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Star Wars: A New Hope - A morality tale for our age

PUBLISHED: 19:52 10 May 2019

Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983). C3P0 and R2D2 approach Jabba's Palace. The original films shot on location rather than use CGI greenscreen technology  Photo: 20th Century Fox

Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983). C3P0 and R2D2 approach Jabba's Palace. The original films shot on location rather than use CGI greenscreen technology Photo: 20th Century Fox

20th Century Fox/OutNow

The original Star Wars films are still the multi-layered gold standard which all new Star wars films must be measured. Sadly, for some the new films fall far short of the mark

"You came in that thing? You're braver than I thought..." The fact that the technology was rusty and unreliable made the original films more believable. Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977). Photo: 20th Century Fox

There is something timeless and magical about the original three Star Wars movies. Star Wars: A New Hope was the movie which changed the cinema landscape forever. It didn't create the summer blockbuster as some have claimed - Steven Spielberg's Jaws did that two years earlier - but it did change the sort of movies that people regarded as blockbusters.

The original Star Wars films are a homage to the big 'event' movies of the past. The historical epics like El Cid and The Adventures of Robin Hood with their good versus evil storylines, honourable (Jedi) knights fighting villainous meglomaniacs which was then cleverly crossed with World War II movies like The Dambusters.

The attack on the Death Star is a direct lift from The Dambusters while the aerial battles with the TIE fighters echo the twist and turns of Spitfires and Messerschmitts from The Battle of Britain.

But, the movie-making collage is only part of its appeal. The first trio of Star Wars films are rich in character and spend time building backstory about past events which have come to form the mythology of the story. The scene in which Alec Guinness as Obi Wan Kenobi tells Luke about the 'Dark Times' and The Clone Wars was far better, far more evocative than anything we got to see in George Lucas' pitiful prequels.

Luke Skywalker undergoing Jedi training with Yoda. Yoda the puppet, voiced by Frank Oz, was more convincing than Yoda the digital creation. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980). Photo: 20th Century FoxLuke Skywalker undergoing Jedi training with Yoda. Yoda the puppet, voiced by Frank Oz, was more convincing than Yoda the digital creation. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980). Photo: 20th Century Fox

Alec Guinness was talking about honour and doing the right thing, protecting the weak and the rights of ordinary people from power-hungry autocracy and what Lucas decided to give us was a very dull series of films about trade agreements.

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The original films were also about people we could identify with. We saw the universe in all its wide-eyed wonder through the gaze of the naive but brave Luke Skywalker. The worlds in which they lived were also believable. Everything was dirty and rundown. Nothing was new. Everything was greasy, rusty or broken down. I liked the fact you had to hit the control panel of the Millennium Falcon with a mallet to make it work.

The films were made by a storyteller rather than a special effects expert. The effects were good but they were there to service the story rather than be an end in themselves. The prequels were an exercise in the promotion of new tech rather than an exercise in film-making. They were an experiment to see if George Lucas could make a film without building scenery.

Harrison Ford as Han Solo and Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca gave the heroes a disreputable element to their character which the new films sorely lack. Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977). Photo: 20th Century FoxHarrison Ford as Han Solo and Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca gave the heroes a disreputable element to their character which the new films sorely lack. Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977). Photo: 20th Century Fox

Over the years George Lucas lost his way. He ceased being a grounded film-maker. In the old days he surrounded himself with expert film-makers. Back in 1980, to prove Star Wars wasn't a fluke, he made sure The Empire Strikes Back was one of those rare films where the sequel was better than the original.

Lots of thought went into the action sequences and into the development of the character of Yoda. The Jedi Master was created by Muppet performer Frank Oz, played absolutely straight, and was so much more believable than the twisting, tumbling CGI version featured in the prequels.

The original films had integrity because they had faith in the story they were telling. There was a reason the films stopped after three episodes - the story was complete. You didn't need any more.

The new films are fixated on spectacle, on empty action sequences which are the cinematic equivalent of candy floss - an insubstantial sugar-rush which gives you an unhealthy buzz but doesn't actually do you any good at all.

The original three films, Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, in contrast, offer a layered story structure populated by three dimensional characters which operate in a rusty, dusty world. It was the grit and the grime was what gave the original films their believability. They are the morality tales for our age. They have something to say about courage and self-belief.

All the new films seem to be saying is: "Can't we make this spaceship go any faster?"

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