I recently stumbled across this film review of Star Wars printed in the July 22nd 1977 Edition of National Review:
THE PERFECT MOVIE
A small percentage of the hundreds of motion pictures made each year are hard-core, X-rated stuff, reviewed only in specialized magazines and designed for a selected, if not select, audience. A few dozen are G-rated, most of them destined for short, profitless lives (the myth that there is an immense demand for "family" pictures is almost always exploded at the box office). The rest are rated PG—which means that parents will usually be guiding their children into films short on nudity but long on violence—or R, which category differs from X in the explicitness of the sex, but not in the amount of gore.
Therefore, as the range of high-quality pictures has narrowed over the last decade or so, the movie audience has narrowed with it. Since bearable children's movies appear infrequently, and since every child now grows up with a TV set within immediate reach, the little kids are more or less lost to the movie theaters; their elders—if they are squeamish or prudish or too upset about the real world's problems to seek them out as "entertainment"—tend to stay home and listen to radio talk shows. So the movie audience is now composed mainly of people from their teens to their forties; and the movies, following the law of popular entertainment—give 'em what they want to see —mirror their audience's presumed tastes and values.
Their tastes are, presumably, raunchy, and their values situational, like their ethics. Coping is hot stuff in the contemporary film: coping with the drear, the
drug traffic, marital discord, premarital adventurism, race hatred— name your problem, and there are a dozen films out this week ready to hand you 93 minutes' worth of advice on how to deal with it. The lost genre is the unequivocal right-besting-wrong story simply told, entertainingly constructed, delightful to experience, and leaving an aftertaste of joy instead of the usual, depressing let-us-now-analyze-it-for-its-contemporary-significance feeling. Last year, Rocky—an old-fashioned love story in modern dress— broke the contemporary spell by resurrecting the genre; and this year's Rocky is Star Wars. The film is a phenomenon at the box office, not only for the reasons Jaws and The Exorcist and the two Godfather films were—its excellence of construction and thrilling narration of a rip-roaring good story—but also for the reason Rocky caught America's fancy: it is unashamedly a fantasy, and if the pollsters haven't yet caught on, America appears sated with reality and wants some magic again.
Writer-director George Lucas (American Graffiti and THX 1138) originally wanted to make a "Flash Gordon" movie but, unable to get the rights to that venerable space fantasy character, decided to write his own story and incorporate into it all the elements of the perfect movie he had dreamed of making from childhood. "Ray guns and running around in space-ships and shooting at each other,"
Lucas says, and "a big battle in outer space, a sort of dogfight thing. I knew I wanted to make a movie about an old man and a kid. And I knew I wanted the old man
to be a real old man and have a sort of teacher-student relationship with the kid. I wanted the old man to also be like a warrior. I wanted a princess too but I didn't want her to be a passive damsel in distress."
He got what he wanted, and we've got the most enjoyable film in a very long time, suitable, doubters should be told, for absolutely everyone; offensive, I should think, to no one except those who prefer to see wrong beat right. It is a silly fluff of a film the very silliness of which is its wonder: it is set, the introduction tells us, "long ago and very far away," but it is actually utopian, meaning from nowhere. It is everything its creator dreamed of and, at the comparatively modest cost of $9.5 million, a technological wonder. (The excruciatingly dull A Bridge Too Far cost $27 million, and Star Wars' noblest sci-fi predecessor, 2001, required $10 million a decade ago.) The only thing depressing about it is that it has an end. (Even so, take heart: a sequel is on the way.)
What Star Wars does is restore to space that mystery of which NASA and the Russians robbed it. We now know what's out there, but Star Wars lets us forget that. The polarities are clear-cut, all ambiguity washed away. Standing for The Force—the Good, that js—is Obi-wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness); and for Evil, the Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing), Lord Darth Vader (David Prowse), and their storm-troopers of the sinister Galactic Empire. The kid Lucas wanted to put in the movie is a simple farm lad from the arid planet Tatooine, a boy named Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), cute as a button and innocent of all vice. Luke joins up with the wise old Kenobi, a swashbuckling space pirate named Han Solo (Harrison Ford), a computer, and a robot, and together they sail off through space to rescue Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) and thwart the imperial forces' heinous plan to obliterate the last vestiges of rebel freedom.
Originally Lucas planned to have his computer and robot serve as the film's stars. Though they've been subordinated now to the humans, they remain in the moviegoer's memory long after Hamill and Ford and Fisher and even after Guinness, who is absolutely perfect in his part. The prissy, almost human robot C3PO (See-Threepio) and the squat, squeaking, ungainly little computer R2-D2 (Artoo-Detoo) provide the ongoing comic relief—or, more accurately, since the whole film is comic relief, the spoof on the technological aspects of the sci-fi genre. Nearly four hundred special effects, many never before possible in movies, lend a continual visual splendor to Star Wars; and the assemblage of weird creatures, magnificent landscapes, fast-paced battles, and utterly ludicrous dialogue that only a child (like me) could adore handsomely supplement the hokey story line and flesh out the two-dimensionality of the lead characters. Star Wars is as old-fashioned and uplifting as Faith and Love, as familiar as Superman, and as bright and new as next spring.