We’re mere days away, folks! Richard begins a round of GOOD Star Wars movies with the very first.
Who made it?: George Lucas (Director/Writer), Gary Kurtz (Producer), LucasFilm Ltd., 20th Century Fox.
Who’s in it?: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Cushing, Alec Guinness, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew.
Tagline: “May the Force Be With You.”
IMDb rating: 8.7/10.
Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope begins with that famous theme tune, a sweeping, grand feel, and the familiar rolling text, instantly hooking viewers for nearly forty years. Now, I’m not as much of a fan as I used to be, but if there is one thing I admire about this film, it’s the simplicity of it. I may like the prequels – make of that what you will – but I admit they can feel a tad overblown at times. A New Hope, on the other hand, is the original film in this series, and so it doesn’t have the baggage the prequels were burdened with, which is why the story is pretty simple and to-the-point.
But what is a good story without a good set of characters? This film instantly introduces us to a set of memorable protagonists. You all know them as well as I do: Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Obi Wan “Ben” Kenobi (Alec Guinness), as well as R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels).
Luke is probably the weakest out of the bunch for me; he’s a tad whiny at times, but for a hero, he isn’t bad. I like how he thinks on his feet to get out of a situation, and the young Hamill’s good in the part. Ford, as the loveable rogue Han Solo, is the one that steals it for me. In fact, I can’t wait to see Ford play this role again in the upcoming Force Awakens. He has excellent chemistry with the other castmembers and, of course, as we all know, Han shot first! Greedo didn’t shoot first, it was Han! Anyone who says otherwise needs to watch the original edit. I really like Fisher as Leia; she’s pretty strong and independent and doesn’t feel forced like a lot of female protagonists do today. Guinness brings a lot of gravitas and presence as Obi-Wan, playing the wise old mentor to Luke and guiding him on his journey. Chewbacca is Chewbacca and we wouldn’t have him any other way; what a loveable companion he is, somehow managing to convey a lot of character through a few grunts, moans and roars. Hats off to Mayhew for playing that somewhat difficult part, since he didn’t have a line of intelligible dialogue and still made everyone love Chewie. Of course, who can forget R2-D2 and C-3PO? Two of the most beloved characters in film history and they’re robots! They serve as the comic relief, and it works, because the film just makes you accept that there’s perfectly intelligent, self-aware droids walking about the place. I’ll give George Lucas this: his vision and creative drive really made it all feel enriched and true. He’s definitely a great world-builder and deserves credit for what he started here.
Directing, however, was never Lucas’ strong suit and it really shows in A New Hope. I mean the acting isn’t terrible or anything, but some of the performances are a bit stilted. I remember the scene where the Imperial Commanders meet aboard the Death Star to discuss their plans, and the performers in that scene just felt like they weren’t getting the best direction… or any direction at all. There’s one guy in particular who practically garbles his lines in a thick British accent, and I couldn’t help but wonder, “Why did they go with this take?” Plus Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin comes off, to me, as a typical moustache-twirling villain and little more. Obviously he is also British and therefore must be evil! Of course, the acting is solid for the most part, and I don’t think they’re as bad as some of the people in the prequels, but it’s still a little distracting on revisits. Also, I’m not really sure what Fisher was going for in a couple of scenes; is she trying to be a posh kind of British princess?
Let’s face it, though, nobody really watches Star Wars for Oscar-worthy acting. The main reason why everyone loves these movies is because of the epic set-pieces. My favourite scenes are your favourite scenes; the gang escaping Tattooine, Han, Obi Wan, Chewie and Luke rescuing Leia, and the end space battle over Yavin IV. One thing that amazes me is how well it all holds up. I’d be the first to say the overuse of CGI in the Prequel Trilogy has dated those films instantly, but since A New Hope was made in 1977 way before CGI, and since it was all practical effects, it definitely makes it feel timeless.
How could I forget one of the most memorable villains in cinema history, though? Darth Vader is awesome! James Earl Jones’ voice still sends chills down my spine. After all, I suppose it would have sounded weird if David Prowse’s thick country accent came through that mask, but they both added a lot of character to the part in their own ways. Prowse was intimidating and threatening, adding a lot of subtle movements to Vader, and naturally, everyone remembers Jones. Even if Vader shouting “Nooo!” at the end of Revenge of the Sith kind of ruined it for many people. But I find Vader doesn’t have as much of a presence as he does in the two other films. He’s kind of the big boss of the Death Star, and at this point, I don’t think it was on the filmmakers’ minds that he was Luke’s father, which was just added into Empire when it was in production. (There’s also the fact that Vader was originally scripted to die, with Lucas later changing his mind and inserting the shot of his TIE-Fighter spinning away from the exploding Death Star.) So, taking out everything we know about Vader from the prequels and the next two films, he really is just a stereotypical villain in A New Hope. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, though, I love Vader as much as anyone else, and I like how we discover that he used to be a pupil of Obi-Wan’s. I feel that, if Vader wasn’t Lukes father, he could have been a perfectly serviceable antagonist on his own throughout the series.
Speaking of Vader, he has what is technically the first-ever lightsabre duel with Obi-Wan. If there’s one thing the prequels did better, it’s that the duels were much better-choreographed and exciting. I’m kind of conflicted on this, but I have to say Obi-Wan and Vader’s duel is the weakest part of the original chapter. Considering the two had an arguably rich friendship in the prequels, later becoming enemies, I thought their “last” confrontation here wasn’t as memorable as it should have been. Of course, this film came out before the prequels, but I still find it a bit disappointing because the newer films made me love Obi-Wan’s character so much more. Not really a slight against this film, but considering how much thrilling action Episode IV has, it’s kind of jarring to see how roped-in and tame the one lightsabre duel is. In all honesty, this doesn’t really hurt the proceedings, and it gets made up for during a cool scene where the gang escape from the Death Star chased by TIE-Fighters.
Of course, there’s the end space battle between the Rebellion and the Empire, too. All the build-up is for this sequence and it really delivers. It’s thrilling and exciting, making me wish I could have seen this film in the cinema. There are the X-Wings versus TIE-Fighters in intergalactic dogfights, and a sense that the Rebels might not win this battle since they’re so outnumbered. The music by John Williams is fantastic and really puts the audience into the sequence. We even get to see Vader pilot a TIE to show how much of a threatening baddie he really is. Plus, I am still not sure how they pulled some of this stuff off in ’77! Like I said before, this was before CGI and the effects are still brilliant. It’s just a great climax. There’s one thing Star Wars has always done better than most of its competitors, and that’s the space battles. A New Hope is no exception. The bit where Luke destroys the Death Star is a great moment, and it really is the kind of conclusion you’d want from a film like this. The heroes triumphing over the villains in style. But, of course, the fight wasn’t over yet since the Empire would soon strike back…
To summarise, A New Hope holds up tremendously well despite being almost forty-years-old. The characters are still timeless and memorable, and it has a great villain and some great action. But it’s not without its problems. Like I said, the acting in a few places is a bit stilted. Plus, I’ve always wondered why the Death Star didn’t just destroy the planet blocking the one with the Rebel base? But, ah well, it doesn’t matter. This film does so much right that any problems can be overlooked. George Lucas started something special here which still lives on today, and for that, A New Hope is still fondly remembered by many. Especially myself.
The climatic assault through the Death Star trench has to take the cake, right?
- George Lucas was so sure the film would flop that instead of attending the premiere, he went on holiday to Hawaii with his good friend Steven Spielberg, where they came up with the idea for Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).
- In early drafts of the script, R2-D2 could speak standard English, and had a rather foul vocabulary. Although all of R2’s English speech was removed, many of C-3PO’s reactions to it were left in.
- The skeleton that C-3PO passes belongs to a Tatooine creature called a Greater Krayt Dragon. This artificial skeleton was left in the Tunisian desert after filming and still lies there. During filming of Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002), the site was visited by the crew once more and the skeleton was still there.
Harrison Ford didn’t learn his lines for the intercom conversation in the cell block so it would sound spontaneous.
- The actors found Lucas to be very uncommunicative towards them, with his only directions generally being either “faster” or “more intense.” At one point, when he temporarily lost his voice, the crew provided him with a board with just those three words written on it.