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Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Star Wars IV Through Non-Fan Eyes

Now that I’m done with the Marvel Cinematic Universe reviews (except for a few more surprises…) it’s time to move on. A while ago, I promised I would give the Star Wars series another go, and give it a fair chance this time.

I was never a Star Wars fan, and skipped several of the movies for this reason. However, I realize how huge the series is for many people, and I want to give it more attention, watching it alone without distractions, in an attempt to see what makes it feel special. I also want to watch the movies that the fans don’t love all that much, as a non-fan, to see if they are really so bad.

So I’m going through it one movie at a time, in a somewhat unusual order I think will work best. I decided that I’m not going to go in either chronological order or production order, and certainly not machete order, skipping the supposed “bad” films. All the live-action theatrical films will get their chance, and I’m going with a modified production order with some movies shuffled to other locations based on how I think they will affect the way the sequence feels.

Full explanation of my ranking system is here. Summary: C is average, A/B is recommended, D is badly made, F is something to avoid.

I’m starting with…

Star Wars IV: A New Hope

Rating: B+

When I first saw this, I thought “OK, reasonably good movie. Didn’t hate it.” I might have given it a C+ back then: not something I’d pay for to watch alone, but entertaining enough and maybe fun to watch with friends.

Watching it again, alone, and focusing on how it’s made and its emotional impact, I think it’s a better movie than I gave it credit. I don’t think it’s an A-tier movie, because in a way it’s too breezy, not really dwelling for long on anything or exploring what the characters feel, although there is a brief emotional moment or two. It’s at least B-tier, though, a movie worth recommending. It moves at a pretty steady pace with just tiny moments where the pace changes for effect.

I gave the movie a B+ instead of just a B because I recognize how influential this movie turned out to be. It should get a slightly stronger recommendation. I considered marking the grade down because I don’t like the design of some of the aliens, mainly in the cantina scene. I decided that (1) That’s a personal preference, not inherently bad, and (2) It happens only in a few short scenes.

(I did see the film before Lucas went back and digitally enhanced it, but watching it now, I’m actually OK with the CGI Jabba. I know that’s an unpopular opinion, but I imagine I’ll have a few unpopular opinions as I work through the series.)

Side Note 1: I was surprised that Darth Vader turned out not to be the main threat in the film. I tried not to think about what I know about the rest of Star Wars, but I still had this impression of Vader as the person in charge, the hand of the Emperor himself. But no, he’s not in charge, just a really powerful subordinate. He didn’t design the Death Star, doesn’t seem to have a high opinion of its usefulness, didn’t order the destruction of Alderaan, and seems a tad reluctant when carrying out some of Peter Cushing’s plans.

Side Note 2: At one point, Vader says Obi-Wan doesn’t plan to escape. Ironically, that was his original plan. Obi-Wan has no idea that Leia is on board or that Luke decides to save her. He doesn’t change his plan until after he disables the tractor beam and encounters Vader.

Side Note 3: I know Stormtroopers are the butt of many jokes because of their marksmanship, but really, in this movie, the heroes are hardly any better. They hit a tiny bit more, but not much.

Next Up: I’m heading a different direction than you’d expect.

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  1. The thing with Star Wars (1977) was the timing. Before that Science Fiction movies were cerebral (2001, Logans Run, Fantastic Voyage) and mostly dull. Having said that your grade is fair.

    Side note: Stormtroopers were ordered to let them escape and even the dimmest trooper probably knew Vader's policy on disobeying orders. Don't forget Obi Juan said 'only Stormtroopers are so precise".

    1. I'd say cerebral SF in the movies was pretty rare. Most of it was horror, and there were quite a few action-oriented serials (Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, Commander Cody( or TV series (Space Cadet, Rocky Jones, Captain Video.)

    2. I should have been more specific, I was referring to the 60-70s. Every movie/show you mentioned was from the 50s or earlier. That was the fun-style Lucas was trying to recreate. He famously hoped to make a Flash Gordon movie but couldn't get the rights.

    3. No, really. The serials and TV shows I named were pre-'60s, and serials pretty much disappeared after that, but I could name a lot of TV shows from the '60s and '70s that weren't very cerebral at all. They are either mild horror or action/adventure. Land of the Giants, Lost in Space, The Invaders, the TV series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Even stuff that might be called cerebral had to have at least a touch of horror/mystery (Twilight Zone, Outer Limits) or action/adventure (Star Trek,) at least in the US.

      Movies are much the same. Check the lists of science fiction films by decade on Wikipedia. The bulk of the US movies are cheap sci-fi horror or in some cases survival adventure on another planet, which could be considered semi-cerebral, but is still mostly about excitement and danger. Major Hollywood movies might edge a little more towards the cerebral (Illustrated Man,) but you're more likely to still get horror, thriller, and action elements, like Planet of the Apes. The stuff that's most likely to be cerebral is foreign films: Farenheit 451 (UK film, directed by French director François Truffaut,) Alphaville (French,) 2001 (joint UK/US, British director Stanley Kubrick.) But even overseas, you get stuff like Barbarella. And Japan was almost completely giant rubber monsters at this point.

    4. You make good points but seem stuck on my use of the term Cerebral. Planet of the Apes is about Race Relations thus I consider it cerebral. Most Star Trek Episodes were about a greater point, a theme or message, thus cerebral. Land of the Giants and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and the serials of the 30 might be considered science fiction but they weren't about anything. No theme, no ideas, just adventure stories with science fiction trappings. That describes Star Wars as well but that doesn't really describe science fiction movies of the 70s.

      In 1977 there was no wikipedia, IMDB, or even videotape. Movies didn't go into massive release but went regional and then disappeared. Only had a handful of channels to show them on TV so basically when they disappeared they were effectively gone. If it didn't make a splash big enough to be mocked by Mad Magazine a movie disappeared from public view almost entirely.

      Add to that the late 70s were sad times of bad fashion, Vietnam war failure on the mind, lines at the gas station, and a dumpy economy.

      Then Star Wars appeared and brought the fun with it. It was a perfect storm for success. Even then it would have been forgotten after a few years if they didn't follow up with a high quality sequel and if VHS didn't show up soon after.