STAR WARS (1977)

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Too much has been said about this benchmark blockbuster so I’ll try and keep it on a personal tip (as opposed to a ragga one).

Before we had a video machine, myself and my 2 brothers would hire out a video player and four video tapes for the weekend from our local video store. I would set my cassette player next to the television and record the audio from all three Star Wars films to listen to them at a later date. (original pirate material). The magic that this created in our minds was epic, being transported away (albeit only aurally and imaginatively) into this world to be told this epic tale of a simple farm boy, a princess and a smuggler and some robots in space was all we needed to be entertained. As we had only had the chance to see them a couple of times each when they were first released at the cinema, listening to the tapes was infinitely better than not having anything. That says a lot about the effect they had on us.

Star Wars changed everything; what was possible in film, indeed it transformed a great deal about the film industry in Hollywood and would have an effect on how films were marketed, distributed and sold around the world.

George Lucas wrote and directed this film and frugally kept most of the rights to all merchandising, this had never been done before and along with the founding of Industrial Lights and Magic, the effects company that went on to revolutionise what could be done with special effects in film, he made more than a stack of dough over the years. Coming off the back of directing the sci-fi film THX 1138 and the coming of age film American Graffiti, he was very much part of the new auteur directors of Hollywood of the late 1960’s/70’s. These original movie brats, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, Brian De Palma and many more were responsible for some of the greatest American films ever made, taking a leaf out of the much more experimental French Nouvelle Vague cinema and eschewing the Old Hollywood way to make films that were relevant, fresh and exciting. The seventies.

Watching Star Wars again 38 years after it was originally released there is no doubt that it’s a classic that stands the test of time. Up until 1999, the original trilogy was viewed a once a year or two, however when the ‘prequels’ came out my appetite for the annual/bi-annual revisit waned. So, with The Force Awakens coming out, it was time for me to go back to the source and what joy it was.

Star Wars-Episode VI A New Hope is pretty much a perfectly constructed film, it sticks to a three-act narrative and follows the hero’s journey faithfully and so, successful story-telling achieved.

The three young stars, Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) and Harrison Ford (Han Solo) were thrust into the limelight to be cemented into cinema lore along with such incredible characters as Darth Vader (“I find your lack of faith disturbing”) surely one of cinema’s greatest villains, Chewbacca (aaarrreeeeooooggghhh), the loveable robots C3P0 (“R2 it is you, it is you”) and R2D2 (bleep sounds); these two characters, incidently were based on characters from Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress, which is definitely worth a look if you are a Star Wars fan, the two peasants (3P0 & R2), the rescuing of the princess, the dark baddie and the music from this Japanese classic heavily influenced this modern space-western; along with the films of John Ford, The Wizard of Oz, Metropolis and others. Obi Wan Kenobi, played with grace and gravitas by the wonderful Sir Alec Guinness (“But of course, I know him. He’s me), the now iconic Stormtroopers, the Jawas (awh-tee-chee), Peter Cushing’s evil Grand Moff Tarkin (“Enough of this. Vader release him”). Not forgetting John Williams’ opus of a score, a true character in the film. And of course, The Force “One all powerful force controlling everything”.
This was Lucas bringing in an element of the mystical, a religion without the controlling aspects of our lovely religions here on planet earth, actually this controlling aspect of it seems to be The Dark Side. The Force was shown as more spiritual and the kids of the 70’s and 80’s lapped it up. It helped the New Age scene grow, for sure.

What sets this apart from most space films is that it defies genres. It has everything; a love-story, comedy, mysticism, action, drama, war, sci-fi, I could go on. It does what all those niche genres aspire to do, better that many of the greatest films of each respective genre. Star Wars refuses to be compartmentalised.
It is an every person’s film; there is something in it for everyone.

My only concern watching it this time is the heavily re-mastered element to it. Gone are a lot of the old Henson creatures replaced with soulless Computer Generated Imagery. I don’t have a problem with a director tinkering with his or her work years later but what I find annoying, offensive, almost book-burny, is the fact that the original versions have been taken off our shelves at the request of Mr Lucas. There is more than a little element of ‘these are my toys and they shall be played with how I say’. Spoilt, unnecessary and childish. When they released this film in 1977, Lucas and the other collaborators who were birthing the technology were limited, over the years however, the technology has grown and so, by all means tinker tailor away, but what of all those people who went to the cinema in 1977 and have a fondness, a long-lasting memory of the original version of the film? You deny them? I heard that Disney will be re-releasing the original untouched trilogy soon, well of course they will, there be a lot of money to be made for the company but aside over, I look forward to that day.

Until then, the re-mastered editions are all we have access to, but that’s all good, they are still exquisite.

If you are one of the few people on this green planet that hasn’t seen Star Wars-Episode IV A New Hope and you are interested in film and cinema, what is wrong with you?

5/5

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STAR WARS-THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015)

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This is NOT a film review.

“Nothing will stand in our way. I will finish……..what you started.”

To begin, there will be NO mention of plot points or scenes, if you want spoilers, jog on. Remember, this is not a film review.

Wow. What an emotional experience.
As the deadline approached, I found myself getting more and more excited, the force was truly awakening and JJ had seemingly, possibly, maybe, hopefully pulled off a coup; to make a sequel that honoured the originals yet managed to remain in the present (as far as film-making goes). Could this be true?

Everybody is feeling The Force at the moment.

Sat in the foyer on Thursday 17th December, 2015 in Sydney, Australia, the tension was palpable. We took our seats and waited, sat through some god-awful adverts and trailers and then It began (yes, I capitalized the I in it). No Fox fanfare as Lucasfilm is now owned by Disney, simply the Lucasfilm logo and then the opening crawl accompanied by THE music. Shit, it’s been a long time since I felt this. As excited as I may have been in 1999 when The Phantom Menace came out, this far superseded that feeling. I remember leaving the cinema back then sort of making excuses for it in my mind but a second viewing cemented my feelings about it, it was shit. Not so, here.

Could JJ Abrams really pull it off, after the travesty that was Eps 1,2 and 3, they shall, for me, remain in the depths of unneccessary along with the tv movies: Caravan of Courage-The Ewok adventure (which I never saw) and The Star Wars Holiday Special (2.5 on IMDB), mere distractions that came nowhere near close to the greatness of Star Wars, Empire and Jedi.
In my mind, I have erased the inclusion of 1,2 and 3. They are appendices, written badly, at best.

I can say, with confidence that JJ with The Force Awakens has done what Lucas (maybe/hopefully) wishes he could have achieved with 1,2 and 3.

And then some.

By selling the company and passing it along George Lucas has allowed the Star Wars universe to grow and become more relevant to today’s audiences as opposed to some outdated idea of what passes for entertainment these days.

That’s what it needed, a fresh approach from a skilled director who loved the originals as much as we did.

I never expected to have tears in my eyes at various moments during the watching of TFA, but they happened, I’m not ashamed to say it. I’m proud to say it. JJ hooks the audience emotionally by playing on the narrative themes of A New Hope and twisting them in a way that doesn’t seem plagiaristic (is that a word? Just looked it up, it is…..yes). The simpler, the better; gone are the overblown CGI that manages, like most 3d films, to distance you from the film and back are the creatures built by hand, the human touch. There are CGI characters in the film but never do you feel they are not real and a grounded part of this world (stand up and bow-the creators of Maz Kanata, brilliantly played by Lupita Nyong’o). Gone are the overblown, confusing messy politics and gone is Jar Jar Binks (mesa says thank goodness). What is left is the real essential elements of the originals, mythology, a bad-ass bad guy, an Empire that is stronger than it ever was, new characters that belong in the universe and a narrative that follows the rules add a pinch of seasoning and we may have an award winner, ladies and gentlemen.

Pause.

I’m currently listening to John Williams’ incredible score and still reeling from the experience of what I have just seen, it hit me emotionally. It is brilliant.

BUY ON iTUNES HERE

BUY THE DELUXE CD EDITION HERE

JJ has done the seemingly impossible and made a film that is both current and manages to directly link to the originals. All I know is I’m looking to see it again and soon, like in the next day or so. I never thought after all these years that the magic could be revived, let me tell you, it can.

I could just go on and on and on (I KNOW I already have), I just can’t help it. I’ve written a lot and said little but my enjoyment of the film is like MANY others’; an emotional one. Mark Kermode said recently how easy and how much of a joy it is to write about great films. He’s not wrong at least on an emotional level.

Shit, what can I say without spoiling anything?

The cast are all great, the set pieces are tight, exciting and tense, there are quotes, the appearances of old characters get the tingles going, new characters surprise and entertain, there are laughs, tears, heart in mouth moments and more than a touch of humanity.
Excitement, adventure, drama, emotion; this has it all.

Hats off Mr Abrams, you rock.

For me, the film of the year.

Go see it.

5/5