Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope

Even today, "Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope" is relentless in its pacing and highly effective in its relaying of the hero's journey, told through the prism of an oddball space western never expected to succeed by writer/director George Lucas. It's amusing now, seeing the film as a fairly straightforward study of good vs. evil, to consider that it was mocked by those contemporary filmmakers who thought Lucas foolish to take on such fringe genre material. This is a story of light and dark, of a force that binds the galaxy together, and of three ragtag antiheroes forced into a conflict that seems to have spanned decades.

There is the young man whose past dictates his future and his fate and who dreams of better things off in the space outside his planet that includes two suns to the west. There is the young woman, a member of her planet's royal family but far more headstrong and willful than that implies, who simply wants peace for her people. There is the scoundrel, whose gruffness is as lovable as his ruthlessness is disarming (He kills another smuggler out of both self-defense and self-preservation). There is the main heavy, a villain of real menace whose connection to the hero is the fuel for a classic revenge story and who has the physical presence necessary for the job of villain.

Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is a young man living with his aunt and uncle (Shelagh Fraser and Phil Brown) on a moisture farm near Mos Eisley on the desert planet of Tatooine. The harvest season is approaching, and while Luke wants to go off and receive education at a university, his uncle wants him to remain. They've hired on two new hands--droids, to be exact. C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) is a gold-plated automaton with a British cadence and a specialty in the ways of etiquette and protocol, and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) is a dome-shaped robot who communicates in a series of blips and beeps. The latter, to whom everyone presents refers by the first two characters in his label, also has a secret mission to deliver to someone living on this planet.

That someone is Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness), a seeming hermit who was once a Jedi knight and a general in the mythic Clone Wars that, everyone says, were the turning point for the Rebellion and the Galactic Empire. He comes clean to Luke about the latter's father, who was murdered by Darth Vader (David Prowse and the voice of an uncredited James Earl Jones), a black-suited menace with an iron lung and a penchant for using the Force to choke his victims. The Sith lord is gaining strength as the rebellion also heats up, and he has taken prisoner an Alderaanian princess named Leia (Carrie Fisher) in order to barter state secrets for ultimate destruction.

The destruction will be wrought by the Empire's weapon of choice--an enormous space station the size of a small moon with fire power to destroy an entire planet (which they do in order to prove a point). Luke, Obi-Wan, and Han Solo (Harrison Ford), a smuggler hired by the other two to pilot them through imperial starships in his ultra-fast cruiser the Millennium Falcon, rescue Leia from the clutches of Vader, Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing), and the other imperial villains on the space station. Luckily, little R2-D2 holds crucial blueprints of the station, called Death Star, within his memory circuits. A fight it is, then, to destroy the station and Vader along with it. For Luke, after all, this is personal.

Set piece after set piece defines the quick-witted and thrilling "Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope," a movie that inspired a generation because it is genuinely inspiring in its almost handmade nature (slightly ruined by the cosmetic changes Lucas made to the imagery decades later) and in the way it tackled its clear-cut themes of good and evil. The performances are all earnest enough to work, with Ford's sardonic space pilot and Guinness's wise, old mentor leading the charge. The effects work, almost entirely practical in nature, is stunning for its time and still impressive today, in particular the battles between spaceships among the stars. This is a wellspring of cinematic invention.

Film Information

Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Peter Cushing (Grand Moff Tarkin), Alec Guinness (Obi-Wan "Ben" Kenobi), David Prowse (Darth Vader), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Kenny Baker (R2-D2), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Phil Brown (Uncle Owen), Shelagh Fraser (Aunt Beru), Jack Purvis (The Chief Jawa), Eddie Byrne (General Vanden Willard), Denis Lawson (Wedge Antilles), Garrick Hagon (Biggs Darklighter), Don Henderson (General Cassio Tagge), Leslie Schofield (General Moradmin Bast).

Featuring the voice of James Earl Jones (Darth Vader).

Directed and written by George Lucas.

Rated PG (sci-fi violence, brief mild language).

121 minutes.

Released on May 25, 1977.

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