The worst thing about the 20th anniversary re-release of "Star Wars" is all the news stories and reviews that begin with lame wordplay on "the force is with us" or "in a galaxy a long time ago, far far away." I include my own: Enough already with the schlock!
The best thing about it is "Star Wars." Big, fast-moving, incredibly enjoyable, the movie remains a trip and a half, and any kid out there who hasn't seen it on the big screen ought to get to the nearest one and settle in for the experience. Learn, boys and girls, that movies don't always come 26 inches wide, with fast forward through the boring parts. Sometimes the boring parts make the unboring parts even more unboring. That's called storytelling, not special effects. And the best part: You don't have to rewind!
Oldsters will probably be amazed at how callow and unformed the cast now seems, particularly Harrison Ford's beardless warrior Han Solo, who looks about 17 and as if he hasn't reached puberty quite yet. Since Mark Hamill all but disappeared, the image of his youth has no adult counterpart to shock us.
Some new fretwork has been added, none of it memorable. A few new animals on Tattoine, a few relationships slightly elaborated, a scene with Solo and the slug-like Jaba the Hutt, and some very neat shock waves that now radiate outward like Saturnesque rings from two mega-explosions -- don't stop the presses!
Some revisionists have lately stirred up a fuss by arguing that although the movie, the whole achievement, is first-rate, it must nevertheless be damned for what it produced: endless clones; fewer but more effects-driven films aimed at generic audiences; and a general debasement of film culture in a crazed hit lust. Not until "Star Wars" did L.A. catch on to how much money could be made so fast.
Fair? No. First, it holds a work of popular genius responsible for what followed in its wake, which is like blaming a father for a son's crimes. It also assumes, most stupidly, that had there not been a "Star Wars," things would have turned out differently and better. That's the same logical fallacy that presumes if you'd left at 3: 15 instead of 3: 16, your car wouldn't have been totaled by another. No, it may have been totaled by a train. In the same way, the movies might have turned out far worse. Suppose "A Star Is Born" had made $100 million in four weeks? We'd have had a Streisand picture every * summer!
But you've also got to figure the positive results of "Star Wars." If studio movies sunk into the toilet, what also happened was an opening in an independent, or counter market. If the studios hadn't gone freako for "Star Wars"-scale loot, there might not have been room in the market for the Coen brothers, Quentin Tarantino or Spike Lee, for Miramax, for Fine Line, for Sony Classics, for the diversity that now makes the movie-going process so rich and my job so much fun. So what we got was cheap at the price.
'Star Wars: The New Edition'
Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher
Directed by George Lucas
Released by 20th Century Fox
Sun score: ****
Pub Date: 1/31/97