In 2007, the American Film Institute revised their previous 1998 list of the 100 best American films of all time. This column will explore my thoughts on 35 films I’ve selected from this list, mostly following along with the Unspooled Podcast, which inspired my journey to complete the AFI Top 100. You can also follow my progress with my ranking and watchlist. This week’s film is Star Wars (1977), #13 on the list.
Though it (rightfully *cough*) lost Best Picture to Annie Hall, Star Wars remains one of the most celebrated, influential, and revolutionary films of all time. But is it actually good? Well, of course it is; it’s innovative, creative, full of charismatic and well-developed characters, and a pretty damn fun adventure. Even as a franchise-allergic skeptic revisiting a beloved classic I never had a particularly strong affinity for, I can’t help but get swept away by the delightful blend of grandiose ambition and small-scale character moments. I had apparently polished some of the rougher edges in my memory: the heroic Luke Skywalker is initially shrill and grating, setting up a more dynamic character arc, even if it doesn’t pay off in this first installment; and some of the sets and effects look cheap (understandable given the ludicrously low budget) and dated, especially in the CGI-altered edition which has unfortunately supplanted the original as the only readily available version. Still, flaws and all, the original Star Wars is just as charming and exciting today as it was 40+ years ago, and created a legacy that even the egregiously awful prequel trilogy couldn’t sully.
Does it belong on the list?
A convincing argument could be made that the superior sequel The Empire Strikes Back deserves its spot, but, as with The Lord of the Rings and Toy Story, it’s more fitting to highlight the first film as a means of honoring the series as a whole, so yes.