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Long Ago, in a Galaxy Far, Far Away

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
January 31, 1997

After the Millennium Falcon blasted into our solar system in 1977, even the fleetest of movie starships ate its dust. But these days, the spacecraft seems a mite pokey, just as "Star Wars" is showing its age despite a $15 million face lift.

That doesn't mean we can't celebrate this walloping rocket ride, that we can't appreciate George Lucas's dazzling, critter-filled cosmos, but the question is whether you're on a voyage to the future or the past.

An unexpected financial triumph 20 years ago, the rollicking space opera was also acclaimed for its heroic stance and its snazzy special effects. Though Lucas has retouched "Star Wars" and its sequels for the re-release today, the movie seems rather quaint by the relentlessly numbing standards of "Independence Day." And that's a blessing, if you ask me. I'll take a light saber over a hand-held missile launcher any day.

In any case, Lucas's ingenuity is reaffirmed by Darth Vader's every asthmatic exhalation, by Princess Leia's cinnamon-bun chignons. Lucas's real secret, however, was good timing.

After a decade of self-recrimination and Jane Fonda movies, Lucas, along with colleague Steven Spielberg, rediscovered fun. Audiences were hungry for it. Movies about issues were relegated to art houses as mainstream moviegoers embraced the cosmic cartoon.

The angst of the '60s and '70s fell away as Han Solo fired up the Millennium Falcon and, with all due respect to Scotty, took us where no one had gone before. In the real space-time continuum, we had visited the moon, even played golf there, but all we found there were rocks, rocks, rocks.

Voila: The American people didn't want a bigger rock collection, they wanted drama -- danger, ingenuity, valor. They wanted the good guys to win for a change.

"Star Wars" had all the right stuff, and unlike its confounding progenitor, "2001: A Space Odyssey," it was fairy-tale simple: "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away," good met evil. (To my recollection, "Star Wars" was also the first film in which a stuffed animal played a leading role.)

Chewbacca and the robots aside, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader might have walked right out of Arthurian legend. And in the aftermath of Vietnam and Watergate, we sure were ready to return to Camelot.

Now, 20th Century Fox is betting millions in restored 35mm prints, a remastered digital soundtrack and 4 1/2 minutes of new footage. The battle scenes are souped up with more storm troopers and Imperial fighters. There's also a digitally inserted cameo role for that slimy glutton Jabba the Hutt, who heretofore made his first appearance in "Return of the Jedi."

So as we return to the Mos Eisley bar, we'll order another round and clink our glasses to the "The Empire Strikes Back," and toast these exploits of George Lucas.

"May the Force be with you.

"Now get off your butt and finish those sequels you promised us."

Star Wars Special Edition is rated PG.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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