The Star Wars Saga - Film (Movie) Plot and Review


USA, 1977

Director: George Lucas

Production: Lucasfilm Productions; Technicolor, 35mm; running time: 121 minutes. Released Spring 1977 by 20th Century-Fox. Cost: $10 million.

Producer: Gary Kurtz; screenplay: George Lucas; photography: Gilbert Taylor; editors: Paul Hirsch, Marcia Lucas, and Richard Chew; sound: Derek Ball, Don MacDougall, Bob Minkler, and Ray West, sound effects editor: Benjamin Burtt, Jr.; art directors: John Barry, Norman Reynolds, and Leslie Dilley; music: John Williams; special effects: John Dykstra, John Stears, Richard Edlund, Grant McCune, and Robert Blalack; costume designer: John Mallo.

Cast: Mark Hamill ( Luke Skywalker ); Harrison Ford ( Han Solo ); Carrie Fisher ( Princess Leia Ograna ); Alec Guinness ( Ben "Obiwan" Kenobi ); Peter Cushing ( Grand Moff Tarkin ); David Prowse ( Lord Darth Vader , voice by James Earl Jones); Kenny Baker ( R2-D2 ); Anthony Daniels ( C-3PO ); Peter Mayhew ( Chewbacca ).

Awards: Oscars for Art Direction/Set Direction, Sound, Best Original Score, Film Editing, Costume Design, and Visual Effects, 1977; Special Oscar to Ben Burtt, Jr. for sound effects, 1977.



Lucas, George, Star Wars: A New Hope , New York, 1999.


McConnell, Frank, Storytelling and Mythmaking: Images in Film and Literature , New York, 1979.

Hunter, Allan, Alec Guinness on Screen , London, 1982.

Short, Robert, The Gospel from Outer Space , San Francisco, 1983.

Velasco, Raymond L., A Guide to the Star Wars Universe , New York, 1984.

Austin, Bruce A., Current Research in Film: Audiences, Economics and Law, Volume 1 , Norwood, New Jersey, 1985.

Von Gunden, Kenneth, Alec Guinness: The Films , Jefferson, North Carolina, 1987.


Strick, Philip, in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1976.

Filmfacts (Los Angeles), no. 5, 1977.

Zito, S., "George Lucas Goes Far Out," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), April 1977.

Murphy, A. D., in Variety (New York), 25 May 1977.

The Star Wars Saga: Star Wars
The Star Wars Saga: Star Wars

Collins, Robert, "Star Wars: The Pastiche of Myth and the Yearning for a Past Future," in Journal of Popular Culture (Bowling Green, Ohio), Summer 1977.

"Star Wars Issue" of American Cinematographer (Los Angeles), July 1977.

Canemaker, J., "Star Wars Special Effects," in Millimeter (New York), July-August 1977.

Fok, T. C., and A. Lubow, in Film Comment (New York), July-August 1977.

Morris, G., in Take One (Montreal), July-August 1977.

Lindberg, I., in Kosmorama (Copenhagen), Autumn 1977.

Rosenbaum, Jonathan, "The Solitary Pleasures of Star Wars ," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1977.

Ciment, Michel, and Robert Benayoun, in Positif (Paris), September 1977.

Clouzot, C., "Le Matin du magicien: George Lucas et Star Wars, " in Ecran (Paris), September 1977.

Nicholson, D. W., "Special Effects in Star Wars ," in Cinema Papers (Melbourne), October 1977.

Gow, Gordon, in Films and Filming (London), December 1977.

Le Peron, S., in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), December 1977.

Wood, Denis, "The Stars in Our Hearts—A Critical Commentary on George Lucas's Star Wars, " in Journal of Popular Film (Washington, D.C.), no. 3, 1978.

Mathers, F., in Cinema Papers (Melbourne), January 1978.

Rubey, D., "Not So Far Away," in Jump Cut (Berkeley), August 1978.

Ulbrich, P., in Film und Fernsehen (East Berlin), August 1978.

Tosi, V., in Bianco e Nero (Rome), January-February 1979.

Pye, Michael, and Lynda Miles, in Atlantic (Boston), March 1979.

Roth, L., "Bergsonian Comedy and the Human Machine in Star Wars ," in Film Criticism (Edinboro, Pennsylvania), Winter 1979.

Hirayama, Ruth L., in Magill's Survey of Cinema 4 , Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1980.

Wood, Denis, "The Empire's New Clothes," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Spring 1981.

Edwards, Phil, in Starburst (London), March 1982.

Lafficier, Randy and Jean-Marc, "Les Origines de Star Wars ," in Ecran Fantastique (Paris), April 1983.

Harmetz, Aljean, "Burden of Dreams: George Lucas," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), June 1983.

Chion, M., "Cinema de rêve," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), October 1983.

Lewis, J., "A Situationist Perspective," in Jump Cut (Berkeley), March 1985.

Malmquist, Allen, "Saga Time at the 01' Bijou," in Cinefantastique (Oak Park, Illinois), October 1985.

McMahon, D. F., "The Psychological Significance of Science Fiction," in Psychoanalytic Review (New York), no. 2, 1989.

Meyer, D. S., "Star Wars, Star Wars , and American Political Culture," in Journal of Popular Culture (Bowling Green, Ohio), no. 2, 1992.


USA, 1980

Director: Irvin Kershner

Production: Lucasfilm; Rank Film Color, 35mm, Panavision, Dolby sound; visual effects shot in Panavision; running time: 124 minutes. Released 14 June 1980 by 20th Century-Fox. Filmed in Elstree Studios, England, and on location in Finse, Norway; special effects shot at Industrial Light and Magic, California.

Producer: Gary Kurtz; executive producer: George Lucas; screenplay: Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan, from an original story written for the screen by George Lucas; photography: Peter Suschitzy; editor: Paul Hirsch; visual effects editor: Conrad Buff; sound: Peter Sutton; special sound effects: Ben Burtt; production designer: Norman Reynolds; art directors: Leslie Dilley, Harry Lange, and Alan Tomkins; visual effects art director: Joe Johnston; music: John Williams; special effects: Brian Johnson and Richard Edlund; effects photography: Dennis Muren; optical photography: Bruce Nicholson; stop motion animation: Jon Berg and Phil Tippet; costume designer: John Mollo; design consultant: Ralph McQuarrie.

Cast: Mark Hamill ( Luke Skywalker ); Harrison Ford ( Han Solo ); Carrie Fisher ( Princess Leia ); David Prowse ( Lord Darth Vader , voice by James Earl Jones); Anthony Daniels ( C-3PO ); Peter Mayhew ( Chewbacca ); Kenny Baker ( R2-D2 ); Frank Oz ( Voice and mechanical workings of Yoda ); Billy Dee Williams ( Lando Calrissian ); Alec Guinness ( Ben "Obi-wan" Kenobi ).

Awards: Oscar for Sound, 1980; Special Achievement Oscar for Visual Effects, 1980.



Brackett, Leigh, Lawrence Kasdan, and George Lucas, The Empire Strikes Back: Script Facsimile , Los Angeles, 1998.


Arnold, Alan, Once Upon a Galaxy: A Journal of the Making of "The Empire Strikes Back," New York, 1980.

Smith, Thomas G., Industrial Light and Magic: The Art of Special Effects , New York, 1986.


Brosnan, John, "Interview with Brian Johnson," in Starburst (London), no. 26, 1980.

"Empire Strikes Back Dossier," in Ecran Fantastique (Paris), no. 13, 1980.

Films and Filming (London), April 1980.

McGee, R., in American Film (Washington, D.C.), May 1980.

Harwood, J., in Variety (New York), 14 May 1980.

"Special Issue" of American Cinematographer (Los Angeles), June 1980.

Reiss, D., in Filmmakers Newsletter (Ward Hill, Massachusetts), June 1980.

Combs, Richard, in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), July 1980.

Vallerand, F., "John Williams et The Empire Strikes Back, " in Séquences (Montreal), July 1980.

Shay, D., "Interview with Richard Edlund," in Cinefex (Riverside, California), August 1980.

Rogers, T., in Films in Review (New York), August-September 1980.

Clarke, Frederick S., in Cinefantastique (Oak Park, Illinois), Fall 1980.

Ciment, Michel, and A. Garsault, in Positif (Paris), September 1980.

Tessier, Max, in Image et Son (Paris), September 1980.

Gordon, Andrew, "The Empire Strikes Back: Monsters from the Id," in Science Fiction Studies , November 1980.

Lierop, P., in Skoop (Amsterdam), November 1980.

Mandrell, P., "Tauntauns, Walkers, and Probots," in Cinefex (River-side, California), December 1980.

Tellez, J. L., in Contracampo (Madrid), December 1980.

Termine, L., in Cinema Nuovo (Bari), December 1980.

Shay, Don, in Ecran Fantastique (Paris), no. 16, 1981.

de Kuyper, E., in Skrien (Amsterdam), March 1981.

Lancashire, Anne, "Complex Design in The Empire Strikes Back, " in Film Criticism (Edinboro, Pennsylvania), Spring 1981.

Also see list of publications following Star Wars credits.


USA, 1983

Director: Richard Marquand

Production: Lucasfilm Ltd.; color, 35mm, Dolby sound; running time: about 120 minutes. Released Spring 1983 by 20th Century-Fox. Filmed Elstree Studios, England, and on location in Yuma, Arizona and Crescent City, California; special effects shot at Industrial Light and Magic, California.

Producer: Howard Kazanjian; executive producer: George Lucas; screenplay: Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas, from an original story for the screen by George Lucas; photography: Alan Hume; editors: Sean Barton, Marcia Lucas, and Duwayne Dunham; sound designer: Ben Burtt; production designer: Norman Reynolds; music: John Williams; special effects: Richard Edlund, Dennis Muren and Ken Ralston; makeup and creature designers: Stuart Freeborn and Phil Tippett; costume designers: Aggie Guerard Rodgers and Nilo Rodis-Jamero.

Cast: Mark Hamill ( Luke Skywalker ); Harrison Ford ( Han Solo ); Carrie Fisher ( Princess Leia ); Billy Dee Williams ( Lando Calrissian ); Anthony Daniels ( C-3PO ); Kenny Baker ( R2-D2 and Paploo ); Peter Mayhew ( Chewbacca ); Ian McDiarmid ( The Emperor ); David Prowse ( Darth Vader , voice by James Earl Jones); Sebastian Shaw ( Anakin Skywalker ); Warwick Davis ( Wicket ); Michael Carter ( Bib Fortuna ); Denis Lawson ( Wedge ); Alec Guinness ( Ben "Obi-wan" Kenobi ).



Kasdan, Lawrence, and George Lucas, in The Art of "The Return of the Jedi," New York, 1985.


Variety (New York), 18 May 1983.

"Special Issue" of American Cinematographer (Los Angeles), June 1983.

Callahan, J., "Raiders of the Jedi Secret," and "Jedi's Extra Special Effects," by Adam Eisenberg, in American Film (Washington, D.C.), June 1983.

Murdoch, Alan, "Interview with Richard Marquand," in Starburst (London), June 1983.

Solman, G., in Films in Review (New York), June-July 1983.

Cohen, P., in Skoop (Amsterdam), July 1983.

Crawley, Tony, "The Making of The Return of the Jedi, " in Starburst (London), July 1983.

Edlund, Richard, Dennis Muren, and Ken Ralston, "Jedi Journal," in Cinefex (Riverside, California), July 1983.

Kobal, J., in Films and Filming (London), July 1983.

Schupp, P., in Séquences (Montreal), July 1983.

Strick, Philip, in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), July 1983.

Hibbin, S., in Stills (London), July-August 1983.

"Special Issue" of Ecran Fantastique (Paris), October 1983.

Dumont, P., in Cinéma (Paris), October 1983.

Philbert, B., in Cinématographe (Paris), October 1983.

Marinero, P., in Casablanca (Madrid), January 1984.

Film Criticism (Meadville, Pennsylvania), Winter 1984.

Lewis, Jon, in Jump Cut (Berkeley), March 1985.

Starburst (London), May 1986.

Also see list of publications following Star Wars credits.


USA, 1999

Director: George Lucas

Production: Lucasfilm; 35mm, Arriscope, color (Deluxe), Dolby Sound; running time, 136 minutes. Released 19 May 1999, USA; filmed in Tozeur, Tunisia, Royal Palace, Caserta, Naples, Italy, and Elstree Studios, Leavesden, England; special effects created at Industrial Light and Magic, California. Cost: $115 million.

Producer: Rick McCallum; executive producer: George Lucas; screenplay: George Lucas; photography: David Tattershall; editors: Ben Burtt and Paul Martin Smith; special effects: Rob Coleman, John Knoll, Dennis Muren, Scott Squires; original music and conductor: John Williams; production designer: Gavin Bocquet; costume design: Trisha Biggar.

Cast: Liam Neeson ( Qui-Gon Jinn ); Ewan McGregor ( Obi-Wan Kenobi ); Natalie Portman ( Queen Amidala/Padmé Naberrie ); Jake Lloyd ( Anakin Skywalker ); Ian McDiarmid ( Naboo Senator Cos Palpatine/Darth Sidious ); Pernilla August ( Schmi Skywalker ); Oliver Ford Davies ( Governor Sio Bibble ); Hugh Quarshie ( Captain Panaka ); Ahmed Best (voice of Jar Jar Binks / Senator ); Anthony Daniels ( C-3PO ); Kenny Baker ( R2-D2 ); Frank Oz (voice of Yoda ); Terence Stamp ( Chancellor Finis Valorum ); Brian Blessed ( Boss Nass ); Andrew Secombe ( Watto ); Ray Park ( Darth Maul ).

Awards: Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards, Sierra Award for Best Costume Design (Trisha Biggar), 2000; Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actor (Jar-Jar Binks), 2000; Young Artist Award for Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Drama Film (Jake Lloyd), 2000.



Lucas, George, Star Wars Episode I The Phantom Menace: Script Facsimile , Los Angeles, 2000.


Pollock, Dale, Skywalking: The Life and Films of George Lucas , New York, 1999.

Cavelos, Jeanne, The Science of Star Wars: An Astrophysicist's Independent Examination of Space Travel, Aliens, and Robots as Portrayed in the Star Wars Films , New York, 1999.

Anderson, Kevin J., and Daniel Wallace, Star Wars: The Essential Chronology , Los Angeles, 2000.


Blake, Larry, "Finishing The Phantom Menace —The Complete Post-Production for Star Wars Episode I ," in Mix (Berkeley), 1 May 1999.

French, Lawrence, "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace," in Cinefantastique (New York), 1 May 1999.

McCarthy, Todd, "Mighty Effects but Mini Magic," in Variety (New York), 17 May 1999.

Corliss, Richard, "The Phantom Movie," in Time (New York), 17 May 1999.

Gleiberman, Owen, "Force of Nature?" in Entertainment Weekly (New York), 21 May 1999.

"The Second Coming," in Maclean's (Toronto), 24 May 1999.

"Star Wars: A New Hype," in Film Review (London), 1 June 1999.

Robertson, Barbara, "Star Wars," in Computer Graphics World (San Francisco), 1 June 1999.

Travers, Peter, "Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace," in Rolling Stone (New York), 10 June 1999.

Duncan, Jody, Kevin H. Martin, and Mark Cotta Vaz, "Heroes' Journey," in Cinefex (Riverside), 1 July 1999.

Romney, Jonathan, "Cause and Effects," in New Statesman (London), 12 July 1999.

Alleva, Richard, "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace," in Common-weal (New York), 16 July 1999.

Steyn, Mark, "Cinema: Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace," in The Spectator (London), 17 July 1999.

Robertson, Barbara, "Behind the Screens," in Computer Graphics World (San Francisco), 1 August 1999.

Freer, Ian, review in Empire (London), August 1999.

Doherty, Thomas, "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace," in Cinefantastique , 1 October 1999.

Carson, Tom, "The Screen," in Esquire (New York), 1 November 1999.

* * *

In terms of scope, the Star Wars films are a modern equivalent to The Iliad or The Odyssey. Not only do they depict a mythic history in the form of an epic narrative, they also tell a personal tale of courage and cowardice, adventure and romance. Supported by a dazzling display of special effects and cinematic technology, the films are set in a vivid fantasy world, "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away." The series is so popular that each new film has joined the ranks of the top moneymakers of all time. More importantly, the early films generated a demand for big-budget science fiction and fantasy films, a demand that has continued into the 1990s and beyond.

The Disneyesque creator behind the films is George Lucas, who used the success of American Graffiti as a springboard for the production of the first Star Wars film, subtitled A New Hope. Lucas retained the rights to future Star Wars films and produced two sequels in the 1980s, subtitled The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. These three films are the middle trilogy of a tentatively planned nine film opus. The fourth film to be made, The Phantom Menace , which appeared in 1999, begins the sequence, and Lucas has plans to make its two sequels within ten years.

The middle trilogy relates the adventures of Luke Skywalker as he and his companions battle the evil Empire, led by Luke's archnemesis, Lord Darth Vader, who is actually the tool of the Emperor, a far more malevolent being. As they're now planned, the first trilogy will relate how the Emperor took power and will end with Luke as a young boy, while the third trilogy will begin years after Luke and his rebel allies have defeated the Emperor in Return of the Jedi. The first three films to be made are full of youthful energy, from the exuberance of the performers to the powerful but subtle strains of John Williams's Academy Award-winning score. Lucas may be the genius behind these films, but the contributions of others involved in the films should not be overlooked.

Although the series as a whole can be seen as a simple tale of good versus evil, this doesn't do justice to its moral complexity, which is particularly in evidence in the middle trilogy through the character of Luke. Luke's story is not only a fight against the evil Empire, it is also a fight against the evil within himself. His moral dilemma is complicated by the fact, as revealed in The Empire Strikes Back , that the villainous Darth Vader is Luke's father.

Luke's confrontation with his dark father is part of his initiation as a Jedi Knight, an initiation which involves training in the ways of "the Force," the mysterious power that exists in everything and "binds the universe together." An important theme in the films is how the Force can be used to control technology, for good or evil ends. Luke's initiation into this mysterious Force is a rite of passage. As such, aspects of his story conform to the classic structure of separation, transition and incorporation described by anthropologist Arnold van Gennep in his 1909 book Rites of Passage. For example, in The Empire Strikes Back Luke's right hand is cut off by his father during a fight and is later replaced with a mechanical hand. Despite this symbolic castration, Luke still sees goodness in his father, and in Return of the Jedi he spares his father's life when he sees that his father, who has become more machine than man, also has a mechanical hand. This device of the hands signifies a permanent separation that leads to a permanent incorporation—it is a symbol of union with the father and a mark of membership in the knighthood of the Jedi. As a result, Luke becomes a Jedi Knight and his father is again incorporated into the good side of the Force.

The duplication and inversion which exists in the confrontation between Luke and his father is reflected throughout the three early Star Wars films. For instance, the rebels must destroy two Death Stars, Luke has a twin sister, the two robots are a comical inversion of the courage and cowardice of the other main characters, and Obi-wan Kenobi is a benevolent double of the Emperor. Most importantly, the furry Ewoks of Return of the Jedi are an inverted duplication of the small, nasty Jawas of A New Hope. The primitive technology of the Ewoks is the crucial factor that defeats the more advanced technology of the Empire. The Ewoks thus demonstrate how the Emperor's inflated sense of power has caused him to minimize the powers of others resulting in the Emperor's own downfall.

In this respect, the communal celebration of all of the heroes at the forest home of the Ewoks in the final scene of Return of the Jedi represents an interesting development of the theme of duplication and inversion because it demonstrates the process whereby two can become one. Ultimately, the trilogy not only proclaims the unity of Luke with his father or Luke with his sister, it also proclaims the unity of the Many with the One. The spirit of togetherness at the end illustrates the essential oneness of the individual and the group.

The Emperor loses because he ignores the symbiotic nature of all such dualities; he fails to realize that the existence of the master depends on the existence of his servant. And the power of Luke as a mythic hero is his ability to transcend the distinctions between good and evil, to see the good within the bad and the human being behind the mechanical mask.

With their combination of fantastical settings, spectacular special effects and slick action sequences, it is little wonder that these three films captured the imagination of a generation of filmgoers. It was with intense anticipation, then, that early in 1999 fans awaited the release of Episode I: The Phantom Menace , Lucas's first directorial project since A New Hope in 1977.

So tense was the build-up that bootleg copies of the film, taken on camcorders at preview screenings, circulated on the internet months in advance, and when the release date became known, fans camped outside cinemas to buy advance tickets. Some cinemas even reported fans buying cinema tickets just to watch the Phantom Menace trailer.

Set thirty years before the original three-film sequence, in The Phantom Menace two Jedi knights set out to rescue Queen Amidala from the planet Naboo, and become involved in a battle with the Dark Side to prevent the Empire taking over the galaxy. The Phantom Menace did not disappoint in terms of its special effects, its battle scenes, or its action set pieces. Yet the film has been criticized on many fronts, including its lack of humor and clear story line, poor dialogue, and the apparent lack of directorial guidance in the performances of the actors.

It has been suggested that Lucas has become so involved with the saga that he is no longer able to judge where audiences need help working out the details of the plot. A less charitable view is that he no longer needs to make an effort in order to make money. Nevertheless, many critics look towards the next two films, due out in 2002 and 2005, to make sense of The Phantom Menace. Despite the failings of the latest film, it is inevitable that the next two episodes will be at least as successful at the box office as the others. While the overall concept may have the cultural weight of an Iliad or Odyssey , The Phantom Menace exposes serious narrative limitations in the execution of this modern saga.

—Thomas Snyder, updated by Chris Routledge

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