This is a review of the DVD release of the first Star Wars trilogy - episodes IV, V and VI: "A New Hope", "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return Of The Jedi". Of course there are spoilers all over, but c'mon, everyone knows these movies, right?
Approximately 20 years after the theatrical release, the original "Star Wars" trilogy is being released on DVD. After so much time, i'm looking at these movies with a nostalgic eye. There was much excitement at the time when the movies were originally released, and i didn't fail to get caught in that excitement. And now, 20 years later...
Well, it felt weird to see the movies again. The thrill was obviously not the same; just nostalgia and a sense of wonder - "wow, these are The Movies that made me dream back in the day..." If anything, time made more clear the differences between the parts of the trilogy: "The Empire Strikes Back" stands out even more as the best part, the cheesy bits of "Return Of The Jedi" are even more cheesier, while "A New Hope" feels even more like a weird (but cool) crossbreed between the SciFi and the western genres.
Episode IV, "A New Hope", the first part of the trilogy - looking at it with the objective eye of the time that passed, it reveals more clearly its structure. There's this solid and timeless skeleton of archetypes and legend stereotypes that sustains the plot: the wizard or the sage, embodied by Obi-Wan Kenobi; the young and brave and idealistic (and a bit naive at first) hero who's Luke Skywalker; the cynical thief (smuggler actually) that reveals courage and a noble character underneath bragging and mercantilism... Han Solo, of course; the funny sidekicks - the robots R2D2 and C3PO... And, of course, this deep, dark, menacing, larger than life uber-villain, Darth Vader, masterfully outlined by plot, makeup (um, should i say "props"?), dialogue and actor's play.
The huge impact of this episode, boosted 20 years ago by such scenes as the alien bar (cantina actually) in the Tatooine spaceport (Mos Eisley), the whole mystical dust sprinkled by the concept of the "Force", the hyperspace-jumping ships - all that has faded now. What remains, though, is the neat, straightforward and clean plot. It's the old "the underdogs versus the establishment" thing that drives the movie, and the vibrant energy of this whole new movie subgenre that was given a new life (and, yes, a new hope) by George Lucas. Thumbs up for Episode IV!
Episode V, "The Empire Strikes Back", is a different thing. It's probably the part that faded the least in these 20 years. The movie is on a different level of complexity, from multiple perspectives: the plot, the props, the driving ideas, everything is much bigger and intertwined. This is, by and large, the Darth Vader movie in the original trilogy - the looming, dark figure dominates the screen and the plot as well as he dominates the movie's universe. Everyone else pretty much is running around hellbent on undermining Vader's plans, but their degrees of success are shallow at best. Under the direction of Irvin Kershner, the characters leap out of two-dimensionality and become real, palpable; George Lucas is a genius at creating strange new worlds, but directing is not his strongest part.
"The Force", barely outlined in the previous episode, is greatly developed as a concept in the movie architecture. Starships play hide-and-seek in asteroid fields, and we get to see strange cities floating in the skies on curious distant planets. And there is a whole lot of plot threads that intersect each other without stepping on each other's toes. It's this complexity that adds substance to a movie belonging to a genre which is typically characterised by plot shallowness.
Of course, no one is surprised anymore to learn that Vader is Luke's father, but we still marvel at the sheer scope and width of the action. Episode V was, and remains, the peak of the whole Star Wars saga.
"Return Of The Jedi", or Episode VI, closes the trilogy. It has a few silly aspects, such as the "teddy bears" (Ewoks) that successfully fight imperial stormtroopers using Stone Age technology. I guess the movie had a point to make, but it's delivered rather awkwardly.
Otherwise, it's a decent movie, we get to see the Emperor, Luke is more mature but less interesting (not surprising, huh?), SciFi bikes run incredibly fast through dense redwood forests, we also get to see Jabba the Hutt and his zoo - pardon, his Court, which is this movie's answer to Episode IV's Mos Eisley alien cantina...
Nice movie, probably the trilogy's lowest point, but still fun to watch.
Well, i guess i'll have to talk about everyone's favourite hot topic - the way the original movies were changed when they were released on DVD. Frankly, i don't understand what's the problem. If i was Lucas, i would use better technology to add things that were impossible to make 20 years ago - landscapes were enriched, cities look more impressive, battlefields are populated with more spaceships... In general, the changes improve the experience and contribute to delivering the message more impressively.
Yeah, there is that silly "SciFi rock" sequence at Jabba's court that is kind of laughable. Yeah, the Emperor is changed - but that's ok, since we have a much better image of that character from the other trilogy.
Anakin Skywalker appearing with Obi-Wan and Yoda at the end, instead of the original actor that played Darth Vader? Well, i'll wait to see all three parts of the newer trilogy before deciding what to think. So far, i'm fifty/fifty w.r.t. this change.
Han Solo shooting first? That's ridiculous, who gives a damn about who shot first? The characters shoot almost at the same time anyway. That's just nitpicking from silly Star Wars nerds.
The color saturation was given a large boost. As a result, the movie's colors, which originally looked a bit pale and dusty, are now bright and vibrant. It sometimes bothered me, the image had a bit of a Christmas Tree feeling. But the DVD release does look sharp and detailed - that's very cool.
I'll probably watch the movies again a couple times, looking at them from different angles - either more analytical, or simply more "phased out" and chugging up the fairy tale wholesale. It's still unclear to me how i will "see" the movies then. But, in any case, Star Wars remains That Big Movie Saga that left huge marks on the SciFi landscape. 20 years ago, as well as today, it's the same great fun to watch.
I have no idea how the SciFi world would be like if we didn't have Star Wars, but it would certainly be a different place, surely poorer and less fancy. George Lucas has been criticised in many ways, but he surely got himself a place up there, with the other makers of legend, Tolkien and Asimov and the rest. Thank you, mr. Lucas, for the great story!