#19: Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)

When and how did I watch this?

May 7th, 2017, on DVD.

Had I seen this film already?

Yep. It’s a hard-to-miss pop culture icon.

What did I know about the movie before watching it?

For years, I cared nothing for anything Star Wars.  I had the second-hand fascination with some of its characters as a young kid, but the interest waned as Nintendo captured my attention for a solid decade of my childhood. My friends, pretty much all nerds by self-admission, were excited for the release of Episode I in the late 90s, but I still never got on that train.  It wasn’t until a good friend of mine had me write a script for a quasi-canonical spinoff short film that I started doing my homework and got around to watching the whole series for myself. I’m still not a big fan of the franchise, especially now with the Disney acquisition, but I get it. Even if I’d never seen Star Wars, it’s impossible to escape Han Solo, Vader and the Death Star, and Luke Skywalker in pop culture.

What do I know about it now?

More involved fans would probably serve up a better summary of this film, but one aspect I think we can all agree upon is its spectacular, breathtaking special effects.  They’re nothing extraordinary by nature, even for their time, but the degree of imagination invested in the characters, both primary and peripheral, the swirling colors and details and speed of the conclusive battle against the Empire, and the colloquial employment of the world’s vocabulary (droids, lightsabers, the Force) are landmark achievements for sci-fi film and cinema at large.  Han Solo is one of the most likeable characters on screen. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen the final showdown between Luke and Darth in their respective spacecraft — you’re sweating out the final moments. One thing I noticed in the filming is the heavy use of hard contrast blacks and whites with subtle embellishments (lights, angles, designs) in the scenery. For example, Darth Vader’s entrance in the scene is striking, with the menacing trumpet-led score, the heavy breathing and eccentric mask, but most importantly the black costume against the white backdrop and Storm Troopers. The acting is actually somewhat poor — Luke is pretty awful, and Leia is often awkwardly feminist in nature, but we don’t really care at the end. We had a good time, and you’re left saying, “Wow, that was unbelievable.” I can only guess how stunning this was in 1977 for those who were fortunate enough to stand in line at the theater and witness this for themselves on the screen in its raw beauty. One last remark: the cantina scene might be among the most important for George Lucas, because it introduced several bizarre aliens that were complete throwaways for the plot, but fascinating for the viewer.

What are some themes in the film?

Honor, revenge, trust/loyalty, good vs. evil

Did this affect me personally?

I should’ve written this sooner (it has now been two weeks), but I do recall numerous biblical parallels in the film, mostly involving sacrifice, temperament, and the Force.  Jedi Knights echo the core ideas of samurai as well, reminding us the importance of self-control and honor. Certainly the film isn’t meant to be preachy, but it has some nice takeaways.

Why is this ranked #19?

It’s surprising this isn’t in the top 5. A few generations are enamored with the franchise, and anything Star Wars-related is typically a box office success, even if it’s a critical failure. Even with all the hype, Star Wars is too important to ignore, and stands as a wildly successful concept from the start.

Did my wife watch/like it?

She’s one of those Star Wars fans that saw them all before I did.  Of course she loved it.

Would I watch it again?

It’s a film that’s over before you even realize it. Star Wars is easy to watch and enjoyable from start to finish.

Would I recommend it to a friend?

It’s like recommending a cheeseburger.  You already know what it is before you’re asked to try it, and even suggesting it is somewhat absurd.

Does it deserve to be on this list as one of the greatest films of all time?

Superior films populate the IMDb Top 250, but possibly none are as important as Star Wars. Top to bottom — the score, the scenery, the effects, the spectacular heroes and over-the-top villains — are mimicked and rehashed today. I would guess anyone attempting to make a space-themed film has difficulty extricating their subconscious leaning toward Star Wars in development, for the imprint upon us, individually and culturally, is deeper than one would expect.

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