A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…well, more like, almost 29 years ago, in a handful of theaters across the United States…something started.
As the world eagerly awaits the release of Episode VII: The Force Awakens, it’s easy to look back and see the original Star Wars movie as the groundbreaking achievement it was. Millions of words have been written about how it changed filmmaking (not to mention how movies were consumed), the legacy it left, and the empire it spawned. So I’m not going to delve too much into all of that in this retrospective, but rather talk about it as the thing it was back in the beginning – one hell of an entertaining movie.
My perspective started somewhere around 1987. I was a bit too young to have seen any of the original trilogy in theaters (sniff) so I was introduced to Star Wars via VHS tape (for those of you born after 1990…oh, just google it). Anyway, I remember my Dad saying he had a movie he wanted to watch with me, so he popped Star Wars (because it was just “Star Wars” at the time, no one referred to it as “A New Hope” until the prequels) into our VCR and I became lost, along with two droids, on a desert planet that had two suns… Seven year old mind blown.
In fact, I loved the movie so much that when Dad said the story continued in a sequel called Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back and tried to put that tape in the VCR, I made him stop so I could re-watch Star Wars again. And then again. That went on a few times (ok, more than a few) which is why, even though I acknowledge Empire as the better movie, Episode IV has always been my favorite.
I mean, how could it not be? It was first! Which accounts for a lot, because you only get one first. Though there were plenty of jaw dropping surprises to come in future Star Wars films, Episode IV was the first time we heard about The Force and Jedi Knights. It was the first time we saw a star destroyer fly into frame overhead, listened to R2D2’s beeps, and got swept away by John William’s magical score. It was the first time we saw (and heard) Darth Vader. Think about that for a second…the first time anyone ever saw one of the most iconic villains in the history of cinema, was on May 25, 1977 (or 1987 for me) in Episode IV. Did time even exist before then?
Mind blown. Again.
At the end of the day, it isn’t easy to quantify how I felt when I saw and experienced all those things for the first time, but I know that, despite being just as blown away and entertained by The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi, it wasn’t quite the same. You can only ever have one first viewing of a Star Wars film, and for me it was the original.
But it’s not just about being first for me. To evoke those feelings of awe and joy, Episode IV also had to be good. And it is. Very good. Great. Awe-inspiring. Epic. And so much more. Yes, it’s a simple tale, but telling the story of a hero’s journey set against a vast backdrop of far away planets, space ships, and a Death Star, works on every level. There really is something for everyone in the story; a young man finding his potential, a seriously kick ass princess, a roguish gunslinger, plus exciting aerial dog fights, comedic droids, a feeling of destiny, and a mythological religion unlike anything ever seen before on film. The movie is thrilling and funny, but also thoughtful and moving. The cinematography, ground breaking special effects and sound design, and absolutely gorgeous musical score help tie everything together in a way that has stood the test of time. Sure, what has come since has proven that the Obi-wan/Darth Vader lightsaber duel isn’t the best, but I think the space battles are still top notch action scenes, and, ultimately, it’s the heart and soul of the film that hasn’t faded a bit.
Bottom line? Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope is magic. The story holds up because it is a timeless one. When I was seven, I watched and wanted to travel to Tatooine to see the twin suns and fly an X-wing. When I was 13, I watched and wanted to be a Jedi Knight (and Mrs. Luke Skywalker). When I was 18, I watched and wanted to spread my wings and start becoming the person I was meant to be, just like Luke, Leia and even Han Solo (and one of the ways I did that was to go to film school! So thanks, Star Wars, for inspiring me to do that too!). Now that I’m an adult, I watch with some sense of nostalgia, but also to be reminded that, though I can never watch it again, for the first time, I can still marvel, laugh, cheer, and be swept away on an adventure in a galaxy far, far away.
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