I have never understood the violent passion aroused by Star Wars. I know some people hate it, regarding it as somehow debasing science fiction (and, indeed, the whole of cinema) though for me they remain an entertaining and imaginative sequence of films – not profound, certainly, but fun. More bewildering, though, are those who adore them with a frenzy that can border on the psychotic – the kind of “fan” who could scream about Lucas “raping their childhood” on the release of the recent (also entertaining) prequels – as if Jar Jar was in any sense a sillier, or more childish, creation than C3-P0 or an Ewok.

Don’t get me wrong, I can do a half decent wookie impersonation and drop chunks of dialogue into any conversation, no matter how inappropriate, as well as the next geek, but Star Wars was never really the defining moment of my childhood the way it seems to have been for a whole generation of fans.

In 1978 I was nine years old and pretty much living in our local cinema – I was the only kid in school who’d seen both Annie Hall and Smokey and the Bandit. My hometown was (and remains) in the middle of nowhere, so the order in which films arrived at our local flea–pit could be somewhat erratic. Thus, it happened, that I saw Close Encounters of the Third Kind a fortnight before I saw Star Wars: A New Hope. It isn’t too much of an exaggeration to say that Close Encounters totally freaked me out, but in a good way, a mind–expanding way. I was still reeling from that when I saw Star Wars and, though I enjoyed it enormously (I saw it at least twice), it was Spielberg not Lucas who had grabbed my imagination by the short and curlies.

Perhaps if I’d seen The Empire Strikes Back at the cinema I’d have become a fanatic – but, at the height of “The Troubles”, some philistine burnt down our cinema and I first saw the sequel on a dodgy pirate video. If I’d been born in Crewe or Brighton (or even Cookstown) I might now be one of those people who list their religion as “Jedi” and sit at home at night sticking pins in George Lucas dolls.

Instead I approach the films with warm feelings, but not fervour. These are first and foremost children’s films – not childish, but made with regard for the structures and archetypes of the traditional mythological tales told to children. This, I think, goes someway to explaining their longevity and influence – they are modern folktales with heroes and villains and bogeymen and charm. They are also technically superb – some of the recently inserted digital shots are already showing their age while the (admittedly scrubbed and shining) original model shots retain all their power. And, if these are not truly great films – they lack any real depth of characterisation and too often lean on corny dialogue – they remain great cinema, extraordinary spectacle and huge fun. The original Star Wars trilogy is still unsurpassed as the standard by which all other popcorn movies must be judged.

Of the DVD releases it is enough, I think, to say that these films have never looked or sounded better on a home system and that within thirty seconds of the opening crawl of A New Hope slipping away, I was spending as much time trying to work out ways of persuading my wife to let me build a cinema in our home as I was watching the actual film. Whatever one thinks of the digital additions to the films, Lucasfilm have done a stunning technical job of preparing the DVD release.

As for extras, well it is hard to imagine what more one could want. Lucas doesn’t give great commentary, but then few directors do. However, the bonus fourth disc – and especially the feature-length documentary Empire of Dreams – is a fantastic, comprehensive and fascinating piece of work.

The films in the DVD box set are effectively the 1997 digitally enhanced re-releases, so yes Greedo still shoots first and (although some extra tweaking has gone on) yes the scene still looks stupid. No amount of grumbling by fans is going to get that changed, but I can live with it for the extra “thunk!” that they added as the stormtrooper bashes his head on the door as he enters the room.

No review is going to change anyone’s opinion of these films now, but if you want to watch Star Wars again, then the DVD box set is undoubtedly the best way to scratch that itch.

(Originally published in Matrix 170, Nov/Dec 2004)

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