Ain’t Like Dusting Crops
A Film Review of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
(read our throwback Attack of the Clones review here)
(read our throwback Phantom Menace review here)
(read our throwback Revenge of the Sith review here)
(read our throwback Empire Strikes Back review here)
(read our throwback Return of the Jedi review here)
It has been a number of years since I’ve seen any of the original trilogy Star Wars films, and I’ve never seen them on blu-ray until now. There may be a fair amount of purists out there who dismiss the current manifestations of this trilogy as having been unnecessarily meddled with due to altered scenes (Han shot first!), added scenes (Jabba and Boba at the Millenium Falcon) and enhanced scenes (copy/pasting more Stormtroopers, creatures and activity in the background). I tend to agree, but until Mickey Mouse uses his Sorcerorer’s hat to alter time, speed up the harvest and teleport this trilogy back to some semblance of the “actual” original trilogy, these are canon, requiring us to unlearn what we have learned. Still, several scenes happened to trigger fond memories and mindsets from my childhood of joy and wonderment, but hopefully my time away combined with a more critical perspective will prevent me from simply gushing all over the amazing things this film does.
What makes this film so compelling from a narrative perspective is its simplicity. The audience does not have paralleling subplots to be mindful of while attempting see how it all ties into the overall story. It’s a game of following the bickering droids and wherever they go, so too goes the plot, introducing us all to a ragtag band of misfits that find each other through happenstance and struggle against great odds to survive. Younger people more familiar with the prequel trilogy may draw attention to the fact that Episodes 4, 5 and 6 have the benefit of an earlier trilogy having established this galaxy of Star Wars allowing for this more intimate journey to fit in nicely with context. Unfortunately, in 1977 A New Hope had no such luxury, but the story still captured the imagination of countless people because it begged, borrowed and stole from elements of every classic hero’s mythos western society has come to know and love. The hero’s path may be wrought with innumerable dangers, but it is linear, begins with a singular tragedy, teaches a basic lesson and the hero’s success or failure is a result of what he or she learned during the journey. The only real criticism I have of the story is how the only proof of Luke’s piloting ability is every other character commenting on its proficiency and that somehow is enough for this nobody from nowhere to be allowed to pilot a military craft during the Rebel Alliance’s “most desperate hour.” Talk about a convenient plot twist.
An easy to follow story is only part of the equation of truly drawing an audience into a mythology. The other aspect is immersion and while tales of production woes and delays were legendary for this film, the pre-digital visual effects, costumes and set design came together in a manner few films (if any of that time) were capable of. This reality looked foreign, yet familiar; dangerous yet mundane; and even the smallest details that were shown had audiences thinking about off screen and undefined possibilities regarding character and circumstance. This is an example of a film engaging with a viewer’s imagination which evolves the passive experience of the gaze into a hybrid of active creativity. Getting an audience to spontaneously fill in the details to a film, as opposed to struggling through plot gaps is a skill that even master filmmakers have not been able to fully hone. I could write a thesis on this subject alone, but my fundamental observation is that an active audience experience begins with showing the audience as much story through action as possible rather than lecturing them through dialogue or exposition. This lets the audience figure some things out for themselves.
Space chases and space combat dominate the action styles in this film and those sequences are very exhilarating even by today’s standards. Points off, however for some dated gunplay choreography as well as an anemic light saber duel featuring the best efforts of an elderly Alec Guinness.
The frame only seems dynamic during sequences featuring space flight, which obviously helps those moments immensely, but the bland framing of dialogue and ground combat sequences were very telling of a very young and very green director.
Mark Hamil plays the wide-eyed, nieve everyman quite well. Alec Guinness may not have had a clue regarding anything his character was about in this elusive space opera, but his professional confidence produced a textbook mentor role. Harrsion Ford steals the show with exceptionally timed cynicism and cavalier bravado.
Carrie Fisher plays the not-quite love interest that’s as tough as nails without coming off as too butch and retaining full feminity. Top marks to Peter Cushing as Tarkin, Anthony Daniels as C-3P0 and the combo performance of David Prowse and James Earl Jones as Darth Vader.
John Williams wasn’t quite the legendary composer in ’77, but he was already knocking scores out of the park. Everyone will forever recognize Star Wars from its opening theme.
The best examples would be light saber sounds, Death Star primary ignition, jumping to light speed and X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter flight combat.
“Moving” = 26/33
Most of the digital f/x were responsible for the added scenes and enhancements. They greatly benefitted space combat, but did very little for the rest. Bonus point awarded for showing us what a giant friggin’ laser does to a planet.
All of those beautiful looking spaceships and sequences of space combat were thanks to high quality models that got put through the ringer of all kinds of destruction.
Effective designs for Imperials. Relatively common configurations for the Rebels as well as neutral alien factions.
Hair & Makeup
It’s clear that hair stylists didn’t exist at this particular time in a galaxy far, far away.
Filming in Tunisia captured the desolation of Tatooine well enough. The locations in Guatemala provided a lush contrast at Yavin 4.
Speaking of contrast, the dank mustiness of the cantina’s, sand crawlers and other domiciles of Tatooine clashed well with the steel interiors of the Millennium Falcon and Death Star.
“Picture” = 22/33
Secret plans to destroy the ultimate (evil) power in the universe have gone missing and nothing but an old man, a boy, 2 droids and no questions asked are tasked to retrieve them? Sign me up.
There may be a rebellion against the Galactic Empire, but it’s really about a thrown together band of misfits against a fully galvanized war machine.
A mega happy ending with a massive explosion, the big bad gets away and all our heroes hug in triumph. What’s not to like here?
Despite the technical jargon and fabricated language of this universe, the cast does a great job of keeping the back and forth very casual, thus making it easier for audiences to “understand” without fully understanding.
As more Star Wars films emerge, more back story regarding everything and everyone is revealed and despite the audience not having any information regarding the Imperial Senate, who these “rebels” actually are and what’s going on behind the scenes during A New Hope, the audience gets just barely enough pertinence to see our heroes from point A to B.
Old wizards and dark armored space knights dueling with laser swords are cool. Rogues and their bipedal, doglike companions who smuggle themselves in secret compartments are cool. Princesses that recognize the foul stench of antagonists and tell them about it to their faces are cool.
Luke Skywalker was specifically designed to be an everyman character that’s as new to these wars of the stars as every member of the audience. Other characters are too charismatic to not find something we either identify with or are envious of.
“Story” = 27/34
Overall MPS Rating: 75/100
A New Hopeis the Star Wars film that started it all and is considered by film fans, historians, professionals and legends to be a timeless classic. It holds up incredibly well to many of today’s supposed blockbusters that still attempt to push the envelope when it comes to action and effects while affording diminishing returns as it pertains to the building blocks of story. There once was a time where film stories were written by filmmakers, for film audiences and not ripped off of comic books, video games, TV shows or young adult novels. If there’s any Star Wars film from the past you see again, make it the original!