I think Ebert's essay only focuses on the first film, but I watched the whole series, because, I don't know, I wanted to, and it was worth it. I really love the original three films that George Lucas made. The characters are unforgettable and so multi-dimensional. I think it's a great way to get people hooked into a genre that is sometimes not approachable. We all remember dashing Han Solo and bumbling C-3PO. We can easily relate to the characters, based off of archetypes that Joesph Campbell presented in The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Luke isn't a trained, skilled Jedi when we met him - he's just a doofy kid doing errands for his aunt and uncle. We watch him become talented and skilled as he trains with different masters and guides, and assembles a small crew to help him out. I personally have always found it hard to really hate any of the characters in the original trilogy. They are great characters for adults to like and relate to, but also great for younger viewers. I think it's really good and rare when there are movies that kids can watch that have strong characters in them like Luke and Leia. Luke starts out a normal kid just like them, and then shows them that they can do great things. Leia is a princess, but is excellent with a gun and never needs to be rescued by the boys, since she can do it herself. No wonder girls love her - who doesn't want to have perfect hair and save the day themselves?
Ebert mentions that the story sets up how epic it's going to be, writing, "Two Lucas inspirations started the story with a tease: He set the action not in the future but “long ago,'' and jumped into the middle of it with “Chapter 4: A New Hope.'' These seemingly innocent touches were actually rather powerful; they gave the saga the aura of an ancient tale, and an ongoing one" (The Great Movies, 433). The movie seems important before it even starts. It's a story that has been going on, is famous without us knowing about it. It sets viewers up to anticipate an epic adventure and classic storytelling and characters. The plot isn't new, and the archetypes aren't new, but they work well here. Everything is simple, but sometimes the simplest things are the best. Campbell (and us) see the same outlines to each great, timeless story, and there is something to that formula. It's not always going to work for people, or for every situation, but here, for telling an epic adventure, it works perfectly.
Star Wars marks the end of the "New Hollywood" phase of filmmaking that is so often obsessed over. It started the trends in film we currently experience - big budget Hollywood blockbusters. Star Wars was (and in my mind will always sort of maybe be) the best, but others try, still, to follow on it's coattails. Even Lucas tried for more success, with his disgusting prequels that are so deeply loathed. I would venture that Avatar (like it or hate it) was the only recent movie that ever came close to doing what Star Wars did. It married a technological showcase of special effects with a dopey plot, and it did it pretty effectively, all things considered. While it's easy to just feel bitter about the era of movies that Star Wars ushered in, it's not as though good movies aren't made anymore. They just are harder to go out and see, but I can see that trend is changing as well.
Speaking of prequels (I shudder to even have to address them), the infamy of the failed Star Wars ones is hard to ignore. There was much potential to expand in the universe, as even Ebert mentioned in 1999, writing, "I wonder, too, if Lucas could have come up with a more challenging philosophy behind the Force. As Kenobi explains it, it's basically just going with the flow. What if Lucas had pushed a little further, to include elements of nonviolence or ideas about intergalactic conservation? (It's a great waste of resources to blow up star systems.) " (The Great Movies, 434). He could have gone in a deeper direction, but instead created...well, we all know.
In any case, tonight I was watching the end of Return of the Jedi. The death star had been blown up, and everyone was celebrating. Anthony and I, eight years old again, were beaming. Then - I saw it. "Did you see those? What was that?" I asked, gesturing toward the TV. He skipped back, and we watched again the part where the movie shows people celebrating in different cities. On the roof of a green building stood CGI Gungans, aka little Jar Jars, jumping up and down and waving a flag. You could even hear their stupid voices. We both quickly frowned. "He put those in after," I said, deflated. We continued on to the end, because, well, at least it was hard to notice.
Like I said, I haven't seen these movies for a long time, and I haven't watched any other version than the VHS ones I owned. Imagine my surprise at the end of the film when standing next to the ghosts of Yoda and Kenobi was Hayden Christensen, smirking at Luke. "Where's Vader?!" we both yelled. We watched it again. "It's that stupid moron from the prequels!" I said, to no one, since we both knew, but were too upset to say it the first time. "When did he change that?" Anthony wondered. "Who would know what the hell was going on in that scene unless they watched the prequels? It's not like Vader was ever played by that actor or ever seen as him in the original movies." I fumed. It was shocking how quickly we could be surled and leave our good mood. I'm only sharing this so that if you have some urge to go and re-watch the whole series again, you can be prepared. I guess I had no idea that the end was edited to be some sort to tacky tie-in between the good movies and the failure movies, and I'm still pretty butt hurt about it.
Edited ending aside, I still love the original Star Wars movies. I get so swept up in the plot, and I had a blast watching them again. I know that my love for them that I carry into adulthood has to do with being obsessed with them as a child, and the magic of seeing them for the first time. I know my parents love them because they remember the shock and excitement of seeing them in theaters. I don't know how well these movies hold up for people who didn't see them until they were older. I wonder how it felt to watch them in high school for the first time, once you already know all about "Luke, I am your father," and stuff like that. Do they look more dated? Is the bad story more obvious? I don't know - like most fans, I'm a bit blind in my enthusiasm. In any case, I think these are worth watching again. I never imagined I would enjoy watching them as much as I did! There are DVDs of the original versions out there, but they are hard to find. Maybe the new Blu-ray releases will have an option to watch the not-stupid ending? I hope so, I sort of wanted to buy them.
Have any thoughts on Star Wars? Share them with me in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Star Wars
Red Letter Media review of Attack of the Clones - NSFW
(this is a really long series of video reviews picking about everything stupid about the prequels. It also, in these first few, teaches you everything you need to know about screenwriting and also sums up why the original movies were awesome. And it's hilarious. It's actually so good at explaining the basics of screenwriting we had to watch it once in class.).