Star Wars: The Original Trilogy Review
So now we come to the cream of the crop with a review of the original trilogy to round this all up on the blog. The original trilogy is one of the most beloved series of science fiction films of all time with great movies backed up by the nostalgia it brings when watched once more. It was always going to be hard for any future Star Wars films to live up to.
I can't imagine how captivating it was at the time of its release but the first time I saw it as a kid, I was hooked. The story, the space battles and the lightsaber battles means there is plenty of action while it is mostly just a simple story of good vs evil, rebels vs the tyrannous Empire (with none too subtle comparisons with the Empire to the Nazis). I can't say for sure that I know how the original movie looked as George Lucas has remastered and modified it so many times since it came out but regardless, the effects look good. This is mainly helped by actually creating costumes and droid suits rather than animating them so that Chewbacca, C-3PO and R2-D2 never look out of place.
With all the movies that came after, it is easy to take for granted about how much of this universe George Lucas had to create regarding Jedi and Sith, creatures, planets and droids, the back stories for the older characters and of course, "The Force." (though George Lucas will tell you he always had the prequels planned out too.)
While the basic story isn't anything too out there, the mix of characters on both sides make the story stronger. Luke is the young kid who finds he is destined to become a Jedi and goes through a hero arc. Princess Leia from the start isn't a helpless figure who has to rely on everyone else to fight her battles for her. Han Solo is the typical wise-cracking anti-hero who becomes less and less self-centred as the story goes on while his conversations with Chewbacca (who doesn't talk) are always good for a laugh.
You can't mention the original trilogy though without mentioning the villain Darth Vader, the half man, half machine. It is hard to say if the films would have been as successful without such a cool, iconic character. The costume, the mask, his own theme music, the modified voice and the heavy breathing while the character is draped in black makes for an imposing figure, particularly when he is in a dark area and his bright red lightsaber appears. It's hard to think of any villain in a science fiction setting who comes close to Darth Vader.
I never thought about it at the time but having Darth Vader as not quite the head villain in the end could have been seen as a strange move. However, Emperor Palpatine is a very welcome addition with his slow, concise speech combined with his hauntingly pale face. Of course, having him as the head villain allows for Vader to have his redemption at the end.
Even though the overall plot is simple, the movies are by no means formulaic. Han Solo has enemies all over the galaxy so he has to deal with (space) gangsters and bounty hunters which draws the rest of the heroes to his aid. Luke starts learning the ways of the Jedi with Obi-Wan Kenobi but once he is killed, Luke continues his training by finding Yoda.
Then of course, there is the twist, one of the biggest plot twists of all time that few have dared to emulate since. Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's father. Nowadays the villain having some kind of deep connection to the hero is quite common but it is usually hinted at or revealed earlier on as films know it can't quite have the same impact once Star Wars already did it.
This reveal also sets up the climax of the trilogy as Luke learns more about Darth Vader and how he used to be good, a Jedi, before he was turned. Suddenly two films of trying to keep Darth Vader turns to trying to return him to the good side while Vader and Palpatine try to bring Luke to the dark side.
The lightsaber fight at the end of The Empire Strikes Back is probably the best in the series particularly due to the lighting and locations but the final fight between Luke and Vader really brings the series of films to a head. As they fight, it looks as though Vader won't turn and once Luke gets the upper hand, he batters Vader until he cuts his arm off, revealing the wires running through it. At this point, you don't really see a way back for Vader as he struggles for breath with Palpatine taking delight in Luke's aggression.
When Luke refuses to join him, Palpatine continuously shocks him with electric shooting from his fingers (another cool effect) until Darth Vader recovers to save his son and chuck the Emperor off the ledge. While this would be a great moment in film on its own, I always remember the music playing, building up, as Darth Vader watches his son being shocked, looking back and forth before taking action which is where the music picks up to the iconic Star Wars tune. Darth Vader gets the right ending; in the end he did the right thing but his death is necessary for all the terrible things he had done. He takes off his mask to reveal a weak old man and speaks to Luke with his regular voice which is another powerful moment.
I suppose the one thing that does get mentioned a lot is the Ewoks in the third film. The fact that the Empire's forces are defeated by small creatures leads some people to think this really undermines the Empire. It never bothered me as a kid that this happened and now as an adult, whether it was intentional or not, it makes me think of similarities with the Vietnam War. You have one side that vastly outmatches the other but because the side on fighting on their home territory, they know how to use the environment and terrain to their advantage.
It would be easy to analyse all these films individually and say what is best about each one and how some parts are better than others but ultimately, the three films are a cut above most of the rest, not just in the science-fiction and action genre either. It is easy to see how it became a phenomenon and for better or worse, it opened the door to a lot of stories to be told in the Star Wars universe which all came from the ideas put forward in the original trilogy.