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Is It The Beginning Or The Middle? A Big Screen Rewatch Of The Original Star Wars Trilogy

I’ve mentioned before that my local cinema does something the that they call Rewind showings which give you the chance to see older films back on the big screen where they belong. Sometimes it is a first chance to see the big screen version, I only saw 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time when it came out on TV. Other times it is a chance to rekindle recollections of earlier trips to the cinema, Superman: The Movie, Die Hard, and Jurassic Park are just a few of the memory joggers that I’ve enjoyed. 

So when I saw that they were showing the original Star Wars trilogy I booked tickets straight away! I’m not sure whether it was in deference to the age of the expected audience or not but the powers that be at The Light decided not to have the screenings all on one day. Instead they were shown on three consecutive days culminating in the final part being shown on New Years Eve. I say that they may have been expected an older clientele because I suppose it was an opportunity for people like myself to try and recreate the memory of seeing it for the first time back in the late seventies/early eighties. 

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These Aren’t The Droids You’re Looking For

Yes, I was there in 1978 when, as it was titled back then, Star Wars was released.  Yes, 1978. The premiere was in 1977 but that was only in the USA. The London premiere wasn’t until the end of December and it went on general release in January of the following year. By then I was a third year student but I could take some time off studying for finals and pop along and see what all the fuss was about. The first showing gave away little metal badges with “MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU!” on them. Believe it or believe it not, younglings, but there was a time when people didn’t know what that was referring to!

As is the way of the world, that little badge has long gone. I still have my college scarf and, probably, some socks and underpants from that era but something that might be worth a few bob on eBay disappeared ages ago. Ah well, I may have lost the badge but the memories are strong with this one! I remember going along to the ABC in Staines and watching something that was not your typical Sci-Fi film…not back then, anyway. Prior to Star Wars  Sci-Fi was a bit of a wobbly genre. Wobbly sets, scripts, and acting. It was descending into a role as the poor relation of cinema. Special effects weren’t advanced enough to hide the fact that we were dealing with small scale models and puppets!

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Use The Force, Luke

Highlights, for me, included The Time Machine, The Incredible Shrinking Man, and Logan’s Run. Admittedly the last one is a favourite mainly because of my ongoing crush on Jenny Agutter. But Star Wars changed all that. George Lucas had, a few years earlier, formed Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) after discovering that the 20th Century Fox visual effects department had been closed down. ILM was at the forefront of digital filming techniques which made you believe that the super massive star cruiser which was floating through space in much the same way that bricks don’t, to quote Douglas Adams, actually was floating through space. There were no wires to be seen and the small, nippy ships actually did do loops and twirls rather than just going in straight lines.

After the 20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm idents there was silence and a screen which said “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….” Then there was a huge fanfare and “STAR WARS” filled the screen. The music blared away and the stylised title card shrank down giving the impression it was flying off into the distance. This was then followed by the crawling prologue text giving the background to the story.  Back then, though, it just started with “It is a period of civil war.” No episode number or sub-title. I guess it would have been pretty arrogant of George Lucas to assume that he was going to get the opportunity to make a sequel let alone a trilogy…or a trilogy of trilogies! 

The Force Is Strong With This One

One very minor point is that, back in the seventies version of the prologue crawl, “Rebel” was spelt with a lower case “r”. After that, the music drops but doesn’t go away. The camera slowly tilts down and we see a small planet in the distance. A bit more tilt and we see another, much closer planet. But a wee bit more tilt and we see a huge, much closer planet. So huge and/or close that it just sits along the bottom of the screen. Then a space ship zooms in from the top of the screen and races into the distance. As it flies away we can see that it is firing back behind it. Something is following it. Then the something appears. It is on the same flight path as the fleeing ship. And it is bigger…MUCH bigger. It keeps coming and coming until you start wondering how big can this thing be! It takes thirteen seconds for the ship to get fully into view.

Then there is a change of angle. Now we are positioned in front of both ships. The smaller one just serves to reinforce how big the following craft is. The firing is relentless and eventually, the little ship is hit and boarded. All this and we’re still under four minutes in! The first characters we see are a couple of robots. Well, technically an android and a robot. They are C-3PO and R2-D2. There is another android with them, like a slightly smaller, silver version of C-3PO but that one never says a word and goes down a side passage a few seconds later.  The Rebel crew are running around  dressed in grey and black outfits and what look like oversized cycling helmets. The  boarding party consist of men in white armour apart from the leader. He is in similar armour but his is black and he has a large cloak…ladies and gentlemen, meet Darth Vader.

I Have A Very Bad Feeling About This

One thing that took me by surprise was the absence of the Darth Vader theme! I fully expected to hear it when he walked in. My grandson loves it and manages to drive his teachers nuts by insisting on going “dum dum dum, dum de dum, dum de dum” whenever he comes into the room! Despite that absence one of the things that really makes Star Wars stand out is the music. John Williams is renowned for his scores. He has been composing music for films since the fifties. From that time he has composed over 150 scores. You don’t get that many people knocking on your door and waving their cheque books in your face. He has scored most of the big, BIG, franchises that you’ve heard of. Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, Superman, Indiana Jones, and Star Wars are the biggest and I won’t start on the standalone features!

So there is the huge improvement in special effects and the enormous upgrade in the quality of the music. What else made Star Wars stand out from previous entries in the Sci-Fi pantheon was the sheer audacity of the story. When George Lucas first pitched his idea back in 1976 there was, in his mind, twelve films. Time has passed and there are nine films that follow the Skywalker saga. There is one that fills in the gap between the first and second trilogies and a Han Solo biopic. There have also been a variety of TV series that Disney have thrown money at to fill in aspects of the story that nobody, possibly even including George Lucas, didn’t know need filling! The Mandalorian, The Book Of Boba Fett, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Andor, and Ahsoka are just the live action ones! I think this lot is the equivalent of way more than twelve films!

Help Me, Obi-Wan Kenobi; You’re My Only Hope

I think that the argument for Star Wars having rewritten the rules of Sci-Fi films is pretty much unassailable. I remember at the time feeling that this was something new, fresh, and just, well, different. It seems difficult to imagine now just how groundbreaking it was. Things were about to change anyway. The Terminator, Alien, Star Trek: The Movie, Tron, and Blade Runner where still to come.  But, as well as all those titles, there was also the next couple of episodes of the original Star Wars trilogy to come. The second (fifth?) episode came out in 1980. This opened in the same way with the “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….” followed by another huge fanfare and the stylised “STAR WARS” logo filling the screen. This time though, there was an episode number (5, well V) and  the “The Empire Strikes Back” subheading. That seemed to suggest that there were three prequels to come.

I’m not going to wang on too much about the story of the three films because, if you are a Star Wars fan, you will have seen them and know what happens and, if you aren’t a fan, then you won’t still be reading this! What did occur to me was the fact that the films I saw this week are not the same as the ones that I saw back in Staines in 1978, London in 1980, and Stockport in 1983. It’s no secret that George Lucas has twiddled with the originals. In 1997, a couple of years before the first of the prequels landed, George gave the original/middle trilogy a make over. Part of the process included general cleaning up and enhancing the finish. He also took the opportunity of vastly improved computer power to add some scenes which he thought ended up with the film he had in mind but was denied him due to restrictions of time, budget, and technology.

That’s No Moon…It’s A Space Station

The changes are most obvious with the first episode. This gets a makeover right from before the opening prologue crawl. In fact, right from booking the tickets! To fit in with the whole saga approach, the title was retconned into the new format. It went from Star Wars to Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. From then on there are several changes from minor to major. Minor as in changing a lightsaber colour up to major as in the inclusion of a scene where Jabba the Hutt meets up with Han Solo in the Mos Eisley docking bay. There are also minor changes which cause  major ripples in the world of Star Wars fandom. For instance the Greedo and Han scene was tweaked to make it clear who shoots first! The other two films have minor tweaks but I think that, given the success of the first film, Mr Lucas was allowed a bit more time and budget.

But, when all’s said and done, it was wonderful to see the original trilogy back on the big screen again. I’ve seen the films dozens of times but, now, twice on the big screen. I did think that it would be interesting to see the original alongside the latest version so you can directly compare the differences. I do remember rumours of things like potatoes in the asteroid field and a fighter plane in one of the dogfight scenes. I think I may have seen them on VHS versions but can’t actually remember if I did or if it was a false memory. One other thing that occurred to me was I always try and get a seat on the back row. I did wonder whether, given I know the film so well, I should try sitting at the very front; my brother sits there so that the image fills his peripheral vision and swears by it! Let’s see what the next Rewind showing is…

Movie Grade: A++

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4 responses to “Is It The Beginning Or The Middle? A Big Screen Rewatch Of The Original Star Wars Trilogy”

  1. Star Wars was the first movie I watched in a theater by my self. I had already seen it once, or twice, by this time and I vaguely remember winning some bet with my stepfather and my reward was to see Star Wars. I would have been about 11 years old at the time. He took me to the theater, bought a ticket, and sent me in. All by myself. It was magic. I still have a memory of sitting in the theater. At that age I didn’t watch movies. I lived them.

    I just watched a behind the scenes, making of, Aliens. In the documentary they mention that James Cameron saw Star Wars and was mad because he knew that he was meant to make movies like that. He was still just an art director at the time.

  2. Rob, you sat in the back row on purpose? It’s like you somehow knew you would be writing Peetimes for RunPee.

  3. Rob Williams Avatar
    Rob Williams

    Sitting on the back row is a habit I got into many years ago!

    The projectionist used to adjust the focus. They would set the focus for the clearest image for their seat. Their seat was right at the very back.

    So it makes sense to sit near the back of the auditorium.

  4. Chance Fields Avatar
    Chance Fields

    Are you sure that you sat in the back row on purpose, Rob? It’s almost as if you had a crystal clear understanding that you would be authoring Peetimes for RunPee.

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