Luke Skywalker joins forces with a Jedi Knight, a cocky pilot, a Wookiee and two droids to save the galaxy from the Empire’s world-destroying battle station, while also attempting to rescue Princess Leia from the mysterious Darth Vader.
I don’t think I’ve ever watched this film from the angle of evaluating it, cinematically. Now, I’ve watched it a number of times, of course, because I love the Star Wars series. I mean, for goodness sake, I have a silhouette of Leia with “Somebody has to save our skins” tattooed on my arm. But, this was a very different watching experience that I’m glad I had.
It’s very clear why 1977’s Star Wars is on the AFI list of 100 Greatest Films Over 100 Years. This film contains a wealth of new film and special effects techniques for the time. That’s really what makes it such an important film. That, and that it was truly one of the first of its kind. That’s not to say that there weren’t other science fiction epics. I mean, only recently I said that 2001: A Space Odyssey walked so Star Wars could run. So, there were plenty of other sci-fi movies out there. Just none that were as elaborate as George Lucas’s Star Wars.
The world building is one of the most impressive things about this first Star Wars film, later to have the additional title of A New Hope. I’ve been trying to wrap my head around how much went into this film to create a world that the audience fully buys into. The thought that went into the set design, the costume design, the sound design, not to mention the writing. Using scroll text to give us some exposition in the beginning was a smart move. It puts us right in the middle of the action, while giving us a bit of background into what is happening.
Now, I hate to say it, but Alec Guinness’ Obi-Wan Kenobi seems to solely serve that purpose. He gives us the run down on Luke’s father, he knows the ins and outs of being a Jedi, gives us some background on Vader and the Empire. Yes, he’s there to guide Luke, but really all the information he gives us is background information. And, as soon as he gives the audience and Luke all the information that we need, Obi-Wan is killed off. Thankfully, this was later rectified with us getting a more in depth look into who Obi-Wan Kenobi really is, but if we’re just looking at this film (which we are), he serves no greater purpose than to give the audience the exposition that is needed to carry on with the story. Which is a shame because, if you have Alec Guinness, you use Alec Guinness.
Would Star Wars be such a success without the score by John Williams? Honestly, I don’t think so. The score is an equal in the film. It’s equal to the costumes, the set design, all of it. All the different recognizable themes became iconic all on their own.
Speaking of iconic, let’s talk casting. Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, and Mark Hamill had such tremendous chemistry. The film would not have worked without it, especially once Obi-Wan dies. It’s once the three characters are finally together that the magic moment hits you and you’re like “wow. There’s something special here.” The moment that all three are trapped in the trash compactor, that’s when the audience realizes that they care about these characters, now that they are in even more danger. And, to think about how this film blasted them all to stardom so quickly, when they all thought the film would flop, Lucas included. And, there are certain indications that nobody thought this film would go anywhere. I mean, for goodness sake, throughout the film they mispronounce words and then pronounce them correctly over and over again, and nobody ever thought to fix that.
The filmmakers truly struck gold with Star Wars. There was nothing truly like it at the time in film. And the different effects used and camera tricks were groundbreaking. Although, as the film has been updated by Lucas over and over again, I must say that I am not a fan of the blended CGI. The viewer can clearly tell what’s an original effect from 1977, and what’s an updated effect from when Lucas went bonkers with it (Han shot first.)
Is this my favorite Star Wars film? No. It’s not even my favorite in the original trilogy. My favorite is Empire Strikes Back, with Return of the Jedi in a close second. A New Hope is last on my list in regard to the original films. I do think that it is the weakest of the three. But, honestly, that’s saying something because this film isn’t weak. The world building it does alone makes it strong. The film does feel like it’s meant to be part of a trilogy, as it merely feels like Act 1 of a larger story. Thank goodness that’s what it turned out to be.