It was 35 years ago, on a simple summer weekend like this, that a new American mythology was born. Based in the boyhood dreams of its creator and formed over the fears of its clueless studio backers, it was released to little fanfare and even less audience enthusiasm. In fact, for months before it premiered, its tacky trailer turned off as many viewers as it supposedly enticed. Yet those who waited in line to see what this new proposed blockbuster was all about were not disappointed. George Lucas, still high from the hit status of his love letter to the ‘50s, American Graffiti, returned to his THX 1138 roots to reinvent the action film for a speculative fiction crowd. The results have since become an entertainment juggernaut, a never-ending combination of folklore and merchandising that has managed to maintain its popularity across decades and generations.
So what it is about Star Wars that we love so much? It’s definitely not the prequels which figured out the seemingly impossible task of making devotees uneasy about further journeys into this galaxy long ago and far, far, away. It’s not the ancillary characters like Queen Amidala, General Grievous, and Count Dooku (well, the last two are pretty cool). No, it’s the basics, it’s the building blocks upon which this entire enterprise was formed and forwarded. It’s the unabridged version of the first film, the grit and realism of the practical F/X unaltered by shoddy CGI. It’s the people who populated that original trilogy, including heroes and villains, scoundrels and surprise warriors. It’s also the gadgets and gizmos, the vision of a world like ours and yet wholly different and unique.
In celebration of the franchise’s 35th birthday, we offer our take on the 10 Greatest Aspects of the Star Wars Franchise. You might not agree with them all, but in our opinion, these elements make the movies worth revisiting even after decades of rote memorization. We begin with…
While they remain a lamentable facet of this beloved franchise, the prequels provided at least one distinct delight—the Phantom Menace‘s memorable pod races. Sure, they make no sense logistically (if the vehicles can achieve a certain level of altitude, why are they hugging the jagged rock faces of the course) and argue for a child’s superior motor skills (yeah… right), but they successfully illustrated that Lucas hadn’t lost all of his ability to amaze. While everything else in the first three films suffers in comparison to the original trilogy, the pod race wasn’t one of them.
Recently, scientists and physicists have argued over the planetoid sized weapon’s effectiveness as a means of attack (besides, there’s that irritating little fatal flaw with that errant air shaft), yet there’s no denying its power as a symbol. For fans of films where the villainy is often laughable, the prospect of the Empire leveling its enemy in one world destroying blow definitely ups the ante. While it does have those creaky plot conveniences as part of its make-up (so any old droid could sneak on the ship and screw around with its computer?), it remains a spectacular statement of military purpose.
Many consider him whiny and weak willed. Some die hards even lament his position as the original trilogy’s main hero (they argue for our #3 choice here). Yet for those of us who walked into a theater some 30-plus years ago and witnessed this world for the first time, young Skywalker is the perfect audience surrogate. He’s just like us: skeptical, unsure, and in awe of the out of this universe responsibility suddenly thrust upon him. As the sequels slowly shifted over to the entire father/son dynamic, Luke remained a steadfast source of the Force’s fate. He was and is the little kid in all of us.
There are few images in the Star Wars universe more indelible than the wintery, windswept landscape of the ice planet Hoth as these massive (and some argue, impractical) elephantine machines meander toward their date with rebel destiny. Even rendered via the outdated F/X conceit of stop motion animation, the AT-AT is amazing. It’s both ancient and wholly high tech, a callback to the days when campaigns were won by sheer brutal (usually, animal aided) force as well as the all important ‘intimidation’ factor. Even when proven to be incredibly vulnerable to enemy attack, they look good as Hell in the clutches of defeat.
We all know the statistic—it can make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs—and its value to both its current owner, its previous captain, and the slug-like crime boss who has a price on their head. Few inanimate objects get as many set-piece moments as the Falcon, from its played for laughs failure to make the jump to light speed to the iconic dogfight where Luke and Han introducing real virtual gaming to late ‘70s audiences. Even later on, it would dodge asteroids, escape giant worms, and more or less own the galaxy with its combination of manpower and make-up.