Seven Days of Star Wars
Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope
(PG, 121 minutes, 1977)
(PG, 125 minutes, 1997)
This is the final installment in a series of looks at each of the wide-released theatrical Star Wars films leading up to the premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This includes each of the films that comprise the saga’s story after the 2012 purchase of Lucasfilm by the Walt Disney Company and the April 2014 canon reset.
The series progressed through each of the films in reverse chronological order, starting with 2008’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and moving onward to Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Today wraps up everything with Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, which is the one that started it all.
A New Hope – or (as some of the old guard fans who saw it in first run frequently chastise me) simply Star Wars – is an interesting mix of the science fiction and the sword and sorcery genres. As a result, Star Wars isn’t science fiction, but more of a space opera fantasy. It’s a tale of people and sweeping elements of human mythology, and as a result I give a lot of leeway when – with apologies to nitpickers like Neil DeGrasse Tyson – it comes to the science of spaceflight.
I can’t remember the first time I saw A New Hope, but I know that it was on a pan-and-scan VHS tape, and no matter how many times I saw it that way, it still didn’t compare to the Special Edition theatrical experience. My parents accompanied me to the opening weekend premiere in January 1997, and I knew that they were having a blast watching me watch Star Wars in a way I had never seen it before. I got completely engrossed in the film, and crept to the edge of my seat during Luke’s trench run. I cheered when the Death Star exploded, and when I glanced over with embarrassment for breaking silence during a movie – a cinematic taboo in my youth – my parents were grinning ear to ear.
The Special Edition changes didn’t bother me in general. Most of them were visual updates that neither added nor detracted from the story, but added depth to the atmosphere and environment. The Jabba scene was only okay with me, even though it grinds the plot progression to a halt by repeating information we learned in the cantina.
The lone exception in my eyes is the shootout in the cantina. By not letting Han shoot first, or even alone, it removes part of the character’s definition for me. I liked having a Han Solo that was an independent, proactive, and rough smuggler. That element is lost in Han being reactive; even if he’s preparing to kill Greedo, he still hesitates in the Special Edition.
Many people point to Darth Vader in this film as an iconic evil character, but he’s actually quite shallow in this story. He’s a mustache-twirling caricature of a villain, but not terribly complex. He’s visually set apart from both the Imperial troopers and Princess Leia. Interestingly, the Imperial officers are in black, presumably because they are not as expendable as those in white, and Tarkin (who is far more complex a villain than Vader in this movie) is in a somewhat ambiguous grey.
Before I get into the itemized list of things I love about A New Hope, the winning point for this film is how it can be viewed through the lens of any of the heroes. A modern action film, including the prequels to an extent, would limit the story to one character and their journey. A New Hope tells several distinct parallel tales, including those of Luke, Leia, Han, Obi-Wan, and Artoo-Detoo. In fact, A New Hope defines Artoo’s character by making him one of the main characters and true heroes of the film.
That’s really the magic of Star Wars: The franchise has an entire galaxy as a rich setting, and it drops the viewer directly in it instead of feeding elements to an audience through precious minutes of exposition. That element is taken care of in a scrolling block of text, and it only provides enough to frame the home instead of completely furnishing it. The movies feel so realistic because of the immersion, and have defined my favorite type of movie: The one that doesn’t provide answers but rather makes me work for them and figure them out as we go.
That’s the magic that allows me to forgive shoddy dialogue and plot holes. That’s the magic that allows me to indulge my inner child as I travel to a galaxy far, far away.
Obi-Wan Kenobi and The Force
The Force is one of the backbones for the story, and in comparison to the rest of the saga, it’s amazing how much it has evolved from this point. Obi-Wan describes it as “an energy field created by all living things” that surrounds and penetrates and binds the galaxy together.
Consider that. From the perspective of 1977, it’s an all-encompassing energy field that Jedi can tap into. From the perspective of 2005, it’s Obi-Wan Kenobi learning from Qui-Gon Jinn that the Living Force has merit and value.
Obi-Wan truly became a Jedi Master, but it took his failure with Anakin Skywalker, his exile, and his communion with the spiritual world to get him there. It is the foundation for the nature of the Force in this franchise, and an inspiration for millions of fans worldwide.
Of course, by this time, Kenobi is a crazy old wizard living on the outskirts of Tatooine civilization. The first time Luke mentions Obi-Wan, the looks between Owen and Beru are telling, and it’s a detail that I didn’t notice as much before seeing Revenge of the Sith. Now, they stand out as much as the meaning behind the claim that Obi-Wan died around the same time as Luke’s father.
In the post-Revenge of the Sith world, Obi-Wan’s expressions appear more pained when discussing his friendship with Anakin Skywalker and the betrayal of Darth Vader. He lies – a “certain point of view” – about it just as much as he does about Anakin wanting Luke to have the lighsaber, but the conversation still appears to eat away at the Jedi Master.
I also see Kenobi’s small smile as he embraces his destiny in a new light. It still carries an element of acceptance, but it also has a bit more assurance behind it after knowing the Qui-Gon Jinn has passed on his knowledge to his apprentice.
The odd couple of Artoo-Detoo and See-Threepio help drive the plot for a good part of the movie. In what was unique to me, Artoo’s dialogue and feelings are interpreted through See-Threepio and the audience’s own impressions, bringing the viewer into the film instead of leaving them out in the theater.
A New Hope is where these two droids, characters that have appeared in every film, are introduced. Artoo is unique in that he knows the complete story (so far) and has the power to inform Luke of his father’s destiny and mother’s fate. I consider him one of the true heroes of the franchise.
TIE Fighter Attack
The musical sequence starting with Obi-Wan’s sacrifice and leading into the escape from the Death Star is one of my favorites to play loudly in my car.
It starts with the Force Theme as Kenobi realizes his fate, and then launches into a passionate version of Princess Leia’s theme and the Rebel Fanfare as the Millennium Falcon rockets from the landing bay. Luke mourns with Leia’s consolation over the Force Theme before the music leads into the Rebel Fanfare as a battle theme intercut with bits of the music for the Empire. It is an exhilarating piece that gets the blood pumping.
This concludes the Seven Days of Star Wars celebration. Of course, there is so much more to the franchise than these seven feature films, including the current official canon of comics and books leading into The Force Awakens, and the thousands upon thousands of hours of content from the former Expanded Universe, which is now called Legends. Even though it isn’t considered “official” by Lucasfilm, it remains a treasure trove of good stories, and as long as they entertain and inspire, they still serve a purpose.
Tomorrow, a movie premieres that fans were told would never happen. It is the beginning of a new era and a brave new world in the Star Wars universe. We don’t know what lies in store for our heroes old and new. Some will live, some will turn, and some will die, but the constant is that we carry on as a society, and our lives and lessons follow suit from generation to generation through tales of the human condition told in metaphor and mythology.
May the Force be with you always.
My Rating: 8.5/10
IMDb rating: 8.7/10