It’s hard to believe we’ve known the Force for 40 years.
Yes, Star Wars: A New Hope is officially forty years old. Now the question remains- does it stand the test of time?
Forget the sequels and prequels. Ignore the re-releases and edits by George Lucas. This is the original movie. It would kick off an extended universe and various spin-offs.
Everyone knows the story. A young princess sends two droids into hiding with top secret plans of the Empire’s secret weapon. A young farm boy finds the droids and learns of a secret plot. Enter a wizened mentor, a cocky pilot and a furry sidekick. Oh, the pilot has a starship that can complete the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. From there, they set out to rescue the princess and destroy the Death Star.
In terms of story, the plot is straightforward. We jump into the middle of the action and move on from there. Lucas’ writing ability is no work of genius, but he does well in setting up Luke, Leia and Han. We get hints of the galaxy’s history, and there are many references to the Clone Wars and “dark times.”
Mark Hamill is good at showing Luke Skywalker’s vulnerability and resolve to become a Jedi knight. You can see the change come over Hamill as he returns home to find his uncle and aunt are dead. His eventual growth is shown as he begins to embrace the Force and let go of his feelings. Hamill’s being the focus is a big part of what makes the trilogy work.
As Leia, the late Carrie Fisher projects a feisty persona and a tough-girl demeanour. While no means an Ellen Ripley, she holds her own, and this is true in the cell block fight. She has some of the best lines, such as calling Chewie a “walking carpet.”
Yet it is Harrison Ford who steals the show as Han Solo. Often witty and sarcastic, he goes from being a selfish pilot to galactic hero. Even when he’s thinking of himself, you can’t help but like him. Ford retains Gary Cooper’s presence and swagger of Jeff Bridges. His charisma is one of the main highlights of the film.
The rest of the cast do well in their roles. C3PO and R2D2 provide the comic relief, and it is not overdone or drawn out. Alec Guinness provides a warm, sage-like gravitas as Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi. His grandfatherly visage masks a keen intellect and stoic vision. Even after he meets his match, Kenobi’s presence is still felt throughout the film.
Peter Cushing’s portrayal of Grand Moff Tarkin is steely and intense. It is a shame that he appears in one Star Wars film, because his villain is truly menacing. Finally, special credit goes to James Earl Jones for his powerful voicing of Darth Vader.
Technically, the film is very good with 1970s VFX. While some might call them dated, the opposite is true. Lucas’ goal was to create a “used space” which looks and feels real. He did not want to emulate the pristine vision seen in Kubrick’s 2001. Indeed, the Alien movies would follow suit. So would Battlestar Galactica.
Ben Burtt and John Dystrka’s effects are pretty cool even today. Whether it’s a blaster or a TIE Fighter, the sounds are spot-on and realistic. Look no further than the cell block shootout.
Special credit must be given to the makeup effects by Rick Baker. This is especially true in the Mos Eisley scenes. Baker’s finest work is with Chewie, whom is played by Peter Mayhew. Using a suit of yak hair and wool, he succeeds in making the Wookie both fierce and lovable.
Last but not least, the film’s score is perfect. John Williams’ sound helps to set the mood and feel of the story. Indeed, it brings to mind the scores of 1930s and 1940s movies. The climatic Death Star finale is one of his best pieces of work to date. This is among his best work as a composer.
Much is made about Lucas’ various edits over the years. The 1997 Jabba the Hutt bit is neat, but it feels a bit redundant after the Greedo scene. Sharp-eared fans can also hear changes in dialogue and sound in 1997, 2004 and 2012. In this writer’s opinion, the film is able to stand on its own without changes.
A New Hope is a fine piece of science-fiction, and it stands the test of time. While Empire Strikes Back may surpass it, this film did change the way people go to the movies. This would be the first but not the last time people would go crazy about Star Wars.
Forty years on, the Force is strong with the fans. Here’s hoping it will be just as strong for the next forty years.