Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)

Star Wars.

I mulled over what movie to do this week.  With it being Halloween, I thought maybe The Blair Witch Project or something along those lines.  This seems right though.  With Disney buying out the rights to the Star Wars franchise and announcing plans for Star Wars: Episode 7 in 2015, I find it appropriate to at least attempt to tackle this titan of Hollywood.

Unlike Star Trek, which I have very limited experience, Star Wars is something I know a heck of a lot more about than the average person on the street.  I don’t claim to be a complete Star Wars geek: I’ve never dressed up as a Star Wars character, don’t have original action figures, and I can’t name 74 things that are wrong in the films.

However

I have read probably a third of the Expanded Universe books and have watched 4 of the 6 movies more times than is probably healthy (I’m still trying to figure out how I can block out Episodes 1 and 2, but I digress).  The announcement of an Episode 7 makes me more than a little giddy.  I’m anxious to see what stories they translate onto the big screen.  I could see the Jedi Academy trilogy as a strong possibility, although some of my favorite EU stories come from Timothy Zahn, so I’d be delighted if the Thrawn Trilogy (and introduction of one of the EU’s most well-known-non-movie characters, Mara Jade) was used.  Time will tell.  Hopefully they’ll do better than some of the more recent ventures (Star Wars: The Clone Wars).

Episode 4 is the one that started it all, and as such, it seems appropriate to be included in the 501 Must-See Movies book.  I, along with many others, believe that Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back, is the best movie of the saga, at least in its stand-alone power, acting, story progression, and plot-twists.

I have seen New Hope numerous times, but for the purposes of this review, I will watch through once again and, well, review it.  I have chosen to watch it on the 1995 VHS version because 1) I finally figured out how to use the VCR with my current TV, 2)I haven’t been too thrilled with the digitally remastered version (I have New Hope on DVD and Blu-ray), and 3) It gives the closest to the original as any version, so new things that have been interjected (Greedo shooting at Han first, Han’s encounter with Jabba the Hutt in Docking Bay 94, etc.) and as such take away from the original film.

It goes without saying that I love this film, so most of the rest of this will be about things I think work well and I enjoy in watching this.  Also there will be a lot of spoilers…

One of the main themes in this film is fate.  There seems to be so many things that fall perfectly into place: The droids dropping on the planet Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi live on, the interconnectedness of the Skywalker family (as revealed in episodes 5 and 6), the droids reuniting after their separation on Tatooine and coming into the possession of Luke.  If the escape pod had landed on any other planet, the plans wouldn’t have made it into the Rebellion’s hands.  I’m sure this can be explained by the Force and the interconnectedness of all living things.

It’s interesting how many more questions come up in watching this knowing the back story that’s been told in Episodes 1 through 3.  The fact that C-3PO doesn’t recognize Tatooine or the Lars family even though that’s the planet and place on the planet where he was built.

Mark Hamill was almost exclusively a TV actor prior to Star Wars.  He works well and his character is an intriguing case study throughout the movies as he moves from being a boy to a man, idealistic to realistic, and losing his innocence.  In New Hope, he is primarily wearing white or light clothes, an intentional move to represent his youth, naivety, and innocence.  He wears greys in Empire Strikes Back and black in Return of the Jedi.

Alec Guinness, who was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, provides a strong, centering role in the movie.  His character represents one of the last of the old guard, a key to the past that hasn’t been re-written by those in control.  Perceived as crazy by some, I find his performance sobering and informative, and I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect for Guinness.

Obi-Wan’s character is one that’s been interesting to see back story on in the new trilogy, and also to read about in EU books.  His force ghost actually stays around for 10 years after Episode 4, or 6-7 years after the films.  One of the last things he says to Luke before parting for the next life is that Luke is, “Not the last of the old Jedi, but the first of the new Jedi.”  This changing of the guard was important and necessary as Luke was re-establishing the Jedi Order in a far different time from when the order was exterminated.

The lightsaber scene between him and Darth Vader seems so primitive compared to the battles in Episodes 1-3.  The fact that both Obi-Wan and Vader are about 20 years older than in Episode 3 probably plays a big role in this.  His saying to Vader that he’d become more powerful if Vader strikes him down is more than likely in reference to his ability to become a Force Ghost, which he’d learned from his master in the time between Episodes 3 and 4.

Darth Vader’s character encompasses evil: big, intimidating, dark.  James Earl Jones, who I would listen to if he was reading the phone book, brings to life the intimidating needed for this character to be convincing.

Harrison Ford works great as Han Solo.  In an interview at the beginning of the VHS, George Lucas explained that Ford was the 5th person to read for the part, and wasn’t really seriously considered before the audition.  Lucas had 5 people read for every part, and Ford’s addition as a reader was more to fit that system.  It’s good that he read for the part.

Han’s banter with Leia in this film and the others is fitting since they eventually marry and have a family.  It provides a lot of the comic relief.  The banter between the two droids, C-3PO and R2-D2, takes the cake though.  They banter like an old married couple, and since they’ve been together for over 20 years in the Star Wars Universe, it makes sense.

For the time period, the special effects were probably cutting edge.  A lot of the effects people were very young.  Lucas also said in the VHS interview that the average age was 24, with quite a few guys being 18, 19, and 20.  This young, idealistic type crew seems fitting in a movie like this since it has a lot to do with idealism.

This is definitely a movie that ‘I will watch again.  Since my wife has not seen any Star Wars movies, that is something that will take place before Episode 7 comes out.  This movie evokes strong emotion:people either love or hate it.  I love it, but also recognize why it’s divisive.  It re-defined American cinema, and brought about a lot of the commercialization of films that has become commonplace these days.  It raised the stakes in special effects, though I think a movie like Tron, which will also get reviewed at some point, had a far bigger impact in terms of CGI.

I think this movie is fun, complex, and one that can be enjoyed with each viewing.  I notice different things each time I watch a Star Wars film, or see it in a new light as I’m transitioning into different stages in life.  If cinema is something that allows people to take a break from reality and get lost in a fantasy world: Star Wars exemplifies the film industry better than most.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

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