Watching Star Wars For The First Time

I have never properly watched a Star Wars film.

This statement is the millennial equivalent of renouncing Christ in the Middle Ages. It's especially sacrilegious on the internet as 90% of all online content is in some way related to Star Wars. Therefore, it's more like claiming there is no God in the Middle Ages whilst in church. At Christmas. Wearing a 'I <3 The Devil' t-shirt. As somebody who is quite involved in so-called 'nerd culture' being an avid video game player and all, not knowing the ins-and-outs of 'Star Wars' is a strange one. So much of modern, online culture is inspired by or directly references the series. And since the reboots have come out nobody will shut up about it.

For whatever reason I didn't watch the films as a child. I didn't really watch many films, I just sat around playing Pokemon Blue on loop. As I got older it became a weird sense of hipster pride for me. Made me seem more edgy. I always refrained from watching them because I believed it could never live up to the hype. My hypothesis is that the reason people love 'Star Wars' so much is mainly due to nostalgia. Me watching them aged 21 would completely bypass that connection that other people have with it. 

But I have decided now is the time to do it and put my theory to the test. Over three days I will watch the original trilogy and record my initial reaction on this blog. Who knows, maybe I will fall in love with the series just like everybody else. Maybe they will fall flat. Either way, with the world on the brink of nuclear evaporation what better time is there to escape to a world of intergalatic incesst and Daddy issues?

A New Hope

Watching A New Hope for the first time is like listening to the original version of a song after only hearing the cover version. Practically every scene has been parodied and every line turned into a meme. It's like listening to the original version of a song after only hearing the cover version. 'A New Hope' is the 'Mad World' by Tears For Fears of the film world.

The first aspect I was pleasantly surprised by was how little dialog there was at the start. It doesn't feel the need to explain everything or patronise the audience. Apart from C3PO's wittering, the opening 15 minutes is practically wordless. The opening also also presents this dirty, battered version of the future rather than the shiny futuristic look that I was expecting. Everything looks slightly broken and pieced together from bits that were just lying around. Whether this is deliberate or just a symptom of the limited special effects of the time I don't know, but it really managed to convey the personality and lifestyle of this planet. I thoroughly enjoyed the opening, as rather than dropping us straight into an action sequence or overloading us with exposition it slowly eases you into the character and tone of this alien galaxy.

The acting isn't great. Most of the characters only have one facial expression, a look of sort of pensive worry. This isn't helped by the editing, which often cuts the scene straight after a line of dialog without pausing for effect, cutting to dialog from another location without an establishing shot. It's particularly strange after the death of Luke's adopted family. The editing and wooden acting makes it looks like he gets over their deaths in a matter of minutes and just flies of the other side of the galaxy. This can be a bit jarring but again it's probably more to do with age than anything else. It may just be my modern taste and expectations of film making, so I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.

I found the film got less interesting as it went on. As most of the second act takes place on the Death Star, the locations didn't have that same battered charm which I enjoyed earlier on. The action scenes in general are also pretty dull by modern standards. The space fight at the climax of the film in particular has not aged well and goes on for way too long. It mainly consists of nameless grunts shouting instructions at each other and then getting blown up.

At it's core, A New Hope tells a very simple story. A bunch of ragtag misfits group up to save a Princess and blow up some evil English people's base. I enjoyed its simple premise but find it weird looking back to see how the levels of fan-obsession came about. I cannot see where the levels of complicated lore and fan theories spawned from on evidence of this film alone.  All in all I enjoyed New Hope. It didn't change my life but it was good fun on the most part. My 'hope' (eh, see what I did there) for the rest of the series is that there is more of the planet-hopping, bar-brawling adventure as opposed to the space-action epic.

Empire Strikes Back

Unlike like its predecessor Empire Strikes Back throws you in at the deep end with the Rebels preparing for battle on Hoth and Luke getting beaten up by a Yeti thing. Credit that the film assumes you have seen the previous film and doesn't feel the need to re-introduce the characters to you. It had trust in the audience and didn't waste any time getting down to it. That's quite impressive for a film ostensibly aimed at kids. It knows what kids want: big monsters, big fights and limbs flying all over the place. Not enough films these days satisfy children's innate bloodlust.

The spaceship battle on Hoth was better than the one at the climax of New Hope. The stop-motion AT-AT's still look impressive and the snowy tundra of Hoth is a more interesting backdrop than the corridors of Lego that was the Death Star. These action sequences still can't compete with the extravagance of modern day blockbusters, but you at least knew what was happening at all times. The machinery has an obvious scale making easy for your brain to compute the levels at which the fights is occurring.

The film then really does slow down. While the on-screen chemistry and the acting is massively improved (probably because George Lucas wasn't on directing duties for this one), there were moments where it dragged. The whole Jedi training in particular was pretty tedious with Yoda intensely annoying me. I know Jar-Jar Binx gets a lot of stick but Yoda is a completely stupid character in his own right and nobody seems to mind. Rose-tinted glasses I tells ya. However the training did at least have a cool pay-off with the dream sequence fight complete Vader's head exploding and turning into Luke's. Again, good violence and some lovely foreshadowing.

The last 30 mins is terrific though. I did start to find myself really caring about the characters. Even though I vaguely knew what would happen, my heart did rentch a tad when Han when got slowly lowered into the carbonite freezer. And obviously I knew about the twist. I didn't exactly spit my drink out when Luke found out about his old man. It is a shame I couldn't experience that reveal properly as child and have my mind completely blown. I had that twist spoiled for me by Toy Story 2.

But overall, my enjoyment of Empire Strikes Back is in complete contrast to 'New Hope'. I preferred this one during its action sections and found the middle a bit of a slog. From my limited knowledge of the series, most people regard this as the 'Star Wars' film. If this really is the high-water mark then to be honest I'm a little disappointed. But still I enjoyed it just as much as the first, just in a different way.

Return Of The Jedi

The final episode of the original trilogy starts off with possibly my favourite 'bit' of all three films. The opening in Jabba's palace is great. The grotesque alien creations are right up my street. While some look better than others, there is much to admire about the imagination in the creature design. As a kind mini-story at the beginning of the film it is a great way of showing off the different skills the main characters have acquired, climaxing with Leia showing her badass side and strangling Jabba with her chains. 

But after this, much like in the previous film, it slows to a snail's pace with some boring exposition with Luke and Yoda. It has taken me a while but I have finally worked out why these bits are so boring. It's because Luke is an incredibly bland character. He has absolutely no personality. While interesting stuff happens to him, he in of himself, is not at all engaging. He's just a bit of a goody-two-shoes who never really displays any human qualities. Han, Leia and even R2-D2 have more about them than the main character. I get that he is meant to be a bit of blank canvas, a cipher for kids to put their own stories into the world, but would it have killed them to give him some sort of edge? During the action scenes and indeed the climax of this film it's fine. But when it's just him and another character it really does hit home how boring he is.

Anyway, Return of the Jedi rounds things off well with some satisfying action scenes which don't get too bombastic and excessive. All the characters play their part in the final assault and we get some nice closure with Vader killing the Emperor and then revealing himself to be an egg at the end. I did enjoy Emperor Palpatine I must say. A proper over-the-top, camp villain the likes of which you don't really see now. Villains nowadays have to be cool. The Emperor is just a mouldy man who spits his words out like a disgusted old thespian. However there was one action scene which has not aged well, that being the section with the hoverbikes in the forest. I couldn't help but think of this scene from Garth Marenghi's Darkplace:

So what are my thoughts at the end of all this? Do I now love Star Wars? The short answer is no. They were perfectly enjoyable films in their own right and considering how old they are they've aged pretty well. The imagination and thought which went into the planet and creature design still holds up. But ultimately I will never love these films the way others do. If I had watched these when I was younger I probably wouldn't be bothered by the rather skeletal plot and two-dimensional characters. But it is hard for me to see why people obsess over these characters so much. For example there is talk of a Boba Fett solo film. Why? He does nothing. His character building starts and ends with his helmet. People have nostalgic memories not only of these films, but the toys and painting their own vision of the world on to it. Me, as a jaded, 21 year old, will simply never get that.