Happy Star Wars Day everyone!
When did this become a thing?
I think I first came across the notion that the 4th May was considered to be Star Wars Day around eighteen years ago when a colleague (in whatever mundane admin job I was doing at the time) told me their birthday was on Star Wars Day.
Having no idea what they meant (but equally very excited about the idea that there might actually be a Star Wars Day) they told me it was this date. Indeed if I was remotely still in touch with them I would wish them happy birthday but I’m not. So I won’t.
I still needed it explaining to me though.
And I sort of get it. ‘May The Fourth’ sounds a bit like ‘May The Force’ so I’m ok with it. Indeed I’m using it as tenuous rationale for writing about Star Wars a lot this month.
But, until this year, I’ve never really ‘celebrated’ Star Wars Day. Does one celebrate it? And if so how?
Probably not by writing a load of blog posts about Star Wars throughout the month of May. That would just be stupid.
But here we are and today I get to write about the original Star Wars movie, now known as ‘Episode 4’ and/or ‘A New Hope’. Which it was always technically called. But I only remember people really embracing those titles when the prequel trilogy arrived.
And for me it will always be ‘Star Wars’ really.
If someone asked if I’d seen ‘Star Wars’ I wouldn’t ask which movie. I’d assume they meant this movie.
Now, as I have with all of my Star Wars posts to date I have to issue a spoiler alert:
Spoiler Alert – I’m going to write about the original ‘Star Wars’ movie now and I may well reveal some plot points, which could ruin the movie for you. But they won’t because this movie is so good that nothing could ever ruin it. I’ve seen it so many times I can probably recite the entire script, but I still enjoy it. It’s just that good. So relax, you can keep reading knowing that nothing at all could ever make watching this movie anything less than awesome.
Now I’m not going to do anything silly like pretend this is the greatest movie ever made.
Because I don’t have to pretend.
It really is the greatest movie ever made.
I remember a few years back that ‘Citizen Kane’ was declared the greatest movie ever made. And if Orson Wells had wielded a lightsaber in that film I’d be open to a conversation about it. But he didn’t. So 1977’s original ‘Star Wars’ is the greatest movie of all time.
“But James,” I hear you cry, “surely you can’t mean that! Even Star Wars fans don’t think this is the best. Clearly ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ is actually the best?”
And if you think that then I’m not going to argue. I love ‘The Empire Strikes Back’. Indeed, if I compiled a top ten of my favourite movies of all time then ‘A New Hope’ and ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ would be my top two. But in that order.
“But ‘Empire’ is better,” I hear you continue to argue, in spite of my obviously resolute position, “because it’s darker!”
Is it darker than a movie in which the one of the main characters discovers the charred skeletal remains of his aunt and uncle (the only parents he has ever known) mere hours after he last saw them alive and well?
Is it darker than a movie in which one of the other main characters witnesses the mass genocide of her entire people, including everyone she has ever called family, when her planet is literally blown up in front of her very eyes?
Is it darker than a movie in which, during the final battle that the good guys admittedly emerge triumphant from, most of said good guys actually die violent and horrifying deaths?
Is it darker than that?
No it isn’t.
Mostly people think of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ as being darker because it ends on a bit of cliff-hanger. But aside from a fairly ‘tacked on’ happy ending, the first movie is just as bleak for the most part.
And yes, there is ‘that revelation’ in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, but a lot of the groundwork that goes into making it so shocking actually happens in the first movie too.
So basically ‘A New Hope’ is the greatest movie ever made and there’s nothing more to be said.
Except George Lucas didn’t agree, so he decided to ‘upgrade’ the original movies in the nineties. He didn’t need to, but he did it anyway.
Mostly it was by sticking in a lot of CGI. Which was unnecessary and looks a bit weird when juxtaposed with the original footage. But over the years I’ve learned to live with it and although he continued to tinker for a few years after his original ‘updates’ most of them have been there now for longer than they weren’t. Indeed it must be over twenty years since I last saw the un-updated versions of the original movies.
He also put back a few previously deleted scenes but, although the insertion of a CGI Jabba the Hutt was probably not necessary, the additional scenes do add a little context to the characters we know and love, so no problem there really either.
The main irritation for most fans was the decision to change what was once a ruthless assassination carried out by Han Solo into an act of self defence, by altering the scene so his victim, Greedo, appears to shoot first. That upset a few people. When I recently watched this movie on Disney Plus I noticed it has been amended again so that Greedo and Han shoot at the same time, thus returning some of Han’s original coldness but also still offering the moral loophole that he would have been killed if he hadn’t struck first. But the way the original scene played out, was that Han was never in any mortal danger and he shot Greedo in cold blood. Like most people, I prefer the original version of that scene, but honestly I wouldn’t get too hung up on it. The one thing George Lucas couldn’t edit out of that scene was Harrison Ford’s acting and he is absolutely playing someone who would happily kill Greedo in cold blood. View it that way and it’s irrelevant who shoots first because Han was going to kill him either way. Indeed in the versions where Greedo does shoot first, he misses by a mile, so you could decide to interpret it that he’s noticed Han positioning his gun under the table, panics and fumbles his shot before Han coolly does what he was always going to do. Which is murder Greedo in cold blood.
But regardless of Lucas’ tinkering, the original and best Star Wars holds up remarkably well for a movie that has, for the most part, been around since 1977. The original visual effects and costumes were always pretty ground-breaking, and it moves along at a fair old pace.
Obviously it’s not the kind of film that requires you to use all of your brain cells. It’s an action-packed adventure set in space. And it’s not the boring ‘space’ of a movie that relies heavily on science to underpin the key concepts. Star Wars isn’t Science Fiction. It’s pure fantasy. All it’s meant to do is entertain and it does just that.
I’m not sure I could find fault with it if I really tried, but I have no intention of trying. It’s more than a movie, it’s a fundamental part of my childhood.
And if there were no other Star Wars movies, if this was all there had ever been, it would be enough.
Best character – Darth Vader
It could be any of them really and I doubt anyone would object if I picked Luke, Leia, Han, Obi-Wan or Chewbacca. They’re all memorable in their own way. But this was the first movie which ever featured Darth Vader and the moment he appears through the smoke in that opening scene, I still get goose bumps. Well I don’t, but metaphorically I do. And some of his most quotable lines are from this movie. Plus the bit when he casually chokes one of his colleagues to near-death because he insults him is awesome. Although that guy was asking for it – why would you insult Darth Vader? Even if he didn’t have ‘the force’ he’s a massive bloke who dresses up…well…like Darth Vader. When he’s at work! Definitely not a man to pick a fight with.
Worst Character – C3PO
A few years back I went to see something called ‘Star Wars in Concert’ which was mainly a live performance of the John Williams score for all of the (at the time) six movies. But there was also someone narrating a summary of the storyline of the movies. And that person was Anthony Daniels who plays C3PO. And I was genuinely excited by this fact. Nonetheless, C3PO is my least favourite character in the original movie. It’s not that I actively dislike him, but he is a bit annoying at times and if there is a weak link it’s him.
Unsung Hero – Wedge Antilles
One of the very few good guys to survive the final battle, other than the main characters. A lot of people moan that Chewie doesn’t get a medal at the end of the movie, alongside Han and Luke, but neither does Wedge. And he actually does save Luke’s life early on in the battle. Which is all Han and Chewie do later on. At least Chewie got to stand on the stage at the end. Poor Wedge is just in the rank and file. He doesn’t get deterred though and goes on to be awesome in the next two movies too. What a guy.
And that’s my take on the very first Star Wars movie to be made. Tune in tomorrow to see what I thought of the second cinematic release in the franchise.