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Encore: Tom Shales' 1977 review of the new movie 'Star Wars'


The year was 1977. A new science fiction movie was making its debut - "Star Wars." On this May the 4th, now also known as Star Wars Day, we listen back to an original NPR review of the now beloved classic. Here's Tom Shales.


TOM SHALES: It is unquestionably splendibulous (ph). It is indubitably fantasmical (ph). It is the greatest kid's picture for adults since "The Wizard Of Oz." "Star Wars" is eye-popping, mind-spinning, ear-piercing, bubble-blowing adventure. It isn't the film of the future; it's the film of the future of the past. It takes place eons ago in another galaxy, and it has few, if any, moral pronouncements to make, allegories to mount or sermonettes to preach. "Star Wars" also offers us a tale in which good challenges and triumphs over evil. In that, it is a celebration of all wish-fulfillment literature. But the film is as unpretentious as it is elaborate. "Flash Gordon" meets "2001" in "Star Wars," and the science fiction is back, though not with a vengeance. It is "Gulliver's Travels," Homer's "Odyssey," "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo" and Edgar Rice Burroughs. It's really the kind of movie for which movies were invented.

George Lucas, who wrote and directed "Star Wars," told an interviewer while making the film, I wanted to do a modern fairy tale, a myth. And he's done it. He's made a sci-fi film without a lot of nuisance-redeeming social value. That's something of a triumph for Lucas, who previously made the message-laden and Orwellian "THX 1138." There is a reference to that film in "Star Wars." Someone says into a radio, call back 1138. "Star Wars" took $8 million and several years to bring off, but it's been brought off grandly. Perhaps the most affecting profundities are accidental ones, just as natural symbolism can be so much more pungent than intentional.

"Star Wars" is casually profound. In an atmosphere of seemingly groundless escapism, it worships the air we hang in. Without ever stopping for a breath, much less the making of a statement, "Star Wars" celebrates that portion of the human brain that is shared by the brilliant and the stupid. It is the imagination, which in recent years, American movies have not given much of a workout. "Star Wars" puts us back on a direct course to reckless conjecture - the very best kind. It turns the icy cold universe into a setting as romantic as Sherwood Forest, Atlantis, the Emerald City and Hollywood of the 1930s. Against an army of bedazzling visual spectacles, actors would seem to stand little chance, but the forces of decency embodied in this film by Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Alec Guinness emerge through the skillful manipulations of Lucas as warm-blooded and dimensional and funny. And a movie newcomer named Harrison Ford is especially impressive.

Together, they search hyperspace for the monstrous black Death Star, piloted by Peter Cushing. And helping in this expedition are an Edward Everett Horton-esque robot and a slightly too-cute walking midget computer, the C-3PO and the R2-D2, or vice versa, as well as a shaggy and ornery Chewbacca, who is virtually all bark. Other than with an anticlimactic climactic explosion, "Star Wars" never lets its audience down. It's the stoned movie you don't have to be stoned for, an action-splash route without any depressing violence and a close encounter of the best kind. We now return control of your radio to the military industrial establishment.

This is Tom Shales.


MARTINEZ: Yeah, wonder how things worked out for that movie newcomer Harrison Ford. May the 4th be with you always.