Star Wars has been a film which has inspired generation after generation of film enthusiasts and till date remains one of the seminal Sci-Fi masterpieces which just refuses to age with time. As I was watching this film for the purpose of this review, I never for once felt the effects to be dated or the performances to be clichéd. They still hold their own today. As much as it is a pleasure to be enthralled by the visual wizardry, the story that this film has to offer is not too bad either. I can look at it as a cowboy film filmed in space. That’s what it essentially is and yet somehow it manages to raise the bar high enough to make it a film which will find its place by the side of the greatest films even made.
Let’s dig into this film and try to find out what makes it so great. The story starts with the trademark title sequence swiping across the sky that tells us that the evil Empire is in war with the rebel forces and the schematic plans of the Empire’s most powerful weapon, the Death Star is finally in the hands of the rebels. The rebels have however not been able to make way with it and their leader, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) decides to send the plans fed into an android called R2D2 and ejects it onto a desolate planet. It is found by a starry eyed boy Luke (Mark Hamill) who gets to see a part of a message stored in R2D2. The message is meant for an Obi Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) whom he incidentally knows but as Ben Kenobi.
The Empire also sends in forces to retrieve the androids. Luke and Kenobi decrypt the message and realize that they have to make their way to the planet of Aldebaran with the android so as to help the rebellion crack the Death Star. Luke initially disagrees as he believes that he has chores to attend to at home but when the Empire forces destroy his home and kill his uncle and aunt, he joins forces with Kenobi and makes his way to Alderaan. To reach there they need a ship and for that they employ the services of Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and his aide a Wookie, Chewbacca. When they reach Alderaan they realize that the empire Forces have already made their way to the planet and decimated it. They are soon captured and forced to land on the Death Star pulled by its magnetic force field.
As they fight to escape from the Death Star alive, they meet the captured princess Leia who sent R2D2 to Kenobi in the first place. The team soon has to fight against the might of Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones), a ruthless second in command of the emperor who would stop at nothing to destroy the Rebels. Kenobi soon has a standoff against him and we realize that the two know each other more than what might have been revealed. However the meeting is short lived as Kenobi sacrifices himself to give Luke and company an upper hand at escaping from the Death Star. The team reaches a rebel strong hold and shares the plans stored in R2D2 and then an attack plan is drawn up by the rebels to destroy the Death Star. A lot of fights and explosions later, the Death star is destroyed with all on board. In the process we see edge of the seat moments, swinging loyalties and indomitable spirit of the rebels which marks this Star Wars film.
Let’s start with the pacing, one of the most important aspects of a film and a contributing factor to whether it will hold on to your attention or not. Star Wars, moves at a breakneck speed but always manages to give you enough time to behold the spectacle that it is. What I liked about its pacing is the fact that even though it has a linear storyline, it has so much happening and so fast that there is practically no room for any breaks in flow or your attention. The story is simplistic and yet is laced with superb set pieces which never cease coming. The action always happens as a result of heightened emotions and never just to make you feel that you are watching an action film. The best action sequences are the ones which are a result of dramatic moments in the narrative and that is what you get here consistently.
This was the film which actually started off ILM (Industrial Lights And Magic) a team of artists, model makers, photographers and techies joined hands with Lucas to realize a dream that they invested in together and boy they pulled it off. The most terrific contribution that this film made to the world of VFX was to free the camera that shot against the blue screen. A lot of composting, drawing, stop motion animation, modeling and pasting went into making this film a reality and it all worked out terrifically well. I just loved the VFX and I am not even saying this keeping in mind the time this film was made. They just felt real. It was one of the most path breaking films in terms of manufactured visuals than any other in its time and it pulled it off in style.
Having said that, the film’s forte is still its ensemble cast. While the pull was supposed to be of seasoned actors like Alec Guinness, the centre stage was quickly taken over by Mark Hamill playing Luke and Harrison Ford playing Han. They were so outrageous and yet so accessible in their essays that the film quickly made stars out of them. While Han Solo became one of the most endearing characters of the series thanks to his loveable chemistry with Leia, Luke and Chewbacca, the character of Luke has an extensive arc which evolves through the trilogy. Star Wars shows him as someone who is just learning to pick up his guard against the big bad foes and as someone who can deliver when under pressure. His character is defined in this film. Carrie Fisher as Leia is great. She was able to grasp the mood of her character very early and maintains her momentum all the way through. James Earl Jones voices Darth Vader with ferocity. He has little more than his voice modulations to express the power of Vader and he has to emote from behind a mask and yet he does a great job.
The film is crisply edited. The action sequences are done well and the manner in which they are edited just adds that much more to them. You can practically see and feel the action unfold. Unlike many films of that time when the directors chose to keep the tougher elements of an action sequences off-screen, Lucas here makes it a point to show the sequences till the end. The editing plays a predominant role in the manner the action sequences end up. The background score s superb. I still feel that score was just getting a footing with this film and the next two films went on to add a lot more to the score. The empire here doesn’t have a signature tune which we all know they will have by the next film. The film has great cinematography. The shooting not only had to be beautiful but also extremely intelligent knowing where to draw the line. The DOP excels in achieving that.
There is very little left unsaid about this film and it’s still very easy to fanboy about it. I would have marked out the flaws of this film if I had noticed any. But fortunately, it is one of those rare perfect films where everything fell in place. Trust me! I am not fanboy-ing about it. Star Wars is a classic Sci-Fi extravaganza which till date remains an enduring classic.