Richard Pryor's Star Wars Bar Sketch Shows Real Cantina Aliens, Editing's Importance

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, December 27, 2015

With The Force Awakens it certainly feels like Star Wars is everywhere in the physical world, because it pretty much is.   It's difficult to leave your home to buy groceries, batteries, or a Guavian Enforcer figure without seeing that logo somewhere.  Back in the 1970s, Star Wars invaded television most frequently in comedy and variety shows, as you could plug in R2-D2 and C-3PO to pretty much any concept from Donny & Marie to Sesame Street.  They just fit.

Richard Pryor also had a show in this era, which does double-duty as a time capsule and as a reminder of how and why Star Wars felt so incredibly tight. Once you watch the video (and you should), rewatch it and take note of the various costumes - some are complete, some are wobbly, and some look incredibly fake in this different context. The editing on the original Star Wars film was said to have saved it from certain humiliation, because a few frames further would reveal the secrets to the magic. You can see Hammerhead's wobble in this sketch. You'll note that Labria's devilish features are completely frozen - it's not a make-up, the only thing that can really move are his eyes and the few frames in the Cantina were lit and framed in such a way to give him the spark of life. It's a goofy little clip, but it does wonders to show the importance of editing and helps to highlight something of interest about The Force Awakens, too.  (No spoilers follow, but recognition that the film exists and has been seen do.)

The new film - in theaters now - is a feast for the eyes. Unlike the original zero-budget film, the new one has a lot of money and they do a good job of making sure you see all of that money on the screen with sweeping wide shots and close-ups of the various costumes and computer-generated beings they're rightly quite proud of producing for you. The original trilogy does not have this luxury - it makes the films more personal and immediate. You can't show sweeping shots of some areas, because the sets aren't that big. You have to go in tight in the Carbon Freezing Chamber. You need to get right in the face of those Cantina aliens, because if you pan out any further you'll see they don't have pants. As so many are fond of saying, "form follows function."

The close-ups and very immediate feel of scenes like the original Cantina sequence came together not merely as a collaboration of the era's finest creative minds, but as a form of magic trick - you weren't supposed to see the strings holding it all together, nor did you. The new movie lingers on some items a little too long, robbing the new film of the "something cool is happening off-camera" charm that existed in the original films and even the prequels. This isn't to say it wasn't a rip-roaring good time (it was), but it goes to show that there's much in the soul of the original Lucas-era movies that not everyone has quite put their fingers on yet. There's more to making a movie than snappy dialogue, and hopefully someone out there is taking notes to incorporate the considerable skill in editing a cheap late '70s space flick into something for the ages. You can do a lot with unlimited funding, but actually hiding some of the movie helps to improve on some flaws and leave a few things to the audience's fertile (and easily shaken) imaginations.