Star Wars: A Look Back
With the original Star Wars trilogy, there is an endless plethora of things to love, admire and enjoy from it. As a follow up to Part One, where it's just thoughts on the films in general, I wanted to slightly narrow the scope and list 25 things from the Original Trilogy I personally love. It's a varied range, as you'll see, but pretty much anything is fair game because everything helped mold my own love and appreciation for these films. Going along, I'm willing to bet there's a lot here you fell in love with as well.
25: The Gold Bikini
Now obviously, this isn't going to be for everyone. But I'm a guy, and growing up, like many young teens, this was the sexual pubescent fantasy. Fodder for dozens of television shows and films (notably the infamous Friends episode about sexual fantasies) and not only do you have a gorgeous and very sexual princess Leia (who was always sexy but in a more conservative manner) but you have a very large piece of pop culture history on top of it all.
To make something cool, all you have to do is put an "X" or a "Z" in the name somewhere. X-Wings, the second most famous spaceships in the Star Wars universe, not only have it in the name but in the design. Large, cool-looking Xs simultaneously uncoiling as they approach the Death Star = one of the best visual scenes in all of moviedom. Plus, they were fast, quick, and dog fights with the TIE fighters are classic - plus the toys were awesome.
23: The Speeder-Bike Chase in Return of the Jedi
There are some great action moments throughout the original trilogy, what are known as "set pieces." One of the best and most popular is the classic Endor Speeder Bike Chase. The way it tells its "story," progresses, escalates but never forgets that anything can happen at any moment is exactly what a chase sequence is supposed to convey - and boy is it fast and a lot of fun.
Also, who can forget those sound effects for those bikes as they echo through the trees?
22: The Death Star(s)
The idea of a massive, moon-sized space station that destroys planets is a prime example of why Everybody Hates the Empire (airing Mondays at 8PM on Fox). It's just a perfect, simple but effective example of what and who the Empire is: either bend to our will or be destroyed. There's no other reason to build such a thing other than to back that up - if you're going to talk the talk then you need to walk the walk.
What I really like about it is the ominousness of it all. That thing is just scary to look at as it floats like an ever-seeing eye through space. Iconic and classic in design.
In reality, Boba had little screen time through all of the movies, but he seriously made an impact and boy did he become a fan favorite. I could take or leave Boba, but I can't deny his popularity and overall 'cool' factor with his various weapons and gadgets.
There's no denying, though, that he is one of the coolest designed characters in the Star Wars universe. His look of battle-hardened bounty hunter is distinct and iconic, not to mention that helmet design resembling a Roman gladiator helmet. Boba just rocked and I've grown more and more fond of the guy as the years have gone by.
20: R2D2 and C3PO (or all droids, really)
Luke might be our "everyman" in terms of storyteling (a way to introduce us to the world through someone with new eyes) but R2D2 and C3PO were the observers. They helped explain things and describe thing throughout the course (3PO directly, R2 by having people talk to him that helped expand situations).
But this isn't about their smart usage as a plot device, it's their personalities, comedic moments and staples as characters. Yes, non-living things can have lives too - no different than Humans or Wookies. Their interplay and banter, the love-hate relationship they often had, is a classic approach that great comedic duos also found effective (Laurel and Hardy, Abbot and Costello etc...). Their bond and relationship feels incredibly deep yet at the same time it's completely subtle. You just can't help but like them, and even feel glad when they get reunited at the end of Empire Strikes Back.
19: Tatoonie/Mos Eisley
You can quickly tell how great an influence Westerns and Samurai movies had on George Lucas, none better than probably his most famous locale out of all the films: Tatoonie and the first major settlement we come across in the entire saga: Mos Eisley. A fantasy story might go out of its way to show some wonderful kingdom or glamorous city, but instead we have bleak desert planet and a city where "you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy."
18: Princess Leia
What isn't talked about much is the uniqueness of Princess Leia - in that she really isn't a princess at all. She's not some damsel in distress waiting for her knight in shining armor. She'll pick up a blaster and shoot the head of a stormtrooper quicker than you can yell "he's your brother!" There's a lot, and I mean a lot, of machismo throughout Star Wars, and Leia being the only major female character can be a pretty big undertaking. But she's strong, doesn't ever wander into the realm of being a "tom girl" and knows how to dish out the witty insults and banter with the best of them while still being strikingly feminine. On top of that, she's beautiful, smart, and every young nerd's wet dream - even when she had the cinnamon bun hairdo.
Star Wars needed a character like Lando. First and foremost they needed to introduce another player to fold with the second film. Yoda was on one end, but you know Yoda's intentions and his riddles of life. In Lando's case, though, you have no idea where he's coming from. He has a history with Han, you aren't sure if you can trust him and, as it turns out, he's an incredibly conflicted person. Han was the conflicted person in the first film who's arc becomes complete. You needed a character like Lando because Han could no longer fit that role, and as it turns out Lando actually does it better as he is shifting sides and not sure what direction he should take. As a result, you have a sympathetic character, something the series really didn't have yet, and on top of that one with a great personality that matches Han and works to help balance it all out. A great addition and came at the perfect time for the franchise.
And also he was black, and there needed to be more diversity. What's better, though, is he's not typecast or stereotyped merely because of that, he's just an awesome character (and one of my favorite old action figures - it's all about the cape and only he and Vader had them.)
16: The Battle of Hoth
Epic battles were pretty unseen in the first film. You had an epic space battle, but not an epic ground battle with two sides clashing and hundreds of people running around. It's a more focused battle than what we've seen, but in reality, I think, most loved it because it's the first type of assault we've ever seen the Empire do. They were fine just blowing up planets and skirting away, now they're taking it to rebels direct and we see the rebellion on the defensive and just not quite the match. This was an exhibition of might from the Empire, hence the name to the film itself: The Empire Strikes Back.
15: The Twists
I couldn't pick just one here, there's just some great little twists that occur in all three films. Luke's aunt and uncle being murdered, Leia his sister and, of course, Vader his father are all Luke-centric twists that are great to his character. Throw in Han solo getting frozen in carbonite, the Falcon coming in to save Luke's ass, Lando changing sides, discovering it's "not really a cave," a little green creature lifting an X-Wing with ease, and the final twist between Vader and his old pal Palpatine - you have a major element every film banked heavily on: being unpredictable. I could just as easily make this a Top 25 Best Moments of Star Wars and, most likely, have to push that to 50. So I thought just put them all into one general entry, because all these great scenes and great twists are what really drives the story so well and are done in a way that keeps us coming back for repeat viewings. They hit you, some emotionally and some that make you get up out of your chair and cheer, but all great twists and moments you'll never forget.
14: The Force
"For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship."
The Force is not merely powers, though that is a manifestation of it and pretty nifty, but it's how it is this great, unseen thing that balances the universe. I like the idea of this unseen conflict, around us all times, and a power of a spiritual, mystical sense seeking balance. I can't outdo Yoda on describing it so poetically, but the idea of something greater and intangible, something well beyond our perception, is always a theme that intrigues me through literature and film - especially when it's pitted against things like man, technology and the ambiguity of evil.
13: Obi Wan!
The "wise old sage" archetype is nothing new, but Sir Alec Guiness, in my mind, is the principal example of it only rivaled by Gandalf from the Tolkein books. Like Gandalf, he's handled with mystery and a past that we only get hints at but never fully understand. That's what made Obi Wan great in the originally trilogy - the mystery.
That combined with Guiness's delivery and voice, the classic, simple robes and elegant weapon. It was just a hell of a character, and only physical in one film. Obi Wan is beyond mere "crude matter" indeed.
12: The Directing in The Empire Strikes Back
The Empire Strikes Back is, by quite a large margin, the best directed film in the saga. Not merely good angles, great use of space, poetic-like imagery and easily the best performances out of the actors, but it seemed to uplift the material to a level of legitimacy. Gone are the cheap b-movie quality the first Star Wars had. Sure, it had the imagination and will, but the first film was a B-movie in every sense of the word. What Irvin Kershner did was mold an atmosphere based on thematic ideas. Bespin looks quite heavenly in how it's shot (and lit), while Degobah is distinctly made to look a little hellish. Great set pieces in the Hoth battle and saber duel, a fantastic sense of mystery and wonder and you have a film that is the defining movie of the entire franchise. It's artistic, beautiful and is plotted and shot in such a way that it rises far above its humble serial-matinée roots into a class all its own.
11: Han "the Man"
My personal favorite character, Han Solo (and to an extent, Chewie because much of Han's greatness stems from that interaction with his partner) was really all I wanted to be as a kid. Sure, he didn't have special powers and a lightsaber, and those things were definitely "cool." But he had moxie. He had wit. He had a personality that said "I like getting myself into bad situations on a repeating basis and miraculously come out unscathed." He's a hero but not an obvious one, more a conflicted one that believes in the good of doing something but maybe having to go his own route to achieve it. That with his snarky humor makes me a huge fan to this day.
10: The Millennium Falcon
Greatest name for anything ever? Yes. I remember in the first film how Han simply says it's the name of his ship, doesn't really draw attention to it. Obi Wan mentions he hopes it's a fast ship.
"It's the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs. I've outrun Imperial starships. Not the local bulk cruisers mind you, I'm talking about the big Corellian ships now. She's fast enough for you old man."
What's funny (and this is a great example of not drawing attention or spectacle to its world) is how you have no idea what a Kessel Run is or a Corellian class ship...but what Han just spilled out on the table sounded awesome. A little alter Luke comments how it's a "piece of junk" and there's no denying it was a ship that had some major ups and downs. But let's not forget, not only is it fast (especially for its size) but Han is an awesome pilot, it helped blow up one Death Star and did blow up another, had an iconic scene through asteroids and cave hiding and did a magnificent job pretending to be garbage floating in space. So a master of a disguise as well, bitches. Next to the Enterprise, this is probably the most famous movie spaceship out there, even if it forgets how to jump to light speed on occasion.
I appreciate Yoda for a number of reasons. 1) He has some of the best quotes and dialogue in any of the films - it's thoughtful, insightful and helps expand this wonderful universe 2) All that is used effectively within the story, not some ham-fisted exposition but through a very compelling character. 3) He practices what he preaches, using misdirection, riddles and intelligence to not only physically train Luke, but to get him thinking like a Jedi.
Then you have how all that is presented. Some forget how Yoda initially came into the Star Wars mythos: pretending to be a mischievous, annoying little creature.Then it's revealed and you realize he wasn't so much playing Luke as he was testing him, and he is certainly more than meets the eye even beyond that moment.
8: The Lightsaber Duel in The Empire Strikes Back
I touched on this in Part One, but I can't really express how terrific this climatic moment is. You truly feel the gravitas of this moment as one of the finest shot and paced fights in movie history. Then you throw in the twist, that element that I listed at 15, then the literal and symbolic fall of the hero...man, this was just poetry in every sense of the word. Plus you had awesome lightsabers.
Also, I should mention I did thoroughly enjoy the poetic and emotional nature of the battle in Return of the Jedi as well. No reason to discount that merely because Empire does it slightly better.
No buts about it, I bet you pretended you were a Jedi at one point or another. Here, though, it's not just about the powers and the cool sword (that's coming up) but more what the Jedi represent. It's easy to just say they're "awesome" with their powers and weapon, but for me it's more what they represent as the inherent "good" in the Star Wars universe. It is chivalry. It is Buddhist-like philosophy. It is guardians of peace and justice. A jedi showing off ability isn't what a Jedi is about (something the prequels forget) but the simply thought that he could show off that ability - he just chooses not to. Now it's about how "badass" you can make Jedis because being "cool" is marketable, but the original trilogy had a mystique and mystery surrounding them that I loved. As Yoda said, "luminous beings, are we." That might sound strange coming right after the lightsaber duel, but I think I justified that one enough by now.
6: The "trench run" in A New Hope
It's hard to make a frantic space battle coherent, much less constantly exciting and with tension. For the beginnings of the assault on the death star, it's all-out action and insanity. Ships fall left and right, large overweight pilots have problems, and it seems it's all shooting ducks in a barrel (or Ewoks in a shipping crate). Then it hits a turn, and the "trench run" sequences begin. The main assaults fail, and Luke's run begins. We swoop down with him, the laser blasts hitting the hull light lightning bolts, and the speed increases. Suddenly the canon mounts stop firing, and Vader and two TIE fighters approach from the rear.
The build up. The release. The voice of Obi Wan one final time. This was just a brilliant climax and one of the most purely satisfying endings to any film in history. The way it's shot combined with the impeccable pacing and use of music would never be repeated in any Star Wars film to come.
The thematic and classical notion of the hero's journey and Luke Skywalker go hand in hand, so both are put here because both simply won't work without the other. No other character has the overarching, Greek Myth-like progression of Luke Skywalker, and Luke Skywalker wouldn't become this awesome character without the classical approach.
From a purely personality standpoint, I always preferred Han from a personality standpoint, but the way Luke's story is so woven into the fabric and the journey he takes (and especially how it's used to parallel his father) puts his importance slightly higher on my own list here.
4: The Atmosphere
How can I describe this without it sounding like a generalization or a cheap entry? I can certainly say the art design and imagination is fantastic, the broad strokes blended with an attention to detail and a timeline that feels relevant and a mythology that is grand...but that's not entirely why I love the atmosphere and aesthetic sensibilities of Star Wars. I like that it actually doesn't try to draw too much attention to all these things.
There's this great, "lived in" and "old world" approach the original trilogy had. In Part One, I mentioned how it all kind of looked like a B-Movie...but with that comes something that, perhaps, was quite by accident: character. The world and atmosphere feels natural and believable, even when light swords flip on and spaceships shoot into low orbit. I suppose it has to be this 'believability" to everything that is "fantasy." The echoes of our own world, mise-en-scene that is simple and grounded and the way it clashes and contorts naturally against the beautifully designed (the art design always top notch) fantasy elements that aren't over-exploited is really one of Star Wars's best aspect.
3: Darth Vader
The look. The presence. The voice. You need an epic villain to carry these movies, and Vader is certainly it. He's much more than that, though. If you want to talk about the simple stock embodiment of evil, then go and take the Emperor. Vader was a menacing villain...but he wasn't the embodiment of evil at all. He was a three-dimensional, well rounded and developed character first that just happens to be the bad guy on top of it all.
In a way, he is the fallen angel archetype. A villain with a purpose but also one with a conscious. The mystery of him that slowly evolves over the course of three films, from single-minded evil to complex character to redemptive father is compounded even moreso as it parallels Luke's story without even being overly obvious in doing so. Subtlety is a lost art, that's for sure, and only until Luke sees Vader's severed hand and look at his own does it truly come full circle and we finally comprehend all that has taken place across three films. Their paths and lyrical nature criss- crossing and showing the choices we take and life and the relationships of legends, fathers, mentors and sons. I could never do Vader justice in just this small block I've set for him, but he is as much Star Wars as anything ever created and one of the most brilliant conceptions in the history of film.By the way, if you like this poster and the Luke one above, you should check out SimonZ's homepage.
I'm willing to be you had a lightsaber toy at some point. If you didn't have one, you probably imagined having one. Hell, there's even a lightsaber app for the iPhone for those who get a kick out of the sound of wielding one. These beautifully elegant weapons are the greatest weapon ever conceived, imaginary or real. They balanced the mystical with the technological, and in that respect are the perfect symbolic representation of what Star Wars is.
Now gadgets like this were nothing new, but they've never been so well utilized, that's for sure. They represent more than a weapon, but an entire philosophy as noted by Obi Wan in the first film. You then have that distinct sound that is so well known today that really makes its mark as something distinct and elegant.
1: The Music
I don't know if there is a single other film score that is so well known, with such variety, epic sounding and sometimes utterly beautiful as John William's Star Wars scores.
A lot of people forget that the original Star Wars trilogy were all nominated for Oscars, with the first itself garnering six. The one aspect that was never in question across all three was the music: winning the Oscar for A New Hope and nominated for both Empire and Jedi. Every hook, melody, even merely a few notes are things every person can recognize, hum, and probably even name the scene it took place in (the music direction every bit as perfect as the score itself). For me, this is what music and movies is all about, and out of all the wonderful things Star Wars brings to the table, the music was one thing that I simply can't put at any lower place on this list.
A Quick Final Thought
I had been putting off this look back at Star Wars for some time. Only until I actually scheduled it did I finally get up to actually doing it. Once I started, though, it all came out in a flurry of ADD writing, moving from one topic to another, and furious typing and note taking. Despite it being in two parts, I still feel as though I didn't really give it justice. There's been better articles and essay written on it, certainly, so I just attempted to take a personal approach and I hope it at least got my admiration, history and overall love for Star Wars across. Even if I had to limit it to only 25 things, I hit the points that really shaped it for me from the age of five or six, watching Empire on television, to today sitting in wait for the great Blu-Ray releases that will come.
And those better not be the special editions. God help you, Lucas, if you pull the same stunt twice and give the original films some half-assed release. I and millions of others do not care, in any way, about revisions and updates - just a great picture and audio and the movies we fell in love with and still yearn to watch to this day even after seeing them dozens if not hundreds of times before. Here's to another dozens if not hundreds of times more