Just recently I watched the first three Star Wars movies on DVD (that is, those originally released in the period 1977-1983), and it was fascinating to see what new perspectives and observations I developed, having not watched them for some little while.
I did not see the first film at the time when it was first released in 1977. Instead, I saw it a couple of years later. It was during the school holidays, and myself and my brother were showing signs of extreme boredom, when we discovered that it was showing locally. This delay in experiencing "Star Wars" may even have increased the effect it had on me.
The opening "scrolling screen" sequence, and the accompanying music, still sends shivers down my spine, I am happy to report. This time I was able to appreciate nuances of the plot and the characterizations, rather than simply being awed by the special effects. I had forgotten, for example, how much of the early going in "A New Hope" is taken up with the adventures of C3PO and R2D2. The versions which I watched recently were the Special Editions, but I did not feel that the changes made detracted that much from the original effect. The mystique was not tarnished.
Another thing which surprised me was just how much screen time Peter Cushing has in the first film. He, along with Alec Guinness, adds much gravitas to proceedings. It is also amazing how many well-known British actors pop up in all sorts of roles right across the trilogy.
Lots of parts of the first film are memorable or engrossing. The bizarre chess set on the Millennium Falcon, the scene in the garbage dump on the Death Star, and Luke's close encounter with the "Nessie"-like monster.
I kind of like "The Empire Strikes Back" more than the other two films. It has the benefit of having the "backstory" from the first movie to enrich it, and the major characters have become more established and familiar. Also, some "secondary" figures feature prominently, such as Yoda, Lando and Boba Fett. The ambiguities and quirks in the wider Star Wars firmament are brought out more, and this contributes to a darker tone.
The contrast and richness in the settings also makes "The Empire Strikes Back" formidable, from the early stages in the snow and ice of Hoth to the swampland where Luke finds Yoda. The parallel stories, of Luke and the rest, is another strong point. And of course the conclusion of the movie is riveting. This one feels like an episode in a TV sci-fi series.
Watching "Return of the Jedi" again, there was less that stood out for me, and I will confess that I have mixed feelings concerning this one. The extended presence of Jabba the Hutt and the Ewoks makes it tough to take it entirely seriously, although in fairness this means that it is different and distinct from its predecessors. The silliness is mixed with some fine action sequences, such as the speeder bikes and Lando's exploits with the Millennium Falcon. The inter-cutting between the locations is well done, and once again the climax is awesome. To my shame, I had utterly forgotten that Luke and Leia were revealed to be siblings!.
An aspect of the trilogy that I am reminded of is how some technology is portrayed as being benevolent in nature, mainly through the "human" characteristics of the droids C3PO and R2D2. Another interesting and attractive dimension is the heterogeneous character of the rebels, their informality and optimism contrasting with the regimentation and rigid conformity of the imperial people.
It has been pointed out that despite being space movies, these stories drew heavily on scenarios from other films and literature. The scenes on Hoth contained elements familiar from tales of polar exploration and derring-do, and of course Cantina is straight out of a classic Western.
I am glad that I watched these films again. They are always invigorating, and remind us of a time when mainstream cinema was allowed to be fun and escapist again. My recent experience may even persuade me to explore the three "prequels"....