Rediscovered? Yeah, right. An old geek like me had forgotten “Star Wars”. Of course not, I still remember the giddy, obsessive adoration “Star Wars” produced. I remember buying a copy of The Sun on the way to school in late 1982 because it had an article about what was rumoured to happen in the forthcoming third film. In the end, the article was so completely wrong it could have been written by one of Umberto Gonzalez’ ancestors (and the threat of one of my school friends to ‘tell’ on me because I’d bought a newspaper with boobies in it failed to materialise) but in the days before the internet and spoilers, any information was voraciously devoured.
I lived through the emergence of the home video market, through “Star Wars” being a surprise early available title and through the bleakness of the earnest belief that Lucas himself had said that “Empire Strikes Back” and “Return Of The Jedi” would never be released for the home market (one of any number of Lucas pronouncements that turned out to be complete bullshit). Of course they were released and I rented the hell out of them. Then I bought them. Then I bought the special widescreen releases. All told, I must have bought at least four or five editions of the films on VHS and DVD. I saw “Return Of The Jedi” in the cinemas on release and saw them all on the big screen during a “Star Wars” trilogy triple-feature and, of course, I went to see each of the Special Edition releases at least twice during those heady early months of 1997. Despite some questionable additions and changes by Lucas, the future for the galaxy far, far away looked bright.
Then “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” was released. I was working a second job at a cinema at the time, so I got to see the film a little early – only a day early, mind you – during a staff screening which was used to check the print before public showings. What a treat, I thought. And when that 20th Century Fox fanfare started up, followed by the Lucasfilm logo, I was grinning ear to ear. Two turgid hours later and my inner “Star Wars” fan – like millions of others – had cried out in pain and was sullenly silent. A couple more viewings failed to dispel the profound sense of disappointment and betrayal. What little hope remained was then ground into the dirt under the jackbooted clone trooper heel of “Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones” which, remarkably, was even worse than the first one. This time, everything was coarse and rough and irritating and the awfulness got everywhere. By the time “Revenge Of The Sith” rolled around, it was just another movie to me and when Padme died of ‘a broken heart’ and newly en-Vadered Anakin stumbled forth like an asthmatic Boris Karloff to deliver one of cinema’s hammiest “Nooooooooo!”s, I was done. A fervent love of a franchise that had followed three movies, two Ewok spin-offs, lacklustre cartoons and a good then increasingly convoluted expanded universe was dead. The Edward Longshanks prequels had hung, drawn and quartered the William Wallace of my fandom.
I ignored the BluRay box set release for a good few years but finally relented and added it to my collection, resentfully buying the full set including the prequels so I could get the special features. But such was my disinterest that I’d never actually bothered to watch any of the movies – or, in fact the special features which had tempted my hand into my wallet in the first place.
So, with the excitement and promise building for the new movie this December, you could say there had been an awakening, and I had definitely felt it. This…new hope, if you will, made me think it was time to introduce The Mertmas to “Star Wars” proper. He had experienced the dark side when he insisted on going to see the 3D re-release of “The Phantom Menace” but it didn’t really make an impression and although he’d seen a few episodes of “The Clone Wars” and “Rebels”, it hadn’t really made an impression. At eight years old, though, was he too old? Too old to begin the training?
Despite Lucas’ tinkering, much of what made “Star Wars” great survived the special editions which is a good thing because as much as I would have loved to show Mertmas the original 1977 version of the film (actually, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it – the earliest I would have seen would be the 1978 re-release which added the ‘Episode IV’ subtitle) I had to make do. Luckily, everything I remembered loving is still there.
The wonderful opening shot of the Tantive IV pursued by the seemingly never-ending Star Destroyer, the triumphantly rich and thrilling score – one of, if not the best ever composed, the sweeping cinematography of the Tatooine deserts all brought memories flooding back. Dialogue – still remembered with almost THX-level clarity – and the iconic moments, from the wistful gaze at the twin sunset to the blue milk, returning to my senses like old friends, long gone. Mertmas is as entranced as I am. The purity of the original film is its lean storytelling. Hints of the wider saga to come are dropped here and there but it’s a singular quest to get the stolen Death Star plans into the hands of the rebellion in the hope of averting the Empire’s ultimate solution. The character introductions are rapid but clever, letting us know all we need to know about our heroes with the minimum of exposition; well at least they were before the dark times, before the tinkering. Luckily I had the foresight to distract Mertmas at the crucial Han Solo/ Greedo moment, and was able to explain to him that Han had shot first because Greedo was a baddie and Solo is a badass. Unlike docking bay 94, there’s no escaping the unnecessariness of the Jabba scene but luckily, it’s more than compensated by the appearance of one of Sci-Fi’s coolest spaceships of all time: The Millennium Falcon.
But it’s when we get to the Death Star that the most evocative aspect of the film hits me: footsteps. The polished floors of the Imperial battle station echo to the clopping sound of a hundred footfalls and it’s a sound that’s so quintessentially “Star Wars” that it makes me smile even now as I type this. The rest of the action is as good as I remember, even if the lightsaber fight is a bit brief and static, but the final assault on the Death Star is still a masterpiece of model work and swooping cameras that provokes a sense of vertigo and momentum often absent in the latest 3D blockbusters.
The Special Edition changes are relatively benign (Jabba/ Greedo scenes aside) and the main impact is to make Mos Eisley more cluttered and populated and, somehow, less wretched than in the original. “A New Hope” is a blending of heroic archetypes and genre mashed homages which works due to its abundance of pure imagination and visual flair. Although the series would come to embrace more complex and darker storytelling (with varying degrees of success), there’s no denying the power of this simple tale of a plucky farm boy and swashbuckling smuggler who join forces to rescue a princess and take down the bad guys. Who’d have thought that the bad guy’s henchman (for that is what Vader appears to be in this movie) would turn out to be such a pivotal character? It’s almost like it wasn’t all thought out in advance…
So, years after the hurt of the prequels, sitting down to watch – really watch – “Star Wars” has proved that much of the charm and magic remains undiminished by time or tinkering and I, surprisingly, find myself nurturing a small, flickering flame of excitement for the new movie and the new “Star Wars” era that’s upon us. Another surprise is that despite the literally hundreds of times I’ve seen this movie, I can still see something I haven’t noticed before. This time, it’s the Death Star plans, which are clearly inaccurate. The turbo laser isn’t on the equator! Seriously, George? All that tinkering and you couldn’t fix that one graphic? For shame.
Back to the reason for watching it in the first place, though: Mertmas is thoroughly hooked. He wants to watch the next one straight away, but it’s past bedtime and I promise him we’ll watch “The Empire Strikes Back” soon enough.