4 out of 5
Directed by: George Lucas
Sometimes I watch some classic movies and I don’t really get it. This can apply to those I’ve seen before and rewatch with reviewerly-geared eyes, or those that I’m seeing for the first time. In both cases, I can normally attribute the film’s legacy to nostalgia and timeliness – that something seemed a whole lot more impressive at the time than it would nowadays – but sometimes I am, admittedly, fully puzzled, and can only assume that the movie was a Right Place Right Time deal.
But then there are times when it makes unassailable sense, and the first Star Wars film – later subtitled as A New Hope – is part of that holy grouping. This comes from a non-dedicant of the series, but who certainly had his share of viewings and reviewings as a youngster; the movies are familiar to me but not necessarily treasured. That said, the whole opening section of the first flick – including the text scrawl, which I think is a little windy for its own good, though obviously impactful visually for screaming SPAAACE FUTURREEE at us – is absolutely sweeping, and does a better job than almost any film since of imbuing utter confidence in its worlds and characters, and thus immersing in its fiction. Mark Hamill’s representation of Luke Skywalker as a bratty, can’t-wait-to-escape teen strikes a perfect balance between an approachable POV character and yet one with his one sense of being personality – i.e. he’s not just a blank slate – and Lucas’ patient approach to shots and the lived-in production design is just unseen in similar genre movies, which are generally more in a rush to force minutiae upon you, or draw your attention to background busywork. Interestingly, this could have been just a limitation of the era, as the later-added special effects do fall into this category of just sort of useless detailing; eye-candy that solely exists to be outer spacey. The movie’s confidence with its presentation allows for Luke’s getting caught up in an adventure – he takes ownership of two droids secreting plans for the good guy Rebels to use against the evil Empire – feel wonderfully organic, and makes the casual drifting between worlds and alien races similarly just part and parcel of the film. The magic of Star Wars is how well it works as a universally appealing experience, even while dressed in the most sci-fi of sci-finess.
Some of this does start to lose a bit of its shine going into the second act. While Harrison Ford gives so much charisma to his rogue Han Solo, Carrie Fisher isn’t given nearly as much to work with as Princess Leia, and the scripts machinations in setting up a flirtation trio – Han, Leia, Luke – are cute but set aside any further character depth. And as the movie transitions into the prison escape of rescuing the Princess – sender of those secreted plans – from the bad guy hideout The Death Star – Lucas’ ham-fisted scripting tendencies take over: relationships are forced for dramatics, and the scraps with Empire forces are fraught with pauses for one-liners and silly roadblocks, but the movie has earned our attention thanks to the lead-in, and so most of this stuff blazes by in a pew-pew whiz of laser-blasting excitement. And the final yards of the film – a tense outer space battle – complete Luke’s journey immensely satisfactorally, seeding in enough hints to him being a competent pilot that we’re happy to see him aboard a ship and taking on The Death Star as part of a full crew.
Knowing I was going to be revisiting the Star Wars flicks thanks to recent streaming opportunities, I really wasn’t looking forward to hitting Play and getting started on New Hope. Not because I feared it wouldn’t live up to expectations or etcetera, but more because these are movies I’d seen enough – I thought – and what would I really get out of them nowadays? But I think I ended up enjoying it _more_ as an adult, because the quality of the experience was all the more evident to me now. The legacy is earned.