• George Lucas’ exhilarating Star Wars opens in medias res with the instantly memorable Darth Vader chasing around Princess Leia after the famous scrolling yellow prologue.
  • Like The Hidden Fortress from Kurosawa, Lucas centers much of the narrative deliberately (especially in the beginning) on two non-heroes if you will- in this case, two droids. Lucas borrows from many inspirations (including the Saturday morning serials, the burned-out massacre of Uncle Owen and Aunt Peru from John Ford’s The Searchers), but make no mistake, with The Hidden Fortress and the unmissable wipe edits (which I adore the use of here)—the main source of inspiration is Kurosawa.

signature wipe editing

the burned-out massacre of Uncle Owen and Aunt Peru from John Ford’s The Searchers

  • Parts shot in Tunisia – this may have been the lowest budgeted Star Wars film of all-time. Every subsequent film would have more money to work with) but this was still one of the bigger productions in 1977.

like Kubrick’s 2001– an achievement in world building with miniatures

just one of the many detailed sets

  • Adjusted for inflation, this is still the second biggest US domestic box office smash behind Gone With the Wind – unlike GWTW there’s a rewatchable lightness to this entire enterprise. Lucas succeeds at walking that fine line between hangout film and epic. The stakes are high, but you enjoy the ride as well.

Lucas’ instincts (which would often betray him in the prequals decades later) were almost always right on Star Wars. I mentioned the scrolling yellow prologue, but add the iconography of the Vader mask, his asthma, James Earl Jones with the voice. Lucas (who has always cared about audio as much as visual- maybe more- in his two strong previous films) taps the shoulder of John Williams for the score here and what a decision that turned out to be.

  • And it isn’t just Lucas’ filmmaking instincts that need to be praised- if we’re talking about his creativity, there have been very few films that equal Star Wars on this level. The folklore creation and the depth of the back story for the characters and the world-building inspire awe.

Pauline Kael, who was wrong just as often as she was right about the great films, isn’t crazy for saying “the only attempt at beauty is in the double sunset.” https://scrapsfromtheloft.com/2017/06/23/pauline-kael-star-wars/ – indeed that shot at the 25-minute mark with the purple sky is the greatest cinematic painting in the film. This is not Ridley Scott’s Alien from a visual perspective.

  • There’s an easy control in the performance of Alec Guinness as Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi. I’d listen to an argument that’s too understated—but I think it hits just the right notes.

It is 47-minutes before Harrison Ford shows up as Han Solo—a science fiction version of a gunslinger in a saloon or a samurai warrior with enough energy and swagger to lift the entire film up a level. All the performances are very good -even if Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher start out a little timid.

The inevitable duel and the unspoken samurai code between Vader and Guinness’ Obi-Wan- magnificent

  • I find it fascinating to think about how this one film changed the projection of Lucas’ career. Was he so invested in this world that making a bunch of these was always the plan? Or is this the same auteur/gambler who made two excellent films prior to this (THX, American Graffiti) and without the financial and cultural impact of this film would Lucas have gone on to have the career that mirrored someone like Spielberg? I see no reason from a filmmaking and stylistic standpoint he couldn’t have been Spielberg.
  • The final attack is an impressive Eisenstein-lite montage just like the chase in THX.
  • The formation of the troops at the finale is a small flaw. Yes, it echoes Riefenstahl’s work—but my beef is that Lucas doesn’t assign this type of military rigor to a scene with the empire. That would have been more fitting. It seems out of character that the rebels here call back to the Nazis’ strict order and militarism.
  • A Must-See / Masterpiece border film