To round out the “Star Wars” movie reviews on my blog, here’s a look back at my 30th anniversary essay for “Episode IV: A New Hope,” published in the Brainerd (Minn.) Dispatch on May 24, 2007, one day short of the 30th anniversary of the film’s premiere. Although my views haven’t changed much as we approach the 40th anniversary, I’ve included a few footnotes to expand on this column, which was aimed at a wide daily newspaper audience.
‘Wars’ and remembrance: Space fantasy that shook Hollywood is 30 years young (1)
By JOHN HANSEN
may 24, 2007
“Star Wars” turns 30 years old on Friday, and I’d say it’s looking pretty good for its age. (2)
George Lucas’ seminal space adventure – which, to boil it down to one utterance, can be summed up by Han Solo’s “Yee-hah!” after he knocks Darth Vader’s TIE fighter off Luke’s tail – was born before its time, into a dystopian 1970s movie world.
At that time, films about societies that kill people on their 30th birthday (3) to control the population qualified as sci-fi classics. Flicks about oversized sharks chomping on beachgoers passed for feel-good blockbusters.
But “Star Wars” – since retitled “Episode IV: A New Hope” to accommodate two sequels and three prequels – also proved timely. Filmgoers embraced it to such a degree that it became the highest-grossing film of all time (It now ranks No. 2 on the domestic list, behind “Titanic”) (4).
And, looking back on the movie three decades later, it’s clear that “Star Wars” also is timeless.
How many movies – or TV shows or bands or comic books, for that matter – are as popular and relevant 30 years later as they were upon their release? Certainly, franchises such as “James Bond,” “Superman” and “Star Trek” have had long lives, and they will continue to be reinvented, repackaged and relaunched (5).
“Star Wars” has been repackaged plenty of times – notably with the 1997 Special Edition, which removed the black boxes around the TIE fighters and added the infamous blast from Greedo’s gun – but it will never need to be reinvented (6).
Kids who watch “Star Wars” now, and 30 years from now, will fall in love with it for the same reasons I did. Adventure, excitement, Ewok cartoons, C-3POs cereal … a Jedi might not crave these things, but younglings do.
“Star Wars” is the Beatles of movies. Not everyone is a huge fan, but few hate it, even if it gets lauded to a nauseating degree. “Star Wars” is archived in the National Film Registry and it stands at No. 12 on the all-time rankings among voters at that bastion of cynicism, the Internet Movie Database (7).
And just as Beatles fans are as fascinated by the band’s genesis as they are by the music, I love the story of “Star Wars’ ” creation as much as the movie itself – perhaps even more, since the film holds a line-by-line residence in my head, a real annoyance when I try to muster the brain power to do long division without a calculator and all I come up with is dialog from the cantina scene (8).
J.W. Rinzler’s “The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film” is in bookstores now, and I’m looking forward to reading it – not because I haven’t heard the story before (9), but because I never tire of reading about Lucas’ triumph as an independent artist (10).
But on the 30th anniversary, I think it’s a good time to remember that “Star Wars” – and the galaxy of sequels and prequels and books and comics and toys – isn’t solely the creation of the Bearded Man in Flannel (11).
It also required the skills of actors such as Alfie Curtis (“You just watch yourself. I have the death sentence in 12 systems.”), Richard LeParmentier (“This station is now the ultimate power in the universe. I suggest we use it.”) and Eddie Byrne (“Princess, when we heard about Alderaan, we feared the worst.”)
Oh, and the special effects guys did some kinda neat stuff on “Star Wars,” too (12).
(1) For the jump headline, I wrote ” ‘Star Wars’ never gets old.” But it kind of does. I watched the original trilogy so many times as a kid that I’ve wrung most of the enjoyment out of it. I haven’t exhausted the possibilities for obsessive analysis, though.
(2) Albeit somewhat stuck in the hairstyles of 1977.
(3) 1976’s “Logan’s Run,” which rates a 6.8 on IMDB compared to “Star Wars’ ” 8.7. That puts “A New Hope” second behind “The Empire Strikes Back” (8.8) among “Star Wars” films. Rounding out the Lucas saga are “Return of the Jedi” (8.4), “Revenge of the Sith” (7.6), “Attack of the Clones” (6.7) and “The Phantom Menace” (6.5). Disney’s “The Force Awakens” is at 8.2, by the way, so fans think it’s worse than Early Lucas, but better than Later Lucas.
(4) “The Force Awakens” (2015) and “Avatar” (2009) passed both, and in fact, “A New Hope” has been knocked all the way down to ninth place. It’s even third among “Star Wars” films now, as “The Phantom Menace” is in eighth place thanks to the 2012 3-D release.
(5) “Bond” got a soft reboot with “Casino Royale” in 2006, “Star Trek” got a soft reboot with the 2009 movie and “Superman” got a full reboot with 2013’s “Man of Steel,” the first movie in the DC Extended Universe.
(6) I recently got a Blu-ray player and picked up the latest revamping – the 2011 release — since it was less than $40. Also in my collection are the 1992 Widescreen VHS trilogy, which cost about $100 at the time (I received it for Christmas that year), and the 1997 Special Edition VHS, which was probably $50 at the time. I passed on the 2004 DVD.
(7) It’s now at No. 20, while “Empire” holds the No. 12 spot.
(8) That having been said, the random line of dialog that was most popular among me and my grocery-bagging colleagues at my first job was “But I was going into Tosche Station to pick up some power converters!” By the way, having the whole script of “A New Hope” in a file in your head isn’t all fun and games. Whenever someone says “That’s impossible!,” it’s stressful trying to decide if I should say “How will the Emperor maintain control without the bureaucracy?” or “It’s not impossible. I used to bullseye womp rats in my T-16 back home and they’re not much bigger than two meters.”
(10) Independent starting with “Empire,” that is. Not so much on “Star Wars,” which was bankrolled by 20th Century Fox.
(11) I go into more detail about “Star Wars” contributors in my post ranking the 20 people most responsible for the success of “Star Wars.”
(12) It’s a cliche to talk about “Star Wars” as a special effects movie, but logically, a case can be made that this is the main reason for its success. Before 1977, there had been movies with a great sense of adventure, great editing and pacing, great music, great costume design, great set design, etc. But there had never been a movie where the special effects reached this level of believability, integration and robustness. Thirty-nine years after its release, the practical effects on the original version are still more believable than a lot of modern digital work. Even the Special Edition improvements – for example, the close-up view of the X-wings launching from Yavin 4, as opposed to a long-distance shot – didn’t replace shoddy work; the original work still does the job just fine.