Monday, August 16, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #7

7. Star Wars (1977)

Oh, to listen to the opening strains of John Williams' phenomenal and majestic score for the iconic space fantasy franchise just gets my heart racing! George Lucas' pet project was an absolute favorite in my house growing up, but not from me. Don't get me wrong, I love the characters and the worlds that Lucas and his cohorts created, but this movie franchise was an obsession of my older brother's. If musicals were my enjoyment, then the Star Wars series was his (and still is!). He insisted on knowing everything Star Wars and, as we all know, he was not the only one. The series has a mega-following of fans (to the NTH DEGREE!) who will dress up as characters, who will write fan fiction or will even stalk Lucas' Skywalker Ranch in Northern California to get a peek at the fantasy genius. It certainly has been a presence in my life (as ominous as Darth Vader's breath!) since almost every vacation growing up, my brother and I would watch the entire original trilogy (this film along with The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi) in one day. But it is this fantastic movie that started all the adventure and excitement for millions of fans worldwide.

While Lucas was still a film student at the University of Southern California in the late 1960's, he conceived of a film about archetypal characters in a space age battle for power. After making the critically acclaimed American Graffiti in 1973, he began work on the project that would define the rest of his career. For his story, he was inspired by the Akira Kurosawa films he fell in love with and studied in film school. The look, the motivation and even the very philosophy of most of the characters can be compared to the likes of Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai and Rashomon. 20th Century Fox took the gamble to help finance Lucas' cinema journey (and, boy did the gamble pay off!). After months of casting and screen tests, Lucas and team (which included producer Gary Kurtz and the newly minted visual effects company of Industrial, Light and Magic) began the long film process. The special effects process itself pushed the release of the film back five months. The film opened in May of 1977 and was the biggest summer blockbuster of the time (DUH!). It was the first fantasy-style film to even garner award recognition. It received several Academy Award nominations including Best Picture (a big feat for a fantasy film since #11: Mary Poppins in 1964 and #10: The Wizard of Oz in 1939).

I don't think there is a person in this world who doesn't know this story. But just in case, wide-eyed hero Luke Skywalker (played by Mark Hammill) joins a rebellion against the Intergalactic Empire to destroy their destructive space station, the Death Star. The story takes place "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away" and is filled with memorable (and marketable, as far as 20th Century Fox is concerned) characters. The cast is amazing including Carrie Fisher (with her cinnamon bun-style hairdo) as tough damsel-in-distress Princess Leia, Harrison Ford as the dashing and slick bounty hunter Han Solo (my brother's absolute favorite character) and the brilliant Sir Alec Guinness in an Oscar-nominated performance as Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jedi mentor to the young Skywalker. I should not forget the charming robots, C-3PO and R2-D2, as well as Chewbacca the Wookie (Solo's co-pilot). And then there is the imposing figure of the great villain Darth Vader with his dark black cape, intimidating helmet and the deep booming voice of James Earl Jones (need I say more?). Its visual and sound effects are thrilling for audiences and innovative (for its time). As mentioned before, John Williams' amazing score fills the movie with grandeur, beauty and excitement. While there have been sequels (two really good ones, I might add!), prequels (which are decent enough) and mid-quels, it is this first film that can stand on its own as a masterpiece of American cinema. This one is for you, my brother!

Next Post: #6

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