THE 100 GREATEST FILMS OF ALL TIME – 16: STAR WARS

by Daniel Suddes

Star Wars (1977) Written and Directed by: George Lucas  Produced by:  Lucas and Gary Kurtz  Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Alec Guinness, Peter Cushing, and featuring the voice James Earl Jones. Oscar Count: 6 (Best Art Direction, Best Costuming, Best Visual Effects, Best Editing, Best Original Score, Best Sound. Also nominated for Best Supporting Actor (Guinness), Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay)

It’s time to state the obvious.  The Star Wars saga is, in many ways, a mess of storytelling and filmmaking technique. The writing is terrible, the acting is weak, and the entire universe is some sort of far-fetched mess. Lucas has spent his entire career editing and changing his masterpiece, and then trying to pretend those edits did not happen.  And this is not even getting into prequels (the first two of which are completely dead creatively).  Also, Star Wars effectively ended the auteur period in Hollywood. Star Wars is an unusual film to critique and is a failure by many standards.

But Star Wars is also the film that has had the greatest impact on the medium since Birth of a Nation was released. Every film released by a major studio since 1977 have been trying to replicate Star Wars’ impact on the popular culture. But few can – the film has generated numbers that major religions are envious over. All of human society knows about “The Force” in the same way that everyone knows about the Trojan Horse. Every single actor in the film will forever be associated with their roles in this film. The appeal of Star Wars has been the appeal of the modern American myth, and Star Wars will be one of the few films that will last till the end of time.

Where to start? I could start with the simplistic way that Star Wars identifies its heroes and villains. Lucas clearly grew up on every old Western out there.  Why else would Darth Vader’s mask by Black and Luke Skywalker’s clothes be white? Now, this is not enough to praise any film. But Lucas has enough knowledge to know what he is doing.  The only thing that Star Wars can claim is that it redefines the typicalhero’s journey. But most people are not aware of this subconscious technique.  The strength of Star Wars is its ability to place its characters into such simplistic archetypes. Lucas knew about the hero’s journey and the various beings that any character caught in an epic is destined to meet. I will not even try to guess how many people crafted their stories based on this film. But, in doing so, they followed some of the oldest techniques in the book.  Normally this would not be worthy of praise, but the self-referential aspects of the film turn it into a commentary on the sci fi serials of the past. Star Wars almost acts as an academic study as to why everyone loved such serials as Flash Gordon, and why everyone would love those same ideas recast in a post-Vietnam era light.

This is also the definitive film of the so called “film generation.” Most auteurs of the seventies were weaned on classic films. This one is the most blatant in acknowledging its influences. The casting of Guinness links the film to the David Lean epics of the fifties, the editing (as well as the droid characters) was borrowed from the films of Akira Kurosawa, and most of the costuming is borrowed from World War II dramas of the forties. Lucas made all of these decisions knowingly, and subconsciously made many audiences subconsciously familiar with film techniques.

What more can anyone say about Star Wars?  It is forever engrained into the public consciousness in a way few artists can hope to achieve.  It is simple, but managed to strike a public chord with its simplicity. The performances are fine, and manage to feel like part a larger whole.  Besides, the hero’s journey that the film manages to craft links Star Wars to the epics of ancient civilizations (why else set the story “a long time ago”), as well as to the unwritten stories of the far future. This means that Star Wars will outlast all of us. My words almost feel futile.

Did You Know: The original screening for the executive board at Fox that they wanted to re-edit the material into some sort of Saturday Morning TV special. Most theaters in the U.S. refused to show it, until Fox threatened to withhold The Other Side of Midnight to those theaters that would not show Star Wars.


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