“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”
On a desert planet on the far edges of the galaxy, a young farm-boy named Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) dreams of leaving his meager existence behind to join the Rebellion against the evil Galactic Empire. When his uncle, a humble moisture farmer, purchases two unassuming droids that carry coveted secret Imperial data for a titanic space station, Luke finds himself thrust into the war much sooner than expected.
Together with the reclusive Jedi, Obi-wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness), an elderly warrior who used to be one of many guardians of peace in the galaxy, Luke sets out on a quest to deliver the plans to the Rebellion, learning more about the father he never knew, his inherent ability to control the Force, the mystical energy that gives all Jedi their supernatural abilities, and encountering a motley crew of characters along the way including the displaced Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), self-serving smuggler Han Solo (Harrison Ford), his 7-foot tall furry co-pilot Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), and master of the Dark Side of the Force, Darth Vader (David Prowse/James Earl Jones).
Why We Love It
It actually took me about an hour to write that summary; not because I haven’t seen Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (which from now on will be referred to simply as Star Wars) enough, but because I’ve seen it way too much. That might not make much sense at first, but if you’re like me and have lost count of how many times you’ve watched through the original trilogy, think about that for a little bit and you’ll realize that Star Wars is so ingrained in us as both film nerds and as society that we don’t even really have to think about it anymore – we just know it. It’s part of us. It’s like breathing – nobody needs to think about breathing, we just do it because we’ve been doing it for so long.
Somewhere out there are certainly a rare and segregated number of people who have either never seen or don’t care for Star Wars, but even they’re familiar with the names and terms that George Lucas created 34 years ago: the Force, the Death Star, Jedi, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, stormtroopers – these are not just familiar terms within a popular universe, these are vocabularies permanently entrenched in the pop-culture zeitgeist. And why is that? I think it’s because Star Wars is one of the most universally (no pun intended) appealing films in cinema history.
You start out with Luke Skywalker. He lives at home, he’s not overly handsome, all his friends have moved away and he’s stuck working a job he hates with little hope of getting out of his nowhere town. He’s the nobody who wishes he was somebody. He’s 9 out of 10 people in the audience and it’s through his eyes that we experience his journey into what Obi-wan describes as “a much larger world” and it’s with his same child-like wonder that we experience it all. Almost three decades before Harry Potter came on the scene, Luke Skywalker was the Everyman who discovered that he was anything but, possessing the potential to accomplish great things with great power he never knew he had.
And supporting him along the way are a cast of characters as diverse as those within our world, yet as consistent as the tried and true archetypes upon which they’re based. In Obi-wan we have the wise old mentor, who we just know kicked all sorts of ass back in the day. In Han Solo we have the badass loner who shoots first and asks questions later (no matter what Lucas CGIs), but who we’re sure has a heart buried somewhere deep within. In C-3PO and R2-D2 we have the comic relief sidekicks. And in Darth Vader we have the ultimate embodiment of evil, the twisted marriage of machine and man who can crush a man’s neck within his fist and who doesn’t hesitate to strike down his old master. True, all of these characters could not exist were it not for films and filmmakers who paved the way before Lucas, but that enhances the greatness of Star Wars. Like a Quentin Tarantino of science fiction, George Lucas saw what others had done before and successfully reworked the archetypes to serve his own purposes.
And it’s this wide array of influences which also lend appeal to more demographics than just the sci-fi nerds looking for space battles and laser pistols. The older folks who had kids of their own when Star Wars first came out could appreciate the callbacks to the old Flash Gordon TV serials of their childhood. Cinephiles of the day could look to the quickly fading Western genre and appreciate the underlying themes of the dichotomy between civilization and the wasteland. The pretentious arthouse crowd would be at peace within the huddled masses because they knew that Akira Kurosawa’s spirit was alive and well within C-3PO and R2-D2 (The Hidden Fortress) and Han Solo (Yojimbo). The English (they’re a demographic, right?) were happy to see two of their legendary, aging actors, Alec Guinness and Peter Cushing, in respectable roles. And of course, the kids are happy once the lightsabers are whipped out. But Star Wars’ greatest strength lies in the omni-relatable theme of good vs. evil. It’s a struggle that is as old as time itself and it seems that never had the sides been more clearly defined then when we saw the juxtaposition of that cold, black helmet and that wide-eyed boy gazing longingly into Tatooine’s setting suns.
Moment We Fell in Love
In an effort to gain information on the location of the hidden rebel base, Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing) brings the captive Princess Leia to him and gives her an ultimatum: tell us the location of your rebel friends or watch your home planet, Alderaan, be completely obliterated by my moon-sized space station. Simple choice, right? Leia, as we would all do, reluctantly gives up the ghost. Grand Moff Tarkin returns the favor by ordering Alderaan’s complete and utter destruction as easily as if he was ordering coffee. The fact that Leia’s “revelation” turned out to be a lie is irrelevant – this bastard just wiped out an entire planet without blinking because he wanted to make a statement.
At that moment we’re fully aware of how immensely evil the Galactic Empire is and consequently fully get on board with the cause of the Rebellion while also realizing how much of an uphill battle it’s going to be for our motley crew.
The fact that George Lucas himself can’t even destroy the legacy of Star Wars despite his best efforts with the new trilogy just confirms how powerful and long-lasting the film really is. I’ve spent almost 1200 words writing about the first installment in what has become an immortal series and I’ve barely scratched the surface. Lucas wore his inspirations and influences on his sleeve in the creation of Star Wars, a film that many people forget was passed up by almost every studio in town, and in turn created something that would inspire and influence an entire generation of filmmakers to come after him.
Nowadays we may curse the name of George Lucas for “ruining my childhood” or “pissing on his own legacy,” but no matter what he’s done in the last decade, were it not for him, May 25, 1977 would mean nothing to the history of cinema, we wouldn’t have spent so many hours in college playing “Knights of the Old Republic,” we wouldn’t look at those elongated fluorescent bulbs with aspirations of sword fighting and, most importantly, we wouldn’t have The Empire Strikes Back.
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