Don’t Let Them End, by Bob Connally

25 Jun

Whenever I see a top 10 list that has say… The Godfather at number 5 and The Godfather, Part II at 3 my face sort of involuntarily scrunches up. If they’re that close just put them together and free up a spot on your list. I also see this happen with Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back and there was no way I was going to have an entry for the original film immediately followed by one for Empire. For me they’re right on top of each other, so coming in at number 3 on my top 10 favorite movies list I give you a twofer.

I don’t remember the first time I saw Star Wars. I was born into a world where it was already the biggest pop culture phenomenon in the world, between the releases of Empire and Return of the Jedi. There isn’t a time in living memory when I was not very aware of Star Wars and I have vivid recollections of playing with hand me down toys from my brother of the characters and the Millennium Falcon. We had all of the major characters, including three Han Solo’s. For some reason the heads always came off of Han so for each decapitated Han there was a replacement until finally my parents must have drawn the line at three. I really should ask my brother why Han specifically was always losing his head. Beyond the toys, we had the storybooks and the vinyl soundtracks and the View-Master reels and all sorts of other knickknacks with the logo on them.  When we got our first VCR when I was 5 the first tape my parents got specifically for me was Return of the Jedi. So yes, Star Wars has always been a big part of my life. Having said that, despite still owning more Star Wars t-shirts than is reasonable for an adult to have, I’m not really a fan boy.

The thing is anymore, when discussing Star Wars, it seems what kind of fan one is (if one is a fan at all) has to be explained. When it comes to what has become a sprawling saga that reaches into novels, comic books, TV, videogames, and any other kind of media one can think of, all that really resonates for me are the original three movies and now The Force Awakens. I don’t worry about which books are considered canon according to Lucasfilm and I’m hoping that if we’re really going to be inundated with new movies for the rest of our lives that they start doing some things that don’t rely on audience nostalgia. I felt like that was okay to do for exactly one movie. The Force Awakens was Disney hitting the reset button and telling us that they know what we loved about the “galaxy far, far away” to begin with and that they’re getting the saga back on course.

However, despite touting itself as being a standalone film, Rogue One relied heavily on, “Hey, remember that!” while telling us a story that we never actually needed in an unnecessary attempt to give the original movie more meaning. There’s also the upcoming Han Solo movie (now complete with major director replacing drama) that I really hope isn’t going to just be two hours of, “So THAT’S how he met Chewbacca/Lando,” and, “Hey, it’s the VESSSSST!” I’m hopeful about Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi coming in December, but if it just ends up echoing Empire that’s not going to bode well for the future of the franchise from a creative standpoint. Not being a fan of Jurassic World, I’m fairly skeptical about what Colin Treverrow will do with Episode IX.

Then of course there are the prequels. There is nothing I can say about them that hasn’t been said brilliantly by Mike Stoklasa in his Plinkett reviews on Red Letter Media. Mike also summed up my feelings about them when he said in an interview that while they didn’t ruin his childhood, “They disappointed my adulthood.” I have no time for anyone claiming a movie that came out in their twenties ruined their childhood. But the soulless Star Wars prequels are just bad movies by any measure. Only Harry Plinkett has made their existence worthwhile for me. If you have never watched the reviews then I can’t recommend them highly enough. They’re hilarious while also being providing intelligent analysis of everything those movies got wrong without bothering to go after low hanging fruit like Jar Jar.

Because I wasn’t born yet when the first movie came out I’ve always wondered what my reaction would have been upon seeing it for the first time in 1977. Of course whatever my age would have been at the time would have been a factor but it always seems to be described as being the movie equivalent of the Beatles appearing on Ed Sullivan in 1964. It changed not only pop culture but culture in general forever. The film industry and the world are vastly different than they would have been without Star Wars. But when it was released on just 32 screens across the country on May 25, 1977 it was just a space adventure movie. There was no reason to think it was going to amount to much. As I said, I was not there that day due to my lack of being born but seeing the original movie on the big screen is still the highlight of my many years of movie going. I’m not talking about the 1997 Special Edition release either.

In 2006, I knew a guy who knew a guy who knew a guy. That honestly is the accurate way to describe that. Well that last guy in that sentence lived not too far from me as it turned out and inside his modest looking home was a 70 seat movie theater. A small group of us had gone over there a few times before and we got to see both 35 and 70mm prints of things like The Blues Brothers, Terminator 2, My Fair Lady, etc. This guy was a part of this subculture of people who somehow got their hands on old film prints and his newest pickup was a 35mm print from the UK of the original Star Wars. He explained to us that it was extremely rare as most prints in the United States had long since deteriorated due to being on lower quality film stock. But the UK showed Star Wars on higher quality Technicolor prints. Even so, as far as this little community knew this was one of only five known prints still in existence. And we were going to get to watch it.

It was incredible. The print was practically immaculate and there was just something about knowing that a lot of people at a theater somewhere in Britain saw Star Wars for the first time on that very print. I really took in what a special experience this was and it always makes me smile to see the opening crawl without the words, “Episode IV: A New Hope.” This was back when people just called it Star Wars because that was its name. I still never call it Episode IV or A New Hope. The only versions of the movies I watch- and I still watch them about once a year- are the original theatrical cuts which were only added by George Lucas on bonus discs on the 2006 DVD re-release. They’re non-anamorphic transfers from the 1993 laserdisc so they don’t look great. Even so, I wouldn’t trade them for the world. I mean I’d trade them for a Blu-ray set that has them but even after Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm, Kathleen Kennedy has stated that they will not be releasing them. There’s the Despecialized Edition which is a meticulously crafted “reconstruction of the theatrical versions of the Star Wars Trilogy,” by a man who goes by the name of Harmy. He states that, “The original shots are painstakingly restored using various sources ranging from VHS, LaserDisc, DVD, Blu-ray to 35mm print scans.” Obviously not legal to buy, they can only be downloaded as massive files. These are the methods one has to resort to just to see a high quality version of the movies that the world fell in love with in 1977, 1980, and 1983.

Now I could go on a rant here about George Lucas trying to systematically erase the original versions of these movies (two of which he did not actually direct), essentially telling us we were wrong to love them in the first place but I’ll just let George speak for himself on that matter. “People who alter or destroy works of art and our cultural heritage for profit or as an exercise in power are barbarians…” Guess he changed his mind about that.

After the original came still the greatest Star Wars movie in 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back. So often people say it’s the best simply because, “It’s dark.” There’s more to it than that. The story is stronger, the character arcs have more depth, the dialogue is better thanks to Lawrence Kasdan, and it did something that the franchise hasn’t really done since, which is do something radically different from what came before it. Kasdan and director Irvin Kershner really embraced taking a risk with it and it more than paid off.

For the companion film what else but Return of the Jedi? No, it’s not at the same level as the two films that came before it but it’s still very good and who’s going to watch those without watching Jedi? A lot of people blame the presence of the Ewoks for this one being the weakest of the three but I think that’s just a case of people picking what seems like the most obvious target. I’ll agree that I’m not a fan of how they end up being essential to the ultimate victory of the rebellion over the Empire and it’s transparent that they were designed to sell more toys. That said I don’t really mind the Ewoks themselves. I think what ultimately holds Return of the Jedi back slightly is that unlike Star Wars it wasn’t a shock to the system and unlike Empire it didn’t really have anything left to surprise the audience with. Yes, there was the revelation that Luke and Leia were brother and sister but after, “I am your father,” it seems like small potatoes. Plus, there’s another Death Star and it feels like there are a number of familiar beats being hit. Still, the climactic space battle and the Luke-Vader lightsaber duel with the Emperor looking on and cackling is still great fun to watch time and time again.

Well as Our Greatest National Treasure once sang, “Star Wars, nothing but Star Wars. Give me those Star Wars. Don’t let them end.” It looks like Disney will not in fact be letting them end. Whether or not that leads to actual good movies remains to be seen.

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