Doctor Who: Journey into Terror (BBC1, 12 June 1965, Richard Martin)

DoctorWho

An occasional series where I watch and review works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: This is the fourth episode of The Chase, a six-part serial from Doctor Who’s second season. The regular characters – the Doctor (William Hartnell), Ian (William Russell), Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) and Vicki (Maureen O’Brien) – are being pursued through time and space by the Daleks. This week, they seemingly end up in a haunted house…

Faithful to the novel? Count Dracula (Malcolm Rodgers) appears about six minutes in – he opens his mouth and a disembodied voice says his name. He has a cape and two fangs protruding over his lips. He then shows up again a few minutes later and gets zapped by the Daleks… though is unaffected. Also in the ‘haunted house’ are bats, Frankenstein’s monster and a grey-lady ghost woman who shouts “Unshriven!” The Doctor theorises that the TARDIS has landed in some kind of fantasy world created by the creative psyches of humanity. We viewers, however, get a Rosebud-style reveal: it’s actually a closed-down section of a theme park (‘Festival of Ghana 1996, Frankenstein’s House of Horrors, price $10’). Dracula was just a mechanical exhibit.

Best performance: William Russell knows what he’s doing, as ever.

Best bit: There isn’t one.

Review: Lines are fluffed, props are left in shot during the wrong scenes, cameras cast shadows onto actors, cues are missed. It’s a tiresomely sloppy piece of television. The Dracula-containing sequence makes up just the first 15 minutes of the episode.

Two phagocytes out of 10

The Empire Strikes Back (1980, Irvin Kershner)

the-empire-strikes-back-princess-leia-and-han-solo

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

After their encounter during the destruction of the Death Star, Darth Vader is determined to track down the hero of the rebellion, Luke Skywalker – but young Luke is learning more and more about the Force…

WHICH VERSION? The original 1980 cut (as released on DVD in 2006). I like pedantry as much as the next geek, but childhood habit stops me calling it Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back.

GOOD GUYS

* Commander Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and his pals in the Rebel Alliance are hiding out on the snow-covered planet of Hoth. Non-diegetic sources tend to claim this film is set three years after the events of Star Wars, but it feels more like a few weeks to me. Early on, Luke is attacked and captured by a bear-like creature – a sequence cooked up to explain some scars Mark Hamill had from a 1977 car accident – and uses his Force powers to escape. He then plays a big role as the Rebels evacuate the planet after the bad guys find them. But when Ben’s ghost pops up and tells Luke to go to the planet Dagobah, he abandons his pals with no explanation and heads off. On Dagobah, he finds Jedi master Yoda, who further teaches him the ways of the Force. One of his trials is a surreal sequence where he imagines fighting Darth Vader. After a slow-motion lightsaber duel, Vader’s mask is blown away… to reveal Luke’s face. It’s an omen of Luke’s future if he goes down a certain path. He then gets a precognitive vision of Han, Leia and the others in danger (which we don’t see, slightly oddly), so abandons his training to go help them. Fickle, isn’t he? Arriving at Bespin, he fights Vader for real and gets his hand chopped off. (Astonishingly, it’s 96 minutes into film two before Luke and Darth Vader actually meet.) In one of cinema’s best – but most widely known – plot twists, Luke then learns that Darth Vader is actually his father. Upset, he escapes Vader and is later fitted with a skin-covered robotic hand.

* Captain Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is now a full-time member of the Alliance, but he knows he’s a dead man unless he pays off his debt to Jabba the Hutt so says he’ll have to leave. (Princess Leia is clearly upset by this, but would never admit it.) While the rebels evacuate from their Hoth base, he’s frantically tinkering away on the broken-down Millennium Falcon. He won’t leave until he knows Leia is safe, though (what a hero!), and actually takes her with him when she can’t get to her transport. To avoid the Imperial ships, Solo flies into an asteroid field then hides inside a big one. Later, the gang end up in Cloud City, a floating gas mine on the planet Bespin. When the Imperial forces arrive and capture our heroes, Han is tortured then cryogenically frozen and given to bounty hunter Boba Fett.

* Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) wants to make Han jealous, so early on gives Luke a robust kiss on the lips (she’ll regret that later!). She’s in charge of the rebel forces, but is separated from them after the evacuation. She and Han trade sarcasm like petulant schoolkids, but clearly fancy the pants off each other. They actually share a sweet scene together when the facades drop for a moment, but C-3PO interrupts their first kiss. The bickering is forgotten about when Han is later captured and tortured by Darth Vader. In one of the film’s best moments (in one of *film’s* best moments), a terrified Leia says, “I love you,” and Han stoically replies, “I know.” After Han has been frozen, Leia gets her fuck-you on again as she realises they can save Han – you wouldn’t cross her – but his rescue will have to wait for the next movie. Afterwards, she psychically hears Luke’s call for help: a hint that maybe she has some Force skills of her own?

* C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) is upset when his path diverges from his friend R2-D2. On Bespin, he stumbles across some hidden Imperial troops and they dismantle him. Thankfully, Chewy soon finds all the bits and begins to reconstitute his pal. Near the end, 3PO shares a scene with Darth Vader – the only time the two are in the same room in the entire original trilogy. Given that C-3PO is in a sack on Chewy’s back, we can forgive Vader for not recognising him from the prequels.

* General Rieekan (Bruce Boa) is a high-ranking rebel leader who presumably enjoys Waldorf salads.

* R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) goes with Luke to Dagobah, but he doesn’t enjoy it: he falls in a swamp, is menaced by a monster and gets left out in the rain. He’s involved more later on in the Bespin scenes.

* Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) doesn’t get a huge amount of focus – rescuing C-3PO is his main contribution.

* Major Derlin (John Ratzenberger) is a rebel officer who presumably enjoys recounting dubious anecdotes in bars.

* Ben ‘Obi-Wan’ Kenobi (Alec Guinness) appears only as a ghostly image and gives Luke vital plot information and emotional guidance. He’s had a haircut in the afterlife.

* Wedge Antilles (Denis Lawson) is one of the rebel pilots on Hoth; he was also in Star Wars, but I neglected to mention him.

* Yoda (Frank Oz) is a muppet with the voice of Fozzie Bear. In broken, jumbled-up English speaks he does. He’s short, green and elderly, and seems to be vague and comedic, so Luke at first doesn’t realise that he’s the Jedi master Ben recommended. Yoda is at least 800 years old, and he trained both Ben and Luke’s dad. The last we see of him, he’s making an enigmatic reference to Luke not being the good guys’ *only* hope… As well as Frank Oz and his team of puppeteers, Mark Hamill must take credit for how well the character works. By playing the scenes so sincerely, he makes us believe in Yoda as a character.

* Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) is a gambler and all-round cad, who’s now the administrator of the Art Deco-styled Cloud City. He and Han go way back – Han won the Falcon from him, in fact – while he takes an instant shine to Leia. Han’s right not to trust him, though: Lando’s being blackmailed into delivering our heroes to Darth Vader. (Because of this betrayal, my six-year-old self would object to him being listed under ‘Good guys’.)

* Lobot (John Hollis, and not Mr Strickland from Back to the Future as I used to think as a child) is Lando’s mute, part-robotic sidekick.

BAD GUYS

* Darth Vader (body: David Prowse, voice: James Earl Jones) has been obsessed with finding Luke since their paths crossed in Star Wars. Now the Death Star’s gone, he hangs out on a Super Star Destroyer – a city-sized space ship – and we see him sitting in his giant, golf-ball-shaped command centre. No longer tempered by Grand Moff Tarkin, he seems to have executive power over the Imperial forces, though he kowtows to the Emperor when they talk over Skype. For the first time, we get a glimpse under Vader’s mask – he has a hairless, scarred head. Creepy!

* Admiral Ozzel (Michael Sheard) is an Imperial officer who presumably enjoys being the deputy headmaster of Grange Hill. Vader kills him after he misjudges a manoeuvre.

* Captain Piett (Ken Colley) is an officer who presumably enjoys playing Jesus in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. He gets promoted to admiral after Ozzel’s death.

* General Veers (Julian Glover) is an officer who presumably enjoys being the baddie in both For Your Eyes Only and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. He commands the Imperial troops as they attack Hoth.

* The Emperor (body: Elaine Baker, voice: Clive Revill) appears as a hologram projection when he contacts Vader wanting an update.

* Boba Fett (body: Jeremy Bulloch, voice: Jason Wingreen) is one of a gaggle of bounty hunters hired by Darth Vader to locate and capture the Millennium Falcon and its crew. Attentive fans at the time will have recognised him from the 1978 TV special. Fett easily tracks the Falcon to Bespin, then the last we see of him he’s carting Han off to Jabba the Hutt.

* Captain Bewil (Milton Johns) is an Imperial officer who presumably enjoys running the corner shop in Coronation Street. He seems to have a different voice for each of his two lines.

BEST ACTION SEQUENCE: Luke and Vader’s lightsaber duel. It begins in a smoky, archly lit industrial space. Luke gets sweaty but is able to use his Force skills to escape being frozen. The pair then end up on an unbelievably high gantry: Vader cuts Luke’s hand off and implores him to join the Dark Side, but Luke refuses. Vader then reveals that he’s Luke’s dad, and Luke is all like ‘What the actual fuck?!’

BEST COMEDY MOMENT: Han and Leia’s relationship is a succession of smartly written and brilliantly played moments, many of them sharp and witty, all of them brimming with sexual tension. The best comes when Leia falls onto Han’s lap and he grabs hold of her. She demands to be let go. “Don’t get excited,” he says. “Captain, being held by you isn’t quite enough to get me excited,” she replies huffily. “Sorry, sweetheart,” he says with a scintillating smirk, “haven’t got time for anything else.”

MUSIC: Even better than in the first movie. Scene after scene is scored by music of world-beating quality. Just check out the action sequence in the asteroid field! John Williams has also added a killer new theme – the Nazi-like Imperial March.

PERSONAL CONNECTION: When I was a child, I was allowed to rent one film a week from the local video shop in Ormskirk. I picked a Star Wars movie most weeks, occasionally slipping in The Karate Kid or Back to the Future or Superman III or Ghostbusters or whatever just for variation. So I’d seen this film several dozen times before I even owned a copy. I first bought it on VHS when the series was released in widescreen in about 1991.

REVIEW: Like any great sequel – The Godfather Part II, Aliens, From Russia With Love, Terminator 2, Police Academy 5 – this takes what worked in the first film, and then pushes every dial up a notch or three. So while the ambition, scale and spectacle get even bigger, the emotion becomes richer, the storyline more nuanced and the comedy wittier. This is Star Wars plus complexity. Star Wars plus feeling. Star Wars plus subtext. It’s irresistible to assume the credit must lie with the new injection of behind-the-scenes talent. Not having enjoyed the first film’s shoot, George Lucas took an executive-producer role and hired his old film-school lecturer Irvin Kershner as director. His contribution is superb. The first film rode along on a swashbuckling wave. This one does too, but it also puts us much more inside people’s heads. There’s added *soul* to what’s happening. There’s also a noticeable increase of comedy and characterisation. Han and Leia’s bickering is a never-ending thrill: their dialogue constantly fizzes with energy and charisma. Han and Luke’s friendship is similarly believable and fun, though they get very little time together. Even Darth Vader is less of a cartoon villain now: he has goals and desires and moods. As well as a new director, Lucas employed two new writers. Leigh Brackett, who had plenty of film-noir credentials, worked on a draft but then died – so Lawrence Kasdan, who later wrote Raiders of the Lost Ark, was drafted in and he created magic. The script is wonderfully structured – there’s lots of edge-of-your-seat action, meaningful character moments and some terrific intercutting of the plot strands. And the story has a real sense of the shit hitting the fan again and again. Plans go awry, technology breaks down, characters are betrayed. It’s gripping stuff. Meanwhile, there’s a fresh visual tone from new director of photography Peter Suschitzky (Melody, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Krull, lots of David Cronenberg films). The cinematography is a galactic leap forward from the first film, which was actually shot quite flatly. The Empire Strikes Back is a beautiful movie. It uses shallow focus, moody and expressionistic lighting, faces lit by in-scene sources, lots of smoke, and some fantastic bold colours. (Just look at the reds and blues doing battle!) The first Star Wars film was more or less perfect. This is better.

Eleven stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf herders out of 10

Scars of Dracula (1970, Roy Ward Baker)

scars-of-dracula

An occasional series where I watch and review works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: Another vaguely turn-of-the-20th-century time period, again in Transylvania. It’s about a year since the events of 1970’s Taste The Blood of Dracula.

Faithful to the novel? This is number six in Hammer’s series of Dracula movies, so we’re quite far removed from the source material now. The count (Christopher Lee) is resurrected by the dripping blood of a bat, but some locals burn down his castle, so he takes revenge by killing their loved ones. We then cut to Simon (a poor Dennis Waterman) and Sarah (a sexy Jenny Hanley), who are having their wedding reception at the Café Mozart. Perhaps it’s the same one from Carry On Spying. The film actually has a Carry On feel next, as we then meet Simon’s brother, Paul (Christopher Matthews), in a sequence that involves bed-hopping, comedy nudity and a father finding his daughter in bed with a man. When Paul is chased out of the town, he ends up at the fire-damaged Castle Dracula and becomes the count’s prisoner (not unlike Jonathan Harker in the book). Simon and Sarah’s search for him takes them to the castle too.

Best performance: Patrick Troughton, less than a year after quitting Doctor Who, is all ruffled hair, stubble and shabby clothes as Dracula’s dogsbody, Klove. The character was played by a different actor in previous film Dracula: Prince of Darkness.

Best bit: A dryly comedic scene with two slovenly policemen who question a barkeeper and his daughter.

Review: On the whole, the cast aren’t very good, but nevertheless this film has a bit more energy to it than most Hammer stories. The leads feel more like everyday people with reasonably modern sensibilities: for example, sex is no longer deep subtext; characters want it. It’s enjoyable-enough hokum with a disturbing way of killing off Dracula: he burns alive (or undead, I suppose).

Six steins of beer out of 10

The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978, Steve Binder)

HolidaySpecial

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Chewbacca is keen to get home to his family in time for Life Day, but he and Han Solo are delayed by an encounter with Imperial forces …

WHICH VERSION? This 97-minute TV movie was shown on CBS on 17 November 1978. For this review, I watched it on YouTube. The cartoon segment had been removed for copyright reasons, but someone else has helpfully uploaded that separately.

GOOD GUYS

* Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) wants to get home to Kashyyk because it’s Life Day, an important date in the Wookie calendar. However, he and Han Solo come under attack from some stock footage from the first film, which delays their journey. Chewy finally arrives just in time to save his son, Lumpy, from a Stormtrooper. The Stormtrooper gives out a Wilhelm Scream as he falls to his death.

* Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is uncharacteristically sentimental about Life Day, though he clearly knows Chewy’s family well – they greet each other like old friends.

* Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is tinkering on his space ship with R2-D2 when Chewbacca’s family get in touch and tell him Chewy’s gone missing. He turns up again at the end for the Life Day celebrations.

* Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) is hanging out with C-3PO when they try to get in contact with Han. She has a vomit-churning speech at the end, praising the qualities of Life Day, then sings a song to the tune of the Star Wars theme.

* C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) interprets for Leia when she talks to the Wookies.

* R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) doesn’t get much to do.

* We meet Chewbacca’s family – wife Malla (Mickey Morton), father Itchy (Paul Gale) and son Lumpy (Patty Maloney). When he fails to show up for Life Day, they get worried and ask Luke for help. Soon some Stormtroopers and an Imperial officer arrive, and search the house.

* Saun Dann (Art Carney) is a human trader. When helping the Wookies, he has to talk in code in case he’s overheard by an Imperial officer (“…she’s done it by hand… solo…”). He brings a device to the Wookies’ home that enables Itchy to watch music videos; they later use it to distract an Imperial officer with, um, a performance from Jefferson Starship.

* Chef Gormaanda (Harvey Korman) is a camp, four-armed TV chef. No, seriously. Korman also plays a malfunctioning robot in an instruction video and Krelman, an odd customer in a bar who drinks through a hole in the top of his head.

* A hologram (Diahann Carroll) appears in a sequence that looks like a 1970s Top of the Pops when Itchy uses Saun’s virtual-reality headset.

* Ackmena (Bea Arthur) is a bar owner on Tatooine – it’s presumably meant to be the same bar as seen in Star Wars. It certainly has the same jazz band. When a curfew is called in Mos Eisley, she tries to close early but her alien punters won’t listen. So she gives everyone one more drink… then sings a song that sounds like something from Bugsy Malone.

* Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) appears in a short clip from Star Wars.

BAD GUYS

* Darth Vader (body: David Prowse, voice: James Earl Jones) appears briefly in reused footage from the first movie and in a cartoon.

* Boba Fett (Don Francks) debuts in the Star Wars series, 18 months before he appeared in a cinema movie. The character features in a cartoon sequence that Lumpy watches on a vid-screen… Han, Luke, Leia, Chewbacca, C-3PO and R2-D2 crash-land on a planet called Panna, where they encounter Fett. He initially appears friendly, but after a virus affects Han and Luke, we see Fett contact ally Darth Vader. The episode features some appalling animation with terrible likenesses of the characters.

* Chief Bast (Leslie Schofield) appears in the footage from the first movie. How he survived his apparent death when the Death Star was blown up is not addressed.

BEST ACTION SEQUENCE: Aside from shots stolen from Star Wars, there aren’t any.

BEST COMEDY MOMENT: Erm… Nope.

MUSIC: There’s an incidental score by Ian Fraser, and as mentioned a few songs.

PERSONAL CONNECTION: The Holiday Special has never been released on home video. I first saw it about 15 years ago on a pirated VHS. Like a lot of copies doing the rounds, it was an off-air recording of the show’s 1978 transmission complete with adverts.

REVIEW: Star Wars shot on videotape: it looks like Blake’s 7. But that’s far, far away from being its worst problem. After a brief opening scene of Han Solo and Chewbacca, just to remind you that movie characters are in this, there are lengthy scenes of Wookies growling at each other. Ten minutes in, there’s a sequence where one of them gleefully watches holograms dance around for what feels like eternity; later, there’s a spoof of cookery shows, some music videos and a docusoap set on Tatooine. The main storyline – Han and Chewy going missing – is routinely forgotten about in favour of this truly bizarre variety-show format. It’s beyond twee. Beyond misjudged. Beyond woeful. The actors whose faces can be seen look embarrassed. But it’s hard to take your eyes off its sheer unspeakable awfulness.

One tree of life out of 10

Star Wars (1977, George Lucas)

Star-Wars

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

When her ship is boarded, resistance leader Princess Leia sends the stolen blueprints of an enemy space station to ally Obi-Wan Kenobi. However, a farm boy called Luke Skywalker intercepts them and decides to join the rebellion…

WHICH VERSION? Can open, worms everywhere. Star Wars films have been issued at the cinema, on TV, on VHS, on LaserDisc, on DVD and on Blu-ray in a succession of different edits. Each has brought either minor changes – a sound mix tweaked here, a shot trimmed out there – or significant overhauls of key scenes. To all intents and purposes, I watched the original 1977 edit of Star Wars. And it *is* just called Star Wars on this version. The subtitle ‘Episode IV: A New Hope’ wasn’t added until a cinematic rerelease in 1981. However, I watched it on a DVD that came out in 2006, which is a letterbox (rather than anamorphic) transfer from the 1993 LaserDisc, which itself had done some minor remixing to the 1977 cut’s soundtrack. If your head isn’t hurting enough yet, check out this page on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_changes_in_Star_Wars_re-releases#Episode_IV:_A_New_Hope

GOOD GUYS

* C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) is the first ‘person’ we see. He’s a nervous, fussy, jittery robot (or ‘droid’) who’s our point-of-view character for the film’s opening 19 minutes. An English butler of a character, he’s the story’s comic relief.

* R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) is C-3PO’s partner, a forthright, squat, little droid who is trusted with a mission by Princess Leia and doesn’t take any bullshit in his determination to carry it out. Only C-3PO can understand R2’s bleeps-and-whistles dialogue; the two of them have the vibe of a bickering married couple. At the film’s climax, R2 takes part in the assault on the Empire’s HQ, a space station called the Death Star. He always seems to know what’s going on.

* Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) is a young, confident, ballsy, slightly sexy ambassador from the planet Alderaan. She’s also a high-ranking member of the Rebel Alliance, so when Imperial forces board her ship she tasks R2-D2 (who she seemingly picks at random) to deliver some important documents to an ally. When she’s captured, she’s forced to watch as her home planet is destroyed – but she’s regained her spunk by the time our heroes rescue her. She bickers with Han Solo (they clearly want each other) then coordinates the Alliance’s attack on the Death Star. Fisher was 19 years old when she made this film – doesn’t that make you feel ancient?

* Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is the hero of the story, a corn-bred farmer who lives with his auntie and uncle. He dreams of far-off places but can only look on in envy as his friends escape their dreary community. When he stumbles across Leia’s message, he helps R2 deliver it. They soon find Ben Kenobi, an old hermit who knew Luke’s dad. Kenobi is actually a Jedi in hiding – they were quasi-religious knights before the days of the fascist Empire. He gives Luke his father’s weapon and teaches him about the Force, an “energy field created by all living things”, which “surrounds us, penetrates us and binds the universe together”. After Luke’s relatives are killed, he asks to join Ben on his mission to help the rebels; he wants to train to be a Jedi too. (Cults take longer than this to recruit people.) They end up on the Death Star, where Luke and new ally Han Solo have to masquerade as soldiers and rescue Leia. Luke clearly fancies the Princess, and even gets defensive when Han suggests he might have a crack at her. Luke also gets sniffy when Han doubts the existence of the Force – something Luke only learnt about earlier that morning. (There’s nothing like the zeal of a convert, is there?) After destroying the Death Star, Luke and Han are given medals by the Rebel Alliance. Han’s mate Chewbacca is not given one – neither are the two other pilots who survived the battle. Fickle bastards.

* Uncle Owen (Phil Brown) and Aunt Beru (Shelagh Fraser) clearly know more about Luke’s family history than they let on. Owen especially seems keen to keep Luke in the dark, while Beru enjoys drinking blue milk. The pair are killed by stormtroopers. The chilling image of their burnt skeletons haunted millions of childhoods.

* Ben ‘Obi-Wan’ Kenobi (Alec Guinness – how the fuck did they get Alec Guinness?) fulfills the wise-old-wizard role in the narrative. Ben can take care of himself – both physically and by using his Force skills. But should we really trust him? He’s in hiding from the Empire but still using the surname he had when he was a Jedi. And he doesn’t seem to recognise C-3PO and R2-D2, which is odd given what happens in the prequels. Or maybe he does know them: note how he only starts giving Luke details about the past after 3PO has switched himself off… Once aboard the Death Star, Ben gets a sneaky-monkey subplot then sacrifices his life to save Luke. He then talks to Luke from beyond the grave (Luke is totally unfazed by this surprising development). Guinness may have thought the whole project was horseshit – “New rubbish dialogue reaches me every other day,” he wrote at the time. “I just think, thankfully, of the [fee]…” – but he’s terrific in this film. He adds soul to every scene he’s in.

* Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) is a Wookie – a tall, hairy alien – who growls a lot but can only be understood by his friend and colleague Han.

* Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is a rogue, a scoundrel, a smuggler and dresses like a cowboy. He’s sarcastic, world-weary and cynical. No wonder so many of us fanboys developed man-crushes on him. Interestingly, though, a lot of us have been mispronouncing our idol’s name: he says it ‘Haan’. A man under pressure, given that he owes a chunk of money to a gangster, he’s a refreshingly ambiguous character in this otherwise black-and-white story. He’s not short of confidence (“Sometimes I amaze even myself…”) and joins the mission solely for the payday. Soon after we meet him and he takes on Luke and Ben as passengers, he’s cornered by the lackey of an unseen mobster called Jabba. Han distracts Greedo while he surreptitiously slips his gun from his holster then nonchalantly shoots him under the table. It’s a vital piece of plotting, this: we’re not mean to trust this man; he’s selfish and reckless. (When the scene was re-edited for the 1997 special edition, Han shoots only in self-defence. A million geeks cried out in terror.) Han Solo has the downright most coolest space ship in all of sci-fi: the Millennium Falcon, which can do the Kessel Run in under 12 parsecs (whatever that means). It has smuggling compartments, which come in handy when the gang are captured by the bad guys. Before the climax, Han takes his reward for rescuing Leia and fucks off – but he’s clearly feeling guilty about abandoning his new mates, and returns in the nick of time to save the day. He’s given a medal, so presumably this wobble of loyalty is forgiven.

* Biggs Darklighter (Garrick Hagon) is an old mate of Luke’s. He joined the Rebel Alliance before Luke got involved, but is killed during the final battle. (Most of the character’s scenes – including stuff early in the film on Tatooine – were cut out.)

BAD GUYS

* Darth Vader (body: David Prowse, voice: James Earl Jones) makes an arch first appearance: he’s a swish of black in amongst a cloud of white smoke. We’re told that years earlier he betrayed and murdered Luke’s father (who’s not named) after being seduced by the Dark Side of the Force. (Religions, eh? Always making nice people do bad things.) He wears a full suit of all-black armour and a helmet that covers his entire head. No one dares ask if he’s human, an alien, a robot… We do know he’s violent (he strangles someone with his hands) and touchy (he throttles someone via telekinesis after they ridicule the Force). He murders Ben then zeroes in on Luke during the final battle. At the end, he’s not killed off but rather sent spinning away into space – ready for the sequel.

* There are plenty of stormtroopers (did anyone else used to think they were robots?) and Imperial officers. Don Henderson and Leslie Schofield (JOHNNY BRIGGS’S DAD!) play two of the officers.

* Lots of Jawas appear in the early stages. They’re a race of cloaked midget traders (that is, traders who are midgets: they buy or steal and then sell droids).

* The Sand People (or Tusken Raiders) are nomads on Luke’s home planet who have mammoths and cause trouble.

* Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing – how the fuck did they get Peter Cushing? Oh, yeah: because he’d do any old shit) is the commander of the Death Star. He seems to be Vader’s boss and is icy cool and cruel. His arrogance leads to his downfall.

BEST ACTION SEQUENCE: The thrilling attack on the Death Star: a sumptuous 12-minute slice of cinema gold. It showcases world-class model work, really smart editing and some monumental music cues. The tension builds and builds and builds. (The terse dialogue also contains a large amount of unintentional innuendo.)

BEST COMEDY MOMENT: Han pretending to be a stormtrooper over a radio: “Er, everything’s under control, situation normal… Er, had a slight weapons malfunction, but, er, everything’s perfectly all right now. We’re fine, we’re all fine… here… now… Thank you… How are you?”

MUSIC: The score is a masterpiece by John Williams. Whether dark or light, driving action or creating mood, it’s a total joy. There’s also terrific use of character-specific themes (or leitmotifs, to use the musical term). George Lucas once said he designed the Star Wars movies to be, in effect, silent films in terms of their storytelling techniques – and indeed the score conveys emotion and drama much more elegantly than the dialogue. (Ben Burtt’s sound design, meanwhile, is extraordinary.)

PERSONAL CONNECTION: I don’t really remember a time before I’d seen Star Wars. It came out two years before I was born, so I would’ve first watched it on VHS soon after we got a video recorder in about 1983.

REVIEW: The 20th Century Fox logo and fanfare… The Lucasfilm logo… The caption reading ‘A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….’ The Star Wars logo and a triumphant burst of theme music… The crawl of scene-setting text… And then *that* shot of a monumentally enormous spacecraft flying overhead. It’s a thrilling opening, whose power hasn’t dulled after even a hundred viewings. Star Wars is all about momentum, and this beginning propels us right into the middle of the action. We’re thrown into a simple story of good versus evil. It’s a familiar tale of a pure hero to cheer for, a wise old man to offer guidance, a damsel in distress, sidekicks to chuckle with, a maniacal villain intent on evil, and little if any subtext. Mythology scholar Joseph Campbell should’ve got a screenplay credit. As well as the silent-movie vibe mentioned above, the colour scheme is almost black-and-white (with occasional browns). Cliffhanger-heavy plotting highlights the Flash Gordon/movie-serial roots. A Wilhelm Scream or two adds an old-Hollywood connection. And there’s no sex, no swearing, and only flashes of real violence. If you ignore some of the haircuts, it’s practically timeless. But that doesn’t mean it’s not inventive. It’s a totally believable fictional universe, at once both different and familiar. Even now, after so many imitators and plagiarisers, the film feels fresh and textured. The design work is breathtaking: every set, every vehicle, every costume, every robot… There’s detail and nuance and storytelling in each decision. The special effects, meanwhile, are still excellent today, and have the heft and verisimilitude that’s often absent from CGI-era blockbusters. (The use of models for the space battles is worth the entry price alone.) The dialogue is full of exotic references – to spice mines, a language called Bocce, a teen hangout called Tosche Station, the Clone Wars – that mean nothing and everything all at the same time. However, that’s not to say the writing is especially well crafted. Of the cast, Harrison Ford is probably the best at ironing out the kinks in George Lucas’s hackneyed dialogue, giving what are torturously constructed lines some life and humour. In fact, it’s generally thanks to the actors that the characters and situations are so engaging – Mark Hamill is winsome, Carrie Fisher is feisty, Alec Guinness adds gravitas, Anthony Daniels is funny, James Earl Jones is terrifying, and Harrison Ford redefines swagger. Packed full of joie de vivre, Star Wars is an extraordinarily enjoyable escapist adventure. It’s cliché from start to finish, but done so well – so joyfully, so exuberantly, with so much style and pace and panache – that it’s become definitive. It’s as close to perfect as makes no difference.

Ten wretched hives of scum and villainy out of 10