One of my earliest memories is watching A New Hope in Papakura with my family around 1995 or 1996. I would have been 4 at the oldest and can only remember a few snippets from the film but it still remains in the primeval pockets of my earliest memories and impressions.
A New Hope, originally just called ‘Star Wars’ is probably my favourite. I couldn’t tell you any significant reason why (I suspect nostalgia may have a lot to do with it) but every time I watch it I feel like I’m reconnecting with an old friend. I love the way the film opens with a bombastic orchestral score (John Williams is the man!) as the camera pans down to show us we’re above a planet and there are two massive space-ships already engaged in a violent battle.
The first two main characters introduced are droids, the third a princess from a distant world, the fourth a towering terrifying figure clad in black leather and cybernetics.
I love the harrowing dash through the Death Star which goes from a dicey rescue to a narrow escape which comes close to failing many times.
Finally, the assault on the Death Star. I won’t say it’s the best space battle ever, but it’s got to be in the top ten. The ship-to-ship dogfights are thrilling with Vader about to take Luke out, Han showing up at the last second, Luke blasting the Death Star right at the last second and BOOM! Awards ceremony. Credits. Done. Then along came Empire.
The Empire Strikes Back is widely thought to be the best one. This one was always my least favourite because of how bleak it was. It just doesn’t ever get better for any of the main characters and Luke’s part of the story feels like a weird nightmare.
Han, Chewie, Leia, and C-3PO spend most of the film fleeing the Empire, remaining barely a hair beyond their reach. When they finally get to safety it turns out to be false and they’ve been betrayed. Luke spends his time in a gloomy tenebrous swamp learning about the Force from Yoda and having bad experiences in a cave. When he gets to Bespin, he is hunted relentlessly by Vader through the bowels of the city until he is literally hanging by his knees from rigging beneath the facility with the oblivion of a gas giant below him.
For a 10-year-old it was a bit too heavy for me and I used to skip it. Apparently this was the sentiment with many people when it came out because the critical reception was a little divided. Of course now, as I mentioned before, the film is widely considered the best of the entire franchise and one of the best films ever made (thank you Irvin Kershner).
Episode V is a sprawling sci-fi epic with compelling dialogue from Leigh Brackett (who sadly died before the film was finished) and inspiring scope and imagination. A New Hope introduced the Galaxy to us, Empire defined it for us. The slow inexorable march of the AT-AT’s at the battle of Hoth (a battle sequence that influenced countless later films) almost seems metaphorical for the might and unstoppable power of the Empire. The misadventures of the crew of the Falcon going through dense asteroid fields, escaping from giant space worms (it’s called an Exogorth). I could go on but that could take a while so I’ll move on to Episode VI.
This one was my favourite as a kid. It was a lot happier than Empire and was a little more direct in the sense that when people fight, they’re fighting straight on, not playing cat-and-mouse through the subterranean systems of a claustrophobic gas-mine. The simultaneous battles near the end were always a high point for me. The space battle above Endor, the skirmish on the ground, and Luke’s final conflict with his Father and the Emperor.
I used to wonder if Lucas deliberately reflected this in The Phantom Menace (space battle against the Trade Federation, ground skirmish between the Gungans and the battle droids and the shootout at the palace, and the duel between the Jedi and the Sith). The moment when Luke’s rage takes over and he fights Vader to the ground before wailing on him and severing his hand gives me chills. Or the gripping moments as Vader watches the Emperor torture his son, before lifting his master over his head and hurling him down a chasm to his death. It’s enthralling and magnificent.
The Ewoks were… well they were fun when I was a kid but as an adult I’m… less fond of them. Though they are still pretty vicious as they bludgeon the stormtroopers to death. I mean they were going to roast Luke and Han alive. They’re not the worst, but it would have been so much cooler had they been Wookies and Endor been Kashyyyk. Oh well.
In the end, Return of the Jedi ends happy. How could it not? Han is rescued, Jabba is killed, the Death Star is destroyed, Luke confronts his father, Vader is reconciled, and there is a big party at the end. It has a beautiful final tone to it, which was more final before the sequels were released (unless you’re into the extended universe). And I don’t care what anyone says, Lucas made a good decision when he got rid of the Ewok song Yub-Nub.
This is the original trilogy of Star Wars and it sits atop the cinematic Mount Olympus as a beloved shining God. There is so much more to say about it, all of which has been said before which I won’t go into. You all know it anyway. I haven’t even gone into the later alterations that have divided and frustrated many fans (including myself) for decades. That’s a discussion for another time and a much longer one at that.
Star Wars is one of my favourite series of all time. It’s the trilogy that launched a juggernaut of a franchise which has threaded its way so deeply into popular-culture that it seems to have become part of the fabric of everyday life. I know fans have a love/hate relationship with George Lucas, but if I was to meet the guy, I’d love to shake his hand and thank him for creating something which has been a source of wonder, inspiration, and excitement since I was a grubby skinny child waving a bamboo stick around, wishing I could be Luke Skywalker.
P.S. I’ve never heard anyone mention it but Luke took to killing with a concerning ease. He just starts shooting Stormtroopers on the Death Star without a thought. Maybe Womp-rats weren’t all he was shooting with his T-16…
– Tim Baker