REVIEW: Star Wars (AKA Episode IV AKA A New Hope AKA The First First One)

Posted: December 12, 2016 by J.A. Prentice in Article, Movie Review
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10/10

Yeah, I started where I was supposed to end.

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But now we’ve gotten the fact that I really, really like this movie out of the way, I can talk about some of the reasons I like it. I think one of the big reasons is that it’s very Mythological. There’s a reason Star Wars is what people point to when they talk about Campbell’s Monomyth/”The Hero’s Journey.” But it’s more than that. Star Wars is a timeless mashup of all sorts of things that defies the expectations of the science fiction genre. In fact, I’d argue it isn’t science fiction. It’s more fantasy than anything else, but it’s not easily put into one category.

Just look at the characters: a Princess, a Scoundrel, a Dark Knight, an Old Master, and a Farmboy. They’re all so memorable, so archetypal, and yet they’re also more than that. Han Solo is given a sense of hidden nobility, Leia has a tough attitude under the white dress, Darth Vader has an air of mystery about him, Obi-Wan is full of regret, and Luke has difficulty believing in his potential and embracing the power of the Force.

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The Empire is a powerful archetype, a representation of the ultimate in Fascist ideology. The Stormtroopers are faceless because they’ve become tools of the state, mere extensions of the Empire’s dehumanizing ideology. Vader has hidden his face behind a distinctive black mask, losing himself in the darkness. All hints of his Jedi nobility are gone. The faced villain, Tarkin, dresses like he’s stumbled out of Nazi Germany. It’s been noted by Geroge Lucas several times that Nazi Germany was an inspiration, but so were Nixon’s America, the British Empire, and the Roman Empire. Mixing all these things up creates an enemy that’s always relevant, not tied to one specific time and place.

This is present in almost every aspect of the movie. The Jedi are simultaneously monks, samurai, medieval knights, and Science Fiction warriors like the Lensmen. Han Solo is part pirate, part spaceship captain, and part cowboy. Tatooine borrows from The Searchers, Dune, and Lawrence of Arabia equally.

The best example of all this is the Force. The Force bears similarity to a lot of religious beliefs, but it’s not a 1:1 match for any of them. It’s something new and yet familiar, just as all of Star Wars is. It’s neither entirely alien nor commonplace, but somewhere in between, something that feels like what we know but not quite.

The other incredible thing that this movie – and all the films, really – does is its subtle worldbuilding. This is a lived-in universe. It’s been going before we got here, it goes on where we can’t see it happening, and it’ll keep going after we leave. Just look at the Cantina scene: all those aliens and people, all looking like they have their own stories going. The ships are battered and beaten because they’ve been in other stories, stories that our imaginations fill in.

This, ultimately, is the secret of worldbuilding: to make an iceberg. What do I mean by that? I mean that it should always feel like there’s more beneath the surface, like every place has a history, like every background character has a life of their own, like the world continues beyond what we immediately see.

George Lucas has said he set out to film Star Wars like a documentary and it shows. The camera doesn’t think these things are remarkable. It doesn’t try to take in every detail and show off all the complex sets. As a result, what we get feels more real. When Tolkien referred to the feeling of seeing distant mountains when he wrote Lord of the Rings, this, I think, is what he was talking about: building a sense of deep history and an immersive reality that makes the watcher long to travel further, to see more.

I’d go so far as to say that if I wanted to give an alien a look at Western culture, to show them our art and what we hold as important and what motifs run through our psyches, I’d probably show them Star Wars.

Yes, this was an odd review that was really more of a philosophical ramble, but this is a rebellion, isn’t it? I–

Oh, I already made that joke.

Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope, as it was later christened) is a remarkable film, a truly brilliant combination of genres to create something truly transcendent. It would be almost impossible to make a sequel to it.

Unless, of course, you were a genius. Then it might be one of the best films ever made. star-wars-new-hope-iv-poster_c217085b

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