Sunday, January 1, 2017

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

      Wow, Star Wars is more of a phenomenon then any other franchise I can think of. So I'm finally going to review every theatrical Star Wars movie. This is something I’ve wanted to do for years, but I’ve held back on it because the series is so popular and so many people already talk about them. Well, even if I don’t have anything that original to say about the series, I’m still going to give my honest opinion of how I feel about these films. I for one prefer to watch the special editions that came out in the 90’s as opposed to the original versions, I don’t think that the Prequel trilogy is completely terrible, I don’t think “The Empire Strikes Back” is the greatest sequel of all time, not even the best of the original trilogy, but I’ll get to all that as we go along. For now, let’s look at the 1977 Star Wars classic that started it all, known today as “Star Wars 4: A New Hope”.

       The joy of seeing this film as a kid is something that I could never do justice, but then again, I probably don’t need to because chances are, you’ve already had your own nostalgic experience watching this series at a young age. Obviously I know everyone has a different child hood, so I’ll try to sum this up for anyone else. It’s basically a classic fantasy adventure that just happens to be set in outer space. When a princess is captured by an evil empire, a regular young farm boy named Luke Skywalker suddenly finds himself going on a quest to rescue her, and help a band of Rebels in their efforts to free the galaxy from the grip of the empire. Along the way he’s guided by a wise old master who teaches him about the sacred and mystical ways of the universe. That’s obviously the clip note version, and the story gets much deeper with more characters, and a super weapon created by the villains that our hero’s need to destroy.

      Explaining every detail of the plot isn’t important anyway, what matters is the substance of the experience. The overall theme of this first Star Wars movie is faith versus secularism. We see those who believe in technology and weapons as the dominate force in the galaxy, while those people of faith are being reduced to an extinct species. Yet, though the very subtle actions of those with faith, we see that their truly the ones with more power than those with all the big weapons and machines.  This is demonstrated best at the very end of the film when our hero has to make a choice to either rely on technology or faith, and it’s his faith is something spiritual that ultimately saves the day. The spiritual element of the film is simply referred to as “the Force”, and it’s like a combination of something magical but also religious. Even the films main villain Darth Vader states that "the power to destroy a planet with this technological terror is nothing compared to the power of "the Force". Mush like the “Chronicles of Narnia” series, I always admired “Star Wars” for incorporating thoughtful biblical references into its storytelling without preaching a message to the audience. Those who believe in the force are called Jedi, and I really like that the force doesn’t just give them straight forward super powers. It allows them to accomplish great things, but there’s always that spiritual element that’s always in check. Their designs also complement this, they wear heavy robs like monks, but they carry swords like Samurai, emphasizing that their spirituality comes first, but they’ll take action when needed. The light sabers of course are the coolest fictional weapons of all time, even though the actual sword dual in this film is nothing particularly special.  

      Best of all are the characters themselves, over all these years it’s this cast that makes “Star Wars” so timeless. Our hero is Luke Skywalker and he’s the classic every day person who learns that has a greater destiny that has yet to be realized, and when his real obligation to the universe is complete, he’ll arise as a great champion. While he may come off as slightly bland, it's necessary so that the audience can relate to him before he becomes a hero. It’s a trait that would be the main inspiration for other leading hero characters like Neo from “The Matrix”, Aang from “Avatar: The Last Airbender” or most notably Harry Potter. Obi Wan Kenobi is the classic old and wise mentor, who uses smart and quiet tactics rather than just brute force and it just makes you respect him more. Most mentor archetypes focus on combat skills, but Obi-Wan is much deeper and has more substance than that. Alec Guinness delivers an Oscar worthy performance in the role and brings Obi-Wan to life perfectly.

       Darth Vader of course is the franchises iconic leading villain, and obviously one of the greatest villains of all time. The look and design of his costume, combined with sharp voice acting of James Earl Jones allows him to steal every scene with ease, but as the film goes on, we learn that there’s more to him than just a threat that the hero’s have to stop. This is a tragic character that fell from grace and as the series goes on, we see just how deep and complex this character really is. At Darth Vader’s side is Governor Tarkin, who’s played by the always fantastic Peter Cushing. It’s sad that so many people ignore this character, but then again he doesn’t do that much in the grand scheme of things. I’m just a really big fan of the actor, so seeing him play a villain in the Star Wars series is a small highlight for me. I also really like the Storm Troopers, sure there not that threatening, and they suck at hitting their targets but they still have those classic armored designs that are just so classy.  

       The supporting cast is also fantastic, R2-D2 and C-3PO provide exposition, as well as supply comedic relief, but they never go too far and are always a delight to have on screen. All those cute squeaks and whistles from R2 mixed with C-3PO’s bedside manner is just the perfect mix. The Millennium Falcon is hands down, one of the greatest space ships in the history of cinema. The look and design is so memorable, but the ship itself is more than just a home for our hero’s, it honestly becomes a character in its own right, just like the Enterprise from “Star Trek”, or Serenity from “Firefly”.

    Harrison Ford is unforgettable as Han Solo, this is the cool bad boy I always cheered for, and he’s the perfect offset to Luke. Princess Leia is the classic damsel in distress, but she manages to hold her own, stick up for herself and never lets the title of Princess keep her from taking action when needed. I never cared that much for Chewbacca, I mean he’s iconic like all the other characters, but I never felt like he added that much to the experience. Either way, I always felt that the cast of Star Wars has something to offer for everyone, if one character wasn't to your liking, there’s always another that’s bound to win you over.

       Looking back there are some select moments that don’t hold up very well, but they certainly don’t ruin the movie. Personally, I think the characters are just a little too excepting of tragic events. For example, there’s the scene in which Luke discovers that his aunt and uncle are horrible killed by the Empire, but that never seems to effect him in any way, and he never even talks about them again, like they didn’t matter, even though they raised him from birth. There’s also that scene when Princess Leia’s home planet is blown up by the Death Star, but the impact of that never seems to stick with her, she never has a moment to lament that tragedy, and she just goes on her way like it was nothing. To be perfectly honest, the destruction of that planet never really impacted me the way I felt it should have. We never saw the surface of the planet, nor saw a glimpse of the people inhabiting it, and sense Leia's reaction is so minimal, I just never felt anything from what should be a very impact-full moment. Despite that obvious problem, the film makes up for it in other areas.   

      The pacing of the movie is very good, even though there’s very little action on the surface, it’s the characters and the setting that make the experience so engaging. This was one of the first franchises that really submersed you in its own uniquely creative universe, and phew other films could bring its setting to life as well as this one. I always loved looking at all those impressive sets, all those imaginative creatures inhabiting them, and it just creates an atmosphere that submerses you into its world. I’ll always remember that scene when Luke watches that double sun set outside his house, it’s just a perfect moment for the audience to breath and it’s such a memorable image. The opening is one of the greatest opening segments in film history, and that shot of the massive ship passing over the screen still gets me hyped to this day. I also love those two scenes in both the alien bar and the robot convoy, because there are just so many creative and imaginative looking creatures that you can just lose yourself looking around at all of them. Also, who could forget John Williams classic musical score, it’s still one of the most triumphant anthems of all time.    

      The only scene I never really liked oddly enough was the climax of the movie in which the Rebels mount a strike against the Death Star, a super battle station that can destroy planets. While the stakes are high, and the trench run is classic, the battle itself always came off as boring to me. Our hero’s are barely seen throughout the whole battle, and the majority is spent watching a bunch of nameless pilots getting shot down one at a time. Surprisingly, this is the only entry in the Star Wars franchise that doesn’t have a light saber dual as part of the climax. Thankfully, this all balances out with a very triumphant ending, even though it’s a very predictable outcome, I still get a big cheer out of that moment when Han Solo comes back to aid our hero’s at the last second, and seeing the Death Star blow up is very cool. 

      Now let’s talk about the Special edition for a moment, because for me personally, I saw Star Wars for the very first time in 1997 when the special edition was being released theatrically. Many fans hate these special edition changes, thinking that they tarnish the quality of the films. I did eventually see the original cuts of these movies, and while the films were still great, I couldn’t help but feel like I was missing several of my favorite moments. The scene that introduces us to the vile space slug Jabba the Hutt for example always felt like a pivotal part of the story and it make his involvement in “Return of the Jedi” more meaningful. While the effects on Jabba were pretty bad, I still prefer it to nothing at all, and a short glimpse of Boba Fett is a nice touch. I definitely prefer that polished film look with less negative, and all the other changes mean very little to me. I don’t care about Han shooting Greedo first, in fact I think the changes to that scene helped make Greedo a house hold name among Star Wars fans in the first place. Some of the added effects are really dated, but others hold up great and even if they seem out of place at times, they still don’t ruin the experience. If you prefer the original versions, that’s fine, I just prefer the special editions.      

       It’s funny that even though this movie is almost 40 years old, it still has a devoted fan base, and continues to excite audience with every new generation that comes to pass. This is what classics are made of, its familiar storytelling done differently, with an unforgettable cast of characters, deep spiritual themes and a universe that’s so easy to get wrapped up in that Star Wars remains to this day and for all time, a treasured classic that everyone deserves a chance to see.

                                      I give Star Wars 4: A New Hope 5 stars out of 5.       

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