Star Wars Episode IV A New Hope (1977, 1997)
Written and directed by George Lucas
Wow, Star Wars is so big it swallows my putrid sarcasm like a massive black hole. It is surely impossible to say anything that hasn't already been said on the topic a thousand times. Yes, it had a huge effect on me. Yes, I played with Star Wars action figures way past the age when it was "normal" to do so. Yes, I still have a small but once again growing collection of Star Wars toys. Yes, I know the lines to all three films so well I can even speak the alien parts.
These traits apply to me and untold millions of other socially retarded individuals who grew up in the shadow of the Empire. So why should I bother reviewing these films?
When the "Special Editions" were released theatrically, I had the opportunity to introduce these films to a young friend who'd never seen any of them. Watching them through her eyes was a rare and thrilling experience, as it allowed me to see them from outside my own completely myopic perspective. I fought fiercely at times with my desire to anticipate what's next, and feel that although I couldn't possibly erase the previous viewings, I succeeded in watching the films from a more objective standpoint than usual. Hence, a fine time to tackle the review with little fear of fanboy creep-in.
While there is an unmistakable clumsiness to much of Star Wars, it still holds up surprisingly well. A basic coming-of-age story set in a believably rustic sci-fi universe, the film somehow manages to transcend its clichéd and wooden dialogue through sheer conviction.
Star Wars has demonstrated such a lasting and powerful impact on modern culture not merely due to the mythological aspects everyone talks about (and let's face it, most of us still haven't bothered to read Campbell), but because there are continual hints of a larger world. Unexplained references to the Clone Wars, the Imperial Senate, Jedi Masters, the Emperor, the Kessel Run, etc., all provide a tantalizing glimpse at a galaxy we want to know a lot more about.
This is quite unlike a lot of other, sub-par sci-fi (the painfully derivative Stargate, the cheeky and disingenuous Total Recall) in which everything is right there on the screen, perfectly self-contained, with no edges bleeding off into the hazy distance. The beauty of Star Wars is that it bleeds in all directions, past, present, and future, and sparks the imagination.
The film is not without its flaws. I've always felt Leia's rescue from the Death Star was long and slow, especially the so-called cliffhanger in the trash compactor. It's as if the film stops the minute the Falcon arrives at the Death Star, then suddenly picks up again with Obi-Wan's lightsaber duel.
The final battle over the Death Star is still exciting, despite knowing the outcome, and I'm only slightly embarrassed to admit that the stirring final scene always gets me.
Incidentally, I also have a theory that Star Wars is a metaphor for losing one's virginity. It's all there if you look closely enough (the most obvious "clue" being Luke's orgasmic bombing of the Death Star with two spermy proton torpedoes check out his relieved, exhilarated expression immediately afterwards).
Now for my take on Lucas's "improvements." All of the outer space stuff is greatly improved by the CG FX, especially the shots of X-Wings heading towards the Death Star. Most of the Mos Eisley FX are good additions, particularly the enhanced Dewbacks, although I really don't like the new "Ronto," or the silly business of the Jawa falling off it.
Which brings us to Jabba, easily the worst "improvement" of any of the Special Editions. In the original trilogy, the mystery and terror of Jabba is highlighted by the fact that he is a faceless shadow looming over Han, much like the Emperor looms over Vader and Luke. When he's finally introduced, he's a stone-cold ruthless killer with no need or desire to bargain with anyone. And thus he is a great villain.
Adding Jabba into A New Hope completely deflates all of the mystery and fear that builds up to his appearance, as well as his impact when he is finally onscreen. In this version, he is a nice guy, a friend of Han's who only wants things to work out. Boring.
Plus, the exchange with Han is identical to the far better scene with Greedo, which takes place immediately before Jabba appears. The scene adds nothing to the movie, in fact halts it in mid-sentence, and only succeeds in ruining the great surprise of the third film, although Jabba's bloated decadence in that film does benefit from the introduction in New Hope, adding an element of "What the hell happened to him?
Flawed though it is, Star Wars is nevertheless one of the best, most complete entertainments ever conceived. Engrossing, exciting, consistently watchable, and endlessly capable of transforming jaded hipsters like myself into the nerdy little boys they once were. Where's my Walrus Man figure at?!
Review by Crimedog