I’m watching and writing about the Top 100 Movies of All-Time this year, based on multiple film publication lists. You can read more about how I came to rank and place the films on the list at my introduction post here.
Star Wars IV: A New Hope
List Appearances: 8/10
Average Rank: 30
Highest Rank: 4, on Ranker‘s The Best Movies of All Time
Total Final Score: 11088
In 1977, film history was made. Star Wars was a cultural phenomenon unlike anything before, and its importance on film is still felt today. The original trilogy are among my favorite movies of all time. Before I was five, I had seen them at least half a dozen times. I still lament that I never knew that feeling of “Oh my god! Darth Vader is Luke’s father!” because I just knew it before I knew what street I lived on. My first crush was Luke, and by extension Mark Hamill, and I knew his name and Carrie Fisher’s and Harrison Ford’s before I knew my neighbor’s first name (she was Mrs Armstrong). I liked A New Hope, but mostly, I liked Ewoks and Jedis and R2D2 and Yoda, in that order. I was five, after all, and one movie was all the movies. Even now, I love hearing that 20th Century Fox fanfare playing at the start of the movie and getting excited. Dad didn’t even have to tell me. I just knew he was starting it again. I’d exclaim, “Return of the Jedi!” and sit on the couch eagerly waiting for the text scroll to start.
Speaking of text scroll, did you know that George Lucas had to pay $100,000 to put it on at the start of the movie and have the credits at the end? Before Star Wars, the main credits for a movie were at the start for all movies. That’s significant now, because it has become the standard, and credits at the start are definitely not the norm (though the start of Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can is a brilliant example of the now outdated style).
I have seen A New Hope probably a hundred times. I stopped counting long ago. I haven’t watched it as often in my adulthood, though, due to the tragedy that are the Lucas cuts. The VHS copies I had growing up still sit at home with my mom on the other side of the world, if I ever want to watch the unadulterated versions. I can only hope that one day Disney will re-release them in their original version, for film preservation purposes, but I’m sure that requires some kind of negotiation with Lucas himself.
I still get goosebumps every time the John Williams’s theme starts, and when new ones come, I might even tear up just a tiny bit during that text scroll. I spent so much of my childhood thinking the three were going to be it, that now this idea of one a year is still messing with my sense of nostalgia. I’m sad that soon that joy I felt at the mention of Star Wars might diminish with time. There are now more movies out that aren’t necessarily needed (a la Rogue One and Solo: A Star Wars Story), though they still have some merits (Rogue‘s battle sequence on the beach is amazing, as is Solo‘s Kessel run). I recognize that my nostalgia gets in the way of me enjoying some of the newer films. I also recognize that a large number of the world’s population have never watched a single film, and to those people, I say, “Don’t.” There’s a reason they haven’t watched it, and being forced to watch this zietgeist of a movie can only end in disappointment.
I sat down to watch A New Hope this week in preparation for this review, and while I have recounted a lot of my personal experiences, I do want to talk about the merits of the movie and why I absolutely agree it should be in the Top 100 of all time.
A New Hope is a great introduction into the Star Wars universe and is brimming with colorful characters, aliens, and worlds, though it is not the best of the series. The superior film is Empire Strikes Back, for many reasons, but I will get into that next week. For now, I want to talk about what I think makes Star Wars so great and the reason for its rabid fan-base.
It was the first accessible space opera and science fiction movie ever made, and more importantly, the best production to that day. There’s something to be said about practical effects. The older Star Wars hold up more than the Anakin trilogy, because there was very little reliance on visual effects as we know them now. That’s what makes the changes harder to swallow because the addition of CG pulls you out of the magic of the original movie. There was clear meticulous detail in bringing to life the space ships and droids and sets. From the vastness of space in the opening scene, to the claustrophic corridors of the ships. When Darth Vader walks through that foggy door juxtaposed against the stark white interior of Leia’s ship, when the music shifts into the low dun-dun-dun, you know he is the baddest of the bad.
The cast of characters are fleshed out in some way. Leia is a fierce warrior, and despite her capture, she has zero qualms about berating or belittling her captors. When she grabs a blaster and commands Han and Luke into the garbage chute, her authority is felt and believed. She is a force to be reckoned with, and she is certainly no princess. As a young girl, I looked up to Leia as an example, and I know many other girls and young women did as well. Han and Luke were one-dimensional in A New Hope, but while Han was the snarky comedic relief (“Great, kid! Don’t get cocky), Luke bore the weight of destiny on his shoulders. He had barely had time to learn to feel the Force before he lost his only teacher.
By extension, I think the now overused concept of finding out you’re special is a theme that connected with a lot of the audience. I don’t know a kid that isn’t certain he/she were adopted at some point in their lives. Or at least a long lost relative of Merlin or King Arthur, destined to some day discover some innate power or gift that they didn’t know they had. Luke, with his transformation from reluctant farmer to destroyer of a Deathstar, was the embodiment of that desire. And really, with that and space battles and lazer swordfights (yes, I know, they’re lightsabers) and Millenium Falcons, what more could you want?