Image from YouTube (I and I assume many others wonder what it would be like if she was switched at birth if you what I mean. Imagine Prince Luke!)
Citizen Kane and more recently Hitchcock’s Vertigo have been proclaimed the best film ever made. The original Star Wars is widely considered among the best, sure, but I think it would be easy to state that it is the most talked about movie ever made.
Even if Empire is considered the best Star Wars movie, we tend to return to Episode Four in terms of discussing its irrefutable cultural impact first.
How you can recognize its clear cut demonstration of the three act narrative structure, its retooling of ancient storytelling archetypes in a way that saw it as the twentieth century’s defining example of the “Hero’s Journey”, though I would hazard calling it not the best told one in recent decades.
All three of the original trilogy episodes have been endlessly picked apart, both for appraisal and critique that seemingly a stone has not been unturned when discussing these films. As James Rolfe of Cinemassacre put it, you could have an hour long discussion of a random tree in the background in a shot from Return of the Jedi.
If you wanted proof of nothing new under the sun, and why that is not as depressing a realization as you might think, Star Wars came to assert that notion to the delight of millions. In the 1970s, there was nothing like it and yet it was strangely familiar to those that looked hard enough.
This is a “where to begin” type of review. I should start, once again, with how I approached Star Wars in its original era growing up. I am of the “VHS/DVD” era of viewers which is quickly becoming the default demographic.
The original young generation that saw Star Wars when it originally came out are all over 40 or are at least very close to it. Kevin Smith and current Star Wars director JJ Abrams were children when freshly released with the former 49 and the latter 53. I was eight in 2002 when I first saw the original trilogy on VHS, several months before the release of Attack of the Clones.
One thing that has always bothered me about my connection with the original trilogy is how for the life of me, I cannot quite consider them as amazing as older generations did. It’s easy to comprehend how and why these films left a lingering impact, but the emotional feeling isn’t quite as strong.
Of course Star Wars left a permanent impression on me. At a young age, so much can, even in ways that aren’t initially evident. In terms of enjoyment or strong memory, I can recall my youthful feelings for Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi more than A New Hope. In a way that I am not entirely clear on, for a long time, I thought of the very first Star Wars as the “boring” one.
Admittedly, this screams of me being a millennial more familiar and comfortable with popular culture that is more recent than the Original Trilogy, Star Wars included. I wonder if the reason why so many of my generation and younger defend the Prequels is that they are comparatively more “modern”, up to date in their look. It’s Star Wars that looks more like what we are comfortable with visually. More CGI, more crisp, clean quality to the film.
Star Wars’ OT can never escape that it is a series of films, however groundbreaking, that were released between 1977 and 1983. If not the quality of the effects, than surely the older look to the film, grainier and clearly not a product of recent years. One day, the Prequels will look old too.
The quality of their CGI has already shown its age. In some shots, especially regarding the needlessly always computer generated clone troopers, they look out of place even in the heavily green screen environments.
That’s not to say that the special effects from the Original Trilogy necessarily screamed “photo-realism” either. It’s not too hard to extrapolate when something can be a puppet, a model or not what it is supposed to be in the internal logic of its universe. Yet, having something actually be on screen can evoke a far stronger suspension of disbelief, if even that.
Give the Sequel Trilogy some credit, the higher amount of something actually being shot on set with non-CGI characters goes a long way in making the newer movies feel as if they belong more to the same world as the originals.
But back to A New Hope. Why was it not that long ago that I thought the least of what is widely considered the second best movie in the entire saga?
Well, because after the exciting opening involving the Rebel Blockade Runner getting tractor beamed and boarded by the Empire, Leia captured and the droids escaping to Tatooine below via escape pod, it stops being an action movie. It leans into a slow burn space fantasy with exciting things still happening in the interim before the explosive escape from the planet via the Millennium Falcon. R2 getting stunned by the Jawas. A Tusken raider surprise attacking Luke and Threepio.
That being said, as a kid I found this to be the slowest and least enjoyable portion of the entire trilogy at that point. When I over hear from people alive when it first came out that A New Hope was a fast paced, adrenaline ride, this was and in some cases still is where I have a question mark floating around my mind.
As the retroactive viewer I can’t help but be, I need to recognize it as a fast paced ride for the time it was released in. There were other action films of course in earlier films. Star Wars isn’t really the first blockbuster. People often indicate Spielberg’s Jaws as such.
Jaws and Star Wars, despite both being made by best buddies and collaborators, Spielberg and Lucas respectively, are very different films, despite sharing the blockbuster label. One is a loose adaptation of a bestselling book about hunting a mean, big-ass shark in the North Atlantic that relies more on suspense and shock than straight up action, up until the end.
The other is, well, Star Wars, which despite its rich source of influences from pre-established myth and art, created a new thing all its own. Jaws uses a slow burn for the obvious intent of the shock when something bad happens. Star Wars has moments of shock but not necessarily because of the slow burn.
A strange thing happened when I grew older involving the original trilogy. When I was younger, I considered A New Hope the least interesting and slowest movie and now as an adult I still think A New Hope can feel slow, but the slow moments are more investing.
Now Return of the Jedi I see as the slow one, where it has exciting stuff in the beginning and final acts, but a mostly boring middle that’s also overly padded. More on that when I reach that episode.
But A New Hope’s deceleration makes sense as it is the first instance of the series world-building and establishing the feel of this universe beyond what we could extrapolate from the action opener. We come to understand not always through exposition dumps the nature of Lucas’ then new world. The sequence involving R2 and Threepio enslaved on the Jawa Sandcrawler is mostly dialogue free.
That stems from the Jawas speaking in an alien language, Threepio not showing up until the end of the sequence, who rarely shuts up, and R2 being a beep and booper. Our eyes and Williams’ score lets us understand better than some extraneous narrator, like in the original theatrical cut of Blade Runner.
There is plenty of normal, talking exposition, the most evident being Luke and Obi-wan’s lengthy conversation about lightsabers, the force and who the former’s father was. It can’t be said that Star Wars totally eschewed conventions of the past. In some ways, it repackaged it in a form that at the time was fresh and new.
The other part to A New Hope that continues to buffer me from the same starry eyed praise from generations my elder like my parents’ is that of the original three, A New Hope feels the most limited by its budget, which of course was the smallest.
Despite the award winning editing job by Richard Chew, Paul Hirsch and Lucas’ then wife Marcia, there remain cracks that remind one of how troubled a production Star Wars: A New Hope was.
Everyone remembers and laughs in good faith at that one moment where one of the stormtroopers clonks his head on the top of a sliding door. It became a running gag, with Jango Fett in Clones doing the same thing, suggesting that one trooper in ANH is a clone himself, a genetic trait for the lols.
It’s not just errors that a keen eye can catch. It’s also the limited budget has to reduce the size of the world that Star Wars’ first foray can cover. No, the special edition added scenes were not exactly the best way to “expand the scope”.
If you look at cuts of the film that eschew closest to the original 77′ edition, you can feel the special effects, groundbreaking though they may have been, are just the start of something that could and would be refined down the road in later installments.
While the differing environments of Empire and Jedi can create that greater sense of life, A New Hope feels more confining for me despite scenes set in super-open deserts and plateaus. You have the Blockade Runner interior, the deserts and various homesteads on Tatooine. You have Mos Eisley, which looks less busy in the original cuts, but still more real than the poorly aged CG additions.
You do have the lively cantina with Han and Chewie’s introduction, the liveliest the film gets for me, so it is there in some capacity. Then you have the interior of the Millennium Falcon and before arriving on the rebel base of Yavin IV, the Death Star. The middle act’s main locale.
The crushingly grey and black interior aesthetic is entirely intentional. It’s entirely in line with the Empire’s rigid authoritarian outlook. That being said, my excitement for our heroes’ adventure to rescue the princess and escape is lowered by how dull and cold the Death Star is.
The corridor’s all look the same( probably re-purposing sets for different scenes) and I share the urge to escape the station alongside our key players more so they can head to a place that doesn’t tire me out as much to look at. Also, worst choreographed lightsaber duel ever with Obi and Annie.
Speaking of subjective takes, time for some nitpicking on the second best Star Wars, to even out from the two newer trilogies. Seriously, how does Luke or anyone else living on Tatooine not burn to death with two suns bearing down on them?
Then again, how does a planet that’s entirely desert with no greenery able to support an oxygen atmosphere? How selective Star Wars fans can be in pointing out the illogic that does exist in this galaxy far away from us.
Back to the point, as dominant as Star Wars continues to be in its establishment in the human consciousness, how long will it endure before something replaces it? On a certain level, Star Wars may never really die until we do.
We still remember and have records of fictional stories from before the time of Christ. If a certain episode of Star Trek: TNG is any indication, Gilgamesh lives still. Why can’t Luke, Leia and Han? No one’s ever really gone, am I right?