For me, my first attraction to the power of films started 35 years ago with Star Wars. Up until then I had only a passing interest in films but after the exhilarating experience of seeing a fully realized world that could exist somewhere out in the galaxy, my imagination soared with possibilities.
By now the story of Luke Skywalker is familiar to everyone. A farm boy living on a remote desert planet in the outer reaches of the known galaxy with his aunt and uncle discovers his potential to exceed the life he was given by tapping into the power of the Force.
Inspired by his love of comic books and Saturday matinee adventure serials like Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers and the Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars adventures of John Carter, George Lucas devised a Science Fiction fantasy fairy tale that would combine everything he loved about pulp serials as a kid growing up.
When Luke stumbles across a hidden message one day while cleaning some newly acquired service robots, it turns out to be a plea for help from a recently captured princess, who is battling an authoritarian Galactic government, to an old retired warrior general living in isolation on Luke’s home planet.
The story is told from the point of view of two robots R2-D2 and C-3PO, who we follow as they come in contact with various odd characters on their journey and who eventually form an intrepid group of unlikely heroes. Lucas also likes stories about people who are too small or insignificant to pose any threat but by sheer will and determination accomplish the impossible.
Enchanted by the holographic image of the princess, Luke decides to find out more about the intended recipient, Obi-wan Kenobi, who supposedly lives somewhere in the area but is soon told by his stern uncle to forget the matter and to erase the robot’s memory. The small astromech droid R2-D2, who is carrying the princess’ message, however, has a mission of his own and escapes during the night to find the former warrior general of the legendary Jedi Knights. Luke and R2’s robot partner C-3PO must go after the runaway droid the next morning before his uncle discovers what has happened and they eventually meet up with the strong willed little droid and the elderly hermit warrior living somewhere beyond the desert dunes.
George Lucas said that his movies are all about breaking free of our own self-imposed limits. The heroes in his films all deal with confinement in some form, whether self-imposed or by an oppressive regime, and finding the courage and faith within themselves to overcome those limitations and break free of the bonds to step into a whole new world of possibilities. This positive message at the heart of Star Wars is for young people but appeals to the young at heart of all ages.
While taking refuge in Obi-wan’s desert dwelling from the ferocious Tusken Raiders or Sand People who roam these parts, R2-D2 reveals the princess’s full message. It seems that the troublesome little droid is carrying important plans to a secret doomsday weapon that the iron fisted Empire is planning to use against her people to stop the rebellion that’s growing against the corrupt regime. These vital plans along with the robots must be delivered to her father on her home world of Alderaan. Unfortunately Obi-wan Kenobi is much too old to carry out such an important mission on his own and asks Luke to help him. Luke wants to help but won’t abandon his aunt and uncle who need him on the farm. While Luke gives Obi-wan and the two droids a ride to the nearest space port where they can find passage to Alderaan, the group comes across a site of carnage and learn that the evil Empire, looking for the stolen plans, are responsible. Luke quickly heads home figuring that his aunt and uncle are in danger only to discover that he is too late to save them from a similar attack.
Before Star Wars, the Science Fiction genre was made up of low budget, sensationalist B movies about alien invasions like War of the Worlds (1953), Them! (1954), and It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958) that occasionally saw attempts to elevate it beyond its cheap thrills spectacle with films like The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Planet of the Apes (1968). Star Wars changed all that with its universal coming of age story line, realistic effects, a used lived-in look of other-worldly places that were filmed in real locations, a passing of knowledge from one generation to the next and a story of rebellion against oppression that has lost none of its relevance.
Back at Luke’s desert home, he is shocked by the attack on his family. Now personally affected by the tyranny of the Empire, Luke vows to help Obi-wan Kenobi deliver the plans and help the rebellion any way he can. At the nearest space port cantina filled with space aliens from other worlds, they find a skeptical pilot, Han Solo and his Wookie co-pilot Chewbacca, who will take them to Alderaan. After traveling through hyperspace at light speed they discover that the Empire has already done the unthinkable and used its doomsday weapon, known as the Death Star, to destroy the entire planet. Before they can escape, the huge weapon, which is the size of a small moon, has already caught their small space vessel, known as the Millennium Falcon, in a tractor beam and is pulling them in.
Many people have characterized the Star Wars films as having a retro-futuristic style. In other words, the world of Star Wars and everything in it has a somewhat familiar look so that you know what it is, but with a futuristic twist so that it looks strange enough to be from another world. By mixing vintage with modern elements and putting everything through a wear and tear process giving it a realistic used look, George Lucas added that extra level of reality that this world had existed for a long time. This was unheard of in prior science fiction films where everything looked shiny and clean and gave the impression that it had just been created for the film. Other filmmakers started incorporating this so-called ‘used universe’ look and it’s now a common element in every science fiction film.
On board the Death Star, the group manages to escape detection by hiding in the Falcon’s storage compartments. Obi-wan Kenobi contrives a plan to go into the massive bowls of the space station and turn off the tractor beam from the inside. Then, once he returns, they will be able fly out of the station without being pulled back in. While he goes off to look for the tractor beam controls, Luke makes a startling discovery. The princess is also being held inside the massive station and is scheduled to be executed. Luke and Han with the help of Chewbacca quickly devise a plan to rescue the princess from her detention cell and hopefully be back in time to meet up with Obi-wan and escape the Death Star, all the while making sure that R2-D2 who is carrying the secret plans to the Death Star does not fall into the wrong hands.
Star Wars was the first film that successfully encompassed and gathered together everything that was cool about Science Fiction into one hot rod of a movie. This had never been done before in such an immersive way. So many new and old ideas and elements came together in such a way that it all made sense and seemed perfectly logical.
Of course Luke’s plans don’t quite go as he had hoped and what follows is one of the most exciting, fun and romantic sequences ever to be put on film as spunky princess meets rogue scoundrel, arch villain meets his old warrior master and two loveable robots find ways to evade detection while helping our heroes. It all comes together in an inspiring climactic space battle showdown with laser zapping star fighters flying over the Death Star battle station as it approaches ever closer to annihilating the rebel’s hidden base.
George Lucas drew from World War II flying combat footage for one of Star Wars most exciting sequences that gave it an unforgettable climax. World War II dog-fighting footage taken from actual fighter plane cockpits was another reason George wanted to make Star Wars. He thought that putting that kind of visually dynamic action into an outer space setting would be thrilling to watch.
Star Wars gave birth to many new concepts like light sabers, the Force, Jedi Knights, the Death Star, and added many old ones with a new twist; Robots R2D2 and C-3PO as a comic relief duo in the tradition of Laurel and Hardy, repulsorlift floating crafts as the main form of land transportation, holograms as the main form of communication, weapons and space ships that fire laser bolts, space ships that sound like and are as individually unique as cars are in our world, a universe populated by aliens and humans working side by side, a slave class of robots that come in all sizes and shapes, and the scariest, darkest villain ever created; Darth Vader.
Star Wars took sound design to a whole new level and won 7 Oscars including a special Oscar for sound designer Ben Burt. John Williams created one of the all-time best and most popular films scores ever recorded.
This was the first film I remember having to see multiple times. It was a film that no one saw just once. Everyone who saw it went back again and again.
Since Star Wars the Sci-fi genre has never been the same and led to such classic Sci-fi films as Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982), Independence Day (1996), Men in Black (1997), Starship Troopers (1997), Titan A.E. (2000), Treasure Planet (2002), Avatar (2009) and Tron: Legacy (2010).