Star Wars 4: A New Hope (1977) Movie Review

At the risk of offending every fanboy across the globe, let me just say that I liked “Star Wars” when I first saw it, when I was in middle school ages ago. Having said that, I’m one of the few who has never really considered “Star Wars” to be a great film, as even then I found it to be mostly hokey, with sub par acting, and quite illogical plotting. As the years went by, I’ve only come to grow more and more, shall we say, less than enraptured with the film that launched a thousand rip-offs and special effects innovations. Of course none of this means I can’t appreciate it for being the pioneer that it is.

The story, as if anyone doesn’t know, begins with the evil Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones and played by David Prowse) intercepting spunky Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) in space. It’s revealed that Leia is a secret agent working with the Rebellion trying to overthrow the oft-mentioned but never seen Emperor, and she’s just nabbed the plans for the Empire’s newest super duper weapon, the much dreaded Death Star. Although captured, Leia was able to send chatty Kathy and all-around complainer C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and bucket of bolts R2-D2 for help.

The droids find their way to a desert planet, where they eventually fall into the services of whiny farm boy Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who works at his uncle’s farm. When he sees a chance to ditch his boring life and join the Rebellion, Luke takes it, and comes into contact with hermit and ex-Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness). With the droids in tow, the two men hires the services of dashing rogue pilot Han Solo (Harrison Ford) to fly them to Leia’s homeworld and deliver the Death Star’s plans. Alas, their journey is interrupted by the appearance of the Death Star itself. Everyone is captured, but that’s only the beginning of their adventure.

Whew! For some reason I had forgotten that a lot happens in the first act of “Star Wars”. Not a surprise, since George Lucas (who writes, directs, and probably catered the film) had an entire universe to explain before the real action even kicks in. It’s only after our heroes are captured and on the Death Star, thus coming into contact with the already captured Leia, that “Star Wars” takes a breather from all the explaining to concentrate on action, adventure, and comic banter. The film’s standout sequence remains the final act, with the Death Star bearing down on the Rebel planet with only a few Rebel fighters standing in its way — with Luke Skywalker, ex-farm boy, in one of those fighters.

Although it’s set in a convoluted universe and there are background expositions all over the place, “Star Wars” is by no means a complex film. And while the script is mostly illogical and amateurish in spots, there’s no denying that Lucas, the brains of the operation, had a heck of an imagination. The Force, the Jedi Knights, and even those techno babble that passes for science, are quite inventive for 1977. The entire movie is brimming with imagination, and it’s easy to see how the film would captivate viewers when it first opened.

For a parallel of what Lucas accomplished with his trilogy, consider what Peter Jackson has achieved with his. There had never been anything like “Star Wars” in 1977, and while 2004 and hindsight might prove the script to be less than accomplished, there’s no denying that the trilogy was well ahead of its time, even more so than Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” films. Think about it. Jackson didn’t have to write the book, it was already written for him; he didn’t even have to invent the special effects, Lucas and company had already that more than 20 years ago.

The much ballyhooed Special Editions have caused a stir among fandom, and why not? Lucas has essentially rewritten his own work, choosing to bar all versions of the trilogy in favor of these Special Editions. Re-released about a decade ago in theaters in front of “The Phantom Menace”, the Special Editions are basically remastered versions of the original print, with new CGI and digital affects added in. If anyone other than Lucas had touched the films, blood would have been spilt; but the fact that it was Lucas himself who decided to tarnish the films justifiably makes fanboys a little confused about whom to curse.

Personally, I’m not at all averse to the Special Editions, even if the new CGI looks a tad out of place in the world of mostly practical effects that the original trilogy was built around. Lucas has inserted CGI and additional background characters into many of the scenes — characters and CGI that, frankly, really serves no purpose other than to clutter up the re-invented scenes. The only new scene of note is a restored sequence where Han Solo confronts Jabba the Hutt in a hangar. Besides adding minor background to Jabba’s relationship with Han Solo (and the oft mentioned “Kessel Run”), the scene also insinuates that fan favorite Boba Fett has always been around, just never seen until “The Empire Strikes Back”. In a bit of a nod to Fett’s massive popularity, the bounty hunter gets a brief second or two where he looks straight at the camera as if to acknowledge the fanboy love.

As the first in a planned 3-part trilogy, “Star Wars” certainly deserves a big hand for almost single-handedly changing the cinematic landscape in many ways. It’s a major accomplishment, to be sure, especially considering the technology (or lack thereof) available at the time. Which is why I haven’t spent any time criticizing the film’s dated effects — it’s silly to do so, especially since this was all breakthrough stuff at the time. But as a film and a narrative story, “Star Wars” could have used a better scriptwriter. Simply put, George Lucas can’t write convincing characters and dialogue to save his life in 2004, and he certainly couldn’t do it in 1977.

Even so, “Star Wars” broke the mold, and no one has managed to put it back since.

George Lucas (director) / George Lucas (screenplay)
CAST: Mark Hamill …. Luke Skywalker
Harrison Ford …. Han Solo
Carrie Fisher …. Princess Leia Organa
Peter Cushing …. Grand Moff Tarkin
Alec Guinness …. Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi
Anthony Daniels …. C-3PO
Kenny Baker …. R2-D2
Peter Mayhew …. Chewbacca
David Prowse …. Darth Vader
James Earl Jones …. Darth Vader (voice)

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