In every group there is always one person that isn’t quite in the center circle, but not really on the outside either. Even though George Lucas came through the ranks with the likes of Spielburg, Coppola, and Scorsese, he never really fit into their group. While they began churning out some of their best films, Lucas was quietly sitting in the background waiting for his next opportunity. Having been burned by the Hollywood studios (they hacked his THX: 1138 to bits), Lucas wasn’t going to turn his newest project over to just anyone. After being turned down by various studios, 20th Century Fox took a chance that would pay off greatly for them. Despite the expectations the movie would fail spectacularly, it would become one of the most successful films of all time and become a cultural force that continues to this day.
Set a long time ago, in a Galaxy far, far away, we are dropped into the middle of the action. An opening crawl gives back story as to what is going on in this universe: a civil war in which the Rebel forces are working against the Galactic Empire. Two ships are speeding across the universe, one in hot pursuit of the other. It is revealed to be The Empire chasing down a Rebel ship, thought to have stolen plans for their new space station. In the chaos, two droids use an emergency pod to jettison to Tatooine, but not before Princess Leia stores the Death Star plans inside one of the droids. By chance, the two droids find themselves in the care of Luke Skywalker. From the moment the droids are in his care, Skywalker’s life takes a completely new direction that leads him toward a future he couldn’t have imagined for himself.
Despite the science fiction setting of space, the story is familiar to everyone. Lucas borrowed very heavily from Joseph Campbell’s ‘the hero’s journey’ in writing the script. While the story was eventually split into three movies, the original script for the film was 200+ pages and had elements of all three films. After working with other writers and flushing out a better deal with 20th Century Fox, Lucas split the script into three distinct, yet connected films. The so called “Space Opera” was constantly under revisions, even during shooting. Some important plot elements, such as Kenobi’s death, came about while in the middle of principle photography. Even the name Skywalker wasn’t his original last name. The shooting script had the name Starkiller and some of the characters didn’t have set genders. It’s honestly easy to see why many studio executives might have been nervous when it came to this movie. Not only did it have an always changing script, but they didn’t know if the public would respond to it.
In 1977, it is important to remember that being a nerd or geek wasn’t as ‘cool’ as it is today. They were a demographic that studios over looked. San Diego Comic Con was still relatively new and growing. In fact, it was at the 1976 SDCC that a preview of the film was presented. Even with that, 20th Century Fox still found itself having issues getting the film into theaters. Less then 40 theaters were on board to show the film, so the studio threatened to withhold what was though to be a blockbuster, The Other Side of Midnight. The irony, of course, being that Star Wars ended up doing a considerable amount more then the film that was used as leverage.
You can’t talk about this film without talking about the performances from it’s cast. While there are some definite stand outs (Harrison Ford as Han Solo for one), the ensemble of odd and unique characters makes the whole film a true group effort. From the Abbott and Costello-esque feeling of C3PO & R2-D2 to the utterly intimidating villain Darth Vadar, they have all become engrained in nerd culture. Despite the fact each character is almost nothing more then a two dimensional cliche, it is how they are portrayed and presented that breaths fresh air into standard archetypes. While the first film is the only one on the top 100, it is much more fulfilling to watch all three and see the characters change and grow (especially Luke).
It is easy to see why this movie is on the top 100. The groundbreaking (for the time) special effects alone are a reason to put the film on the list. In fact, it was this movie that allowed for the founding of Industrial Light and Magic (Lucas’ special effects company that is still quite successful). I remember watching the movie on VHS and finding it so interesting and fun. Then, when the films were re-released in the theater, being unsettled by the added effects. just like E.T., the added effects were done with the best of intentions, but just didn’t fit into the rest of the film to me. You can’t even get a copy of the film now on DVD without it having the ‘new’ effects. Thankfully, my parents put my VHS, original presentation in a safe place.
Of all the films on the list, none have reached the level of cultural saturation that Star Wars has. Over Thirty Five years later, people still dress up as Han Solo for cosplay and TV shows still reference the movie as if it was out in theaters. While I may proclaim having equal love for both Star Wars and Star Trek, I would be lying if I said I didn’t tend to love Star Wars just a little bit more. I smile when Chewbacca makes his Wookie noise and cringe when Leia kisses Luke. It is a film for me and many others, the root of our nerdom. It balances the human element with the science fiction element. Even with the abysmal “prequels”, the original film seems to stand up even taller. Even though I don’t care for the additions, watching the movie on a 50″ TV on Blu-Ray was, in a word: Brilliant.