Sci-Fi Month: "Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope" Review

Photo Credit: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Sci-Fi Month: "Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope" Review

-- Rating: PG
Length: 121 minutes
Release Date: May 25, 1977
Directed by: George Lucas
Genre: Action/Adventure/Fantasy
Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher

This is the one. "Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope" is absolutely certain to go down in history - indeed, it has already to a certain extent as the great watershed moment of American cinema, after which nothing could ever be quite the same as it had been. Conceived by George Lucas in the early 1970s, the "Star Wars" franchise has spent nearly forty years radically transforming the worlds of film, technology and art. It has pushed the boundaries of what was thought possible in film, as well as blasting open the doors of merchandising and other tie-ins, all of which have contrived to make "Star Wars" not only a wholly unprecedented cultural phenomenon in the 2001 census, nearly one percent of the population of England and Wales gave their religion as "Jedi" but as a business success that rivals the software boom for its astonishing profits. All of this began with a single movie.

Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, the young Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) tends the moisture farm of his uncle, and dreams of adventure among the stars. When the Empire comes to call leaving devastation in its wake, as per usual Luke teams up with two droids and an old Jedi warrior to rescue a princess and deliver to the Rebellion the plans for a weapon of terrifying destructive power. Along the way, he must discover his inner potential and learn the mysterious ways of the Force - the energy field that surrounds every living thing in the universe and binds it together.

The plot of "Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope" is so well known, with so many tens of millions having seen it over and over, that it hardly bears repeating. Even the few people who've never seen it know what the Death Star is and how to hold a lightsaber. The vast sweep of the galaxy sketched out by Lucas has such a power to pull in the audience that it spawned no fewer than two sequels and three prequels. Even decades later, children clamor to dress up as its star characters for Halloween. The language of the film has entered the consciousness of the English-speaking world, e.g. "may the Force be with you."

Quite a lot of this power can be traced back to the extensive background research that was done by George Lucas during the early days of script development. For years, Lucas traveled with books about folklore and the role of the myth in human storytelling. Certain archetypes keep emerging in human stories that of the wise old warrior, the orphan with a lost legacy, the epic quest against great odds, etc.. and Lucas, for perhaps the first time in the history of film, consciously set out to capture as many of these archetypes as possible. For years, he struggled to craft his characters and plot ideas into some kind of shape. Eventually, he prevailed upon executives at Twentieth Century Fox to give him a shot.

What he produced was awful. After a special screening, no less than Steven Spielberg is said to have counseled Lucas to give up what looked to be an unintelligible mess of a movie. Fortunately, Lucas had worked for far too long, and for far too much, to just give up. As the film was entering post-production, it wouldn't be possible to reshoot any of its scenes, but Lucas was able to do the next best thing. He hired a new editor and recut what he had. He brought in John Williams to write what would eventually become the Oscar winning score. He added effects, cut scenes, hired James Earl Jones; all of the things an ambitious director could hope to do to make his rough cut into a finished product worthy of his vision.

Amazingly, it all worked out. After years of work and shoots at various exotic locations around the world, what finally emerged from the LucasFilm magic factory was the film of the decade, possibly of the century. Audiences were blown away by what they saw. Previous sci-fi movies had generally been either high camp, as with "Plan 9 From Outer Space," or had been ponderous and slow, as with "2001: A Space Odyssey." What the crowd got in "Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope" was a wild, swashbuckling adventure across half a galaxy. Wild worlds and violent clashes made the film enough of an action-packed adventure to bring in even viewers who would never dream of going to a science fiction film otherwise. The rest was history.

Rating: 4 out of 5