(1977, SciFi, color)
Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett
This will henceforth be known as St. Porkins’ Day.
In a nutshell:
Luke Skywalker and friends rescue a princess and destroy the Death Star.
Here’s another film that probably needs no summary, but I’m going to give it one anyway.
A huge Imperial star cruiser pursues a rebel vessel, finally catching the smaller ship. Armored storm troopers pour in, capturing or killing all aboard. Masked villain Darth Vader (voice of James Earl Jones) urges his men to find the “stolen plans”, demanding them of the newly captured rebel leader Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher).
Fortunately, Leia managed to slip the plans in question to a trashcan-shaped droid (i.e. robot) named R2-D2 moments before her arrest. R2 and his humanoid droid companion C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) abandon ship in an escape pod, landing on the nearby desert planet of Tatooine. After a bit of purposeless bickering, they part ways, heading in opposite directions over the sand dunes.
Soon afterwards, both are captured and sold by small hooded aliens (called Jawas) to a moisture farmer named Owen. Owen sends his nephew Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to clean them up before they’re put to work; while doing so, Luke finds part of a recording Leia made, begging someone named Obi-Wan Kenobi for help. R2 claims that the recording is old, but still rushes off into the desert to deliver the message as soon as Luke leaves him alone. Luke and C-3PO head out into the desert after him the next day.
They find him just in time to be attacked by Sand People (papier-mache-headed aliens), which are, in turn, driven off by an old hermit who turns out to be none other than Obi Wan himself. Obi Wan (Sir Alec Guinness) takes them back to his place, where R2 plays back Leia’s recording in its entirety. Afterwards, Ben (which, I guess, is short for Obi Wan) reveals that Luke’s father was a Jedi Knight (sort of a magical outer space samurai) who served the Old Republic until Darth Vader helped th Emperor hunt the Jedi to extinction. He gives Luke his father’s old light saber (i.e. laser sword) and asks Luke to come with him to help Princess Leia.
Luke refuses, citing his moisture farming duties. He recants his refusal, however, when he comes across the smoking husk of his moisture farm, complete with the blackened corpses of his aunt and uncle. He and Ben hire a small freighter crewed by Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and a wookiee (i.e. large furry alien) named Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) to smuggle them off the planet.
Meanwhile, Darth Vader and his villainous overlord Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing) torture Leia for information regarding the rebellion’s secret base. When standard methods fail, they decided to use their brand new superweapon—a moon-sized space station with a planet-destroying laser called the Death Star—on her home planet. Unfortunately, that’s just where Luke, Han and friends have been trying to go. Upon arrival, they find the demolished planet’s remains and, soon after, the Death Star itself. Their ship is quickly and easily captured.
They manage to hide out in one of the ship’s many secret storage compartments, finally mugging a pair of storm troopers for their armor and sneaking out into the Death Star itself. Ben wanders off to disable the “tractor beam” that prevents them from taking the ship and leaving again.
R2 hacks into the Death Star’s computers and finds the location of the incarcerated princess. Luke talks Han and Chewbacca into helping him retrieve her from her cell, but the noisy rescue brings pretty much every Storm Trooper in the Death Star down to the detention level after them. Leia leads her beleaguered rescuers down the garbage chute, ending the storm trooper fight and beginning another with the trash compactor’s resident tentacle monster. The tentacle monster flees when the trash compactor starts compacting. After a few tense, shrill minutes, our heroes narrowly avoid squishing when C-3PO and R2 finish fleeing storm troopers and plug back into the Death Star terminal to shut the compactor down.
Our heroes bicker, shoot things, split up, shoot more things, and then meet again near Han’s ship. This is still guarded by a squadron of storm troopers, but fortunately Ben has returned from his little tractor-beam-disabling field trip to duel Darth Vader near the hangar. This draws away the guards, allowing Luke and friends to re-board the ship. Having accomplished his mission, Ben allows Vader to slice him with a light saber, turning him into an invisible disembodied voice that instructs Luke to run. Their ship takes off, fends off a few Imperial fighters, and escapes.
They fly to the secret rebel base, but the homing beacon Vader hid in their ship draws the Death Star after them. With the Death Star’s plans recovered from R2, the rebels plan a targeted assault on the Death Star’s unprotected exhaust port. Han sees that the plan has little chance of succeeding, takes his “rescue the princess” reward money and runs. He changes his mind and returns after Imperial troops have decimated most of the rebel fleet (including provocatively named fighter pilots Biggs and Porkins), destroying Luke’s pursuit and disabling Darth Vader’s ship. With the help of his magic Jedi powers and Ben’s disembodied voice, Luke manages to hit the exhaust port and destroy the Death Star. Leia awards medals to Luke and Han shortly thereafter.
Bill caps off the Rifftrax commentary with a diatribe about how the substance of this, the first of the iconic Star Wars franchise, does not live up to the series’ monolithic reputation. Perhaps he is right. I contend, however, that this is a good movie. The names are silly, the dialogue stilted and the characters broad, but this bit of vintage Lucas stands head and shoulders above its modern offspring for one reason: simplicity. The clearly told story moves without stopping from one scene to the next and so on. Combine this simplicity with an insanely detailed mythos, plus the fact that no one in 1977 had seen anything like it before, and it’s easy to understand the film’s phenomenal success. It doesn’t stand up quite so well against the best of today’s technically superior and psychologically more complex fantasies, but it knows what it wants to do and does it well. If Lucas had only remembered how to do this when he came back to it more than twenty years later, his franchise might still be revered. As things stand, this particular movie’s near-mythic status is surely at least partially conferred upon it by the comparative wretchedness of its dead, bloated prequels.
The riffing shines. When storm troopers scour the rebel ship for the princess at the beginning, Mike suggests, “Maybe they should have stored her at another castle.” References to the prequels abound; when the droids land on Tatooine, Kevin says, “Genius! Thwarting Darth Vader by sending the plans to a planet covered in sand!” When R2-D2 meets Luke, Bill rasps, “I stood next to your mother as she died.” References to the storm troopers’ poor marksmanship come up as well, like when Mike observes that they “couldn’t hit a dead blue whale”, while Bill notes that they “could actually punch them from that distance.” The oft-repeated phrase, “I have a bad feeling about this,” is also the subject of ridicule, culminating in the trash compactor scene when Kevin remarks, “Once you find yourself knee-deep in garbage, do you really need ‘bad feelings’ to tell you that mistakes have been made?” It’s always a good sign when I feel compelled to go over my usual limit of one quote per riffer. Adding this excellent commentary to an already fun-to-watch movie is a sure recipe for good times.
(1977, SciFi, color)