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George Lucas's original Star Wars trilogy is a clever synthesis of pop-cultural and mythological references, taking classic fairy-tale themes, adding more than a dash of Arthurian legend, and providing cinematic high adventure inspired as much by Kurosawa's Samurai epics as by Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. As a result, audiences of all ages can find something to identify with in Luke Skywalker's journey from disaffected teenager dreaming of adventure to Jedi Knight and saviour of the galaxy. He not only rescues a Princess, but discovers she's a close relative. And if there's a lesson to be gleaned from the Skywalker clan, it's that no matter how bad things get in the average dysfunctional family, it's never too late for reconciliation.
Originally released in 1977, Star Wars, the first film, was made as a standalone. Perhaps that's why Obi-Wan Kenobi seems a tad inconsistent in his attitude towards his old pupil Anakin Skywalker, and perhaps also why Luke is allowed to develop a guilt-free crush on Princess Leia. Lucas's story, told from the point of view of the two bickering droids (a device taken from Kurosawa's Hidden Fortress), also borrows freely from Errol Flynn's Robin Hood, as does John Williams's seminal Korngold-inspired music score.
Thanks in equal part to Leigh Brackett's screenplay and Irvin Kershner's direction The Empire Strikes Back (1980) is the most grown-up instalment in the series. The basic fairy-tale is developed and expanded, with the principal characters experiencing emotional turmoil--blossoming romance, mixed feelings and confused loyalties--amid a very real threat of annihilation as Darth Vader's motivations become chillingly personal. Luke's quasi-Arthurian destiny is complicated still further by the half-truths of his wizardly mentors; and swashbuckler Han Solo finds the past catching up with him, quite literally in the form of bounty hunter Boba Fett. The film is graced by more fabulous landscapes (ice, forest, clouds), more unforgettable new characters (Yoda), more groundbreaking special effects (the asteroid chase), and John Williams's finest score.
The difficult third film, 1983's Return of the Jedi, seems schizophrenic in its intentions, hoping to please both the kiddies who bought all the toys and an older audience who appreciated the narrative's epic and mythological strands. The result is a film that splits awkwardly into two. One thread, which might be subtitled "The Redemption of Anakin Skywalker", pursues the story of the Skywalker family to a cathartic conclusion. The other thread, which might be described as "The Care Bears Go to War", attempts to say something profound about primitivism versus technological sophistication, but just gets silly as furry midgets doing Tarzan whoops defeat the Emperor's crack legions.
In 1997 Lucas re-released the three original films in digitally remastered "Special Edition" versions, in which many scenes have been restored and enhanced (some would say "unnecessarily tinkered with"). Despite loud and continued criticisms from fans, these Special Editions are now considered definitive, if only by Lucasfilm. --Mark Walker
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