Star Wars

  • Title:  Star Wars (aka Star Wars IV:  A New Hope)
  • Director:  George Lucas
  • Date:  1977
  • Studio:  20th Century Fox
  • Genre:  SF, Fantasy, Adventure
  • Cast:  Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Alec Guinness, Peter Cushing
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Your father’s light sabre.  This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight.  Not as clumsy or random as a blaster.  An elegant weapon, for a more civilized age.”  — Obi-Wan Kenobi

“The force is what gives a Jedi his power.  It’s an energy field created by all living things, it surrounds us and penetrates us, it binds the Galaxy together.”  — Obi-Wan Kenobi

“I want to come with you to Alderaan.  There’s nothing for me here now.  I want to learn the ways of  the force and become a Jedi like my father.”  — Luke

“I’m Luke Skywalker, I’m here to rescue you!”  — Luke

Hands down one of my favorite movies, ever!  Star Wars is the classic science fantasy film, mixing the cultural mysticism of Old Japan, with the classic tale of farm boy who wants adventure, then he becomes very important.

The film opens with a scroll revealing this is “Episode IV” like the old movie serials from the 1930s. This catches up on the plot for a “pre-quel” that in 1977 didn’t exist, but it explains the background for what’s going on.  We see an impressive, but small ship being chased and shot at — then a shot of a much, much larger ship chasing it.  The ship seems to go on forever.  It’s blasting lasers at the smaller ship.

Inside the ship we meet two ‘Droids (or androids), R2-D2 and C3PO.  R2-D2 communicates only in whistles and beeps (meant to suggest machine language) though we have an idea what he’s saying from C3PO’s responses.  C3PO, a “protocol” droid and translator, seems a bit like a bad butler.  The entire ship is swallowed by the larger one.  Imperial Storm Troopers in metallic white armor burst in. Vader strangles one of the rebels, and Princess Leia is stunned unconscious.

R2-D2 and C3PO leave the ship in an escape pod.  Because the pod registers no life signs, the Imperial troops let it get away.  They land on a dessert planet.  Jawas, dessert scavengers, pick up the two droids.
The Storm Troopers arrive, thinking the “plans” are hidden in the pod, then find evidence of droids and tracks.

Meanwhile, the Jawas arrange their droids to sell.  Luke and his Uncle Owen take first C3PO and then R2-D2 from the Jawas and bring them back to their farm.

Luke stumbles on to part of Leia’s message while cleaning R2-D2.  He claims he’s the property of Obi-Wan Kenobi.  Luke discusses going to “the Academy” with Uncle Owen, but Owen wants him to stay and help with the harvest.  R2-D2 goes off on his own in search of Kenobi.

The next morning, Luke and C3PO search for R2-D2 and find him.  They’re attacked by Sand People.  Obi-Wan Kenobi rescues Luke, and the droids.  Obi-Wan fills Luke in on some of  his father’s history, and gives him a light sabre.  He starts to teach Luke about the Force, and they listen to Leia’s full message hologram.  Kenobi asks Luke to help go to Alderaan.  Luke says he can’t.  Then they find the Jawas attacked and destroyed, it’s meant to look like Sand People were responsible, but Obi-Wan realizes Imperial Storm Troopers were responsible.

On Vader’s ship they discuss the disappearance of  the plans, and Vadar strangles a man using the Force.

Luke rushes home, but the farm’s been destroyed and his Aunt and Uncle burned to death.  He returns to the Jawa site, meets with Kenobi, and vows to go with him, learn the ways of  the Force, and become a Jedi Knight like his father.  They head for Mos Eisley spaceport, the famous “hive of scum and villainy”. There they meet Chewbacca and Han Solo and book passage on the Millennium Falcon.  Luke sells his speeder to get cash.

Imperial troopers show up at the space port and there’s a brief laser gun fight.  The Millennium Falcon escapes the Imperial cruisers by making the jump to light speed and cruising into hyperspace.  During the brief trip, Obi-Wan Kenobi begins to train Luke in the use of  a light sabre.  When they arrive at Alderaan, it’s in the middle of  a meteor shower.  And the planet isn’t there.

We’d seen Vader coldly and calmly use the Death Star to destroy the entire planet, Leia’s home, and one she insists is peaceful with no weapons.  Obi-Wan Kenobi had felt the tremor in the force, the millions of lives silenced, and nearly collapsed, while aboard the Falcon, in hyper-space.

Back on the Falcon, they see a small moon near Alderaan, or what was, Alderaan.  Quickly, Luke, Han, and Obi-Wan realize it’s a space station and they better get out of there.  But they are pulled into a tractor beam.  When the ship lands, the Imperial Troopers think no one’s on board, as they had all hidden in Han’s smuggling compartments.

Obi-Wan Kenobi will take care of the tractor beam.  The rest are to check for info, but stay put.  However, R2-D2 plugs into a Imperial computer port, downloads data, and finds Leia and that she’s scheduled for execution.  Luke convinces Han to rescue Leia.  Han reluctantly agrees.  They rescue Leia, get caught by troopers trying to escape, and Leia blows a hole in the wall with a blaster rifle and they end up in the garbage compactor.  Luke calls C3PO for help and they barely escape.

Getting back to the Falcon isn’t so easy, with more blaster battles.  Everyone gets to the Falcon, but Kenobi is fighting Vader.  Luke sees this on the other side of the hanger deck.  Vader kills Kenobi, and Luke angrily fires at any Imperial storm trooper he can.  The Falcon escapes, after a space battle against TIE fighters, but Leia insists “they let us escape”.

She’s right, the Death Star follows them to the rebel base at Yavin, on a nearby moon. The rebels study the plans and come up with a plan.  Small, one-man fighters (X-wings), will fly through a trench and send photon torpedoes through a 2-meter thermal vent.  If placed directly, and perfectly on target, the torpedo will reach the center of  the moon’s reactor, blow it up and cause a chain reaction to blow up the entire Death Star.

Luke, Wedge, and two squadrons of rebel pilots, head for the Death Star to make their attack run. Meanwhile, Leia and the rebels watch battle screens and listen.  They watch as the Death Star comes closer and closer, knowing that when or if  it clears the planet, they are all dead.  And they listen as the rebel pilots, one by one, die — either in collisions in the trench, blown up by Imperial TIE fighters, or destroyed by anti-aircraft batteries on the Death Star.  Finally, it’s down to Wedge and Luke.  Wedge gets a bit cooked and has to pull out (but he survives).  Han Solo arrives in the Falcon, and destroys two TIE fighters, and clips Vader’s fighter so it rolls off  into space.  Luke disables his targeting computer, and let’s the force guide him to make the shot.  He succeeds.

Later he and Han reunite with Leia and are congratulated.  Both receive awards at a huge ceremony. Chewbacca is also honored and  R2-D2 and C3PO are present at the ceremony.

Star Wars is a fun movie – but it has a lot to say too.

The color palette is bright white, black, and grey.  There’s occasional pops of blue, orange, and brown. But mostly it’s white, black and grey – which gives the film an almost monochromatic look, even though it’s a color film.  And, the sharp whites and blacks add to the feel of being in space.  Despite the obvious fantasy elements of  the film, the star fields, uni-directional lighting and such, feel like space.  Even when R2-D2 is in the back of Luke’s X-Wing fighter, his normally blue markings look black because there’s no light in space to see the blue.

The plot, about an orphan who discovers he is meant for greater things also isn’t that different – after all Frodo Baggins and Harry Potter are also orphans.  The farm boy who longs for adventure, and finds it is an old idea, a classic idea.  And in part, Star Wars, is a classic fantasy tale – with a princess to be rescued and plenty of sword play and (blaster) gun battles.  We even have the old mentor, Merlin-like, teaching the young boy.

But far from being derivative – Star Wars brings all these elements together and cooks them up into something no one had seen in 1977, and the film is still popular, even legendary today.  Because of  the futuristic fantasy setting, it doesn’t feel “old”, unlike many science fiction films (or even buddy cop films or musicals or other genre films).  And that is because the film was made with so much care and precision and the young cast is brilliant.  The script is also brilliant – as the many famous quotes from it bare out. After all, who doesn’t know what “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for?” means or where “May the Force be with you” comes from?  It’s just a brilliant, brilliant film.

The film, like Raiders of  the Lost Ark (1981), is actually split into relatively short sections (again, inspired by movie serials), which allow for a more complicated plot and prevent any boredom from setting to setting.  Star Wars moves at a break-neck speed, and with surprising amounts of humor, although the overall tone is that of sheer fun adventure.

I saw Star Wars when it came out in 1977 – I was eight years old, and the perfect age to fall in love with this movie.  It, like the Indiana Jones films, inspired a life-long love of film.  It also inspired my interest in not only watching science fiction, but reading it.  And reading fantasy also.  A couple of  years ago I had the privilege of showing Empire and Jedi to my at-the-time eight-year-old niece and nephew (they’d seen Star Wars) and it was fun to see the films as new through their eyes.  Because I must admit, I’ve seen these three films so many times I’ve memorize whole sections of dialog from them.

Recommendation:  A must see!
Rating:  5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Star Wars:  The Empire Strikes Back

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Daleks Invasion Earth 2150 AD (Dr. Who)

  • Title:  Daleks Invasion Earth 2150 AD (Dr. Who)
  • Director:  Gordon Flemyng
  • Date:  1966
  • Studio:  AARU Productions LTD, British Lion Films LTD
  • Genre:  Science Fiction
  • Cast:  Peter Cushing, Bernard Cribbins, Roberta Tovey, Ray Brooks, Jill Curzon, Andrew Keir
  • Format:  Technicolor, Techniscope (early widescreen process)
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC, Widescreen

This time Dr. Who (Peter Cushing), as he is called in these films, is traveling with his grand-daughter Susan, and his niece, Louise, when a policeman named Tom Campbell mistakes the TARDIS for a real Police Call Box and stumbles inside. The Doctor travels to 2150 AD anyway, and discovers that London has been destroyed in an Dalek invasion. The film’s first half hour or so actually works pretty well, as the Doctor and his companions are split up and manage to meet up with the local rebel / resistance group. The iconic scene from the black and white television story of a Dalek coming out of the waters of the Thames River is repeated in this movie. However, the equally iconic shot of the Daleks crossing the Tower Bridge, waving their plungers, isn’t present.

The Dalek spaceship is actually a very nice model, and it has Thunderbird Two-like jets on the back.  Why, I have no idea, as jets would be rather useless in space. But I digress. The majority of the Daleks are grey in this film, but with silver and periwinkle accents. Yes, you read that right, periwinkle.  And yes, it’s hard to take light purple Daleks seriously. Leader Daleks are red, black or gold. So, overall, the Daleks aren’t the really awful technicolor variety of the previous film.

Periwinkle_Daleks_cropped

However, after a promising start, the film wanders as various members of the Doctor’s group get lost, reunite, get captured, reunite again, etc. Plot involves first a rebel attack on the Dalek spaceship, which seems to go well, but ends a dismal failure. (And yes, that was an effective portion of the film.  The TV Series Doctor Who, which is much better than these films, is often at it’s best when the Doctor doesn’t completely win). After the failed attack, each of the survivors separately makes their way to Bedfordshire and the Daleks’ mine, either as prisoners or in hopes of rescuing the prisoners. Finally at the end, Dr. Who, foils the plot of the Daleks to drop a bomb to the core of the Earth in an attempt to crack the Earth in some sort of plan to re-fuel their spaceship.

I will say the acting is a bit better than the previous film. However, Susan’s been dumbed down considerably, and she even manages to “twist” her ankle.

Again, I only have this because I got it in a set, for free, from a friend. And I have it as a collectible.  But it’s really not a good movie. BTW — bit of trivia, Bernard Cribbins, who plays Tom Campbell, more recently played companion Donna Noble’s grandfather in the recent television series of Doctor Who.

Recommendation:  Don’t Bother.
Rating:  2 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Double Indemnity

Dr. Who and the Daleks

  • Title:  Dr. Who and the Daleks
  • Director:  Gordon Flemyng
  • Date:  1965
  • Studio:  AARU Productions LTD, Regal Films International LTD
  • Genre:  Science Fiction
  • Cast:  Peter Cushing, Roy Castle, Jennie Linden, Roberta Tovey
  • Format:  Technicolor, Techniscope (an early widescreen process)
  • Format:  R1, NTSC, (Widescreen)

“Anyone can understand science if they put their minds to it.”  – Dr. Who

“Why did they want to kill us? We came in peace.”  — Thal
“You are different from them, and they are afraid of anything different. And what people are afraid of, they try to destroy.”  — Dr. Who
“If we could reason with them.” — Female Thal
“They are beyond reason, they wish only to conquer.” –Dr. Who

I am a big, big fan of the wonderful British television series Doctor Who (1963-1989, 1996, 2001-), which is part of the reason I don’t really care for this film. I’d seen it before and remembered it as being pretty awful. I did luck out an get a free second-hand copy from a friend (in a set with Dalek Invasion Earth 2150 AD, and Dalekmania) so I could add it to my Doctor Who collection without actually having to pay for it.

The film is basically a re-make of the Terry Nation Doctor Who serial, or episode, “The Daleks” (aka “The Dead Planet”). However, it takes considerable liberties with what it borrows. For example, even from the very beginning it was clear the Doctor wasn’t human, but an alien from another planet. Fairly quickly into the series, it was revealed the Doctor was a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. However, in this film, the Doctor is an eccentric Human inventor (called “Dr. Who” no less, rather than “the Doctor”) — a rather tired plot device often found in Disney live action films of the 60s and 70s (and often played by Dick Van Dyke or Fred MacMurray). Also, in the TV series — Susan was a teenaged girl (and somehow the Doctor’s grand-daughter), and Barbara and Ian were her human teachers. In this, Susan is about five years old, Barbara is also the Doctor’s grand-daughter, and Ian is Barbara’s boyfriend.

Dr. Who, as he’s called in this film, shows Ian his TARDIS, which he invented. Soon they are whisked off to a mysterious dead planet. The Doctor sabotages his own machine because he wants to explore a nearby alien city. They run into Daleks. They discover they are suffering from radiation poisoning.  They get a drug that cures the radiation sickness from the Thals. The Daleks decide to destroy the Thals. The Doctor convinces the Thals to fight. They sneak into the city and stop the deadly countdown of another “Neutronic” bomb and destroy the Daleks. Dr. Who finds his missing component to the TARDIS and they leave.

Taken by themselves, many of  these plot elements are identical to the televised serial (which ran as seven, thirty-minute episodes or parts), but the television serial, in spooky black and white is, in many cases, much more effective. For example, the cliffhanger of an early episode has Barbara being attacked by something she can see but the audience can’t …  all the audience sees is the infamous Dalek plunger. This cliffhanger builds suspense – what is attacking Barbara? What does it even look like? The film skips the scene completely and the first time we see the Daleks, there are several of  them — it technicolor glory.

The brightly-colored Daleks are another problem. Most of the time in Doctor Who, even in later color episodes, the Daleks were all grey (with some black). This uniformity stressed the uniformity and conformity of the Dalek characters. Also, some analysts have suggested the grey-and-black was reminiscent of Nazi uniforms.

Finally, the acting in the film version of Dr. Who and the Daleks is greatly disappointing. Ian is silly, clumsy, and not at all brave. Barbara is weak, screams a lot, and has no spunk. Oddly enough, the young, yet intelligent, Susan (only five or eight, rather than a teenager), is the most engaging character besides Cushing’s Doctor. The guest actors are no better. One Thal at one point thanks the Doctor with a tone that seems to suggest he thinks the exact opposite. And the Daleks are chatty!  Daleks are not supposed to be chatty. “Exterminate!” “I obey!” That’s about it. Not all the chatter.

Overall the only reason I have this film is I didn’t have to pay for it, and it’s a interesting and bizarre addition to my collection of Doctor Who (TV series) memorabilia. And, I am a bit of a complete-ist when I collect something.

Recommendation:  Don’t bother.
Rating:  2
Next Film:  Dalek Invasion Earth 2150 AD