Retrospective: The STAR WARS Original Trilogy | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Retrospective: The STAR WARS Original Trilogy

With the long-awaited STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS inching closer to the release date this Thursday on December 17th, revisiting the STAR WARS original trilogy has definitely brought back the nostalgia factor. Even after all these decades since the original trilogy's cinema release, the STAR WARS saga remains as timeless as ever. After spending the weekend watching the original trilogy all over again, here's my retrospective as follows:

STAR WARS (1977)

THE STORY: When Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) is held hostage by the tyrannical Darth Vader (David Prowse, voiced by James Earl Jones), it is up to a young boy from the planet Tatooine named Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and his new allies -- Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), Obi Wan-Kenobi (Alec Guinness), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) -- to rescue the princess and destroy the Galactic Empire's armoured space station, the Death Star.

THE GOOD: STAR WARS is a cinematic history that single-handedly changed the movie industry. It is easily one of the greatest and most influential science-fiction genre of all time. Even almost 40 years after its original release on May 1977, STAR WARS remains as fresh and relevant as ever.

What makes this movie such an iconic and long-lasting blockbuster staple is the way George Lucas approaches the story with a fun, yet pulpy B-movie sensibility that pays homage to the old FLASH GORDON movie serials from the 1930s. Then there's the colourful introduction of an ensemble cast that forever engraved into our memories. There's the young and reckless Luke Skywalker; the rugged and devil-may-care smuggler Han Solo; the lovely and feisty Princess Leia; the tough but soft-hearted hairy Wookiee of Chewbacca; the wise old hermit Obi-Wan Kenobi; the small but resourceful robot of R2-D2; the talkative golden android of C-3PO; and of course, the fearless masked villain Darth Vader.

Speaking of Darth Vader, James Earl Jones' distinctive voice is pitch perfect and delivers one-of-its-kind performance that is both commanding and intimidating. Then-unknown young actor Harrison Ford proves to be the epitome of cool, whereby his mix of swaggering charm and cocky attitude made him such an unforgettable character as Han Solo.

Special effects are groundbreaking up to that time, and still holds up well until today. Clocking at 121 minutes, the pace is brisk enough with plenty of exciting action scenes and well-placed humour. Not to forget also is John Williams' legendary score that soared throughout the movie.

THE BAD: STAR WARS may have been an enduring classic, but it is still not without its flaw. Mark Hamill's erratic performance, especially earlier in the movie, is either looking childish or somewhat emotionless (the supposedly heartbreaking scene involving the fates of Luke's aunt and uncle quickly comes to mind).


THE STORY: Following the downfall of the Galactic Empire, Darth Vader returns with a vengeance and retaliates against the rebels. Luke Skywalker, in the meantime, journeys to planet Dagobah to begin his Jedi training with Master Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz). When Luke sensed his rebel friends are in deep trouble, he abandons his training halfway and decides to confront Darth Vader where he subsequently learns the ugly truth about his family secret.

THE GOOD: If STAR WARS is the template of a classic "good vs. evil" sci-fi adventure, then THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK is a polar opposite altogether. Instead of repeating the same formula from the first movie, director Irwin Kershner (who would later direct ROBOCOP 2 ten years later in 1990) dares to subvert its usual genre expectation into a dark and uncompromising sequel. Although such radical change of pace is a risky move, Kershner and his team of screenwriting duo Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan manages to turn the movie inside out with one of the most compelling cliffhangers ever seen in the movie history. Whereas it is a common cinematic knowledge that "good guys always win", that isn't the case for THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK as evil triumphs over good, while the lucky heroes are left pondering their next move following their mission failure and near-death experience. It is this cinematic impact that made the sequel a fan favourite among all STAR WARS movies.

Special effects, in the meantime, are considerably improved than the first movie, with more spectacular action set-pieces such as the memorable battle between the Imperial AT-T walkers and the rebel fighters on the icy planet of Hoth. John William's score is both majestic and rousing as ever, particularly with the inclusion of the powerful Darth Vader's marching theme better known as "The Imperial March".

The recurring characters are all delivered top-notch performances, with noticeable improvement from Mark Hamill's acting range that grows more mature and refined than the first movie. David Prowse/James Earl Jones almost steals the show as Darth Vader, whose performance is more imposing than he did in the first movie. In fact, the sequel is also best remembered for his now-legendary line of "I am your father", which ranked as one of the most startling movie twists ever seen in the Hollywood history during the cliffhanger finale involving an epic lightsaber battle between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. New characters are also introduced, with the mysterious and grammatically-challenged Master Yoda being one of the most memorable centrepieces in the movie.

THE BAD: There's none to be found here. Suffice to say, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK is no doubt a rare sequel that proves to be better than the original since... THE GODFATHER PART II (1974)!


THE STORY: The third and final STAR WARS original trilogy sees the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) personally oversees the construction of the new Death Star, and wanted Darth Vader to convince Luke Skywalker to join the dark side. Meanwhile, Luke manages to execute his elaborate plan successfully with Princess Leia, Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) to rescue Han Solo from the slimy gangster Jabba the Hutt (voiced by Larry Ward). Soon, Luke continues to fulfil his destiny as a Jedi Knight by facing Darth Vader again.

THE GOOD: Eschewing the dark thematic approach that permeated THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, RETURN OF THE JEDI sees the return of the familiar B-movie pulpy fun that is more appealing to the general audiences. Despite reverting to the tried-and-tested formula can be either seen as a sign of creative fatigue or choose to "play safe", director Richard Marquand still manages to do a good job keeping the pace alive with full of vigour and energy. Action scenes are top notch, while the returning characters give their all with robust and colourful performances as usual. Ian McDiarmid, a newcomer to the series, is both cunning and imposing as the Emperor. The introduction of fuzzy little creatures known as the Ewoks is surprisingly less annoying than I first saw them in the VHS cassette many years ago. Instead, I find their appearances bring a welcome touch of lightheartedness to the movie.

THE BAD: The cheesy and cringe-worthy factor is back, at least for the first 30 minutes involving the rescue mission at Jabba the Hutt's desert palace in Tatooine! It's kind of disheartening to see the iconic bounty hunter Boba Fett (Jeremy Bulloch) gets abruptly killed off in a... unintentionally comical fashion that you have to see it for yourself. But what's bothering me the most is the final scene involving the lame (and somewhat easy) defeat of the Emperor.


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