Revisiting Star Wars: A New Hope

It's a little odd for me to think of this movie as "A New Hope" or "Episode IV". When I saw it in 1977 it was just "Star Wars". I was a few months away from my 6th birthday. I was living with my grandparents, uncle, and mother in Brooklyn while my father was settling into his new job in Connecticut, with my mother and I joining him later that summer. 

I'll open with some thoughts on the Special Editions vs the original releases. It is worth noting that Lucas constantly tweaked the original trilogy. For example, the subtitle "Episode IV - A New Hope" was added, to the best of my knowledge, in a 1981 re-release. C-3PO was given added dialogue in the Death Star explaining how to deactivate the tractor beam. Luke went from saying "Blast it Biggs where are you?" to "Blast it Wedge where are you?" I'm sure there's some web sites which list all the changes made but I'm bringing this up primarily to point out that while the Special Edition represented a large-scale change, it was another link in the tinkering of the films.

Summarizing the film seems pointless, though I will walk through it in roughly chronological order. And though the prequel trilogy did not exist when it was made, I will be examining connections with them.

The opening is iconic, starting with the opening text crawl. I remember hushing my uncle as he tried to read the text to me - "I can read it Fred". I was a very young reader. That opening crawl was a great way to give an info-dump. We've got an Evil Galactic Empire. A Rebel Alliance. Stolen Death Star Plans. This could all have filled an entire movie (and apparently it is going to be). And there's countless role-playing adventures people have played where the players got to be the Rebels who retrieved the stolen plans.

Once we get to the opening scene we get a treat, with a Rebel starship fleeing a huge Imperial Star Destroyer. We get to witness the doomed stand of the Rebels, Princess Leia hiding the plans in R2-D2 and being captured by Darth Vader. Darth Vader absolutely terrified me. I look back on that fondly as when I took my daughter Jasmine to see the 3D re-release of The Phantom Menace Darth Maul absolutely terrified her. I spoke with her about it, telling her how I'd felt about seeing Darth Vader, and talking about how he was just a man wearing a ton of makeup - and like Darth Vader, they gave him a special voice.

Looking at the plans, it's interesting to see how much technology has changed. Looking at it now it seems interesting how there seems to be only one copy of the plans. Nowadays, the idea of making multiple copies of them seems rather obvious. However. computer technology and, more importantly, common knowledge of that technology, has come a long way in the decades (decades!) since the original release.

A lot of information is compressed in Princess Leia's interactions with Darth Vader and other Imperials, as well as conversations among the Imperial leadership. We get hints of an Empire with a Senate leftover from the Old Republic. Being a Senator gives Princess Leia a fair amount of freedom, enough such that the thought of taking a senator a prisoner makes some of the Imperial officers nervous - to the extent that Darth Vader has a need to fake the Rebel ship sending a distress call and a cover story that all aboard were killed. We also learn how with the Death Star the Emperor now feels confident enough to finally abolish the Senate. I'm impressed by how much Lucas manages to get across in the background without it feeling like a long "info-dump". Between the opening crawl and the dialogue, Lucas brought an Empire to life while only showing a little. And he did it quickly. 

On to Tatooine. One thing which always surprised me was all of my friends wanted to be Han Solo - I couldn't understand that. Who wouldn't want to be Luke Skywalker. The boy dreaming of adventure, wanting to go out into the galaxy. I've read some criticism of Luke only wondering about his father, but all of his dialogue about his father is in response to others bringing it up - Owen claiming Obi-Wan died around the same time as Luke's father, Obi-Wan talking of how Luke's father had been a Jedi Knight. I don't know if Lucas truly new Luke's father was going to be Darth Vader all along - I've read conflicting reports - but the misdirection around Anakin (as we learned his name to be) makes sense in light of what we later learn. Of course Owen would always postpone Luke going off to "the Academy" for "just another season". One gets the impression that when Luke and Leia were split, Luke was designed to be the one that the Empire would find, were they to find one of Anakin's children. He kept his father's name and lived on his father's homeworld, with his father's stepbrother. The bet seemed to be that first, they had to hope that Vader and the Emperor would never know Anakin had children. And if they did  discover that, Tatooine would actually likely be the last place they would look. And if they did look, they would quickly find Obi-Wan and Luke. A bad thing, but hopefully at that point their search would stop, with Leia safe. But if a "Luke Skywalker from Tatooine with Legal Guardians Owen and Beru Lars" were to show up at the Academy, it is pretty certain Luke would become a pawn of the Empire.

Obi-Wan lying to Luke (or, telling the truth "from a certain point of view") does make sense as well. "How did my father die?" "Well Luke, actually, he's still alive. I left him burning to death after severing three of his limbs, but he survived that. You see he had just recently killed a bunch of children..." It does not seem the type of thing you spring on a kid.

Luke, despite being desperate for adventure, initially resists the call, but he's not going to be allowed to, with R2-D2 and C-3PO being tracked by Imperial Stormtroopers to his home, resulting in the deaths of Owen and Beru. To be honest, I'd like to understand a bit more about Owen and Beru's relationship with Luke - we mainly see Luke butting heads with Owen, but we learn that Owen really was trying to protect Luke, with Beru  understanding that they won't be able to indefinitely.

In any case, Luke and Obi-Wan make their way to Mos Eisley spaceport. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. I think this sequence is probably where the Special Edition versions hurt the most. First, it gets a little too busy, with Jawa's falling off their riding animal, creatures passing in front of the camera while Stormtroopers are stopping Luke. But the changes with Han are by far the worst. Originally, while Greedo was busy threatening Han, Han stealthily unholstered his blaster and blew Greedo away without Greedo firing a shot. Instead, they fire near simultaneously with Han being lucky Greedo missed at point-blank range. Secondly, the scene with Jabba serves no real purpose save to show what Jabba looks like. We gain no new information that we didn't already get from the conversation with Greedo.

Luke gets the express course in Jedi training on their way to Alderaan but, oops, the Death Star blew up Aldreaan. Hiding in smuggling compartments while captured by the Death Star, Han and Luke disguise as Stormtroopers to get off the Millennium Falcon. Obi-Wan goes off to deactivate the tractor beam and in short order, Han, Luke, and Chewbacca mount a rescue of Princess Leia. Which does not go to well, though is ultimately successful. There's not much to say save for it makes for a very enjoyable sequence of action scenes.

Obi-Wan, after deactivating the tractor beam, runs into Darth Vader. Here we are given our first lightsaber duel seen in the Star Wars universe. Compared to what would follow, both in the original trilogy and in the prequels, it is incredibly slow-paced. I've read that it is actually very much in keeping with Japanese kendo - not particularly flashy, but rather a constant effort to keep your blade centered while forcing your opponent's blade uncentered. 

After Obi-Wan's disappearing trick the Falcon makes its getaway, with Luke leaving at the urging of a disembodied Obi-Wan's voice. They make their way past TIE fighter sentries (another fun action scene) and to the Rebel Base at Yavin where the stolen plans are put to use to launch an attack against the small thermal exhaust port which gives access to the main reactor. Another fun space battle ensues. The Rebels are almost defeated, Luke is about to be blown away by Darth Vader when Han Solo, last scene leaving with reward money, makes his return and opens fire, destroying Vader's wingman and sending Vader out of the Death Star's trench. Cue Luke blowing up Death Star without the aid of a computer at the disembodied urging of Obi-Wan. Medals for Luke and Han (but not Chewbacca).

Greatest Moments: Binary sunset. Not a word spoken. Not too long. Just screams longing for something more. C-3PO's horror at a badly damaged R2-D2, despite all that bickering. The performances of Peter Cushing and Alec Guinness. As an adult I'd later encounter them in the Hammer horror films and the works of David Lean, but this was my first exposure to them and they added so much class to the film. Guinness grew to despise the Star Wars films (which from one perspective is understandable, given some of the roles he'd performed previously) but I can't imagine the films without him portraying the aging Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Cringeworthy Moments: "I was going to Tosche Station to pick up some power converters!" (I wonder if that's where Luke will be in The Force Awakens.) The Special Edition changes at Mos Eisley Spaceport.

Puzzling Moments: Did the Empire have some sort of power-saving initiative that stopped them from blasting an empty escape pod? In the movie poster displayed above, had Luke been working out? Look at that chest...

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