Blog Directory CineVerse: Citizen Vader

Citizen Vader

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Why Star Wars will endure as a movie classic

by Erik J. Martin

(Note: This is part 1 of a 4-part article that will publish over the next 4 weeks).

“Here’s looking at you, kid.”
“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
“Rosebud...”
“I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.”
“There’s no place like home.”
“May the Force be with you.”


In 1977, few would dare utter the latter catch quote in the same breath as its predecessors. But 34 years after the release of Star Wars: A New Hope, who wouldn’t agree that “May the Force be with you” is the most identifiable signature phrase of any movie in history?

What’s more, why shouldn’t Star Wars be considered one of the greatest films in history – a cinematic achievement worthy of standing among all-time silver screen classics like Casablanca, Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, The Godfather, or It’s a Wonderful Life?

A long time ago, the critics were far, far away...
When Star Wars: A New Hope was released in 1977, it was met with mostly positive reviews, though no major critic deemed it an instant classic, artistic masterpiece or cinematic tour de force. Its groundbreaking special effects were certainly widely hailed and its soundtrack and entertaining screenplay garnered favorable critiques.

The film literati, however, were quick to find fault with the sci-fi flick’s performances (New Yorker critic Pauline Kael condemned Star Wars for subscribing to the “Ricky Nelson school of acting”), dialogue, and clich├ęd motifs borrowed from other genre pictures, such as the OK-corral gunfights, the damsel-in-distress rescue, and the time-worn good-versus-evil conflict.

Time Magazine critic Richard Corliss admitted in a 1997 Time article that he arrived at this unflattering assessment after seeing Star Wars for the first time in 1977: “The sets were Formica, the characters cardboard; the tale had drive but no depth, a tour at warp speed through an antiseptic landscape. I admired George Lucas' attention to detail, his Tolkien-like industry in creating a host of alien life-forms, but I remained unmoved. Peering at Star Wars through the telescope of my disinterest, I made this fearless box-office prediction: ‘The movie's legs will prove as vulnerable as C-3PO's.’”

Academy Award voters agreed with these criticisms enough to only reward the film with lesser, technical Oscars (Best Art Direction, Costume Design, Visual Effects, Film Editing, Music, and Sound). Nominations for Best Picture, Director (Lucas), Supporting Actor (Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi) and Original Screenplay lost.  Star Wars’ boffo box-office success began to draw a backlash from some critics, who came to view the film as the prototype for all the mindless, action-packed Hollywood blockbusters that followed. Lucas’ epic was branded as the movie that signaled the end of the string of dark, brooding artistic masterpieces of the 1970s– the kind of critic’s darlings that films like The Godfather, Chinatown and A Clockwork Orange represented. Soon, the critical measuring stick became the bigger the movie hype, the lower the movie type. The unspoken but pervading thought: films raking in nine figures probably didn’t deserve four stars.

But, if a supermodel can say “don’t hate me because I’m beautiful,” why should Star Wars be given the film critic snob job treatment just because it’s the most watched movie and the second-biggest box office success in history?

Next week: Fan favorite, critics’ darling

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