The Original STAR WARS Trilogy

Star Wars 

(1977)
With Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Cushing, Alec Guinness, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Pater Mayhew,  David Prowse, and the voice of James Earl Jones
Written and Directed by George Lucas

The Empire Strikes Back

(1980)
With Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker,  Pater Mayhew, David Prowse, Alec Guinness and the voices of James Earl Jones and Frank Oz
Directed by Irvin Kershner

Return of the Jedi

(1983)
With Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Pater Mayhew, David Prowse, Sebastian Shaw, Ian McDiarmid and the voices of James Earl Jones and Frank Oz
Directed by Richard Marquand
 

    Revisiting the original theatrical versions of the first Star Wars trilogy reminded me of two things: how simple and lovable the whole Star Wars phenomenon originally was before Lucas began overthinking it and, more importantly - man, movies used to be a whole lot of fun!

    Take the first film, STAR WARS, for example.  Except for a handful of lines, the dialog is unmemorable, often clichéd. The story is childishly simple, and some of the acting is wanting (Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker is so whiny in the beginning of the film, it is really hard to warm up to him).  But, man oh man, does STAR WARS fly like the Millennium Falcon in Hyperdrive! From the first moments to the final shot, STAR WARS doesn't stop for such niceties as character development and subplots.  Not to say there are no character developments or subplots in the film, only that STAR WARS doesn't stop for them.  They are all woven into the story and dialog themselves while Luke, Han Solo, Princess Leia and the rest go about the business of outwitting the evil Darth Vadar and his Imperial Stormtroopers.

    STAR WARS is little more than an Saturday morning movie serial done up with what were state of the art effects for 1977 (and still look pretty damn good today).  I don't want to hurt the feelings of hardcore Star Wars fans, but there's just not that much depth to the characters.  However, they are, to a man (and woman) all unforgettable.  Not for nothing has each major Star Wars character become a household name: Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, R2D2, CP3O, Obi-Wan Kenobi and, of course, Darth Vadar.  The film is an irresistible mashup of old samurai movies (Kurosawa's HIDDEN FORTRESS was a major influence), swashbuckling pirate movies, cowboy flicks and Buck Rogers, and Lucas, writer and director of the film, moves his characters around from setpiece to setpiece with the innocent, joyful enthusiasm of a kid playing with his favorite toy set.  The film is so much fun and so good-natured, it may well be the film that almost single-handedly lifted American cinema from the director-driven, downer-ending film tendencies of the 70s and created the atmosphere for the more feelgood, family-friendly movie era of the eighties.  Movie scholars can argue whether this was a good thing, but it seems that after STAR WARS, movies suddenly began being a lot more likable and a lot less depressing. 4½

    THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK is just as good even if it has to slow things down in order to tell the story of Luke's quest to become a Jedi master (think "Space Samurai").  The character of Yoda, the 900-year-old Jedi master, is an amazing creation  by Muppeteer Frank Oz.  Simply one of the most expressive puppets ever created, Yoda is yet another unforgettable addition to the Star Wars family of characters, even if his peculiar syntax ("Stopped they must be; on this all depends") has been the stuff of many parodies.  Another great addition is space pirate Lando Calrissian, a friend and foe of Harrison Ford's Han Solo.  Like most of the the Star Wars characters, Calrissian is not a terribly deep character but he is the coolest character of the original trilogy simply because... well, it's Billy Dee Williams, damn it.  The film may overplay the opposites attract angle of the uptight Carrie Fisher's Princess Leia and  the loose as a goose Han Solo. but the film builds to one of cinema's most famous, and most often misquoted, lines, as Darth Vadar explains one of the facts of life to his arch-enemy Luke Skywalker. 4½

    RETURN OF THE JEDI is a bit of a letdown.  Not that it isn't an entertaining adventure, but it is not the grand sweeping spectacle the first two films deserve as a finale.  The first half hour plays like a very bizarre episode of The Muppet Show, what with all the Jim Henson creatures on screen, including the disturbing and disgusting Jabba the Hut. This opening sequence, in which Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Lando Calrissian all attempt to rescue Han Solo from the aforementioned gangster Jabba, leads to one of the series best action sequences as the entire Star Wars gang of good guys (and one gal) breaks up Jabba's little execution party, a scene highlighted by Princess Leia, in her instantly famous gold bikini, sending Jabba to his demise personally.

    The trouble is that after this opening salvo, there is still an hour and a half left to the film and not enough plot to fill it.  The evil Imperial Forces, headed by The Emperor and Darth Vadar, are building a new Death Star and the Rebel Alliance must destroy it.  That's it.  There are scenes of Luke revisiting Yoda for one last round of training, there's a chase on a forest planet that is made pointless by obvious back projection (overall, the effects are not as impressive as in the first two films), and there's a clan of cute teddy bear creatures named Ewoks who figure into the final battle, much to the chagrin of many fans of the series. Luke's final confrontation with Darth Vadar is anti-climactic, and then there's a big party on the forest planet.  The end.  Hope you liked the trilogy, folks!

    There are many good things about RETURN OF THE JEDI.  Mark Hamill has finally grown into the character and lacks even the slightest hint of the sometimes annoying and whining Skywalker we have come to know from the first two films.  Carrie Fisher, who reportedly complained about her costumes of the first two films, is allowed to look ravishing in several outfits that actually make her look like the beautiful princess we always knew she was anyway, and her performance, too, is a step above her earlier ones.  In fact, most of the fun of the film lies not in the story but rather in enjoying the familiar characters and the actors who play them going through their paces once again, but the film never shakes the feeling that with a little more work on the script and a different director other than the relatively inexperienced Richard Marquand, this final film could have been a whole lot better. 3½

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