It’s not a secret that the film landscape changed forever in 1977, when George Lucas, a hungry young filmmaker, decided to do the impossible and make Star Wars, a story about legacy, adventure, and doing the impossible. It’s important to remember how this lore started, before all of the backtracking in the prequels, and just how amazing this film looks visually without all of the CGI. I had the luxury of watching them on old VHS copies, without the edits of Lucas in the re-releases, and this film may be the best of the saga.
The opening scene is iconic, taking place on a star-ship of the rebels, where the opening extended shot is a large imperial ship chasing after a small, ill-equipped rebel shuttle. When the rebel ship is captured, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) sends a message through two droids encrypted with stolen plans that show a defensive weakness to the Empire’s biggest weapon, the Death Star, a space station capable of blowing up an entire planet. The droids get out in an escape pod, one a Protocol humanoid machine C3PO (Anthony Daniels) and one an astro-mech, programming machine R2D2 (Kenny Baker). They crash-land on Tatooine, a desert planet whose landscape is legendary.
The droids are eventually sold to the Lars family and their nephew Luke (Mark Hamill) who always dreamed of a life greater than a moisture farmer on Tatooine. When the R2D2 tries to escape to continue his mission of delivering the data plans to an old ally Obi-Wan Kenobi, Luke chases after them and eventually they meet him (Alec Guinness), an old Jedi Master who lives as a hermit in Tatooine. Seeing this is the chance to rebel against the Empire, Obi-Wan recruits Luke and thus starts their adventure, any reservations about it wiped out when Empire Soldiers known as Stormtroopers murder Luke’s Aunt and Uncle and destroy their farm.
They then travel to Mos Eisley, where they meet con artist Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and his furry friend Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) who escort them further. Leia, however, remains captured by the Empire, and the Emperor’s second in command, the Sith Lord Darth Vader (David Prowse, voice by James Earl Jones) who tortures her for answers. In comes Luke and Han and Obi-Wan to the rescue.
People describe Star Wars as so broad in scope, but in reality, it’s really only a couple of different large sets. On a relatively small budget, George Lucas made due with what he had to work with, and each act takes place in one setting for the most part. The first is the spaceship followed by Tatooine, the second is back on the spaceship, the third is a space battle. This film isn’t hard to understand, and the undercurrent of it is mostly humor. The thrills are mostly on the tail of Darth Vader, one of the greatest villains in history, and then on the humor of R2 and C3PO. The world design is absolutely incredible, and really, out of the six films, this is the one that has the largest sense of fun.
A New Hope is an adventure, through and through, and many of the characters obey archetypes found in the oldest of old literature, but it works for the film because inside this strange world are characters that we understand. That’s why this is so much better than the most ‘technologically advanced’ prequel films. It’s funnier, we care about the characters more, and the motivations and scenery seem real to us. That’s what is so great about this and The Empire Strikes Back, because they actually capture our feelings, not just the visual part of our brains. The only flaw, and I mean only, flaw with this film is that Luke and Leia, as inexperienced actors at the time, occasionally come off as too whiny and green or too bitchy and mean. Other than that exaggeration where a slightly better script could’ve changed things, A New Hope is one of the crowning achievements of science fiction/fantasy filmmaking.