Star Wars (now episode IV, but that wasn’t what we called it back then)

Star Wars won the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation in 1978, and a special Nebula for Best Dramatic Presentation as well – the category had been discontinued, and was not revived until 2000. The other Hugo finalists were Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the Ralph Bakshi animated film Wizards, the TV animated adaptation of The Hobbit, and a two-record album of Robert Bloch and Harlan Ellison reading their own stories with the title Blood! The Life And Future Times Of Jack The Ripper. The Hugo voters got it right, and Star Wars is rated the top film of 1977 on both IMDB rankings. Where there are both Hugo and Oscar winning films to write up for a particular year, I’ll take the highest scoring film first, so Annie Hall comes next.

Being the sort of film it is, there are a lot of actors who have appeared either in Hugo-winning filmns I have already written up, or in Oscar-winning films, or in Doctor Who. To take it from the top, I already wrote up Raiders of the Lost Ark out of sequence; Harrison Ford is obviously Indiana Jones there and Han Solo here.

Peter Cushing is the evil Grand Moff Tarkin here and was Dr Who, the genial eccentric English scientist, in the two cinema films of the 1960s (actually looking a bit older in films made over a decade before) as well as being a rather camp Osric in Olivier’s Oscar-winning Hamlet.

Alec Guinness, here the warrior sage Obi Wan Kenobi, was of course in both Lawrence of Arabia and Bridge on the River Kwai.

Mad Magazine suspected that he was not entirely happy about the role:

Confirmed by his own correspondence at the time.

David Prowse’s face does not appear here, but he is under Darth Vader’s cloak; unmasked, he was in Hugo-winning A Clockwork Orange, and masked as the Minotaur in the Doctor Who story The Time Monster


Meanwhile the voice of Darth Vader is provided by James Earl Jones, previously in Dr Strangelove.

Three more Doctor Who crossovers. In the very same year that he played Chief Bast, one of the Death Star officers, Leslie Schofield also played Calib in The Face of Evil, and eight years previously had been a French soldier Leroy, in The War Games.

Garrick Hagon, who is Luke’s boyhood friend Biggs, was revolutionary/evolutionary leader Ky in The Mutants. and then the undertaker Abraham in A Town Called Mercy.

And a bit more obscurely, Graham Ashley who is rebel pilot Gold Five was the Overseer in the justly forgotten Second Doctor story The Underwater Menace.

Well, after all that throat-clearing, I loved the film when it first came out in 1977, and I love it now. It has its flaws: despite the melting pot of Mos Eisley, and the happy collaboration of humans and non-humans, there is no visible non-white human character, and James Earl Jones scandalously is not even credited as the voice of Vader. Also, I don’t think it passes the second leg of the Bechdel Test, never mind the third. (Not to mention what Carrie Fisher has told us about her relationship with Harrison Ford at the time.) As fans we accept that the things we love have flaws.

Brian Aldiss described Star Wars as giving him the "thrill of recognition", and I think I know exactly what he meant. Having now watched all of the Hugo and Retro Hugo winning films up to 1977, very few actually feel like movies rooted in the written science fiction genre. The War of the Worlds and 2001 come closest, but the former was more than two decades previously and the latter starts and ends in very different territory. (Maybe Soylent Green too, though its future New York is clearly mean to be a reflected present New York). Yes, as Alec Guinness pointed out at the time, a lot of it makes no sense and there are plot holes you could drive a Death Star through. But it's so much fun.

The effects are dazzling and brilliant, and the music thoroughly memorable.

The script may not make much sense, but it iis witty, the cast are giving it their all (even Alec Guinness) and it's just a joy to watch again.

I'm now up to twenty films which won the Hugo, Retro-Hugo and/or Nebula, so here is my ranking so far. (In red are those I've seen since I watched 2001 in February.)

20) The Canterville Ghost (Retro Short, 1945)
19) Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (Retro Short, 1944)
18) Curse of the Cat People (Retro Short, 1945)
17) Heaven Can Wait (Retro Long, 1944)
16) The Incredible Shrinking Man (Outstanding Movie, 1958)
15) A Boy and His Dog (1976)
14) Pinocchio (Retro Short Form, 1941)
13) Destination Moon (Retro, 1951)
12) Slaughterhouse-Five (1973)
11) The War of the Worlds (Retro, 1954)
10) Sleeper (Hugo/Nebula 1974)
9) Fantasia (Retro Long Form, 1941)
8) Bambi (Retro, 1943)
7) Young Frankenstein (Hugo/Nebula 1975)
6) Soylent Green (Nebula 1973)
5) The Picture of Dorian Gray (Retro, 1946)
4) Dr Strangelove (1965)
3) A Clockwork Orange (1972)
2) 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
1) Star Wars (Hugo/Nebula 1978/77)

Obviously the film was an original script, but in the days before home video, let alone DVDs, we were able to relive the cinema experience only by getting the comic book, by two Marvel luminaries, Roy Thomas and Howard Chaykin. The second frame of the third chapter is:

Of course it's not a match for the big screen (or even small screen, these days), but it's a faithful and enjoyable adaptation with a couple of wrinkles – notably an early scene with Luke and his friend Biggs, which was cut from the film, survives here.

And while we are on comics, I still have an affection for Mad Magazine's musical parody, already excerpted above. You can find it in issue 203, from October 1978, online here. I learned the song that goes to "Do-Re-Me" off by heart when I was twelve.

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