Cultural Rite of Passage: Star Wars (1977)

In a previous post, I confessed that I had never seen any of the Star Wars movies. With the release of The Force Awakens fast approaching, I wanted to see what I’d been missing out on by watching all six Star Wars films in order of release. Now I can finally say I have completed this cultural rite of passage, and it was pretty darn fun. It also turned into some father-daughter bonding since my dad, who was a teenager when the original trilogy came out, watched them all with me. Thanks, Dad!

So without further ado, here are my thoughts on Episode IV (1977).

There has never been a more definitive phrase since “once upon a time.” I’ve heard it before, but having something to tie it to sent chills up my spine. People are will go nuts when this screen appears in December.

The famous crawling text. The slanted words may be revolutionary, but it’s difficult to read! I had to hit pause to make sure I got everything.

Now for the characters:

C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker):

I liked that these two are the first characters we meet. C-3PO  is a protocol droid with the disposition of a Downton Abbey character, and R2-D2 is an adorable little maintenance droid who spends most of the movie sassing 3PO and telling him to calm the heck down (I assume. R2 doesn’t talk–he beeps. Too cute). They’re the perfect odd couple.

Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher):

Princess Leia is a courageous, dedicated woman and has no time for your nonsense. Though Leia’s primary function in this film is to be the person who needs saving, the fact that she’s a smart, respected leader and that her gender is never a reason to question her authority is pretty awesome.

Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill):

For the main protagonist of a fantasy-adventure, Luke Skywalker is not very likable. He’s reckless, immature, and a bit of a brat. He really wants to be a hero, but he gets himself in over his head a little too often. You just want to roll your eyes and condescendingly pat him on the head like, “LOL, that’s cute.” Exhibit A:

Note Leia’s reaction.

Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness):

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For some reason it escaped my mind that the great Alec Guinness is Obi-Wan, so when he first appeared on screen I was happy to see him. Still, I was NOT expecting him to be killed off in the first movie. Luke still has a lot to learn!

Han Solo (Harrison Ford):

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Space cowboy Han Solo has the swagger of a John Wayne character and the cynicism of Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine in Casablanca (1942). Like Blaine, Han Solo is a rogue who initially only looks out for himself, but ends up becoming a hero for a much greater cause. It’s a subtle nod, but clever nonetheless.

Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew):

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Since Chewbacca doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time, I don’t have much to say about him at this point, but he’s a lovable sidekick. I’d like to know how he and Han became pals. Maybe it will be addressed in the upcoming Han Solo prequel.

Darth Vader (David Prowse, voice: James Earl Jones):

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Darth Vader’s entrance (seen above) is probably one of the most epic villain introductions in cinema history. One look at him and you know he’s someone you don’t want to mess with. As a first-time viewer, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel already knowing that Vader is Luke’s (and Leia’s) father, but I wasn’t bothered by it. It actually made it more fun to watch.

I know I’m not the first to observe this, but despite the galactic setting, Star Wars has many elements of a Western, from the (laser) gun shootouts to the saloon-like Mos Eisley Cantina. It also takes strong cues from one of the greatest Westerns of all time, John Ford’s The Searchers (1956). When I caught the film on TCM this summer, host Robert Osborne’s introduction mentioned that The Searchers influenced George Lucas’s filmmaking, and it’s clearly evident in Episode IV. The parallels between the two films are uncanny, especially in the scene in which Luke returns to his aunt and uncle’s home after it has been destroyed by the imperial stormtroopers. In both films, the hero coming upon his destroyed homestead and murdered family is what sets the plot in motion: The Searchers‘ Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) sets out to rescue his niece from the Indian tribe who has kidnapped her, and Star Wars‘ Luke Skywalker declares his wish to learn the ways of the Force and become a Jedi. Although both scenes are no laughing matter, watching them back-to-back is rather amusing. Even the dialogue and cinematography are remarkably similar.

All-in-all, Episode IV was fun to watch and a strong start to the series. It has a good story, the right amount of humor, and impressive visual effects (especially for 1977); I loved the climactic Death Star battle and explosion. And of course, there’s John Williams’ magnificent score, which I believe is a key factor in the movie’s success.

 

Where were you when you first saw Star Wars?

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9 thoughts on “Cultural Rite of Passage: Star Wars (1977)

  1. I enjoyed getting to follow your first take. I saw it in 1977 on the big screen with fellow teen pals. We adored it because it was so new — the spectacle and effects and aliens. I became a Darth Vader fan immediately, being into villains. Bought a misspelled “Darth Vadar” t-shirt and a Chewbacca doll soon after.

    How I didn’t see the racism of the “sand people” says much about 70s America.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I enjoy writing about it. Despite today’s prevalence of sci-fi/action franchises, Star Wars still felt “new” to me, too. Probably because the original trilogy is more optimistic and not nearly as dark or dystopian as what we see today. The optimism is a nice change of pace.

      Liked by 1 person

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