Let’s dispense with the pleasantries off the top: Star Wars: The Force Awakens is out now, and you’ve either read or actively trying to avoid the 400,000 different articles, interviews and tweets about the movie. So here’s a potentially different approach: a look back at the original trilogy in preparation for the new film.
Thousands of people worldwide have undoubtedly done the same thing to prepare for The Force Awakens, so I figured I’d ignore the obvious points of view and give some random impressions I jotted down, rather than a straight recap, after watching the three films front-to-back for the first time in years. Let’s hit the hyperdrive…
- It takes some level of fortitude to open a film with a three-paragraph opening-credits scroll for a film that does not have any pre-existing universe. (I know this is a Flash Gordon throwback, but, still.) This credits scroll, of course, is beyond famous now, but with the general rule of film plotting being “show, don’t tell”, this could have easily been seen as a lazy narrative device if Star Wars didn’t work as well as it did.
(Editor’s Note: Star Wars was the original name of the movie. I will refer to it as such, and not A New Hope. Also, “Han shot first” is not a real debate, because only Han shot in the original theatrical cut. Good day.)
- Another bold choice by George Lucas: the first two characters we meet in Star Wars are C3PO and R2D2 – not Luke, not Leia, not Han Solo and not Darth Vader. We then follow the droids as they escape their ship, land on Tatooine, split up, are kidnapped separately, re-connect and are sold to…Luke Skywalker. Filmgoers in 1977 must have thought they were experiencing the story of two bickering yet occasionally lovable droids as they journey through the universe.
- While we’re on the subject of character introductions…none of the three leads of Star Wars (Luke, Leia and Han) are given a special introduction. Luke just shows up with his uncle to a droid sale. Leia is briefly shown on the periphery of the picture, hides for a few seconds and is captured. Han is framed in a normal two-shot with Chewbecca, already sitting down once the camera turns to him. Even the opening shot of Darth Vader is a normal shot, unlike the close-ups of his feet that accompany Vader’s first appearance in Return of the Jedi. As the series goes along, the main characters seem to be given more prominence in the frame and with their introductions.
3a. In the fourth draft of Star Wars, Luke has a few scenes before he meets the droids, establishing him as a bit of a brash, lovable kid with a terrific talent for flying and a friendship with Biggs. I actually think this would have been a more effective way to introduce us to Luke than what happens in the film.
- Two strange things happen with our first main stormtrooper interaction in Star Wars: a stormtrooper sets his blaster to stun (which happens exactly zero more times in the trilogy) and a stormtrooper hits Leia with his first shot! See, stormtroopers can aim!
4a. By the way – a running pop-culture joke, for years, has been that no one has a worse aim than a stormtrooper. Something that you’ll notice from watching the trilogy, though – specifically Star Wars – is that no one can aim. It’s a pathetic hitting percentage no matter the character. Honestly, the Ewoks probably have the best aim with their weapons. Speaking of…
- I like the Ewoks! They seem impossible not to enjoy. I laughed out loud at least three times because of Ewok-related events.
Your necessary caveat, however: they are in Return of the Jedi for a CRAZY amount of time. I’m fairly certain one-third of the movie consists of Ewoks attempting to fry Han Solo alive and hit stormtroopers with rocks. This is the film that follows the darkest chapter in the Star Wars saga.
- You know what characters are less likable than the Ewoks initially? Basically all of the main characters in Star Wars. Luke is a whiny brat for a good chunk of the film. Leia does nothing to endear herself for a while. Han Solo just bickers at everyone. I suppose the scene when the three of them are in the trash compactor and sniping at each other is a necessary precursor to the eventual love and affection they develop, but they are serious jerks to each other for a long time.
- This is remedied by The Empire Strikes Back, which surprised me in one particular way – it’s much funnier than I remembered. Empire is the darkest film of the series – one that ends with Luke having lost his hand and a battle to Vader, Han frozen in carbonite and the Empire returning to power. Yet it keeps a steady supply of humor – normally in repetition (the Falcon’s failure to hit light speed, C3PO’s panicked calculation of odds) or in scenes between…
- …Han and Leia. Dialogue is not the strength of this trilogy, but, specifically in the last two films, these two really hold up. Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher’s chemistry is electric at times and the perfect note of easygoing at others. I’m excited to see how they’ve aged in The Force Awakens.
8a. A quick note on dialogue: some of the lines Han Solo has to say in Star Wars are insane. Harrison Ford must have fainted when reading the script. No wonder he wanted Han to die in the sequels. He sells the hell out of mumbo-jumbo about Alderaan and parsecs, though.
- Okay, one more Han Solo note: at the end of Star Wars, Han is hailed as a hero equivalent with Luke for returning and saving Luke at the last minute by blasting Vader and his TIE fighters out of the sky. There is one major problem with this – a bunch of people died at the hands of the Empire, in part, because Han took his reward and left! That dude could have saved a half-dozen more lives if he hadn’t been a selfish jerk, right?
- Something else that confuses me: in Empire, Luke leaves Dagoba before he’s completed his training, against the wishes of Yoda and Ghost Obi-Wan. He then returns to Dagoba in Jedi to complete his training, but Yoda says he has nothing left to do but defeat Vader. So, by going against Yoda and Obi-Wan’s wishes, Luke then ended up completing his training anyway? Is that we’re meant to believe?
- Yoda is supposedly this wise old Jedi master, yet the first time we meet up, he acts like a complete jester…stealing food, throwing random stuff around, acting as if he’s just going to ignore the fact that a random human landed on his swamp planet. He doesn’t actually dispense wisdom for a while. He just acts like a hyena with speech.
11a. Obi-Wan doesn’t actually give Luke that much wisdom, either, come to think of it. We see one training session with a blindfold…aaaaaand then he dies! Good times! (Yes, I’m aware there’s probably more that goes on off-screen, and I know Ghost Obi-Wan gives him more advice as the trilogy goes on, and yet.)
11b. No one has ever spent more time dying than Yoda. His dying words take longer to deliver than the Gettysburg Address.
- This comes as no surprise to anyone who’s watched these movies intensely, but one of the most striking things about the trilogy is the tonal jump from Empire to Jedi. The Empire Strikes Back features Luke in peril from the start, a tense and near-deadly light saber battle, Luke losing his hand, Lando betraying Han and Leia and letting the Empire in, Han being frozen in carbonite, C3PO’s kidnapping and disassembling, Luke defying Yoda and Obi-Wan’s wishes and Dagoba’s general gloomy existence. Return of the Jedi has the single most insane scene in the Star Wars trilogy (the dance number in Jabba’s lair) and approximately 37 hours of Ewok shenanigans.
- This is especially surprising next to the power of the scenes between Luke and Darth Vader – some of the best in the trilogy – and the ending scenes with Luke, Vader and the Emperor. Again, I honestly like the Ewok scenes in a vacuum, but cutting back and forth between the final lightsaber battle and them is a decision that helps negate some of the power of the finale.
- Observations and nitpicks aside, at the end of the day, these are great movies. I watched them back-to-back-to-back in essentially one sitting, and they totally hold up. They’re fun, they’re full of life and they’re wonderfully uplifting, even 30 years later.
Good luck following this act, J.J. May the Force be with you.