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Original Trilogy Reception 1977-1983

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This has been a study I have been conducting since 2005 or so, mainly looking at the original trilogy as it was recieved by critics in the years of its original release. This study, by Rotten Tomatoes, published in 2005 stated that upon examination, the prequels were actually reviewed better than the originals.

"Tomatometer Ranking of Star Wars Series Based on Critical Reaction During Original Release Dates:
83% - Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
79% - Star Wars
65% - Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
62% - Star wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
52% - The Empire Strikes Back
31% - Return of the Jedi"

This made a lot of people scratch their heads, but its hard to argue with hard data. Well, I'm arguing back. That study is fundamentally flawed in a multitude of ways, such as the fact that they only sampled whatever reviews were onhand at the local library, to the fact that the ratings for the prequels come from websites. Over the last three years, I collected close to 100 reviews of the original trilogy, in contrast to their 48, for my study.

The results I have published on my website. I will post the links below.

Here are the results, however. For the prequels the rating is from metacritic.com, and the tomatometer from Rotten Tomatoes "Top Critic" filter. For the originals, both tomatometer and rating are my own calculations based on my study:

Phantom Menace
Tomatometer:39
Rating:52

Attack of the Clones
Tomatometer:38
Rating:53

Revenge of the Sith
Tomatometer:69
Rating:68

Star Wars
Tomatometer:83
Rating:82

Empire Strikes Back
Tomatometer:92
Rating:73

Return of the Jedi
Tomatometer:76
Rating:64

This is very different than the 79%, 52% and 31% tomatometer results RT claimed for the originals.

Below are the detailed pages on my study.

In Part I I explain the background, my aims, my methodology and then present the raw data in various forms of measurement.

Part II is the real heart of it. Here I offer analysis and interpretation of the data, give the reviews greater context and detail, track shifting opinions of the OT films through the post-release period and into 1997 and the modern era, and finally compare the prequels to the originals.

I am sure people will have something to say about any of this. Enjoy! (Sorry about all the words and stats!)

The Secret History of Star Wars -- now available on Amazon.com!

"When George went back and put new creatures into the original Star Wars, I find that disturbing. It’s a revision of history. That bothers me."

--James Cameron, Entertainment Weekly, April 2010

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You've recognized the problem and have attempted to enlarge the data pool, although admirable doubleing the size, it's still 100 reviews. Not sure if it's available but circulation pools might help you argument. You could take the Reviewer rating for the Washington *blank* review and multiply that by the circulation of the newspaper to get a sense of how far that review might have reached the public. But the idea of having your data advancement article out there so that more people might submit the articles from that time period to you for data collection, will make for a great resource.

Dataset wise watching the evolution of the IMDb review ratings might be something to consider as this article gains new data. Having random people's ratings and comparing how they fluctuate over time might make for an interesting story. Right now IMDb's Star Wars over the past 6 years doesn't deviate from the 8.8 judging from 3 wayback page views:

Current 302,548 votes - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0076759/ratings
2005.11 152,264 votes - http://web.archive.org/web/20051109230107/http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0076759/ratings
2004.03 109,571 votes - http://web.archive.org/web/20040327180551/http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0076759/ratings

 

For more data, usenet was around in 1983 so if you wanted some personal reviews:

http://groups.google.com/group/net.movies.sw/search?group=net.movies.sw&q=review&qt_g=Search+this+group

 

This RotJ review quote (Robert Amsler ...@SRI-AI.ARPA>) seems relevant:

 

"The reactions I hear from folks out here are varied. Most seem to have liked it. I suspect only the hard core finds it a disappointment...

I read a review in Newsweek. It seemed right on target. Surprising how the news magazines have been right about these films--contrary to the critics."

 

 

dang it now i'm going to be Gonk War obsessed for the next few hours..

I am sure people will have something to say about any of this

(...statements like that seems to doom my threads/projects, hope you have better luck)

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PRAISE BE TO ALMIGHTY GONK!

IT'S MY TRILOGY, AND I WANT IT NOW!

"[George Lucas] rebooted the franchise in 1997 without telling anyone." -skyjedi2005

"Yeah, well, George says a lot of things..." a young 1997 xhonzi on RASSM

"They're my movies." -George Lucas. 19 people won oscars for their work on Star Wars (1977) and George Lucas wasn't one of them.

Rewrite the Prequels!

 

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GONK. GONK. MOST USELESS DROID EVER. GONK.

VADER!? WHERE THE HELL IS MY MOCHA LATTE? -Palpy on a very bad day.

“George didn’t think there was any future in dead Han toys.”-Harrison Ford

My review blog: thehificelluloidmonster.wordpress.com

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INFIDEL!

IT'S MY TRILOGY, AND I WANT IT NOW!

"[George Lucas] rebooted the franchise in 1997 without telling anyone." -skyjedi2005

"Yeah, well, George says a lot of things..." a young 1997 xhonzi on RASSM

"They're my movies." -George Lucas. 19 people won oscars for their work on Star Wars (1977) and George Lucas wasn't one of them.

Rewrite the Prequels!

 

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How does Revenge of the Sith with the new numbers fall just slighly below return of the jedi.  Jedi was a flawed but great film while Sith was a Turkey.

I refuse to account for the fact that Sith made more money makes it somehow a better film.

By that system Wrath of Khan sucks and JJ Abrams Trek is superior.

Also by those numbers Crystal Skull is better than Raiders.  Phantom Menace better than Star Wars 77, Clones better than empire strikes back etc.

“Always loved Vader’s wordless self sacrifice. Another shitty, clueless, revision like Greedo and young Anakin’s ghost. What a fucking shame.” -Simon Pegg.

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TPM made more money than ROTS. I'd say ROTS is about on par artistically with ROTJ. The only real difference is that most people already cared about the characters in ROTJ going in--in fact, I would say that this is a big reason why ROTJ isn't quite liked more; on its own merits, the story and characters are way weaker than ROTS.

The Secret History of Star Wars -- now available on Amazon.com!

"When George went back and put new creatures into the original Star Wars, I find that disturbing. It’s a revision of history. That bothers me."

--James Cameron, Entertainment Weekly, April 2010

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I disagree but after all that is my opinion.

Anakin/Vader was done in such a way in return of the jedi to make the audience sympathetic to the character.  Not so Hayden Vader who never was a good man or good friend to begin with. He was always a traitorous asshole from episode II onward to III.  I have to therefore fly in the face of Lucas continuity and disavow the existence of the prequels because they ruin the original trilogy.

“Always loved Vader’s wordless self sacrifice. Another shitty, clueless, revision like Greedo and young Anakin’s ghost. What a fucking shame.” -Simon Pegg.

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Return of the Jedi's value, in my opinion, comes from the subtexts of the film and then the action content.

RotS tries to have a lot more going on on the surface.  But that all fails for me and there are no good action scenes.  They try hard, but they just don't work.  The opening scene could have been old school good... but it dissolved into "Oh no! Buzz droids!"

IT'S MY TRILOGY, AND I WANT IT NOW!

"[George Lucas] rebooted the franchise in 1997 without telling anyone." -skyjedi2005

"Yeah, well, George says a lot of things..." a young 1997 xhonzi on RASSM

"They're my movies." -George Lucas. 19 people won oscars for their work on Star Wars (1977) and George Lucas wasn't one of them.

Rewrite the Prequels!

 

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What about the cgi pilots?  Only Anakin and Obi Wan looked real and the others looked like mo capped jango fetts.

“Always loved Vader’s wordless self sacrifice. Another shitty, clueless, revision like Greedo and young Anakin’s ghost. What a fucking shame.” -Simon Pegg.

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skyjedi2005 said:

I disagree but after all that is my opinion.

Anakin/Vader was done in such a way in return of the jedi to make the audience sympathetic to the character.  Not so Hayden Vader who never was a good man or good friend to begin with. He was always a traitorous asshole from episode II onward to III.  I have to therefore fly in the face of Lucas continuity and disavow the existence of the prequels because they ruin the original trilogy.

I have to disagree with you there, sky.  I don't think that Vader came across as particularly sympathetic in ROTJ.  It's interesting that you use the fact that Anakin was a traitorous asshole in the prequel films leading up to ROTS as your reasoning, but was Vader any more of a sympathetic character leading up to ROTJ?  And any way you look at it, it's just a big guy in a suit who goes around killing people all the time.  Not a bad character, mind you, but someone who gets points for being a badass villain, not a sympathetic protagonist.  The emotional resonance in ROTJ is Luke and his desire to make his father better.  Vader on his own has really nothing going for him except for one single redemptive act.  Luke is the only thing making us care about Vader at all.

There is no lingerie in space...

C3PX said: Gaffer is like that hot girl in high school that you think you have a chance with even though she is way out of your league because she is sweet and not a stuck up bitch who pretends you don't exist... then one day you spot her making out with some skinny twerp, only on second glance you realize it is the goth girl who always sits in the back of class; at that moment it dawns on you why she is never seen hanging off the arm of any of the jocks... and you realize, damn, she really is unobtainable after all. Not that that is going to stop you from dreaming... Only in this case, Gaffer is actually a guy.

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 (Edited)

Yeah, I don't think the tomatometer reflects that so many of Revenge of the Sith's positive reviews were on the level of "I was surprised to find that this movie is un-horrible!"  Yeah, that's positive, but...

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You know, that's an interesting point, and I raised it in the second article of mine. The third film in the original trilogy was seen by many as a disappointment because the previous films were so good--while the third film in the prequel trilogy was seen by many as impressive because the previous films were so bad! Interesting inverse relationship. And they still score almost exactly the same by my measurements!

The Secret History of Star Wars -- now available on Amazon.com!

"When George went back and put new creatures into the original Star Wars, I find that disturbing. It’s a revision of history. That bothers me."

--James Cameron, Entertainment Weekly, April 2010

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 (Edited)


skyjedi2005 said:
How does Revenge of the Sith with the new numbers fall just slighly below return of the jedi.  Jedi was a flawed but great film while Sith was a Turkey.

I refuse to account for the fact that Sith made more money makes it somehow a better film.

By that system Wrath of Khan sucks and JJ Abrams Trek is superior.



I agree 100%

BTW- are the Tomatometer reviews weighted differently? Are well-known movie reviewers given more weight than a blogger? Based on those initial Tomatometer rankings, I'm guessing not.

Joel Siegel and Siskel & Ebert both gave ROTJ great reviews in '83- their opinions are of more value to me than some nameless, faceless fanboy.

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That's a good question regarding RT--since I used the top critic selection, my understanding is that they are all weighted equally. For my comparison of the OT, my RT are unweighted--in the weighted reviews of my own calculations, all the OT films score slightly better. This indicates the OT was actually recieved better in the major media publications than their averages.

The Secret History of Star Wars -- now available on Amazon.com!

"When George went back and put new creatures into the original Star Wars, I find that disturbing. It’s a revision of history. That bothers me."

--James Cameron, Entertainment Weekly, April 2010

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Time

I understand that TIME and Newsweek gave SW favorable reviews, I don't know off-hand about the opinions of any popular reviewers of the day, such as Gene Shalit or Rex Reed (though I'm guessing Shalit's was positive based on the group interview he conducted with Hamill, Ford and Fisher in '77).

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Baronlando said:

Yeah, I don't think the tomatometer reflects that so many of Revenge of the Sith's positive reviews were on the level of "I was surprised to find that this movie is un-horrible!"  Yeah, that's positive, but...

The Tomatometer seems about as reliable a source as the IMDB comments section. 

Variety
MPAA
Independent Film Quarterly
Cineaste
Premiere
Tomatometer ???

 

originaltrilogy.com Moderator

"Why are you here, Rey from nowhere?”

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I don't think I'll ever be able to accept the basic tomatoes concept. For example, does the score acknowledge that Rex Reed was always more of a schticky "personality"? No, but he was very prominent, so his reviews can't really be distinguished from the real 70s heavyweights. Which would be just nuts to anyone who followed film criticism back then.

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Mielr said:

I understand that TIME and Newsweek gave SW favorable reviews, I don't know off-hand about the opinions of any popular reviewers of the day, such as Gene Shalit or Rex Reed (though I'm guessing Shalit's was positive based on the group interview he conducted with Hamill, Ford and Fisher in '77).

Sorry to derail this slightly, but has that group interview been preserved anywhere around here?  The Today Show re-ran it during the SE hype.  I taped many things back then, but missed that one, although I saw it (it caught me by surprise).

Pink Floyd -- First in Space

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 (Edited)

They also showed a segment of it on Access Hollywood on their SW 20th anniversary special in '97. I've never seen the whole interview.