I hadn’t seen it since 1996 when it was re-released in the theaters as the “special edition.” Before that I’d seen it many times including in 1978 when it was originally out. I loved it all those times.
But last night — not having seen it for 17 years — I was amazed to see how much of it is absolutely insane! Spoiler alert, not really: but it’s a very fun movie and even last night I liked it. But I had edited out in my memories how much straight-up dumb stuff is in it.
This is interesting to me because there’s these YouTube criticisms of Phantom Menace which are hilariously on-point with what’s wrong with that movie. He holds the movie up to very simple logic: pointing out things like how the Jedis run with super-speed at the start of the movie but then don’t run fast in order to save each other’s lives at the end of the movie.
The common wisdom is that Star Wars is great, but Phantom Menace is terrible. That’s true, but the difference between the two upon re-watching Star Wars is not that far! Some of the crazier things about Star Wars:
1) For about 45 minutes, everyone is a wooden idiot. Only C3P0 and R2D2 have any personality at all. Luke, his aunt and uncle, and all the soliders on the rebel ship talk more robotically than the droids. And kinda nothing happens — there’s talk of an Empire and plans but you barely notice it and it’s mostly two robots walking around a desert.
2) Everything seems to happen in one day. From Luke’s aunt/uncle being murdered through the destruction of the Death Star seems to happen in one day.
2a) Everything just happens astoundingly fast. Obi-Wan teaches the Force to Luke in literally ten seconds. “Here, try it again” is how he teaches the Force to him. Was that worth putting off for 20 years, Ben? You created a Jedi in under a minute.
3) The Empire very obviously looks bat shit crazy. Everyone is a pussy except for one guy who has magic powers but is somehow not in charge. They never do anything smart.
4) All of the robots, although fun, have no sensible design at all. I mean it’s distractingly dumb how the robots don’t make any sense. Why have robots? They don’t do anything. Robots are like pets but less useful.
Okay, but then by the end of the movie it’s definitely fun. So why is that?
1) There are a few great characters in this: C3P0, Han Solo, R2D2. Kinda Leia and Ben but they don’t get screen time. Vader is barely in this thing.
2) The music is all awesome. It’s stolen from Gustav Holst’s “Mars” symphony very very obviously, but it goddamn works great. In 1996 I saw the re-release of Star Wars at the Zigfield with my college friend Greg and as soon as it ended he was stunned at how important the music is at covering the weirder parts.
3) The sound effects are incredibly cool. The sound design in general saves a lot. The robots are dumbly designed but all the whirrs and beeps are all genuinely fun. The Empire is full of idiots but they’re mostly British so they sound smart? Star Wars is a pop song with terrific music but bad lyrics. Star Wars is a Billy Joel song.
4) The sequence where Han and Luke and Ben rescue Leia is really great. It stands out as very fun and natural and great and even smart. It changes the movie.
5) The attack run on the Death Star is really fun and great. It’s kinda stolen shot for shot from “The Dam Runners” or some WWII movie called something like that, but it was well-stolen because it works.
6) I’m also forgetting how far ahead of everything the visual effects were, especially when it came out. There was no movie that looked as good as Star Wars, nothing even close. Every single shot of a ship or a robot or a Jawa was just the coolest thing, visually. None of that remains interesting because movies and TVs have caught up. Firefly looks cooler than Star Wars which is not meant as a criticism of Star Wars but an appreciation of how long it took everything to catch up.
Those last two sequences, plus sound, save the movie! When Ben dies, I was choked up! When Luke destroys the Death Star, I cheered. Even last night! I mean the movie is great, you don’t need me to tell you, but it is FULL OF CRAZY SHIT JUST ABSOLUTELY FULL OF IT.
C3P0 is the first character we really meet and one of the last ones we see. If I were Connor Ratliff I could articulate how he is actually the star of this movie and the one who goes on a hero’s journey but I’m already embarrassed I wrote this much about Star Wars.
I’m fascinated how fragile Something Good is. How much luck you need. How many intangibles have to come together. If Lucas didn’t cast Harrison Ford. If C3P0 didn’t have that personality. If John Williams didn’t do the music. If someone else was on sound design.
P.S. Roger Ebert’s quote on Star Wars, when he reviewed for a second time 20 years after its release, is the best: ”It’s as goofy as a children’s tale, as shallow as an old Saturday afternoon serial, as corny as Kansas in August—and a masterpiece. “