The Rise of Skywalker is almost here, and it’s supposedly the conclusion to the Skywalker Saga. So, I’ve decided to attempt a full canon rewatch before it releases, reviewing each chapter as I go. That’s all the movies, as well as the Clone Wars, Rebels, and Resistance TV series. We continue today with Star Wars: A New Hope.
How do you go about reviewing a movie like this? This film has been ingrained so deeply into my very being, viewing it with a seriously critical view as a movie is genuinely tough. It’s like reviewing the concept of pizza. You can review different pizzas and say they’re good or bad, but this is Star Wars. THE Star Wars.
I guess I have to start with the obvious. I still love this movie. Seriously, I do genuinely love watching this movie. I’ve seen it dozens and dozens of times, but more often than not in the past decade or so, I’ve just listened to it in the background. It’s Star Wars. I’ve seen it. I can visually recite the thing from memory. I don’t actually need to sit and watch it to appreciate it. But actually doing so absolutely holds up.
Not long ago I actually sat down to watch it for the first time in a long time so I could show it to my son. It was almost everything I could have hoped for. He got a little bored towards the middle because there are a lot of kinda talky moments in the film, but he was back on board by the time the X-Wings took on the Death Star. My biggest concern beforehand though, was deciding which version to show him, which is honestly this movie’s biggest issue overall. There are so many flavors of it out there, and none of them actually get it 100% right.
This history’s a little murky, but this is what I know. There’s naturally a part of me that feels the original 1977 theatrical cut is the only cut that’s needed. That’s not as easy an assertion to make as it seems though because Lucas has been tinkering with the movie even as far back as 1977. According to my research, there were two audio tracks distributed with the film back then, one in stereo and a modified one in mono for wide distribution. This mono track is where you first hear the troopers yell “close the blast doors” making their immediately afterward yell “Open the blast doors, open the blast doors!” into a legitimately funny joke. This is where we first hear C3PO explain what’s necessary to shut down the tractor beam instead of having them all stand around in silence while a bunch of images flash on the screen. There were even different vocal takes from Luke, Han, and what seems to be a completely different actress delivering Aunt Beru’s dialogue. So saying the original 1977 theatrical cut is the one true version isn’t as easy it seems.
More changes came with each subsequent release. The opening crawl was amended to include Episode IV: A New Hope in 1981, along with a couple of other minor tweaks as well, but the real beef didn’t come around until 1997’s Special Editions.
The concept of the Special Editions was a sound one. A lot of the effects in the original movies had become a bit outdated, and George Lucas thought the franchise’s anniversary would be a good time to try and complete some scenes and stuff he always wanted to do with the movies with the weight of modern visual effects behind him. There was one tragic flaw in his design though. Cleaning up Star Wars is fun and all, as long as the originals are also always available. The original version, probably specifically the version issues in the first VHS home release, is the version countless people fell in love with. It’s the version that was nominated for awards, the one a generation grew up with, and that’s history that can not be erased. So go crazy. Make as many special editions as you want. Just make sure the original versions are also available in some way shape or form and no matter what changes you make, the Star Wars fandom can always have the version they grew up with at their side. You’ll also continue to make buttloads of money because every time you make a new Special Edition, you re-release the originals and you’ll darn near double your sales because Star Wars nuts like myself will keep buying the originals too.
This is the easiest money Disney is currently sitting on, and the easiest source of stress relief George Lucas ever intentionally avoided for himself. That these classics aren’t available in their official form in any way today is one of the most absurd things I’ve ever heard, and I figured once the Disney/Fox deal closed the original releases were inevitable, but here we are. Disney+ is here, and the original trilogy isn’t just not there, but it’s been altered even further.
Getting back to my original point, I wound up showing my son the Blu Ray release. I went with this option because while the original will always be the original, I know my son’s attention span, and the newer version for all its flaws, it a bit more visually exciting than the originals. There are some really great spaceship shots, cool expanded visuals for key areas in the film, and he’s not really following the whole Han/Greedo things anyway. What I’d really like to do is create my own personal cut of the movie, taking out the Special Edition changes that are legitimately terrible, and leaving the harmless cool stuff in because I do think it enhances the movie overall.
Anyway, that’s a window into my own personal crazy for you. Now back to the show.
For this review, I watched “Maclunkey” cut, which is the most recent revision put up on Disney+. From what I can tell, the only change in this version is once again to the Han/Greedo shootout. Greedo takes a moment to say “Maclunkey” for some reason before they both fire at the same time. It’s exactly as stupid as it sounds. The rest is just a really pretty version of the Blu Ray release, and boy, this is one good looking version of Star Wars. Even the Blu Ray one I showed my son didn’t look this good.
As a movie, I don’t really know what to say about it that hasn’t been said a billion times before by a billion other people on the internet. It’s such a fun piece of science fiction. The characters all work, the universe is fantastic, the action absolutely rules, and it’s just plain fun. The only real issues I have with the movie are largely symptoms of when it was made, and the aftereffects of the prequel trilogy.
The one actual piece of Star Wars content that’s kinda problematic comes from Han. Shortly after rescuing Leia, Han says “If we can just avoid any more female advice” and I get it. It was a different time. But Han, especially after Solo, very clearly doesn’t have any sort of problem with women. That’s just unfortunately the way characters like Han were written back then. On the plus side, that’s really the only instance of anything like that in Star Wars. It’s not a line I feel would be easily changed in any believable way, so I hardly blame them for not trying to tinker with it, but it doesn’t make me feel any less cringey when I hear it today.
There are some sound issues too that I really wonder why they haven’t fixed yet. If they’re going to go to the trouble of fixing things up for these new releases, why not go the full mile and do the whole thing right top to bottom? Aunt Beru’s dialogue every time she talks to Owen sounds absurd. Even when I was a kid watching these on VHS I thought the same thing. Owen is clearly the actor speaking in the room. Beru was clearly voiced over, and the sound is completely flat. They didn’t even try to add any sort of reverb or anything to make it sound like she’s anywhere near being in the same room as Owen. What’s extra weird about that is in the theatrical stereo cut (I think it was the stereo one, I’m not sure), there was a different actress performing Beru’s lines, and while it wasn’t perfect, there is at least some sort of audio effect on her lines to make it sound like there was some effort put into making her sound like she’s there.
Visually, there are a few tricks that really stick out to me, again even from when I was a kid watching them on VHS, that they somehow haven’t managed to fix in the new versions. The big metal doors that open and close usually involve the actors striking a post and freezing in place so they can make the doors close with the visual effect they were using at the time, but there’s always some weird little frame jumps included too. Same goes for a bunch of the lightsaber ignitions. When Luke lights up his father’s lightsaber for the first time, there’s this ridiculous frame jump that irks me every single time. And speaking of lightsabers, we’ve more or less finalised what those things look like when they’re running. So can we just redo the actual saber effects from scratch now, and get the darn colors right while you’re at it? Seriously between the original Special Editions and the DVD release a few years later, some of the lightsaber colors got super weird. Of all the things to screw up, how have the saber effects not been fixed yet?
Finally, when the Tusken Raider attacks Luke, he raises his staff over his head and the footage is played forward, then backward, then forward again to elongate the attack. It looks like a Benny Hill sketch, and it’s never worked. Please fix this. Thank you.
Then there’s the stuff that the prequels break. These are by no means the fault of this movie, but after having seen them, every time these scenes come up now I can’t help but think about how they directly contradict Lucas’s prequels. Even if Obi-Wan doesn’t recognize R2 for some reason, or even if he’s pretending he doesn’t (which his facial expressions clearly display that he isn’t) R2 would recognize him. All that stuff Obi-Wan says that insinuates Anakin and Owen’s relationship can’t have happened because the prequels basically took that option away. Don’t misunderstand me, I would love more than anything to see the world Obi-Wan describes to Luke in this movie, but that isn’t the world we got in the prequels. They very specifically created a trilogy of movies that don’t take place in a world where Anakin follows old Obi-Wan on some damn fool idealistic crusade. So I’ll say it one more time for the people in the back. Admiral Holdo not telling Poe the plan in The Last Jedi didn’t break Star Wars. Leia using the Force to pull herself out of the cold vacuum of space didn’t break Star Wars. The prequel trilogy, which gleefully and repeatedly contradicted the original trilogy at every turn, broke Star Wars.
Now let’s talk about some of the Special Edition changes. CG Dewbacks in the desert? I’m cool with that. They’re neat. The effects aren’t perfect, but I don’t care. They’re absurd and I love them. The tech fixes like replacing matte paintings with visual effects are all great. More dynamic shots in the Death Star battle? Pile them on, they’re spectacular. I say go a few steps further when Alderaan and the Death Star blow up too. The ring in the explosion is nice, but we can make better giant explosions now. If you’re going to screw with stuff, commit, darn it!
Mos Eisley is a real mixed bag. It’s almost all fantastic. The only problems come from George Lucas’s fascination with all things small and cackling. We get this great shot of Mos Eisley looking like a big fascinating city, but then this dumb little floating droid makes a bunch of annoying noises at another droid conks it on the head. Why is that there? It’s just distracting and pointless. Then the shot is super cool again, and a giant dinosaur shows up and a Jawa falls off and starts cackling and again, why? Why did there need to be slapstick chaos? There didn’t, and its’ dumb. Then the stormtroopers go to interrogate Obi-Wan and Luke and there’s these little probe droids floating around in the background. Sure, they’re cool. Why not? But then this big dumb CG creature walks in front of the camera for no reason. Why? What purpose does that steve?
Ugh. Okay, let’s get to the bad stuff.
Had didn’t shoot first, he’s the only one who shot. There was nothing wrong with this scene to begin with. Lucas said in some interview that he didn’t want Han to be so ruthless, but that doesn’t track. It’s not like Greedo was unarmed. Dude had a gun to Solo’s face and flat out told him he was going to kill him if he didn’t get a bunch of money. Han shot him under the table before he could get shot himself. It’s badass and completely justified in context. The scene worked flawlessly from the get go. Changing it has only done damage since. They’ve redone it like 6 times now, and none of them work at all. The original shot works. The digital head cock is awful. People don’t move like that. It’s all so terrible and I can’t wrap my head around why it’s still a thing. Just fix it.
The other big problem that got “fixed” in the Special Editions is the new Jabba scene. Lucas put a couple of deleted scenes back in the movie, and they work pretty well. Especially the one with Biggs before the Death Star battle. This scene though just plain doesn’t. What’s most troublesome is that it actually could work if they really wanted it to, but Lucas seemed completely unwilling to compromise on the scene itself, which is a problem because he had already built the movie around it not being there.
To start, when the scene was shot, Boba Fett wasn’t anywhere near it. So they digitally stuffed him in, which seems silly at first, but it’s actually a ready-made fix. There are bits of this scene that are more or less broken now, and all they would need to do to fix them is use some quick cutaway shots to Boba Fett looking all cool and boom. Problem solved. They did this in the Biggs scene already. There’s a bit where the captain guy they’re both talking to mentions knowing Luke’s father back in the day, which clearly wouldn’t work in the universe’s context, so they just imposed some dude walking past them to hide a cut where they removed that dialogue and finished the conversation naturally without it. Perfect.
So in this Jabba scene there are a few issues they could have fixed to make the scene actually work, but they decided instead to just leave them in. First, when they originally cut this scene from the film, they took the audio of Han saying “Even I get boarded sometimes. Do you think I had a choice?” and put it in the Greedo scene. That dialogue is ripped directly from this scene. so having Han repeat it verbatum here is kinda dumb. If it was an alternate take of him saying the same words that would be one thing, but it’s literally the exact same audio, and it doesn’t work. It wouldn’t have been hard to cut the scene down with a cutaway to remove that repeated dialogue, but they didn’t do that. They just left it, and it’s awful.
Then Han walks behind Jabba, which wouldn’t work because of his tail. This wasn’t an issue when the scene was originally shot because Jabba was just some dude. They hadn’t designed him as a slug monster yet. They could just cut away to Boba Fett or something, looking on at the conversation, and when they cut back Han is on the other side of Jabba now, so we don’t actually have to see how Han did it (likely by crossing in front of him) but instead they have Han step on Jabba’s tail. I’m supposed to believe that Han would step on the tail of Jabba, the fearsome gangster that Han himself is afraid is going to kill him? Han wouldn’t walk on this dude’s tail, especially not now. The effect is pretty well done, I’ll give them that, but it doesn’t make any sense. It’s so disrespectful, which is exactly the opposite of what Han is trying to be in this scene with Jabba. Ugh.
Finally, we have the line “Jabba, you’re a wonderful human being.” I mean, I guess you could look at it as some sort of weird sarcasm, but seriously, find a way to cut the darn line. It doesn’t work, and forcing it to still be there makes everything worse.
Look, in a perfect world this scene wouldn’t exist as anything but a deleted scene. It makes for a fascinating piece of Star Wars history that almost was, but it breaks too much stuff to be worth the effort of splicing back in, and if you are going to go to the effort, you have to think about all the angles, not just how to physically shove the scene back where it doesn’t belong. At least they fixed Jabba for the Blu Ray release. That original CG model was… shudder…
That ball of ridiculousness aside, this movie, even in its current form, is an absolute treasure. It still holds up like a champ after all these years. It establishes the characters it introduces perfectly, and it such a marvel to behold. The binary sunset, the entire film’s score, Vader’s first scenes, all of it. A New Hope is a masterpiece, and in my opinion it’s easily the best movie Lucas ever directed himself.
A New Hope is still the best place to start Star Wars. Just ignore all the prequel content and you’re good until you finish Return of the Jedi. Rebels doesn’t work quite as well if you don’t know who Maul is, which at the very least you’d have to watch The Phantom Menace for, but other than that, the prequels can be largely ignored and everything else in the Star Wars universe is all the better for it.
And that’s all I got for this one. I love it, you love it, we all love it. It’s a classic in every sense of the word, and even though it’s been tinkered and messed with almost beyond recognition, it’s not in a bad state as-is, and I have hope that someone someday will make a cut that takes the best of all iterations and that will become the official canon version instead of the slightly messy version currently filling that spot.
And Disney will release the original theatrical cuts because they like money and that would make them a lot of it.
Next up is my favorite Star Wars movie, and one of my very favorite movies of all time. The Empire Strikes Back probably isn’t going to be a very long review because seriously, what can I even say about that movie? Well, knowing me I’m sure I’ll set out to write a paragraph and come up with a novel. I guess we’ll see. In the meantime, I’m going to look forward to watching it because it’s been a while, and god gravy that movie is good. See you then!