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Star Wars (1977)



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In May of 1977, George Lucas released one of the most fascinating, wonderful motion pictures ever made. In a midst of ordinary films about regular people, Star Wars took people to an old, remote world where machinery is sentient, creatures of the galaxy convene in bars, monstrous space stations blow up entire planets, and cloned men in white armor carry out the bidding of a power hungry empire. It was unlike anything cinema had seen before, and yet it was a fairy tale as familiar to all of us as those we read as children. Its perfect production is something of a minor miracle. Every small detail is a joy to behold. The story is set in space, yet it's not science fiction. It's based on a number of legendary mythological stories, yet it's a wholly original work. The budget was low, but the special effects are (excuse the pun) stellar. Much of Star Wars' success and brilliance lies in its effectiveness both as a "serious" fantasy as well as a parody of one, without having one compromise the other in the slightest. It is a fairy tale, in every sense of the word -- a brave yet young hero facing impossible odds. There's a wise sage to guide him, a heroine to rescue, and evil incarnate to face. There's sin and redemption, captures and escapes, and an electrifying (excuse this pun, too) update of the traditional sword fight. What more could a fairy tale have? For starters, it could poke a little fun at itself. The hero and his dedicated companions charge their way through the enemy defenses using skill and cunning, deftly sidestepping doom at every turn, emerging victorious when all seems lost. Our hero bursts through the door to rescue the beautiful damsel in distress with a proud glint in his eye and the aura of glory. Now is the moment where the heroine will sigh and traipse in to his arms and be as proud of him as he is of himself. Right? Well, maybe not. Maybe she'll smirk, take a jab at his height, and reproach him for not planning far enough ahead.

Star Wars: Special Edition is an intriguing update of the original. Star Wars was groundbreaking at the time -- Lucas did things on and off the screen that had never been done before. Yet no one had envisioned that twenty years later, it would still be breaking new ground. With the Star Wars: Special Edition, Lucas has not just restored some scenes cut from the original, but he's completely renovated the special effects, adding polish -- and occasionally whole cast members -- to many scenes. Nothing like this has ever been done before. But was it worth it? In a word, yes -- but the changes aren't unconditionally welcome. For the most part, the original is made even better. The TIE fighters and X-Wings look crisp and detailed, the establishing shots of Mos Eisley greatly add to the atmosphere, and the resurrected scene with Han and Jabba the Hutt is a gold mine (particularly for Star Wars junkies who knew it had been shot but cut). However, two scenes become casualties of the Special Edition update: (1) the changed Greedo scene makes a horribly misguided attempt to water down Han Solo's character and ends up being a logical flaw to boot, and (2) the scene where Obiwan Kenobi persuades the Stormtroopers to back off is so full of background commotion, it kills the scene's tension. In comparison to the original cut, I give the Special Edition a reserved thumbs up. Ideally, Star Wars fans should own a copy of both. Whichever edition you watch, you'll still be watching one of the greatest films ever made.

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