Combustible Celluloid
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With: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Alec Guinness, Peter Cushing, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, David Prowse, Peter Mayhew, James Earl Jones (voice), Phil Brown, Shelagh Fraser, Jack Purvis, Dennis Lawson, Garrick Hagon
Written by: George Lucas
Directed by: George Lucas
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 121
Date: 05/24/1977

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

4 Stars (out of 4)

The Original Space Rangers

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I was about eight or nine when I saw Star Wars, so it's ingrained in my consciousness in a way that defies critical thought. It spoke to a movie-crazy kid, and any kid who gazes wistfully out at the horizon (whether it has one or two suns) and hopes for some kind of adventure.

The following are my thoughts on the new re-furbished computer-tweaked Star Wars: Special Edition...

1) New shots: The new shot of Han Solo and Jabba the Hut is fun, but Jabba is much bigger than he was meant to be when the scene was shot. Originally, Jabba was just a guy in a costume. Han buddies up pretty close to him, which doesn't seem likely; stepping on the tail was a good idea. The new shots of Mos Eisley are amazing, with the computer-rendered landspeeder and C-3P0 visible. It's a good thing most of the characters have masks that can be computer rendered with little trouble. A shot of Luke talking to Biggs adds a new level to the Death Star battle, but is cliché. ("You'll tell me all about your adventures when we get back!") He's dead for sure.

2) Refurbished shots: Many of the old shots now have background stuff added, which distracts from the main action you're supposed to be seeing. Some shots have "business" in them, such as Jawas falling off a newly-created monster or another creature pounding the bejeezus out of a flying droid. Some of the additions are like little puzzles. You ask yourself, "was that there before?" -- so it's fun, in any case.

3) Editing: The Oscar-winning editing in Star Wars -- by Paul Hirsch, Marcia Lucas, and Richard Chew -- is top notch, something Siskel and Ebert pointed out when they reviewed the movie on their show. I paid special attention this time, and I was impressed. It's crisp, fast, and clear, always in the right place at the right time.

4) Cinematography, Art Direction, and Set Decoration: I'm continually impressed by how the movie is shot in partial-documentary style. In certain shots, the camera just breezes over fantastic droids or creatures or gimmicks. The Cantina scene was revolutionary, because it took all of those fantastic, imaginative creatures for granted; the camera just casually glides past them. (By contrast, the new stuff draws attention to itself.) Likewise, the spaceships, vehicles, robots, and gizmos in this movie are far from shiny and new; they're often beat-up and feel used, which is a nice contrast to sci-fi movies up to that point.

5) Screenplay & Pacing: I love how the movie opens, with the big ship passing overhead. We're suddenly in the thick of a battle, but we don't know why. For about 15-20 minutes, the audience is a little behind the story, and we're always interested. Then we catch up for a while, until the Mos Eisley sequence. Then the final attack is a little slow, with a bit too much emphasis on WWII dogfights that apparently interested Lucas a great deal. Moreover, now that I've seen some of the old movie serials, I can see how Star Wars was inspired by them. It could probably be split into chapters and shown in 5-10 minute bits with a cliffhanger at the end of each.

6) Acting: Mark Hamill is not very good in the movie, although I related to him, as Luke Skywalker, more than anyone else. It's amazing how George Lucas got Peter Cushing and Alec Guinness to be in the movie. They were the only known stars at the time. Guinness is good with Lucas' average dialogue.

7) Adrenaline: I couldn't help getting an adrenaline rush, butterflies, and tingles at certain moments. It was great to hear John Williams' score really loud. This movie really is better on the big screen (lots of movies are).

8) Marketing: I couldn't help thinking how naive they all were in 1977, when they didn't know that this little $10 million movie would be a hit. Soon there would be mediocre movies with no characters or plot and just special effects and marketing up the wazoo. In 20 years that cycle has just become worse, with no signs of letting up.

9) Oscars: Star Wars received ten Oscar nominations and won six -- Best Editing, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Visual Effects, Best Sound, and Best Score, plus a Special Achievement Award for the creation of the alien, creature, and droid sounds. It did not win Best Picture, Best Director, or Best Screenplay, all of which went to Annie Hall. (I had a grudge against Annie Hall for years for this reason, until I actually saw it, and now I love it, too.) Incidentally, The Turning Point received 11 nominations that year and won nothing. Alec Guinness received the final Star Wars nomination, believe it or not, for Best Supporting Actor. He lost to Jason Robards for Julia. Guinness was one of the greatest of all actors, and was nominated five times overall (including for The Lavender Hill Mob, The Horse's Mouth, and Little Dorrit), winning once (for The Bridge on the River Kwai), and receiving an honorary Oscar in 1980.

10) Classic Status: All in all, this movie is a classic fantasy adventure that deserves its spot in the heart of America with The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Wizard of Oz, etc.

See also: The Phantom Menace (1999), Attack of the Clones (2002), Revenge of the Sith (2005), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and Return of the Jedi (1983)

In 2004, Lucas released the Star Wars trilogy on DVD, but only in their 1997 refurbished editions. The original theatrical releases from 1977, 1980 and 1983 are apparently lost to time. I still have my old mid-1990s laserdisc editions, and I'll be holding onto them for dear life. (In 2006, Lucas conceded and released three, two-disc special editions containing both the re-jiggered versions and the original theatrical releases, thereby rendering the 2004 editions useless. Will the fans never be satisfied?)

In 2011, Lucas continued outraging the fans, following the same pattern on the Blu-Ray release. So far only the 1997 special editions are available, with the original theatrical editions hopefully to follow someday soon.

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