A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
When those immortal words first appeared on cinema screens four decades ago, few could have imagined the cultural phenomenon that followed. The story which proceeded those words has gone on to become one of the most successful feature films of all time, inspiring sequels, prequels, spin-offs, imitations, parodies and generations of movie-going audiences, a legacy that it well and truly deserves.
Far above the desert planet of Tatooine, a spacecraft belonging to the Rebel Alliance is being pursued by the authoritarian forces of the Galactic Empire. Aboard the ship is Princess Leia of Alderaan (Carrie Fisher), who possesses the stolen plans to the Empire’s secretive superweapon, the Death Star. With an Imperial ship closing in, Leia hides the plans inside one of the Rebels’ robotic droids, R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) who then escapes to Tatooine with his human-like counterpart, C-3PO (Anthony Daniels).
Having landed safely on Tatooine, Artoo and Threepio are taken-in by farmhand and rebel sympathiser Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). While performing maintenance on Artoo, Luke activates a message from Princess Leia intended for a man named Obi-Wan Kenobi. Believing him to be related to his elder neighbour Ben Kenobi (Alec Guinness), and wanting to help the rebels in their cause, Luke meets up with Old Ben, who agrees to assist Luke in his quest.
Luke, Ben and the droids travel to the outpost of Mos Eisley, there meeting with charismatic smuggler Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and his hairy sidekick Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew). After negotiating the price of his assistance, Solo agrees to fly the troupe to Alderaan, where Kenobi can inform the Rebels of the Princess’ plight. Meanwhile Leia herself, having been imprisoned on the Death Star, is being tortured by Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing) and Darth Vader (David Prowse; voice of James Earl Jones) into revealing the location of the Rebels’ secret base.
Star Wars (or Episode IV: A New Hope, as it has come to be known) is pastiche in its purest form – it is both a science-fiction film and a Western; a story set in the past with futuristic technology, where characters wield swords and guns; a perfect blend of action, drama and comedy that occasionally engages in philosophy. By drawing upon its numerous influences, it becomes something wholly original, a genre all on its own. Being immersed in its world is like being inside a child’s mind – wildly imaginative and unorthodox, yet so joyous and filled with life.
Inhabiting this world are a group of characters that are distinctive and endearing. Hamill’s Skywalker is by far the most relatable character, a disaffected youngster who yearns to fulfil his purpose; Harrison Ford wonderfully plays the cocky-yet-affable Han Solo in a universally-loved role; despite being robots, Artoo and Threepio possess more personality than many action stars; and the late Carrie Fisher forgoes the damsel-in-distress stereotype to portray a proactive, assertive and tough female leader – even today, that’s rare to see in a feature film.
Star Wars is also a technological marvel, with a number of visual and special effects that, remarkably, were achieved without the use of computers. The shots of the Death Star’s exterior, and the spaceships engaging in dogfights, are actually highly-detailed models built from the ground up specifically for the film. Similarly, many of the sounds used to bring the action scenes to life – be it the whirr of a lightsabre, or the firing of a blaster – were freshly recorded for A New Hope. One could argue that many of the effects hold up to this day.
And then there’s the iconic orchestral soundtrack from musical maestro John Williams. With a heavy emphasis on the brass section, Williams was able to conjure a score which matched perfectly to the picture, at times mournful, at times menacing, but heroic and uplifting when it most needs to be. Indeed, Star Wars is up there with the compositions Indiana Jones, Superman, Jurassic Park and Harry Potter as being one of Williams’ greatest works.
While many deem Star Wars to be the perfect blockbuster, George Lucas doesn’t believe that to be the case. He has made countless changes to the movie since its initial release – some are justifiable, but many are not. His need to place computer-generated imagery into the film conflicts with the more realistic practical effects, removing the visuals of their majesty. But given that such issues were not present in the original versions of the feature, this flaw is one that can be easily overlooked.
Even after all these years, Star Wars feels just as fresh and original today as it did back in 1977 – it could be released tomorrow, and be just as lauded. It contains so many memorable characters and moments that one would have to be a fool not to experience it for themselves.