It’s hard to review A New Hope without some aspect of nostalgia filtering into my opinion. This is a movie I’ve seen easily twenty times, if not more, throughout my life, and that makes it difficult to look at it through an objective lens. For a quick refresher, below is my watch order for the films, and if you haven’t already, check out my review of Rogue One which some think is a spicy take…
A New Hope is a wonderful start to a traditional Campbellian journey where a plucky, young, moisture farmer discovers a hidden talent and goes off to fight evil. Right from the start, this film leaves no room for interpretation in its black and white painting of a galaxy in crisis. The bad guys look an awful lot like Nazis, only in space, their leader dresses all in black and Princess Leia wears white. The pace at the beginning of the film is quick and manages to maintain its tension, even to this day after I’ve watched it far too many times. I still get a kick out of C-3P0’s pithy sarcasm, and Vader still cuts an imposing figure when he first comes through the smoke-shrouded doorway. It says a lot when a film that was made in the 70s can still successfully evoke emotions and immerse the viewer some forty-odd years later.
Most of what makes this possible in my opinion is the film’s emphasis on practical sets, as well as an unforgettable soundtrack. The music in A New Hope is easily one of its best features and a highlight for the series (Duel of the Fates aside). Binary Sea is one of the most iconic scores in film and still conjures up images of the twin suns setting over Tatooine. The music is constantly complimenting the film and is one of the main reasons it’s so memorable. I could keep naming tracks all day, but then I’d likely just wake up drunk in front of John Williams’s house again, so it’s best to move on.
The special effects in A New Hope were ground-breaking at the time but can feel distracting in the modern era. It might be easier to ignore them if George Lucas hadn’t spliced a healthy dose of 90s CGI here and there to try and give the movie a punch up. While most of these reworked scenes are unnecessary and serve as an opportunity to throw weird lizards in unused set space, there are a few I’d like to call out as exceptional. First, the trench run rework really adds something to the film, and actually makes the iconic battle better. Second, the little touches like removing the orange haze from beneath Luke’s speeder help the film age a little better.
Unfortunately, Lucas wasn’t content to just mess with the effects, he had to add a few scenes too. I could talk about these all day, but I’m going to practice some restraint and do a few quick bullets:
- Han shot first, and it should have stayed that way. It was a great moment for his character and gave him some much-needed darkness to contrast Luke’s goody-two-shoes routine.
- The scene with Han circling Jabba does give some interesting context for Return of the Jedi, but it’s also awkward as hell when Han ‘steps on Jabba’s tail’ (gif below).
- Adding Biggs into the final scene before the trench run is interesting, but thematically confusing as the only bit we’ve heard about him is that he ran off to join the Imperial Academy. There’s lots of great fiction about what happened to him, but we get none of that context, and it leaves me with a ton of questions.
Now, back to the original film. The scenes that hold up the best are character focused, with the practical sets and iconic costumes carrying the movie. Even with the corny lightsaber effects, the battle between Obi Wan and Darth on the Death Star carries weight and is entertaining to watch. It’s a far cry from the flashier sabre battles of the prequel and sequel trilogies, but the methodical samurai-like combat has a menace of its own that is engaging and beautiful to watch.
The actors themselves are a mixed bag, and I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that. Mark Hamill did what he could with some pretty lackluster lines, but in the end, Luke is whiny and not all that interesting (in this movie). Luckily, like Rogue One, the protagonist is once again saved by an interesting cast of supporting characters. Harrison Ford’s Han is iconic and carries every scene he’s in. Han’s constant bickering and poking at Luke provides the relief the audience desperately needs from what is otherwise a traditional hero story. Obi Wan serves to ground the action and give Han at least a little push back while Luke is taking a verbal ass-whooping for the first half of the film. Despite starting out as just some guy living in the desert, Alec Guiness made Obi Wan into one of the most memorable characters, even with a relatively short screen time.
The detailed supporting cast of A New Hope unfortunately serve to highlight Luke’s lack of character. Throughout the film, he’s going through a lot of changes, and the reasoning behind them can seem ham-handed. When we first meet Luke, he’s daydreaming about joining The Academy, and spoilers, there’s only one of those, it’s the Imperial Academy. If Luke hadn’t been lucky enough to be duped by a runaway R2D2, he might have been heading off to be an Imperial pilot, fighting The Rebellion. It takes ten minutes for Luke to completely change his mind on the subject after a meeting with an old wizard in the desert who he barely knows. Shortly after, his family is killed, allegedly by imperials, but he never sees that and ends up taking the old man’s word on faith… Soon, he’s gung-ho about joining The Rebellion, and somehow all of his friends are there (thanks 90s Lucas)… Yes, the same friends that joined the Imperial Academy. It would have been great to see a small character beat between Luke and Biggs where they at least talk about what happened, but instead, it’s left hoping that we’d have forgotten.
There are a lot of little character inconsistencies like this riddled throughout A New Hope, but the main story distracts us from them with its glory. Look, no one is going to say that this is one of the greatest tales ever told; it’s generic, a bit overdone, and unoriginal, but it’s the world it all takes place in that makes it shine. Watching Luke and Obi Wan walk into a bar in Mos Eisley and listening to the iconic cantina band is an adventure in itself. The details scattered throughout the world make it impossible to escape its magnetic pull (almost like a tractor beam). Every character in the cantina scene feels like they could have some wild backstory, but the film leaves it up to the viewer’s imagination.
It’s the side interactions with these characters too that serve as some of the most memorable moments in the film. Luke’s confrontation with Butt Face (I refuse to call him anything else) and his partner in crime is one of the best scenes in the saga. It shows us Luke really doesn’t know what he’s doing, Obi Wan is a lean, mean slicing machine who is not to be fucked with, and that the denizens of the Mos Eisley Cantina see way too many people murdered. That’s a lot of story, setting, and character communication, and it takes all of about thirty seconds. I only wish the rest of the film had that sort of concise storytelling, but hey, it’s still got a lot to offer.
Finally, before I run out of words here, a quick word about the opposition, the evil Galactic Empire. For the most part, they are characterized by incompetence in this film, and without Rogue One’s addition of the Death Star being sabotaged, they’d look like complete idiots. Storm Troopers are supposed to be precise, and yet, Han Solo literally runs into a wall of them, shoots one in the head and gets away unscathed. They might be good at murdering farmers and Jawas, but anytime it comes to a real fight, they shit the bed.
Now, the Empire’s leadership? Full of petty infighting and scrambling for power. That is a believable story that somehow still mirrors the corporate world, and that’s a little bit scary. Peter Cushing’s Tarkin is a great, stereotypical villain with some incredible one-liners that serve to hold him in memory even after he’s blown up aboard his technological terror. Vader likewise isn’t given a ton of screen time, but when he’s there, he’s memorable, mostly due to the iconic James Earl Jones voiceover. My one gripe: Vader is allegedly the best pilot in the galaxy, and yet he still manages to miss the hulking form of the Millennium Falcon coming up behind him in the final battle? Maybe he should have tried spinning, I heard that’s a good trick.
In the end, I still love A New Hope despite its flaws. The world building is amazing and set us up for decades of fan fiction, lackluster prequels, and great sequels. While the story is very predictable and doesn’t do much new, it does it in a galaxy that no one had ever seen before, and that alone was enough to captivate people. Adjusted for nostalgic inflation, I still think this movie holds up and will continue to delight new audiences, especially with all the new Star Wars media coming out.
As always, if you disagree, I encourage you to fight me on Twitter/Facebook, it really drives the viewcount up on these pieces 😊