Release Date: May, 25 1977
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: George Lucas
Release Format: Theatrical
Whether you’re a fan of the franchise or not, there’s no denying the impact that Star Wars has had. It opened up the imaginations of millions to A Galaxy Far, Far Away. It gave us worlds and characters we could never forget. Star Wars just keeps going and given Disney’s track record, it doesn’t show any signs of stopping anytime soon. Anyway, the upcoming release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story got me really interested in revisiting this franchise again. Granted, I had never lost interest in it but I’m not the devoted fanboy who watches these movies every day either. So, I’m going in with an open mind to relive and celebrate the franchise that has brought joy to millions.
Now, just to clarify, I’ll only be reviewing the three original films and the three prequels. I don’t see a point in reviewing The Clone Wars movie at all. The Clone Wars movie was basically just a poorly made pilot for a cartoon series. I also won’t be reviewing The Force Awakens as that was reviewed last year by former site contributor, Collin MacGregor. Although, I don’t think The Force Awakens is as great as everyone makes it out to be. It’s a fun, enjoyable film for sure. However, it was nothing but a rehash of A New Hope with different characters. So, no, I didn’t drink the kool-aid like everyone else did in regards to The Force Awakens. However, it’s not bad. With that out of the way, let’s talk about the film that The Force Awakens poorly ripped off: Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope.
WARNING: Here there be SPOILERS!!!…
Which, quite frankly, I shouldn’t have to say. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, then shame on you.
First and foremost, I have to address the title of the film. Mainly because the Star Wars purists will kill me unless I bring it up. Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope was originally just called Star Wars. The addition of Episode IV: A New Hope into the opening title crawl came later on. I personally don’t feel this matters anymore. However, for those who complain everyday that it does matter, there you go. Do yourself a favor, go outside and you’ll see this thing called the sun. It’s like a tanning bed only it’s free. Anyway, onto the actual film.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) is transporting plans for the rebellion against the evil empire. When her vessel is overtaken by the sinister Darth Vader (David Prowse / James Earl Jones), Leia hides the plans in a droid. The droid, R2-D2 (Kenny Baker), along with another protocol droid, C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) escape in a pod to the nearest planet, Tatooine, where they come across local farm boy, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Luke, true to “hero’s journey logic”, hates his dismal life on Tatooine and wishes for something greater.
He soon uncovers a hidden message in R2-D2 from the princess, asking for the help of a Jedi named Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness). Luke, by pure coincidence, knows who she’s talking about. After finding the aged warrior, Obi-Wan enlists Luke to help him in fighting the empire. Well, a few scenes and two dead relatives later, Luke finds himself on the Millenium Falcon with Obi-Wan, The Droids, a Wookiee named Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and good ol’ Han Solo (Harrison Ford) on a mission to save the princess and stop the empire before the rebellion is eradicated. May the Force be with them.
The story is about as basic as you can get for a movie like this. It’s simple good vs evil but done a much more epic scale. Not to mention the brilliant practical effects they were able to pull off. For a movie made in the late 70’s, it’s amazing how much the effects of this film still hold up after so many years. George Lucas’ idea was to draw inspiration from old television serials and sci-fi novels and it really shows.
Everything from Flash Gordon to Buck Rogers to The Barsoom Series by Edgar Rice Boroughs played a hand in Lucas’ imagination for Star Wars. Even some of the casting was a callback. Peter Cushing portrays Grand Moff Tarkin in the film while David Prowse portrays Darth Vader. Tarkin really seems to be the one in charge on The Death Star, while Vader is just sort of the tall dark monster that walks around and does the dirty work. This seems fitting given the history of the actors. In 1974’s Frankenstein & The Monster From Hell, Cushing portrayed Baron Von Frankenstein while Prowse portrayed The Monster. It was a nice callback to the works of two truly great performers.
A big strength of the movie is that it draws inspiration but never does it feel too much like the things it’s obviously borrowing from. Star Wars still maintains it’s own unique feel. This is mainly due to the world and weapons that George Lucas envisioned for the film. You’ll never forget seeing The Death Star or a lightsaber or even Mos Eisley for the first time. These things have their own distinct charm. In fact, all of the practical effects do. The Cantina Scene in particular is a shining example of what a film like this was able to accomplish. It was a bar filled with some of the most original looking alien creatures ever put on film. Given the budget at the time and the fact that the studios had no faith in the film, these couldn’t have been easy to pull off.
The space battle, more particularly the end battle to destroy the Death Star, still looks absolutely breathtaking. Even with the new additions put in by Lucas in the later years, it still doesn’t make the scene any less fantastic. Harrison Ford made a big name for himself after playing Han Solo and it’s not hard to see why. This is an actor that oozes charisma from every pore. He can make the most simple line read sound cool. It’s easy to see why people fell in love with Han Solo’s character. He’s cocky, he’s a rebel but he has a good heart that doesn’t shine through until the end. Harrison Ford has played many great characters over the years and Han Solo is certainly no exception. Whether insulting someone, saving someone or shooting someone, you can’t help but get invested in Han.
While many female characters back in the day just seemed like useless bimbos who needed to be saved, Princess Leia was different … sort of. Okay, granted she still needed to be saved but you give her a blaster and she can clearly hold her own. She didn’t need to be rescued all the time and had no problem matching wits with any of the male characters. She’s a rebel, she’s a freedom fighter and she’s a princess. There’s really nothing wrong with her as a character. Although I will admit Carrie Fisher’s acting can be a bit … well, not good at times. For example, when she tells Grand Moff Tarkin “I recognized your foul stench when I was brought on board,” she delivers it with a bizarre kind-of British accent. I mean, why? She does this a few times in the movie and it’s just weird.
The droids, R2-D2 & C-3PO, get some good bits as characters and they were fun characters to have in a movie like this. I will admit, Anthony Daniels as C-3PO can get a bit annoying at times. Not Jar Jar Binks annoying, but still annoying. However, it’s the chemistry between him and R2-D2 that really balances out the humor well. Now, we get into the two things that everyone is going to hate me for. First and foremost, I honestly don’t like Alec Guinness in this movie. Yes, yes, I know, you’re all condemning me to hell right now. I don’t think he’s terrible. There’s a few scenes that stand out. But, I’m sorry, It feels like he’s just phoning in this performance in almost every scene. And for an actor who had proven himself for years to be a powerhouse performer, this feels like a slap in the face.
It might also interest you to know that even he admitted he phoned the performance in. Until the day he died, Alec Guinness condemned Star Wars. He hated the movie and he hated making it. This is a man who once told a young child not to watch Star Wars ever again, making the child cry. Now, it isn’t hard to see why he hated this movie and his character. Obi-Wan Kenobi would end up being Guinness’ most iconic role. This is the man who won an academy award for portraying Colonial Nicholson in The Bride On The River Kwai. Yet, after Star Wars came out, all of his past works that he had poured his heart and soul into seemed inconsequential to people. In that regard, I understand his frustrations and his hatred of the film.
So, yeah, I don’t think he was especially good in the role. Hate Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker all you want, at least that guy was trying. Even when Guinness is discussing the important backstory of the Jedi to Luke, he sounds so disinterested in what he’s talking about. He’s supposed to be this wise old mentor and he acts like he’s barely awake half the time. I should love this actor because of what his character’s death means to Luke and I don’t feel a thing for this guy. So, there it is. I don’t hate the character of Obi-Wan Kenobi at all. In fact, in terms of backstory and his relationship to Luke, he’s one of the film’s most interesting characters. However, Alec Guinness’ portrayal did absolutely nothing for me. Bring the hate mail.
Another downside to the film is the lead character, Luke Skywalker. I have nothing against Mark Hamill. He was a relatively unknown actor at the time and didn’t have a ton of experience. So, along with Carrie Fisher, I can excuse some of his more awkward line deliveries. However, did his character have to be such a whiny little tool in the first act of the film? I mean, I understand life sucks when you’re on a desert planet with two suns and no women. But, I’m sorry, this kid is so annoying in the beginning of this movie. He eventually grew on me as the film went on but he just constantly complained about every little thing. I know it seems kind of nitpicky, but if no one’s giving Anakin a pass for his whining and complaining, you ain’t doin’ it for Luke either.
However, despite that, any kid with aspirations for something greater in life can relate to Luke Skywalker. I can also concede that when those aspirations feel out of reach, it can be frustrating. It’s a trait that exists in most people. To be stuck where you don’t want to be, all the while feeling like you were meant for something greater, can be a disheartening experience. That’s how I see Luke Skywalker in the beginning. A young man who wants something so badly and feels like it may never happen for him. So, when we finally see his dream of fighting with the rebellion come to fruition, his struggles feel all the more meaningful. I get why he would complain all the time and Luke is still a decent character. However, much like Anakin in the prequels, I can’t say that it’s never grating.
Lastly, of course, there’s Darth Vader, played by David Prowse and voiced by James Earl Jones. What can I possibly say other than, “He’s Darth-Frickin-Vader!” He’s the most vicious villain in the galaxy (at least until the Emperor comes in but we’ll save him for another time). Just the look of him is intimidating. The voice is just a bonus. His voice mixed with that heavy breathing effect makes him sound so epic and fearsome. James Earl Jones, with every line delivery, just owns this performance.
He’s one of the most iconic villains of all time and for good reason. He can taunt you, he can force choke you, he can match you in a lightsaber duel or he can just shoot you out of the sky. He’s also intelligent. Yeah, for a science fiction/fantasy released in the 70’s, having a villain that was actually smart was something incredibly rare. I will admit, we know very little about the character but seeing how that was intentional for the series going forward, that’s not really a con. Vader is meant to be a figure shrouded in mystery at the start and that’s fine for his introduction.
Overall, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, isn’t a flawless movie but that doesn’t mean it isn’t great. It just means it isn’t perfect and in no way is that a bad thing. It’s brimming with gorgeous atmosphere, memorable characters and some of the most quotable lines in film history. It is the definition of a great film and has everything I would expect from something that remains so iconic. Star Wars introduced us to a vast world of beauty and excitement. A world that would not only get bigger, but better when the empire struck back.