The only film ever made that could be said to have cost the United States government billions–in a missile defense system that only Hollywood could make work.
In the weeks since Star Wars opened (six theatres in the Greater New York area), the stock of 20th Century-Fox, its gratified distributor, has risen some eleven points, approximately doubling its value in an otherwise sluggish market. That’s the sort of cause and effect that makes criticism irrelevant. However, to give you an idea—
Star Wars belongs to the sub-basement, or interstellar comic-strip, school of science fiction; Terry and the Pirates with astro-drive. The main participants are a princess in mortal peril, a splendid young Four-H type who is fated to rescue her, an irreverent free enterpriser with a space ship for hire, an aged mystic possessed of “the Force,” and a gaggle of villains who, when they are not entirely encased in elegantly fitted plastic armor, look very much like extras borrowed from scenes of the Wehrmacht general staff plotting Hitlerian strategies. The princess (Carrie Fisher) is spunky and in both manner and hair style somewhat resembles the Gish sisters; the young knight (Mark Hamill) is not quite bright but adroit with machinery; the freebooter (Harrison Ford) talks with shocking cynicism out of the side of his mouth, but has an honest heart; and the old mystic, survivor of a chivalric order that combined stunning swordsmanship with the ability to transmit psychic force by telepathy, is played by Alec Guinness, which I thought the film’s most remarkable surprise.
These human actors are consistently upstaged by a pair of robots—one of them, an electronic improvement on the Tin Woodsman, seems to have derived his stilted vocabulary and obsequious manners from the servants’ quarters of Upstairs, Downstairs; the other, shaped rather like a canister vacuum cleaner, but without the hose, is possessed (like the mind reader in The Thirty-Nine Steps) of the secret information that is causing all the fireworks, speaks in beeps, whistles and blinking lights and is as emotionally vulnerable as a motherless child.
This is the sort of thing that will leach one’s brain, and I suspect that George Lucas (the director previously of American Graffiti) concocted the plot and personages deliberately to put us all in a slack-jawed state of mind suitable for maximum appreciation of his astonishing cinematic trickery. The interior accommodations of the Death Star, ultimate weapon of the wicked galactic Empire; the moment when the space ship bursts through the speed of light; the instantaneous destruction of an entire planet; the stupendous climax when the fighter planes of the freedom-loving rebels go into action against the totalitarians (don’t ask what planes are doing in airless space)—all these and much more are impeccably engineered, often beautiful in the manner of highly machined scuelpture, and by means of cumulative suspense as gratifyingly exhausting as the chariot race in Ben Hur.
Years from now, long after the last bucket of popcorn has been eaten at the last neighborhood showing of Star Wars, film buffs will be regaling one another with recollections of their favorite scenes and persons: the frontier bar patronized by the offspring of improbable matings (I liked the elephant/crocodile); the entrapment within a huge garbage compacter (courtesy of Edgar Allan Poe); the duel with cold-light swords; the bombing run down a narrow chasm to the one vulnerable spot in the Death Star; the poignant falling out of the two robots in a Beau Geste stretch of desert; the amiable but quick-tempered 7-foot man/bear navigator of the space ship; the bustling little brown-habited dwarfs with flashlight eyes, who sell second-hand automatons from a cave in the wilderness and, of course, Luke Skywalker, the very fair-haired boy who discovers that he too possesses the Force. All in all, it is an outrageously successful, what will be called a “classic,” compilation of nonsense, largely derived but thoroughly reconditioned. I doubt that anyone will ever match it, though the imitations must already be on the drawing boards.