Star Wars (1977) with fresh eyes

Trying to evaluate a familiar film, like it's the first time.

[I watched the Harmy Despecialized Edition v2.7]

With the recent conclusion of the sequel trilogy, and thinking about all of the issues I have with the recent movies, a thought I kept having was, “how would I react to the original movies if they came out today?”

With that in mind, I decided to go back to the original and try to look at it with fresh eyes.

Having watched this thing endlessly as a kid, and knowing it by heart, it was never going to be truly possible. But, I tried to set aside all of the cultural baggage and personal nostalgia as much as I could and evaluate this movie, on its own.

The one huge advantage that this movie has, when comparing it what has come since, is that it is impervious to the criticism that it is “rehashing previous Star Wars stuff,” or that some element “doesn't fit-in with Star Wars.”

Context matters when evaluating any movie, so I tried my best to put myself in the mindset of someone seeing this for the first time, in 1977. Here are some of my thoughts (some more nit-picky than others):

  • The setup, immediately after the opening crawl, of the a small ship being chased by an enormous ship is very effective in setting-up the “David vs Goliath” nature of the story.

  • The introduction of the Stormtroopers, followed by Darth Vader, is so good! Vader's dialogue as he's questioning prisoners, discussing the situation with his underlings, and delegating tasks, is so procedural and I love it. It serves so many purposes: introducing the character, catching up the audience on the situation… and making Vader more than just a “big bad” who answers to no one. The Imperial officer warning Vader to consider the implications of making Leia a martyr to the Rebellion, and Vader essentially deciding to kill all witnesses and cover it up, is something that I'm glad this movie takes the time to include. This is a great example of how the larger context of the story is built into the movie's narrative (something that I think the prequels also did, for all their flaws, and that the sequels lack).

  • A lot of exposition is delivered by C-3PO. Sometimes to R2-D2, who beeps in return (why can't R2 have a regular voice, btw?), and sometimes directly into the camera. Especially silly is when 3P0 is wandering through the Tatooine desert alone and talking about the planet. Who programmed this droid to talk to himself?

  • Something I though of, when seeing all of the junk inside the Jawa's sand-crawler: Because there is no pre-existing Star Wars asthenic, anything that they put on screen is authentically Star Wars. So many of the props are the kind of weird junkyard finds and DIY stuff that you would expect on an independent movie. With the later films, however, set decorators must match the Star Wars “feel”, which I think sometimes has the effect of making those movies feel inauthentic. With this movie, I buy all of the gadgets and vehicles and stuff that's just lying around. I think, largely, because it wasn't fabricated to look like Star Wars; it's just interesting looking stuff that isn't overly designed and movie-prop-looking.

  • Along those same lines; everything in this movie is either scuffed, rusted, or otherwise grimy. The world feels thoroughly used and lived-in. The smudges on C3P0 don't look like they were put there by a prop department, but look realistic for what he's been through.

  • The acting of Mark Hamill is pretty shaky at times, and the character is overly whiney in the first few scenes we get with him. It's hard to tell how old he's supposed to be. Sometimes it seems like he's supposed to be in his mid-teens, but that doesn't seem like the case later on (and he certainly looks older).

  • The scene of Luke's aunt and uncle talking, after he's left the table, does a great job of getting across the kind of upbringing Luke has had.

  • The introduction of Alec Guinness is such stabilizing force (pun intended) on this movie. The fact that he is playing it so seriously makes it work. He also has a palpable effect on the quality of the Luke performance, in the scenes they share.

  • Harrison Ford: cool guy.

  • Carrie Fisher is doing a kind-of Mid-Atlantic accent in this movie that I don't think carries-over to the sequels. Maybe that is on purposes, as she is dropping the “princess” persona. Either way, I like it.

  • The heroes are so casual, wandering around the Death Star. Like, they're just hanging out with their feet up, talking loud, opening doors; kinda silly. At least Ben does the ole “what's that over there?” trick.

  • There's one shot, during the Vader v. Kenobi fight, when Ben's lightsaber is pointing at the camera, when the visual effect looks really weird. It looks like the saber is fizzling-out, which I don't think is the intention. I wonder why they left that in the movie?

  • The space battle and trench-run is so exciting. The cockpit shots are so good and I love that the pilots don't look like a bunch of actors. Their patter is not overly-written, which I think makes the stakes feel more real.

  • …However, there is one POV shot of a ship dropping down into the trench, which gets re-used during the battle. C'mon.

Fitting that I would end with a nit-pick, but I still love this movie. It just works.

I'm sure nothing that I've said here hasn't been said before, but these are some of the thoughts I had, when trying to watch this movie like it was the first time.