A New Hope
Originally released as simply Star Wars. It ranks 13th in AFI’s Top 100 Movies, #1 for Film Scores, #8 in Movie Quotes, and #14 in Heroes and Villains. This is the film that started the saga. Expertly cast with Mark Hamill (would later voice the Joker in several Batman cartoons [we’ll catch one later] and Fire Lord Ozai in Avatar: The Last Airbender [we’ve already noted the irony of that casting and characterization]) as wet-behind-the-ears Luke Skywalker, Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia Organa, and Harrison Ford (action star extraordinaire; Jack Ryan, Indiana Jones, Air Force One) completing the trio as Han Solo. Alec Guinness is Obi-Wan Kenobi, Peter Cushing (he worked alongside Christopher Lee several times, mainly in horror films, but he portrayed Sherlock Holmes as well) is Grand Moff Tarkin. Anthony Daniels brings C-3PO to life, like Kenny Baker does with R2-D2; Peter Mayhew dons the Chewbacca costume while David Prowse wears the Vader suit. Of course, James Earl Jones (Mufasa, as well as appearing with Harrison Ford in the Jack Ryan movies) provides that deep voice (though not credited in this film).
And seriously, the original theme is also the best, since it doesn’t have to segue into any other theme. It’s the most joyful and triumphant. We also hear the Force theme for the first time, which also plays a huge part in the soundtracks of the rest of the saga. I could try to go into how this film was pioneering, but I wouldn’t be the best choice since I was not alive to witness this film when it first came out and wasn’t a huge fan of it when I first saw it. And now that the prequel trilogy is out especially, it’s a bit hard to separate what was all brand new in this film when first released with what we know now.
After the crawl, we see that iconic scene of the Star Destroyer chasing the Rebel Runner and are first introduced to R2-D2 and C-3PO; 3PO is the definition of a fusspot. R2 is given a secret mission and they must escape from the imposing black-caped Darth Vader. He is looking for the stolen Death Star plans (which we saw how those ended aboard this ship in Rogue One; which was kind of the whole point of that film) and captures Princess Leia. R2 and 3PO end up on Tatooine and separated briefly until the Jawas (and their signature “oo-tee-dee!”) get their hands on them.
Enter teenager Luke Skywalker and his aunt and uncle Beru and Owen Lars. They purchase R2 and 3PO. But R2 is insistent on pursuing his mission and escapes to find Obi-Wan Kenobi, though Luke only knows an “Old Ben.” Uncle Owen shuts down his questions, simply stating that Obi-Wan died alongside Luke’s father, and he shouldn’t worry about Ben. Luke, tired of being stuck on a backwater planet, storms off. Owen tells Beru he’s afraid that Luke has too much of his father in him [and we know why that would be dangerous].
When Luke goes looking for R2, he runs into Sand People. Ben is around to scare them off and is surprised that a little R2 unit has come searching for him. Luke asks Ben if he knows an Obi-Wan. Of course he does, he’s Obi-Wan. But he hasn’t gone by that name since Luke was born. He takes Luke home with him and informs the teenager that his father was a Jedi Knight, as was Obi-Wan; they fought in the Clone Wars together. They were guardians of the peace and justice in the Old Republic. Luke inherited his piloting skills from his father and Obi-Wan gifts him with the blue lightsaber; “an elegant weapon for a more civilized time.” Darth Vader was once a pupil of Obi-Wan’s, until he fell to the Dark Side of the Force and betrayed and murdered Luke’s father (uh, he’ll get to that later…shh, it’s a secret for now). We finally see the whole message that Leia sent to Obi-Wan, asking for his help in the name of her father, Bail Organa [oh yes, you should totally read Wild Space by Karen Miller to find out how Bail and Obi-Wan ended up becoming friends]. She has stashed important plans inside the R2 unit that are vital to the Rebellion. “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi; you’re my only hope.”
Luke doesn’t want to go running off to Alderaan; he has responsibilities here that his uncle was outlining just the previous evening. He comes across an attack on Jawas on his way home and Obi-Wan deduces it was stormtroopers trying to disguise there attack as Sand People, They were looking for the droids. Which would have led them home. Luke races back only to discover the homestead to be smoldering and two burnt bodies at the door. He has nothing now, so he’ll follow Obi-Wan. “I want to learn the ways of the Force and become a Jedi, like my father.”
First, they must find transport and head to Mos Eisley; “you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.” Obi-Wan gets them past the troopers using a Jedi mind trick [that he probably picked up from Qui-Gon] and they search for a pilot in the cantina (cue that iconic music). Luke gets in a bit of trouble and Obi-Wan proves he still has some fight left in him, slicing off a criminal’s arm with his lightsaber. They then meet Han Solo and Chewbacca who agree to take them to Alderaan, avoiding Imperial entanglement, and no questions asked for a pretty sum. Han briefly deals with Greedo after the pair leave (and yes, he shoots first!). Then he buys more time to pay back his debt to Jabba the Hutt. Han also gets the idea that his passengers may be more than meets the eye when Imperials show up and start firing as the pair attempt to board the Millennium Falcon. Chewie gets them out of Tatooine; “here’s where the fun begins.” Luke is certainly an eager young kid, contrasting with Han who is more world-wise.
Meanwhile, Leia has been taken aboard the Death Star and Vader attempts to interrogate her on the location of the Rebel base, but she resists the mind probe. Grand Moff Tarkin (he goes by Governor in the film) has another idea. If Princess Leia does not reveal the base, he will fire the Empire’s ultimate weapon on Alderaan. Leia finally gives them the planet Dantooine. Tarkin destroys Alderaan anyway to prove a point. Obi-Wan feels the incredible loss of life all the way on the Falcon. But he insists that Luke continue with his training. Han’s not one to believe in the Force while Obi-Wan comes back that there is no such thing as luck.
When they come out of hyperspace, they discover what the Empire has done, though they don’t know how. Until Obi-Wan realizes that the object in the distance is no moon. It’s a space station. And they are caught in its tractor beam. Luke has a very bad feeling about this. Obi-Wan has a better idea that fighting. They hide away in the smuggling holds from the Imperial boarding parties, though Vader senses something. Obi-Wan also has an idea on how to deal with the tractor beam. Han figured the old man would do something foolish. “Who’s the more foolish; the fool, or the fool who follows him?” [Still spouting wisdom.]
Han and Luke then discover that Leia is aboard the Death Star and Luke immediately wants to rescue her. He persuades Han with the promise of reward. They use Chewie as a prisoner to get to the cell. The plan goes pretty well, until Han’s funny conversation and Leia notes that Luke is short to be a stormtrooper. Proving he is an eager young lad, he announces himself to Leia “I’m Luke Skywalker, I’m here to rescue you.” Oh, and I have your droid. And Obi-Wan Kenobi. As Han predicts, they end up with company and Leia takes charge: “into the garbage shoot, flyboy.” Han either wants to kill the princess, or he’s beginning to like her. “What an incredible smell you’ve discovered,” Han snarks once they’re out of the line of fire. Leia contends that the situation could be worse. Now Han has a bad feeling about this. It gets worse when a slug creature grabs Luke. It only lets go when the trash compactor starts up. Luke calls for R2 and 3PO, but the droids are almost too late to save their humans. R2 to the rescue in the nick of time!
And now they just have to get through a couple dozen troopers. Han and Leia still snip at each other; Han is used to taking orders from just one person, himself. Leia is used to being in charge and asks someone to get the walking carpet out of her way. (Gotta admire a woman who takes charge and doesn’t wait to be rescued) They split up; Han deciding it is great tactics to chase after one’s opponent shouting at the top of his lungs. His luck holds out. Luke and Leia have to swing across an opening [which Mythbusters proved was possible; and was performed by Mark and Carrie on set in one take (they didn’t have the money for stunt doubles).] They all eventually meet up by the Falcon.
Obi-Wan sneaks about the battle station and Vader determines he must face his old master alone. Tarkin dismisses Vader’s power (which we’ve already witnessed is a bad idea; he choked a subordinate when he found his lack of faith disturbing.) When he confronts Obi-Wan, he claims he is now a master. “Only a master of evil, Darth.” Vader claims Obi-Wan’s powers are weak. Obi-Wan also warns Vader “if you strike me down, I’ll become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” [Yes, this duel is much slower than their epic battle in Revenge of the Sith, but keep in mind that this was the first lightsaber duel ever conceived; and take into account Alec Guiness’s age. And Vader is impeded by a black suit. And heck, he probably hasn’t had to duel anyone in a while…yet the end of Rogue One proves he’s still got it. George Lucas’ original concept was that there was a heft to lightsabers; he didn’t want them flung about. Obviously, once we got back and see Jedi young and in their prime, the duels are more fantastic. Nevertheless, the choreography is sound] Obi-Wan senses his young charges are near and allows Vader to slice through him. But his body disappears (surprising everyone). His disembodied voice urges Luke to run and the Millennium Falcon escapes. There’s a brief dogfight to ensure they get away [I remember reading in a novel somewhere that gravity is a bit off in the Falcon at that ladder] which Leia insists was an easy escape. In fact, Vader has a homing beacon planted on the Falcon.
Our heroes make for the Rebel base on Yavin 4 with all haste to analyze the readouts on R2. Han takes his reward and intends to leave. He’s got debts to pay off and going against the Death Star is not his idea of courage. The Rebellion is banking on snub fighters getting past the guns, flying through a trench, and hitting a small opening to start a chain reaction. Luke figures it’s not much bigger than the womp rats he used to shoot on Tatooine. He’s disappointed in Han, but the smuggler does tell the boy, “May the Force be with you,” in parting. Luke cheers up a bit reuniting with his friend Biggs. They’re part of Red Sqaudron, along with Wedge Antilles [played by Ewan McGregor’s uncle, Denis Lawson; and the character is most likely related to the Captain Antilles Bail Organa addresses at the end of Revenge of the Sith].
The Death Star is orbiting Yavin to get into position to fire on the base. Tarkin refuses to leave, even after the techs figure out what the Rebels are aiming for. The Grand Moff is certain this is the Empire’s moment of triumph. Even Vader commented that this day saw the end of Kenobi and will see the end of the Rebellion, though he does take his TIE Interceptor out to shoot down Rebel ships. [Lucas was influenced by the dog fighting of WWII, and I feel that the effects still hold up well forty years later; proves how well made it originally was] Wedge is hit and has to break off his attack. Biggs is killed protecting Luke. Luke hears Obi-Wan urge him to trust the Force to aim his torpedo. Vader and his friends are gaining on Luke in his X-Wing and R2 is a bit fried [Anakin! You shot your droid!] Han swoops in on the Falcon to save the day; knocking Vader away, and giving Luke his chance. Bombs away just as the station powers up its giant laser. Huge explosion!
Luke is greeted by cheers and a hug from Leia. Han joins in. Luke’s thrilled he returned; Han claims he couldn’t let Luke get all the credit. [Note the height difference between Carrie and Mark and Harrison, particular Harrison. It’s a bit funny] The Rebels hold a ceremony (cue awesome music) to recognize Han, Chewie, and Luke for their actions. 3PO and R2 are all shined up and the Rebellion lives to fight another day.
The main word I can use to describe this film is “iconic.” Even if you’ve never watched the film, you probably know a lot of key points and dialogue because it is seeped into pop culture so much. There are several books and magazines articles that outline all the trouble George Lucas went through to get this film made; I highly encourage you to check them out! This film, and really the whole saga, echo Joseph Campbell’s idea of the “monomyth.” There is a path that most major hero stories follow [I’ve read the book twice and not even for a class! And I totally agree with his hypothesis]. Luke receives his “call to adventure;” there is a “refusal of the call;” then there is “supernatural aid.” This all happens on Tatooine with Obi-Wan. Luke crosses his first threshold and is thrown into the “belly of the whale.” That would be joining the Rebellion. And he begins to undergo trials.
Up Next: The Empire Strikes Back