Best way to piss off a fanboy: Tell ’em you think Greedo shot first. Mark Hamill, Academy Award nominee Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Academy Award winner Alec Guinness star in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope.
Cast of Characters:
Luke Skywalker – Mark Hamill
Han Solo – Harrison Ford
Princess Leia Organa – Carrie Fisher
Grand Moff Tarkin – Peter Cushing
Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi – Alec Guinness
C-3PO – voiced by Anthony Daniels
R2-D2 – Kenny Baker
Chewbacca – Peter Mayhew
Darth Vader – David Prowse/voiced by James Earl Jones
Director – George Lucas
Screenplay – George Lucas
Producer – Gary Kurtz
Rated PG for sci-fi violence and brief mild language
Nearly 20 years after the events of Revenge of the Sith, the galaxy is in all-out civil war, and spies for the Rebel Alliance have stolen plans to the Galactic Empire’s Death Star, the heavily-armored space station that is capable of destroying an entire planet. Rebel leader Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) is in possession of the plans; however, her ship is captured by Imperial forces led under the command of evil Sith lord Darth Vader (David Prowse), but not before hiding the plans, along with an urgent message, inside the memory of a droid named R2-D2 (Kenny Baker).
After R2-D2 and fellow protocol droid C-3PO (voiced by Anthony Daniels) flee to the desert of planet of Tatooine, they are captured by Jawa traders and sold to Owen Lars (Phil Brown) and his nephew Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). While tinkering with R2-D2, Luke discovers the princess’s message, intended for a man named Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness). They soon meet Obi-Wan and he tells Luke of his former days as a Jedi Knight, galactic peacekeepers who were wiped out by the Empire. Luke also learns from him that he fought alongside his father Anakin before he was betrayed and murdered by Darth Vader, a former pupil who turned to the dark side of the Force.
Obi-Wan decides to take the secret plans to Leia’s home planet of Alderaan, and invites Luke to accompany him, so he too can learn the ways of the Force. Needing transportation to the planet, Obi-Wan and Luke hire smuggler Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and his Wookiee first mate Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) to take them on their ship, the Millennium Falcon.
It’s hard to imagine what A New Hope could’ve ended up as. We could’ve gotten William Katt (Tommy Ross from Carrie) as Luke “Starkiller” joining forces with a black Han Solo (Billy Dee Williams, who’d eventually go on to play Lando Calrissian in the sequels) and a Japanese Obi-Wan Kenobi to battle a British, tenor voiced Darth Vader.
Following the completion of his debut film THX 1138, George Lucas was granted a two picture deal from United Artists; the first was American Graffiti and the second would be an untitled Flash Gordon space fantasy. Unable to obtain the rights to Flash Gordon, Lucas began creating, in January of 1973, what would become the space opera that is Star Wars. Four years later, Star Wars would be released going up against another sci-fi classic from fellow filmmaker, friend and soon-to-be Indiana Jones collaborator Steven Spielberg, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Lucas had very little faith that his film would be a box office success, and predicted Spielberg, who already achieved box office gold with Jaws, and his film would win between the two of them. Spielberg, seeing the two films as being two completely different takes on the sci-fi genre, disagreed and made a deal with Lucas to exchange 2.5% of each film’s profits.
Of course, six films, an expanded universe book series, an animated TV series, over $4 billion made at the box office, 7 Oscar wins, legions of fanatical fanboys and a very happy Spielberg later, the rest is history.
Despite it’s lasting influence and impact, which no one can take away, A New Hope isn’t perfect. Lucas’s problems with dialogue still existed back then, it takes a while to really get warmed up to Luke who’s just as much a whiny brat as his papa (But I was going to Toshi Station to get some power converters!), and I’m wondering if Princess Leia gets duel citizenship for the awkward back and forth of American and English accents that Carrie Fisher uses. Also, although the climactic battle is an exciting action-packed spectacle, the secret to destroying the powerful, planet-killing Death Star can be chalked up to laziness on either Lucas’s part or whoever it was that created the Death Star and figured they’d leave a nice open hole for easy access to blowing it up.
That said… this is still the second best Star Wars film, and without A New Hope, there is no saga. We still are treated to one of the greatest villains ever, one of the greatest anti-heroes ever, John Williams’s legendary score, the Obi-Wan/Vader rematch, and Peter Cushing who, along with Christopher Lee, makes the Hammer stars of Star Wars circle complete.
Spielberg may have made the overall better sci-fi movie that year, but he was dead-on when he knew Lucas was on to something big with this franchise in the making. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Lucas’s strength as a filmmaker has never been writing or direction; it’s always been storytelling and what he created here was nothing short of extraordinary. He didn’t just create an entire world; he created an entire galaxy, taking special effects to heights not seen since Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey back in 1968. Even today, almost 40 years later, it’s still mind-blowing to see what Lucas has made, not just with the special effects, but with the creativity and imagination it took to create a saga like this.
The characters, many of which are household names by now, are also a key reason why this film has endured for so long. Despite my earlier nitpicks about Luke, Mark Hamill does begin to show signs of the much more developed character he’d become in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi right around the second half of the film. Alec Guinness brings dramatic gravitas to the wise former Jedi Obi-Wan, Peter Cushing is snakelike as Grand Moff Tarkin, and Harrison Ford has all the arrogance, charm and devil may care attitude in the world as the maverick Han Solo.
I should mention the Special Edition changes Lucas made to Han Solo where he now shoots Greedo after being shot at, instead of shooting Greedo dead before he even has a chance to get a shot off as what happens in the theatrical cut. I’ll defend the prequels. I’m fine with the changes he made in Episode V, and I’m even okay with all the added creatures Lucas threw in (with the exception of the added Jabba the Hut scene in A New Hope and that goofy Jabba Rock song in Return of the Jedi). What I won’t defend is changing the essence of Han’s character away from the conscience-less anti-hero that defines who Solo is. That, and the change doesn’t make much sense since as close as Greedo is to Han, it must make him the worst point blank shooter in bounty hunting history.
Lastly, how can we not mention Darth Vader? As I mentioned in my Revenge of the Sith review, Vader’s presence and voice is more synonymous with Star Wars than any other aspect of the film, save Williams’s score. You don’t even have to have seen the film to be able to immediately recognize him upon seeing an image of him. Originally, Vader was to be voiced by the 6’6″ David Prowse who played the physical form of Vader. Wanting a darker voice for the role, Lucas thought about Orson Welles, but felt he was too recognizable of an actor. Then came the Godsend that is James Earl Jones, the man behind the voice of one of the most intimidating villainous figures in cinema who ironically fought a stutter for many years during his childhood. Credit should certainly go to Prowse for what he brought to the physical performance of the role, but there’s no way Vader would even come close to being as ominous and inhuman as he is if not for Jones’s voice, which complements the suit like a perfect marriage. Without Jones, and this is with all due respect to Prowse, the suit kinda becomes laughable. The voice, though, makes it terrifying.
Just like what Steven Spielberg did for Jaws in 1975, George Lucas pushed the limits of what blockbuster films could provide two years later with Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. From its expansive mythology, groundbreaking special effects, to one of the most iconic villains of all-time, Lucas took ambitious filmmaking to the next level. While not the best sci-fi film ever, or even the best of this series, all subsequent sci-fi films and certainly all five other Star Wars films owe everything they’ve accomplished to this film here, which kicked off the entire saga with those ten immortal words: “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”