ENTERTAINMENT

Here's How Critics Felt About The Original 'Star Wars' In 1977

Most adored its hokey religions and ancient weapons.

At last, the big week is here. After more than a year's worth of teasers, magazine covers and cryptic plot hints, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" is mere days from being unleashed upon the globe. Some pundits say it could become the highest-grossing movie of all time -- a fate no one would have predicted in the early blockbuster days of 1977, even after the first installment surpassed "Jaws" to set its own box-office record. And before it was subtitled "Episode IV: A New Hope" (that didn't occur until its 1981 re-release, a year after "The Empire Strikes Back" opened), the original "Star Wars" was the subject of unprecedented frenzy. Critics, for the most part, adored the film, calling it "spellbinding" and "quietly sophisticated." While George Lucas' space opera was not without detractors (hiya, Pauline Kael), the Oscars followed suit with 10 nominations, including Best Picture.

Will the Force be as strong when it awakens in theaters on Thursday night? While you wait to find out, here's what critics said about the original "Star Wars."

• "The true stars of 'Star Wars' are John Barry, who was responsible for the production design, and the people who were responsible for the incredible special effects -- space ships, explosions of stars, space battles, hand-to-hand combat with what appear to be lethal neon swords. I have a particular fondness for the look of the interior of a gigantic satellite called the Death Star, a place full of the kind of waste space one finds today only in old Fifth Avenue mansions and public libraries." -- Vincent Canby, The New York Times

• "The most fascinating single scene, for me, was the one set in the bizarre saloon on the planet Tatooine. As that incredible collection of extraterrestrial alcoholics and bug-eyed martini drinkers lined up at the bar, and as Lucas so slyly let them exhibit characteristics that were universally human, I found myself feeling a combination of admiration and delight. 'Star Wars' had placed me in the presence of really magical movie invention: Here, all mixed together, were whimsy and fantasy, simple wonderment and quietly sophisticated storytelling." -- Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

• "There’s no breather in the picture, no lyricism; the only attempt at beauty is in the double sunset. It’s enjoyable on its own terms, but it’s exhausting, too: like taking a pack of kids to the circus. An hour into it, children say that they’re ready to see it again; that’s because it’s an assemblage of spare parts -- it has no emotional grip." -- Pauline Kael, The New Yorker

• "Lucas combines excellent comedy and drama and progresses it with exciting action on tremendously effective space battles. Likeable heroes on noble missions and despicable villains capable of the most dastardly deeds are all wrapped up in some of the most spectacular special effects ever to illuminate a motion picture screen. The result is spellbinding and totally captivating on all levels." -- Ron Pennington, The Hollywood Reporter

• “'Star Wars' is not a great movie in the sense that it describes the human condition. It simply is a fun picture that will appeal to those who enjoy Buck Rogers-style adventures. What places it a sizable cut above the routine it is spectacular visual effects, the best since Stanley Kubrick’s '2001.'" -- Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune

• “'Star Wars' is dense, compressed like good poetry, without any wasted sound or motion. It is utterly simplistic and at the same time totally sophisticated.” -- Joseph Gelmis, Newsday

• "Above all, there is Alec Guinness as an ancient sage, looking like a monk who has walked a long way; dressed in a brown habit, he seems to have come to us from the Bible. In the end, he dies that we should live. He knows the power of the Force, which is the film’s word for what is sometimes called 'the life force.' When the power is used for moral ends, it seems to be the power of belief and devoutness in the face of unbelief and evil. The good shepherd gives his life for his sheep." -- Penelope Gilliatt, The New Yorker

• "Surrounded by these fascinating creatures, the actors barely hold their own. To be sure, Mark Hamill has a bland-faced innocence as Skywalker, and Carrie Fisher is comically plucky as the distressed Princess Leia, but Harrison Ford hams it up terribly as Han Solo, a cynical space pirate who has 'flown from one side of this galaxy to another and seen a lot of stuff.'" -- Kathleen Carroll, New York Daily News

• "'Star Wars' is not without content, but reaches as well for an area as embraceable by children or teenagers as by us older folks. With the opening declaration, it stakes out its turf: It will be a wonderful adventure, a fairy tale, a contemporary 'Star Trek,' a stylish 'Space: 1999' that will whisk us on the magic carpet of our imagination and Lucas' vision to a time and space where spaceships exceeding the speed of light are flown by anthropoids, where slavers deal in hot robots and where chess games are played with mini monsters instead of rooks and pawns. -- John Wasserman, The San Francisco Chronicle

• "Carrie Fisher, previously in a small role in 'Shampoo,' is delightful as the regal, but spunky princess on a rebel planet who has been kidnapped by Peter Cushing, would-be ruler of the universe. Mark Hamill, previously a TV player, is excellent as a farm boy who sets out to rescue Fisher in league with Alec Guinness, last survivor of a band of noble knights. Harrison Ford, previously in Lucas’ 'American Graffiti' and Francis Coppola’s 'The Conversation,' is outstanding as a likeable mercenary pilot who joins our friends with his pal Peter Mayhew, a quassi-monkey creature with blue eyes whom Fisher calls 'a walking rug.'" -- A.D. Murphy, Variety

 • “Strip ‘Star Wars’ of its often striking images and its highfalutin scientific jargon, and you get a story, characters, and dialogue of overwhelming banality, without even a ‘future’ cast to them: Human beings, anthropoids, or robots, you could probably find them all, more or less like that, in downtown Los Angeles today. Certainly the mentality and values of the movie can be duplicated in third-rate non-science fiction of any place or period. … ‘Star Wars’ will do very nicely for those lucky enough to be children or unlucky enough never to have grown up.” -- John Simon, New York magazine 

• "'Star Wars' is Buck Rogers with a doctoral degree but not a trace of neuroticism or cynicism, a slam-bang, rip-roaring gallop through a distantly future world full of exotic vocabularies, creatures and customs, existing cheek by cowl with the boy and girl next door and a couple of friendly leftovers from the planet of the apes and possibly one from Oz (a Tin Woodman robot who may have got a gold-plating as a graduation present). -- Charles Champlin, Los Angeles Times

• "The special effects in this film may be something the screen has never seen before. The spaceship battles are imaginatively extrapolated from World War II, and the film team travelled to remote parts of the world to find convincing settings for alien planets. ... The scriptwriter (George Lucas) wrote five separate drafts before he was satisfied (imagine one of those B-feature fellows doing that!), and the effect is to persuade us that there is little in this film which may not one day happen in real life." -- Adrian Berry, The Telegraph

• "There's something depressing about seeing all these impressive cinematic gifts and all this extraordinary technological skills lavished on such puerile materials. Perhaps more important is what this seems to accomplish: the canonization of comic book culture which in turn becomes the triumph of the standardized, the simplistic, mass-produced commercial artifacts of our time." -- Joy Gould Boyum, The Wall Street Journal

• "It remains the most appealing film in the subgenre it launched, with its finger on something basic and satisfying." -- Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader

 

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