The critical drubbing given to John Carter got me wondering … what would these joyless reviewers have to say about Star Wars if it came out today? I have always been and remain a big fan of the Star Wars movies, so what’s written below certainly does not reflect my opinion of them … but perhaps does reflect the way today’s elite critics might see the original Star Wars if it were to make its first appearance in today’s world.
(For the record, I loved John Carter … and I didn’t watch it to "review the budget." It transported me to another world.) Here’s what I think a highbrow critic might have written were it to come out today. The below is fully imaginary and in no way reflects my own view of Star Wars.
(2 out of 5 stars)
If robots who talk with fussy British accents, men in gorilla suits and endless laser-gun fights are your thing, then by all means give Star Wars a try, but don’t say you weren’t properly warned. It’s a movie with such lousy buzz that even exhibitors who got advance screenings wouldn’t book it into their theaters.
To help defray undoubted losses on the reported $10 million budget – that’s twice the cost of an average movie these days – Fox finally managed to dump this bloated Saturday-matinee kiddie feature into a measly 32 screens on Memorial Day, a holiday better known for quick vacations than spending time in the dark. At this rate, Fox will take whatever it can get, though its executives were smart enough to sell the rights away to writer-director George Lucas, who showed so much promise with the vastly superior, smarter American Graffiti.
In Star Wars, no-name actors (the biggest marquee name is Debbie Reynolds’ daughter) do their best to recite the kind of dialogue that might have already seemed dated when Buster Crabbe used it in the ‘30s. They’re joined by some pained-looking, senior-citizen British names like Alec Guinness and, briefly, Peter Cushing, who ostensibly lend an air of credibility to the otherwise brainless goings-on, which have all been done before in Western and war movies -- for a fraction of the cost.
It’s a shame, really, because there are some nice touches, including truly groundbreaking special-effects work and a rousing score by John Williams that cribs more than a bit from Holst’s The Planets, but otherwise enlivens the ridiculously and unnecessarily convoluted plot.
See if you can keep up with me here: In another galaxy “a long time ago” (how’s that for originality?), an Imperialist government is waging a “civil war,” though exactly who is fighting who and why is never even addressed. Note to the young director: If you’re going to use the word “war” in your title, you might do the audience the courtesy of explaining what the war is all about.
All we know for sure is the bad guys are so bad that the chief villain, the awkwardly named Darth Vader (yes, it’s that kind of a B-movie – and the hero’s last name is Skywalker), traipses around wearing black … with a cloak, no less. He’s built a death ray that can blow up entire planets, so take that, Mr. Khruschev. Someone has stolen the plans for the space station and hidden them inside a robot with instructions to deliver them to an old man on a planet that’s entirely made out of desert.
Meanwhile, a young boy finds the robot and gets hunted down by the bad guys while he learns about an ancient religion from an old neighbor, and together off the two go to hire a solider of fortune to help them get the robot back to where it belongs – and, of course, wouldn’t you know it, they stumble right into the path of the war, where they become unlikely heroes and save the day.
If you’re exhausted reading that, just wait until you see Star Wars – though, given the utter lack of faith theater owners and Fox seem to have in it, it will be quite a feat if you do see it, outside of a 10 a.m. show some Saturday. Star Wars may be just fine for the kids, but they’re not the audience that matters to Hollywood, and really Star Wars is just a small pit stop on the way to the summer’s most eagerly awaited films for grown-ups, like A Bridge Too Far, The Deep and Fox’s lavish The Other Side of Midnight.
But Star Wars is worthy of attention not only because of its exorbitant budget and what it says about the gambles involved with selecting and making films – but also because there are a few gems buried in this breathlessly paced nonsense, like the aforementioned score and the uncanny ability of Alec Guinness to speak lines like, “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine” with a straight face.
Particularly uncritical children may enjoy it; for adults, it’s a loud, crashing bore, an ill-advised attempt to transfer the undeniable charms of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon into a big-screen, mega-budgeted spectacle.
Perhaps the low point of a film rife with them is the big cross between a bear and a dog, played by a man in a fur suit. Just how unsophisticated did Lucas think his audience would be?
Star Wars will come and go quickly, so if you really want to try to make sense of its byzantine plot (communicated at the start by a visually impressive, endlessly wordy “introduction” that scrolls up the screen), you’d better check it out while you can; with 32 theaters in the entire country playing it, it will have closed and be ready to move on to smaller markets within the next couple of weeks. Just don't say I didn't try to warn you.
Without doubt, Star Wars isn’t entirely unworthy – any movie that features American Graffiti’s Harrison Ford shouting “yahoo!” can’t be all bad – but for those who prefer even a sprinkling of substance to their movie entertainment, this is one surround-sound "spectacle" you can skip.
Almost everything in this barely released, barely marketed mess of a movie has been done before, more cheaply and with infinitely greater charm and memorability. For some, Star Wars may prove a decent momentary diversion (best to check your brain at the theater door) before we get on to the meat of the summer.
Lucas has said he created Star Wars as a throwback and homage to the kinds of movies he grew up with. Sorry, Mr. Lucas, everything you’ve put up on screen has been done before – using 99.5% less money – and been done better. I liked Star Wars a lot more the first time they did it, back when it was called Buck Rogers.