The empire strikes out

A depressing number of commentators recently got sentimental and downright gooey talking about Star Wars, which was released 40 years ago this week.

By 1977, I had read a lot of science fiction. Gene Wolfe and R.A. Lafferty, Philip K. Dick, Joanna Russ and Cordwainer Smith were favorites, and I collected all the various best-of-the-year anthologies (and for a while, there were a lot). I regularly visited all the bookstores in town, new and used, looking for interesting new writers and well-written, adventurous stories.

One of my co-workers praised the movie, so one afternoon I rode my bicycle out to the theatre and sat through 17 minutes of commercials in the chilly dark1 waiting to see this magnificent new breakthrough in science fiction. Finally, the movie started.

And it stunk. If you are Star Wars fan, I’m sorry, but I found it stupid. The script was comic-book level. The actors might have been talented, but their lines were drivel. The music deserved a better showcase, and why did Alec Guinness bother with this mess? (Money, I suppose.)

I did sit through The Empire Strikes Back, and found it a little better — having Leigh Brackett on the script probably helped. It was still lousy, though, and I didn’t bother watching any more Lucasian nonsense.

I would hesitate to call Star Wars “life-changing,” but along with a few other disasters like Blade Runner — I left the theater furious at what had been done to Dick’s novel — it was one of the reasons I lost all interest in movies.2

By the way, if you want to see Alec Guinness in roles that suit him, start here.


  1. Just wondering: has anyone checked to see if there is a correlation between frequent movie-going and pneumonia?
  2. I do occasionally watch movies on my computer nowadays, but even so, I will more likely watch something that predates the boring blockbuster era than anything recent.

2 thoughts on “The empire strikes out”

  1. Y’know, I don’t actually remember seeing Star Wars in the theater. I’m sure I did, most likely with a group at a cheap second-tier cinema, but just once, and I don’t remember my reaction. Tolkien, Heinlein, and comic books had far more of my attention in those days, so what I really remember are the pre-Empire comics and Splinter Of The Mind’s Eye. I’m fond of the other early spinoff novels by Brian Daley and L. Neil Smith, but I’m not a huge fan of the franchise as a whole.


  2. Star Wars wasn’t an excellent film but it was timely storytelling. It was unabashedly optimistic in a depressed and depressing society. It told a very simple hero’s tale. It had one of the best scores in cinema history. The actors sold it even though they privately considered it substandard fare, and half of them couldn’t see out of their costumes. The whole thing felt epic in a small mean world, and that was enough.

    The problem to me isn’t so much the original trilogy, but that so many who ought to have known better have decided that the really cool stuff they cooked up with their Kenner toys should be turned into official, professionally-filmed stories and sold as more Star Wars adventures. So little of it has a chance to live up to the legacy, much less the actual quality of the films (and they do have some, even if it’s overblown nowadays).

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