Tag Archives: episode iv

‘Star Wars’ Revisited, Part 1: ‘Star Wars’/’A New Hope’

Copyright Lucasfilm

Pre-viewing thoughts: It’s hard to put into perspective just how massive a movie “Star Wars” (later titled “A New Hope”) is and how much change it wrought upon the film landscape. While “Citizen Kane” is the movie that most cinephiles would cite as the “greatest” movie of all time based on technical acumen (though many of those same cinephiles ignore how great a story “Citizen Kane” tells), “Star Wars” is unquestionably the most influential movie in terms of how the industry works today. For better or worse, you can thank George Lucas and his crazy idea (big-budget, science fiction blockbusters like this were nowhere near the norm in 1977 when the movie was released) for our franchise-driven, superhero- and science fiction laden movie landscape today. But “Star Wars” still stands the test of time; in fact I’d argue it’s the best standalone movie of the franchise, in part because Lucas didn’t know if there would be a franchise when he made it. All of the other “Star Wars” movies are made with the knowledge of future installments; for this first entry, Lucas put everything he had into this one shot at greatness. And he delivered. Let’s get this party started.

Movie diary (I’ll be noting the run time of the movie as I jot down my notes):

  • 00:00- God, that John Williams score. You could argue Williams’ work on “Close Encounters of the Third Kid,” which came out the same year as “Star Wars,” is the better score in terms of pure craftsmanship, but there is no more iconic theme in all of movie history than the “Star Wars” title music.
  • 2:30- The model work in “Star Wars” still holds up more than 40 years later. The iconic shot of Princess Leia’s ship being chased by the massive Star Destroyer instantly sets up the Empire as an imposing force.
  • 4:30- Vader’s first entrance is a great moment. The change in score from the frantic battle music to the more subdued, ominous theme is a great touch, and his respirator noise is chilling. An unforgettable entrance for an unforgettable villain.
  • 6:00- Holy smoke, I can’t keep going at this rate. I’ll try to slow down.
  • 6:15- I lied. Given her passing, it’d be cruel to ignore Carrie Fisher’s first appearance as Princess Leia. Leia definitely gets more depth as the series goes, but she’s headstrong, forceful and capable from the get-go. Leia’s theme is also a nice change of pace from the bombast in much of the rest of the movie.
  • 10:30- C-3PO and R2-D2’s misadventures on Tattooine is a great bit. The droids are very much our point-of-view characters in “Star Wars,” in that they’re bit players caught up in bigger events unfolding around them, and their contentious friendship rounds them both out. Props to Tony Daniels (3PO) and Kenny Baker (R2)
  • 15:00- The contrast between the tiny Jawas and their giant Sandcrawler is a fun visual gag, and I’ve always liked the massive industrial design of the Sandcrawlers.
  • 17:00- Luke gets the first recurrence of the title music when we see him. Here’s our hero, about to set out on his journey.
  • 18:00- “You can waste time with your friends when your chores are done.” Even in galaxies far, far away, adolescents still have chores and parental figures to chafe against. The relationship between Luke and his aunt and uncle is sketched out quickly and efficiently. He clearly cares for them, but like all adolescents he yearns to escape his familiar surroundings and find himself. We’ve got a pretty good grasp of his psychology within just a couple minutes of meeting him.
  • 20:47- “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.” Great little mystery to tease the audience after the hectic battle scene and the Jawas sequence. And the hologram is a nice bit of special effects, especially for 1977.
  • 23:15- The look between Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru tells us there’s more to Obi-Wan Kenobi than they let on. Nice way to build mystery without derailing the main narrative thread.
  • 25:20- Lucas doesn’t get much credit as a visual stylist, but the shot of Luke watching the setting suns as he gazes out in longing says a lot with no words at all. It helps that Williams is crushing it with the music, but it’s a gorgeous shot.
  • 29:50- The late, great Sir Alec Guinness was never really comfortable with the fame he got for playing Obi-Wan Kenobi, but he’s really good in the part. He’s got the gravitas necessary to convincingly play an aged warrior monk, with plenty of wit (“He’s not dead; not yet”) and pathos as well. You can trace a line from Guinness in “Star Wars” to Ian McKellen in “Lord of the Rings” and all of the great British actors in the likes of “Harry Potter” and other big franchises.
  • 33:00- The first activation of Luke’s lightsaber makes it so damn cool. Everyone who saw this movie instantly wanted one. Hell, I still want one.
  • 38:20- “I find your lack of faith disturbing.” James Earl Jones, for the win.
  • 40:00- Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru’s deaths still sting. It’s a credit to how the scene is staged and how well the actors did to create a convincing relationship with Luke, even with limited screen time. It’s much more tragic than, say, Rey’s backstory in “The Force Awakens” (another desert orphan) because we’ve actually seen what Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru mean to Luke. Lucas gets a lot of flak for being a bad writer, and he definitely struggles with dialogue, but he’s always excelled with pure story structure, which counts for a lot (and is something J.J. Abrams could use more of).
  • 44:00- The Mos Eisley cantina. It’s a whole galaxy in and of itself. An absolutely fantastic bit of world building from Lucas and his team.
  • 46:00- The way Obi-Wan just nonchalantly deals with the guy harassing Luke in the cantina is a great touch. There’s clearly more to him than meets the eye, and the way he looks off the crowd and they go back to their business is a nice bit of humor.
  • 47:00- I want to someday be one quarter as cool as Harrison Ford is at first viewing in “Star Wars.” The man is unquestionably a born movie star.
  • 50:00- Han definitely shot first. He’s a smuggler who doesn’t care about honor; he cares about survival. His arc in the movie is learning to care about something other than himself, which makes him shooting Greedo without warning a good demonstration of his…let’s call it comfort with playing dirty.
  • 54:00- “Traveling through hyperspace ain’t like dusting crops, boy.” Harrison Ford famously told Lucas “You can write this stuff, George, but you can’t say it,” but Ford sells even clunky lines like this. That’s what great actors do.
  • 56:00- Vader is definitely the main villain of the original trilogy, but the late Peter Cushing (resurrected digitally for “Rogue One”) makes Grand Moff Tarkin into a great secondary antagonist. His moment with Leia before Alderaan is destroyed is very well done.
  • 58:00- Luke’s exercises with the training droid as Obi-Wan looks on is a great way to visually illustrate how the Force works, along with Luke’s growing affinity for it. And Han’s skepticism fits perfectly with his character and his arc; even the smuggler who’s been all around the galaxy has things to learn.
  • 1:01:00- Technically sound doesn’t carry in space (no movie except maybe “2001: A Space Odyssey” has gotten that right), but the sound of the TIE fighters is great. Little details like that go a long way, and it’s a credit to the technical team on the movie.
  • 1:09:00- Once again, Han is motivated by a material reward to do the right thing when it comes to rescuing Leia (“I don’t know, I can imagine quite a bit”). He clearly wants no involvement in the broader political conflict raging around him; he wants his ship and his paycheck. It makes his eventual turn to altruism all the more heroic.
  • 1:11:45- A bit of George Lucas trivia: Luke tells the detention center guards that Chewie is a transfer from cell block 1138, a reference to Lucas’ prior sci-fi movie “THX 1138,” the namesake of the THX sound company.
  • 1:13:30- “Aren’t you a little short for a Stormtrooper?” You’ll be missed, Carrie Fisher.
  • 1:15:00- All of the blaster shots in the various firefights were added in postproduction, which must have made shooting those scenes a little awkward for the actors. Even bit players like whoever played the Stormtroopers have to trust that the technicians will make what they’re doing look credible, because the actors are just pointing their prop weapons at their intended targets.
  • 1:17:30- The dianoga (the monster that grabs Luke in the trash compactor) continues to creep me out. It’s a great monster design, and a genuinely scary moment, especially coming after the more visceral gunfight just a minute or two prior.
  • 1:20:30- Being crushed to death is way up there on my list of ways not to die, and the cross-cutting between Luke and the gang in the compactor and 3P0 and R2 elsewhere in the Death Star is really well done. And as always, Williams’ score gives it the extra boost of tension.
  • 1:26:00- First instance of the infamous Wilhelm scream during Luke and Leia’s fight with the Stormtroopers as they try to cross the chasm.
  • 1:28:15- “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” One of Obi-Wan’s many instances where what he says isn’t meant to be taken literally; if Vader kills him, he’s dead, but Obi-Wan’s death is part of what spurs Luke to become a Jedi and eventually defeat/redeem Vader.
  • 1:30:00- Obi-Wan’s death is also very well done. Luke’s scream clearly conveys the anguish he’s feeling, especially so soon after losing his uncle and aunt. It takes Obi-Wan’s ghostly voice to get Luke to leave the Death Star and not die in a blaze of glory taking down the Stormtroopers.
  • 1:32:00- The whole sequence where Luke and Han have to take out the TIE fighters is absolutely phenomenal. That is all.
  • 1:39:00- Luke and Han’s final confrontation before the battle against the Death Star is perfect; we see that Luke has found a purpose outside of farm life, and Han continues to resist, even if we see the façade crack at the end with “May the Force be with you” and “I know what I’m doing.”
  • 1:42:00- This final battle sequence is still unbelievably impressive, especially given the effects available at the time. Perfectly shot, perfectly scored, perfectly edited, great dramatic payoffs. All blockbusters should strive for this level of excellence.
  • 1:43:00- “Look at the size of that thing.” That’s what she said.
  • 1:52:00- Obviously the bulk of Luke’s Jedi training comes later, but it’s a great moment when Obi-Wan tells him to use the Force instead of his targeting computer as he nears the end of his Death Star trench run.
  • 1:53:00- Han saving the day is how you perfectly cap off a character’s dramatic arc. His cheer as he swoops in is so good, and then Luke takes the shot.
  • 1:55:00- The medal ceremony is a bit odd looking back, but again, Lucas had no idea if he was going to get a sequel when he made this movie, so it’s a good way to wrap things up while still leaving room for additional stories.

Wrap-up: As I said up top, it’s difficult to overstate what a profound change “Star Wars” wrought in the world of movies, and looking back even now it’s easy to see why. Beyond the then-revolutionary special effects, well-executed action scenes and incredible world building, this is a movie with a great story told through memorable, fun characters. Its foundation is a rock solid screenplay, and Lucas and his team brought it to life in incredible fashion. “Star Wars” was and remains the model for blockbuster storytelling.