Back in 1977, George Lucas released Star Wars, an epic sci-fi fantasy space opera with a save-the-princess plot and it soon became a phenomenon, to say the least. It would later be retitled Episode IV: A New Hope as Lucas decided to expand the storyline further.
The film was such a commercial hit that two (soon to be three) more films would follow, then three prequels, countless tie-ins, endless novels, tons and tons of merchandising, several cartoon series, it made Harrison Ford's career and Jedi even became a legitimate (-ish) religion! And the crazy thing is the franchise is still as huge as it ever was, with many, many more films planned so let's take a look back at the movie that started it all.
Star Wars opens with a captured Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) sending a couple of droids off to planet Tatooine to bring back help. She is being held by iconic baddie Darth Vader (played by David Prowse, voiced by James Earl Jones) who is running a gigantic space station for the Emperor capable of destroying entire planets with the help of Commander Tarkin (Peter Cushing). We then meet our hero Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) who purchases Leia's droids and learns she is calling to someone called Obi-Wan Kenobi for help. Kenobi (Alec Guinness) turns out to be a Jedi master and he ends up training Luke to become just as powerful so he can help fight the Empire. Along the way, they all meet Han Solo (Harrison Ford), a rogue smuggler with a Wookie pal who pilots them around in his ship The Millennium Falcon. The goal becomes to somehow destroy Darth Vader's Death Star.
So there you go, a crash course in Star Wars.
Now let's get to the good stuff.
The great news is the film has held up surprisingly well. The sets and practical effects are just as creative, detailed and altogether impressive as they always were and the adventure is still pretty gripping despite an early lull with droids R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) wandering about the desert and getting stolen by little creatures called Jawas. That part admittedly does go on for far too long. It'd be hard to picture another cast portraying those characters and looking back, one wishes that Obi-Wan Kenobi had stayed alive for a bit longer though Alec Guinness would pop up here and there later on in ghostly fashion. Also can't not mention just how perfect John Williams' immortal score and opening theme are.
Look out for some horribly-placed and executed CGI added in later versions of the film including a Jabba cameo which looks particularly infamous in the 1997 update. A New Hope and Return Of The Jedi being the two films which were really damaged by those misjudged touch-ups.
Here's hoping the original version sees the light of day again at some point, somehow.
The reason The Empire Strikes Back is often seen as the better film is that, dramatically, this first instalment is much more traditional with its upbeat, pretty self-contained ending while Empire is not only darker in tone but offers some huge twists and leaves us in a downer cliffhanger you can't wait to see being resolved. Plus that film is a tad more even in terms of pacing. A New Hope was always meant to reflect the old-fashioned serials in terms of mood, character development and plotting though so, in that sense, it achieves exactly what it was going for, even with the initial slow-burn.
To the risk of stating the obvious: Star Wars is still a great movie. The insane praise it's received since its release makes it inherently overrated story-wise but as a cinematic achievement it's big, ambitious and a resounding success. It's simply a must for any sci-fi fantasy fans, even the most unwilling Trekkie.
A timeless classic.