A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
Every once in a while I have what I think of as an out-of-the-body experience at a movie. When the ESP people use a phrase like that, they're referring to the sensation of the mind actually leaving the body and spiriting itself off to China or Peoria or a galaxy far, far away. When I use the phrase, I simply mean that my imagination has forgotten it is actually present in a movie theater and thinks it's up there on the screen. In a curious sense, the events in the movie seem real, and I seem to be a part of them.
"Star Wars" works like that. My list of other out-of-the-body films is a short and odd one, ranging from the artistry of "Bonnie and Clyde" or "Cries and Whispers" to the slick commercialism of "Jaws" and the brutal strength of "Taxi Driver." On whatever level (sometimes I'm not at all sure) they engage me so immediately and powerfully that I lose my detachment, my analytical reserve. The movie's happening, and it's happening to me.
What makes the "Star Wars" experience unique, though, is that it happens on such an innocent and often funny level. It's usually violence that draws me so deeply into a movie -- violence ranging from the psychological torment of a Bergman character to the mindless crunch of a shark's jaws. Maybe movies that scare us find the most direct route to our imaginations. But there's hardly any violence at all in "Star Wars" (and even then it's presented as essentially bloodless swashbuckling). Instead, there's entertainment so direct and simple that all of the complications of the modern movie seem to vaporize.
"Star Wars" is a fairy tale, a fantasy, a legend, finding its roots in some of our most popular fictions. The golden robot, lion-faced space pilot, and insecure little computer on wheels must have been suggested by the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow in "The Wizard of Oz." The journey from one end of the galaxy to another is out of countless thousands of space operas. The hardware is from "Flash Gordon" out of "2001: A Space Odyssey," the chivalry is from Robin Hood, the heroes are from Westerns and the villains are a cross between Nazis and sorcerers. "Star Wars" taps the pulp fantasies buried in our memories, and because it's done so brilliantly, it reactivates old thrills, fears, and exhilarations we thought we'd abandoned when we read our last copy of Amazing Stories.