Friday, June 11, 2010

"Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope" (1977)

"Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope" (1977)
Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher
Written and directed by George Lucas

What a difference two decades makes...  What could have been a major disaster in 1977 ended up a massive blockbuster and a cultural phenomenon.  With its simple, hero's journey storytelling populated by likable characters and punctuated by excellently-constructed action sequences, it's easy to see why this movie has become such a well-loved classic.

Decades after the events of "Revenge of the Sith," the son of Anakin, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), lives a boring, frustrating life on Tatooine.  Raised by his uncle Owen, watched over in secret by Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness), Luke longs for a life of adventure amongst the stars instead of toiling in the dirt of his uncle's farm.  One day, when his uncle purchases two droids, R2-D2 and C3PO from a band of traveling Jawa junk dealers, he finds all the adventure he could want: R2-D2 and 3PO belong to Princess Leia, and hold in their memory banks vital information for the Rebellion to destroy the Empire's devastating new weapon, the Death Star.

When Imperial Storm Troopers kill Luke's family and burn the farm, Luke, Obi-Wan and the droids must purchase passage to Alderaan to deliver the droids to the Rebellion.  Enter Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and his trusty sidekick, Chewbacca, owner and pilot of the Millennium Falcon.  Solo owes local gangster Jabba the Hutt a lot of money, and when Kenobi offers him a small fortune for his troubles, Solo jumps at the chance to take on passengers, not realizing the risks involved.

The rest of the movie is essentially a series of fun chases and battles.  The movie is breathlessly paced, and the second half feels like one action sequence after another, but without feeling dumb or empty.  Witty banter amongst a cast that has excellent chemistry just makes the whole thing flow by even quicker.

The cast of this original "Star Wars" movie outshines the prequels in every way.  Alec Guinness gives an understated performance as Obi-Wan Kenobi, feeling like more of a father figure to Luke than Owen does in his few scenes.  Hamill is fine as Luke Skywalker, though he can come off as a bit whiny (and when he does, his somewhat high-pitched voice can be grating), and the same goes for Fisher as Leia.  But let's face it, the real star of the show is Harrison Ford, who steals every scene he's in.  The man oozes charisma, and his mischievous smirk here is infectious. 

Also awesome is James Earl Jones as the voice of Darth Vader, who in this film is given limited screen time, but is a force to be reckoned with.  He's a villain who exudes presence, he feels dangerous here, with his strange, alien breathing noises and Jones' booming, threatening voice. 

It has a few flaws, though, many of which are the result of the meddling done to the 1997 "special edition" and then the 2004 DVD release special edition.  New special effects were added to the film, and while a lot of them look good, some of them don't, and none of them really fit in with the rest of the movie.  The new effects are far from seamlessly integrated into the rest of the movie, standing out like very pretty sore thumbs.  Beyond just special effects, a couple of new scenes have been added to the movie that don't really add much of anything.  Han's encounter with Jabba the Hutt is fairly pointless, and the CGI Jabba is crap.  Also, a scene later on where Luke runs into a friend from home at the rebel base also doesn't serve much of any purpose at all. 

"Star Wars" succeeds because it keeps things simple and fun.  Sure, the prequels make even less sense when taken into context than they do on their own, but that doesn't ruin this movie.  In fact, it just makes you wish the prequels had capitalized on the potential of the hints we're given here about the past between Vader and Kenobi.  This flick is fast-paced, funny and fun.