I’ve been hinting at discussing some of my favorite films on this site for quite some time. Well, the day has finally arrived! This post is going to the be the first of many where I share my thoughts on the movies that opened my eyes to things like science fiction, fantasy, and just badassery in general. The first film that I’m going to write about is none other than Star Wars: A New Hope.
I wish I could say that Star Wars is earliest movie I can remember seeing, but that would be a lie. The first movie that I can remember watching was actually E.T. – I saw it in the theater when I maybe four years old. I enjoyed it and I recall vividly my parents telling me “If you liked that, you’d really love this movie called Star Wars!”. And just like that, I was immediately interested.
A New Hope (or simply “Star Wars” – as it was known back then), came out a year before I was born. My parents saw it in the movie theater, as did almost everybody. But it wasn’t until 1983, when it aired on HBO for the first time that I was actually able to watch it. It was early in the morning and I had just woke up. It must have been the weekend, because my parents were still asleep. But I remember walking out to the living room and turning on the television. The TV was already tuned to HBO, so all of a sudden, there it was. I remember my first glimpse of Star Wars very well. It was the scene where R2D2 and C3PO separate on the planet Tatooine. R2 was rolling through some rocky terrain when suddenly he is ambushed by Jawas. I was completely enthralled. I mean, think about it. I was around five years old and what I was seeing was unlike anything I had ever viewed before; Colorful robots, unknown worlds, strange whispering aliens with glowing eyes… it was a whole new experience. I watched the movie from that point forward until it was over. Then, later that evening when HBO aired it again, I got to see if from the beginning. Let me tell you, I was hooked for life.
I know that I don’t need to go into detail about what Star Wars is, so I won’t. Everyone who would be reading this knows the plot and the characters. This post isn’t to provide a summary or review of the film. Instead, I want to share some of my personal thoughts on the movie itself.
It has been said many times over the years, that George Lucas ripped off nearly every aspect of the film from somewhere else. I dispute this. There’s a fine line between stealing and inspiration. But that line is there, and it’s clearly defined. It’s obvious (and Lucas has even admitted), that Star Wars was heavily inspired by things like early sci-fi serials and old war films. The Jedi and their lightsabers are a nod to old samurai movies. Heck, even the orchestrated soundtrack was somewhat of an antique idea by the time Star Wars hit the scene. But it was the combination of all of these ideas and the way they were molded and represented that made Star Wars just a refreshing thing to watch. As a young child seeing Star Wars for the first time, I knew nothing of these things. But years later, it opened my eyes to other stories and media that I may have never known to look for. That’s something I’m grateful for.
When I was a child watching Star Wars for the first time, everything about the movie filled me with awe and wonder. The aliens in the cantina, the armored storm troopers, the cool robots, you name it. And the way so much of it was presented with little or no explanation made it even better. As a child, when you are born you enter a world that already exists. You learn about your surrounding as you make your way through life. Watching Star Wars for the first time is a lot like that. There’s no obvious exposition. No one character takes the time to explain what Jawas are, what droids are – you figure it out on your own by observing. So many things in the movie are mentioned casually and never explained (or least were not for many many years). “You fought in the Clone Wars?” Luke says at one point… Wait a minute! That sounds important! What are the Clone Wars? Sorry viewers, you’ll have to wait almost twenty years to find out! It’s subtle things like this that I love about Star Wars. It leaves so much up to the viewers imagination. This is something that many modern films neglect to do.
But the mystery doesn’t just end with the contents of the film itself. I remember watching the intro to the movie at a young age and noticing the title card: EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE. Wait a minute… I thought this was the first movie. Why does it say Episode IV? I asked my father but he didn’t have an answer. Of course as time went by I learned that George Lucas decided to start his saga in the middle of the story. This was something that seemed extremely unusual to me at the time. But now I can look back and understand that it was actually a stroke of genius.
Over the course my life, I’ve probably watched this move over one hundred times and it never gets old. I can practically recite the script word-for-word. But, I recently watched it again before writing this post. Which brings up a point – what is the best way to enjoy this movie?
For many years, there was only one version of Star Wars. Then, in 1997, George Lucas released the Special Edition of Star Wars: A New Hope. The Special Edition is controversial among fans for a number of reasons. But, I personally feel that it was a much needed remaster of the movie. For starters, the original release of the film was starting to look very antiquated. I don’t mean the special effects, but the actual film itself. VHS copies were starting to deteriorate, and original film copies held by studios were also in very bad shape. Something had to be done to preserve the masters. It’s been said, that if Lucas had waited any longer to restore the original material that the master tapes may have very well been lost due to age. The Special Edition scanned the original film stock to digital. It also provided much needed color correction to the movie. I don’t know anyone that has a problem with these updates. The controversy come from the fact that Lucas also took the opportunity to add things to the movie. And by adding these things the new masters (and then allegedly destroying the originals) – the original film has been forever altered.
Personally, I don’t have a problem with these changes. Most of the things added actually enhance the film in my opinion; making the spaceport look busier, improving special effects, etc. No problem there. I suppose the most controversial change is the infamous “Han shot first” edit. This refers to a change George Lucas made to the movie that makes the character of Han Solo shoot BACK at an alien instead of taking the first shot. The change was made because Lucas felt the original scene made Han Solo seem a little callous. But that’s something that so many fans actually liked about character to begin with. He is supposed to be a scoundrel after all. Personally, I’ve never had much of an opinion on the edit and as I’ll discuss in a bit, this change has been since been mostly corrected. Another semi-controversial change is the addition of a once deleted scene that shows Han Solo meeting with Jabba the Hutt. When the SE was originally released the CGI on Jabba looked absolutely horrendous. Thankfully, subsequent releases of the movie have also improved this scene dramatically. Which brings me to my final point… which version is the best?
Since the SE was originally released in 1997, there have been several “updated versions”. The first SE improvement came with the DVD release. Next, we had the HD Blu-Ray release. Most recently, we have the 4K Disney+ version of the film. Many new viewers don’t realize there are differences, and to be honest, it really shouldn’t matter. Honestly speaking, the changes in any of these versions are minor.
The Blu-Ray version fixes the terrible CGI rendering of Jabba the Hutt and also slightly improves the “Han shot first” scene by making the action flow at a faster pace. It also retains the original yellow stylized translation text that appears on the screen whenever an alien is speaking in their native tongue.
The Disney+ release of the film improves the “Han shot first” scene even more. It even gives us a few extra seconds of the scene that have never been seen before in where Greedo utters a new phrase “Macklunkey!” (Oddly enough this is done with no explanation by Disney). But this version also replaces the stylized text with blocky closed-captioning text boxes. Why?! On a good note, this 4K scan of the film improves the color and audio of the movie even more than the Blu-Ray release does. Making it the best looking version of the film to date.
I know this may seem like nitpicking, but still, the question remains; which version of the movie is the best? Well, if you trust my opinion, I believe I have the answer.
For me, the best presentation of the film is actually the home release of the 4K Disney version. This version takes the Disney+ release of the movie and puts it on physical media. And while it doesn’t restore the yellow-colored translation text, it does at least get rid of the ugly CC boxes, and overlays the words directly over the picture. It’s available individually or as part of a boxed set. This is good because if you’re ever without internet, you can still enjoy the best looking version of this movie at home. As someone who has watched and studied every single release of Star Wars for over forty years, I can tell you without a doubt that the 4K scan of the movie is the BEST it’s ever looked. Just take my word on it. Even if you don’t have a 4K TV, this is the version you want to buy. (It includes a Blu-Ray copy). This is the definitive cut of the movie.
I don’t know that there will ever be another film that will have the impression on me that Star Wars did. I doubt it. I’m older and I’ve been exposed to more media. I’m sure part of the romance I carry for this movie comes from the fact that I was introduced to it at such a young age. Still, even bearing that in mind, there’s no doubt that this movie changed cinematography forever. If by some strange twist of fate, you’ve never watched a Star Wars movie, I urge you to set aside some time to enjoy this film. It is one of the greatest movies of all time – no one will debate that. And it’s worthy of your attention. This film means more to me than I can even begin to explain. When my wife and I first met, I shared it with her early in our relationship. I also took pride in introducing my children to it when they were young. It’s part of who I am.