A long time ago in a galaxy far far away….
With that opening crawl, perhaps the most famous one in film history, one is introduced to the first film of the Star Wars Saga. It has become one of the most beloved franchises in film history and not to mention a property that’s worth more than a billion dollars. Yet, despite its gargantuan status, a lot of fans holds a deeply personal and magical association with it. In this evaluation of the original trilogy, two fans from What About Movies discuss their relationship with the three films.
Benny: Let’s start with how each of us discovered Star Wars. I remember, when I was very little, around 10 years old, introducing myself to the original trilogy when I stumbled upon the three DVDs comprising the film inside my father’s movie closet, a closet that I now consider to be instrumental in my love for movies. Episode IV: A New Hope, if memory serves me right, may be the first movie that I picked from the closet that had an astounding effect on me later on in my life. Anyway, my father is not really a fan of the franchise so he didn’t encourage me to watch Star Wars the way that he did with James Bond, a franchise that he loves. So my introduction to Star Wars was really a result of independent discovery and mostly free from outside influence.
Prudence: I discovered Star Wars as a full grown human being. And actually, my first introduction to Lucas’ galactic world was the prequels. I enjoyed them but I wasn’t over the moon about them, that is, not quite enough for me to seek out the original trilogy to be honest. But thanks to my nephew who has an infectious love of the original trilogy, I finally got myself to watch Episode 4. And then Episode 5. And then Episode 6. And being an individual who is somehow predisposed to liking campy, pulpy old- timey, adventures, I was drawn to the original trilogy like Han Solo to Princess Leia (because really, we all know how he felt the moment he laid eyes on her). But let me get back to my 9 year old nephew who watched the original trilogy, made in the 70s and 80s, only roughly two or three years ago, and yet he was absolutely smitten by them. (Miles more than the prequels, which he liberally exercises his fast forward button pushing on.) So what do you think is it about the original trilogy that seems to stand the test of time?
Benny: Pure storytelling! When it comes to the prequels, I think they relied so much on effects and visual thrills but they didn’t have any of the nuanced storytelling that the Original Trilogy had. Also, the original trilogy had a lot of better characters than the Prequels. Another factor may be Lucas himself as he directed all three of the Prequels while only directing the first one of the Original Trilogy. There certainly are a lot of factors but the main point is that the Prequels lost all of the charm and vibrancy that the Original Trilogy had.
Prudence: Better characters, yes. You’ve got a cocky smuggler with a heart of gold, a plucky princess, a humble farm boy turned Jedi Knight, a formidable villain in a badass black space suit, a cranky first mate covered in fur. The list goes on and on.
And great storytelling, definitely. Despite the original trilogy being your usual monomythic tale, they told it in such an entertaining and engrossing manner. Take the dialogue for instance, which is a lot of fun! Unlike in the prequels, there are so many quotable quotes in the original trilogy. “I love you. I know.” “Do or do not. There is no try.” “I find your lack of faith disturbing.” “Search your feelings.” “Use your hate.” There are so many of them from which countless of memes have sprung forth and countless of nerds have used them to annoy the heck out of non-fans. Haha.
And it will please you to hear that they are keeping Lucas out of The Force Awakens. Not even in any consultancy position. In fact, George Lucas himself said that he is calling it a “break-up”. And in any break-up he says that you don’t drive by the girl’s house to see what she’s doing, or go to the cafe she goes to. So yeah, he’s definitely moving on. And he’s not mad or sad about it really. He says that at last he can come and see the movie as a fan, and be surprised.
Benny: I think it’s a wise decision to keep Lucas out of the new trilogy. He made some good films during his prime but it is now time to let a new generation take over. Speaking of Lucas’ prime, which of the original trilogy was the best for you?
Prudence: Hands down, The Empire Strikes Back. It is a beautifully shot film compared to the other two. The lighting and the atmosphere were just fantastic in each of the varied planets. From Hoth’s snowy blizzard, to Dagobah’s misty and marshy surroundings, to Bespin’s stunning panoramic imagery of a city in the clouds. And the special effects were grander too. There is also quite a character growth for Luke and Han in particular. And I guess this is the point in the story where our heroes are put into their hardest trial, and it seems like they are losing. It’s the most gripping installment the trilogy.
Benny: I would agree with your assessment of The Empire Strikes Back. I would add that the Battle for Hoth, despite its limited special effects, is still one of the most striking and thrilling battle sequence that I’ve watched. And we finally get introduced to perhaps the most beloved Jedi Master of the whole saga, Yoda.
However, which of the three did you find as the weakest member of the trilogy?
Prudence: The Return of the Jedi. I think it failed to follow the epic The Empire Strikes Back. And as I was rewatching it I sort of felt that this was the film foreshadowing the path that the prequels will take. The Return of the Jedi is fun, don’t get me wrong. But it’s a watered down Star Wars. There are some really important events going on in this last installment of the original trilogy. Like Luke becoming more grown up, and his Jedi powers increasing. Vader struggling between his son and the dark side. Leia finding out about the whole thing. This movie has such a big potential to be great but it just wasn’t, at least not compared to what came before it.
And the Battle for Hoth was really epic! And yeah, for something that’s done with 80s special effects, I can say that it can hold a candle against movies made using today’s technological advancement. Although I was giggling a bit at the AT-ATs because they seem to be the clumsiest things on snow! It’s doesn’t seem wise to have them deployed in a battle that takes place in a planet entirely covered in snow! And the first appearance of Yoda was great too! Having him start off as this petulant, swamp vagrant or something. Only to be revealed that all this time, he is The Great Jedi Master, Luke’s looking for.
Benny: I agree again with your points. The Return of the Jedi was really a disappointment because of the way it handled the plot. I have a complaint about the Ewoks which I again see as a huge marketing ploy and as a way to appeal to children. Also, Leia in the slave costume somehow bothered me when I rewatched the saga when I was older. Overall, it was a weak film not because it was fundamentally a bad film but because its predecessors were better overall.
Prudence: You know what, I am beginning to see your point about the Ewoks. So you see Han Solo and Princess Leia, ready for battle with their blasters, and then with them is an army of…..teddy bears. It’s kind of impossible for you to take that seriously. (I did get a kick out of them thinking threepio was a deity of some kind.) And yeah, one cannot help but think that the only justification for the Ewoks is to rake in big bucks on merchandise. I do feel that the film could have benefited had George Lucas put in a different creature. Something fiercer and more formidable than cuddly, three foot bears.
The slave Leia costume bothered me a bit too! Yeesh. It’s like they suddenly thought: Star Wars doesn’t have enough nudity! I know, let’s put Leia in a skimpy outfit. Star Wars has gone too dark! I know, let’s put in some teddy bears!
Benny: See, I knew you’d come around. Hahaha. Anyway, I wanted to get your opinion on the supporting cast because I am of the belief that the supporting cast of the original trilogy are one of the most awesome ever assembled. Rogue ally Lando Calrissian, strategist extraordinaire Admiral Ackbar, iconic Boba Fett and a slew of other well-loved supporting characters.
Prudence: That is true. I think Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian gave much bravado to his role, as much as Harrison Ford did to Han Solo. Sir Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan, I also found quite enjoyable. I think Ewan McGregor was kind of channeling him a bit in the prequels. I am not quite on board with Boba Fett. I don’t get why he’s such a popular character. I mean yeah, he’s an assassin and he has a cool outfit. But he doesn’t seem competent at his job. His unremarkable demise in The Return of the Jedi proves it.
Benny: Yeah, he’s death in the Sarlacc Pit was just the height of incompetence for someone deemed the greatest bounty hunter in the galaxy. I think his popularity is due to the fact that some fans revived him and repackaged him as this total badass for the Expanded Universe.
Fun fact about Sir Guinness: he didn’t like his experience filming Star Wars, has called the dialogue “rubbish”, and has referred to Harrison Ford in his letters as Tennyson Ford. And all this dissatisfaction has led to the claim that it was his idea that Obi-Wan should die in A New Hope.
Prudence: Oh right, the Expanded Universe. His popularity might not be so unfounded after all then.
Haha! Tennyson! Also, perhaps Sir Alec Guinness’ not so favorable reaction might have something to do with the fact that science fiction, during that time, was still very much considered fringe, and therefore not a serious genre, making him not a serious actor.
Benny: I think so, yes. Although I don’t know why he would have anxieties over the perception of him not being a serious actor at the time. He was already knighted by then and was considered as one of Britain’s finest actors.
Prudence: I know right? He already got a couple of Academy Awards under his belt way before he did Star Wars. And strange enough, he actually got a supporting actor nomination out of his role as Obi-Wan.
Now, I have to ask, who is your favorite Star Wars character?
Benny: That supporting nomination actually reminded me of Ian McKellen’s, as Gandalf the Grey for the 1st LoTR film.
Well, this would be a cliched answer but true, Han Solo is hands down my favorite character. He is just the epitome of calm, cool, and collected. Even with his imminent freezing in carbonite, his swagger has never wavered. Growing up, I had a Millenium Falcon action figure and I always imagined myself behind the wheel with Chewie whenever I play with it. How about you? Who’s your favorite?
Prudence: My favorite character is…drumroll please…Han Solo! Haha! And I am happy to hear that even you aren’t immune to the charms of this space cowboy. And of course you’d want to be Han. He got the medal and the princess, the only two things you ever need in life. Haha. And just to add to what you’ve said, which I wholeheartedly agree with by the way, I like that he has quite a nice character turnaround. We thought he’s just a greedy smuggler, that he’s in it only for the money. But he turns out to be an awesome friend and a great asset to the Rebel Alliance. And I do believe he shot first. Haha.
And I am sure you have a favorite scene. And since we have the same favorite character, I am wondering if yours would be the same as mine. Haha. But you go on ahead.
Benny: My favorite scene is always his first which was his discussion with the bounty hunter Greedo. In that first scene, we see a first glimpse of the most badass smuggler in all the galaxy, possibly in the entire universe. Also, the dialogue between Greedo and Solo may be the best that Lucas has written because it gave us the perfect balance between introducing a character and creating a tense atmosphere. How about you?
Prudence: Excellent choice. Han Solo saying “Sorry about the mess” and then throwing some coins for the innkeeper’s trouble was the height of badassery. My favorite scene, you already made mention of in passing. It’s the Carbon-freezing scene. I thought that was such a gripping end to The Empire Strikes Back. And that scene has my absolute favorite dialogue. Leia saying “I love you” and Han saying “I know”. And Chewie emitting distressful and mournful cries. And I found out that the “I know” line was actually Harrison’s idea. What was actually in the script was something like: “Just remember that, cause I’ll be back.” a line that doesn’t seem to embody the iconic Han Solo bravado if you ask me, so I’m glad the script writers listened to Ford.
Benny: Harrison Ford playing Han Solo displays the perfect synergy between character and actor that is rarely seen in film. I mean, Ford knows better about his character than the writer who actually wrote the whole damn thing.
Anyway, I think that’s enough gushing about an excellent trilogy. Any last words about The Original Trilogy?
Prudence: I just want to say, thank you George Lucas for giving us this awesome space adventure story and for changing how Hollywood and the world sees science fiction!
Benny: I agree with all of that! Let me also add that, with its status as a classic assured, I hope future generations will continue discover the joy of watching Star Wars for the first time.
Let’s also hope that the new trilogy will be as good or even better than the Original. Who’s excited for the Force Awakens? I know I am.