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The Star Wars Trilogy

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

Star Wars video sleeve graphic Every decade or so something happens that will become a defining moment of that generation. One such moment happened in the summer of 1977.

In those days, summer was the doldrums for the movie industry. No one ever wanted to release a major motion picture during those months because everyone knew that it would only bomb. George Lucas decided to challenge that stereotype, and he released his movie in a time that should have foredoomed it to failure.

Suddenly Star Wars was the rage of the nation. Everyone wanted to see this new movie. Lines stretched for blocks in front of movie theaters, and many disappointed patrons found themselves turned away.

This was compounded by the desire to repeat the experience. Many people saw Star Wars three, four, even a dozen times. Children ran lemonade stands in order to earn enough money to see their favorite movie again and again.

Although Star Wars was a complete story in itself, many people wanted to return to that universe for a new adventure. Thus audiences were already primed to respond for the sequel.

The Empire Strikes Back video sleeve graphic Many times, sequels prove to be disappointments -- merely retreads of the first movie with slight variations and no real thought, produced solely to rake in additional money. The Empire Strikes Back far exceeded everyone's expectations. Many people even considered it to be a better movie than the original -- not to say that Star Wars was anything less than monumental.

Although The Empire Strikes Back returned all the major characters, it was not merely a rehash of the plot of the first movie. Instead, it continued the story with further character development. Young hero Luke Skywalker is faced with dilemmas that force him to do some major growing up and soul-searching. Han Solo has changed from an opportunistic mercenary pilot to someone capable of loyalty and even love, albeit in a rather brusque and abrupt manner. When he ends up frozen in a block of carbonite for shipping back to Jabba the Hutt, we the audience really cares about what will happen to him -- something that probably wouldn't have happened if he'd come to some unpleasant end during the first movie.

And then there's the most shocking revelation of all -- that moment when Darth Vader mocks Luke by asking whether he knows what happened to his father, then shouts, "I am your father." That single scene led to some of the most intense speculation in the fannish community over the next several years. Was Darth Vader lying, amorally pushing Luke's buttons in order to obtain an advantage? After all, Vader was the villian, a man for whom the ends justified the means and power was the ultimate end.

Or might Vader be telling the truth? In that case, why had Ben Kenobi lied to Luke in the first movie, saying that Vader had killed Luke's father? The cliffhangers at the end of The Empire Strikes Back were guaranteed to keep audiences waiting impatiently for the third installment.

Return of the Jedi video sleeve graphic The third installment of the Star Wars trilogy was filmed in strictest secrecy to prevent leaks. Access to scripts was strictly managed and everyone with permission had to sign an agreement to reveal nothing until the film's release. Actors received only the portions that they needed in order to play their roles -- often everything but their own dialogue and cue bits from others' dialogue marked out with felt-tip. For a while, people were even told that a horror movie was being filmed on that sound stage, in hopes of diverting attention away from the activity there.

What few tidbits did leak out only served to increase anticipation. When The Return of the Jedi opened in 1984, the phenomenon repeated itself. People crowded into the theaters, returning again and again to repeat the experience.

The storylines that had been left hanging at the ends of The Empire Strikes Back were masterfully woven together and drawn to a satisfying conclusion. The rescue of Han Solo from his position as gruesome trophy in Jabba's palace was only a prelude for the real action -- the final defeat of the Emperor himself.

In the decade and a half since then, things have been quiet. In 1997 Lucasfilm released a Special Edition of the original trilogy, with new special effects made possible by recent advances in computer imaging.

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Review posted December 17, 1998

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