REVIEW: Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
Produced by: Gary Kurtz
Written by: George Lucas
Edited by: Paul Hirsch, Marcia Lucas, Richard Chew
Cinematography by: Gilbert Taylor
Music by: John Williams
Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Cushing, Alec Guinness, David Prowse, James Earl Jones, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, Phil Brown, Shelagh Fraser, Denis Lawson, Gerrick Hagon
Review based on the 1977 original theatrical version
I told myself that I wouldn’t let my reviews of the Star Wars films devolve into insane fandom, and so I will attempt to keep that promise. That being said, let me start you off by letting you in on a secret that not many before now really know about me: A long time ago… I actually absolutely hated sci-fi, fantasy, and everything in between. The object of my particular ire was actually Star Trek, as my friend Tye was actually an insanely fanatical Trekkie, but coming in a close second was, yes, Star Wars. The reasoning? It had the word “star” in it, which obviously meant that it was for nerds, which I did not identify as at the time. (I so was…)
Having few friends, and one of them being Tye, I did gradually convert to being an unwilling but then committed fan of Star Trek, which then led to me opening up to newer film experiences. My first exposure to the world of Star Wars was one of two things, though none of them actually one of the films proper, as it was either the spin-off Caravan of Courage, which I didn’t even recognize as being Star Wars-related at the time, or, far more likely, it was the Mel Brooks comedy Spaceballs, as I remember my mom watching it on TV once or twice. I also say this because I remember also wondering to myself when I actually did knowingly watch Star Wars, “Where the heck is the dancing alien that pops out of the guy’s chest?” (I also had not yet seen any of the Alien films at that age and had no gasp on the definition of “parody.”)
When the 1997 special edition of the first film came out, I was already committed to learning the ways of the Force, however, and remember standing in line with many other fans who couldn’t wait to see the movie on the big screen, either for the first time in several years or, like me, for the first time ever. I wasn’t old enough at the time to really care much about the implications behind Lucas’ alterations at the time, and the experience was essentially what solidified my fandom for the franchise for the rest of my life. Many VHS copies were borrowed from my parents’ friends over the years (because I never actually owned a copy myself until the DVD releases that I was already being snobbish about and holding out for), and I recall looking up all the limited information I could at the time (living overseas) regarding the history of this universe and the story that went on in the background, either from magazines, books, or video games. (I recall letting my friend play Shadows of the Empire all night so I could focus on the story progression. Time well spent, since I actually don’t recall a thing from it now.)
There’s just something pretty spectacular about Star Wars, even just from the very first movie, that is just so engrossing. It’s the lived-in, scrapped together look of the desert planet Tatooine and the Millennium Falcon, the matter of fact world building that comes from the background characters and fascinating things that happen to and around them, the mystical nature of the Force and the two sides, Light and Dark, that reside within it… But there’s also the characters and the personalities. At the recent announcement of the cast of Episode VII, I heard someone on the radio ask the two other hosts, in so many words, “What is the point of Star Wars anyway?” followed by a dismissive, “I just don’t get it.” To which they responded (after half-jokingly demanding that her mic be shut off), “It’s the battle between good and evil!”
But, see that’s the thing: that may be true in essence, but it’s so much more than that. Without the well-defined characters, there would just be Good vs. Evil, and that would be boring. No, Star Wars is so much better than that. Its starts us off with the two droids, R2-D2 and C-3PO, the film’s comic relief and our own initial gateway into this exotic, galaxy-spanning universe and who would together go on to be the unchanging through line between the original and prequel trilogies (and probably now even the sequels). They’re in the midst of a battle (the film wastes very little time in its original form), and we immediately know who’s good and who’s bad because there’s this guy, Darth Vader, who’s this samurai-looking, titanic-voiced villain, and it’s made very clear to us that he doesn’t hesitate to make violent examples of those who fail him. Leia is also introduced, initially as what we would expect to be the typical damsel but who turns out to be an incredibly smart, witty, and resourceful rebel leader who isn’t nearly as in distress as one would have initially predicted. Then we’re introduced to Luke Skywalker, the aw-shucks farm boy who knows he’s destined for greater things but is too tied down by obligations that are of very little interest to him beyond keeping his caretaker uncle and aunt happy with him. When adventure does come calling, we meet Obi-Wan Kenobi, who will become his wise mentor, a Merlin-like figure who guides Luke on to the path to do great things not only for himself, but for the entire galaxy. And, of course, there’s Han Solo, a smartass mercenary who rarely stops to think and who is the exemplary antihero. Let’s also not forget Chewbacca, Han’s faithful and endearingly incomprehensible-to-us companion.
Combine these familiar but entertaining and fascinating characters with imaginative settings, fast-paced action, John Williams’ incredible and iconic score, and one incredible spectacle after another (first the Star Destroyer and then the freaking Death Star!), and you’ve got yourself one of the greatest movies of all time. There’s really not a whole lot else I can say about the first Star Wars film that hasn’t been said before – and so I do also apologize if much of this seems a bit haphazardly mixed between gushing enthusiasm preceded by personal context. It just shows you, however, why this series, when you actually get to see it, just clicks so well with audiences and resonates with them to the point where from this film onward, we helped to create this massive franchising empire that not many seem to be getting tired of, though. When it comes down to it, sure, its sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, may be the best entry in the eventual series, but let’s not also forget that Star Wars, even before it gained its series-appropriate subtitle, was and is itself one of the best standalone adventure movies of all time.
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 4.5 / 5