Is Star Wars the greatest movie of all time? Not in a million light years.
When Star Wars topped Channel 4’s 100 Greatest Films vote, revealed on 24 and 25 November, I thought I might implode. Surely even the most fanatical Star Wars fan doesn’t think it’s the best movie ever?
Surely people can tell the difference between what they like and what is actually the best? I have watched my all-time favourite film – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton – so many times it’s unhealthy. But I‘m aware that it’s not the best film ever, just a very good film that I love. Why can’t Star Wars saddos have the objectivity to see that personal favourite doesn’t necessarily mean greatest of all time?
I should declare an interest here: I hate Star Wars. It’s a film for thirtysomethings who saw it at the cinema in childhood and still haven’t got over it. Ask any Star Wars fan why they like it, and they’ll always start by saying ‘when I went to see it when I was 10, I thought…’. Even the film buffs on Channel 4 said more about what Star Wars had meant to them in childhood than what they think of the film today.
But judgement by reminiscence is ridiculous. Ask a filmgoer what they think of The Godfather or Citizen Kane and they will give you their adult opinion. But Star Wars is a different story – there is a blind loyalty to this film, with many Star Wars fans not even willing to engage in rational objective discussion about the film’s merits (or lack thereof). A friend of mine once walked out of a Friday night pub session because he was offended by criticisms of his beloved Star Wars.
The quasi-religious faith in Star Wars, the film that ‘changed lives’, allows for no debate about character development, plot, dialogue, acting skill, cinematography or anything else by which you might judge a film’s value. In truth, it is a fairly dull, old-fashioned version of good vs evil that had been done before and will be done again.
Star Wars is not a film that transcends time (no pun intended). It might get twenty- and thirtysomethings frothing at the mouth, but I have yet to meet anybody over 40 or under 20 with strong feelings for it. If you weren’t ‘there’, if you weren’t a cinema-going child in the late 1970s and early 1980s, you won’t get it – and that’s the problem. The same cannot be said for The Godfather, Casablanca or even the Wizard of Oz – films that have stood the test of time to amaze, move and enthral different generations.
It is worth noting that, as the Channel 4 programme pointed out, the cast of Star Wars thought the film was a ‘piece of crap’ – and it showed in their acting.
Channel 4’s vote was not the democratic judgement on the world’s film industry that it pumped itself up to be. Channel 4 selected 100 films (on what basis is anybody’s guess) and the public was allowed to select their top 10 out of the already chosen 100.
It seems that one criteria for whether or not a film made it into the 100 was whether or not Channel 4 had the film rights – as Channel 4 has since been bombarding us with adverts declaring that all 100 films are due to be shown on its satellite film channel Film Four in the coming months. So maybe Channel 4 just didn’t have the rights to A Streetcar Named Desire, Life is Beautiful, Twelve Angry Men, to name but a few.
Channel 4’s vote raised more questions than answers: would many have thought of voting for The Seven Samurai if Channel 4 hadn’t put it on the list? Just how many people voted for Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, which came in at number 100 – a position it could have reached even if nobody had voted for it? And considering that Channel 4 allowed everybody 10 votes per sitting, does this really mean that a majority of people voted Star Wars the greatest film of all time? No – it just means that more voters put Star Wars in their top 10.
Overall, the programme was not so much the final word and canon of film history, but more a promo for subscribing to Film Four. No wonder there was only one criticism throughout the six-hour programme, with most of the commentators managing little more than ‘Ooooh, I really loved that film’. After all, why would Channel 4 allow people to say a film was crap, when it was asking people to pay £6.99 to watch it the following week?
This was not about the ‘greatest’ films ever made – it was about the most popular. There is little disputing that Star Wars is the most popular film ever made, particularly among the twenty- and thirtysomethings who made up most of Channel 4’s ‘voting public’. If the vote was done now, Harry Potter would probably walk it.
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