Should I Watch...? 'Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope'
What's the big deal?
Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (originally released as just Star Wars) is an epic action sci-fi film released in 1977 written and directed by George Lucas. It is the first film released in the Star Wars saga although it is the fourth in terms of story. It concerns a young farmhand called Luke Skywalker who finds himself thrust into the midst of a galactic civil war between the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire. Made on a budget of just $11 million, the film became a smash and remains a cultural landmark to this day. Its depth of story-writing, stirring orchestral score, pioneering special effects (Lucas founded the company Industrial Light & Magic in 1975 specifically for this film) and memorable characters ensured that the movie was a success critically and commercially when it was released and the film enjoys fanatical levels of admiration from fans today.
What's it about?
As the Galactic Empire continues to battle with the Rebel Alliance, top secret plans for their Death Star project are stolen. They fall into the possession of Rebel leader Princess Leia Organa who safely stashes them onto an R2 droid when her vessel is boarded by Imperial Stormtroopers led by Darth Vader. R2-D2 and his companion C-3PO are jettisoned onto an escape pod which crash lands on the desert planet of Tattooine where the two droids ultimately find themselves working alongside Luke Skywalker on his uncle's moisture farm.
After accidentally uncovering a recording of Leia speaking to someone called Obi-Wan Kenobi, Luke takes the droids and the recording to local hermit Ben Kenobi in the belief that he may know this Obi-Wan. Together, they head off to Mos Eisley to make their way to Alderaan in order to help the princess - unaware of the true importance of their mission or the levels Vader will sink to in order to retrieve the plans...
Princess Leia Organa
Obi-Wan "Ben" Kenobi
Grand Moff Tarkin
Darth Vader *
Release Date (UK)
27th December, 1977
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Special Achievement (Ben Burtt for sound effects), Best Set Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Sound, Best Editing, Best Visual Effects, Best Original Score
Academy Award Nominations
Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Guinness), Best Original Screenplay
What's to like?
It's difficult for any sci-fi film to feel real, due to the spaceships and alien worlds that will undoubtedly appear. That all changed with Star Wars - every scene and every shot is teeming with life, movement, culture and energy to make the whole package as plausible as it is compelling. Even without knowing about the prequels or sequels that followed, we understand this universe implicitly with its raging power struggles and the fading power of the Force. At no point does one think Chewbacca looks like a man in a costume because you have hopelessly thrown yourself into the picture.
Stripped of the various subplots that spread like wildfire over the other movies, the film's story is easy to understand because it's no more complicated than good vs evil. In Hamill, Lucas found a fresh-faced innocence that perfectly matches Luke's naivety of the world he suddenly finds himself in. But the true star is Vader whose opening sequence is one of the great introductions in cinema, striding through blaster smoke while torturing and intimidating those unlucky enough to survive the massacre. There is no doubt that Vader represents absolute evil, despite the brilliant Cushing playing Tarkin aboard the Death Star. But Tarkin is more calculating and ruthless - Vader is about absolute power corrupting absolutely.
It's easy to assume that older films like this look crude without CG but the truth is, Star Wars still looks amazing. Despite Lucas continually tinkering with the effects with varying degrees of success, the film's stand-out shots of X-wings flying in formation or the legendary assault on the Death Star retain the same levels of detail that were initially present in the original models. They look superb and scored by John Williams' iconic orchestral score, they are simply unforgettable.
- Peter Cushing's boots were too small for him so we only see him in them for a few scenes. In all other shots, he wore fluffy slippers instead.
- Peter Mayhew won the role of Chewbacca in ten seconds. Standing up when Lucas entered the room, he looked at the 7'2" frame of Mayhew and said "I think we found him!"
- David Prowse was still unhappy about having his part dubbed by James Earl Jones more than twenty years after the film was released. It was not known initially that the part would be dubbed due to Prowse's thick West Country accent, earning him the nickname "Darth Farmer".
What's not to like?
It might not be apparent but Lucas is a terrible writer of dialogue and Star Wars contains some pretty awful lines. Even Ford told Lucas at one point "You can type this s*** but you can't say it." And while it's nigh-on impossible to imagine anyone on the cast list being replaced, not everyone gives that great a performance. Guinness, perhaps unsurprisingly, has a somewhat cold and aloof approach to the material but is experienced enough to understand the level he should pitch at, much like Cushing does as Tarkin. And speaking of the Grand Moff, I always felt that character was chronically underserved in the wider Star Wars universe. We don't know who he is, why the considerably more threatening Vader is subservient to him or even what the heck a Grand Moff is. I'm certain the answers are out there somewhere but I couldn't find any in the film.
But before I aggravate every nerd from Tattooine to Tooting, let me reiterate how much I enjoyed this film. It is a genuine game-changer like Metropolis or 2001: A Space Odyssey were in their day and these incredibly minor faults were only picked up because no film will ever be perfect and I had to think of something. The point is that Star Wars remains an unparalleled piece of escapism, a glorious space-set epic in which to lose yourself completely and enjoy the experience.
Should I watch it?
Frankly, I'd be amazed if you hadn't seen it already. But if ever a film deserved the mantle of being declared unmissable then this is surely it. Light-years ahead of the competition and setting the benchmark for sci-fi ever since, Star Wars is the complete package - you can enjoy it without prior knowledge or exposure to any of the others. It is, basically, a total blast.
Great For: nerds, adults, children, everybody
Not So Great For: effeminate droids, Denis Lawson (whose name was misspelt in the credits), David Prowse's vocal performance
What else should I watch?
The saga would continue in The Empire Strikes Back which has a bleaker feel but also one of cinema's greatest plot twists and some incredible action sequences on the ice world of Hoth. Then there was Return Of The Jedi which once again took us on an epic adventure to decide the fate of the galaxy. More recently, thanks to Disney's acquisition of the Star Wars franchise, we have been spoilt with the likes of The Force Awakens which continues the story with characters old and new as well as the spin-off feature Rogue One. Knowing Disney's insistence to milking every cash-cow it can gets its gloved hands on, I fully expect more films on the horizon.
The prequels mainly detail the fall of the Old Republic, the demise of the Jedi Knights and the descent to the Dark Side taken by Anakin Skywalker. The Phantom Menace is a solid if unspectacular effort (and also has Jar Jar Binks in it - consider yourself warned) while the weakest Star Wars films yet - Attack Of The Clones - became bogged down in messy CG and an incoherent script. Finally, there was Revenge Of The Sith which delivers quality action and bridges the gap between it and this film. But even here, there's a problem and he's called Hayden Christensen...
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© 2015 Benjamin Cox