Original Release: May 25, 1977
Directed By: George Lucas
Notable Actors: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, James Earl Jones and Alec Guinness
A Long time ago in a Galaxy far far away, a man sat down to write a script about jedis and the dark side, droids and wookies, death stars and Millennium Falcons. Star Wars may just be one of the most influential pieces of film to ever release anywhere ever. From that first film about a young man who starts to realize his full potential as a jedi knight, an entire conglomerate of merchandise, books, comics, tv shows and more has been spawned and somehow it keeps finding new ways to re-invent itself. Whether you like the original series more than the prequels or whether you love or hate the addition of new scenes and cgi into the old films, you have to admit that this series always has strong staying power. But how did it all begin? Where did this ginormous epic get its start? It all began with A New Hope.
Lucas began work on the original script in 1973 after work on his previous film, American Graffiti had finished. It was initially rejected by Universal Pictures and United Artists, when at long last it was picked up by 20th Century Fox. Originally, the film was meant to be based on the Flash Gordon series. Lucas even attempted to co-buy the rights to the series with Francis Ford Coppola, but when he was denied, he decided to make his own version. Lucas wrote approximately four different versions of the script, always re-writing and then writing again to try and find just the right mix for his new film.
Once production began, Lucas was rigorous in ensuring the film had the look that he wanted. He believed the world should have a ‘used future’ look, giving it an advanced technology that had grown old over time. A lot of scrap metal was used and Industrial Light and Magic, Lucas’ own special effects company, was asked to make characters and special effects look as real as possible. The film itself was shot mostly in Tunisia, England and Guatemala. Many who worked on the film noted that Lucas was obsessed with the details in the look of the world. It had to look sci-fi but in his mind it was also a fairy tale so it had to have a certain mystery to it.
Shooting was a rigorous project, involving several different sets and lots of tight environments that had to be perfectly lit. The cast found that Lucas often seemed depressed and was at one point even diagnosed with hyper-tension and exhaustion. Going into post-production, things seemed to only get worse as Fox was putting pressure on Lucas to finish the film without going over budget. There was also very little ability to reshoot many of the scenes if coverage was not good enough, as Mark Hamill, the star character of Luke Skywalker, was involved in a car accident which permanently changed the makeup of his face. Originally slated for Christmas 1976, Star Wars was pushed back to 1977 due to production delays.
This would all come to be worth it though, because in May of 1977, the film released and broke records, beating out Jaws for highest-grossing film of all time. Since then, as we know, several sequels and prequels have come out and the film has become known as a game changer for sci-fi, but let’s take a closer look at the film itself. As a side note, I’ll add here that there is an actual crap ton of history on this film and trying to fit in into one post would be impossible without it being a hundred page essay. That being said, if you love Star Wars, I suggest doing a little research. There is a lot of amazing stuff out there on this film and plenty worth reading for those eager to know more.
A New Hope opens with a crawl which lets us know that Princess Leia is on the run with a stolen bag of Death Star plans that she hopes to give to the rebels to help them destroy the evil death moon. Of course, Darth Vader shows up to stop this little “Diplomatic mission.” Seriously Princess, learn to lie. A detail I notice right off the bat is that the first time Vader chokes someone, he does it with his bare hand. I like this a lot. I have to try and imagine seeing this for the first time, not knowing of the force or jedis or Yoda or force choking and I have to think that the gentle ease into this idea is much better than the “Oh hey, now I’m using my mind to choke that guy!” method. There is a build up and it allows us to gently waft into this world, as opposed to falling face first.
It is aboard this ship that we meet a large amount of our cast for the first time. Leia is all buns in her hair. Watching the film again, I like that she is so strong. From the start she is dodging stormtroopers, standing up to Vader and even shooting back a little. She may be a princess but she sure knows how to take care of herself. Yes, she ends up needing to be saved but I never really feel like Leia is a damsel in distress and I like that about her. We also, however, meet C-3PO and R2-D2. R2 is pretty adorable but C-3PO, oh boy. For any fanboy who hates Jar-Jar Binks in later films, I must ask why that hate does not extend to 3PO. He is pessimistic, obnoxious and a coward. Nothing about him makes me like the character and I tired of him pretty quickly. Let’s hope that turns around as we go.
Down on Tattooine, Luke Skywalker dreams of becoming a pilot but is stuck as a farmer. It’s a pretty age old story. Of course, he just has to get mixed up with the wrong kind of droids which inevitably means the wrong kind of old men. Obi-Wan really does have a great air about him. I like that he always seems to know more than everyone else. He speaks as if there is a lot left unsaid and that gives the whole story some nice mystery. Eventually, two dead family members later, we decide its time to head off planet to save this Leia girl, whoever the hell she is. Luke, stop looking at her like that. I promise you won’t regret it. We head into Tatooine where we meet the character that pretty much makes the film for me, and for many others.
Han Solo is our ticket into this world. He takes nothing at face value and is the owner of his own destiny. What I love about Han is that he gives some lightness to this otherwise pretty bleak story. I mean, Vader blows up planets. That’s pretty friggin’ evil. Han allows us to take a breath and enjoy the thrill ride. He’s the reason that movies like The Avengers give us a laugh here and there. He makes it all seem not as dark and sinister all the time and that is greatly important. I also really love that he is a non-believer. The idea of something like the force is pretty hard to swallow so I think it’s important to have someone who isn’t so easily sold on it. Oh, and Chewbacca is pretty cool too I guess.
I love that the technology on the screens of the computers in this film is so rough. Thank God Luke decides to turn off his screen because I’m telling you that if those little green lines were all I had to hit the target, I would also fail. Where were we? Oh yes, Admiral Tarkin is a pretty underrated villain. This guy is way more evil than Vader in this film. He’s all about the torture and the planet murder and he’s British. All those things make him the most terrifying character in this film. I would have loved for him to get a more satisfying death but I suppose blowing up in his own death machine is pretty good.
I like that the space ships have very distinctive looks about them. They feel very out of this world but use recognizable shapes to instantly help us distinguish the good guys from the bad. There’s definitely a plan to everything. It all feels very precise and it all fits together beautifully. The Falcon looks nothing like the star destroyer but there’s a very clear feeling that they belong to the same universe and that’s what makes it so special. Also, watching the star battles while knowing that none of it was CGI’d is pretty special. Except for the fact that things don’t explode in this film, they disintegrate into nothingness. Is the phrase, “In space no one can here you melt into space particles in an instant,” because in this film, it should be.
I’m sure I’m not the first person to mention this but why does the Death Star have a shaft that goes from outside to in that when penetrated means it self destructs? Who’s idea was that? That seems like shoddy craftsmanship. I’m just saying. There’s a whole lot of bloodshed in the final act as several rebel fighters die on the way to stopping the death star but I suppose it’s all for the cause. I love Luke taking his first step toward Jedi-dom by using the force to take down the Death Star. It really does make us excited to see more of what this force business can do and from a character perspective, it’s nice to see Luke really start to believe in himself at the end of the film, and also to believe in his mentor.
Lastly, I’ll mention the lightsaber duel between Darth and Kenobi. The whole fight is slow and methodical and while I love the crazy crouching tiger fights of the prequels, I also have a great appreciation for the slow methodical, samurai like movements of this fight. There’s something very powerful in watching these two fight and knowing that eventually we will learn so much more of their past. It also is fun to get our first glance at just what a Jedi/Sith fight looks like, even if it is a bit slow. The important thing here is that it retains the sense of tension at who will come out alive.
That about does it for A New Hope. Next week we’ll watch everyone’s favorite in the series, The Empire Strikes Back. New Hope sets up some good elements but there’s so much more in this world I can’t wait to see. This film is in many ways the most basic of all the films, but that’s a good thing. It allows us to fall in love with the universe, without ever being overwhelmed by it. What sniveling evil deeds will Vader get up to next week? Guess we’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, can somebody get this walking carpet out of my way???
NEXT UP: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
* * *
NOTE: Obviously all the photos are courtesy of Disney Entertainment and I would never in a million years claim them as my own. That being said, all are actually taken with my phone during our viewing in order to capture the moment in a slightly different way than originally intended.
ALSO: My Fiancee has a blog too and he is talking about all the classics we are currently watching, which involves more than just Disney. Head over HERE and check it out!