One of my biggest sins as a film-lover is that I have never really watched Star Wars. It was not as if I had anything against the franchise, or that I was opposed to watching them, but it was just a matter of never getting around to seeing them. An entire franchise, with two trilogies, books, television shows and comics, and mountains of merchandise, can most certainly be intimidating, and the factor that kept me from ever taking the time to sit and watch the films was that it feel that if I started, I would be entering a rabbit hole that could potentially change my perception of everything, which is a very daunting prospect. However, with the seventh film in the series due out less than two weeks, this is a better time than any to explore the films. What better place to start than right at the beginning when film history was made. Bear with me over the next few days as I endeavor to delve into the intimidating, but magnificent, world of Star Wars, which started today with Episode IV.
Where to start? I honestly feel very powerless when talking about Star Wars. There have been legions of people who have seen this film decades before I was even born, so the idea of reviewing it, nearly forty years on, is terrifying. However, I can say with absolute certainty that Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope is an absolute masterpiece and comes very close to being a perfect film. It will be impossible to fault this film, and perhaps attempting to find flaws in this film is meaningless, because to be perfectly honest, I couldn’t find a single flaw in the entire film, which is an absolute rare occurrence. So if you are worried that this review might nitpick the film and find reasons as to why it is overrated, or petty attempts to find flaws, then you have nothing to worry about, because I was absolutely blown away by this film.
As it is clear from other reviews that I’ve written, I have asserted several times that a perfect film needs to have three very coherent, equally powerful acts. It is almost a miracle to find such a film, and with even the greatest masterpieces of cinema, there will be one act that will be slightly overlong or paced incorrectly. Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope has three mind-blowingly great acts, each one as powerful and fantastic as the others, which accounts to the fact that even while this film clocks in at over two hours, it goes by in an instant. There is a wonderful sense of pacing and proves that George Lucas, my own personal criticisms of him aside, had a true passion for this story, and in addition to that, a fantastic talent at making a wonderfully effortless film that never leaves you bored, even for a moment, which is a great testament to his creative mind. There is not a single moment in this film that shouldn’t have belonged there, and each scene is as vital and strong as the one before it, maybe even more. Not all films can get this right, and I am hoping that the remaining films in the series, or at least the two remaining films in the original trilogy, keep this factor, because that was precisely why this film had such an impact on me, because the viewing experience was unlike any other.
However, talking about the length of the film seems far too technical, and quite frankly, possibly even boring. So let us move onto the real brilliance of this film – the compelling story. Knowing that this film was the first in an immensely profitable and culturally significant franchise does cast a bit of a shadow on this film, because it is clear that this story is going to be continued. Many franchise films use the first film in the series to set up the story, introduce important characters and draw everyone into the series, so that they desire the subsequent films. Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope does this wonderfully, but does it in such a way that the story isn’t concluded, but it doesn’t leave the audience on a cliffhanger, where we need the next film instantly. Keep in mind, this is coming from the person who will probably start the next film as soon as this review has been written, but in 1977, audiences had to wait another three years for the next film – that is a very long wait, and in an age where franchise films are released annually (waiting a year is still a long wait, but not nearly as long as three years). It was therefore important for the first film here to give audiences a taste of the story, and to become attached to these characters, but to end the film in such a way that audiences will feel satisfied enough to wait. Impatience is a common trait in all film-goers (and I will not exclude myself from that statement – I am notoriously difficult when it comes to waiting for new films, especially one that is only in the early stages of development), and in the modern age, where audiences have a tendency to demand instant gratification, seeing a film end in such a way is wonderfully rare and unique, and couldn’t possibly work in the modern age of filmmaking for some bizarre reason. The moment the ending credits rolled, I was in awe, yet I didn’t instantly find myself wandering off to the realms of desire, where I demanded the next film instantly, but rather started to reflect upon the technical and creative mastery of the film that I had just seen, which is a marvelous achievement.
For a cast made up of almost entirely unknowns (at the time, obviously), the performances were fantastic. Lucas clearly saw potential in the unknown performers of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill, and his faith in them paid off tremendously, because they each forged indelible performances into film history, and in the process of playing soon-to-be iconic characters, became cinema icons themselves. Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope is the very definition of a star-making film, as these three performers launched from complete obscurity into worldwide fame. Ford has never been more likable and endearing, and it is clear that he was the most talented of the bunch, considering his future as one of the most bankable stars in film history. That isn’t to downplay the other two – Carrie Fisher has become a wonderful actress, comedienne and writer, and Hamill is one of the best voice actors in the business today. However, regardless of how wealthy Ford has become from his decades in cinema, or the various endeavors the other two have found their successes in, all three of them can trace their roots straight back to Star Wars, and I truly believe that none of them would have their careers if it wasn’t for this very film, that launched them to super-stardom. Within this film, it is clear that Ford is the best of the bunch, because he is wry, charismatic and a true leading man. I look forward to seeing how Hamill and Fisher do in the remaining two films of the trilogy, because they were also fantastic here, and show a great amount of warmth, humor and emotional depth that is very rare in huge blockbusters like this.
Knowing my own tastes, it is pretty obvious that I would become attached to the veteran in the cast, and Lucas could have chosen very few veterans as brilliant and iconic as Sir Alec Guinness, who plays Obi-Wan Kenobi with great emotional depth and a wonderfully bitter sense of humour. The archetype of the elderly, all-knowing mentor is not a foreign concept to cinema, and to be perfectly honest, Lucas seems to make very little effort to remove Kenobi from that bracket, but sometimes cliches work best when they are truly very obvious, and even though the character itself is not really anything spectacular, Guinness’ performance is wonderful, and it is great seeing such a serious actor showing his lighter side by doing a truly fun film such as this. I do admit that perhaps I was a bit hasty saying that this film is completely void of any flaws, because there might be one small flaw – horror icon Peter Cushing is really underused, and while I admit that his character was a red herring of a villain (dying in the climax of the film), and setting up Darth Vader to become the iconic villain we know and adore, it would have just been wonderful to see him embrace the giddy fun of this film, and for him to be used slightly more. This small detail does not impact the film at all, and didn’t really impact my thoughts on this film overall.
I am almost entirely sure that I will have a ton more to say about this film in subsequent reviews of the following films, because a trilogy is wonderful because one is allowed to have their perceptions shifted and manipulated by the passage of time through those films. I really believe that the following two films in the original trilogy will be as fantastic as this was, and even if they were not, they will surely be pretty good in the end. One can say what they want about George Lucas, but he certainly did wonderful work with this, and if the following two films are even vaguely as great as this one, I won’t have any hesitations to call this one of the greatest film trilogies (perhaps the greatest) in history, which isn’t at all a revolutionary idea. I remember someone telling me that there are very few experiences as life-changing as being a child and watching Star Wars for the first time. I can wholeheartedly agree to that, and despite watching Star Wars for the first time as an adult, I can confidently say that it is every bit as exciting and heart-stopping as I imagined. Absolutely fantastic, and I can’t wait for the next ones (and the beauty of a three-decade old film series is that I won’t have to!)
Watch this space, because there is certainly more to come…