Ebertskiy: Soviet Movie Critic Reviews Star Wars

UPDATE: My Facebook conversation with Alan Scherstuhl inspired The Joys of Russian Star Wars: Meet Tripeo, Erdva Dedva, and Obi-Wan Knob

I had this article saved up for some time but only now got around to translating it.

To the best of my knowledge, the Star Wars were never shown in the Soviet Union, at least not in the wide distribution. Certain people always had access to the Western movies, the legendary uncensored versions, which included sex and violence and images of the Western lifestyles that were so detrimental to the psychological well-being of the Soviet people. For the rest of us, the press published articles like this, to nip the desire to see the banned movie in the bud. Even though some people could have read a much better review (links to the Google-translated version) in the limited distribution of the Amerika Magazine, in the pre-VCR era there just were no other options for and average Soviet Citizen to see the movie an decide for himself.

Published under the heading “Mass Culture -77” in the box tiled “Their Sensations”

Cosmic Movie Horrors*

by Yulia Warshavskaya

This summer a new wave of the movie mania washed over the American movie theaters. As reported in the press, the movie Star Wars directed by an American director George Lucas beat all the box office records: it made sixty million dollars just in its first month of release. From morning to midnight the Star Wars is being shown in the crowed theaters. To get in, one either needs to stand in line for several hours, or buy a  ticket from a scalper for an unheard price of $50.

Following the monsters, mass catastrophes and giant sharks, American movie screens are overtaken by the horrors on a truly cosmic scale – terrifying tyrants terrorizing our Galaxy. They are being fought by the characters of the movie, a round-faced princess, a country boy, an old knight of the Round Table, an ape-man and two robots. One of them – huge and gilded Tripio possesses human speech, the other one – Artwo-Detwo – looks like an automobile and communicates with the “star signals”.

The plot, as reported by the French weekly “Express”, is fairly primitive.**

But to further terrify the audiences the creators of the movie employ the most menacing weapon ever – the laser beam – which the movie characters use to fight like a rapier. The screen is constantly filled with horrifying monsters – a lizard-man, faceless gnomes, a live mummy, whose head is covered with rubber tubes, fantastic animals…

Along with this blood-curdling “masterpiece” which director George Lucas calls a “Western of the future”, several parallel commercial operations were undertaken. Ballantine Books published a novel with the same title; Marvel Comics, a publisher specializing in comic books, divided the screenplay into six parts and started publishing a million copies every month. Other classic attributes of mass culture followed – pins, shirts, promotional posters, soundtrack. And closer to the New Year the stores will be filled with toys – miniature Artwo-Detwo making the same noises as its prototype, as well as the gilded Tripio. The famous laser sword is not invented yet, but it’s in the works.

In the near future the next episode of the Star Wars will be released, but, most likely, it will be as mediocre as it will be profitable. It’s not surprising at all. Mass viewer often “bites” on these “pieces of art”, so the life outside of the theater walls feels a lot safer…

* amateur translation mine
**obviously the author did not see the movie and has to cite another publication

  • He may have not seen the movie, but the ‘review’ comes close to the mark: the plot WAS primitive and the acting (at least on the part of the ’round faced’ boy) was worse. Nor was he off on the campaign of multiple revenue streams or, nor the quality of the future films. All in all, a pretty honest review.

    Always amazed me how well the original Star Wars did, especialy considering Annie Hall, High Anxiety, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Turning Point were also released that year.

    One of the world’s criticism’s of American cinema has always been our lack of sophistication; that may not be so much the case today, but was certainly evident back then. Star Wars was at best a grade B movie, both  then and now.

    • I have never seen an episode of Star Wars myself.It always puts me to sleep.The point is that everywhere outside of the USSR people had a chance to see it, while on the other side they just had a second-hand review. Obviously it made it even more desirable. True, when the Western movies finally made it to the USSR in the 80’s most of them turned out to be total crap.

  • Dude – the grass is always greener EVERYWHERE, not just in the old USSR.

    Can you imagine the startled faces in North korea when they discover oh, I dunno…writing paper? Or the children’s glee in France when daily baths are introduced?

    • apparently the euphoria over the newly acquired access to information and goods only lasts so long.then comes the backlash.

  • I love the illustration of the shouting planet.