Star Wars ★★★★★

"The force will be with you. Always."

I'm not here either to rationalize my love for Star Wars or to think critically about it. I grew up with it, and while I recognize that it has some problems, I still have an immense nostalgic affection for it regardless. Over the years it's steadily fallen from Great Film to Guilty Pleasure, but the magnitude of my love has never changed. In any case, along with Jaws two years earlier, it helped change American cinema forever. The more I explore the 70's the more I think that change might not have been for the better, but no one can deny its immense lasting influence.

It's interesting to look back at Star Wars now with the current hullabaloo surrounding Guardians of the Galaxy, as the two are (perhaps unsurprisingly) quite similar. At the most obvious level, they're both space operas, and both directors' greatest strengths seem to reside in their world building. In the Guardians Making-Of featurette, James Gunn talks about how his favorite aspect of preparing for his film was designing the world in which it would take place. Likewise, George Lucas created a rich and vibrant universe for Star Wars, but the footage he shot couldn't be cut into a coherent narrative, and his wife Marcia had to step in and save the film in the editing room. He might be a visionary when it comes to imagining other worlds, but he's not a great filmmaker (something he proved when he returned to direct the prequels).

Both films also have simplistic narratives which allow the characters and special effects to take center stage. Where Gunn recycled Marvel's go-to plot structure about keeping the MacGuffin away from the villain, Star Wars similarly revolves around a Nonsense Object (the Death Star plans) the only purpose of which is to resolve the film's conflict. This bare-bones storytelling leaves room for us to fall in love with Han Solo and Chewbacca the same way we're now falling in love with Rocket and Groot. The downside here is that, with the plot playing second fiddle, both movies rely on exposition to move the story forward, resulting in the feeling that seeing these great characters in a better movie would make for a more complete and enjoyable experience.

The similarities continue even beneath the surface as well, as these two movies share the same basic emotional core. Just as Peter Quill loses his mother and is raised under the adoptive gaze of Yondu, Luke loses his family (Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru) and is taken in by a mysterious outlander (Obi-Wan Kenobi). This thematic context (losing and regaining family) informs the entirety of both films, with Quill as obsessed with his mix tapes (gifts from his mother) as Luke is with learning the ways of the Force and becoming a Jedi like his father. The films both begin with loss and end with renewal, using these shifting symbolic structures to establish a new sense of belonging.

The real reason I watched Star Wars for the first time in however many years was not merely because of the new teaser for Episode VII or the fact that I like to rewatch my favorite movies over the holidays. I watched it because I finally got my hands on a copy of the Despecialized Edition, and it really is wonderful to see the film restored without all the meaningless digital extras added by Lucas over the years. The film is only a couple minutes shorter than the latest Blu-ray release, and if I'm being completely honest with myself some of the special effects look worse than their updated counterparts; but I'd sacrifice all this and more on the principle of keeping George's grubby hands off my childhood.

Before I go, can we just talk about how many wipes there are in Star Wars? I'm not just talking about the basic ones (vertical both up and down, horizontal both left and right, diagonal in all four directions at varying degrees) and the slightly more classical ones (regular and reserve iris wipes, inward and outward barn door wipes, both directions of clock wipes, and all sorts of object wipes). Star Wars even gives us the High School Power Point Presentation patterned matrix wipe, my favorite example of which is a 6-diamond wipe in a transition to the Rebel base on Yavin IV. We get it, George, you love Kurosawa. Move on.

100 Favorites | Essential Sci-Fi Canon
Favorites by Director | George Lucas
Top 10 70's Sci-Fi | Spaceship!

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