Written and Directed by George Lucas
May 25, 1977 (United States)
If you do not know the plot by now, I am not going to help you on this one. It has been around for 44 years and a major part of pop culture. There is no missing gaining knowledge about this film.
The original Star Wars film (originally titled just Star Wars before Lucas changed the name) is perhaps one of the most significant films in movie history. You may laugh but I do not say that facetiously. It changed movie making. It caused studios to look for their own tentpole series. That is why Paramount started doing the Star Trek films. This film made Battlestar Galactica possible. It brought about the summer blockbuster and got studios to produce good looking science fiction rather than relegating it to camp or low budget fare. And this film universe is still around today with new content being made based off of what began in this movie.
Many films have come and gone since the first cameras made the first movies with the first stories on film. Many have even been remade a few times. Few have had the enduring power of this film. At its core it is just a story of good versus evil. There is the hint of Nazism with the design of the Imperial Officer uniforms and the use of the word “stormtroopers” for the soldiers of the Empire to make that a little more obvious. I do not think to today’s audience such things are as recognizable as they were back then but there it is.
A New Hope managed to turn a group of actors, most of them with limited celebrity, into cultural icons. Mark Hamill. Carrie Fisher. Harrison Ford. Anthony Daniels. Kenny Baker. Peter Cushing. James Earl Jones. Alec Guinness. These are all people who achieved a level of fame and awareness in the in the public consciousness that lasts until today and will continue long into the future. And I guarantee you when you say their names most people think of their Star Wars characters even though they have all done stuff before and since. Harrison Ford might be the exception and get thought of as Indiana Jones by a good chunk of people, but he also had the most success beyond this movie.
It was visually like nothing that had hit screens before. The space action was frenetic, being designed to look like dogfights, and the ship designs were not rockets or flying saucers but at times a combination of those or even things that one can look at and think of as an airplane almost or jet fighter.
We also had here a well lived in science fiction universe. Buildings looked aged. Equipment broke or just look used. It was not the shiny world of Star Trek (though “Journey to Babel” reportedly inspired the cantina scene). You were left with the impression that this world you were seeing had a history to it.
And we had sword battles in a science-fiction universe that was very futuristic but set in the past. It had a fantasy feel to it despite there being robots and space stations. Space wizards anybody? This was everything that could possibly appeal to a kid of the time placed into a package that adults would like too.
But cool shit alone does not create something with resonance and staying power. What helps is a good story. And there is a very good story in this movie. Luke Skywalker is on the hero’s journey. Luke reluctantly joins this adventure after initially refusing and is victorious and ends the story a changed person. He grows beyond his simple life as a moisture farmer into a larger world.
There are great and interesting characters aside from just Luke Skywalker. Heck, the hero is not the coolest guy in the room here. Darth Vader did almost nothing in this movie but is a memorable movie villain from the first moments on screen. It is not always about what you do that makes you cool. It is sometimes about what you do not do. Leave the audience wanting more.
Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing) made one film appearance and resonated with the fans so much so that the character was brought back in animated form and in one anthology film as well as a very brief appearance (played by Wayne Pygram of Farscape Scorpius fame) at the end of one prequel. He is just such pure evil and expertly played by a master thespian. If you do not think Peter Cushing is a great actor, then check out some of his other work. The man was amazing. Aside from his work in the classic Hammer Films, he did a movie after this called Biggles: Adventures in Time. It is not that good of a movie, but he delivers his lines so well and makes the material 20 times better than what it is just by how he delivers his words. That takes talent.
Among the good guys each character had a defined role. Luke (Mark Hamill) was the hero. He was the character whose main purpose was to do the daring do. He was the sheltered idealist. Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) was the teacher. The sage. The mentor. He guided Luke and at times the group on their quest. Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) was the leader. Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew who was such a kind and happy gentleman when I met him) was the muscle. Not the bad guy muscle but the heroic strong man. Han Solo (Harrison Ford) was the pilot as well as being the cynic who injected the differing opinion in order to get the group to think a little. R2-D2 (Kenny Baker in the suit) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) were sources of information that helped shortcut things a little bit.
Unique for the time was Princess Leia. She was no wilting flower and no damsel in distress. She was a strong-willed woman who when it came right down to it is the reason Han and Luke and everybody else got off of the Death Star. If she had not taken the blaster on the detention and shot out the grate, they would have eventually been captured by the Imperial Forces. Luke had only the most minimal of training in the ways of the Force and could do little in comparison to Kenobi. It is Princess Leia getting tired of the shit that was going on and taking charge that saved the day.
To go off on a tangent, ever notice the detention level looks an awful lot like part of Karl Stromberg’s base in The Spy Who Loved Me? I have watched both films multiple times and you cannot miss it. Both were filmed at Pinewood Studios and taking and repainting an existing set would not be out of the question. There was a time when films reused sets from other movies.
This was exciting and edge of your seat action unlike anything similar before it. Science fiction films had not really been like that-at least not on a high-quality scale. Sure we had film serials but nothing like this. 2001: A Space Odyssey was intellectual. Logan’s Run was action oriented but not of the production values of 2001. This looked good and had action.
One interesting tidbit of casting information is that William Katt, who would gain pop-culture fame in The Greatest American Hero, auditioned for the role of Luke Skywalker. This may be heresy but I think that would have worked just as well. I know that may be a bit radical among fans, but I have seen the audition tape and I have seen his work from around the time and he most definitely could have done the role justice then.
George Lucas put something to the screen that was different than anything that had come before it. It was a fun fantasy space opera. But it was not goofy. It took itself seriously with all the gobbledygook that the characters spit out. All the weird names and unusual creatures were not done for a laugh but were done seriously to tell a story.
I say bless the person who decided not to give George Lucas the rights to Flash Gordon like he originally wanted. If it was not for them crushing that particular dream we would not have gotten this great film.
Star Wars: Episode IV–A New Hope is a film classic. It is a legendary bit of film making that changed popular culture that has a great story. This is most definitely something everyone should see at least once in their lives. Watch it!!!!