Monday, 14 December 2015

Star Wars: The Original and Still the Best?

Down to business. After heckling at the first two prequels like some kind of impotent chimp throwing his own poop at the screen, I actually quite enjoyed Revenge of the Sith and now I'm back to where it all started; for me and many other Star Wars fans out there.

A New Hope is the first Star Wars film I ever saw as we had it taped off TV when I was a kid in the 80s and it was one of those tapes that just got played and played again and again in my house. I've said it before on this blog and I think it's time to 'fess up again. I'm not the biggest Star Wars in the world: far from it. None of these six films makes it in to my all time top 100 films. Don't hate me. I get why people love them and I love many aspects of them myself. There's just a lot of films out there that I like more. OK confession over.

A New Hope is Star Wars to me. I didn't even watch Empire and Jedi until much later in life. I always tried to watch Empire but found it a bit dull. So this film is where it not only all started for me, but also where it ended! Any of my childhood memories of Star Wars are from this film, and though I remember a lot of the images well, it has also been a looooong time since I've watched it.

The first thing that strikes is me is how much cooler everything looks. The droids have lost their shine. Both C-3PO and R2-D2 look proper scuffed now; like real things that have lived a life and been in some adventures of their own. It's amazing how Lucas starts the film with the droids and doesn't even introduce Luke for around 15 minutes. These two droids are so key to the saga and I kind of wished they hadn't been shoehorned into the prequels to sully their names. Lucky for them, those stormtroopers must have been doing absolutely zero target practice over the last 20 years and so the droids are free to potter around the ship with no chance of getting hit by a single shot from a blaster.

Now for some controversy. I know Darth Vader is probably the most iconic and most loved villain of cinematic history, but when he first steps on board this ship, in full black get-up, I almost miss the sight of Hayden Christensen burning to a crisp, all charred and raging in Revenge of the Sith. I wish there was some consistency between the voice of Christensen in the prequels and the voice of James Earl Jones. The two characters just feel so different and it's hard to reconcile the Anakin of Sith with the Vader of Hope.

It's ironic. After moaning about having too much Anakin in the prequels, and especially because it's Hayden Christensen, I now want some kind of reminder of the man that Vader once was in the earlier films. Honestly, I want to punch myself.

Once things move to Tatooine, it's again amazing how real it all feels. I'm watching the Special Editions so it's not really until Mos Eisley when Lucas splashes a bunch of CGI silliness all over the screen. Until then, it's amazing how real it all feels, even if it is a galaxy far, far away. No wonder kids fell in love with this all those years ago when it first appeared. There's real sand. A real desert planet. Those droids have scuff marks on them. They're old and worn out. They're really there, in a real landscape. When R2 is rolling around the rocky landscape, it is truly magical. Far more magical than all those backdrops of CGI cities and flying vehicles moving in impossibly straight lines that populate every bloody scene in the prequels. Even the Jawas look real. They're actually there. No one needs to stare at nothing in order to talk to them. These scenes hold up beautifully well, even now.

And then, we meet Obi-Wan. Alec Guiness' hair is awesome. He's living the hermit dream, hiding out in Taliban country with his little beard and spouting off about some religious gibberish. Personally, I wouldn't let my kids anywhere near the man, but he's still legendary and I didn't find myself missing Ewan McGregor as soon as I saw Old Ben. One thing I'm incredibly surprised about is how little time him and Luke spend together. His training of Luke is so short in A New Hope. I guess as a kid, watching a film felt like a whole afternoon in another world and you get swept away and swept up in it all. Watching it now, I can't believe how quickly his time is up with Luke. He basically goes 'here's a sword, use the force, now watch me die and bugger off'.

Lucas, it appears, not only has a thing for severed arms, but also for burned bodies. Seeing Luke's Aunt and Uncle all burned on the floor is pretty harsh for a kids film. Not Anakin-frying-slowly-with-his-legs-cut-off harsh, but still pretty vicious. Luke manages to get over it fairly quickly, so there's a good message there for the kiddies about not letting your grief get you down. Chin up eh?

Then it's off to Mos Eisley where Lucas behaves like a small child scribbling all over his own drawings because he hasn't used up all his crayons yet. Suddenly, everything looks fake, and we're right back in prequel-land. Luckily, Han and Chewie show up and Han shoots Greedo or Greedo shoots Han or something else I couldn't give a whimpering shit about happens. Either way, Han struts out and into our collective consciences forever, so just chill out. Han's a sneaky bugger whichever way you look at it, and if it worries you that much who shot first, you need to go outside and take a look at the real world. It's fucked, so don't get in a tither about Star Wars.

Eventually, our heroes make it to the villain's lair to rescue the princess. Ah, the Death Star. This is where it all happens. This is the stuff that sticks in my memory from childhood. The trash compactor thing. Obi-Wan vs Vader. Luke and Leia swinging to safety. There's so much iconic stuff here, it makes me want to weep. For some reason, the one image that I will never forget and that I was most looking forward to seeing again is this one:

It's from the part where Obi-Wan is sneaking around the Death Star by himself and about to shut down the tractor beam. I have no idea why I was so desperate to see this, but it's an image that has always stuck in my memory. Again, this is Star Wars to me. The Death Star feels so real here. And I love the idea of sneaking my way around it on a secret mission I guess. I'm off to get my dressing gown.

I'm sitting on the edge of my seat by this point, waiting to see the Obi-Wan vs Vader showdown that is the real reason why the entire prequel trilogy exists. 'I've been waiting for you Obi-Wan. we meet again at last'. Those lines were filled with so much backstory, so much menace and so much history that I couldn't wait to hear them again. Somebody slap me for what I'm about to say. I don't want to type this...

After watching Revenge of the Sith yesterday, this lightsaber duel suddenly comes across as a bit anti-climactic. Vader doesn't sound angry enough. Has he mellowed right out in the nearly 20 years since Sith took place? He should be fucking steaming after how Obi-Wan left him. I wasn't a huge fan of Hayden Christensen's performance in the prequels, but at least he seemed pissed by the end of them! James Earl Jones' voice sounds cocky, laid-back, calm. Perhaps this makes sense. Perhaps Obi-Wan should be the one who is afraid. After all, he's been cowering in a cave for a couple of decades, while Vader has been lording it up on a freaking planet-sized spaceship.

Still, at least they're both real actors having a real fight in a real location. There's no silly CGI enhancements as Obi-Wan does cartwheels or Vader does back-flips down the corridors. it's just two dudes with a lot of history duking it out once and for all. And then Obi-Wan smiles and it's over. I'm gutted. I could have done with way more Obi-Wan in the sequels, but this is possibly the best moment in the entire saga so I should probably just suck it up and enjoy it. Sob.

I slightly lose interest in the final space battle, but I know that this is the kind of stuff that really got kids hooked on Star Wars back in the day. It is all very exciting and much better than watching little Anakin way back in The Phantom Menace taking down a spaceship. Unfortunately, I've seen all this a few too many times and I'm still getting over how quickly Obi-Wan has been dispatched. After sitting through seven hours of prequels and waiting patiently to see Guinness take over as Obi-Wan and have that all-important rematch with Vader, it was all over far too quickly.

I'm actually quite amazed by how fast-paced the entire second half of the film is. I must have been an impatient kid, because I remember thinking that Star Wars were looooooong, slooooooooow films. Before I know it, we're here in a scene that has permanently been ruined for me by the video below:

And now it's on to Empire! Thanks for reading if you stuck with me through all that and please don't forget to share and comment below!

The Highs and Lows of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

Attacking Star Wars: Attack of the Clones

The Sith Hits the Fan: Revenge of the Sith

Star Wars: Empire Really Does Strike Back

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