Film Review: ‘Star Wars’

Star Wars
Courtesy Everett Collection

Star Wars” is a magnificent film. George Lucas set out to make the biggest possible adventure fantasy out of his memories of serials and older action epics, and he succeeded brilliantly. Lucas and producer Gary Kurtz assembled an enormous technical crew, drawn from the entire Hollywood production pool of talent, and the results equal the genius of Walt Disney, Willis O’Brien and other justifiably famous practitioners of what Irwin Allen calls “movie magic.” The 20th-Fox release is also loaded with box office magic, with potent appeal across the entire audience spectrum.

The story is an engaging space adventure which takes itself seriously while occasionally admitting an affectionate poke at the genre. The most immediate frame of reference is Flash Gordon, but it’s more than that; it’s an Errol Flynn escapist adventure, and befitting that, composer John Williams and orchestrator Herbert W. Spencer have supplied a rousing score worthy of Korngold and Steiner.

Like a breath or fresh air, “Star Wars” sweeps away the cynicism that has in recent years obscured the concepts of valor, dedication and honor. Make no mistake – this is by no means a “children’s film,” with all the derogatory overtones that go with that description. This is instead a superior example of what only the screen can achieve, and closer to home, it is another affirmation of what only Hollywood can put on a screen.

In casting his principals, Lucas chose three not-so-familiar faces, all young, talented and designed to make the story one of people, not of garish gadgetry. The superb balance of technology and human drama is one of the many achievements: one identifies with the characters and accepts, as do they, the intriguing intergalactic world in which they live.

Carrie Fisher, previously in a small role in “Shampoo,” is delightful as the regal, but spunky princess on a rebel planet who has been kidnapped by Peter Cushing, would-be ruler of the universe. Mark Hamill, previously a TV player, is excellent as a farm boy who sets out to rescue Fisher in league with Alec Guinness, last survivor of a band of noble knights. Harrison Ford, previously in Lucas’ “American Graffiti” and Francis Coppola’s “The Conversation,” is outstanding as a likeable mercenary pilot who joins our friends with his pal Peter Mayhew, a quassi-monkey creature with blue eyes whom Fisher calls “a walking rug.”

Both Guinness and Cushing bring the right measure of majesty to their opposite characters. One of Cushing’s key aides is played by David Prowse, destined to a fatal duel with Guinness, with whom he shares mystical powers. Prowse’s face is concealed behind frightening black armor. James Earl Jones, unbilled, provides a note of sonorous menace as Prowse’s voice. Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker play a Mutt-and-Jeff team of kooky robots.

The heroes and the heavies joust through an exciting series of confrontations, replete with laser guns and other futuristic equipment, building suspense towards the climactic destruction of Cushing’s war-mongering planet. Several chase and escape sequences are likely to stimulate spontaneous audience applause.

Lucas is no credit hog, and all contributions are acknowledged on the end titles, bearing all the names listed above as well as assistants in various categories. The film opens, after the 20th logo, with the type of receding crawl that Flash Gordon fans will recognize. Locations in Tunisia, Death Valley, Guatemala and Africa were utilized, and interiors were shot at EMI’s British studios where the terrific score was also recorded. But the technical effects were all done here. Technicolor did the production color work, and DeLuxe the prints. Use of Dolby sound enhances the overall impact.

Lucas’ first feature, “THX-1138,” was also futuristic in tone, but there the story emphasis was on machines controlling man. In “Star Wars” the people remain the masters of the hardware, thereby striking a more resonant note of empathy and hope. This is the kind of film in which an audience, first entertained, can later walk out feeling good all over.

Related reviews:

“The Empire Strikes Back”
“Return of the Jedi”
“Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace”
“Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones”
“Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith”

1977: Best Art Direction, Sound, Original Score, Editing, Costume Design, Visual Effects, Special Achievement Award (sound effects)

Nominations: Best Picture, Supp. Actor (Alec Guinness), Original Screenplay

[In January 1997 an “improved” version was released theatrically in the U.S., with remixed sound, added digital effects and some brief extra scenes, including one showing Jabba the Hutt.]

Film Review: ‘Star Wars’

  • Production: 20th Century-Fox. Director George Lucas; Producer Gary Kurtz; Screenplay George Lucas; Camera Gilbert Taylor; Editor Paul Hirsch, Marcia Lucas, Richard Chew; Music John Williams; Art Director John Barry. Reviewed at 20th-Fox Studios, L.A., May 19, 1977 (MPAA rating: PG).
  • Crew: (Color) Widescreen. Available on VHS, DVD. Original review text from 1977. Running time: 121 MIN.
  • With: Luke Skywalker - Mark Hamill Han Solo - Harrison Ford Princess Organa - Carrie Fisher Grand Moff Tarkin - Peter Cushing Ben Kenobi - Alec Guinness C3PO - Anthony Daniels R2D2 - Kenny Baker Chewbacca - Peter Mayhew Lord Darth Vader - David Prowse Uncle Owen Lars - Phil Brown Aunt Beru Lars - Shelagh Fraser Chief Jawa - Jack Purvis Rebel Generals - Alex McCrindle, Eddie Byrne