Star Wars: A New Hope

4 stars

Theatrical release: 5/25/1977
PG; 121 minutes
Produced by Gary Kurtz
Written and directed by George Lucas

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

January 19, 2016

Well, of course four stars. George Lucas' defining work is an entertainment staple, a groundbreaking piece of cinema, a launch pad for not just a franchise but an entire generation of blockbuster filmmaking, and just a plain good time, no matter how many times you've seen it.

Sure, it may look somewhat dated now, but only in the sense that the visuals of a blockbuster today are so expansive that every inch of the screen is filled with detail. In terms of what's actually on the screen in A New Hope, the visuals themselves still hold up. The production design is effective — especially given the budgetary limitations that are now well known. The remastered Blu-ray makes for impressive viewing.

The story (for the moment) is simple in its sweep and straightforward in its details (the evil Galactic Empire are trying to eradicate the rebel forces of good), but larger-than-life in its scale; the Death Star has planet-destroying capabilities, where a death toll in the billions can be brushed aside in the terms of elevated space adventure. (Hey, there are plenty of planets out there!) The notion of the Force is a deft balance of fantasy/mysticism in a world of space technology. It's earnest and effective and lent gravitas by Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan. A New Hope has an exceptionally lean narrative, which makes it easy to jump aboard for the ride.

Meanwhile, the level of imagination evident throughout the production is easy to understate but really shouldn't be. The designs of droids like C-3PO and R2-D2 provide personality and charm to what could've been cold, nuts-and-bolts hardware. The designs of the spaceships are iconic not simply because they were in Star Wars, but because they were impressive in their epic, foreboding scale (star destroyers) or distinctiveness (the Millennium Falcon). And, of course, we have lightsabers. The story's concept of a weapon that's technological but also hearkens back to a more civilized era is an effective building block in the construct of a grander mythology. Granted, A New Hope doesn't have the most dynamic lightsaber duels. (The big face-off between Vader and Obi-Wan looks hilariously quaint compared to the other movies, especially the prequels. But you have to start somewhere.)

The characters are effective archetypes. Harrison Ford as Han Solo is of course funny and awesome in his jaded me-first Han Solo-ness (and his is the very type of personality presence lacking throughout the prequels). Carrie Fisher's Princess Leia is a good female heroine for the movie's late 1970s era; she participates fully in the action even as she's the one being kidnapped and rescued. (I'm still always amused by the fact that she has a British accent for one scene.) And Luke Skywalker is the young kid in us all, earnestly wanting to do good in a galaxy filled with intimidations much larger than himself. As such, his naivete might be his most crucial asset. Mark Hamill's novice performance here can sometimes provoke good-natured laughs, as he seems to be playing a character even younger than he actually is. The droids, as mentioned, are charming and still always make me smile. And Darth Vader is, well, Darth freakin' Vader. His design looks like something straight out of a comic book, providing a visual shorthand for evil. You realize with him, along with many things in the movie, Lucas really took it on faith that something so stylized and elevated would ultimately work so effectively on a big screen in an era when the fantastical was eschewed.

Watching this again recently, I was struck by the effectiveness of the prolonged assault on the Death Star and how well the editing rhythms of that sequence have aged. Lots of actions sequences can feel antiquated after nearly 40 years. This one doesn't. It still feels taut and well-paced, even with the repetition and protraction.

Honestly, any review of Star Wars: A New Hope is pretty much needless at this point. We all know this movie so well. To go into more detail is irrelevant. I'm ticking off the most basic of boxes here for the sake of going on record. But hey — to not be on record for Star Wars seems like an oversight, so consider that fixed.

Special Edition comments: George Lucas takes a lot of flak — and understandably so — for his tinkering with the original trilogy, most of which happened for the 1997 theatrical re-release (although there were still more changes in subsequent DVD and Blu-ray releases). My thoughts on this are probably fairly typical among most fans who are not also die-hard purists. I favor — or at least am not against — most enhancements that either cleaned up the original footage (for example, removing wires that were obvious in certain model shots, like Leia's ship being captured by the star destroyer) or enhanced certain visual effects (like the destruction of Alderaan or the Death Star) or even subtly added new shots that feel like they organically belong (like the CG droid salvage freighter rolling across the Tatooine desert).

I am not in favor of in-your-face shots that add obvious CG creatures (many of the Mos Eisley exteriors) and I could've done without the re-added, previously lost scene with Jabba (digitally inserted over the actor from the original omitted footage) threatening Han, which just seems like a weird deleted extra every time I see it. And, obviously, Greedo shooting first is the epitome of wrong-headed and unnecessary revisionist movie history.

Next: Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

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21 comments on this review

Jammer
Tue, Jan 19, 2016, 1:25am (UTC -5)
Here's the most significant content update on this site in a few years. And if you didn't already see it, here's the introduction.
Dimitris Kiminas
Tue, Jan 19, 2016, 3:08am (UTC -5)
I got the automated mail and I couldn't believe my eyes!!

'Jammer is making fun of us' I thought, but no, here are the reviews!! Unbelievable!!

Jammer, thanks for letting us revisit the films through your thoughts!
Paul M.
Tue, Jan 19, 2016, 5:28am (UTC -5)
Well this is unexpected! Now on to reading... :)
James
Tue, Jan 19, 2016, 3:18pm (UTC -5)
For me, the lengthy space battle is what keeps this from being a perfect film. I think it has not aged well. It feels like a video game sequence, with a lot of repetitious flying through valleys and one mission objective after another. Funnily enough it was probably the same reason which made the film so loved in the first place.
Evan
Tue, Jan 19, 2016, 10:00pm (UTC -5)
Whoa! Thanks for the new reviews, Jammer! I've been reading this site for 10+ years, and it's great to see a new ambitious section here.
MidshipmanNorris
Wed, Jan 20, 2016, 11:27am (UTC -5)
Guess that kind of settles things for the STID review.
Jammer
Wed, Jan 20, 2016, 12:18pm (UTC -5)
Barring my untimely death, the STID review will still happen. One has nothing to do with the other. As stated elsewhere, these reviews were posted now because it made the most sense, whereas I am so late with STID that it could wait a while longer.
Robert
Wed, Jan 20, 2016, 3:23pm (UTC -5)
Not a person among us will fault you for finding it more fun to review TFA than STID....
Zoticus
Fri, Jan 22, 2016, 9:14am (UTC -5)
I remember how in the 1970s American films were moving towards a more intimate, intelligent approach to storytelling and then Jaws and Star Wars (or rather, Spielberg and Lucas) came along to turn things around. It's a development for which I am not very grateful. Funny how Lucas made American Graffiti and then this Industrial Light & Magical BS.
Chrome
Fri, Jan 22, 2016, 10:34am (UTC -5)
"I remember how in the 1970s American films were moving towards a more intimate, intelligent approach to storytelling and then Jaws and Star Wars"

Do you mean like Mad Max, Grease, and Animal House? I think you might want to get off your film high-horse. As MST3K has taught us, there have been less intelligent films throughout the ages.

What specific movies do you think were ruined because of Star Wars?
grumpy_otter
Sat, Mar 19, 2016, 4:24pm (UTC -5)
I so disagree with this! -- "The big face-off between Vader and Obi-Wan looks hilariously quaint compared to the other movies, especially the prequels."

That lightsaber battle is amazingly choreographed and epic in its meaning. We see it almost as an aside as Luke notices it happening off in the background while they try to escape. We truly question whether Ben can beat Vader--it is only later that we realize Ben was trying to distract Vader long enough for the others to escape.

When he stands and allows Vader to kill him, I still get chills.

The overly acrobatic and staged battles of the prequels look utterly fake and ridiculous compared to this battle.
Peter G.
Tue, Oct 24, 2017, 11:49am (UTC -5)
@ Geekgarious,

"You might enjoy this essay I wrote about Star Wars. I want to write more but too have been super busy.

https://enlighteningponderings.com/2017/05/11/the-sound-of-her-voice-how-np rs-star-wars-taught-me-to-build-my-world/"

It's good to know that Star Wars still worked for someone who never saw the films the way others did. It may interest you to know that one summer, back before audio editing was easy for anyone to do (mid 90's), a friend of mine in camp had brought with him audio cassettes of the original SW trilogy. He'd basically rigged a system in his house where he had a tape deck connected to the audio output of his VCR so that he could play SW and record the audio onto a cassette. I scoffed at first - what a geek! But despite my hard-headedness on a long bus trip one day I found myself desperate for entertainment and asked if I could borrow the cassettes for ANH. I was astonished to almost instantly fall straight into the story and was just as riveted as I would be if I was watching the film on a screen. In some ways it was even better since my imagination had a more active role to play, and then of course there's the game of trying to place every moment of visuals with each sound effect and speech. Now, this is different from your experience since I had years of experience rewatching the films and so had a visual track in my mind already. But I can certainly grok how good it can be to engage the imagination using a different sense than normal (next step is to breath in the Star Wars smell-track).
Geekgarious
Tue, Oct 24, 2017, 11:58am (UTC -5)
It's too bad your friend wasn't aware of the radio dramas. I actually prefer Brock Peters' version of Darth Vader from those over James Earl Jones' version. Peters' played Vader as driven by passion, whereas JEJ voices him like a robot.
Peter G.
Tue, Oct 24, 2017, 12:16pm (UTC -5)
Well you've got me. I just resolved myself to obtain and listen to the radio plays. I'm actually putting on a theatrical radio play this weekend (of Arsenic & Old Lace) so 'tis the season.
SlackerInc
Sun, Mar 18, 2018, 5:15am (UTC -5)
I can't be the only "Star Wars" fan with young children who has pondered how to curate the movies for them. One thing I've done so far that is probably unusual is to procrastinate the decision. I would like them to be at least ten before seeing any of them, so they can fully appreciate the intricacies of the story. If they watch them when really young and then repeat over the years, they could eventually grow into it, but that (IMO) robs them of having the optimal initial experience.

This original "Star Wars" is one of only four films in the franchise that I like--the other three being "Empire Strikes Back" (obviously), "Revenge of the Sith", and "Rogue One). For many years, I (like many fans) considered ESB even better than the original film. But thinking about curating the series for my children has made me reconsider. If I want to show them only those four movies, I would be ending on an unresolved, downer note.

So I think I may instead just start with this movie, treat that ending with the medals the way it was originally intended--as a sign of total victory and "happly ever after", even if Chewie got hosed--and then after they have sat with that for a while, show them RotS and R1.
Peter G.
Sun, Mar 18, 2018, 9:36am (UTC -5)
@ SlackInc,

I sometime contest facts as presented but rarely will challenge someone's opinion on something, and everyone is entitled to have a unique view on something. But in this case I feel compelled to point out that your view of the SW films seems excessively snobbish, and I suggest you might want to reconsider deciding *for someone else* what's a good SW film and what isn't and keeping the material from them. RotJ isn't everyone's favorite, for instance, but pretending like it isn't part of the original trilogy is equivalent to switching off a film halfway through and telling your kids "that's the end! I say so!" And if you think kids won't enjoy the Ewoks then frankly you're crazy. Whether you think they're awesome or not is really irrelevant. We're talking about children! I do agree with your instinct that ending the series on the final note of Empire would be wrong. So there's an obvious solution to that!
William B
Mon, Mar 19, 2018, 4:37am (UTC -5)
@SlackerInc, Peter:

I might be showing myself to be somewhat ignorant about Star Wars history, but I get the impression that A New Hope was originally plausibly meant to be potentially self-contained and that many key story decisions for the rest of the trilogy -- including having Vader be Luke's father -- were made during the writing/etc. of Empire (e.g. my Wikipedia-level understanding is that Leigh Brackett's original draft before her death had Luke's father appear as a ghost and not as Vader before her death). My impression is that Lucas has said conflicting things, but that at the time ANH was produced, it *was* the whole story, though of course Lucas was probably thinking up other ideas. Of course the Dark Father-esque name Vader has suggests that some germ of the idea was always there (at least that he was a potentially dark father figure), but still, while cutting off RotJ from TESB is definitely Wrong in a story sense regardless of what one thinks of RotJ, I'm not sure that one necessarily has to accept ESB/RotJ to accept ANH. I mean, I love Empire and while it's been a long time, I don't remember my problems with RotJ being that bad that I would want to cut it out, but ANH really can play as a self-contained story, and I'm not clear that this defies the spirit of ANH proper all that much. As I said though, my take would be that most people enjoy ESB/RotJ so I would encourage watching them.
William B
Mon, Mar 19, 2018, 4:39am (UTC -5)
Though, I also agree with Peter that it's good to consider what children will think of it, in general; I was interested in the narrower point of whether, as Peter said, "RotJ isn't everyone's favorite, for instance, but pretending like it isn't part of the original trilogy is equivalent to switching off a film halfway through and telling your kids "that's the end! I say so!"" I think it's slightly different than switching a film off halfway through, for the reasons I mentioned.
Chrome
Mon, Mar 19, 2018, 9:17am (UTC -5)
Well, obviously a 10-year-old will be able to find a way to watch the other movies on their own (all he needs is a friend with cable tv).

Also, skipping ROTJ misses a huge payoff for Vader, not just from the original trilogy, but from the prequels as well. The whole story behind the prophecy of Anakin being the Chosen One who will balance the force relies on him casting away the Dark Side in the end and destroying the Emperor.
RandomThoughts
Sun, Apr 15, 2018, 5:45am (UTC -5)
Hello Everyone!

I sometimes feel badly for the people that didn't get to watch this as I did: 11 times in the theater and once at an outdoor. Yes, it was basic in hindsight, but darned if it didn't make my blood rush every time.

It didn't go straight to VHS (that'd be a few years away), and wasn't watched a few months later on a streaming service. After it was out of the cinema, that was it. It ran for a full year at one of the local movie houses, with notes in the paper on the movie page (24 weeks running!). And while we waited for the (hoped for) sequel, we talked about how big a baddie Darth Vader was, and read everything we could about it. I even read the novel...

Tee-shirts of Vader, wanting to be like Luke (except for the whining part early on, though that showed him to be human and not perfect), putting hair into strange buns like Leia for parties and whatnot, having that poster up in your room... it was just simply a phenomena. I don't believe I've ever seen anything like this before or since.

To be new to it, and just watch this one and then the next one immediately after... well... those folks will never know what it was like to wait a true three years for the next movie, and with no internet to release spoilers...

And as for some of the movie moments... as a dear friend of mine said at the time, those rebel pilots "Died Hard", as they screamed on the way down before piling it in. Movies before that seldom had any of the good guys dying very often, and if they did it was quite noble. Never before had I seen the likes of someone saying "Stay on target...", not listening to their wingman, and then exploding in a ball of flame while yelling in pain/surprise/anguish. Maybe that was part of the thrill... it showed some of the good guys meeting awful ends. Even though we didn't know them, it hurt. It made it a bit more real, and biting.

There are so many more things... and we had to stew about them for two to three years after our last viewing.

It was simply... an amazing time...

Regards... RT
Davidw
Sun, Dec 16, 2018, 3:47pm (UTC -5)
perhaps this is heresy, but I would like someone to explain the principles of why they like this movie and then apply it to any other movie.

I have never seen it successfully done.

Could anyone really imagine people liking this movie if they released it today and no one ever heard of it before?

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