Star Wars: Special Edition (1997, George Lucas)

sw_lgi_gallery07

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

WHICH VERSION? In 1997, writer/director/producer/corporate-bigwig/beard-wearer George Lucas returned to his masterpiece and rejigged it for a cinematic reissue. This new edit added some then-state-of-the-art special effects and features some never-before-seen footage. Irritatingly, this ‘special edition’ has since become the default version of the movie for home-video releases and TV screenings. Further minor tweaks were made for a 2004 DVD (that’s the version I watched for this write-up) and again for a 2011 Blu-ray box set. I’ve already reviewed the original film – so instead this is a discussion of the changes made in the 90s. It’s not a definitive list; just a look at the ones I spotted and thought interesting…

* The vintage 20th Century Fox logo has been updated, while a Lucasfilm logo has replaced its old text credit.

* The film has the subtitle ‘Episode IV – A New Hope’, which had actually been on the original too from a 1981 rerelease onwards.

* We get a few new establishing shots of Tatooine. They’re nice enough. R2-D2’s encounter with the Jawas has been colour-timed to make it seem more like dusk.

* The scene of Stormtroopers finding the crashed escape pod has had an overhaul. It’s longer now, with some newly filmed Stormtroopers and computer-generated dewbacks (we only had static models of these elephant-like creatures in the old version). They’ve been digitally added to some existing shots too.

* A nice model shot of the Jawas’ huge sandcrawler vehicle has been replaced by a CGI version, which is pleasant enough and more dynamic.

* Similarly, there’s a new establishing shot of Ben’s house, which is more detailed (and more digitally) than the old one. It tells us that his hideaway is on top of a hill and he has a nice view across the wastelands.

* Luke and Ben’s arrival at Mos Eisley is a lot more elaborate now. There’s new CGI footage of the city streets as their speeder drives into town. It’s crammed full of people and creatures and vehicles – some on newly shot film, some computer-generated. There’s even a bit of comedy. Great in theory, as it expands the city and brings it to life, but the additions stick out a mile – especially the cartoony shots of the speeder.

* In the cantina scene, one of the strange creatures seen in the montage of customers – a wolfman – has been replaced by a new frog-headed hipster alien who’s wearing a beret and smoking a pipe.

* In Han Solo’s confrontation with Greedo, Han no longer simply kills the guy rather than deal with him. He now shoots only in self-defence, after Greedo takes a shot at him. At point-blank range. And misses. This is a justifiably ridiculed, infamously unpopular change, which undermines Han’s entire character arc for the film. It’s like painting in eyebrows on the Mona Lisa or dubbing a new bassline onto a Beatles song.

* The Stormtroopers searching Mos Eisley now have little floating devices following them around (cameras, I guess?).

* An entire unused scene from the 1976 shoot has been added in. Han returns to the Millennium Falcon to find Jabba the Hutt and his cronies waiting for him, and has to use his silky charisma to buy more time before he has to pay off his debt. Jabba is a computer-generated character and is pretty corny-looking (he was even worse in the 1997 cinema version, but the DVD I watched carried out some repair work). The raw footage featured actor Declan Mulholland playing Jabba, but George Lucas claims he shot the scene that way only as a guide. The notion, he says, was that Mulholland would be replaced in post-production, probably by a stop-motion puppet. Well, that’s clearly bullshit. Not only was Mullholland is full costume, but Harrison Ford walks behind and in front of him and even touches his chest at one point – not things you’d get an actor to do in 1976 if the intention is to matte in a special effect. (Han also calls him a ‘wonderful human being’ in the dialogue, though admittedly he’s being sarcastic.) The whole thing is awful. On a story level, it adds little and slows down the momentum. It robs the viewer of first seeing the Millennium Falcon through Luke’s eyes. And the clash of 1970s film and 1990s technology is nothing but distracting. The worst moment comes when, in the original shot, Harrison Ford walks behind Jabba. When later designed for Return of the Jedi, Jabba was given a huge tail – so how can Han avoid it? The solution – to have Han walk up and over it, and for Jabba to grimace in pain – is a pathetic idea and looks absolutely terrible. On the plus side, although not part of the original shoot, Boba Fett has been digitally added to the scene. Nice touch.

* There’s a new shot of the Millennium Falcon taking off.

* When Dantooine explodes, it does so mainly with a focused arc of energy for some reason. The Death Star does the same later on.

* The Death Star hanger now looks more like it does in Return of the Jedi.

* The gag of Han turning a corner on the Death Star and bumping into six Stormtroopers has been altered: he now finds dozens of them.

* There are some new CG shots of the Falcon approaching Yavin.

* The Aztec-style temple on Yavin 4 now looks a lot more weatherworn.

* In the original cut, Luke goes from maudlin about Ben’s death to excited about the upcoming battle very quickly. Now we can see why: a deleted scene of him bumping into old pal Biggs Darklighter has been slotted in. (Biggs’s other deleted scenes from the shooting script haven’t been used – it seems the footage hasn’t survived in good enough quality.)

* We get new computer-generated shots of X-Wings taking off from Yavin 4, then shots of them approaching the Death Star have been replaced by CG versions with significantly more craft. A few CGI shots have been slipped into the main battle montage too. As a surgical bit of editing, it works really well: the geography of the dogfight is a bit clearer and none of the urgency is lost.

* James Earl Jones is now credited for playing the voice of Darth Vader. It’s astonishing to realise he wasn’t listed originally.

REVIEW: First and foremost, it’s really enjoyable to see a good quality copy of Star Wars. Little restoration work was done to the 2006 DVD release of the original cut, allegedly because Lucasfilm felt guilt-tripped into releasing it. So it’s smashing to see the movie shining and gleaming and popping through the TV screen. Most of the alterations in this version are good in theory and liveable-with in practice, but the two big changes to the Mos Eisley sequence – Han and Greedo, Han and Jabba – damage the film significantly. Let’s knock a mark off because of that.

Nine explosion rings out of 10

Ewoks: The Battle for Endor (1985, Jim Wheat and Ken Wheat)

Terak_battleforendor

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

When the Ewok village is attacked and Cindel’s family are killed, she and best mate Wicket must go on the run…

WHICH VERSION? This TV movie was first broadcast on ABC on 24 November 1985. It got a UK cinema release in April 1986.

GOOD GUYS

* Wicket (Warwick Davis) can now speak fractured English, which presents something of a problem when dating these films. He clearly can’t talk like a human in Return of the Jedi, yet everything else – including Lucasfilm’s official publicity – places this film as a prequel to Jedi. Maybe he forgot what he’d learnt by the time Han Solo and co turn up? Anyway, captured by the bad guys, Wicket and Cindel escape to a cave. He then knocks up a skin-glider, A-Team-style, from some discarded bones. It comes in handy when Cindel is snatched by a dragon-type monster and Wicket has to give chase. When Cindel is later captured by the bad guys (again), Wicket and new pal Noa sneak into a castle to save her. The plan involves the old standing-on-someone’s-shoulders-and-using-a-long-coat-to-disguise-the-fact-there-are-two-of-you trick. Our heroes then retreat to Noa’s starship, where there’s a rerun of Return of the Jedi’s improvised-weaponry battle.

* Cindel Towani (Aubrey Miller) and her family are preparing to leave Endor as the movie begins – it seems to have been a while since the events of Caravan of Courage. However, her parents and brother are murdered by, and Cindel needs rescuing from, the evil Sanyassan Marauders. She and Wicket then encounter a grumpy old man called Noa, but Cindel is soon captured again. Miller is just as rubbish as she was in the first movie.

* Jermitt Towani (Paul Gleeson) has been recast with a more famous actor, but he’s quickly killed off when the marauders attack and steal his ship’s power unit.

* Mace Towani (Eric Walker) also dies in the opening-act attack. So does the family’s mum, but we only see her corpse in order to avoid paying an actress.

* Teek (Niki Botelho) is a bizarre little creature about the size of an Ewok who can run at lightning speed. After bumping into them, he shows Cindel and Wicket an apparently abandoned house in the woods, which they take over as their own.

* Noa (Wilford Brimley) owns the house and isn’t happy when he returns to find it occupied. He chases Cindel and Wicket away, but soon mellows. He has a secret: he’s hiding a star cruiser in the forest. He crashed on Endor years earlier, but his ship is now powerless and his co-pilot, Salak, went missing. When Cindel is kidnapped, Noa and Wicket mount a rescue. Afterwards, Noa’s able to restart his space ship (thanks, MacGuffin!) and he leaves Endor with Cindel in tow.

BAD GUYS

* The Sanyassan Marauders are a group of post-apocalyptic thugs who torch the Ewok village. They look like medieval knights kitted out as Mad Max-style vigilantes. Assuming the knights were ape-like aliens, that is.

* Charel (Sian Phillips) is the (human) leader of the marauders. She can transmogrify into a crow, but is terrified of her boss, Terak.

* Terak (Carel Struycken) is the marauders’ king. He has a faded blueprint of a starship and is obsessed with learning the secrets of technological power. After Cindel – who he assumes can teach him about technology – escapes, he gives chase and ends up fighting Noa mano-a-weirdo. (Noa wins.)

BEST ACTION SEQUENCE: The Marauders attack the village.

BEST COMEDY MOMENT: The shot of Salak – a cutaway to his manacled skeleton in a dungeon – made me laugh out loud, though it wasn’t meant to.

MUSIC: The score is by Peter Bernstein and is decent enough.

PERSONAL CONNECTION: I saw this when it came out on video in the mid-80s. In 2004, I bought both Ewok films on DVD, but doing these reviews was the first time I’d put the disc in the player.

REVIEW: The first Ewok special had a twee, Disney vibe, but this is more in keeping with macabre 80s kids’ films such as Return to Oz or The Dark Crystal. Cindel’s family are killed off violently in the first 10 minutes, for example, while there’s plenty of old-school stop-motion monsters. There’s basically a general sense of *strangeness*, which works really well. The production designer was Joe Johnston – who went on to direct the fun Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, the stylish The Rocketeer and the terrific Captain America: The First Avenger – and he really went to town on the brutal, twisted, scary look of the bad guys and their trappings. Thankfully, there’s also more of a robust plot than Caravan of Courage had. It’s both darker and more engaging than that first one.

Five power things out of 10

Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure (1984, John Korty)

Caravan of Courage

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

The Towani family crash their space cruiser on the forest moon of Endor, and the two children go missing…

WHICH VERSION? This TV-movie spin-off from Return of the Jedi was shown on ABC on 25 November 1984. Over here in the UK, it got a cinema release (in May 1985). I first saw it on VHS back in the day. For this review I watched it on a DVD released in 2004.

GOOD GUYS

* Narrator (Burl Ives). Yes, we get a narrator – a necessary evil, given that most of the characters can’t speak English.

* Jeremitt Towani (Guy Boyd) is the father of the human family who have crashed on Endor. We see him and his wife early on, searching for their kids, but then they’re menaced by a giant monster called the Gorax…

* Catarine Towani (Fionnula Flanagan) is Jeremitt’s wife.

* Deej (Daniel Frishman) is an Ewok whose has builds a skin-glider – a primitive hang glider made of, um, skin – so he can fly above the forest to look for two missing sons. While up there, he spots the crashed space ship.

* Wicket (Warwick Davis) is a character carried over from Return of the Jedi (although, this seems to be a prequel). He wants to help dad Deej on his search, but gets left behind. He later strikes up a friendship with the Towanis’ daughter, Cindel.

* Weechee (Debbie Lee Carrington) and Widdle (Tony Cox) are Deej’s other sons. The trio investigate the crashed ship on the way back to the village. It seems deserted at first, but then they discover…

* Cindel Towani (Aubree Miller) is the five-year-old daughter of the human family. When taken in by the Ewoks, she collapses – so everyone heads off to a special healing tree to find medicine. She and Wicket become friends.

* Mace Towani (Eric Walker) is Cindel’s hotheaded brother. He’s a kind of Luke Skywalker figure who’s initially hostile towards the Ewoks, but calms down when they overpower him and tie him up. Essentially a decent lad, he cares about his sister’s wellbeing more than his own. Despite the Ewoks’ hospitality, though, he and Cindel do a runner in the middle of the night and go and search for their parents. They get chased by a stop-motion monster, but the Ewoks show up and save them. Together, they all form a caravan that crosses a desert and a mountain range, then reaches the Gorax’s fortress. Mace uses a magical stone to zero in on his parents’ whereabouts, then after some Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade-style obstacles, they find Jeremitt and Catarine locked up in a cage.

* Logray (Bobby Bell) is an Ewok leader who uses a zoetrope-type device to show Mace and Cindel where their parents are being held. The Ewoks then choose to help on the rescue mission – but not before Logray bestows on them some totems of ancient legendary Ewok warriors. (The character was also in Return of the Jedi.)

* Chukha-Trok (Kevin Thompson) is an Ewok who lives in the woods and joins the team but doesn’t survive the mission.

* Kaink (Margarita Fernández) is an Ewok princess the caravan meets along the way.

BAD GUYS

* The Gorax is a behemoth of Endor, who captures the Towani parents and keeps them in a cage.

* There are various other monsters, including a rubber giant spider that Wicket kills.

BEST ACTION SEQUENCE: The skin-glider sequence.

BEST COMEDY MOMENT: There isn’t any.

MUSIC: The score is by Peter Bernstein, who’s doing a sugary take on the Star Wars house style. It quotes Return of the Jedi at times.

PERSONAL CONNECTION: I saw this on video in the 1980s, when I think I assumed it was a fully-fledged Star Wars films. (Forgive me: I was about six.) This was my first viewing of it in nearly 30 years.

REVIEW: Much more of a kids’ film than the parent series, this even has a narrator who sounds like he’s telling a bedtime story. It’s simplistic and earnest, while the middle section has a huge amount of padding. Aubrey Miller, the girl who plays Cindel, is especially tiresome: all her close-ups feel like take 73 of an insert that’s had to be shot piecemeal for performance reasons.

Three life-monitors out of 10

Return of the Jedi (1983, Richard Marquand)

Carrie-Fisher-Star-Wars-Return-Jedi

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

The Rebel Alliance discover that the Empire is building a new, even deadlier Death Star…

WHICH VERSION? The original cut from 1983 (as available on a 2006 DVD). Officially, the film is called Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi.

GOOD GUYS

* R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) begins the film by going with C-3PO to the palace of Jabba the Hutt, the gangster who has Han Solo captive. It’s part of a convoluted rescue mission. After delivering a message from Luke, R2 is press ganged into serving drinks on Jabba’s pleasure barge – which is a stroke of luck, as this puts him where he needs to be for our heroes’ escape attempt. He goes with Luke to Dagobah, then with him and others to the forest moon of Endor.

* C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) is taken aback when Luke gives him up to Jabba (don’t worry, it’s all part of a master plan). Before being rescued, he acts as the mobster’s interpreter. Later, the natives on Endor – short, bearlike creatures called Ewoks – assume he’s a god. He explains the series’s plot so far to them, a story that comes complete with authentic sound effects.

* Commander Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) turns up at Jabba’s palace in a hooded cloak and throws Jedi mind tricks around, but Jabba’s not impressed and chucks him into a pit with a huge monster called the Rancor. Luke is more confident now, especially with his Force skills, and his meticulously planned rescue of Han succeeds. As he lost his original lightsaber in the last film – the one Ben gave him, which used to belong to Luke’s dad – he now has a new (green) one. After saving Han, Luke nips off to Dagobah to see Yoda, then joins the others on the mission to destroy the Death Star. In a fantastic scene that’s quoted in the trailer for 2015’s The Force Awakens, he tells Leia that she’s his sister (oh, and Darth Vader’s their dad). He believes he can ‘save’ Vader, so gives himself up to the Imperial forces in order to get close to him. He’s taken to see the Emperor, who taunts Luke until his anger boils over and he duels with Darth Vader. Luke bests him and chops his hand off, but then has a moment of clarity and stops attacking him. He refuses to murder his father, so the Emperor decides to kill Luke – but then Vader comes to his son’s aid. Luke then has a nice moment of reconciliation before Vader dies.

* General Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is still frozen in carbonite, but his pals mount a rescue. When woken up, his eyesight takes a while to return. His relationship with Leia is warmer now that they’ve admitted they love each other; he’s also getting on fine with Lando and even lends him the Millennium Falcon. (I suppose Han has had plenty of cooling-off time since their row in The Empire Strikes Back.) At some point, this selfish smuggler who only got involved because of the money has been raised to the rank of general by the Rebel Alliance – he was called ‘Captain’ in the last film, so was he promoted in absentia while frozen? He volunteers to lead the strike team that’ll destroy the Death Star’s defences, so takes Chewbacca, Luke, Leia and the droids to Endor, the moon that contains the force-field generator. After a misunderstanding that almost involves Han and Luke being roasted alive, the Ewoks agree to help with the mission. At the end of the film, Han graciously says he’ll step aside and let Leia be with Luke, seeing how she clearly loves him. When she patiently explains that they’re siblings, Han’s expression is 50 per cent “ARE YOU SHITTING ME?” and 50 per cent “I’m getting some tonight!”

* Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) is first seen seemingly being sold by a bounty hunter to Jabba the Hutt. It’s a ruse to get him into the palace. On Endor, he’s distracted by a dead animal hanging from a tree and sets off a trap that snares the gang in a net. He later yelps like Tarzan as he swings through the forest.

* Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) pretends to be a bounty hunter in order to infiltrate Jabba’s palace. Once inside, she defrosts Han – but they’re caught by Jabba. He then forces Leia to sit by his throne in a kinky slave-girl outfit, which [COMMENT REDACTED]. When it all kicks off, she strangles Jabba with the chain he was using to keep her in place (GO, FEMINIST SUBTEXT!). On Endor, she’s knocked unconscious and found by a young Ewok called Wicket. She later learns that she’s Luke’s sister – she claims that somehow she’s always known this, but why she was snogging him in the last film is not mentioned. After her superb scene with Luke, she has a similarly classy moment with Han – he gets the wrong idea about her emotional state, but still comforts her when she’s upset. During the fight at the bunker, Leia is shot in the arm. As Han squats down to see if she’s okay, stormtroopers surround them. Out of their view, Leia draws a gun. “I love you,” says Han, well aware that repeating classic dialogue in a new context is often a pleasing moment in a movie. “I know,” she replies knowingly before shooting the bad guys.

* General Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) has already inveigled himself into Jabba’s retinue by the time the movie begins. During the rescue attempt, Han saves Lando’s life, which is good of him considering what happened in the last film. Lando is now a general in the Rebel Alliance. They just hand these things out like Jaffa Cakes, don’t they? He leads the fleet as they attack the Death Star – using a borrowed Millennium Falcon, he flies into its core and sets off a huge explosion.

* Yoda (Frank Oz) seems older than the last time we saw him (“Sicker I have become, old and weak…”) and conks out minutes after Luke arrives to say hello. He has just enough puff in his body to tell Luke that he must defeat Darth Vader in a duel in order to be a proper Jedi, and confirm that Vader is Luke’s father. Yoda then fades away, like Ben did in Star Wars.

* Ben ‘Obi-Wan’ Kenobi (Alec Guinness) shows up as a ghost again to retcon the information he gave Luke in film one. “What I told you was true,” he says, morphing into Peter Mandleson. “From a certain point of view…” He also fills in Yoda’s blanks by telling Luke that he has a twin sister – Luke guesses correctly that it’s Leia.

* Admiral Ackbar (Timothy R. Rose) commands the Alliance fleet, He’s half-man/half-prawn and has a slobbering voice. “It’s a trap!” he bellows at one point, creating a catchphrase.

* Mon Mothma (Caroline Blakiston) is a high-ranking rebel leader who gives the pre-mission briefing. Many Bothans died to bring them this information.

* General Madine (Dermot Crowley) helps with Mon Mothma’s slideshow presentation.

* Wicket (Warwick Davis) is the Ewok who finds Leia and takes her to his camp. The Ewoks are an alien race made up of warriors, witch doctors, tribal music and simple natives easily impressed by metal and the beauty of a white woman. They initially want to cook (and presumably eat?) Han and Luke, but Luke uses his Force powers to fool them into thinking C-3PO is a malevolent god who will punish them if they don’t toe the line. The Ewoks then risk life and limb to help the rebels’ mission, proving that – in the Star Wars universe, at any rate – guts, guile and Heath Robinson gadgets can overcome hundreds of well-funded troops with armour, tanks and masses of weaponry. (Kenny Baker was originally going to double up to play Wicket, but he was ill on the day of filming so the part was hastily recast with 11-year-old supporting artist Warwick Davis.)

* Wedge Antillies (Denis Lawson) is now X-Wing red leader and takes part in the assault on the Death Star.

BAD GUYS

* Moff Jerjerrod (Michael Pennington) is the nervous commander of the under-construction Death Star. Unlike Moff Tarkin in Star Wars, he is clearly Vader’s underling.

* Darth Vader (body: David Prowse, voice: James Earl Jones) arrives on the Death Star to oversea the building work. It’s over schedule, apparently. He then goes to Endor when Luke gives himself up, and in a blisteringly well written scene we learn Vader’s real name: before he turned to the Dark Side, he was called Anakin Skywalker. Luke begs him to search his feelings for any remnants of goodness. In a line that elegantly justifies the entire movie’s story arc, Vader sadly says, “It is too late for me, son…” However, he later redeems himself when the Emperor is trying to kill Luke. Wheezing, and now missing a hand, Vader looks on in horror. (Seriously, even with a mask on, his emotion turmoil is obvious.) Picking a side, he lifts up the Emperor and flings him down a vertical tunnel. Close to dying himself, Vader asks Luke to remove his mask: “Let me look on you with my own eyes,” he says. Now played by Sebastian Shaw (it would’ve been a different film if it’d been David Prowse under the mask!), he touchingly asks Luke to “tell you sister you were right” about him not being all bad. He then dies, so Luke holds a private cremation. Anakin later makes a ghostly cameo, joining Yoda and Ben Kenobi in the afterlife.

* Bib Fortuna (Michael Carter) is Jabba the Hutt’s aide-de-camp. He has squid-like appendages and talks in a strange language that sometimes sounds rude (“Deh Jabba wanga!”).

* Jabba the Hutt (voice: Larry Ward, who also voiced Greedo in Star Wars) is a Tatooine crime lord who we finally see after he was mentioned in the previous two films. He’s a giant slug, with many hangers-on and cronies. He doesn’t think twice about torturing droids or killing dancing girls, and has former employee Han Solo on show in his palace, encased in a block of carbonite. When our heroes turn up to rescue Han, Jabba underestimates them…

* Boba Fett (Jeremy Bulloch) is hanging out at Jabba’s palace, but during the skirmish gets knocked into the mouth of the Sarlacc – a desert-dwelling monster with a huge, vagina-dentata gob and lots of tentacles. It burps after swallowing him.

* Malakili (Paul Brooke) is the overweight, sweaty, topless keeper of the Rancor, who cries like a girl when Luke kills it.

* The Emperor (now played by Ian McDiarmid) visits the not-yet-finished Death Star as a way of motivating his workforce. He’s a manipulative, prune-faced man who wants Darth Vader to find – and turn – Luke, and has a devious plan to break the rebellion. McDiarmid takes great delight in the panto dialogue, putting chilling emphasis on terms such as ‘fully operational’, ‘Dark Side’, ‘complete’ and ‘So be it… Jedi.’

* Admiral Piett (Kenneth Colley) returns from The Empire Strikes Back.

BEST ACTION SEQUENCE: If the whole film were just two hours of the stunning model work used for the space battles, it would still be worth seeing again and again. The Millennium Falcon flying into and through the Death Star takes your breath away, even after 32 years.

BEST COMEDY MOMENT: Wicket tries using some bolas during the battle with the stormtroopers, but ends up twatting himself in the face. Maybe it’s because I first saw this film at a very young age, but I’ve never had a problem with the Ewoks. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of comic relief (even if there’s a whiff of racism in their portrayal).

MUSIC: John Williams’s score is another magnum opus. The Ewok celebration music at the end, meanwhile, will be stuck in my head for the rest of my life. We also get a cabaret song in Jabba’s palace.

PERSONAL CONNECTION: This was the first Star Wars film I can remember coming out. I was too young to go and see it, but can recall the publicity. I assume it was what motivated me to want to see the first two on video.

REVIEW: Return of the Jedi has a few problems. There’s a certain untidiness about the plotting, for example. The opening 35-minute sequence – fun though it is – isn’t really connected to the bulk of the film. It’s an extended James Bond prologue (though rather than the exciting climax of an unseen mission, this is mopping up the last movie’s cliffhanger). Other than Han now being free again, nothing in it affects the rest of the story. Another issue is that when we get to the main storyline, it’s an all-too-familiar mission: destroy yet another Death Star. If this were a weaker, less popular series, wouldn’t we be castigating film three for simply copying film one’s big action beat? Additionally, after the beauty of The Empire Strikes Back’s striking colour palette and subjective cinematography, this is sadly a step backwards. A few moments aside – Leia’s treetop chats with Luke and Han, for example – there’s a sense of just-point-the-camera-at-the-well-lit-actors. However, we’re splitting Ewok hairs here. It may be more predictable than Empire, and more simplistic, but Return of the Jedi still sits at the top table of geek cinema. The emotional journeys that Luke, Darth Vader and to a lesser extent Leia go on are superbly dramatised, while the crash-bang-wallop action and derring-do escapades are as terrifically thrilling as always.

Ten gold bikinis 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

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