Star Wars reviews: As the force awakens, we look back at the first 1977 review

WHEN the late film and theatre critic Allan Watkins reviewed Star Wars in The Newcastle Morning Herald in 1977, he hailed the much-anticipated science-fiction movie as "derring-do from take-off to touch-down".

Star Wars opened in Newcastle on December 15, 1977, seven months after its US debut smashed box office records.

The film played at the former Hoyts Royal Twin, on Hunter Street in Newcastle West, for a remarkable five months.

At that time movie tickets cost $3.50 and choc-tops were 90 cents.

Other school holidays films opening in Newcastle cinemas that week included Disney's third love bug comedy, Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, canine caper sequel For The Love of Benji, and the Terence Hill Bud Spencer slapstick buddy flick Crime Busters.

Smokey and the Bandit and Don's Party were also screening, and Lambton's Skyline Drive-In was showing The Godfather.

Writing in the Herald on December 16, 1977, Watkins described the plot of Star Wars as "lacking" but praised the "eye-filling" spectacle of writer-director George Lucas's extravagant "boy's own heroica".   

Watkins's fellow Newcastle critic, the late John Harris, was more effusive, writing in the Herald's former sister paper The Newcastle Sun that Star Wars was "the ultimate in movie escapism" that would in years to come be "regarded as a classic, in much the same way as The Wizard of Oz and Casablanca".

What are your earliest Star Wars memories? Let us know in the comments or email your story to news@theherald.com.au.

It goes without saying that the reception two decades later for the first of Lucas's three Star Wars prequels, 1999's The Phantom Menace, was much cooler, with then Herald critic (and confessed Star Wars fan) James Joyce bemoaning the "colour-by-numbers sci-fi blockbuster" and its "weak script",  "emotionless dialogue" and the cast's constant "struggle to bring human heart to the mechanical spectacle".

Here's the Herald's full review of the original Star Wars from 1977:

Star Wars lavish, spectacular

STAR WARS

Royal, 

Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Alec Guiness

Review by Allan Watkins

IN concept Star Wars is a blockbuster of a movie that unites the hardware of contemporary space adventure with fantasies of sword and sorcery.

Add imaginative special effects possibly unequalled in motion picture science fiction, a couple of comic prattling robots, a black-garbed warlord bent on destruction, stormtroopers and blockade runners, a boyish hero, a virtuous and brash young princess, interplanetary war in the air, the eventual triumph of good over evil and the universe stage is set for a film of lavish and extravagant proportions.

Youngsters will enjoy the light sabre sword-play, the weird humanimals and the eye-filling sequences of spacecraft flung about the galaxy, not to forget the mechanical comedians.

Their elders will find more to Star Wars than its veneer of action and spectacle.

For those who can remember there are fantasy send-ups of TV's Dr Who and Flash Gordon cartoons and in a futuristic context, Laurel and Hardy, Errol Flynn in his acrobatic prime, Saturday matinee serials, Sam Katzman corn and classical bits and pieces resurrected from generations past of movie-making.

Do not expect a space odyssey, philosophy or scientific claptrap from this one. Set in "a galaxy far, far away . . .", the film is boy's own heroica and derring-do from take-off to touchdown.

There is the young hero Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) out to save Carrie Fisher's pudding of a Princess Leia captured by the masked and evil Darth Vader, Harrison Ford's swashbuckling mercenary (the liveliest performance of all) and his ape-like assistant, and Alec Guiness and Peter Cushing as goodie and baddie respectively.

The intrepid rescue party is assisted by two robots, Artoo-Detoo and See-Threepio, whose testy conversations and friendship endure both knocks and short-circuits to provide the chucklesome humour.

Impressive are director George Lucas's innovative touches, the size and scope of the production and the captivating photography.

One thing lacking in Star Wars, however, is involvement in the plot and the players. Despite its visual and tongue-in-cheek originality and the enthusiastic, if low-key, playing by members of the cast, the film seldom grabs at the viewer.

Still, it is all clean and wholesome fun and, whether the film grabs or simply touches the mind and eye as entertainment, on that undemanding level it is a film to be seen and appreciated for its energy and technical skills.

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