Whatever other impact it had on filmmaking (and it had plenty), the original Star Wars made movies move again. Through the late 1960s and ’70s, films had become excessively literal, studied, and contemplative, while pure action- adventure projects (The Towering Inferno was typical of the period) were considered inappropriate for serious writers, directors, and producers.
Two upstart directors blew this cozy mode to smithereens and made it okay for filmmakers to have fun again: Steven Spielberg with Jaws (1975) and George Lucas with Star Wars (1977). But where Spielberg was content to spook us with a nasty fish, Lucas had in mind the creation of a whole new galaxy with a history, mythology, and culture all its own.
CBS/Fox has reissued the Star Wars trilogy in a boxed edition; though the movies have long been available on video, this is the first time that these films have been offered together. With its crisp image quality, snazzy packaging, and helpful liner notes (including key production, box-office, and Oscar data for each film), this edition clearly has been designed and priced to encourage purchases. For those inclined to build a library of movies on tape, the complete set makes a nice bookend to a collection.
Viewed today, the Star Wars series seems to have been conceived for just this kind of packaging, even though the home video market was barely dreamed of when the films were planned. The three installments form a seamless narrative — the history of a rebellion led by a band of partisans of the old republic against the oppressive Galactic Empire — that makes a perfect three-night film festival (or a rainy-day marathon).
Still, each film has its own distinct tone, a mood that mirrors the rebels’ politico-military situation at the moment: Star Wars is crisp, lean, and high- spirited as the rebels win their first big victory; The Empire Strikes Back, with the rebels in full rout, is darker and richer, dwelling on the galaxy’s extremes (the primordial swamps of Dagobah, the lifeless cold of Hoth); Return of the Jedi wraps up the loose ends, capturing the fun-and-games spirit of a Saturday serial.
Along with the trilogy, CBS/Fox has reissued a 65-minute 1983 TV documentary, From Star Wars to Jedi: The Making of a Saga. It dwells too long on too few of the trilogy’s numerous spectacular stunts. But for the collector, the behind-the-scenes peeks and George Lucas’ interview comments are indispensable. ”The reality is that I love that world,” Lucas says. ”There are friends there. I have a home there. And I’ll always have a desire to go home again, to be with my friends again.”
So maybe Lucas’ revival of the action-adventure genre in the ’70s inspired the sequel-mad action-adventure overload of the ’80s, but it was still a welcome development in moviemaking. Directors could have fun again, and so could we all. Trilogy: A Saga:B+