Friday, May 3, 2013

May the 4th: A New Hope

(Originally Written for Jedi News)

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...

Star Wars

Episode IV
A New Hope

It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.

During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire's ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.

Pursued by the Empire's sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy....

In the mid-‘70s, George Lucas got the idea to make a classic space-opera, like the Buck Rogers serials of his youth, but infused with all the Campellian myths and eastern philosophies he was really getting into at the time.

As his script ballooned, he decided to split it into three parts and mainly shop the first part around to studios. 20th Century Fox ended up taking the gamble, even though they had little faith in it. The result? What was then known simply as 1977’s “Star Wars.” It was an explosion, a cultural phenomenon. Lives were changed. Filmmaking as we know it was altered forever.

And…if I have to be honest, this is my least favorite of the franchise.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good movie. I love it to death. I also don’t think there is such a thing as a “bad” Star Wars movie, and even then this isn’t the worst-made. I just get into it slightly less than the others.

I think my problem with this film is time. More than any of the others, this film really feels its age. The rest remain sort of timeless (for the most part, more on that later), but this one really feels like a ‘70s movie. A lot of it has to do with it being the first. It was so groundbreaking that the subsequent films had to top it to stay afloat, and in my opinion they succeeded far too well. Whenever I go back and watch this film, it always strikes me as very claustrophobic and very small-scaled, even with the SE additions. Also, I have to admit, seeing obviously British actors overdubbed with ridiculous American accents is almost too silly, even for me. Almost.

But those are just my nitpicks. Is there anything objectively wrong with the movie? Well, this movie does set a precedent for what I feel is the one true flaw in Lucas’ style: few things are really spelled out in the film proper. I mean, you can follow it okay, but the nuances needed to fully appreciate the story are left to ancillary texts to explain. Even the names of a lot of the characters are barely spoken on screen if at all. I think Tarkin’s name is mentioned all of once in the film and it’s spoken so fast you barely notice it. This is a problem that’s plagued the entire Saga and it started here.

Plus, I never noticed this before, but…were the Stormtroopers always this awkward? It seems like half the time they don’t really know how to walk.

But still, at the end of the day, there’s a reason why this broke barriers, and there’s a reason it became a cultural phenomenon. It’s a very good movie. The characters are great, the ham and cheese of the acting and dialogue are great. The John Williams score carries this picture. The designs are cool. The effects, the first of their kind, still age relatively well – for the most part. The opening shot of the blockade runner being chased by the Star Destroyer is rightfully a defining moment of cinema. Chewbacca and the droids look real, they don’t look like people in suits. Even the SE changes, while sometimes awkwardly integrated, do a good job at enriching the world. The Jabba scene is one of my favorite scenes of the film.

Also, for my money, who shoots first in a shootout isn’t as important as who walks away from it. Cool your jets.

So what made it so popular? I think it’s because it’s an immersive world with its own set of rules, and that really speaks to the target audience…which is to say 7-12-year-olds. Think about it, stuff like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Superheroes, even Pokémon – That’s the age range one typically starts obsessing about those things. Adults can appreciate the nods to their own childhoods, but it’s the 7-12 year olds (or those who remember what it was like) that really latch onto this stuff and delve into it.

This film is, in all senses of the word, a classic.

Luckily for George Lucas, the studio’s lack of faith in the project allowed him to keep merchandising rights, thus netting him tons of cash and allowing him to finish his story with minimal interference. Would Lucas be able to catch lightning in a bottle again? Well, meet me next week…

Favorite Lines:
* “Commander, tear this ship apart until you’ve found those plans, and bring me the passengers – I want them alive!”
* “Don’t you call me a mindless philosopher, you overweight glob of grease!”
* “Don’t act so surprised, your highness, you weren’t on any mercy mission this time.”
* “Moppit! Moppit! Crust!” [this is what it sounds like, but wookiepedia’s list of Jawa-ese phrases don’t match this at all.]
* “Luke’s just not a farmer. He’s got too much of his father in him.” “That’s what I’m afraid of.”
* “Well of course I know him, he’s me!”
* “It’s the weapon of a Jedi Knight. Not as clumsy or random as a blaster. An elegant weapon for a more civilized age.”
* “Don’t be too proud of this technological terror you’ve constructed. The power to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.”
* “I find your lack of faith disturbing”
* “Mos Eisley Spaceport. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.”
* “The Force can have a strong influence on the weak-minded.”
* “I don’t like you either. You’d better watch yourself, we’re wanted men. I have the death sentence on twelve systems.”
* “Jabba, you’re a wonderful human being.”
* “Governor Tarkin. I should have expected to find you holding Vader’s leash. I recognized your foul stench when I was brought on board.”
* “You’re far too trusting. Dantooine is too remote for an effective demonstration. But don’t worry, we’ll deal with your rebel friends soon enough.”
* “I see your point sir. I suggest a new strategy, R2: let the Wookiee win.”
* “That’s no moon. It’s a space station…”
* “Who’s more foolish: the fool, or the fool who follows him?”
* “Ah…Had a slight weapons malfunction but..uhh…everything’s perfectly all right now. We’re fine. We’re all fine here…now…Thank you…how are you?”
* “Aren’t you a little short for a Stormtrooper?”
* “Wonderful girl! Either I’m gonna kill her, or I’m beginning to like her!”
* “I’ve got a bad feeling about this…”
* “Listen to them, they’re dying R2! Curse my metal body, I wasn’t fast enough. It’s all my fault! My poor master…”
* “You can’t win, Darth. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”
* “Evacuate? In our moment of triumph?! I think you overestimate their chances!”
* “Goin’ in full-throttle. That oughta keep those fighters off our back.”
* “You must repair him! Sir, if any of my circuits or gears will help I’ll gladly donate them!”

Biggest “What Do You Mean It’s For Kids?!” Moment:
The charred corpses of Owen and Beru Lars.

(on a scale of 1-6, where 1 is the best)
Personal: 6/6
As a film: 4/6


  1. I've never really understood "dated" as a criticism. All art is inherently going to be of its time- Star Wars as made today would be totally different than it was in the 70s, and would be totally different if it were made in the 30s. Films are a product of our culture, and it's impossible to really extricate them from that.

    Not to mention the fact that since the 70s are the greatest decade in cinema, being 'of the 70s' can only be a good thing. :P

    1. I simply meant that Empire and Jedi don't feel like 80s movies to me, Phantom doesn't feel like a 90s movie (though it is decidedly pre-9/11), and Clones and Sith don't necessarily feel like 00's movies (except for being decidedly post-9/11).

      Hope feels pure 70's to me. It's not a bad thing per say, just jarring for me personally.

    2. Furthermore, I still love Hope more than any non-Star Wars movie, and while it wouldn't be a favorite if it was the only one ever made, I'd still recognize how wonderful and groundbreaking it was, and I'd still enjoy it.

      It's just, for me personally, comparing it to the other five, there's just no contest.

    3. If you dig hard enough, you can actually pick out the ways in which each of the films reflect their decades (the easiest example for me is how Return is so tonally different from Star Wars and Empire, reflecting the way in which Hollywood shifted over the six years between the original release and Return's debut as a result of Star Wars' massive success. It's actually quite interesting, at least to me).

    4. If you dig, sure.

      Tonally, Jedi kind of melds the best from the previous two, not wholly different. But more on that later.

  2. I think that A New Hope has plenty of timeless moments-In my opinion anyway. As far as why the stormtroopers can't walk, I think the EU can answer that question. From my understanding, once Emperor decided to make the empire a military dictatorship, he had to get new soldiers enlisted into the ranks of stormtroopers, and the old clones (due to accelerated growth) became more of a minority. They were replaced by normal humans that never had the discipline or the training of the clone army-hence them being an embarrasment, and one of the main reasons why the Empire fell.

    1. Of course it has timeless moments, but overall it feels like an older film. Again, this is all just in comparison to the others in the Saga.

    2. I disagree with the EU, I still think all Stormtroopers are clones, that they always were since 1977. Just one of those details that wasn't explained that well until 2002. The EU tries to fill the gaps but sometimes it does a bad job and doesn't care if it overwrites Lucas vision to do it. But that is my take on it.

      Also this is the first time I ever heard this "fact" that the 1970s was the best decade in film. While there were many great films from that decade, the same can be said of any other decade as well. Facts and mob opinion are two different things that people confuse together.

  3. Princess Leia's comment of ''Governor Tarkin, I recognized your foul stench when I was brought on board'' is somewhat of a memorable line, and from that we recognize who he is.

    1. It's one of my faves, but it's the only one I can think of where Tarkin is named, and the name itself is said so fast that one could easily miss it.

    2. She says it so fast it sounds like Tark.

  4. My least favorite movie in the franchise is "RETURN OF THE JEDI". But . . . yeah, I do have a few problems with "A NEW HOPE". Actually, I can say the same about all six films.

    As for ANH . . . well, I found the Obi-Wan/Vader duel rather laughable. I could say the same about Carrie Fisher's switch from a British accent to an American one. Threepio and Artoo's Tatooine adventures (before they met Luke) was boring. I find Han's declarations about preferring open conflict over sneaking around rather confusing for a man whose profession is a smuggler. He also uttered the worst line (in my opinion) in the entire saga. And I was very disappointed that the script failed to convey any grief Leia may have felt over Alderaan's destruction. Instead, the movie allowed Luke to grieve for Obi-Wan. And could someone explain how a 19 year-old boy with no military experience was thrust into battle without any training? At least Anakin's participation in the Battle of Naboo was accidental.