Welcome to SciFiNow’s long-running feature that gives you the chance to vote for the greatest sci-fi film of all time. Every issue for the next ten months the industry’s best writers will campaign for their favourite film from a shortlist of ten, with our readers ultimately deciding which film deserves the accolade of Greatest Sci-Fi Film Of All Time.
Today, Andrew Rilstone argues in favour of George Lucas’s 1977 adventure about “a boy, a girl, and a universe.”
Calling Star Wars ‘iconic’ is like saying The Beatles sang one or two pop songs. At this moment, kids whose parents weren’t even born when the movie first came out are playing with their Star Wars Lego, knowing exactly who ‘Luke Skywalker’ and ‘Obi-Wan Kenobi’ are. People who don’t particularly like sci-fi know what “May the Force be with you” means. How many other films had a United States strategic defence initiative named after them? When real-life soldiers say that to survive in Iraq, you need “a Jedi mind-set” everyone knows exactly what they mean.
So what about the movie itself? If you weren’t lucky enough to have been 12-years-old back then, you may not realise how different Star Wars was from everything that came before it. It wasn’t science fiction; it was a fairy tale and a cowboy film and a war comic acted out with ray guns and spaceships – all the coolest toys from all the coolest genres, which only fitted together because George Lucas said they did.
Try to imagine the impact of seeing that opening scene for the first time: the antiseptic corridors and the soldiers with the too-shiny white uniforms – all gleaming and futuristic. And then, through the smoke, as if from a completely different movie, in walks a guy wearing a black cloak and a suit of armour and starts strangling people with one hand. Dark knights and starship troopers? Captive princesses and robots? Astronauts hanging out with giant insects in cowboy saloons? What sort of craziness is this?
The original posters described it as “The story of a boy, a girl, and a universe” and they weren’t far wrong – it’s the universe that is the star of the film. But Lucas shows you very little of that universe. He prefers to give you little hints, letting you glimpse it out of the corner of your eye. When we first meet Luke Skywalker he’s buying two robots. He could have bought them off human traders or pirates. Instead, he buys them from ‘Jawas’. What is a Jawa? Is it native to Tatooine? Where did they get that huge ‘sandcrawler’, and what’s it for? We never find out. We don’t even see what they look like under their cloaks. They’re just there. This is a universe where aliens are so common that people hardly notice them. Where a floaty hovercar isn’t a wondrous bit of a future-tech but a rundown, out of date vehicle that no one even looks at.
And then there are the Jedi Knights. It’s cool that the heroic rebels defeat the technocratic Empire, not because they’re better equipped, but because they’re more spiritual. It’s genius to have them talk, not about any identifiable religion, but about ‘The Force’. Is The Force God? Yes, if you want it to be. Or is it just some scientific phenomenon? Yes, if you want it to be that, it can be that as well.
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