Star Wars Wednesdays: A New Hope

By Matthew Moorcroft

Highest Recommendation

  • Directed by George Lucas
  • Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Alec Guinness
  • PG

Welcome to Star Wars Wednesdays! Every Wednesday I’ll be talking about/looking at a new piece of Star Wars media, starting with the movies and going onwards into the shows, games, and maybe even comics and books if people are interested. These will work differently from my normal reviews as they will be also discussing the piece as it works within the canon of Star Wars as a whole.

When Jaws was released in 1975 with the biggest release of any film ever (464 screens on opening weekend), a precedent would be set that would affect movie theaters and the way the films are released forever. No longer would long, slow rollouts across the country be the norm – suddenly, movie premieres were a huge deal, and everybody could get experience the film at the same time rather then just head off to the theater and watch whatever is playing. Movies were now a cultural experience.

Just in time too, cause in 1977 the world was forever changed.

I always like to say that there are two periods of film history – before Star Wars and after Star Wars. The two eras are so distinctly different that’s it’s hard to argue against, and the effects and reverberations that the film had on the industry are pretty much undeniable at this point. Even nowadays it’s influence is felt and it’s hard to imagine a world without it; the amount of spin-off material it spawned, of course, aids a lot in that.

It’s easy to forget then just how god damn fucking good Star Wars, or A New Hope, actually is. I’ll go so far as to say it’s one of the all time great movies ever, just a gold standard on which every blockbuster should be compared. George Lucas’ distinct pulls through, yes, but this was also the era where he shined brightest, focused on economical, nostalgic storytelling and for that reason alone A New Hope is pretty much a perfect film in that regard.

Not a single moment is wasted here in setting viewers up. Rebels have successfully stolen plans, they fall into the hands of a young boy yearning for adventures, adventure begins, etc. It’s a time honored narrative structure but there is a reason it works and that adventurous spirit is throughout this entire film. When Obi-Wan first talks about Mos Eisley, he calls it a “wretched hive of scum and villainy”, letting you know that danger could around any and every corner.

It’s not secret that Lucas based Star Wars off of the serials he grew up, and those vibes are ingrained in the very core of the story. The basic structure of the film is essentially one cliffhanger after the next, except this time you don’t have to wait for the next part; a series of increasingly setpieces and interplay that all build and build to a rapturous climax. The Death Star trench run still remains one of the series’ best overall climaxes (maybe it’s very best in the long run) and it’s all down to it’s simplicity. And while later films would make things more complicated, there is a refreshing, striped down nature to A New Hope that makes it hold up better and better on each rewatch. John Williams’ score is also at it’s most joyous and sublime – unsure how hot of a take this is, but this is the best score in the franchise, not just for the standard it set for it’s themes but it’s usage of motifs, reoccuring melodies, the flow. It takes the space opera to it’s most literal, actually formulating an opera around it.

Lots of pieces have been written on how Marcia Lucas saved the film in post-production (which by the way, the editing in this thing is magnificent), but not enough love has been given to Gilbert Taylor, whose cinematography is just iconic. Lucas originally wanted Geoffrey Unsworth for the film but I can’t really imagine the film under anybody else but Taylor, especially once you get to the Death Star sequences. It’s hard to make those repeating hallways continually look interesting but they manage to do it here with ease. But the real treat of Taylor’s cinematography is how he manages to keep it looking almost like a documentary at points.

A long time ago in a galaxy, far, far away is right – the film treats that as fact and present the story as sort of a docu-drama about a long ancient group of people. The world feels authentic and lived in, the dirt and grime covering surfaces. The helmets of the Stormtroopers have dents and scratches, Darth Vader’s suit is somewhat ramshackled. It’s tangible and real. You can touch it, you can feel it. Even nowadays it feels like a real place you can visit and it’s exceptionally well designed and thought out.

And while the formula would be perfected later – and by later I mean the film right away this – A New Hope remains an impressive achievement all these years later. It’s simply just a phenomenal film, one that stands the test of time and would hold up even if it’s not part of a bigger franchise. Sublime stuff.

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