George Lucas was just a budding student at USC when he made his 1967 student film, Electronic Labyrinth: THX-1138 4EB. His short caught the attention of filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, who decided to have it expanded to feature-length. The result was 1971’s THX 1138, which initially received mixed reviews and flopped at the box office. Feeling that part of why the film failed was its bleak tone, Lucas decided to write something more lighthearted. As a result, he followed up with the 1973 coming-of-age film American Graffiti, which was a critical and commercial success. While working on American Graffiti, Lucas started developing a new sci-fi film in the vein of Flash Gordon. After being rejected by various studios, including Disney, 20th Century Fox president Alan Ladd Jr agreed to take the project. After years of rewriting, filming, refilming, and behind-the-scenes struggles, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope was released.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, a group of rebels is fighting against the Galactic Empire. Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) has stolen the plans to the Empire’s latest superweapon, the Death Star. She gives the plans to a droid called R2-D2 (Kenny Baker), who escapes the Empire with counterpart C-3PO (Anthony Daniels). The two land on the desert planet Tatooine, where they soon meet local farm boy Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Luke accidentally uncovers a message hidden in R2 from Leia, who requests the aid of Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness). After the Empire kills Luke’s aunt and uncle, he agrees to join Kenobi in rescuing the princess. They team up with local smuggler Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and his friend Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) to rescue her. With the villainous Darth Vader after them, will they be able to rescue the princess and save the galaxy?
Since its original 1977 release, there’s not much I can say about this film that hasn’t already been said. While originally released as simply Star Wars, it was retitled to Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope years later. No matter what you call it, the film is still a great start to what would become a major franchise. Given his relative inexperience at the time, Lucas’ direction is pretty decent, utilizing plenty of wide shots and sweeping angles. Acting-wise, everyone fills their roles perfectly well, though some of their performances can be a little rocky at times. At first, Mark Hamill can come off as slightly whiny, but he gives the role plenty of humanity and sincerity. It’s fair to say that Harrison Ford steals the show as the sarcastic smuggler who takes everything in stride. Carrie Fisher is also fun as a princess who can fight for herself.
Even if he wasn’t fully on-board with the material, Alec Guinness gives a stellar performance as the sage-like Obi-Wan Kenobi. Plus, you’ve got Peter Cushing as a wonderfully sinister villain alongside David Prowse in the Darth Vader suit. Speaking of, James Earl Jones is perfect casting for the voice, his booming voice helps make the character more intimidating. For the relatively low budget, the visual effects are superb, even if some of them are masked by tacked-on CGI. John Williams’ score is legendary for a reason, as it adds more weight and makes the film feel bigger. I’d say the only major issue is the pacing can be slow at times, but it never gets boring. Whether you call it Star Wars or Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, this is still a powerful film. Overall, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope more than deserves its cultural significance.
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