As a lead up to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, FBTB is going to do something crazy (and likely something that a whole bunch of other sites are going to do too), and review the previous movies. Why? Because shut up, that’s why. We are going to take a slightly different take, other than just eviscerating the PT and fawning love on Empire Strikes back, and actually look at some of the impacts that it has on the toys and stuff we really love. Plus, it gives us an excuse to make fun of Jar Jar. It’s basically win-win.
When my daughter and I sat down to watch A New Hope, there was a big difference in her reaction compared to any of the previous movies. Sure, she’s only three, so her attention span is not what I would call… “existing.” Still, she was excited just by the crawl, and then by the SPACESHIPS in a scream that would have made Benny Proud. But the real moment that really made me laugh was when the Stormtroopers break through the hatch to get on to the ship, to which she started to yell “oh no, watch out!” to all of the poor Rebel Troopers. To be fair, she reacts the exact same way when watching Frozen, and Elsa and the Ice Monster are trying to get away from the soldiers from Weselton.
It’s hard to really pin down what makes A New Hope, or just Star Wars if you are old enough, so special. Unless you were alive for the initial release, which I was not (though only barely), it may seem hard to believe that it was so unlike anything else ever seen. It was at one point mystical kung-fu film, another Flash Gordon style space adventure, and the rest a special effects masterpiece before special effects were really even a thing. While Jaws had introduced the idea of blockbuster, Star Wars showed what the idea of a Blockbuster really was.
More than that, it was the movie that made merchandising more than just an “oh, and this too” to the focus of the whole enterprise. I mean, when you can sell blank cards with the promise of action figures to the world and it actually sell, you’ve made some sort of evil pact with the forces of darkness. That pact had to extend to the sheer luck of George Lucas, because even though Obi-Wan doesn’t think such a thing exists, this movie is like 60% luck, especially when you read about some of the things that happened behind the scenes or in production. When the iconic space battle happens in a trench because the plastic used to make a model shrinks (and the builder had the skill to convince Lucas to just incorporate that into the story instead of, you know, fixing it)… luck certainly exists.
The opening Crawl set the tone for the movie, throwing back to that old serials feel (sadly, it’s more Flash Gordon and less Rocky Jones, Space Ranger)…
“It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.
During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.
Pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy….”
We get the Empire, Rebels, Death Star, and even the princess mentioned. And that whole fanfare and Star Wars theme is still just so powerful in the opening, it just hits you.
Then… there is the opening, which remains one of the most iconic and amazing in movie history. The little Tantive IV, which as a ship looks pretty impressive initially, and then the Star Destroyer Devestator comes behind it to show you “yeah, what about your little ship.”
The addition of the John Williams score, already well known for his work on Close Encounters and Jaws (and less well know for the fantastically bad B-movie spoofed on MST3K, Daddy-O… want some?), just makes the whole thing such a great opening. Once we get inside the ship, we get fantastically awful uniforms for the rebel troopers (what could those helmets possibly protect them from in space) and the immediately intimidating Storm Troopers (also, the last time those troopers will hit anything).
The action is intense and quick, and it’s playing directly from the crawl as to what’s happening… and then we get the most recognizable sound in all of Star Wars when Darth Vader steps into the wreckage of the fight. He’s tall, all in black, and looks genuinely intimidating. Compared to the general whine-fest of Anakin in the prequels, this guy is simply here to kick butt and… well, you can’t really chew gun in that helmet. He was out anyway, so I guess it doesn’t matter.
On the other hand, some things that happen in later (or earlier, depending how you look at it) movies shouldn’t come as that much of a shock as we get our first glimpses of C-3PO and R2-D2. We get quippy one-liners and whining from 3PO, and beeps from R2. I question the need to program a protocol droid to be whiny and cowardly (but hey, he’s basically just emulating his original master I guess), but what do I know about robotics?
The introduction to Princess Leia is an introduction to a great character in general. It’s obvious that, despite the “princess” moniker, she’s not a damsel in distress. She stashed the info in R2, kicked them out of the ship, and then proceeded to mow down several trained soldiers before getting knocked out by a stun blaster (technology that would not be seen again in the movies).
Of course, nameless imperial officer who had nameless gunner hold his fire because there weren’t any life signs is basically responsible for the whole series in the first place. Really, if he would have just done his job, this would have been an exceedingly short movie.
He doesn’t and instead, our two droid buddies crash their escape pod, and we get is a line from C3PO that could almost make you think that he’d planned out the prequels when he made this movie, and didn’t just pull it out of his butt twenty year later when C3PO asks R2 how he knows there are settlements in “that direction.” While we don’t get subtitles to R2’s beeping, I can only assume his response is “because we’ve been here a half dozen times, idiot.”
That leads us to Jawas, which leads us to a great conspiracy theory that the reason Anakin was so whiny in the prequels was to make Luke seem so much less whiny in A New Hope. On one hand, I can get not liking Tatooine. We see what, like three women in the series and one of them is his aunt? Sure, she’s actually no relation to him whatsoever, a fact that I’m certain he’s aware of by the fact that they’ve raised him since he was a newborn he refers to them as aunt and uncle (if you subtract Leia from the OT, there is a combined 24 seconds of dialog from women).
That and who wants to work on a farm that is basically just automated machines. Why do people even do that job? It could be all droids. How a civilization can generate interstellar travel and the ability to make massive ships, yet can’t ship bottled water or mine a comet for water.
Of course, Jawas come by with droids, a red one explodes in a not at all suspicious way. I’m not implying that R2-D2 sabotaged that R4 unit, it’s just that I’m implying it. We also learn that C3PO can’t remember being part of the Republic but remembers programing binary loadlifters, which I guess they had a lot of on those frigates.
At least the Jawas aren’t quite as overtly terrible as Watto was. Junk peddlers and glowing eyes beat out racist stereotypes for sure. Plus, they also led to some of the best jokes in Spaceballs. Sure, it’s no “they’ve gone to plaid” or the whole fast forward thing, but let’s be fair… we all thought about this when Disney bought Star Wars.
Where was I? Oh, right. The first of many iconic lines with “help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope” and a little hologram Leia. It’s actually kind of surprising how much of the movie takes place on Tatooine. The Jawas selling the droids, R2 running off, Tusken Raiders trying to make Lukekabobs, and talk about Jedi Knights.
It’s also pretty amazing how Lucas had to go revise all of this this to make up the mythology. Darth Vader wasn’t a title initially… Darth was actually the guy’s first name (thus, why Obi-Wan called him by that later in the film). The big (spoiler, I guess) change to being Anakin happened while developing the sequel.
Our time on Tatooine draws to a close with Jedi mind tricks, assault with a deadly weapon (supposedly by the “good guy” in the Cantina), and the most lasting of all nerd arguments. I really don’t care who shot first, I just want the scene to not look so stupid if it’s going to change, that they acknowledge that Han straight up murdered Greedo, or that Greedo was such a bad shot that he flunked out of Stormtrooper U.
A New Hope is a film that strings together a bunch of odd pieces to make a film that’s ultimately fantastic, even if it’s over the top silly a lot of the time. Han knows a few maneuvers, which basically means “fly in a straight line and bank on the Imperials not being able to shoot anything.”
Of course, the more interesting story in this is actually the interactions on the Imperial Side. I maintain that the absolute baddest of the bad guys was Tarkin. Even Palpatine didn’t have the cajones to destroy an entire planet, a core world of the Republic. More than that, when Vader is force choking one an officer for having the gaul to provide tactically sound advice considering everything that follows… Tarkin tells him to stop and he does!
It’s helped by the fact that Peter Cushing was a solid actor and great villain, and his interaction with Leia, as a prisoner but obviously a dangerous one, and a tactical mind, is just great. It’s a shame that Lucas basically used up all of his really good dialog in this movie, or at least didn’t bother to get any feedback, because it just works here. There are some one-liners, to be sure, but they fit into the movie so much better than the whole of the prequels.
The second major act of A New Hope gets us Anakin on Naboo level of dumb luck, with the plucky young Skywalker and company brought into a bay that was nearby the Princess… oh, wait, no. Not luck. It was all Vader’s cunning plan. And I say that without sarcasm… it was actually a pretty solid plan to let them break in, get the princess, seemingly escape, and lead everyone back to the Rebel base.
You know, I find it kind of funny that reading about Cellblock 1138, where Leia was being held, and the little callout to Lucas’ first film, THX 1138, was actually Mark Hamill’s doing. And that Lucas told him not to do improvise. It was a nice touch that is just comical when looking back and the grand ideas, but clueless execution, that the films had. I also find it funny that he left it in the movie in the end.
I’d cover a whole bunch more about what’s happening, but let’s be honest. We’ve all seen the movie, and we all likely love it. There’s also just so much going on in the Death Star scenes that it eventually became a $400 LEGO set that was worth every single penny.
After their escape, I totally get that the Rebels are desperate in the fight against the Empire, but I question the logic of turning over the keys of a sophisticated killing machine like an X-Wing to a completely untrained, albeit talented, pilot. Luke had never so much as been in a Spaceship more than a couple of days, let alone flown one, and suddenly he was part of a military operation to take out a giant machine called a Death Star. You know, I’d hate to be the Empire PR guy who had to explain why the station had that name. Why not call it “artificial habitat” or “gigantic waste of tax dollars?”
We also get a look at Luke’s sociopath side in torturing those poor Womp rats, some good stuff being restored in the Special Edition (like Luke getting to talk to Biggs before he gets turned into some organic debris around a gas giant), and more ships making the run. It never quite lives up to the promise in that poster, where there are apparently a hundred X-Wings flying towards the station, but it’s still a pretty good battle.
I also find it funny that the trench run exists because the model shrunk, like I mentioned above (seriously). If I have a complaint, and it’s less one about this movie and just one of the few places where Star Wars shows it’s age compared the more modern films, it’s that the battle just takes so long. There are three separate attacks on that exhaust port, and the Imperials only bother to launch three fighters to go after them. Plenty fight above the surface elsewhere, but only three come into the trench.
One of them is Darth Vader, who in one of the recent Marvel comics is seen eliminating a couple of squadrons of X-Wings (including Blue Squadron, which we know is part of The Force Awakens). It’s also curious that he didn’t use the force powers to yank the ships out of the sky or destroy their engines… like happened in the comics.
In the end, it wasn’t luck that saved the day, as we saw in Phantom Menace. It was Luke’s raw power in the force and the good timing of Han Solo and his ability to sneak a freighter into a massive space battle. There wasn’t some Deus Ex Machina ending, it was a change of heart that did it, and Luke’s great shot. And for that, everyone gets rewarded before the Rebels go on the run because they just poked the bear in a very big way.
Ultimately, A New Hope is brilliant not for it’s individual parts, but the sum of them. The dialog is clunky at times, brilliant at others. It drags in places and rushes in others. It looks dated at times and just crazy at others… but it’s still a masterpiece.
It also has provided us with Star Wars LEGO. What we’ve gotten out of this should be obvious… X-Wings and TIE Fighters, Sandcrawlers and that just terrible Cantina set. So many different minifigures (and yet, no Aunt Beru), sixteen million different versions of Luke’s Speeder, and two different Skyhoppers that are based on a toy seen on screen for less than two seconds. Was there any question that this was going to be a five out of five? Flaws or not, this is the movie that’s responsible for all of the rest, good and bad, all of our LEGO hobbies, and the whole reason why this site came to be.