Where the Four Billion Dollar Movie Franchise Began

In the late nineties when I was a wee lad me and a group of school friends decided to check out the latest Star Wars movie called ‘Episode I: Phantom Menace’ (1999). I didn’t know much about the franchise except that the bad guy in the first picture had a really bad asthma problem, and as the 1999 film was a prequel to the original iconic movies I thought it would be a good place to start my Star Wars viewing journey, especially with all the hype surrounding it. How wrong was I? Not only did I and a few mates fall asleep in the cinema, but during the course of the movie I stumbled across the most annoying character ever created for the big screen – Jar Jar Binx. It’s safe to say I was scarred from the experience and it put me off from seeing the rest of the movies.

So when I saw that the original film entitled ‘Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope’ (1977: AFI 1998 #15, 2007 #13) was featured on the AFI’s top 100 list of all time I wasn’t best pleased. But with the excitement of the release of the seventh installment Sky Movies had a whole channel dedicated to the released films so I couldn’t avoid it – and on Sunday night after playing Junior Monopoly with niece with a slight hangover I decided with much persuasion from my brother to take the plunge and finally see how it all began. (well in fact it is the chronologically the fourth movie, but the first made – it gets confusing).

Iconic characters on a mission to save Princess Leia

Everyone with some movie cultural awareness is familiar with the opening credits to the original Star Wars movie, so even though I knew what to expect I found the content of the text to be a hard read filled with so many Star Warisms that I had to pause the TV to and re-read the introduction – which was not a good start. What puts me off sci-fi and fantasy films is that they tend to be filled with jargon and terms that is not used in everyday language, so I lose concentration and my mind begins to wonder.

The original Star War movie is considered by some as the best 

But my short expansion span diminished soon after because from the then on the movie was jam packed with action and spectacular special effects which were impressive by today’s standards let alone in the 1970s (although a work colleague and avid Star Wars fan kindly pointed out the effects had been re-worked since the original release, but I’ll choose to ignore that).  The synopsis of the movie is a pretty straightforward good versus evil tale with Hans Solo (Harrison Ford), Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Sir Alec Guinness) playing the heroes who are a mission to rescue Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) from the evil Darth Vader and the Galactic Empire.

Darth Vader makes a terrifying entrance 

In my review of American Graffiti (1973: 1998 #77, 2007 #62) which was also directed by Lucas I made the assumption that the characters were more relatable than the ones in Star Wars, for which I was told off for by a friend who said I had to see Sci-fi classic before making such ludicrous comment. Although I hate to admit it I must say he has a point – the best thing about the movie is that pretty much all the characters are strong and help unfold the plot until the very end. Despite previously seeing clips of Darth Vader and knowing that the voice over was Mufasa from the Lion King (1993) he genuinely scared me and the friendship between robots C-3PO and R2-D2 genuinely touched me.

Auditions for the new Star Wars in London 2013

Auditions for the new Star Wars in London 2013

So it’s safe to say my second experience so watching a Star Wars movie was a far more pleasant one – I’m not convinced the movie has transformed me into a massive fan like the millions single fifty-year old men living in their parents spare room, but it has made me regret that I didn’t partake in auditions for the new movie ‘Episode VII: The Force Awakens‘(2015) when they held auditions in Twickenham Stadium and obstructed my parking space outside my gym a few years back. Who knows I might have been a part of biggest movie franchise of all time. For its undeniable cultural significance, innovative special effects and unforgettable characters the picture gets a 4.5 out of 5 from me.

The Original Stylish Sci-Fi

I was lucky enough to hear that The Prince Theatre in Leicester Square was showing ‘Blade Runner’ (#97 on 2007 AFI top 100 list) this weekend so like a sci-fi movie buff I pre ordered tickets to ensure I was able to watch what is hailed as Ridley Scott’s best work (yes, even better than Alien apparently) on the big screen. Obviously I don’t qualify as much of a sci-fi enthusiast to go alone so I dragged my friend Cam who is also attempting to complete the list of the AFI’s top 100 movies of all time, but lacks the focus to get through it because unlike me she probably has more productive things to do with her time.

The Prince Charles Theatre in Leicester Square plays 'Blade Runner'

The Prince Charles Theatre in Leicester Square plays ‘Blade Runner’

It felt like we were in a 1982 time warp when I and Cam spotted the original movie poster outside the cinema – the time-travelling didn’t stop there: When we got into the retro theatre we sat on chairs that were made from the tough brown leather that look liked it was as old as the building, but still durable after all those years of wear and tear and the screen was covered by traditional thick red velvet curtains – the perfect setting for a classic movie. We had our popcorn, coke and seats and were ready to see the awesomeness that is ‘Blade Runner’. As the lights went down and the curtains drew back I looked over to Cam and said ‘Do you have any idea what this is about’ she looks back to me, smiled and replied ‘No’.

1982 cult classic 'Blade Runner' plays again in Central London

1982 cult classic ‘Blade Runner’ plays again in Central London

Sometimes it’s a good idea to go into the movie blind – it can avoid the disappointment of having high expectations that I have suffered a few times when going through the list. Cam’s friend gave her some good advice before she saw the movie with me which was; ‘You’ve seen it all before, but remember this film did it first – which is why it is considered so great!’ That pretty much applies to most of the films that made the AFI 100 movies cut.

I must admit I’m not much of a sci-fi man, I haven’t managed to see the original ‘Star Wars’ (#16 1998, #13 2007) yet, but the plot of ‘Blade Runner’ was pretty familiar: The film is set in Los Angeles 2019 which I guess seemed like a long way away in 1982 – where Rick Deckard played by Harrison Ford must track down and kill four evil genetically engineered Replicants who look like humans but possess superior strength. Obviously he falls in love with an additional one on the way played by icy Sean Young and things get complicated when he must decide whether to save or retire her.

Cult classic – ‘Blade Runner’

What sets this movie apart from the rest is the noir feel it has – ‘Blade Runner’ is very stylised and at times feels like a crime thriller rather than a straight forward science fiction film. I can see that films like ‘Watchman’ (2009), ‘Sin City’ (2005) and even ‘Kill Bill’ (2003) have been heavily influenced by Scott’s innovative piece. The special effects seem ahead of it time and are particularly impressive for an early 80s film although they anticipated evil robot like creatures and flying cars in the noughties, but they couldn’t have imagined a flatter TV screen or colour computer?

Ford who along with Bruce Willis is the epitome of an 80s action star is perfect as the reluctant hero and Sean Young who reminds me so much of Katy Perry in this plays the stiff and disconnected Rachael well – although I will forever associate her as the transsexual dolphin stealing ex-football player in ‘Ace Ventura’ (1994). Perhaps the big surprise for me was Daryl Hannah who I had no idea was in the movie – she is magnificent and terrifying as Pris and probably inspired Quentin Tarantino to cast her in his ‘Kill Bill’ masterpiece.

Ridley Scott speaks about Harrison Ford as Deckard in ‘Blade Runner’

My only issue with the movie is that at times the plot can be too thin – the protagonist seems to conveniently track down the enemy without much of a struggle and the dialogue is not as gripping or as slick as the cinematography and for that reason I’d give it a 3 out 5. Perhaps like Cam I need to see it again to fully see what I missed the first time round or I might view the Blade Runner Sequel instead which seems to be forever in the works.