Star Wars (1977)

reviewed by
Max Scheinin


What with the special edition out on video ( I snapped up my copy as quickly as anyone ) I thought I'd make some comments on these films.

Star Wars
Star rating: ***1/2
Letter grade: A-
The Empire Strikes Back
Star rating: ****
Letter grade: A+
Return Of The Jedi
Star rating: ***
Letter grade: B
Ratings are on a **** scale.

Why is Star Wars as charming and graceful as it is? Why has it endured as well as it has? With the exceptions of James Earl Jones and Alec Guiness, the acting is pretty mediocre. Let's just call it corny. ( Why, oh why, couldn't Lucas use computers to substitute better performers in the lead roles? ) We never really feel close to the characters. Why is it my candidate for the finest pure entertainment ever commited to the screen? ( It's demeaning to Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Jaws and The Empire Strikes Back to call them pure entertainments. ) It's not a perfect film, but it's a heck of a good one. Many of my friends have a respect bordering on a religious obsession with it. ( My friend Adam - who thinks that ROTJ is the best of the trilogy and TESB is the worst - owns paperback continuations of the movies and soundtracks meant to be played along as you read. ) The film certainly has a place in my heart although I'm not sure I love it as much as they. Watching it today I feel manipulated. It hold up over numerous viewings and yet...something is missing. To many remaking Star Wars is what remaking Casablanca ( they're doing it! ) and The Godfather is to me: sad and pointless. It would ruin the legend of the movie. Yet...I'll say it against my better judgment ( and it will anger many people. ) If it's done do it with a new script. Have Steven Spielberg direct. Use new music. Set it in the future. Get rid of the first line ( along time ago in a galaxy far far away... ). Cast Jack Nicholson as Darth Vader and get rid of the clunky outfit. Wait till I get to Hollywood! Bwa,ha,ha,ha,ha,ha! Star Wars is still terrific fun and wonderfully entertaining. It's a really good movie with a great one inside, struggling to break free.

How good is the second installment, TESB? In a word: magnificent. It's a glorious film from start to finish. In the first shot it tells you what it's going to do and then it does it. A stirring comic book mix of great acting, wonderful music, mature special effects, and dark thoughts, as directed by Irvin Kershner - with ravishing gusto - the psychological tension is so clear. And did I mention great fun? It'll sweep you off your feet. So many moments, so many sights. A betrayal, a friendship, a great movie...so good that I think I might call it one of the greatest ever made.The special edition is truly special. I could see it once a week without growing tired of it.

Sadly this cannot be said of ROTJ, the mediocre conclusion to the trilogy. It's not bad, but it takes a suprising ( and disarming ) turn towards mediocre filmmaking. I've always felt that it goes down TOO easily, when you should hesitate before accepting the conclusion and outcome. Not that it's bad; it's just not very meaningful. Fans of the film will argue with me: "It's not even MEANT to be meaningful, you take yourself way to seriously, blah blah blah, yada yada yada etc. etc.". Hmm...I'm not entirely sure I agree. The entire Star Wars trilogy revolves around religion ( the force ), and what can be seen as serious issues ( the battle between good and evil. ) This is a fun movie but it doesn't quite capture the sense of awe and excitement the first two do. It's meant to be seen on a big screen. ( Much like Gone With The Wind, an entertaining but wildy over-rated and equally mediocre film. ) Both films are esentially entertainments that could have been alot better then they are. As seen on a big screen ROTJ is great fun. ( If I had reviewed it after seeing it on the big screen I would have gave it ***1/2 and B+. ) But I'm talking little screen here - the video experience. And that ain't all that great. I still like the film - but I don't love it.

I'm starting to worry that Mr. Lucas will not live up to our expectations when he releases his new films. Perhaps there is no way he can. ( Of course such a rule can be defied. I've never like Jurassic Park but I thought the sequel was well crafted and a heck of alot of fun. ) But whether or not he does TESB is a movie to treasure and the other two aren't all that bad either.


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