George Lucas' "Star Wars" is one of the great outer space fantasy movies of all time - it was, and still is, a gleefully exciting popcorn movie full of special-effects galore and chivalrous heroes, stubborn princesses, evil dark empires, and two cute robots. The characters were Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda and Darth Vader, to name a few. Now comes the special edition of this special trilogy of movies and, despite some flaws with the post-tinkering, they are a fond reminder of how groundbreaking these movies were and how they changed Hollywood forever. They initiated the term: blockbuster.
The original "Star Wars" was a major box-office success signaling the rise of merchandising and the wave of Hollywood blockbusters to come. The main difference between "Star Wars" and the so-called action entertainment of today is that "Star Wars" had wit, style and imagination to spare, not gratuitous action scenes and bloody violence at the expense of a story or characters worth caring about (See "The Lost World" for proof).
It is a sheer joy to watch this film restored to its original glory with its blazing colors, beautiful cinematography and the uplifting Dolby Digital musical score by John Williams. The special-effects are as awesome as they ever were, including the classic battle on the Death Star, the plentiful laser gun fights, and the lightsaber duel between Vader and Kenobi.
The actors are also rather pleasing to watch after all these years. Harrison Ford has as much fun here as when he played Indiana Jones and his constant snickering and witty asides are as marvelous as ever. Ditto the youthful Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia; James Earl Jones' eerie voice for the mysterious Darth Vader; the comic biplay between the lovable robots C3PO and R2D2; Mark Hamill's naive farm boy Luke Skywalker who eventually becomes a fighter pilot for the Rebellion (Hamill's career never took off the way his co-stars did); the masterful restraint of Sir Alec Guinness as the sage Obi-Wan; Peter Mayhew as the hairy seven-foot growling Chewbacca; and notably Peter Cushing as the commander of the Death Star station - he's almost as scary as Vader when he blows up Leia's home planet Alderaan!
The additions to "Star Wars" are not as invigorating as one would hope yet some of them are essential. The addition of a younger, less slimier Jabba the Hutt who confronts Han Solo after Solo killed one of his henchmen, Greedo, is fun to watch but nonessential. Firstly, Jabba seems friendly and warm when compared to the evil, corrupt reptilian seen in Return of the Jedi. Secondly, Jabba reiterates everything that Greedo says to Solo in the previous scene. Referring back to the Greedo confrontation, moralist George Lucas decides to have Han Solo defend himself by showing Greedo shooting Han, and missing (!), and then Han kills Greedo. Originally, Han was to have shot Greedo in cold-blood - that was the point because he was a daredevil pilot who would shoot at anything. But by reversing and changing the scene, Lucas makes a different point all together which is that some films are better left in their original format.
Other additions actually work quite well. The introduction of the spaceport Mos Eisley, where Luke and Kenobi find Han, is filled with more neat outside shots of the city. There's also a terrific scene where Luke talks to Briggs, his fellow pilot, before they take off for attack. The sequence where Luke and Leia are shooting stormtroopers over an abyss is enhanced aurally with echoes and is more magnificent than ever.
"Star Wars" is not the only one with a makeover - "The Empire Strikes Back" has some finishing touches but most of it has been left intact. This is the best of the trilogy and it also has more depth, humor and character development than either one. Han Solo is more reckless and suffers a horrible fate; Luke Skywalker learns the way of the Jedi from a nine-hundred year old wizened creature called Yoda, and faces Vader; Leia falls in love with Han; there are more special effects including a superb asteroid battle; a startling revelation about Darth Vader, and a dark ending where neither the Rebellion nor the Empire wins. It's a grand space opera with imagination and great storytelling to spare.
"Return of the Jedi" suffers the most from the changes, and it is also the weakest of the three. Firstly, there's an embarrassing sequence redone with CGI effects (and a new song!) in Jabba the Hutt's palace, which looks more like an outtake from a Disney musical. Secondly, I noticed a bizarre trimming of the Ewok celebration at the end - Luke's close-ups in recognition of the spirits of Vader, Kenobi and Yoda seemed to have been cut, and the new Ewok song is less joyful and more of a distraction than anything else.
Needless to say, the effects in "Jedi" are the best of the three, including the battle on the barge in Tattoine, and the battle on Endor with the flying bikes. Harrison Ford seems stoned out of his mind and less heroic than usual. Ironically, it is Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher who give the better performances. Luke is more mature and has progressed into a full-fledged Jedi; Leia seems to finally know how to shoot lasers and has one tender scene with Luke; and Chewbacca, C3PO and R2D2 are more annoying than ever. Revelations are aplenty and we finally get to see what Darth Vader really looks like under that mask. "Jedi" is not a great film but it is a worthy successor that could have shimmered with improvements in the script department (And get rid of those characterless Ewoks who resemble nothing more than teddy bears!).
The special edition of the "Star Wars" trilogy is not as great as it should have been nor does it surpass the original versions. Still, nobody should pass up the grand opportunity of seeing this fantastic space odyssey on the silver screen. George Lucas should be proud of renewing interest in these science-fiction classics for a whole new generation.
For more reviews, check out JERRY AT THE MOVIES at http://buffs.moviething.com/buffs/faust/
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