- Vancouver, British Columbia - I must admit that there is a little fear and trepidation within me as I begin this review, because I know there are so many fan boys out there. Truthfully speaking, I didn't get to watch Star Wars very much growing up, but not because I didn't want to. I certainly wanted to, but my parents didn't allow me in large part because of the mysticism around The Force. Nevertheless, I managed to watch the original three Star Wars films at friends' houses at different times and I remember finding myself enraptured in the wonder of these space adventures. When the three prequels hit the theatres, I only saw the last one in theatres, but not before renting all of the previous films while my parents were on holidays (devious, I know!). And while I appreciate the place that Star Wars has as a cultural icon, I believe I've always managed to retain a rather objective opinion about it all. As a result, I believe myself capable of giving a fair review of Star Wars and in the weeks that follow, I plan to do that for the original three films. I don't know if I could bear to sit through the three new ones, in large part because of Hayden Christensen and Jake Lloyd.
Star Wars: A New Hope, in case you've been living under a rock, tells of a galactic conflict between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance. The Empire appears to be near conquering the Rebel Alliance thanks to its game-changer of a weapon, the Death Star space station, which can vapourize an entire planet with one shot. Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), however, possesses the original technical plans of the Death Star and is trying to get them to the Rebel Alliance. When her vessel is boarded by Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones), she deposits the information within an astromech droid, R2D2 (Kenny Baker), who is accompanied by another droid, C3PO (Anthony Daniels), in hopes of sending it off to Tatooine, where R2D2 will deliver the information to Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness). Princess Leia hopes to garner his help, but the droids are captured and sold to Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and his step-uncle and step-aunt. The Empire, however, is trying to find the droids to destroy the information. Luke pursues Obi-Wan's help with the droids in hand, and in the Empire's quest to destroy the information, they follow the droids' path to his step parents place and murders them. Obi-Wan coerces Luke to aid the Rebel Alliance, and then they meet up with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) in hopes of reaching Alderaan with the help of the Millennium Falcon.
What A New Hope does very well is establish the hero myth of Luke Skywalker, rising from obscurity, and being essentially chased from his home with practically no option to return. He is thrust into a battle that he feels incapable of contributing, yet he goes on this rather mystical journey. And while Luke Skywalker seems a little wimpy in this film, his character is pretty solid. I'm not sure that casting Mark Hamill was the best move, as he seems to awkwardly navigate the fine line between making Luke appear juvenile or a grown young man. Apparently Luke is a masterful pilot to the point that the Rebel Alliance allows him to fly one of their X-wings on one of the most important and dangerous missions in the history of the Alliance. Failure could've meant the end of the galactic battle, yet this young buck who has a lot of experience driving his Landspeeder is apparently deemed qualified for a critical space fight? This is an element that felt a little rushed and flawed. Nevertheless, the character of Luke Skywalker is a charming fairytale portrait of a young man being elevated to a role that demanded his very best. Very few films have effectively created a fairytale hero, but A New Hope is a very good starting point for Luke Skywalker.
While watching A New Hope, one thing that stands out as being great is the puppeteering and the creature design. There are some really bizarre creatures and the Sand People are honestly quite disturbing. I honestly can't remember all of the names of the creatures, but they are imaginative and really suggest that the character designers had a lot of fun with playing around and making these new alien species. However, where this crumbles absolutely terribly is seeing very poor CGI-generated creatures that were added in a 2004 editing and re-release. It would be one thing if these CGI-generated creatures were executed in a timeless manner, but the truth is that the CGI effects had aged terribly and they stick out like they sore thumb. As someone who hasn't seen A New Hope in probably five years, I could tell immediately that they merely were placed over other action in the previous edits. It just looked so bad on so many levels. The re-rendering of Jabba the Hut was the least offensive to my senses, but the background use of CGI effects was completely distracting and off-putting. I just can't imagine the thought process behind making such a dramatic addition to a film that will always remain in the discussion of the most significant films of all time. While it may not be the best film ever made, it certainly revolutionized film and stands as a significant icon for what fantasy space adventure films should feel like. I just hate that they tarnished a film that should be timeless. The juxtaposition of 1970s special effects with special effects from the 2000s is just too much to overlook and it harms this film terribly.
A New Hope also reminded me of some of the ways that camera work has changed from when it was originally released in 1977. While there are generally no single camera shot scenes in A New Hope, there are quite a few extended shots that rely on one camera for a significant amount of action before switching to another. There is very little switching back and forth; the principles remain in the same shot. This really aids the film well in terms of giving the viewer a chance to orientate themselves within the story, while also studying the characters' surroundings. If A New Hope had been made in today's ADD generation, I don't believe we'd get nearly as immersive of an experience as we do with A New Hope (the proof is in the lack of atmosphere in the new prequels!). What is incredible though is that many of these other worldly scenes are not even in green screen rooms like how much of the three newer Star Wars films were filmed, but actually locales around our world.
There was a lot to like in A New Hope, especially in the era that it came out in. And to this today, it has aged pretty well aside from the shameful tinkering by Lucasfilms. It is a little overacted like many films in the 1970s, but this film didn't try to act like it was from the 21st century. It was a film that was made with the technology available, while still inspiring awe in the eyes of the viewers. Its legacy is great upon cinema and it created an entire generation of film lovers and the franchise continues to inspire new ones today.
Rating: 3.5/5 Sour Grapes