Science fiction films are sometimes referred to as “space operas”, not unlike westerns sometimes being called “horse operas”. The reason is that there are often similarities in the kind of stories being told; it’s only the setting that is different. I wrote in the parent post for this category, “Consider the following story: farm boy from the boondocks meets an old gunslinger who shows him the ropes. After riding into town where all the bad guys and action are they join up with a disreputable criminal with a heart of gold and later a fancy woman out of her element. Farm boy wants to get revenge on the man who killed his father. And that man is the former protégé of the old gunslinger who was once very close to him until the protégé betrayed him. If that’s not a western, I don’t know what is. If you haven’t figured it out already, I just described Star Wars.”
I’ve sometimes seen people try to claim that Star Wars is a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s film The Hidden Fortress (1958), but that is not really correct. I’ve seen it. Yes, it has a story of a man trying to save a princess, but that kind of tale has been around for thousands of years. The biggest influence it had on Star Wars was the comic relief characters – a pair of peasants, one thin and one fat. Sound like any Star Wars characters you are familiar with?
I was 12 years old when Star Wars opened in May of 1977, but turned 13 before I saw it. One of the things I’d like to do is dispel the rumor that it immediately took the country by storm, with everyone raving about the movie. The truth is that not one single kid in my entire school ever even mentioned the movie the last few weeks of that school year after it opened.
In fact, the first time I can ever remember seeing or hearing anything connected to it was a comedy skit on TV sometime later when a coach was having a new football player arrive. In walks who I now know as Darth Vader, but at the time I didn’t have a clue why they were making such a big deal about his breathing. Just when the coach is incredibly excited about his new player, in runs a dwarf in a football uniform (I think it was actually Billy Barty). It turns out that the Darth Vader character is just his sports agent.
One of the major things that was different then about movies in theaters is that if they were popular then they played for far longer than they do now. It wasn’t until either August or September that my older sister took me and we both went to see Star Wars. I think it might have been September because when school resumed that fall there were some kids with Star Wars lunchboxes and that made me curious about what it was.
Yes, I did love the film on first viewing. It was full of adventure, and funny characters, and good beating evil. I wanted to see Luke and Leia end up together, and the “kiss for luck” was exciting. (Remember, this was before Lucas bizarrely decided to make them brother and sister.) I was scared by the trash compactor and the monster that lived in it. I thought Han Solo was cool. I had no idea who Alec Guinness was, but I thought the old guy playing Obi-Wan Kenobi was someone I’d like as a teacher.
Just to check my memory on the summer and fall of Star Wars I did look up some things. As it turns out the studio thought it was going to be a flop and only opened it in a small number of theaters. It later expanded, but never had a massive weekend like movies do now. Instead, it kept pulling in 10-12 million dollars week after week after week. It was still playing theaters in November when it became, at the time, the highest grossing movie in film history (not adjusted for inflation, of course.)
By the time Oscar season rolled around it achieved something no other science fiction film ever had – it was nominated for Best Picture. In fact, it received a total of 10 Oscar nominations, including Director, Original Screenplay, and Supporting Actor. It won six Oscars in technical categories. It also received a Special Achievement Award from the Academy for the creation of the alien and robot voices.
After Kevin Smith did Clerks (1994) where his characters had several conversations about the Star Wars films and declared that The Empire Strikes Back (my review) was the best because of its downer ending, it became more and more fashionable for people to parrot this and say the same thing in real life. And while there were certainly people who felt that way prior to 1994, the opinion became far more prevalent afterwards.
Well, I’m old school. For me the original movie is the best of all the Star Wars films that have been produced. Sure it’s a simplistic story, and the bumbling droid sidekicks for comic relief are kind of dumb (the same thing Lucas would later be excoriated for with Jar Jar Binks, by the way), but this was also a leap forward not just in sci-fi movies, but movies in general. Jaws (1975) may have invented the summer blockbuster, but Star Wars cemented it in place. I even did two categories of science fiction film reviews and the dividing line I used was Before Star Wars and After Star Wars.
The film has continued to be a big part of pop culture even though two more generations of kids have been born since it came out. One of the most enjoyable Star Wars tie-ins I experienced recently was the book William Shakespeare’s Star Wars. The story was re-written as if it were a Shakespearean play, complete with 16th century style illustrations. I reviewed that book here, if you are interested.
At this point, everyone reading this has very likely already seen Star Wars, which is why I decided to talk about what it was like to experience it in the months following its release, rather than talk about the plot. If you’ve somehow never seen it I’d almost think that’s by choice, rather than by circumstance. If you’ve been avoiding it for some reason, I still highly recommend you see this film.
Chip’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Chip’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars