Historical Circuit: Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (★★★)

starwarsnewhopeMy admission that I’ve never watched any episodes in the Star Wars franchise couldn’t have come at a worse time.  I’m not sure if you know this, but there’s a new one coming out and it’s kind of a big deal. In the interest of research (and not because I have my own selfish motives for seeing this said new Star Wars film), I vowed to watch the original three in the series. I wasn’t planning on writing proper reviews, fearing a mob of angry fans threatening my life if I dared besmirch these films, but I figured what the hell. So, what did I think of your precious Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope?

This is actually the only one I’m familiar with because I slept through it when we watched it in my high school film class (yes, slept through it). With how popular the franchise is, even a novice knows the basic story of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), and his adventures with the mercenary Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher). Having studied film, I also knew about George Lucas’ grand love of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey which plays out to a T in this film. Part hype, part countless films ripping this off led me to know all the basic story beats and narrative trajectory well in advance. I’m hoping these problems specifically will be mitigated when I watch the other two movies that I’m going into cold.

On its own merits, I enjoyed A New Hope, although I wasn’t blown away by it. George Lucas’ attempt at creating a serial-style adventure, both independent and connected to a longer history, works as well here as it did in the Indiana Jones series. There’s no need to watch these in numerical order (at least I’m not planning to), but you still receive enough exposition to understand the deeper mythos within. The film is two-hours long but I never felt bored since there’s a remarkably tight narrative arc from the minute the droids meet up with Luke who, in turn, finds Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness). Before you know it the major characters are all introduced and we’re knee-deep in the big battle against the Death Star.

With that being said, it’s hard not to feel things are a bit thin. Yes, the characters are given depth despite being archetypes, but because this is the first in a presumed serial, it’s hard to shake the feeling that we’re moving very briskly and there’s some crucial components missing. Maybe the feeling will dissipate when I watch the subsequent installments, but right now I thought we moved a bit too quickly for our own good, but I can’t really articulate why I feel that way.

The cast assembled are a likable bunch that I can see myself forming relationships with in the later installments. The weakest in the chain is Mark Hamill as Luke. His whiny farm boy shtick is understandable – he is a young man in the prime of life – but Hamill’s perpetual exasperation makes it seem like the end of every sentence ends in an exclamation point when it shouldn’t. I also found his third act rush of cockiness and confidence in the final battle felt unearned. Hopefully, the character will develop beyond the wide-eyed innocent he is, and I won’t find him as irksome.

Thankfully, the rest of the cast makes up for it. Harrison Ford certainly deserves all the praise he’s received for his portrayal of Han Solo. I’d argue he’s far more heroic than Luke, and rocks the cockiness and brassiness that Hamill only grasps for. The burgeoning relationship between Han and Leia feels ingrained already despite it just being introduced in this first film. Part of that is the equal mettle of Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia. I’m not big on her inability to shoot at things, but hey, I guess we should be happy to see a woman playing a major role during this time period.

I also thoroughly enjoyed Alec Guinness in a role somewhat at odds with what I’ve watched him in previously (particularly Kind Hearts and Coronets). The vocal work by Anthony Daniels as C-3PO and Kenny Baker as R2-D2 also surprised me. These two are the Laurel and Hardy of the group, and yet they convey so much emotion through vocal performance that you truly believe they’re engaging in conversation.

The movie didn’t blow my hair back or leave me gasping in awe. I do believe the versions I watched had Lucas’ digital alterations and I was painfully aware of these changes on my computer screen. Regardless of that, A New Hope is a solid introduction into the franchise. I know where the movie ends things, but I’m interested in seeing the journey from point A to C. There’s an ingrained history already present, and while not all the characters got to me, I’m intrigued to see how they change as time passes. Okay fanboys, do your worst!