THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS
Before the special editions and before the prequels, there was Star Wars. Not Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope, the title it's most commonly referred to nowadays, but simply, Star Wars. It was a grand and spectacular film that went above and beyond everyone's expectations. It changed cinema forever, and now, 38 years later, the film still holds up, and we're even getting the 7th installment in this beloved franchise in less than three weeks! That's just crazy! The Force Awakens is so close. I think I can smell it. No, seriously. I can. It smells nice.
Star Wars opens in the middle of space. Two droids, C3P0 (Anthony Daniels) and R2D2 (Kenny Baker), are escaping from a recently overrun starship, led by Darth Vader (David Prowse as the body and James Earl Jones as the voice) and his army of Stormtroopers. The two crash-land on the desert planet of Tatooine, and it's here that we meet our hero, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Luke uncovers a secret message inside of R2 from Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), who's requesting the help of Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness). Luke, aided by his two new droid companions, goes out in search of Obi-Wan, and his search leads him on an adventure to rescue the princess and take down Darth Vader, and helping him on this journey are two smugglers named Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew). They, of course, need no introduction.
Star Wars is a work of genius, breaking just about every filmmaking rule book you can find. It's a film that needs no explaining. It is Star Wars. Cinema doesn't get much better than this, and it's easily one of my favourite films of all time. Right from the opening scene, you know you're in for an experience unlike anything you've ever seen before. For the first fifteen minutes, everything is told from the perspective of these two droids. They're our introduction into this universe, and it's the greatest on-screen universe of all time. You can always feel as if there's a backstory and a past. Everything has a history, nothing being explained in detail (or really at all). It moves everything along at a much faster pace.
It's in this opening scene that we're introduced to a lot of the key characters, including the trilogy's primary antagonist, Darth Vader. We're given a taste of what he's capable of, and throughout the course of the film, Vader becomes the single greatest villain of all time. He's menacing, but likeable, and as the trilogy goes on and he's given more screen time (he's only in this original film for a mere 12 minutes), he just becomes better and better and better. You can't top Darth Vader. Not only is he the greatest villain of all time, but he's one of the greatest characters of all time. Period. James Earl Jones just has the perfect voice for a character like this and any other casting wouldn't be nearly as perfect.
The hero of this journey is Luke Skywalker, a teenager living with his uncle and aunt on the planet Tatooine. His arc in this film is truly something, starting out as a naive teen and finishing up as the greatest Jedi of all time. When go back and rewatch this trilogy, you can really notice just how different he ends up being. He is but a boy when he starts on this adventure and when he finishes, he's wiser and more experienced than I will ever be. Plus, he has the force. He can move things with his mind. I also can't do that. I wish I could.
Luke, C3P0, R2D2 and former Jedi, Obi-Wan Kenobi, must make their way into the Death Star, a space station capable of destroying entire planets, and it does just that to Leia's home planet, Alderaan. How do they get there, you ask? Why, they only enlist the help of Han Solo, a cocky, fast witted scoundrel, and his beloved wookie friend, Chewbacca. Star Wars has introduced audiences to a lot of my all time favourite characters and, like Vader, Han and Chewie are amongst them. They're both just so likeable and entertaining, and their banter always brings a smile to my face. The two are not only partners, they're best friends, and their friendship bursts off of the screen, despite Chewie not speaking a word of English. Also, Han shot first. Don't even argue against that. Greedo, I love you, but you never fired a single bullet.
The other key player in this fantasy tale is Princess Leia, and I adore her, much like I do with every single cast member. She's a strong female character, the romance between her and Han only hinted at. It's not until the next installment where it's developed further, and I'm okay with that. This film isn't about the romance. It's about starting this saga, and it's a saga that will go on for another 8 more films (plus spin offs.... because money). Her and Luke start out as quite the opposites, and this does balance out the film, but as it goes on, you realise that they're not, and this becomes abundantly clear in Return of the Jedi where it's revealed that Leia is Luke's brother. Star Wars is a franchise that always has a trick or two up its sleeve and I can't wait to see what happens in The Force Awakens.
In my reviews for the Star Wars prequels (here), you'll notice that I was frequently mentioning how outdated the visual effects look in those films. With Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope, a film that came out decades earlier, the effects are still impressive. Why? Because not everything was made digitally. A lot of the film, including the opening crawl, was done completely practically. No CGI needed. Some of the scenes, obviously, look fake in comparison to today's standards, but for it's time, everything was groundbreaking. This film was a massive risk and it was a risk worth taking. It really payed off.
What also differentiates the original trilogy from the prequel trilogy is the story George Lucas was trying to tell. When writing this first film, the story was so big that only the first third of it ended up in the movie. Bits and pieces were taken from later thirds, but for the most part, this is really just the beginning. He has an actual story to tell and while everything wraps up nicely at the end of this film, you can tell that it's just the start of things. There's still more adventure to behold when it comes to the Star Wars universe.
There's just so much going on in this one movie, but it's so worthwhile. Nothing is rushed, nothing is skimmed over and all the characters are interesting. My absolute favourite sequence in this entire film is where they enter the Death Star for the first time to rescue Leia. It's a lengthy sequence, but it's so much fun. There's one liners, action, humour and a tragic moment in which Obi-Wan faces his old apprentice, Darth Vader, for the first time in years and he meets his untimely death. Obi-Wan is such a great character and while his death is tragic, it's very much needed. It's one of the most iconic moments in movie history. Don't worry, though. This is not the last we've seen of Obi-Wan. Well, it is in this film, but, just like he warns Vader, he will become more powerful than you could ever imagine.
What started out as a simple rescue mission has now developed into an attack on the Empire, and to do this, Luke must lead a team of fighters back towards the Death Star so that they can blow it up. Like I said, this is an incredibly fast paced movie with a constantly evolving plot and this proves it. The main goal of the movie just takes a major 180 degree turn, the characters suddenly finding a new problem that they must now overcome. They're always in peril, and it's up to them to get themselves out of it. Whether it's being stuck in a garbage compactor or being shot down by Darth Vader, there's always danger to keep us audience members on the edge of our seats.
This final battle, just like the rest of the movie, is a lot of fun. A New Hope is undoubtably the most light hearted and fun of all the Star Wars movies and it's the one I come back to most often, despite Empire Strikes Back being a far superior film. This one is just the easiest one to watch. But back to the final battle. It's a thrilling, unpredictable and digitally whimsical sequence that's just so exciting to watch. All of these X-Wings are flying in to battle and none are working out, yet here comes Luke Skywalker, shooting his way to victory and blowing up the Death Star. It's a scene that makes me cheer every time I watch it, and that's saying something because I've seen this movie more times than anyone could possibly count to. I honestly don't think there's a number big enough to describe how many times I've seen this masterpiece of a film.
No matter what you want to call this film, there's no denying its brilliance. Whether you consider it a sci-fi, a fantasy, a western or a mix of all three, it's a constant blast from start to finish. George Lucas, I don't know what you were thinking at the time when you made the prequels, but no movie can take away from the emotions I feel while watching this. It's got breathtaking action and visuals, and sure, it's corny, but that's what Star Wars is, and it just makes the viewing experience even better. I can't express enough love for this movie and if you haven't seen it, you're dead to me. It's as simple as that.
To sum up, Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope is a fast paced, action packed and visually stunning riot of a movie with some of the most memorable characters in the history of cinema. It's just a perfect movie, and the same can be said about it's follow up, which I will be reviewing very shortly.