The Force is back

Ted Pigeon

It all started in May of 1977 with the simple phrase, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” and much like the sudden burst of the orchestra that announces the main title, “Star Wars” took the world completely by surprise.

George Lucas’ bold visions of space battles and alien worlds dazzled audiences and changed the way movies were made and seen. “Star Wars” launched a phenomenon unlike any other, one that still remains strong even today and there is no question that it will live on long after its makers are gone.

Usually when “Star Wars” is brought up in everyday conversation, it tends to be a quick mention of a famous line or character, or sometimes a reference to the Force, but rarely do the films themselves ever come up.

Due to its immense popularity and cultural influence, “Star Wars” has unfortunately been reduced to a mere image today and is viewed in the public eye as either kids stuff or exclusively for die-hard fans, which is a true shame.

This past Tuesday, the landmark trilogy made its long-awaited debut on DVD, much to the delight of its fans as well as movie lovers everywhere. But perhaps this DVD release will have a greater impact on how these films are viewed than the original theater release.

The official titles of the films are now “Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope,” “Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back” and “Star Wars: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi,” and seeing them on the DVD format is quite breathtaking.

The pristine picture and sound make it seem like the films were made this year, but the experience of watching the films on DVD is no different than what it was like seeing them for the first time.

When we divorce ourselves from all the hype surrounding “Star Wars” and all the popularity and ideas associated with the movies and just watch them in pure form, we can experience them for the creative triumphs and filmmaking masterpieces they are, all three of which are unique and have their own distinct qualities apart from the others.

The original film isn’t concerned with the bigger picture of the saga and is a simply told, yet powerful story of adventure and wonder. The saga’s middle chapter, “The Empire Strikes Back” is the best of the series, with more plot and character development, a brilliantly structured story and a poetically tragic last act. The final chapter of the series, “Return of the Jedi” is the easily the weakest, but it is nonetheless a visionary achievement that ties together all the loose ends of the story.

Together, these three movies represent a grand, mythical world which offers sights and sounds beyond anything ever accomplished before on film.

The general story of “Star Wars,” which everyone now knows, has to do with the timeless struggle between good and evil. All of the elements of the story, including its moral values, can be traced back to ancient mythology and have been incorporated in stories for thousands of years.

George Lucas knew that story itself wouldn’t constitute the originality of his movie; instead the originality would be exercised in how the story was told. So he combined the various styles that influenced him over his life, which include a wide range of films and shows from Flash Gordon to Akira Kurosawa, and in doing so he has fashioned a style that’s uniquely his own. The story itself isn’t anything new, but it’s executed in a way that is fresh and totally original, and with a brilliant attention to detail that adds to the overall richness of the storytelling.

Lucas doesn’t catch himself up on plot; he wants to show us all the little nuances of this universe and the people that inhabit it. He knows the limits of plot and therefore balances out the scenes involving plot details with seemingly arbitrary scenes that are so very refreshing.

When looking back on the trilogy as a whole, we’re not just looking at three fun movies, but instead at a place in the mind and the imagination.

What we are left with is a plethora of amazing sights, sounds and visions that have implanted themselves in our collective memory. Who can forget the exhilarating dogfight on the death star at the end of “Star Wars,” or the wise little Jedi, Yoda, or the countless themes and cues of John Williams’ musical scores? How can we possibly forget all those funny-looking aliens from the famous bar scene, or James Earl Jones’ menacing voice as Darth Vader, or the slimy Jabba the Hutt?

All of these elements and details, ranging from the multitude of characters to the photography and music, have come together brilliantly and created an endless universe of possibility and imagination, and they are an essential part of the style of storytelling that brings the films to life.

George Lucas will be remembered for many things, such as his contributions to digital filmmaking and for essentially giving birth to the blockbuster, but what he should be remembered for above all is his ability to tell a story. The “Star Wars” films aren’t great because of their cultural importance, their revolutionary special effects or their drama. They are great films because of the rich and vivid nature of storytelling.

These films have an audience, but it extends well beyond science fiction fans and children. “Star Wars” is for anyone who loves great storytelling. There are some who feel that space adventures and fantasy films don’t deserve to be mentioned with the dramatic classics or more memorable “human” stories in movie history, but this elitist attitude is the worst possible kind to have when viewing cinema.

Great movies exist in many forms. To limit oneself to dramatically serious work is to miss out on so many treasures of the medium. Some films can be deeply moving character pieces offering deep reflections on the human experience, while others can to take us off to times and places that are not our own and tell fantastic stories of good and evil. And just as there is an art to character-driven stories and sweeping dramas, there is an art and an overall significance to films like this, only of a different sort.

If you’re looking for great drama or deep meaning, these are the wrong movies to watch.

But if you’re looking to be swept off your feet to a world that’s free of the constraints of reality to experience an ageless tale of adventure and innocence, look no further than “Star Wars.”

We need films like “Star Wars” in the same way we need films like “Citizen Kane.” They remind us of the importance of film as a versatile and significant artistic expression, but more importantly, great movies such as these are testimony to the power of storytelling in general and the sense of wonder that a great story is capable of stirring in our hearts and imaginations.