Synopsis: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… The Jedi Knights have been exterminated and the Empire rules the galaxy with an iron fist. A small group of Rebels have dared to fight back by stealing the secret plans to the Empire’s mightiest weapon, the Death Star battle station. The Emperor’s most trusted servant, Darth Vader, must find the plans, and locate the hidden Rebel base. Princess Leia, a captive Rebel leader, sends out a distress signal that is intercepted by a simple farm boy, Luke Skywalker. Seizing his destiny, Luke takes up the challenge to rescue the princess and help the Rebellion overthrow the Empire, along with such unforgettable allies as the wise Obi-Wan Kenobi, the cocky Han Solo, the loyal Chewbacca, and the droids R2-D2 and C-3P0.
Star Wars 8.75
eyelights: the plot. the setting. the cast. the characters. the set design. the sound design. the motion picture score. the pace. the editing. the special effects.
eyesores: the incredulity it fosters in some areas.
“Use the Force, Luke.”
I was late to the party. I didn’t even know that ‘Star Wars’ existed until maybe 2 years after its release, when a friend’s parents rented the film on VHS for his birthday party. He put it on, but no one was paying attention and he was very disappointed; everyone wanted to play, not sit in front of the telly.
But I soon made up for it.
Not long after, I was carried by the wave of ‘Star Wars’ marketing that saturated everything we saw and heard. I became a fan, even though I had never seen the film. But I knew it well: I had the collectible cards, the figurines, read some of the comics, …etc. It had permeated my consciousness.
For those of us who grew up in that era, this was something entirely new and fresh: there had never been a movie like this one before, and movies had never been promoted on such a massive scale like this before. Now it’s par for the course, but back then this was something special. It was an event.
Over the years, I wound up watching ‘Star Wars’ countless times. I bought the movies and tons of related products. I was even excited about the 1997 special editions when they first came out because it was a fun new take on the films (until I realized that George Lucas was being a revisionist, that is).
But it became too much. There was too much ‘Star Wars’. Our cultural landscape was over-saturated with it. It was no longer special. Add to this the aforementioned disillusionment with having my childhood memories denied by Lucas and then his ill-advised prequel series, and I was done with it.
Still, with a new sequel coming out, I thought that it might be the right time to revisit the film. I had no intention of rushing out to see the new movie (oh, I would see it, but there’s no rush – I would likely be disappointed with it), but seeing ‘Star Wars’ in its original glory would be a fun thing to do.
And, thankfully, Harmy’s Despecialized Edition is around to save the day!
You see, some of us simply don’t want anything to do with George Lucas’ many Special Editions, the only versions of the original trilogy that the public has been allowed to buy since 1997; what we want are the movies as we first saw them, the way they were when we first fell in love with them.
So some guy who goes by the online moniker of Harmy decided to reconstruct the original films with as much of the original elements as possible. With the help of countless others, who provided him with untampered source material, he recreated the original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy just as we’d seen them.
Boy, let me tell, you… thanks to his efforts I enjoyed the movies more than I’d had in years!
Especially ‘Star Wars’.
(Nota bene: Since the ‘Star Wars’ movies have been already talked about to death, we decided to simply pick apart their strengths and weaknesses as we watched them – in list format and -mostly- in chronological order.)
Light Side of the Film
- John Williams’ score: Let’s be honest: ‘Star Wars’ would never have been ‘Star Wars’ without John Williams phenomenal score and iconic themes.
- Opening salvo with the Star Destroyer and Leia’s ship: That whole scene is way cool, from the moment that the ships rush past the screen exchanging laser fire, all the way to the pod rocketing away.
- Darth Vader’s appearance: This is officially the first time that we see Darth Vader, and his appearance, through the explosion and smoke, is as dramatic as he is enigmatic. Only “The Imperial March” could make this better, but John Williams hadn’t invented it yet.
- C3P0’s silver right lower leg: I had never noticed that before, or had forgotten it, and it was interesting to think that, through the years, C-3PO had a number of repairs done and had to make do with some of the replacement parts. Nice touch.
- Leia and R2: The sight of Princess Leia crouching in front of the R2 unit lends mystery to the situation. We had been introduced to R2 already, but this beautiful young lady was new, and we had no idea what she was up to, let alone who she was.
- The set design: Decades before Lucas relegated almost all the work to CGI artists, he worked with some of the most creative set designers around. Look at the style and detail on these ships, then consider the budget and what came before ‘Star Wars’; it’s phenomenal work and it looks amazing.
- Darth Vader’s predilection for choking: The first time we see Vader do something evil, he’s choking a rebel while interrogating him. And he accidentally snaps his neck; that makes quite the impression. When we discover that he can even do it at a distance, it’s mind-blowing.
- Leia’s not wearing a bra: I love the ’70s.
- Dewbacks: Dewbacks are those large iguanas that the Stormtroopers ride on Tatooine. I don’t know why, but I love the sight of these robotic-looking soldiers on large lizards; it’s a unique discrepancy that somehow works. In moderation and not in CGI.
- Luke’s first appearance: Mark Hamill makes great immediate impression, playing Luke confident (if a bit whiny). You immediately like the guy.
- Luke cleaning the droids: It’s a memorable scene not just for the setting, but the appearance of Leia’s message, which reels Luke in for the remainder of the picture. It also piques our curiosity further, now that we get a taste of what the Princess has been up to.
- “Oh, he excels at that!”: Ha! A little sardonic humour goes a long way. And gets much more mileage than slapstick (Hint, hint…).
- The mysterious, but cute, Jawas: Who didn’t wonder about the Jawas the moment that they first saw them? They’re cute, but deadly. And you never see their faces. Are those their real eyes, or are those masks? What do they really look like? What are they?
- Jawa transport design: Yes, it’s just a big box on caterpillars, but it’s in the angles, the colours, the detail… it just looks cool. And it’s an imposing, impressive sight in the middle of all that desert.
- The droid storage facility and the variety of droids: When get into the belly of the Jawa transport, we discover a bunch of other droids there. Who didn’t see such a vast array of droids and not wondered what each their function was?
- The Tusken Raider attack on Luke: As creepy and memorable as the sandpeople were, they didn’t make a huge impression on me until one of them jumped out of nowhere (much like a boogeyman would in a horror film) and pummeled Luke. It was startling. And terrific.
- Obi-Wan checks on Luke: I love the sight of this then-mysterious stranger with his hand out-stretched, reaching to Luke’s forehead, all hidden under his cloak. Again, mystery: Who is this person? What is he doing? What does he want?
- Alec Guinness: Need I say more? He has always been awesome, but Guinness gave gravitas to his part and the picture in ways no one else would have.
- Intro of the lightsaber: Even Vader had kept his own lightsaber sheathed up until this point, so the moment that Ben pulls one out, it’s like “Holy !@#$, WTF is that?” and the audience loses its $#!t over it. So much so, in fact, that the lightsaber has become the driving, omnipresent force (!) of the series – for good or bad.
- Luke and Ben’s chat: Their first real discussion, explaining some of the backstory and Star Wars universe, is crucial to the series’ mythos, and it’s fascinating when you first hear it. The notion that the Force surrounds everything and binds the galaxy together really resonates.
- First sight of the Death Star: Need I say more? Awesomeness in a big metallic ball.
- “I find your lack of faith disturbing”: This line says so much about Vader and creates a moment of utter tension; we realize that disagreeing with him has serious implications.
- The killings of the Jawas and then uncle Owen and aunt Beru: Individually, they are quite a sight. But, taken as a whole, the charred bodies and signs of blaster fire bring home the notion that the Empire is not only nearby, it’s a definite threat.
- The wipes: I love Lucas’ use of wipes for editing. It’s an archaic style but, with a fresh new context like this, it’s been given a completely new life. In the modern era, ‘Star Wars’ owns the wipe; you can’t see it another film without thinking of the franchise.
- Mos Eisley: I know some people (including George Lucas himself, based on the Special Editions) would want Mos Eisley to be grander, more impressive, but I like it fine as is. When Ben shows it to Luke, I’m like “Cool!”. Call me a simpleton if you must.
- Obi-Wan vs the Stormtroopers: Holy !@#$. The guy can make troopers do what he wants them to! So COOL! Forget the fact that Luke is too clueless to understand what just happened, our first taste of the Force was mind-blowing.
- The cantina monsters: Yes, Lucas wanted more of them, but I still love the scene – probably for the same reason as the droids in the Jawa transport; they inspire your imagination, makes you wonder who they are and what their race is all about.
- The role of language in ‘Star Wars’: The creatures all talk different languages, but most of the time can understand each other anyway. This says that many people in the ‘Star Wars’ universe are multilinguists, which I find fascinating.
- Han Solo: $#!t, man… the guy makes an impression right away – partly because of his look and demeanor, partly because of Harrison Ford. The guy is the !@#$. As a kid, I had friends who preferred Han to Luke. I couldn’t figure it out then, since he’s an anti-hero, but I get it now.
- Obi Wan cuts the thug’s arm: We hadn’t seen the lightsaber in action yet, so this was a jaw-dropping moment. That Obi-Wan would use force in such a situation also made an impression.
- The Millenium Falcon: It’s not an intuitive design, but is it ever unforgettable. And now iconic.
- The light speed escape: The first time we see lightspeed travel in the series it’s so damned cool – the stars just stretch out, and off they go. Wow! I don’t remember if lightspeed travel looked like this before in the movies, but man did this movie ever own it.
- Leia vs Tarkin: The verbal melee between the Princess and the Grand Moff is stunning. That this girl would have the cojones to stand up to this guy and do it with all cylinders firing impresses like crazy. There’s some terrific repartee here.
- “That small moon”: The moment that Luke, Obi-Wan, Han and Chewie realize that they’re not headed for a small moon, but the Death Star, whose existence had been kept a secret until then, sends tension rippling through you. Holy crap… what are they going to do now?
- The Millenium Falcon entering the Death Star: The shot of the Falcon entering the Death Star slowly, from the side, is awe-inspiring. This is pre-CGI, and with a low budget, but it looks fantastic.
- Inside of Death Star with the Falcon and Stormtroopers: Another breathtaking sight. Wow…
- The way R2 plugs into the Death Star: How analogue! But so original.
- “The Force will be with you, always!”: It’s iconic now, but this was the first time we’d heard anything like it before. It lends a sense of destiny to Luke. Little did we know…
- Luke’s plan to save Leia: It’s kind of slipshod, but watching him making it up on the spot and executing it is exciting.
- Han’s hilarious improv fail: While trying to prevent the alarm from being raised, Han does some of the worst time-killing improvisation in cinematic history. It’s a riot to watch. He’s not even humiliated by it, either; he just brushes it off.
- Darth Vader’s walk: Watch this guy walk and tell me he isn’t the $#!t.
- Leia takes the reins: In light of how haphazard the rescue plan is, Leia takes charge. I loves me a woman who is confident in her abilities and doesn’t get intimidated by dudes with guns. Go get ’em, girl!
- The trash compactor escape: Leia blows a hole in the wall and instructs the others to jump in. But they argue over it first, and then realize there’s no other way. Cool scene.
- The trash compactor scene: First it’s tense because of the creature creeping about, but the real danger awaits. Wow. What a tension-filled scene! We know they’ll get out of this, but how? The relief they express when they’re saved, along with the laugh it produces, wipes all of that stress away. It’s such a perfect scene.
- Leia vs. Han: Man, you gotta love the tension between them. There’s no love lost there, that’s for sure…
- Han running from the Stormtroopers: It’s a hilarious scene that only works in the theatrical version, because the addition of more troopers in the Special Editions makes it impossible that Han could ever escape.
- Darth Vader vs Obi-Wan: The first lightsaber duel, and not the last, but certainly the most iconic one. It’s more akin to a samurai duel and it focuses as much on dialogue as action. It’s a nice balance.
- Luke and Leia swinging: Another iconic moment, the sight of them swinging away from the onslaught of the Stormtroopers, made that much notable by John Williams’ score.
- Millenium Falcon vs tie fighters: Our first space battle, but probably one of the most memorable ones because it felt real, as did the danger; it wasn’t completely disproportionate like they’d eventually become in subsequent films. And the sight of Luke and Han manning those gun turrets is unforgettable.
- The editing: The editing in this film is so tight, and yet it allows the scenes to breathe, for the picture to tell its story – something Lucas forgot by the time he did the prequels.
- “I care…”: Luke timidly offers his heart to Leia, and it’s really touching. Um, even if she’d already left the room by then.
- The rebel base: Another wicked set.
- The briefing: A sense of purpose and hope is created in this moment. Forget that the graphics are dated; you can also write that off as being a case of the data being written in a simple, frills-free language to facilitate its storage and/or distribution.
- The X-wing fighters preparing for combat: C’mon… the sight of the X-Wing floating in space and then expanding their wings as they ready themselves to attack is phenomenal. Admit it.
- The sound design: All the sounds that were created for this picture, and the way they were mixed together to create the illusion of reality, simply can’t be taken for granted. It is done so well, that it needs to be applauded. Without these remarkable achievements, the picture wouldn’t have been nearly as believable.
- The end combat: Yes, as a whole. The whole damned thing is so skilfully put together and paced, it’s chill-inducing.
- Darth Vader’s ship: Holy crap! Forget the tie fighters! Take a look at Vader’s custom model. Wow!
- “Use the Force, Luke!”: Yet another iconic moment, when we discover that Obi-Wan has transcended death and gives Luke his first lesson in using the Force. And it works (like there was any doubt)! Mind-blowing stuff.
- Han’s return: Personally, given his personality, I’d bought that he was gone for good. In fact it would makes complete sense. But his return is so well-timed and delivered that you can’t help but cheer wildly.
- The award ceremony: Can you say “chills”? Unfortunately, just because it worked so beautifully, it was reimagined to death in the franchise. But this one still stands tall – like its heroes.
Dark Side of the Film
- C3P0 and R2 scamper through laser fire unharmed: Holy crap! I know the Stormtroopers suck, but you don’t know this the first time you see this movie. That the rebels would be equally poor aims challenges one’s suspension of disbelief; there’s literally no way that R2 and 3PO wouldn’t get caught in the cross fire.
- Leia’s poor plan to escape the troopers: After being impressed with her initial appearance, Leia’s weak combat skills douses the moment with cold water. So… let me get this straight: her plan is to lay in wait, shoot one trooper but then try to outrun the other two? And while they’re at close range, at that? Hmmm…
- “Hold your fire. There are no life forms.”: It just doesn’t make sense that the Imperial forces held their fire. Unless they were on a budget and had a quota on the number of shot they could fire. Pffft.
- “Look, droids!”: What the…? Are those droid droppings? Are R2 and 3PO using Tatooine as one big sandbox? If not, then why did one of them randomly lose a circular part? It doesn’t make sense…
- R2 falls over after being shot by the Jawas: Yay, slapstick – a precursor of what was to come. But it does produce a cheap laugh. The problem is that it’s just that it’s not possible, based on R2’s design and center of gravity; he couldn’t teeter over like that.
- Obi-wan scares the Tusken Raiders: Sure, they’re easily startled… but doing so by making a sound and flailing his arms about as though he was stuck in his coat and couldn’t see where he was going is hardly scary. If anything, it’s funny: “!@#$ I can’t shake my way out of this coat!”. Ever see someone stuck in their sweater? There you go.
- The floating droid with the syringe on it: Space technology at its best. Medical treatment at its most accurate.
- The cantina monsters: Although the scene stirs the imagination, some of the creatures are remarkably lame, like reject from a classic ‘Star Trek’ episode. At least it’s just a few of them.
- Obi-Wan’s cantina attack: So, Obi-Wan swipes toward the thug bothering Luke but doesn’t slice him in half – he cuts off his arm instead. Weird.
- Luke and Obi-Wan’s cantina escape: How did Luke and Ben leave the cantina unseen, given that the Stormtroopers weren’t very far away – and in a sparsely-crowded bar, at that?
- “It’s locked.” “Move on to the next door.”: Say what? If the door is locked it’s all the more reason to check, you ninny! Stupid stupid stupid. And far too convenient. This could have worked if Obi-Wan had been on the other side of the door, ’cause we could have imagined that he used the Force, but not with R2 and 3PO hiding there.
- The helmet with a blast shield: So… um.. what exactly is the practical application of such a device if you can’t see anything? The blast won’t kill you, but tripping and falling down the stairs will…
- Lunchbox droids that are underfoot all the time: Is it just bad programming? Or is the Empire trying to keep its personnel on its toes? It just doesn’t make sense for these lunchboxes on wheels to be zipping by all the time like that. People must be tripping all over the place on the Death Star. I’m sure these things must have increased the casualty rate.
- The trash compactor as a hiding place: Um… the Imperial force couldn’t figure out that our heroes are in the trash compactor? And yet they’re not far away, and there’s a gaping hole in the wall (“Sir, there’s a hole in the wall” “No matter. Move along, move along…”). Pffft.
- Lunchbox is frightened by Chewy: Kiddie humour again. Because, really, why would anyone program these things to not only be underfoot, but to know fear as well?
- Darth Vader’s cheap shot at Obi-Wan: Seriously, he takes a swipe at Ben while he’s meditating or whatever? That’s kind of pathetic…
- Obi-Wan’s coat isn’t cut: Despite being sliced by a lightsaber, Ben’s coat is intact. Yes, Ben disappeared. The coat, however, did not; it is still part of the physical world.
- Leia’s buns unravel and ravel again between scenes: Continuity supervisor, you’re fired!
- Luke’s double take: After Han tells Luke he’ll be leaving, he reaches out to him. Luke looks back at him like wounded child. Ugh.
Ultimately, although some of the issues in ‘Star Wars’ create gaps in the plot’s development, they’re insignificant against the power of the Force; the film is phenomenal on too many counts to care about such “trivialities”. In fact, watching it for the first time in nearly a decade, I was stunned by just how good it is.
I hadn’t enjoyed it nearly this much in at least twenty years; I was absolutely giddy with excitement afterwards, and couldn’t wait to watch the rest of the series. For the first time in my adult life, I was truly transported “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.” And I want to thank Harmy whole-heartedly for that.
May the Force be with him.
Date of viewing: November 8, 2015