I thought that today I would tackle reviewing one of my favourite films of all time, it may even be my favourite film of all time. Certainly, it is the film that I have watched the most. To the point where I can probably quote about three quarters of the dialogue accurately. That perhaps is not something to be proud of and probably puts me in some sort of anorak camp! What it does say though is that Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope is one of the most durable films of all time that has fans returning to it again and again.
I am not sure I remember my first viewing of the film, but what I do know is that it spurned somewhat of an obsession that has stayed with me to this day. George Lucas essentially created a film for all ages when he made A New Hope back in 1977 and its appeal to people all over the world is testament to the magic that he tapped into and his creative genius as a director and as a storyteller.
Because I am so passionate about the film, my concern with reviewing it was that I would have very few negatives to draw upon, as I would be blinded by nostalgia and my passion for the film. I have therefore strived to highlight a few faults as well as praising why A New Hope works so well. I have come at this from a unique angle, where I am tackling the film from several different areas. This is to help provide focus to the review and also because so many know the film so well, I do not think a general overview would really do it justice.
George Lucas knew what he was doing when he shaped the storyline for A New Hope, because he created a story that dealt with the absolute basic fundamentals of humanity. We have good vs evil as the Rebel Alliance frantically do battle across the galaxy with the evil Imperial Empire. This is particularly interesting when you think about scale. The Imperials are vast in numbers (or appear to be). The Death Star is not just a massive ship but a space station so huge it is near on impossible to imagine how long it took the Imperials to create it. Every time I see the Death Star I try to imagine how many rooms there are, what every person is doing on board and how many individual spaceships are sitting in docking bays. The Rebels however are shown to be a smaller close knit group and that is what makes the battle seem even more exciting, can the underdog topple the giant Empire?
While the battle rages on in the background, we also have family themes surfacing, Luke and his Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru Lars are central to developing the family themes as A New Hope gets underway. Luke is itching to escape the humdrum of his job and escape into the bigger world and follow what his friends are doing. This must be something so many can identify with, be it going to university, getting a better job, being stuck living the parents and yearning for something more exciting to do with your life. There is much yearning in A New Hope, but there is also a nod to accepting your day to day responsibilities.
Romance is there and is bubbling under in A New Hope, though this does not fully surface until The Empire Strikes Back, where Han and Leia are allowed to properly share a moment of intimacy. Again, this is Lucas showing restraint and being careful to allow certain themes not to surface too early.
The location choice of Tunisia was a wise one. The desolate landscape looks like another planet and the sweeping sand dunes make the viewer feel transported to a far off place that has never been explored. There is one particular scene that I adore, that is where R2D2 trundles alone through the rocky landscape, setting out to locate Ben Kenobi. There is something breathtakingly eerie about this scene, with the camera beautifully capturing the scale of the landscape and the viewer seeing this tiny droid engulfed and seemingly protected by it. I watch this scene and wonder what kind of creatures are lurking in the caves (Jawas aside) and let the imagination run wild.
The Tunisian desert lends itself well to Owen and Beru Lars’ farm, where they have moisture vaporators dotted around and droids plodding about doing work for them. It is seemingly the only home within miles which further makes Luke’s existence seem isolated.
The other locations are really interior locations, such as the wonderful Cantina, the Millennium Falcon and The Death Star. I not sure these come under locations, more scenes within the film.
Characters and Casting
You would be hard pushed to find someone who could not name you a central character from A New Hope. I remember nearly exploding with rage when a close friend admitted to me that he had never seen the Star Wars films. While I questioned how he had actually spent his childhood (not interested in Star Wars) it occurred to me that perhaps there are some people who genuinely aren’t that phased by the films…though I find this hard to believe, particularly if you are a male!
Anyway, the casting of the film is pretty eclectic. We have the authority of Sir Alec Guinness as the wise old hermit Obi Wan Kenobi. Possibly my favourite character in the A New Hope, Guinness exudes charm, warmth and wisdom through his careful delivery of the lines and even through his eyes, which have that look of a man who has seen the world. I always found solace in Kenobi because he comes across that grandfatherly type who you can trust in. The relationship he has with Luke Skywalker definitely stirs feelings of grandfather and grandchild, as the two gradually bond. When Kenobi passes on Anakin Skywalker’s old lightsabre to Luke, this struck me as a particularly grandfatherly kind of moment (you know the kind where a grandparent digs a treasure out of a box and announces they have been keeping something special for you).
Mark Hamill plays Luke with an understated charm and while he might not have the gravitas of the likes of Guinness, Cushing or even Ford, what he does bring is a certain sort of untapped energy and potential. This is perfect because that is essentially what the character of Luke Skywalker is all about. I have read reviews where Hamill’s acting has been criticised. What you have to remember is that he is not playing out Shakespeare or trying to out-act his peers, he is the relative newbie who is cutting his teeth, so if any lines are delivered without the right amount of conviction, then it is because the character of Luke is weary, learning and out of his depth, not Hamill.
Harrison Ford next. Cocky, self-assured pilot and gambler Han Solo is the rogue that we all love to love. He is the kind of man you would not want to be playing cards with because he would surely cheat, but he is so darned likeable. Maybe that is Ford’s effortless charm and wry smile, but he wins you over. I think it is helped that he comes with a wookie. If you are going to be mad at Han then you also need to be slightly cross with Chewbacca and who can be mad with that loveable ‘walking carpet’ as Leia affectionately refers to him!
Princess Leia is played by Carrie Fisher and I think most males have probably fancied her at some point in their lives. Fisher plays the part well and is feisty when challenged by Darth Vader right from the outset. From the moment she first speaks we know we are dealing with an untraditional princess. I think I was initially taken aback by her ballsy attitude, thinking that Lucas had gotten it wrong by making the princess snappy and perhaps even a bit stroppy. Shouldn’t she be all sweetness and light? On reflection, I think this partly how Lucas wrote the part but also partly how Fisher plays her. Having seen Carrie Fisher interviewed (she is a blast by the way if you have never watched her) I can see where the fiery spirit of Leia comes from.
Darth Vader is played by Dave Prowse and voiced by James Earl Jones. There is no denying that the booming tones of Jones lend themselves to Vader and bring about fear, authority and oppression. But all too often people focus on the voice of Vader, so what I wanted to do here was praise Dave Prowse. He had to convey the on-screen mannerisms of Vader and he does so with considerable aplomb. The marching through the Death Star showing his frustration, the aggressive pointing and the sharp turns of his head that he makes all add much needed layers to the character. Prowse could have just gone through the motions and played the part as a bad guy in a mask, but Prowse’s presence is truly felt (excuse the pun) in the role. Prowse continues to appear at fan conventions and is an ambassador for Star Wars, so should be thanked for his allegiance to the Star Wars series.
Vader’s lesser discussed ‘sidekick’ is the oddly named Grand Moff Tarkin. Hammer Horror stalwart Peter Cushing took up this part and is simultaneously charming and a tad creepy. I always felt a bit sorry for Cushing, who carved a wonderful career playing all kinds of untrustworthy types in the Hammer films, yet in real life he was known to be a quiet and utterly amiable man. If you ever get the chance, watch him as Doctor Who, he played the character in two feature length films and this gives a rare glimpse into the softer side of Cushing. He excels in the role and if I could make one criticism here, it is that we do not see enough of Grand Moff Tarkin in the film. Rumours abound that the character will be appearing in the new Star Wars film Rogue One which is set for release in the winter of 2016, so maybe this will be a chance to see the character properly fleshed out.
I must give a nod to Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker as C3PO and R2D2, who provide the film with some great comedic moments. Daniels’ C3P0 is a little camp, pompous and irritating. You cannot help but like C3PO as he relentlessly blames everything that goes wrong on R2D2, who seems to just put up with it! I always wondered why R2D2 didn’t just leave C3P0 for good and hang out with some other droids! The droid costumes are superb though and I love the fact that they look battle-worn, as this adds authenticity.
Ask a hard-core fan to pick to pick their favourite Star Wars moment and it will probably come down to one of a handful of scenes from A New Hope. I would wager those moments would be the lightsabre dual between Vader and Kenobi, the Death Star run with the X-Wing fighters being pursued by the Imperial Tie-Fighters or where Vader and the Stormtroopers first burst into the Rebel ship at the start of the film. For me, it is none of those. My favourite moment is the Cantina scene. This is where Luke and Ben Kenobi venture to a place called Mos Eisely. As Ben tactfully describes it ‘you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.’ Curiously, this is where Han Solo hangs out, so he keeps good company!
Why do I like the Cantina scene so much? Maybe it is the upbeat jazzy music played by Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes, now there’s a catchy name for a group! Or perhaps it is the grumpy bartender Wuher who clearly hates serving the general public. There are so many weird and wonderful creatures and visitors that this scene is a science fiction fan’s (and a toy merchandiser’s dream). I used to love seeing how many different background monsters I could spot and it seemed each time that I watched A New Hope I would manage to find someone who I had not seen before and that was before George Lucas went and added a heap of new footage in which even more creatures were introduced.
I liked to imagine all the conversations that were going on at the tables in the Cantina, picturing what these creatures got up to once they left the venue. Did Greedo have a wife? Did Ponda Baba (also known as Walrus Man) have any more hideous orange anoraks in his wardrobe? Who is the mysterious pilot Bo Shek and what ship does he fly? There was so much going on here, that you could build your back stories for all of these extra characters.
Least Favourite Scene
This is a shocker, but my least favourite part of Star Wars is the Death Star run. I know this is a firm fan favourite and is the end finale. Maybe that is part of why I do not like it, because it signals that the film is coming to an end and all the excitement will soon be over. I personally find the scene does play out for a minute or two more than it should. We get a lot of Rebel pilots getting shot down by the Tie-Fighter pilots and making unsuccessful attempts at getting into the trench of the Death Star before Luke Skywalker finally has his go. This is not a major criticism, I just feel that if you compare the length of this scene to other key scenes in the film, this one does seem to go on a bit too long.
Only John Williams could have invented a score that resonates so strongly with audiences to this day. Who hasn’t gotten goose bumps when that opening theme kicks in and the title credits start to scroll with ‘A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…’
Where Williams’ score excels is that there is a distinct piece of music designed for each situation. The tense Imperial march is assertive and typically plays whenever Vader or the Empire are about to appear or unleash something nasty. Williams relies on the full pelt of the brass ensemble to deliver the authority here. Then we have a more whimsical piece of music with flutes for scenes set at the Lars’ farm. One of my favourites is the unnerving music that plays when the Sand people attack. Williams uses plenty of percussion and crashing pots and pans to create a feeling of primitiveness. This really works well with the Sand people, who are temperamental and vicious. The music here is not unlike that used in the film The Planet Of The Apes, when the astronauts are initially exploring the planet.
I have not gone into much detail, if any, on the wealth of special effects which still look better than the majority of CGI used to this day. Industrial Light and Magic who provided the special effects succeeded in creating something truly spectacular and it is fair to say that without the stunning space battles, lightsabre duals and sheer level of detail achieved on the set pieces, A New Hope would perhaps not be so convincing.
When the characters, the location, the plot, the soundtrack and the creative direction of Lucas combine, they amount to a truly enjoyable film experience. A New Hope wins you over because it is pure escapism that you can return to over and over. It makes you feel good, it heightens your imagination, it just works on so many levels. If you haven’t seen it yet, stop reading my review and go and buy it!
(Author Benjamin Fastnedge – themovieandthemuse).