With “Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith,” which comes out on DVD on Tuesday, Nov. 1, the galactic saga has come full circle. What a wild ride it was! I think I’m going to be sick.
It was 1977 and things looked grim. Salt Shaker Sr. had just been laid off from the ash tray plant and rumors warned of an imminent Bay City Rollers breakup. A refreshing sci-fi space fairy tale was just what the doctor ordered. (It should have been antibiotics. He wasn’t a very good doctor.) “Star Wars” helped audiences forget their worries and took them to a galaxy far, far away.
Twenty-five years ago, Darth Vader let out his first evil wheeze and The Salt Shaker was there. We thought it would be a fun treat to print our original review of the film that started it all.
Let’s take a journey back in time. (Not literally, don’t bother with the angry letters.)
A So-So Space Opera
by Anakin Mathews
Think of it as the little Science Fiction film that could. A charming little space opera is threatening to take some of the spotlight away from this week-end’s premiere of “Smokey and the Bandit.”
Equal parts King Arthur and Buck Rogers, “Star Wars” defi-nitely keeps your attention for a couple hours but its lasting impact is negligible. Really, who needs laser guns and space robots when you have a black Trans Am with an eagle decal on the hood?
The star of “Star Wars” is a promising young actor named Mark Hamill. He is wonderful-ly understated in his role as the farm boy turned space hero, Luke Skywalker. He couples his Midwestern good looks and definite acting chops to deliver some memorable lines, “But I was going to the Toshi station to pick up some power convert-ers. WAAAAHH!” This is definitely a breakout role for the young artiste. With or without the wars, Hamill’s star is definitely on the rise.
Skywalker leaves his humble beginnings, and the charred corpses of family members, on his home planet to pursue his dreams into the heavens. Thus begins a quest to rescue a damsel in distress, Princess Leia (played by Carrie Fisher, daughter of Eddie). The sexual chemistry between bun-coifed Leia and Skywalker is red hot. The couple fails to reach the carnal heights that the roles beg for, but let your imagination run wild! Luke + Leia = Sex, Sex. Sex. Best of all, Carrie Fisher will never get fat and crazy.
Accompanying the majestic Skywalker is an entourage of colorful characters. British act-ing heavyweight Alec Guinness plays Buford T. Justice, a sage warlock of the Merlin tradition. Two “droyds,” another name for robots, supply the comic relief. Their names are a bizarre combination of numbers and letters that no one will be able to remember. I can hardly ask for WD-40 at the local hardware, thank you very much. Tony Randall is the obvious inspiration for the mincing, anthropomorphic, golden “Tin Man.” Meanwhile, the chirping garbage can robot conjures images of some of Dustin Hoffman’s more memorable roles.
The gang hitches a ride with a devil-may-care space pirate named Han Solo; played by former carpenter (I love their remake of “Please, Mr. Postman.”) Ford Harrison. His co-pilot is a howling wolf man named Chewbacca, a whimsi-cal blend of Lassie and Smiley Burnette. Director George Lucas illustrates Han Solo’s transformation from ruthless bandit to gallant hero with a telling introduction. Solo, confronted by a space bounty hunter, shoots the green mon-ster while casually sitting at a table, exchanging thinly veiled threats. That’s right, would-be hero Han Solo shoots first! This scene makes Solo’s valiant transformation that much more extraordinary. Lucas hit pay-dirt with that scene. He must be very proud.
In Lucas we see an auteur in the making. Plenty of excite-ment surrounds the ground-breaking special effects of “Star Wars.” However, Lucas manages to keep the spectacle in check and concentrate on story and character develop-ment. Expect Lucas to leave this space odyssey behind and focus on more thought-provoking, dialogue-driven material.
Perhaps most lacking in “Star Wars” is a memorable villain to contend with the swashbuckling farm hands and laser-shooting dog boys. The galaxy is enslaved by an evil empire called the “Empire.” This army of intergalactic Neo-Nazis is led by Grand Moff Tarkin, capably played by British horror film star Peter Cushing. His evil henchman is a robotic black knight called Darth Vader. Vader, Buford and Luke are all tuned into the same unseen power called the “force.” It assists them in choking people, controlling the minds of unwitting simpletons and performing a variety of telekinetic tricks. No spoon bending, though. One faction magically chokes people and controls their minds for purposes of good, while another uses the “force” for evil. Vader, of course, utilizes the bad side of the force. It all becomes a bit tedious. This “force” business is going nowhere fast.
With his dorky helmet, ill manners and an obvious case of emphysema, Darth Vader is hardly what you would call a daunting presence. One wishes more screen time was awarded to Cushing, who has experience depicting every hor-ror film heavy from Dracula to Frankenstein. To top it off, Vader’s voiceover work is done by R&B singer Lou Rawls. How about favoring us with a song after you get done choking people, Vader?
Lucas tosses in a planet-demolishing machine and rag-tag band of freedom fighters to move the plot along. Now and then, he awakens the audience with an astounding interstel-lar dog fight. However, the five-year-old sitting next to me at the screening I attended made an awfully good point, “Space is a vacuum. If that’s the case, none of these explo-sions and laser cannons would make any noise. Do they take us for idiots?” Kids say the darnedest things.
In summation, “Star Wars” is the usual good versus evil, boy meets girl, standard Hollywood fare. Albeit enjoy-able, the Science Fiction route “Star Wars” takes is a little to fanciful for discriminating film-goers of the 1970s. Nowadays, people like their entertainment a little more grounded in real-ity. How about a bored farm boy who dreams of owning a cus-tom van with shag rug on the dashboard? Turn the princess into a cheerleader. That would really fill up the theaters.