Originally published on May 27, 1977, in the Post-Dispatch
Thumb the pages of the memory back to the days of radio and comic book heroes like Flash Gordon, the Lone Ranger and Buck Rogers, remembering the sparkling visual effects of active imaginations that went far beyond the mere drawings. Add all the brilliance that modern motion picture technology can provide. Toss in a story line, any story line. Blend it all together in a manner so ingenuous and charming that the cliches are fun, and that's "Star Wars."
George Lucas, who directed "American Graffiti," is back again as both writer and director, and his love affair with the space age and the comic book comes front and center.
All the characters are right from the pages of those books, from the reels of other movies. Pilots man their galactic fighters just the way they did from English air fields in World War II pictures. There's a princess right out of Camelot, and a square young knight from the round old table to seek her hand.
There's a wise-cracking pilot whose mercenary tendencies crack under the idealism of aging Alec Guinness, and a set of animated characters whose look shows strong influence of Munchkins and Muppets, and whose vocal cords are a revival of the Chipmunks.
Heck, there's even a bar in the last frontier town before we drop off the edge of the galaxy, where a set of characters who could have been drawn by Ralph Bakshi drink and brawl, and when the hero's robot walks in looking for his master, the bartender sneers, "We don't serve your kind in here."
The robot, whose name is C3PO (pronounced, "See Threepio") is an English valet sort, very big on protocol. He has a humanoid look, and a buddy, who buzzes and clicks and squeaks and flashes lights and looks kind of like a portable dishwasher with a dome-shaped top. His name is R2-D2 (pronounced "Artoo-Detoo").
All these funny folks, however, are overshadowed by a set of planetary special effects that are breathtaking in their beauty, and so complicated in design and construction that 72 people are named in the miniature and optical effects unit.
The view of outer space is a marvelous one, awe-inspiring in its beauty, and the artists and designers who did the work, led by Lucas, John Barry, production designer, and John Dykstra, special photographic effects supervisor, deserve as many plaudits as can be thought up.
The actors include Mark Hamill as the hero, Luke Skywalker (can you believe it?), Carrie Fisher as the princess, Harrison Ford as the mercenary and Guinness as a retired general who has some indefinable something called The Force. All are fine, and all are overshadowed by their surroundings.
The other nice thing about "Star Wars" is that it's the sort of film that the entire family can enjoy, together. There's something for just about everyone — if you like fairy tales, comic books, science fiction, adventure, robots or a visual experience that will excite the eyes.
Lucas's new film is not the tight, brisk pointed social commentary that "American Graffiti" was, and it is certainly not a great motion picture, although on the level of pure entertainment it certainly comes close.
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