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Star Wars

Entry updated 9 January 2023. Tagged: Film.

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Film (1977; vt Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, 1978 or [officially] 1981). Twentieth Century Fox. Directed by George Lucas. Written by Lucas. Cast includes Peter Cushing, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Alec Guinness and Mark Hamill. 121 minutes, re-released Special Edition 125 minutes (1997). Colour.

One of the most financially successful sf films to date, Star Wars is an entertaining pastiche that draws upon comic strips, old movie serials, Westerns, James Bond stories, The Wizard of Oz, Snow White, Errol Flynn swashbucklers and movies about World War Two – the ending, for instance, is lifted from The Dam Busters (1955). Lucas may not have succeeded in unifying these diverse elements into a seamless whole, but Star Wars is always visually interesting; Ron Cobb's contributions as "conceptual creature designer" were uncredited. The gratifyingly spectacular – at the time – special effects and martial music hypnotized the audience into uncritical acceptance of the basically absurd, deliberately Pulp-magazine-style conflict between Good and Evil. Young Luke Skywalker (Hamill) becomes involved in a mission to rescue a princess (Fisher) from the evil head of a decadent Galactic Empire.

The Empire's military headquarters is the Death Star, a Macrostructure the size of a small moon and capable of destroying whole planets. With the help of an old man who possesses supernatural powers (Guinness), a human mercenary (Ford) and his alien sidekick Chewbacca, plus two cute Robots, Luke rescues the princess and secures information that enables a group of rebel fighters to destroy the Death Star. He is assisted by a power of good, the "Force", left vaguely ecumenical enough to be equally inoffensive to all. (The Jedi, the knightly order to which the old man Obi-Wan Kenobi belongs, derive much of their power through their ability to tap the Force.) The plot is almost precisely that of a fairy tale. The villainous hit of the film was the Emperor's associate, the asthmatically breathing, masked, black-clad giant, Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones). The film received a Hugo – as did its first two sequels – and a Japanese Seiun Award.

The special effects are very sophisticated for the pre-CGI era. John Dykstra, in charge of Star Wars's miniature photography, used an automatic matteing system with the help of such technical innovations as a computer-linked effects camera. While the model work was created by US effects men – notably Colin Cantwell – the live-action settings and effects were created by UK technicians, such as John Barry, production designer, and John Stears, physical effects.

Star Wars's influence was great, and not just within the Cinema. As a direct consequence of its success, many paperback Publishing houses switched their sf lines strongly toward juvenile Space Opera. The novelization, attributed to Lucas but generally understood to be by Alan Dean Foster, is Star Wars (1976). The two immediate sequels are Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back and Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983), and a second trilogy appeared more than a decade later. The Star Wars novel turned out to be merely the first of a great many books, usually more young-adult than adult, set in the Star Wars universe. [JB/PN]

see also: History of SF; Scientific Errors; Sword and Sorcery; Taboos; UFOs.

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