeing from that year were “Pete’s Dragon” and “The Spy Who Loved Me” (oddly enough).

The Star Wars movies were fun, epic, and had clear and unambiguous good and bad sides, and the characters were similarly black and white. You could go root for Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and the rest, and hate Darth Vader and the Stormtroopers. Han Solo was about as gray as anyone got, and even he was a very light gray, as the only sketchy thing he did was shoot Greedo, who was planning on either killing or abducting him to collect Jabba’s bounty anyway.

I agree. Star Wars is a very good B movie. It didnt try to be anything else.

A good story well told. Also, it was the first time in awhile where the special effects looked good. I saw it the first week, and in a theater, the opening shot of the spaceship flying by was damned impressive.

Only by coincidence, at least for the first film. It’s likely that Lucas never heard of Campbell until after the movie was released. The later films then tried to emulate it.

I still think the first (1977) Star Wars is the best of them all, much as I like TESB. Interesting characters, amazing fx, a clear conflict between good and evil, detailed backstory, and lots of adventure and derring-do. Blew me away at the time, and did more than anything else to kindle my lifelong interest in sf.

There was a good deal of hype at the original release, including a Time magazine cover proclaiming it the best science fiction movie ever. I went with my date, and was underwhelmed.

A few weeks later, we went and saw it again. This time, not having overoptimistic expectations, we enjoyed it thoroughly.

Great sci-fi, not great SF.

I would say the original Star Wars was the first SF film I ever saw that had imagery anything like what was appearing inside my head when I read SF, combined with a good story. I mean, “2001: A Space Odyssey” had a good look, but it was a very dull story, told at a glacial pace.

Lucas stole heavily from great movies like “The Hidden Fortress” and “The Dam Busters”. He did hurt the movie by having the most evil character voiced by a black male.

Lots of fun, beautifully shot, fantastic music. It also just captures the imagination by using the “regular guy becomes hero”. We have a stifled youth who dreams of more and he learns that, well, he is part of something greater and he is an important hero.

It also has amazing special effect and used them in fun ways. I still think the Death Star attack is one of the most fun sequences and for a long time, I never saw anything that can compare to how amazing that was.

I’d say the entire Mines of Moria section in Fellowship of the Ring is one of the few times I’ve seen something that equaled what the Death Star sequence did in the theater. Crowds cheering, people completely immersed and thrilled with what is on screen.

That seems unlikely; Hero With a Thousand Faces and Campbell’s later Masks of God series were standard reading for creative writing students (despite points of dispute about Campbell’s overzealousness to make all myths fit the formula) and Lucus would certainly have been at least introduced to Campbell at USC Film School. I think much of the “greatness” of the original film is owed to the fact that it is largely a homage (or less charitably, a blatant copy) of scenes and characters from other films and stories, most notably The Hidden Fortress, The Dam Busters, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and The Guns of Navarone, as well as significant elements from Le Morte d’Arthur and Dune. Borrowing from great source material does not always make for a great story, but in the case of Star Wars a blender approach with much of the guidance and input Lucas received did result in a sensible combination of classic elements.

The film may not be great compared to modern standards–I don’t think it has held up nearly as well as Raiders of the Lost Ark or Alien–but by comparison to films of the day, and especially science fantasy, it was head and shoulders above the rest. Just watch Logan’s Run, released the previous year to acclaim of its special effects, and compare the two films; in every aspect Star Wars is clearly better. The sets and location shooting–using exotic, difficult to film locations–made it look truly unworldly compared to the variations of Southern California desert that were the typical outdoor shooting sets for films set on alien worlds, as were the seemingly large, intricately decorated interior sets. Virtually every science fantasy film that has come since owes some aspect of set design and staging to either Star Wars, 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Forbidden Planet.

The clarity of the story and distinct character motivations may also be some part of the appeal, especially to younger viewers uninterested in political machinations and double crosses, but The Empire Stikes Back did quite well with both of these and a bifurcated story line, so I don’t think that can be considered the critical appeal of the film except in comparison to the convoluted and borderline unintelligible storytelling of the prequel films. The story in the prequels isn’t really all that complicated but is told in such a way–presumably in an attempt to introduce some mystery about who is playing whom–that renders it confusing and frankly uninteresting as a motive structure to advance the story. This, combined with special effects that were elaborate but about as realisitic as a cartoon and flat, unaffected acting, made them poor films not withstanding the essential lack of necessity in telling a backstory and constructing rationale for they mythological elements of Star Wars. Everything that was unique about Star Wars, including set and sound design, music, costuming, elaborate motion control scenes with massive space battles, had been copied so much by successive films and imitators that the effort to top the original effects and setting in the prequel films made them overstuffed and underwhelming.

In essence, what made the original film great, as already susincctly noted by Chronos and madsircool, is that it was a simple ‘B’ movie story done with enthusiasm and effective setting. The special effects were fine for their day, but it was really seamless the flow of the film and eschewment of narrative excess that kept it moving past some of the clunkier bits. That, and Han Solo, who clearly is out of his depth but manages to save the day repeatedly despite his Jack Burton-esque near ineptitude.


Another way of looking at it. There are many aspects to a movie. You can do any one of them well or poorly. Or creatively or not creatively. Or sophisticated or not sophisticated. And on and on.

For the first two Star Wars movies managed to get most/all of the aspects in most/all of the ways you can measure them on the better end of the spectrum.

Not everything was the best of the best. But when pretty much ALL of it is pretty good that adds up to a darn good movie.

Throw in the uniqueness of it and you have your winner.


I think you needed to be at a particular stage of your development - what are those people now, late-30’s-early-40s?. If you were in that demographic then it hit you every which way and back again, esp. if a boy.

No question, for some it was life-changing. But for the rest of us … not so much.

My feelings about this – which I’ve posted before on this Board – are the ones expressed by Evil Captor in post #9. Star Wars was the first time a lot of ideas, tropes, and settings that were common coin in literary science fiction were put into big-bidget accessible form on the big screen. You had great effects in 2001, but a pretty esoteric and (to many) inaccessible and somedtimes incomprehensible story line. The TV show Star Trek had addressed some of these but on the small screen, and on a limited budget. Movie producers tended to be skittish about depicting science fiction on the screen, feeling that audiences wouldn’t understand it, or wouldn’t warm to it, so we got limited and half-hearted attempts.

But Star Wars gave us flat-out

–Battles between Space Ships
–The Spaceport Bar, with all sorts of aliens conmingling
–Lightspeed and hyperspatial travel
–supertechnology taken for granted.
– Robots (“Droids”, although the original film actually said “robots” at one point.) as an accepted and unremarkable factr of life
–Worlds with double suns

You got bits and pieces of this, at most, before, but Lucas simply plunged right in, with both hands, and gave us the Science Fiction Universe as a given. Granted, it was more the trappings of pulp science fiction in the service of a fantasy plot, but even seasoned hard-sf fans could feel the draw. I saw the damned thing half a dozen times the first summer. And I still love it.

I remember all the hype prior to the film coming out. Everyone was talking about the great fx we were going to see and I was excited. Having been raised on Flash Gordon’s cardboard rocket on a string ‘flying’ in front of a diorama and Star Trek’s rather dismal set decorations, my expectations were high. And they were completely realized. I think my mouth stayed open for the better part of the first 10 mins. of the movie.

It’s difficult to explain to today’s audience how revolutionary the fx were back in the mid-70s. They were (pardon the pun) light years ahead of anything we’d seen previously.

Were the FX really that much better than Silent Running? SR also had a darker take on the future.

They made the movie effects in 12 parsecs!

Another of my faves from the era.

SW had funner FX than SR

The trench flying and light sabers were much more fun than robots growing carrots.