In short, yes; A New Hope is that good.
The 1977 film ran overtime and was written off before its release, only to become one of the most successful and iconic films in cinema history. The original Star Wars film may not be the best (that goes to The Empire Strikes Back, hands down) but it is certainly my favourite of the franchise. This has meant that picking 5 bad things associated with the film was very hard, because I even love its flaws and short-comings.
- Han shot first. I could finish this point here and many of you would know what I meant, but I shall elaborate. To make Han Solo look like more of a good guy to kids, George Lucas went back and changed the original 1977 cut of the scene where Han kills a bounty hunter to make his escape. In the new version, Greedo, the bounty hunter that cornered Han in the cantina, shoots first. Han avoids the shot with a digitally produced jerky-head movement, and then proceeds to kill the bounty hunter, tosses the bar owner a few credits for the mess, and makes Greedo look entirely incompetent (poor guy). This may seem minor to the uninitiated, but it is the pointlessness of the alteration which is the most infuriating part. Han’s actions throughout the rest of the film prove him to be a hero. This scene is part of his character-arc throughout the film, which sees his development from the more morally grey rogue we all love to the slightly more classic hero we love just as much. The addition of Greedo shooting is pointless, and makes a once badass scene laughable.
- While we are on the subject of Lucas and his changes, this is another one that grinds my gears. In the original cut of the film, we never see Jabba the Hut. The scene in which Jabba would have appeared was removed as his design wasn’t yet defined. However, in 1997, George went and added the scene back in with an unconvincing-melty-CGI Jabba, and then, in 2004, a more up to date CGI-version of the Hut was inserted. My issue isn’t really with the CGI construction of the Hut (however the puppet version of the crime boss seen in Return of the Jedi is far more convincing), it’s that the scene’s addition into A New Hope removes a lot of the suspense that once surrounded the character. He is alluded to in both A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, which was used to intrigue the audience, get them wondering “who is this character that has Han Solo worried?” Instead, we lose the wonder and gain some clunky CGI and a scene that only reduces the pace of the film.
- Some poor direction and writing…. again. It has been well documented that George Lucas’ primary comments when directing were “faster” and “more intense”, so is it any wonder that some things slipped through the cracks? One of the clearest cases of this is Carrie Fisher’s strange English (-ish) accent “I recognised your foul stench when I was brought on board” (sorry Carrie, I didn’t want to bring it up, but I have to find 5 bad things). It pains me to say it, but some of the acting can be seen as fairly wooden from many of the cast members. You have to wonder if a better director who would have more to say than “Faster” or “More intense” would have picked up on this. The dialogue isn’t great in parts, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Alec Guinness and others have all made it clear what they thought of the script, “nobody talks like this”. Yeah the script isn’t the greatest, but the overall story makes up for it.
- The Stormtroopers are incapable of hitting the target when it counts, which is really minor but I can’t think of much else wrong with the film. In almost every film the heroes aren’t going to die, and so the villains are rarely a good shot. I suppose the only reason it is picked up on in Star Wars is that it is repeatedly said they are very accurate marksmen, and we even see them wipe out squads of Rebel soldiers in the blockade-runner. I don’t know why they can’t kill our heroes, probably the force or something. Although I did read an interesting theory that the Stormtroopers were intentionally missing the target. This was done so as to allow our heroes to escape the Death Star, which would then enable the Imperials to locate the hidden rebel base.
- I can hear some of you thinking it, so I will mention it. Why didn’t the imperials shoot the escape pod that C-3PO and R2-D2 were in, destroying the droids and the stolen plans? I dunno, maybe because they didn’t have a back-up copy of the plans, and 2 new Death Stars had just got planning permission from the local council? It doesn’t matter, they didn’t shoot it. So shut up, stop being so cynical, and enjoy the film.
As I said in the introduction A New Hope is my favourite film. So when it came to pin pointing 5 good things I found it surprisingly difficult.
- Firstly the story. How good is the story?! Lucas transports you to “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”, with a simple story; good versus evil. There isn’t a complex plot that involves trade disputes, council meetings and debates like the ones we see in the Prequel trilogy. Star Wars is, at its heart, an adventure film where good triumphs over evil. What isn’t there to love about that? Nothing, the answer is nothing. Yes, Empire is a better film with its darker tones and more in depth look at the characters, I am not denying that. But when it comes down to a film that I could watch again, again and again, the film where the good guys win will come out on top 9 times out of 10 and that film is A New Hope. Along with this are some of the most memorable character ever created in cinema; the young hero, his mentor, the rogue, and the princess. All of which are well rounded in the first installment of the film, allowing Empire to develop them all even further.
- I know I gave George a bit of a hard time for going back and tampering with the original cut of the film, but there is one addition I do like. I like the addition on the Luke-Biggs scene that takes place in the Rebel hanger. The scene not only gives a face to the name mentioned much earlier in the film, it gives us a connection to the Biggs character, which makes his death scene in the trench run more potent and meaningful. His death strengthens our connection with Luke, and shows that despite the victory there is a price to be paid (don’t worry, that is probably as film critic-y as I will ever get). Also, most importantly, why would you cut that moustache? It is a mean moustache.
- Star Wars was a game changer. Lucas didn’t have the effects he wanted to complete the film, so he created his own company to do it, Industrial Light and Magic, which is still an industry leader today. The fact that almost 40 years after its initial release the Practical effects used in the original film still hold up, while the CGI used in the 16 year old prequels is beginning to look very outdated is testament to the man hours they put in to A New Hope. As well as the practical effects, a mention must be made of Ben Burtt who gave us many of the iconic sounds we almost take for granted now.
- There is no waiting around in A New Hope, the audience is launched straight into the action as the giant Imperial Star Destroyer chases down the much smaller Rebel Blockade Runner. We see the Rebels take positions nervously as the Stormtroopers blast through the door. Immediately, we know several things. We recognise the good guys from the bad guys, we also see what the Rebels are up against in the vastly superior Imperial machine. This wouldn’t have happened in the Prequels, instead we would have had to sit through 10 minutes of clunky exposition before any action even crossed the mind of Lucas. Following the initial fight, we see Darth Vader for the first time (lacking his theme which wasn’t written until Empire). The Dark Lord of the Sith is a menacing figure, standing much taller than anyone else and dressed entirely in black with his iconic breathing apparatus filling our ears. I can still remember being terrified of him as a child as he threw the Rebel commander across the space ship. What a way to start the film.
- Finally the score. I know Lewis has mentioned it twice in his reviews of The Phantom Menace and Revenge of the Sith (I was desperate, ok? – Lewis), but it happened here first, so I am going to mention it again. The iconic score adds so much drama, tension and emotion to every accompanying scene; in fact, by the film’s completion, Lucas stated that the only thing he was really happy with was the score. Star Wars would be much less of a film had John Williams not done such a fantastic job.
So that brings my review of Star Wars: A New Hope to an end, I didn’t get a chance to mention many of my other favourite things about this film, but hopefully you have found this entertaining. I will be back with my Return of the Jedi review in a few days.