A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 69 – Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope – May 8th, 2010

Ah, the originals. Except we’re watching the “updated” versions, because, as we promised to in our rules, we watch the longest version we have. I can live with that though. It’s a small price to pay for watching a fantastic movie. And make no mistake, as much as the prequels hurt my soul, the originals are a balm to it. In fact, I think I’m going to transport myself back in time to when I was a kid and saw this for the first time and pretend the prequels never happened. Or haven’t happened yet. Or maybe that I’ve slipped into a parallel reality where Lucas just never got around to making them. Pity, that, isn’t it? And as a side note, I remember talking about the possibility of prequels back in middle school during a play rehearsal. We debated what the story would be like and agreed it would be awesome to see Vader’s origin and gee, too bad it’ll probably never happen. Yeah. Too bad.

I first saw this movie when I was pretty small. A school friend’s mother took her and myself to see it at a local community center. They projected it onto a small screen in a rec room. I was too young to remember it in great detail years later, but I know I saw it. Several years after, my brother rented it on VHS one day while I was at camp. I got home and all he could talk about was how awesome the hyperspace visual was. We sat down to watch the second movie and… You know the Falcon’s hyperdrive is borked in the second movie. What a disappointment.

Anyhow, this movie is most definitely not a disappointment. Right off the bat you get the good stuff. A space battle and holy crap a tall dude in a black cloak and that helmet. Menacing and dangerous and he’s obviously got it in for our lovely be-bunned heroine. Darth Vader is the very picture of an archetypal villain. The all-black costume against the bright white of the diplomatic ship and Leia’s costume doesn’t hurt for reinforcing the whole good vs. evil deal either. Sure, when we meet our hero he’s a whiny little twerp at first, but Mark Hamill did a good job making him fairly likable. The movie does a lot of things right. Even though we know more than Luke does about Leia at the time, coming into this the first time, we don’t know who Obi Wan is or what’s going on with the rebels or what Luke’s destiny will be. There’s a good sense of potential right from the outset, and the movie eventually delivers.

In fact, the movie delivers a punch as soon as Luke’s aunt and uncle die. Those are the stakes here. There’s the Empire and the Rebel Alliance and with Leia being interrogated by the obviously evil Darth Vader, there’s little question as to who we’re supposed to root for. The Empire sends teams of faceless soldiers down to hunt for Leia’s droids. They kill whoever gets in their way. Luke barely makes it off the planet with Obi Wan and the droids and one of the best parts of the entire trilogy: Han Fucking Solo. Han and Chewbacca and the Millenium Falcon. I won’t deny that the presence of Alec Guinness elevates this movie a good deal, but Harrison Ford makes the role of Han Solo in the same way Robert Downey Jr. made Tony Stark in Iron Man last night. It makes the whole movie better to have him in there. And maybe that’s part of what was missing in the prequels-that-don’t-exist – There wasn’t the right knight/rogue dynamic that the originals do so well with Luke and Han. Anakin and Obi Wan don’t quite hit the right notes for it. But those movies don’t exist so whatever. The knight/rogue thing is really key to this movie. You’ve got the straight man, the knight, who does the Right Things and makes the rogue act for a reason beyond his own benefit. But then the rogue keeps the knight from taking things too seriously and getting bogged down. Luke and Han are a perfect example. They’re my classic example. And it doesn’t hurt that you’ve also then got Leia not just playing The Girl, but also playing The Badass.

This movie also serves as a great quest story. I know it’s been written about all over the place, so I won’t retread that ground, but it really is fantastic. Our naive hero – his family destroyed – sets off on a quest to save a prisoner from an evil empire and ends up joining a greater cause, aiding in the struggle to destroy the empire. That there is the basis of a good story. It’s not bogged down in complicated politics or too many plot lines. It’s clear who you’re supposed to care about and who you’re supposed to despise. There are fun space battles, a lightsaber duel, a Wilhelm scream and the dialogue and acting are fine in most places and great in others. This movie is so widely loved for good reason: It’s a good movie, and even when it’s silly (Imperial Storm Troopers are precise with blasters? Really?) it’s still worth loving.

A final small note: Take a moment and head over to Star Wars Uncut, a fantastic fan-driven project to refilm the entire movie. The trick is that it’s been cut into 15 second bites and each section has been redone by different people. Regular people. There’s animation, bad acting, music videos. It’s a wonderful display of how the people who love this movie can still love it while poking fun at it.


May 8, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | 2 Comments

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

May 8, 2010

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

I don’t think it’s really necessary to review Star Wars, do you? I mean you’ve seen it and you’ve loved it. So my review today will take the form of a sort of stream of consciousness list of thoughts as I watch the movie. First of all I’d like to share a customer interaction from my Blockbuster years. This happened about once a month mind you:

Adult customer: I’d like to rent Star Wars for my ten-year-old child.

Me: Okay. Which one?

Customer: The first one I guess.

Me: Do you want the first one that was made or do you want the first one in the chronology of the series?

Customer: I don’t know. I just want to show him Star Wars.

I usually encouraged them to get this movie – because it’s the one that those adults are probably thinking of when they think “Star Wars.” And because I really didn’t want to subject anybody to Phantom Menace and its ilk.

Amanda has apparently chosen to pretend the prequel films simply don’t exist. That seems like the only rational course of action since the prequels fit so poorly with the original works. Some quick examples off the top of my head: Owen Lars completely fails to recognize C3P0 despite the fact that he lived for ten years with Shmi and 3P0 back before his sister-in-law Shmi was kidnapped by sand people. Ben Kenobi appears not to recognize R2D2 at all either – and after R2 saved his life so many times… that’s just rude. And just how many years have passed since the prequels? Kenobi looks to be about seventy now, but that would mean he was about fifty in Episode III. (Hmm. Alec Guiness was 63 when this movie was made. Maybe Obi Wan was in his fourties in episode III? I guess his aging was retarded by use of the Force and it accelerated when he went into hiding?) It makes no sense! I pity anybody who is introduced to Star Wars through the prequels rather than through this movie.

I used to use this movie as one of my examples for why Pan & Scan is such a travesty. Take a look at the line : “There are two Banthas down there but I don’t see any… wait a second, there’s Sand People alright – I can see one of them now.” In the Pan & Scan version of the film there are no Sand People visible through Luke’s goggles. The lone Sand Person is cut off the right-hand side of the screen. Star Wars was filmed in cinemascope – which means that the “Full Screen” version of the movie is missing almost half of the movie off the sides of the frame. It really gets me steamed when people complain about those obtrusive black bars that are cutting off part of their movie. Ignorant movie-hating hicks!

In accordance with the rules of our project we’re watching the special edition version of Star Wars from back in 1997 or so when Lucas re-released the movies in theaters with a little digital tampering. It was kind of a dry run for the prequel movies. Lucas made a lot of noise about how he always felt that the budgetary and effects restraints present when he was making the first Star Wars movie made it impossible for him to truly realize his vision. Apparently his true vision involved a lot more comic relief (Jawas swinging from bridles and annoying chirpy robots for example) and lots and lots of digital creatures. Oh, and sanitization like making Han shoot Greedo in self defense rather than as a preemptive strike. Because it’s important that all your characters be bland and uninteresting rather than having any kind of character arc. Heaven forbid that Han be less than a perfect gentleman before he reluctantly joins the Rebellion!

Extrapolating from the added footage in this special edition it is blindingly obvious what kind of garbage Lucas would produce given an unlimited budget and access to the leading edge in turn-of-the-century special effects. (Well obvious in retrospect I suppose.)

I was five years old when the first Star Wars movie came out in theaters. A very shy and sensitive five years old. I used to hide behind the couch during scened in the Wizard of Oz that involved the Wicked Witch of the West. As such I never made it through the entire movie during its first run. It must have been quite annoying to my parents. They wanted to experience this cultural touchstone of a movie with their child, but I would start crying in terror during the trash compactor scene and had to be taken out to the lobby lest I irritate the other movie-goers. I think my parents took me to see the movie at least twice, maybe three times, and I didn’t see the end of it until it was re-released right before Empire Strikes Back came out three years later. Man, I had nightmares about Darth Vader. (Naturally I also had Star Wars bedsheets with Darth’s helmet prominently displayed right smack in the center.)

I also remember that the only thing I asked for that year as a Christmas present was a droid. I really honestly expected to wake up on Christmas morning and find a fully functional working R2D2 under the tree. Instead I had a remote controlled car from Radio Shack with a posable silver man riding on top. I don’t think I did a very good job masking my disappointment. I did have a number of Star Wars action figures, but I think that’s a story for tomorrow because they didn’t actually come out the year that the movie did – the iconic action figures didn’t start appearing until ’78 or ’79 I seem to recall.

Man. So many memories. This movie and its sequels really WAS my childhood.

ETA: I wish now that we owned a copy of Akira Kurosawa’s “Hidden Fortress.” I’ll have to add it to the list.

May 8, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment