In part one of this post, I argued that people often forget something important about Star Wars: It was funny.
It wasn't a comedy, and it never made the mistake of knowingly sending up the genre, but a few well-judged jokes helped make the film the bright and lively experience that it was.
For part two, here is the rest of my chronological list of the film's best comic moments.
5. “It's not wise to upset a wookiee”: the rigged holo-chess game on the Millennium Falcon
Artoo and Chewbacca are aboard the Millennium Falcon playing a chess-like game which involves little holographic monsters doing battle on a round board. The stop-motion aliens were animated by Jon Berg and Phil Tippet (who would go on to animate the AT-AT 'walkers' in The Empire Strikes Back). Artoo should be winning, but he's advised to throw the game after Han Solo warns that wookiees are known to “pull people's arms out of their sockets when they lose”.
It's the characters' reactions that make this moment work so well, not least the way Chewie reclines in his seat when he realises he'll be winning this game.
All this happens moments after the disintegration of Alderaan, showing that in Star Wars, the destruction of an entire civilisation is nothing to stay downhearted about for long.
6. “I'm going to put these binders on you”: Luke forgets that it's not wise to upset a wookiee.
This scene on the Death Star, as Luke hatches a plan to rescue Princess Leia, is played really skilfully by Mark Hamill – an actor who doesn't always get the credit he deserves.
I love the way Luke is so cocksure about his ingenous plan, despite having given no thought at all as to whether it's wise to attempt to slap a pair of cuffs on a wookiee. Kudos to Hamill for this one working so well.
7. Chewbacca scares the Mouse Robot
Wookiee snarls at small robot. Small robot scurries off. A pretty simple idea for a gag, but it works, and it was one of those scenes that really tickled an audience in 1977.
It's probably another case where you have to see the scene with an audience in order to appreciate just how perfect it is.
It's hard to tell who should get the credit, but mechanical effects man John Stears and his team, who battled to get radio-controlled droids to do as they were told, should surely take their share.
8. “Curse my metal body”: C-3PO and the trash compactor.
Our heroes have come perilously close to being squashed with the rest of the Death Star's non-compostable waste. The droids have saved them at the last minute by remotely shutting down the machinery. But See-Threepio – who is supposed to be good at interplay with human beings – mistakes their screams of relief for death agonies.
The gag caps a suspense sequence which was one of the most talked-about scenes in the original movie on first release.
9. Leia's wisecracks: “Will somebody get this big walking carpet out of my way?”
One of the things that made Star Wars so fresh and surprising was that it took an old storybook cliche – the princess held captive – and added a twist. The twist was that Princess Leia was adept at dispensing put-downs and wisecracks, not only to her captors but even to the people who were risking their hides to rescue her.
Leia's line “Will somebody get this big walking carpet out of my way?” might be a bit troubling if you ponder it. Not only is it a bit ungrateful to her saviours, but in this galaxy made up of myriad species and civlisations, doesn't it represent something akin to a racist slur? Best not to think about it and enjoy a well-delivered zinger.
The book Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays handily puts an asterisk next to the lines that were contributed to the script in that last-minute, uncredited polish by Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz. Many of the best lines in the Death Star scenes are among them, including this one. The Huycks also wrote the great line that Leia delivers moments later, when she first sees the Millennium Falcon: “You came in that thing? You're braver than I thought.”
10. “Do you think a princess and a guy like me...?”: The Star Wars romantic triangle is established.
Our heroes have escaped from the Death Star and now, Luke Skywalker – despite having seen Obi-Wan Kenobi apparently slain by Darth Vader mere moments ago – is already feeling well enough to banter with Han Solo.
The subject is Princess Leia, and Solo is teasing Luke, as an older brother might, by feigning interest in her. It's a good character-driven moment, cleverly performed, and it sets up the romantic triangle plot that would surely be a key part of any sequel.
Of course, we all knew that Han could never be allowed to win the girl.