I HAVE TO MAKE AN ADMISSION AT THE OUTSET: I AM NOT A TRUE "JEDI." I DON'T claim to know the name of every creature in George Lucas' universe, nor can I recite perfectly all of Greedo's lines (Jabba wa-NEEN-chi ko...Ah, forget it). I can engage in a conversation about the Trilogy with a true fan for only so long before he or she exposes my shortcomings, such as my inability to recite the names of the fat, scruffy pilots in those X-shaped planes (I know, I know, X-wing fighters) who look like they came out of Somerville's local Dunkin Donuts. In short, I was not literally raised on Star Wars; I did not eat, sleep, and drink Star Wars when I was a kid (Star Wars cereal, Star Wars bed sheets, Star Wars whole milk).
That being said, I am not completely unbiased towards the movie. I was born the year "A New Hope" came out. I have seen each installment of the Star Wars Trilogy numerous times on video, and when I was a kid I could draft two pretty solid armies from my Star Wars action figure collection (I made sure the side with the Millennium Falcon always won). Most significantly, the re-release of "Star Wars" in 1980 was the first movie I remember seeing in a movie theater and, since that was before the age of video, possibly the first movie I ever saw. Thus, for me, as for so many others my age, George Lucas' film began a life of avid movie-going.
I have another admission: I got chills down my spine this weekend at the "Star Wars: Special Edition" when John Williams' score flooded the eager theater. It was exhilarating. And as I followed the yellow words of the story as they glided into another galaxy, I had a moment of clarity: That rush of exhilaration I had just felt was not simply a wave of nostalgia. After all, fans in 1977 had a similar reaction to it even before every character and musical note had been freighted with childhood memories. I thought to myself, What makes this movie, and its 20-year anniversary Special Edition re-release, so special? To claim that it is not (as a recent Boston Phoenix review did) and dismiss it as simply the first blockbuster, the movie that invented mass-marketing tie-ins and single-movie industry, is to belittle its power. Unlike the many hyped-up media gimmicks that have followed it, this movie never asked anyone to fall in love with it, as dozens of movies and a thousand other products ask of us every day ("Jurassic Park," "Twister", "Jerry Maguire," even "Trainspotting"--not to mention Nike, Coca-Cola, Must-See TV, etc.).
AFTER MY INITIAL EXCITEMENT, I WATCHED THE MOVIE WITH AN ALMOST FRESH eye. I am less forgiving of low quality on the big screen than on television, where I am so used to seeing "Star Wars." In a movie theater, some glaring errors do stand out. Bad dialogue abounds, particularly from the whiny mouth of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Also, the film grows sluggish at times; I didn't remember it taking this long for Luke, Obi-Wan, and the droids to leave Tatooine. The special effects (those from the original version) range from the sublime to the ridiculous. The final scene in which the X-wing fighters speed through the trenches of the Death Star is so real it looks like it was filmed on location, while the plastic Storm Troopers and the inflexible curmudgeon C-3PO look hardly more believable than their action-figure derivatives.
The new additions to the Special Edition, such as the scene in the landing dock with Jabba the Hutt and the new collection of animals and creatures in Mos Eisley, are a little out of place because of their polished look, but they do add to the movie. For those "Star Wars" purists, such changes hardly corrupt the original when one considers that Lucas wanted these effects in the first place. My only gripe with the $10 million overhaul is with the new THX digitized sound, which raises every sound to the same fevered pitch, from the lowest whisper to the loudest blast.
As for the plot of "Star Wars": Yes, a moment's reflection will reveal many holes, and Lucas sometimes relies on shamelessly expositional dialogue. At times, I thought the entire movie was held together not by the Force, but rather by the utter ineptitude and poor marksmanship of the Storm Troopers. However, the plot of "Star Wars" is in fact what separates it from its imitators. Lucas creates an entire universe akin to Tolkien's Middle-Earth or even William Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County. But unlike these two creators, Lucas builds his universe with broad strokes, providing a comprehensive visual and narrative world even though we do not know such specifics as the nature of the Rebels' true cause, the story behind the Clone Wars, or the scope of the Empire. He also assimilates mythology, pulp science fiction, and popular dramatic conventions into his story and makes them his own. Good and evil are starkly contrasted in a satisfying, traditional fashion. The love triangle between Han, Leia, and Luke, though trite, is boldly left unresolved and becomes more interesting in light of what we learn in the later films. Even the idea behind the Force--the product of an ancient religion that has power over modern technology--taps into the debate between modernity and technophobia that is even more relevant today than twenty years ago.
"Star Wars" remains special because of its scope, its ambition and its epic and mythic qualities. "Star Wars" was not made to gross nearly $400 million in box office sales, as today's blockbusters are. The movie has inspired the love of millions as no callously concocted, market-tested summer blockbuster ever will because the movie itself is inspired, from its making to its plot to the engrossing universe it creates.