Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977)
November 6, 2015 2:18 AM - Subscribe

Luke Skywalker joins forces with a Jedi Knight, a cocky pilot, a wookiee and two droids to save the universe from the Empire's world-destroying battle-station, while also attempting to rescue Princess Leia from the evil Darth Vader.
posted by PigheadedGnu (62 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
How does one even begin to discuss this icon of a film? It changed cinema. It inspired so many people. It's both the beginning and the middle of the saga (so far). It's a key part of my childhood memories. Every part of the franchise is compared to this one. You can only appreciate the darkness of Empire after this real classic action-adventure serial about Hope. The climax of Jedi, with all these characters in (relatively) close proximity is amazing given how far apart they start out in this first film.

Looking at reviews from 1977 is fun.

Derek Malcolm writes in The Guardian: "It's an incredibly knowing movie. But the filching is so affectionate that you can't resent it. Whatever else you think about Star Wars, you can't call it the height of originality. The entirely mindless could go and see it with pleasure. But it plays enough games to satisfy the most sophisticated."

Roger Ebert : "The most fascinating single scene, for me, was the one set in the bizarre saloon on the planet Tatooine. As that incredible collection of extraterrestrial alcoholics and bug-eyed martini drinkers lined up at the bar, and as Lucas so slyly let them exhibit characteristics that were universally human, I found myself feeling a combination of admiration and delight."

Gary Arnold, The Washington Post: "The movie begins with a written prologue which seems to place us in an early episode of a vintage serial. Lucas brings this motif to a spectacular resolution in the climactic scenes, which ricochet from one perilous situation and rip-roaring battle to the next, suggesting the way a typical 12-chapter serial might look if one had the opportunity to cut it down to the action-packed essentials."

Vincent Canby, the New York Times: "It's difficult to judge the performances in a film like this. I suspect that much of the time the actors had to perform with special effects that were later added in the laboratory. Yet everyone treats his material with the proper combination of solemnity and good humor that avoids condescension. One of Mr. Lucas's particular achievements is the manner in which he is able to recall the tackiness of the old comic strips and serials he loves without making a movie that is, itself, tacky. Star Wars is good enough to convince the most skeptical 8-year-old sci-fi buff, who is the toughest critic."

David Robinson in The Times: "[It's fun.] And, indeed, it is. Star Wars unashamedly restores all those qualities which film-makers and audiences have almost forgotten in their chase after illusory sophistication - brightly defined characters; a story that hurtles along at such a pace that it leaves no time for questions; a world of fantasy so confidently portrayed (in Star Wars special effects achieve new heights of technical expertise) that there is no thought of disbelief; a genuine escapism that obliges you to make no connections at all with the real world."

Variety: "Like a breath or fresh air, “Star Wars” sweeps away the cynicism that has in recent years obscured the concepts of valor, dedication and honor. Make no mistake – this is by no means a “children’s film,” with all the derogatory overtones that go with that description. This is instead a superior example of what only the screen can achieve, and closer to home, it is another affirmation of what only Hollywood can put on a screen."

I can't talk about this film like it's just another film to be discussed here. After the discussions about the prequels, of which so much has been written, it's so hard to just talk about Star Wars. It's epic. It's a classic.

What else can be said?
posted by crossoverman at 3:19 AM on November 6, 2015 [6 favorites]

I've heard this is good.
posted by Chrysostom at 5:18 AM on November 6, 2015 [6 favorites]

I have a bad feeling about this.
posted by rocketman at 5:37 AM on November 6, 2015 [4 favorites]

I've seen this before, it's a pretty good movie.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 6:28 AM on November 6, 2015 [4 favorites]

This movie just holds up so well. The prequels, even when they're at their best, feel dated already. Yet somehow, even with the few cringe-inducing moments ("But I was going to Tosche Station to pick up some power converters!"), time can't ruin this one. It's still just as magical for children watching it for the first time as it is for children of the 70s watching it for the 20th time.

The Empire Strikes Back may be the overall better film, but somehow it's still not as perfect as A New Hope.
posted by 256 at 6:39 AM on November 6, 2015 [7 favorites]

It's kind of like movie fast food, isn't it? It was okay, but I don't think anybody's going to even remember it came out in another six months.
posted by Naberius at 6:51 AM on November 6, 2015 [4 favorites]

This was the foundation of my childhood. I'm not sure when I first saw it in theaters. I was 3 when it premiered in 1977, but it was re-released in 1978 and 1979. I definitely recall playing Star Wars and having talks in kindergarten about the upcoming Empire Strikes Back. One of the kids smuggled the then-new Boba Fett figure to school with him!

My son is almost 4, and I'm looking forward to sharing Star Wars with him. It won't be the same for him. For me, it was everything. For him, it's something that's always been there and is part of the background radiation of media available to him. I'm not sure if I will take him to see Ep VII in December or wait until his attention span is a little longer.
posted by Fleebnork at 7:08 AM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

But what version are we talking about?

I recently watched the newest incarnation and really didn't enjoy myself. I can't say what % of that dissatisfaction is betrayal/nostalgia and what is the genuine bloat and discordance of additions like the Jabba scene.
posted by French Fry at 7:45 AM on November 6, 2015

A number of things came together to make this the film that was loved and remains loved. Theatrical Release Version.

Iconic Scenes

From the opening, when the camera pans down in the starfield onto the fleeing blockade runner with Darth Vader's star destroyer in hot, never ending because the ship is so darn huge, pursuit, to the twin sunsets on Tatooine, the movie is chalk full of incredible imagination exploding visuals. It's a movie with one iconic scene after another, in a universe built on a minimal budget and cinematic barrier breaking F/X techniques.

The Characters

Our first two characters aren't even human and we're already intrigued. Almost immediately after, we met this giant of a masked man in black, with almost insect-like eyes and inhuman strength, hunting for a princess. Said princess manages to pop a shot off at soldiers before being stunned and captured. She's a damsel who's distress is quite limited, who takes over her own rescue to save those who would rescue her. Luke, truly our POV protagonist, who knows almost as much about the wider world than we do, despite his whining about power converters manages to win us over with his firm belief in their mission to rescue the princess and later, stop the Empire. His mentor and mystical guide, Obi-Wan, grounded into the sandy soil of the emerging Star Wars Jedi mythos by Alec Guiness. And, of course, Han Solo, a guy who shoots first and whose best friend and copilot, a giant fur covered alien named Chewbacca, from a race known for pulling the arms off of those who best them in board games. Even on the imperial side, beyond the fantastic creation of Vader, who speaks with James Earl Jones' deep bass, we have Grand Moff Tarkin, who actually is the greatest villain of the movie - the only one without hesitation to order the destruction of an entire planet full of peaceful citizens. The actors helped make their characters work, from Ford's famous rejection of some of his lines to the inflections offered by Peter Cushing, who presented a cold, but very rationale military mind.

The World Building

This flows from the iconic scenes, but the design of the Star Wars universe helped to draw in one's attention and interest. The four-winged silhouette of an X-wing to the two flat panel screaming of a TIE fighter, the ships, as one example illustrate why this movie was so fun to watch. The Falcon became its own character, so much that by the final film, we all winced when Lando lost that dish on the top while flying inside the second Death Star. The star destroyers and the Death Star, itself, stupendously creative, in visually offering a visual key to the threat and danger of the galactic Empire.

We can also touch upon settings, such as the Cantina, with more aliens than humans, a combination of the overwhelmingly unknown and the familiar. The menace of a bar in a town described as a hive of scum and villainy. The temples of the Rebel base by Yavin IV, surrounded by forests in contrast to the sandy Tatooine, and both places bridged by the sterility of the Death Star's corridors (which lead to the garbage compactor feeling frightening in its trash filled confines with murky waters containing unknown dangers). It was a used place, beat up and scratched in many places. It conveyed a sense of previous lives.

The Music

John Williams was already famous by the time he did this movie. He had won an Oscar for Fiddler on the Roof in 1971 and another in '75 for Jaws, but if asked by anyone today to hum a John Williams work, it almost definitely will be something from this movie. In nearly every scene employed, his score inserts itself as an unseen character in the film, adding either heart beating excitement to a space battle over the surface of the Death Star to the loneliness of the desert at sunset. The loud brass that introduced the first star destroyer also announced that this movie's music was going to add just one more incredible layer to the film.

Everything Else

This is a movie that struggles with easy definition, particularly if it's one adored by the describer, because there are so many elements that come together to make it so enjoyable. It can be the first time we see a lightsaber hiss into existence or the character design of a Tusken Raider and her favorite mount, a Bantha. It could be the jawas and their sand crawler or the interaction between R2-D2 and C-3PO. It could be the trench run or Han's callous indifference and dismissal to a hokey religion. The heart stopping moment when for the first time the viewer realizes that Obi-Wan is simply going to let Darth Vader cut him down and then watching the old Jedi Knight vanish in thin air. It's an adventure and a half, a fantasy story written across the stars in the distant past and in a place far, far, away.

It's the culmination of Lucas as the student of film, for a short time and with the assistance of others, taking elements from the cinematic past and storytelling in general, to craft something that in time, escaped his own understanding of exactly how he did it. He used a recipe that he eventually lost, and drove away those who might have helped him recall it; but for this instant, he did everything right. All these things which already existed were brought together in such a way that something completely new was invented, for good or bad. It's the first part of a story designed to lift the imagination.

Disclosure: I've seen this movie a lot of times.
posted by Atreides at 7:57 AM on November 6, 2015 [22 favorites]

But what version are we talking about?

Yeah, this.
Question: I want to re-watch the 3 legit Star Wars films with my son before the new one comes out. I read a recent article, probably via Metafilter, that suggested it is impossible at this point to watch the original '77 theatrical release of A New Hope.
Is there a "definitive" version or at least a version of each film that is consensually the best/has the least Lucas revisionary fuckery?
posted by chococat at 8:08 AM on November 6, 2015

I, um, know someone who is torrenting the "Despecialized" version right now. He doesn't even feel the least bit guilty about it, having previously bought at least two versions of the film and paid three times to see it in theatres.

I haven't yet seen the Despecialized version personally, but my understanding is that it's the best option for home viewing of something as close as possible to the theatrical release.

Also, I fear that Atreides' epic comment may have made further conversation superfluous.
posted by 256 at 8:12 AM on November 6, 2015 [8 favorites]

Yes, watch the despecialized version. I watched it this year and it totally made me fall in love again.
posted by octothorpe at 8:24 AM on November 6, 2015

Ahem, ah, yes, the "Despecialized" edition is what one should hunt for with grayish means for the best experience of the Theatrical version. It can be found presenting that version in 720p and it's like re-watching the film all over again. It reminded me of seeing the THX Digital Remastered version that was released in the mid-90s after watching the VHS set before that and the taped off television versions before that. It shakes off all the accumulated crud of the past thirty years.

On the topic of versions, for this version, the most significant alteration probably is the very controversial Han Shot First element. This occurred in the Special Edition, released in the late 90's to the wailing of fans across the globe. It had the most significant impact on the fabric of the film, or more pointedly, the character of Han Solo. The affect can be broken down like so:

Han no longer is a character who kills a threat before his own skin is in danger. In this case, two things happen: 1) Greedo is revealed to more of a numbskull, who besides talking WAY too long before trying to take in his bounty - now he can't even hit a target three feet across the table from him. 2) Han is simply lucky that Greedo is a terrible shot and he has a chance to shoot him after Greedo manages to miss the equivalent of a wall with a breaking ball.

Han's redemption at the end of the movie suffers from the above. Previously, Han acted always in his own self-interest and that included effortlessly killing a bounty hunter as quickly as he could because his life was in danger. At the end of the film, his return to save Luke from being shot down by Vader comes at the expense of placing his life in danger for someone else. He takes a risk he doesn't have to do, and in fact, harms his own ability to negate the bounty on his head when he could have flown directly to Jabba. His redemption is just a bit less...well, redemptive. He's less a scoundrel and more of a good guy firing after he being provoked.

Besides the Han Shot First crisis, the additional scenes didn't really affect the story and can be generally ignored. The Jabba scene adds nothing because we already learn from Han's comment to Chewie and from Greedo almost immediately after, that he has a bounty and WHY he has a bounty. When Jabba was cut the first time, it wasn't because Lucas simply didn't have the technology to put in a giant slug. It also features a Boba Fett fan service shot that sticks out because no other character in the movie almost breaks the fourth wall like that shot.

The added scene of Luke and Biggs is probably the hardest to knock down. In the original script, the relationship between is explained early on and so, there's a major significance during the Trench Run when Biggs is killed. It's Luke's childhood friend who just died and that's a far bigger impact than the rest of the rebels dying around him. It went from real to beyond real. The last person keeping him safe on the run, his best friend, is dead and there's nothing between him and Death (Darth). BUT, I'd argue that this added scene, which relates their friendship feels added on because we don't have the friendship really introduced at the start of the movie. It feels as if, "Hey, let's give Luke some added emotional weight for the battle....right before it begins!" In an odd manner, it almost cheapens Bigg's death because it feels much more like a cheap string pulling by Lucas.

The other added stuff. If it includes a dinosaur, ignore it. If it includes a Jawa that's not next to R2 or in a Sandcrawler, ignore it. If it needlessly makes a scene appear busier, ignore it. I suppose the explosion of Alderaan and the Death Star were "improved," but one has to wonder why two celestial bodies - one a planet and the other a manmade ship the size of a small moon, have similar explosions without similar mass and composition. Eh.

Another option for those who may feel reluctant to pursue the Despecialized Editions, Lucas grudgingly released versions of the films as dvds packaged with the Special Editions (or was it blu-ray?) that were in 2.0 sound and probably as lazy a condition as possible. You had to buy his preferred version to get everyone else' preferred version. These dvds are still floating around and can be pursued, but they're still not quite the Theatrical version - just...the less messed up version.
posted by Atreides at 8:34 AM on November 6, 2015 [5 favorites]

I don't remember riding a bike for the first time or losing my virginity but I clearly remember that Star Destroyer flying over head and blowing my little eight year old mind.

I don't know how, at 46, I could possibly recreate that feeling.
posted by bondcliff at 8:36 AM on November 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

Samuel R. Delany reviews Star Wars (The Metafilter thread)

There are flaws with this film; but the visuals, themes, ideas, music, everything comes together to lift it into something grand and majestic. Whereas I criticize the prequels for tearing down the mythic grandeur and scope of the original films, this one built them all. This is a film that fired a billion imaginations and launched a fandom. You can dissect the recipe of how it did that, but there's a magic here that doesn't always come together just from following the recipe; it takes all the ingredients and somehow made magic.
posted by nubs at 8:41 AM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

I also just want to mention, in terms of iconic scenes, the Death Star trench runs. Amazing bits of film-making, and I remember, when everything got specialized and re-released in the theatres, going to see this and deliberately watching the audience as the X-wings drop into the trench and the camera angle is from a pilot POV; almost everyone swayed in their seats, rocking as if they were one of the pilots, lining up for the run. It's awesome - it's not just the visual at work there, it is such a huge sign of how this film connected with the audience at a visceral level. We're not in the theatre anymore.

"Almost there..."
posted by nubs at 9:15 AM on November 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

I never saw Star Wars until I was 17. The thing that struck me then was how middle-management Darth Vader was. He's the WWII equivalent of a Wehrmacht major, from a noble Prussian family with a family tradition of being military officers. One comes to believe that he dislikes the Empire (though not as much as the Rebels).

Am I correct in saying that there is no evidence in Star Wars ON ITS OWN that Darth Vader is Anakin Skwalker?
posted by infinitewindow at 9:23 AM on November 6, 2015 [6 favorites]

He's not a household name, but it's hard to overstate Ralph McQuarrie's contribution to this movie.
posted by theodolite at 9:29 AM on November 6, 2015 [5 favorites]

You are quite correct, infinite window. This link has the notes from the story conference that lead to Splinter in the Mind's Eye.

Some choice bits:

LUCAS: ...The other thing we haven’t dealt with is Darth Vader. But Darth Vader, as we discovered in this picture, tends to be pushy; he’s not strong enough as the villain to hold the villain role. he doesn’t have the persona that you need. You really need a Cushing guy, a really slimy, ugly….


When you wrote the novelization, you pointed out that Vader was just using Tarkin for whatever reasons. In a way we set up Vader as the pawn. The trouble is [Vader] appears to be the pawn, but Tarkin is the pawn. In the end, it’s reverse;.

FOSTER: I always thought of Vader as the behind the scenes manipulator. I’m not sure of his motives, or what he is, or what he is after, except that he is after evil on a grand scale. Maybe if we kept him that way, didn’t unmask him…
posted by nubs at 9:32 AM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

He's not a household name, but it's hard to overstate Ralph McQuarrie's contribution to this movie.

If my post had a glaring omission, it was him. Thank you for bringing him up! Star Wars: Rebels relies heavily on his art work to inform the show's aesthetic.

Am I correct in saying that there is no evidence in Star Wars ON ITS OWN that Darth Vader is Anakin Skwalker?

It's the absolute absence of this which results in the first time Lucas undermined a previous Star Wars movie with changes in the next. It later required the conversation point between the Force ghost Obi-Wan and Luke which dropped the line, "From a certain point of view...."
posted by Atreides at 9:50 AM on November 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

Darth Vader has a line in this film with terrifying implications that are never discussed again.

"Don't be too proud of this technological terror you've constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force."

Sometime in the next few years, I want to see entire solar systems or interstellar polities ravaged by the sheer willpower of a Force user. No DEATH STAR, no fleet of capital ships, just a rogue Jedi or Sith wanna-be unlocking the power within and physically pulverizing—or remaking—entire sectors.
posted by infinitewindow at 10:18 AM on November 6, 2015 [4 favorites]

But what version are we talking about?

Despecialized. Or, if you have one, a pirated copy of the original theatrical release. It's possible but unlikely that there may be a pirated anamorphic copy of Star Wars somewhere in the bowels of my mother's house.

Simple test: does it say "Episode IV"? Then it ain't the original theatrical release. This is one of those interesting plasticity-of-memory things now where lots of people remember seeing it in 1977 with Episode IV in it, but this was not actually added until the 1981 reissue.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:29 AM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've been watching a lot of old and classic films in the last few years and watching Star Wars after that really makes you realize how much it's a mash-up of about a hundred or more old films. I keep watching stuff and thinking, "oh that's where Lucas got that".
posted by octothorpe at 10:29 AM on November 6, 2015

The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.

I took this to be metaphorical like "The pen is mightier than the sword." Force users can act in history to sway the course of events with more long-term impacts than single acts of planetary demolition.

But, yes, I would be on board if we got some Jedis doing over-the-top Dragon Ball Z style destruction.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 10:44 AM on November 6, 2015

How about a redux of Revenge of the Sith with Anakin and Obi-Wan re-enacting the last 20 minutes of Akira?

posted by Strange Interlude at 10:49 AM on November 6, 2015

This was the foundation of my childhood.
It was a foundation of another stage of life for me, which I had the privilege of writing about 28 years later (and getting paid) for a Major Media Website.
“Star Wars” was more than a breath of fresh air: it was a cure for emphysema.
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:53 AM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Why didn't Chewbacca get a medal at the end?

Chewbacca finally getting his medal.

Erm, this was one of my biggest beefs with the film. I figured if it was shared, I'd take this thread as an opportunity to heal this wound.
posted by Atreides at 11:35 AM on November 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

Chewbacca was only the co-pilot. It's like hoping Jeffrey B. Skiles* is gonna be on the Daily Show.

*Yeah, you don't know who that is, do you? See?
posted by bondcliff at 11:52 AM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

That argument is like saying Chewbacca lives on Endor.
posted by Atreides at 12:18 PM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

When people ask "Which Star Wars movie is your favorite?" this is the answer. Empire is maybe a better film, but it took the series in the wrong direction, and directly led to the 4 crappy, crappy movies that kind of tarnished everything the other two built. I would love to live in the alternate universe where Lucas gave up story control and handed off the sequels to friends and skilled directors (see the end of this interview). Because, face it, Star Wars as a saga pretty much sucks. Star Wars really lives as a setting, as a place you're dropped into the middle of, without excess exposition. If every film had had the independent freedom to do that, to follow the known while opening out the universe into more detail, more questions than answers, more possibilities and less recycled plot points (ANOTHER Death Star?, ANOTHER suprise family revelation?, WTF RTJ?). That series might be worth the hype that the legacy of the first film built up. It would indeed be sad to lose some of the great moments of Empire, but I would take that deal in a heartbeat.
posted by rikschell at 1:22 PM on November 6, 2015 [5 favorites]

"Don't be too proud of this technological terror you've constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force."

Yeah, as much as whenever I hear this line I want it to refer to some awesome universe-reshaping esoteric Force shit, I have to assume it's meant in the sense that paper chromatographologist describes. It reminds me of Obi-Wan telling Vader that he'll become more powerful than Vader could ever imagine, which ultimately just manifests in him being able to whisper in Luke's ear at opportune moments.

That all kind of reminds me of one of the things that's always bothered me about Star Wars. I've always been a pretty willing suspender of disbelief, but the gap between Force aptitude as described and Force aptitude as depicted is frequently too large for me to bridge. Like, a talented Force-sensitive is certainly many times more capable than a regular person in a lot of circumstances -- combat, persuasion, tactics* -- but that multiplier is finite, and seemingly not incredibly high even in the case of reputed masters of the art. For all of its supposed reach, potential, and metaphysical primacy in Star Wars, it doesn't seem to be the categorically superior source of power that the characters refer to it as.

* On the assumption that more information (from precognition and remote sensing) leads to better tactical decisions in the aggregate.
posted by invitapriore at 1:30 PM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

The way I see it, there's just a handful of Jedi left in the whole universe, so they all kind of have to be their own hype men.
posted by Strange Interlude at 1:37 PM on November 6, 2015 [6 favorites]

"oh that's where Lucas got that".

Fans of Star Wars should def. take some time to watch Kurosawa's Hidden Fortress, which is where the bones of the story and many of the characters come from. The droids, it turns out, are based on a duo of squabbling, drunken grave robbers who serve as comic relief.
posted by chrchr at 1:59 PM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

From the script:

LUKE : No, my father didn't fight in the wars. He was a navigator on a spice freighter.

BEN: That's what your uncle told you. He didn't hold with your father's ideals. Thought he should have stayed here and not gotten involved.

Isn't that a better story already?
Two brothers, bitterly divided.
They crew a spice freighter together, it's a long haul business shipping spice from the outer rim to the core systems. Owen likes the business, it's not an easy life but they get by. Anakin is a great pilot and navigator, he yearns for adventure, maybe one time he flew the freighter through an asteroid field, a reckless and dangerous stunt, but it took a month of their trip.

They settle in to their lives, meet some nice girls, and raise a family. The freighter becomes home. Anakin and Padme have a child, a daughter who loves the ship life, picture her, 2 years old, toddling around the corridors of the ship and is expecting another. Suddenly the ship is rocked by an explosion. A rogue clone attack!
The ship gets depressurised, alarms blare, Padme gets Leia to an escape pod in time, but is seemingly killed in doing so. Anakin flies in to a rage, flies off in the shuttle and kills the pirates. In doing so he's noticed by Obi Wan who sees his jedi potential and recruits him.
He tells his brother over comm link that there's nothing for him on the freighter anymore, nothing but pain, he's not going back!
Owen, sees the rage in his eyes, chooses not to tell him that Padme survived the attack, barely. She gives birth to a son, but dies in childbirth.

Owen and Beru take the kid and start a new life, firmly on a planet, safe.
Anakin learns the way of the force from Obi Wan, and together they fight the clone hordes until his rage and fear becomes overwhelming and he eventually is seduced to the dark side by a dark wizard!
The escape pod crash lands on Alderaan, Leia is brought up by the royal Organa family as a princess. They tell her hey found her in a crashed escape pod. Using the tremendous resources of a royal family she tracks down the freighter that she came from and finds Obi Wan.
Together they plot the rebellion...

(I got a bit carried away... sorry)
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 2:54 PM on November 6, 2015 [20 favorites]

Just this guy, your narrative only suffers from a distinct lack of action figures.
posted by rikschell at 3:14 PM on November 6, 2015

Star Wars is like getting a box of Cracker Jack which is all prizes. --Pauline Kael
posted by DirtyOldTown at 5:53 PM on November 6, 2015 [5 favorites]

Glory in how beat up, dirty, and grimy R2 is when we first meet the droids.
posted by nom de poop at 7:21 PM on November 6, 2015

I led a pretty sheltered childhood and had never heard of Star Wars until I was 7, when I saw and of course loved it. The best part was the next day, I had show and tell at school. I decided to tell about this great movie I had seen: lightsabers, spaceships, robots and an ending I only vaguely understood. I still remember trying to explain how the good guys were attacking a big spaceship, but I couldn't quite remember what it was called. When just about every boy in the class shouted out "Deathstar!" I realized I had seriously underestimated my audience.
posted by skewed at 7:28 PM on November 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

This movie came out when I was the perfect age to see it, which was thirteen, and at a time when films in general, and science fiction films in particular, desperately needed it or something very much like it. Lucas' first film, THX 1138, seems like a good example of the sort of SF film that typified most of the seventies: a high-minded dystopia story with good actors and a reasonably-plausible premise somewhere between Logan's Run and a random Star Trek episode set on a planet controlled by a computer. (Disclaimer: I haven't seen it--most people haven't--but this trailer gives you an idea of the plot and tone; mildly NSFW because of brief nudity--yes, nudity in a Lucas film.) Another way to describe it is that it seems to be influenced by both 2001 and the numerous postapocalyptic scenarios envisioned by forward thinkers of the time: overpopulation, ecological catastrophe, and of course nuclear war. Even though the more optimistic SF/space opera of Star Trek was also still popular, as witnessed by the heavy rotation of TOS episodes in syndication, the planned reboot of the series dragged on. (Some of this had to do with behind-the-scenes drama, as Gene Roddenberry's differences with Leonard Nimoy made it seem that they might have to replace the most popular character in the series, but some of it probably had to do with Trek seeming oddly out of step with the times; Roddenberry's attempts at launching new shows in the seventies, The Questor Tapes and Genesis II, both seem very typical for the times.) This sort of deadly-dreary-earnest apocalypse-mongering probably reached its apotheosis in Damnation Alley, which was released several months after Star Wars and which 20th Century Fox expected to be its big sci-fi action picture of the year. (I won't rehash that film except to say that the highlight was Paul Winfield--better known to SF fans from a couple of Trek appearances and The Terminator--gets eaten by mutant cockroaches in Las Vegas.)

And then Star Wars came, and hoo boy. The thing I remember most about it was how audacious it seemed in its pursuit of a ripping good time, how utterly unapologetic it seemed after years of dystopias and nukes and mutant cockroaches ruling the Earth or maybe just Vegas. Literally from the first frame, with John Williams' score jumping down your ear canals, it was like, STAR WARS, none of this po-face boo hoo the bombs have fallen and there's no food and the cockroaches won't leave us alone, fuck that commotion, here's some WARS in your fucking STARS and are you ready for it, no you are not but tough titty, here's some exposition blah blah rebel alliance and empire, yeah yeah, OK now we're quieting things down but that's just a headfake, are you ready for it yet, shyeah as if, BAM. And there's a cool space battle, with the scrappy dudes facing off against the vaguely skeletonish-looking bad guys, and losing, and then

and then

this guy walks in, looking like a man-shaped hole in reality, and you instantly know that he's The Man. Whatever anyone else is doing, you're really just waiting for him to show up and do some awesome bad shit, which he does, repeatedly.

Also, there are laser swords, which is a thing that you might not have even thought of before, but once you see them, it's like, why can we send dudes to the moon but these don't actually exist. WTF, NASA.

I could go on, but I think you catch my drift. Nothing else will ever compare to being thirteen, and loving SF even though it seems dedicated to telling you how shitty everything will become, and then there's this incomparable gift, this Death Star-sized present, that tells you that you were right to love science fiction, that there are other people who love it as much as you and have sketched out this story about this kid from the sticks, kind of like you, who has these big dreams, and then one day someone puts those dreams in his hands, and they're so much bigger than even he imagined. Plus, of course, a wicked-cool laser sword.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:38 PM on November 6, 2015 [15 favorites]

I actually find huge swaths of the plot pretty tedious. They take too long to get the droids to Luke, and I never understood the point of having Luke and Han bumble around the Death Star like they do. I suppose it's to demonstrate that they're rank amateurs, but it's a little yawn-inducing.

But what really works about Star Wars as an epic story is that the narrative is painted in really broad strokes, so the themes are really clear. So it's okay that there's a lot of build to key moments. The build to Luke meeting Obi-Wan; the build to the final duel between Obi-Wan and Vader.

It's funny that Star Wars is undoubtedly the epic story of our time, but unlike King Arthur or The Illiad, it doesn't really reflect our time.

Also "Homer" never used The Illiad to sell toys.
posted by dry white toast at 8:22 PM on November 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

From the opening, when the camera pans down in the starfield onto the fleeing blockade runner with Darth Vader's star destroyer in hot, never ending because the ship is so darn huge, pursuit, to the twin sunsets on Tatooine, the movie is chalk full of incredible imagination exploding visuals.

Visuals like that, that make you feel something instead of just getting excited about the technical achievement, are all over the place in ANH and ESB, but seriously lacking in ROTJ and absolutely nowhere to be found in the prequels and for all the missteps those later movies made (although I still dig on Jedi) that might be the biggest one. The awe of a huge new world opening up before your eyes in ANH, the almost unbearable coldness of the visuals in ESB - and pretty much nothing new in Jedi and Lucas thinking flash can substitute for substance in the prequels. It wasn't the cool design of the Star Destroyer that made people go nuts, it's how it was used, but Lucas forgot that. Abrams does seem to get how the visual language of Star Wars really works, though...
posted by jason_steakums at 11:41 PM on November 6, 2015

One of the things about this movie that still makes it work so well is that Lucas is so shameless about the genres he's borrowing from. One minute it's a western and then it's a samurai picture and then we're in a WWII movie with dogfights, it mashes all this stuff up and makes zero effort to disguise its inspirations. That must have been stunning in 1977, and it's still bracing even now. You're watching space Nazis hunt for Laurel and Hardy robots who are trying to deliver a message from a princess to an old space wizard! That "lived in" future thing was all-new for movies too, and of course the special effects were a quantum jump from what came before. (2001 was stunning for its realism and the effects still look great, but it doesn't keep hitting you with alien cities and tech and space battles like Star Wars. 2001 was a gourmet meal, but Star Wars was like a big crazy party with tables heaped with delicious junk food.)

And of course Leia was just a freaking pistol, sassy and brave and absolutely not what anybody would have expected for the princess being held in the fortress of darkness. Leia was a whole new kind of genre movie heroine, and lord knows where we'd be without her.

And while there are plenty of lines that could be clunky, it's so much fun that it all works. (Although Obi Wan does sound less profound when you're a grown up, with a few of his lines sounding almost as awkward as something from the prequels. It's supposed to be a sick burn on Han when Obi Wan asks "Who is more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him?" But what the heck does it mean, really? It kind of sounds like Kenobi is saying, "I may be a fool, but you're an even bigger fool for following me.") And there are a lot of great lines and iconic performances. Han calling Leia "your worshipfulness" has more zip in it than everything in the prequels put together.

Hamill gets a lot of guff for playing Luke kind of dorky, but that was all by design and I think it makes Luke read as a sweet, nerdy kid. He's not supposed to be a cool guy, at all. He's a sheltered hick kid with dreams. He's Dorothy Gale. And he becomes a ninja space wizard. That's an arc.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:02 AM on November 7, 2015 [13 favorites]

mildly NSFW because of brief nudity--yes, nudity in a Lucas film

THX-1138 also has the dubious distinction of being the only movie Lucas meddled with to retroactively put a blowjob machine into. You'd really have to hope it's not made by ACME.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:02 PM on November 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

and absolutely nowhere to be found in the prequels

Ep3 really sucks, but the first minute or so after the crawl is jaw-droppingly awesome before it starts to suck.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:05 PM on November 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

A couple thoughts:

  • The escape from Tatooine sequence is probably the best example of "you can write this shit, George, but you sure can't say it" and "faster and more intense" in the film.

  • If you feel the need for a Special Edition experience, Adywan's is much better than George's.

  • posted by entropicamericana at 7:14 PM on November 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

    Nobody's mentioned the sound design yet--major props to Ben Burtt. How many other movies have such instantly-recognizable sound effects? The TIE fighter scream, the lightsaber noise, R2D2's jabbering, the sand people shouting, the X-wing hum...
    posted by equalpants at 1:48 AM on November 8, 2015 [8 favorites]

    I saw this when I was 8 at a drive in theatre. A Western was the first film of which I remember a desert scene and horses. I remembered most of Star Wars and in particular the Storm Troopers boarding the Rebel ship. But most of all, and still to this day, I loved the sound. Was a fan until Return of the Jedi, by which point I could see it that it was fast becoming the opposite of what the Variety article said: Make no mistake – this is by no means a “children’s film,” with all the derogatory overtones that go with that description.

    The potential was there for a great series. It wasn't realized. I don't think I'll bother with the new film because Abrams.

    I felt the animated Star Wars universe fit with the original far more than the subsequent films though I took one look at Rebels and so despised the style and lighting I haven't bothered with it.
    posted by juiceCake at 2:28 PM on November 8, 2015

    I felt the animated Star Wars universe fit with the original far more than the subsequent films though I took one look at Rebels and so despised the style and lighting I haven't bothered with it.

    You may want to reconsider. Rebels uses the original McQuarrie art for reference and really nails the sound and vibe of the original movies. It's really scratching my Star Wars itch right now.
    posted by Fleebnork at 5:48 PM on November 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

    The Despecialized version is most excellent! A+++, will watch all three.
    posted by computech_apolloniajames at 8:06 PM on November 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

    I re-watched the Despecialized Edition about a week back, and man does this movie never get old to me. It really is just a wonderful bit of storytelling and cinema from start to finish, and continues to be really impressive visually even all these years later. If I'm ranking the movies in order*, even though I agree ESB is probably technically a better film, I think the original SW/ANH tells a more satisfying story within a single film, and because of that it is my favorite.

    I have to reiterate the props for Ben Burtt -- the sound design on the film (and on all of the original trilogy movies) is absolutely masterful, and his work easily created as many iconic childhood memories as the visual effects did.

    This last rewatch, a thing I thought a lot about is how interesting it is to see the earlier, more raw forms of some of the characters. By the second and later third movie, each of the main characters has gelled into a more final form, but in the original Star Wars you still see the actors kinda figuring it out.

    One of the most obvious places to see this is in C3P0. Famously, Lucas intended him to be a slimy used car salesman type character, which went out the window pretty early on. However, you can still see hints of it in the first half of the movie or so -- "he'll do no better!", his sales pitch for himself and R2D2 (followed like 5 minutes later by him disclaiming all the praise he had heaped onto R2D2 in order to save himself from Luke's anger), his apparent understanding (but covering up of) the fact that R2D2 is lying to Luke about not being able to play Leia's message, etc. It's neat to spot these rough edges which get ground down later, and I wonder if the later movies (ROTJ in particular) might have benefited from keeping some of this around.

    Anyways, this is basically The Movie, for me. Alec Guinness famously was not happy about SW (and particularly not happy with how obsessed with it people were; there's a story about him berating a child for having told him they watched it dozens of times), and I think he's not wrong that there are problems with it in some senses. However, I think what he missed is that there's just so much interesting stuff going on, and so much joy and wonder on display, that the whole endeavor ends up transcending its schlocky adventure serial roots and becoming something much more powerful and engaging.

    (* Ep IV, Ep V, [small dropoff] Ep VI, [massive dropoff], Ep III, Ep I, [massive-er dropoff] Ep II. Obviously)
    posted by tocts at 6:00 AM on November 14, 2015 [4 favorites]

    I was noticing that too, tocts -- Threepio has flashes of wiliness in the first hour of Star Wars that he never shows again. I kept questioning them on my own rewatch because they're really not what I've learned to expect from the character. Makes sense that there's a backstage reason, and I agree that keeping a touch of this might have benefited the later films. Just a little bit more of his butter-wouldn't-melt escape from the control room on the Death Star, just a little bit less of being comically dismembered. That's all I'd ask.

    I think part of Star Wars' power is that it's about people who make mistakes -- and not of the "my wife died that day" genre, but the "borrowed money from the wrong guy," "dreams of adventure but scared to accept it when it's offered," "did one too many things to attract Vader's attention" type. Everyday, gritty little errors, a lot of them stemming from desperation. (And Vader has surely fucked up recently, too, or he wouldn't be qualifying his "no escape for the rebels" with "this time.")
    posted by thesmallmachine at 9:28 PM on November 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

    You just reminded me of Vader's surprised/shocked "WHAT?!" when the Falcon appears and blasts the TIE fighter next to his. That's probably the only time in the entire movie where his cold self-confidence gets flustered. In fact, it might be the only time in the entire trilogy. When things go south in ESB (hey, we're discussing that on Friday!) he genuinely keeps his cool (when not killing Imperial officers for dropping out of hyperspace too early).
    posted by Atreides at 11:51 AM on November 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

    Honest Trailers: Star Wars
    posted by nubs at 10:42 AM on November 21, 2015

    “The Original Star Wars Is a Great Movie Because It Asks More Questions Than It Answers,” Germain Lussier, io9, 03 December 2015
    posted by ob1quixote at 2:16 PM on December 3, 2015

    I can't even say how many times I've seen this movie. 100 maybe? Maybe 200. I watched it again just a few weeks ago. Even with that many screenings under my belt, when the Millennium Falcon flies out of the sun the hair on the back of my neck stands up and that feeling doesn't subside until after the Death Star explodes. Hell just thinking about it to write this gave me a moment of that feeling.
    posted by ob1quixote at 2:27 PM on December 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

    I just read that io9 review and now I want to home and watch it again.

    * That mysterious little smile that Obi-Wan gives just before he lets Vader cut him down.
    * "Yes, I bet you have."
    * "There's just too much of his father in him." "That's what I'm afraid of."
    * "Yaaaahoo! You're all clear kid!"
    * "We're all fine here now. How are you?" *wince*

    (When do we discuss ROTJ?)
    posted by entropicamericana at 2:49 PM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

    posted by Atreides at 7:04 PM on December 3, 2015

    Team Negative 1 has released a restored version of the original 35mm print of episode IV:
    A restored HD version of the original Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope 35mm print has appeared online. While this isn't the first time that attempts have been made to restore Star Wars to its original theatrical version—that's the one without the much-maligned CGI effects and edits of later "special" editions—it is the first to have been based entirely on a single 35mm print of the film, rather than cut together from various sources.
    "Official thread" discussing the project & release from Team Negative 1 here.
    posted by flug at 11:04 AM on February 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

    So I'm halfway through watching Star Wars again for the however-manyth time. (I need to check out the Despecialized/Team Negative 1 versions, but to be honest I'm fairly content with the crappy laserdisc transfer DVDs that were released with the special editions back in the oughts. I grew up watching them (mostly) on VHS on NTSC televisions, so I can deal with the less-than-stellar picture quality until Disney and 20th Century Fox get around to doing official restorations, which will surely happen.)

    This time I'm coming to it after having recently watched The Force Awakens a couple of times, and the original really is an amazing achievement. Just the right ensemble of people connecting at just the right moment to make something bigger than its parts that resonated so strongly with humans that we're still discussing it on the internet and eagerly lining up for sequels almost forty years later. Much credit goes to George Lucas, of course, but without McQuarrie, Burtt, Williams, and ILM, Star Wars would not have been nearly as successful and enduring. Williams' score in particular is just so essential to the impact of this movie. I saw Empire Strikes Back during its first release, and I don't remember whether I saw Star Wars during the 1979 or 1981 rerelease, but I was completely hooked. In a pre-home-video world, the only way I could get any kind of audio-visual Star Wars fix was to listen to my family's copy of the original score while looking obsessively at the stills inside the gatefold, and the music really did (still does) transport me most of the way there.

    Also: over the years I have grown such an appreciation for actors like Alec Guinness and Peter Cushing (and Christopher Lee in Attack of the Clones, although even he couldn't salvage all of Lucas' terrible dialog there) who never phoned it in and gave great performances no matter the genre, budget or script. (Or finding themselves with a director who just says "faster and more intense.") Not just in Star Wars, but in pretty much everything they were in. Or, maybe they were phoning it in but they were just so damn good I can't tell.

    The more I learn about some of George Lucas' decisions and hangups the more fascinated I am that the movie managed to turn out as successfully as it did... I've been trying to think of other creatives who have struck on something really significant yet seem to lack a grasp of why people love it. It's weird combination of creative vision and complete tone-deafness. Vis: "Lazer swords," Greedo shooting first, the famous argument over the originally scripted "I love you."/"I love you too." exchange in ESB. Or, Indiana Jones, roguish adventuring archaeologist? Yeah! Indiana Jones fighting Nazis in a race for ancient biblical artifacts of unspeakable power? Hell yeah! Indiana Jones and flying saucer aliens? Uhh...
    posted by usonian at 9:32 AM on April 21, 2016 [4 favorites]

    I still say that not enough credit goes to Marcia Lucas.
    She won the Oscar for editing Star Wars, but I strongly suspect a lot of editing went on behind the scenes.

    It was her idea to have Obi Wan die, for example.
    And she completely rebuilt the trench run sequence. Originally luke had two runs at the exhaust port,
    She warned George, 'If the audience doesn't cheer when Han Solo comes in at the last second in the Millennium Falcon to help Luke when he's being chased by Darth Vader, the picture doesn't work.'"
    posted by Just this guy, y'know at 10:05 AM on April 21, 2016 [4 favorites]

    I've been trying to think of other creatives who have struck on something really significant yet seem to lack a grasp of why people love it

    Yeah, I think that question is a good one. George has an incredible, wonderful imagination from what I can tell; but he really needs people around him to focus in on using those ideas to create wonderful stories. There's quote from him in A Secret History of Star Wars about how he wrote four different scripts and that it was always a "good idea in search of a story."

    I think that the production challenges, technical limitations and the people around him (Marcia; Gloria Katz; Willard Huyck) took those ideas and made them into something. And as the years went on, and his fame and wealth grew, he decided he didn't need as much input from others, and he could overcome the production & technical challenges due to his resources.
    posted by nubs at 11:03 AM on April 21, 2016

    And as the years went on, and his fame and wealth grew, he decided he didn't need as much input from others, and he could overcome the production & technical challenges due to his resources.

    Not to mention he intentionally or not surrounded himself with folks who worked for him based on their love of his past accomplishments, and I'd argue, were much less inclined to either vocalize a dissenting opinion or were simply too close and mentally couldn't do it. I mean, if I worked on Skywalker Ranch in the late 90's or early 00's and it was my opportunity to assist Lucas on the Prequel Trilogy, I think I would have been incapable of not being excited beyond belief to really view anything critically.
    posted by Atreides at 11:38 AM on April 21, 2016

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