Star Wars would not have near the same cultural impact if it was released today. This is a movie too childlike and naïve to exist in our ironic, snickering entertainment age. George Lucas wholeheartedly believed in the corny space saga he had created, and because of that his young audience believed in it too. (They weren’t so willing to do so after they had grown up, which accounts for the misguided backlash against the prequels.)
Looking back, Star Wars was our last collective fairy tale. It was a final, earnest fable of good and evil, of princesses and wizards, before the self-referential silliness of Shrek or Guardians of the Galaxy – as funny as that can be – became the dominant storytelling language. This is why the movie itself seems like it’s from “a long time ago.” The intricate special effects hold up, even if they mostly consist of tactile model work rather than computerized imagery. Yet the tone – a gee-whiz spirit that Mark Hamill overplayed as Luke Skywalker and Harrison Ford brilliantly bristled against as Han Solo – comes from an earlier era, as far back as the Flash Gordon serials Lucas has cited as inspiration.
Lucas had other influences – the robot duo of R2-D2 and C-3PO came from Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress – yet he still managed to create a world that was startlingly original. Lucas envisioned his new universe down to the tiniest detail, and the result is a screen awash in imagination. Swords made of lethal beams of light; “cars” that float a few feet off the ground; a towering villain whose booming voice is filtered through a black death mask. These are the sort of inventions that burrow their way into a child’s imagination and never leave. Star Wars speaks directly to the inner child who wants to believe in galaxies far far away, catering not a bit to the cynical adult. The movie couldn’t exist today, and that’s what makes it so precious.