Cinematic Century

1977 – Star Wars

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Okay, I know that this is a pretty obvious choice. I mentioned a few weeks back when I tackled Jaws that I occasionally feel an odd amount of pressure to highlight some weirder, less talked about films during this Cinematic Century project. But, the idea is to discuss my favorite film of each year, and there’s no way that I could in good conscious not admit that my favorite film of 1977 is Star Wars. Is is hackneyed? Yeah, of course. Liking Star Wars is kind of like saying you like the Beatles. It’s just kind of assumed. But, when looking through the other films of 1977, there really wasn’t anything even coming close to toppling it. There are some decent movies, but none I like nearly enough to dethrone this perfect film. I do quite like Suspiria, one of the finest horror films of the 1970’s, and a truly sumptuous film to behold, especially in regards to the insane colors involved. I also really love Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a movie that tackles science fiction in a far different way, along with the destructive effects of obsession. But, otherwise there’s just a lot of stuff that I think is just kind of okay. House, the Japanese comedy/horror film is insane, but nothing I would ever say I love. Just like the Spy Who Loved Me, a pretty quintessential but mediocre Bond flick. High Anxiety isn’t really one of my favorite Mel Brooks movies, but it ‘s actually pretty fun, especially if you’re a fan of Hitchcock. But, there’s also two movies that probably get a lot of attention from 1977 that have just never done much for me. I know it’s sacrilegious, but I have never really connected with David Lynch’s Eraserhead. I like some of Lynch’s later works, but this movie just does nothing for me. I don’t know if I just don’t get it, or it just doesn’t appeal to me, but it’s okay, I’ve made peace with that. And, luckily, I’ve gotten to make peace with my dislike for Annie Hall as of late, now that it’s gotten in vogue to admit that Woody Allen’s films aren’t all they were cracked up to be for decades. There are almost no Allen movies that I’ve ever really enjoyed, and try as I might, Annie Hall never connected with me. But, now that he’s been pushed out of respect, I don’t need to feel bad about that anymore! We don’t need to focus on the negative though, let’s talk about one of the most important and massive films in the history of the medium.

Listen, there are entire documentaries about the making of Star Wars, most of which are quite excellent. But, I’ll do my best to summarize it. As we all know, Star Wars comes from the mind of George Lucas. After he initial success of his student film THX 1138, Lucas was given some clout. And, after his follow-up feature American Graffiti worked out well, he moved onto his next dream project, a big-budget adaptation of the Flash Gordon serial he loved as a kid. But, he was unable to obtain the rights to Flash Gordon, so Lucas decided to just take everything he loved about science fiction and space opera serials and make his own version of them. So, Lucas began working on his wild idea, going through some incredibly strange and esoteric ideas, pulling significantly from Akira Kurosawa’s the Hidden Fortress, and studios generally had no idea what to make of it. But, eventually, Alan Ladd Jr at 20th Century Fox decided to give Lucas a shot, and he got hard to work hammering out his script, which at one point had the title The Adventures of Luke Starkiller as taken from the Journal of the Whils, Saga I: The Star Wars. Thanksfully that title got shorted down to just Star Wars, and the actual movie started to take shape. Lucas hired quite a bit of conceptual designers to help him bring his elaborate world to life, most notably from Ralph McQuarrie who has come to be known as the person who created the whole aesthetic of the film. And, once enough of that was done, as the leads were cast, they immediately headed out to the deserts of Tunisia for a disastrous shoot. By all accounts, very few people seemed to think that Star Wars was going to work, it all seemed ridiculous and nothing was working right, and they were also virtually creating an entirely new type of special effects after Lucas had to form his own company, Industrial Light & Magic, since 20th Century Fox had scrapped their effects department. And those effects seemed to be the key to making the film work. Once the filming was done Lucas screened the movie, sans effects, for his friends, and the results were rather tepid. He became terrified that he’d made a huge mistake, bet his career on this colossal failure, and was about to make a massive flop. But, as we all know, that wasn’t the case. The film was released May 25, 1977, on very few screens. And people loved it. Star Wars became an utter juggernaut, a cultural phenomena that forever changed the landscape of American cinema. Which, we all know. This is Star Wars’ world, and we’re all just living in it. It’s one of the most beloved and important movies in history, and it’s still an utter delight to watch.

 

 

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Star Wars takes place a long time ago, in a galaxy far away, during a period of Civil War. It opens up with a leader of the Rebel Alliance, Princess Leia Organa, attempting to escape with a cadre of Rebels with the plans for the Galactic Empire’s new secret weapon, the Death Star. Unfortunately, they’re unable to escape the clutches of the ruthless Darth Vader, one of the Empire’s most fearsome enforcers. He captures Leia’s ship, causing her to hide the plans for the Death Star into a small droid known as R2-D2, hoping that he can escape to the planet below their space-ship. R2 and his companion C-3PO manage to land on the planet, Tatooine, and begin trying to track down a mysterious figure named Obi-Wan Kenobi. But, they don’t make it very far before being abducted by a group of scrapers who take them hostage, and attempt to sell them to some farmers. They eventually sold to a young man named Luke Skywalker, who lives on Tatooine with his aunt and uncle, dreaming of a life in the stars. And, while working with R2 and 3PO, he discovers Leia’s message to Obi-Wan, and offers to help them find the man. R2 escapes into the vast deserts of Tatooine, looking for Obi-Wan, and in the process draws Luke and 3PO into contact with a mysterious hermit known as Ben Kenobi. Ben is actually Obi-Wan, and clearly understands what Leia’s message is saying. And, what more, he reveals that he knew Luke’s father, who was once a powerful Jedi Knight who was killed by Darth Vader. He gives Luke his father’s lightsaber, and offers to train him in the ways of the Jedi and the Force, while also saving Princess Leia, but Luke refuses.

That is until he learns that the Empire have tracked the droids and the plans down to Tatooine, and have killed Luke’s aunt and uncle. This inspires Luke to give up on his life and get revenge against the Empire. He, Obi-Wan, and the droids then decide they need to get off Tatooine, and head to a rough-and-tumble space-port town to find a ride. They end up meeting Han Solo and Chewbacca, a pair of smugglers who are in desperate need for money, and who agree to pilot Luke and Obi-Wan to Alderaan, the home planet of Princess Leia. While traveling Luke begins studying with Obi-Wan, attempting to forge a connection to the Force, eager to help save the galaxy from the Empire. But, when they get to Alderaan they find that something terrible has happened. Princess Leia has been brought to the Death Star, a massive space station, where she comes in contact with Grand Moff Tarkin, a high-ranking politician in the Empire who has decided to show off the strength of his station by destroying Alderaan. Leia watches in horror as her planet is blown up, right around the time that our heroes arrive in what they think should be Alderaan, instead finding nothing but destruction. And, in the process, they’re caught in a tractor beam of the Death Star, drawn into the enormous space station.

Our heroes initially think that all they need to do is deactivate the tractor beam and escape, but after Obi-Wan heads off to do just that, Luke and Han make a surprising realization. Princess Leia is inside the Death Star. So, along with Chewbacca, they head off to save the Princess, getting her out of the detention center. They do manage to find Leia, and the quartet attempt to escape, fleeing through the Death Star and causing all sorts of adventure among the Imperial soldiers. However, Obi-Wan is having less luck. He manages to deactivate the tractor beam, but also encounters Darth Vader, who is eager to kil lhis old mentor. The two end up fighting, and Obi-Wan sacrifices himself in order to allow the others to escape, much to the anguish of Luke. They do escape though, and head to the home-base of the Rebels, ready to give them the plans of the Death Star. Han Solo and Chewbacca leave at this point, not interested in getting caught up in an ideological war, leaving Luke to volunteer for an attack run in order to try and destroy the Death Star. They only have one chance, and fly toward the Death Star, which is approaching the planet the Rebels are hidden on, seeking to destroy them once and for all. It’s a tough battle, and it seems like no one is going to be able to complete the precise attack that’s necessary to destroy the Death Star, until Luke gives it a shot. He’s aided by Han, who comes back in the nick of time to save Luke from Darth Vader’s ship, letting Luke trust in the Force and complete the attack, destroying the Death Star. A vast amount of Imperial soldiers are killed, along with Tarkin, while Vader’s ship is blasted off into space, available to get revenge, as the Rebels return home to celebrate. Luke and Han are then given medals, and ready to continue fighting for the Rebels.

 

 

 

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I mean, what is there to say? It’s Star Wars. I can’t imagine there are many people, especially on the internet, who hasn’t seen this film, and while I know there are people who don’t connect with this type of Space Opera, it’s one of the most beloved films of all time. And, with good reason. I know there are some people who find this film to be one of the duller of the franchise, since they continued to get bigger and crazier from here on out, but I really do feel like it’s impossible to deny how utterly fantastic the film is. I mean, it changed pop culture forever. People had more or less given up on fantasy, focusing on the gritty and realistic films of the New Hollywood movement. But, this changed all of that. And, you can certainly debate the effect of that, and if this movie led to the destruction of American cinema, or whatever histrionic and hyperbolic things people feel about the film, but for better or for worse this is the world we live in now. And it all comes from this film, a wonderful little piece of fantasy storytelling. It took everything George Lucas loved from his swashbuckling film serials of his youth, and brought it to life in a way that only someone who utterly loves something can. Everything in this film was instantly iconic, which becomes so incredible when you learn about all of the insane problems they ran into behind the scenes, and the fact that most of the actors seemed to think that this was an absolute bomb waiting to happen. And yet, the film is completely earnest, and remains an incredible experience to this very day. It has amazing special effects, a mythic and powerful story, and some of the most likable characters ever put to screen, built to work perfectly on a majority of audiences that it encountered.

Star Wars means a lot to a lot of people. It’s one of the most widely accepted cultural experiences in the world, a story that can unite people of all different stripes. But, one of the reasons that I love it so much, and the reason that I totally a completely consider it one of my favorite films of all time, and certainly my favorite film of 1977, is the fact that this film is what got me fascinated in film in general. I had always been a big movie fan. I’ve talked about this before here and there on the site, but I grew up surrounded by movies. My grandma was kind of a video pirate, for reasons I’ve never fully understood, and she had a staggering collection of VHS movies, which me, my brother, and my cousins would spend entire summers diving into. So, I always liked movies. But, Star Wars was the first movie that I became fascinated with the actual art of filmmaking. Which, is a pretty easy entry-point, since there are dozens of high-quality documentaries laying out exactly how they brought this film to life. And at a certain point of my life, I’d probably watched those documentaries just as many times as the movies themselves. Learning that Lucas used Joseph Campbell’s theories to build a story that would come across as a mythic fable, and specifically resonate with American culture gave me an appreciation for the art of screenwriting. Watching these actors talk about what a terrible experience they made, and then to see how well it all came across showed me how important acting is, and what a real role a good actor can have in making a movie work. Watching the ground-breaking special effects, and the insane lengths that they went to to make it all seem so seamless made me realize how magical it all was. Seeing John Williams explain the reasoning for why his music was so grand a majestic, but done in a traditional style in order to ground the film somewhat, rather that use modern music that may have felt more “Sci-Fi,” giving it a classic feel showed me the importance that music plays in film-making. And to see the sheer passion and obsession that George Lucas has for this film, and the torture he put himself through to make it work, putting his entire career on the line for it to succeed showed me how important that passion is to make film work. Star Wars meant all of that to me. It’s the movie that took me from liking movies, to appreciating them, and to diving into their world, setting me on the course that has led to me rambling about this nonsense to you right now. Anyone with a passion for film will have a movie that sparked that passion, and Star Wars is that film for me, and it’s one of the most important pieces of narrative in my entire life.

 

Star Wars was written and directed by George Lucas and released by 20th Century Fox, 1977.

 

 

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Categories: Cinematic Century

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