A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, George Lucas created what is rightly considered one of the greatest films ever, launching a phenomenon that still shows no sign of waning, even despite those who might suggest that the director has spent the past ten or so years undoing his creation’s own heritage. Regardless of that, the Star Wars franchise is a behemoth that won’t be stopped any time soon, and as long as there are new formats, there will be new versions of the six original films, as well as a multitude of spin-offs.
Today the most anticipated of home video releases lands on shelves, as Lucas’ entire franchise – his sci-fi opera if you want to label it in such terms – gets the high definition treatment, and is packaged with a veritable treasure trove of special features that will have even the most cynical of Lucas critics reaching for the £60 or so it will take to score a copy. And to celebrate, in the grand tradition that fans of this site will have now become accustomed to, we bring you the latest in the 52 Reasons series. I may have already professed my belief that Gremlins might just be the greatest film of all time, but that was more for fun than anything, and it is now my esteemed pleasure and honour to proffer my thoughts on a genuine contender for the crown.
There was some temptation to write this article based on the entire Original Trilogy, and no doubt the other two films will enjoy their own focus soon, but the first Episode in George Lucas’ space opera epic in itself deserves the headiest of praise because of both what it represented and how it was executed. So despite a vocal majority of fans who will no doubt argue that The Empire Strikes Back is the superior film, here are my reasons for choosing Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope for this treatment…
1. The Scrolling Intro
With the appearance of ten words (admittedly along with that iconic, irresistible fanfare), the Star Wars universe was introduced in brilliant, pulpy fashion. The text crawl is a direct homage to the 1930s Flash Gordon serials – which form a major part of the Star Wars heritage – and is an integral part of the franchise’s mythology, to such an extent that many would be forgiven for thinking Lucas invented it.
Originally of course there was one major difference between what we see now at the start of A New Hope and what those first 1977 audiences saw, because the sub-title Episode IV: A New Hope wasn’t added until a later re-release (and then subsequently removed for the 2006 theatrical cut DVD).
2. The Definitive Battle of Good v Evil
There is nothing quite so definitive in the rest of the film world as the distinction between good and evil in Star Wars – it is a universal battle, as old as story-telling itself, and is defined by as pure a difference as between black and white. On one side stand the Rebellion, and the remnants of the Jedi Order, epitomised by Luke Skywalker, a Chosen One of sorts, whose essential goodness puts him alongside Frodo Baggins and Superman as heroes without real contradiction who resist huge temptations to defend what is morally right and good. And on the other is the Dark Side, personified in chilling, exquisite fashion by Darth Vader, a malignant blemish on the universe who revels in, and thrives on the work of evil. There is little grey area in A New Hope, and it is surprise that when good ultimately triumphs, the audience shares the excitement of the right side, and it is precisely because Luke Skywalker is so fundamentally good that we can forgive him of his obvious naivety.
3. Groundbreaking SFX
Star Wars gave the world Industrial Light & Magic, arguably the most famous visual effects company to have ever worked on Hollywood productions as George Lucas plugged the gap created by the closure of Fox’s own SFX department. And boy was it a good decision – handed the bulk of the film’s budget (including vast amounts that went on creating sequences that were ultimately cut), ILM broke the mould of how visual effects could work for a film, having been tasked by the director to produce effects that had never been seen before. Since Star Wars, the company has gone on to work on over 300 films, and reshape the way visual effects are created, but without Lucas’ first foray into the Star Wars universe, and the ground-breaking sights like the lightsaber battles and dogfights that now look conventional but which at the time would have been eye-popping.
4. The Spaceships
As a dyed in the wool astro-nerd, brought up on Star Trek and Star Wars, one of my greatest adolescent pleasures in life was to design my own spaceships (I didn’t have too many female friends back then), based on the wondrous designs I’d seen on screen while watching the Enterprise captains, and the Rebels v Empire space battles. Star Wars in particular was full of artisanally crafted ships, from the screaming Tie fighters, through Luke’s X-Wing and to the inimitable Millennium Falcon, based, according to Lucas on a hamburger with an olive on the side. So good were the designs, that toy-makers Kenner were able to reproduce them in near perfection, selling more than they could make, and launching a rabid collector market that still shows little sign of abating even thirty plus years later.