Summer Movie Showdown: "Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope" Review


Summer Movie Showdown: "Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope" Review

-- Rating: PG (sci-fi violence, brief language)
Length: 121 minutes
Release Date: May 25, 1977
Directed by: George Lucas
Genre: Action/Adventure/Fantasy

At the beginning of "Star Wars: A New Hope," the audience is introduced to a young man named Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who watches the twin suns of planet Tatooine and daydreams about life outside of the moisture farm he works on with his Aunt Beru (Shelagh Fraser) and Uncle Owen (Phil Brown). He seems rather skinny and unassuming, not like the hero that he will shortly become. It isn't until he encounters droids R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) that his destiny begins to take shape.

The two droids have a message from Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) for Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness). Luke guesses that this is Ben Kenobi, an old hermit who has been hiding on Tatooine for years. His Aunt and Uncle warn him against visiting Kenobi, which unfortunately were their last words to Luke. He later finds them dead, being murdered by a group of stormtroopers from the Imperial Empire. Luke decides to visit Obi-Wan and go with him to another planet called Alderaan to train to be a Jedi like his father. They find passage on the ship of pirate Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and wookie Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew). When they find out that Alderaan has been destroyed at the behest of Darth Vader (David Prowse, voiced by James Earl Jones), they decide to destroy the Death Star that obliterated the planet.

Unfortunately, Princess Leia, a leader in the Rebel Alliance that is trying to destroy the evil Imperial Empire, is on the Death Star. They launch a risky plan to rescue Leia that succeeds after some very tense scenes that are peppered with Solo's trademark wit and one-liners. While trying to escape, Obi-Wan is killed after he challenges Darth Vader to a fight in order to buy some time for the rest of the group to escape unscathed. Luke is despondent over the loss of his mentor so soon after finding the bodies of his Aunt and Uncle. This makes Luke even more determined to help the rebels destroy the Death Star, blissfully unaware that Darth Vader is his father and could be killed in the fracas.

In 1977, the year that "Star Wars: A New Hope" was released, special effects were not what they were today. Lucas and his film crew had to use old-school Hollywood smoke and mirrors to create the scenes where spaceships and fighter craft are seen flying through space. Lucas always envisioned bigger, more impressive special effects, but the technology just wasn't in place at the time. Instead, fans are treated to a wide range of alien characters that were simply groundbreaking at the time. In particular, a very entertaining scene in the Mos Eisley Cantina features several alien creatures, including Ponda Baba and Greedo. Even by today's standards, these alien creatures were so imaginative that they have yet to be equaled in movie history.

Another marvel of "Star Wars: A New Hope" is that there is hardly any violence in it and there is no blood. Yet somehow, the audience completely buys Darth Vader as an evil menace who is to be feared. It isn't easy to create fear when the stormtroopers are comically bad at shooting, not to mention the fact that on rare occasions when they do hit their target, no blood comes out of the wounds. Despite this, writer/director Lucas creates an atmosphere that is truly dangerous to the antagonists of the film, thanks in large part to his imagination and the deep, spooky baritone of Jones.

In the 1970s, science fiction was on the cusp of becoming culturally obsolete. Many had written sci-fi off altogether until Lucas and his company made "Star Wars: A New Hope." In this way, one film pretty much saved an entire genre of film from possible extinction, a claim that few films can make. The genre has steadily built a following since then and has blossomed in the 2000s with high-quality series such as the "Battlestar Galactica" remake, which turned sci-fi into must-see television. The genre is experiencing a renaissance of sorts, as all the Star Wars movies and other space-set films and television shows are now staples. All science fiction films and TV shows made since 1977 owe a huge debt to the Star Wars series, because there is a chance that they may never have been made had Lucas not been bold enough to commit his sci-fi epic to film. People can argue about the changes that Lucas made to the film in the 1990s, but whether you saw the newer version or the original '70s version, it likely stuck in your mind like few films have done since.

Rating 4 out of 5