So I decided to watch the original Star Wars trilogy.  This was with some trepidation, because though some youthful entertainments hold up (Peanuts, Pogo, Narnia, Mad), others do not (Isaac Asimov, Archie).  I was ready for layers of cheese, and the awfulness of the prequels.

But no, Star Wars is pretty good.  The set design, creatures, and special effects all hold up well— better than most video games, in fact, despite what Lucas later thought about CGI.  Most of the stuff that seemed cool then— hovering cars, light sabers, the holographic chess set, Darth Vader— still does today.  And the film was a real advance in showing its futuristic technology scuffed and dirty; it looked lived-in.

The story is remarkably simple— it’s all foreshadowed in the opening crawl.  Empire has big weapon; Rebels have stolen plans but lost them; they recover the plans; they destroy the big weapon. It functions perfectly well as a standalone story.

Lucas is fortunate with both his characters and his actors.  They’re archetypes— the innocent, the rogue, the mentor, the evil lord— but that just means they’re the sort of thing that have worked well for storytellers for eons.  It’s certainly not great art, but it’s good entertainment.

The rest of this posting consists of the notes I took while watching.

  • First flyby of the imperial ship is still cool.  Though Red Dwarf exceeded it in sheer hopeless size.
  • Rebel uniforms: dumb.  Cops + vests + teardrop helmets.
  • Darth has kind of a British accent?
  • The KOTOR droids are nowhere near as varied as those in the scene on the crawler.
  • The first part of the movie is decidedly weird— focussing on two droids, one we can’t even understand, in nearly incomprehensible settings.  Intriguing though.
  • Luke looks so young.  (Mark Hamill was 26, but he looks 19.)
  • KOTOR also has an “Anchorhead”, 4000 years before?  In general KOTOR does nothing to make that lapse of time believable.
  • Something that hasn’t held up so well: Luke’s ’70s hairstyle.
  • Pretty funny to hear Darth Vader told off by a general.
  • Alec Guiness looks like he’s having a great time.
  • “It’s the ship that made the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs!”  Oh, that ship.  Moral: always look up your technical terms before abusing them.
  • Greedo, the Rodian, looks pretty plastic.  I watched the original, of course, where Han shoots first.  As he should— he’s a rogue, dammit.
  • “I recognized your foul stench when I was brought aboard.”  A particularly excessive Lucas line… though to be fair, it would pass unremarked in the sort of serials and novels he grew up on.
  • The explosion of Alderaan (and the Death Star later) is pretty cheesy.  Whatever process ILM was using looks good for ships exploding; not so good for planet-size masses.  (The little sparks and dregs disappear off the screen in seconds; a quick calculation suggests they’re moving about 28 million km/hr.)
  • Jedi training is uncomfortably close to the exercise of charismatic gifts.  “Use the Force… trust your feelings”… could you be more specific, jerkface?
  • At least twice the adventurers leave the droids alone, despite knowing that one is containing the most important bit of data in the galaxy.
  • You can tell this isn’t a video game, because they don’t need passcards to get through any of the doors, all the way to the detention cells.
  • “We’re all fine now.  How are you?”  …probably the funniest line yet
  • “You, my friend, are all that’s left of their religion.”  That doesn’t exactly fit in with the overall mythos… after all, we now know that Mr. Emperor Dude is a Sith Lord.
  • Um, why did you take off your helmets before the firefight?
  • Worst garbage disposal system ever.  And really, what are they doing in the cell blocks that they need to dispose of bricks, metal rods, and muck?
  • Han running yelling at the troopers, then running back madly, is pretty funny.
  • Luke’s blaster rifle technique is completely unconvincing: he thrusts it forward with each shot like a kid playing with plastic guns, and apparently doesn’t need to aim.  Han is only slightly more convincing.  Only Leia holds the guns like they’re weapons.
  • The climactic sword fight is pretty bad.  Alec Guiness holds the light saber like a Punch puppet.
  • The Millennium Falcon looks pretty good… better than the Ebon Hawk in KOTOR.  Designers like to add fancy doodads on their models; the MF has just enough detail to look good, not enough that it looks unaccountable.
  • Leia’s hair buns: very regrettable.
  • Is the rotating chair in the gun turret really necessary?  I guess their video screens are crap, but all the moving parts are an invitation for things to go wrong, and I’d think you’d get dizzy.
  • “You think a princess and a guy like me—” “No.”  It’s the facial expressions that make lines like these work.
  • All of a sudden we’re in a WWII movie.
  • Did the Death Star designers anticipate that people would fly into their trenches like that?  It seems so, since they bothered to put in laser turrets.  The turrets seem to do zilch, though.
  • Last scene: finally Leia gets a better hairdo.  But the medal awarding scene is fairly cheesy.  Still, unlike say LOTR (the movie), the movie wastes little time on denouement.
  • Conlang quibble: how can “Chewbacca” possibly be a word in a language that sounds like animal growls?  So far as I could see his speech didn’t contain a single stop.