1977: ‘Star Wars’ is a winner

Every year or so, a picture comes along that captures the imagination of the American public. The Graduate, The Exorcist, and Jaws come to mind as examples.

If early audience reactions are any indication, Star Wars, a relatively low-budget film that received minimum preliminary hoopla, is likely to be such a production. There are stories from all over the country of audiences rising to applaud at the end of the film. It is said to have grossed $2.5 million while showing in only 41 theaters in its first six days.

Star Wars is a science fiction, and s.f. stories always sound a little silly in the retelling. This one is no exception.

It is set in ‘another galaxy, another time,’ a classic fairy tale opening. It tells of a rebellion led by Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) against a tyrannical galactic emperor. Alec Guinness plays Obi-Wan Kenobi, a Jedi Knight.

The Jedi are defenders of justice, and they have access to ‘the Force,’ a sort of power that binds all matter. This Force gives them special abilities, but the order has been nearly destroyed by the Emperor. Lord Vader, the arch villain who captures Leia’s spaceship at the outset, represents the ‘dark side’ of the Force. He is the Emperor’s hit man.

The plot of the film, then, concerns Kenobi’s efforts, aided by Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), and a pair of very engaging robots to rescue Leia from Vadęr’s ‘Death Star,’ an enormous space station with planet-destroying capabilities. After they succeed, there is a slam-bang battle when the Death Star attacks the rebel planet.

Don’t let the comic-strip plot fool you. Two kinds of people are going to love Star Wars: science fiction enthusiasts and everybody else.

S. f. fans will enjoy it [because] it is one of the very few films that adequately visualizes s. f. Readers expectations. There are most-satisfying B.E.M.’s (big-eyed monsters, to the uninitiated), ray guns, space-ship battles, weird aliens and robots.

Fans of the genre will immediately recognize Star Wars as ‘space opera,’ a term derived from ‘horse opera’ – suggesting a similarity to the western. There are deep-dyed, [unforgivable], black-clad villains, super heroes who defend justice at all costs, wild chases across the vastness of space, shootouts with ray guns and maidens in distress to be rescued.

But an interesting potential in space opera is that it has all the basic ingredients of the successful thriller in any genre, not just the western. Writer-director George Lucas exploits that potential by creating scenes that are reminiscent of other film types with which we are familiar.

There are passages, for instance, that are similar to the war film. Luke’s attack on the Death Star reminds us of old movies about carrier-based torpedo planes.

The element that holds all this together and makes the thrills work is the special effects cinematography. It is truly dazzling, outdoing even the critically praised 2001: a Space Odyssey. Lucas and producer Gary Kurtz, the team that made American Graffiti, utilized computer technology to assist in the camera rerolling necessary for the opticals and filming of miniatures to make space battles on film possible.

So, by alluding to the more familiar film types and by using splendid special effects work, Lucas and Kurtz have put together a most entertaining science fiction film, one that most people will enjoy. Star Wars illustrates no timeless theme. It has absolutely no redeeming social value, so leave your thinking cap at home. But try it; you’ll like it. And if you do like it; take heart.

There’s probably more to come. The good guys win, but it’s clearly just the first battle in the war. Also, the love interest is left unresolved and the villain escapes. But the best evidence is that Mark Hamill, the star, reportedly signed a three-picture contact. It seems certain that Star Wars II is just around the corner.

–Carrol Fry
Daily Reviewer

(Editor’s note: This review is a reprint from the June 23 edition of the Daily.)

Iowa State Daily, “‘Star Wars’ is a winner” from 8 Sep 1977

For this Star Wars day, here is the Iowa State Daily’s review of the first Star Wars movie — years beforeEpisode IV – A New Hope” was added to the title.

This review was reprinted in the 8 Sep 1977 edition, the first issue of the fall term. The issue in which it originally ran, 23 Jun 1977, is missing from the library’s archive (the entire summer 1977 run of the Daily isn’t archived). The timing of this review in late June places it a week or two after the movie opened in Ames. Carrol Fry, not only a fan of the movie, also appears to have done some research, knowing that more movies were on the table, though rumors included up to four trilogies within a year of Star Wars’ release.

Iowa State Daily, “‘Star Wars’ is a winner” from 7 Sep 1977

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