The CGT Star Wars Rewatch of 2016: A New Hope

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The original! The classic! The visionary pop-culture masterpiece that started it all! Well, sort of. I’ll be rewatching the Complete Saga Editions, which means lots of 1997, 2004, and 2011 updates and changes. Yippee.

Pre-Watch Remembrances 

I don’t remember seeing Star Wars for the first time. I was born in 1982, so as far as my memory is concerned, it has always existed. I had a Return of the Jedi Hasbro Luke Skywalker figure, and I remember when I was eight or so not remembering when it came into my life.

I don’t know which OT movie I saw first. I probably saw one of them for the first time on an ABC network or USA cable broadcast. USA used to run the trilogy on Christmas day, and I loved watching them with my cousins at grandma’s house after presents had been opened. And I remember a marathon at a sleepover in fourth grade. My friend and I kept falling asleep during each movie, but still waking to change the VHS tapes.

I do know that A New Hope has never been my favorite. Growing up I liked AT-ATs, Yoda, Speederbikes, and Force lightning. It was always RotJ as a child, and ESB as a kid.

I saw the 1997 A New Hope: Special Edition with my dad at the Circle Center Mall. I remember being disappointed my dad fell asleep. I was riveted. I loved all the changes. (A view I’ve since revised.) I fell in love with Star Wars all over again. It set me back on the path to total obsession during the prequel era.

When I watched all six Lucas movies in one day, I remember that A New Hope was a drag. It’s not as colorful or as well-shot as most the others. In the context of all six of the Lucas cycle, ANH doesn’t actually have much to offer. The other five in the Lucas pictures are very concerned with Anakin Skywalker / Darth Vader and who he is. In this one, Darth Vader is just the bad guy.

The Rewatch

This is probably going to be the shortest post, because there’s nothing to add to the conversation about The Original Star Wars that hasn’t been said. I’m not going to recap the story because you know it by heart.

So.

A New Hope is a perfect movie.

If you want artful use of special effects to tell a story, it’s Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. If you want intriguing world-building, it’s Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. If you want snappy dialogue and great characters you want to follow, it’s Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

If you want perfect three-act hero’s journey structure, it’s Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

Perfect as a stand-alone film, in the Lucas Star Wars cycle, ANH sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s so perfect, so well-contained, that it doesn’t feel like a middle-episode in a six-picture story. And where ANH introduces the Empire, you don’t ever really see the Empire much outside of its battle stations and starfighters. A New Hope is the only movie that doesn’t have two Sith Lords in it. Mainly, it introduces the OT characters and sets-up Darth Vader as A Very Bad Dude. That’s about it, as far as the wider mythos is concerned.

Actually, one thing connects very well: Obi-Wan Kenobi. His recognition of R2D2, his wily decision to pull a Qui-Gon and train a new Jedi, and his decision to be killed by Vader to better aid Luke in redeeming his old padawan… all terrific.

There are some poorly stitched seams between the PT and OT, though. In A New Hope, Obi-Wan says he hasn’t gone by the name Obi-Wan since before Luke was born. That’s technically false! He calls the Clone Wars an “idealistic crusade,” but the Republic wasn’t on a crusade against the Separatists and it wasn’t really motivated by idealism, either. Obi-Wan tells Luke that Uncle Owen wished Anakin had “stayed home” from the Clone Wars, but that doesn’t make much sense. Owen barely knew Anakin and they didn’t meet until Anakin had already trained with the Jedi for a decade.

And it’s a tough visual leap from Revenge of the Sith to A New Hope. You go from a gleaming CGI R2D2 to a physical prop with real nicks and scratches. Every hallway in ANH is smudged and scuffed. It’s fantastic, but connects poorly to the prequel trilogy’s gonzo fantasy realms.

As for the Special Edition changes… here’s the guiding rule for all changes Lucas made to Star Wars in ’97, ’05, and ’11: if it corrects or enhances a special effect, it’s probably a great change. If it alters or “enhances” story, it is probably a terrible change.

People forget just how awful the original film matte effects could be at times. All three original trilogy movies had to go to print before their effects were as cleaned-up as they could have been. And little tweaks like adding Stormtroopers when Han hits a dead-end in ANH or better windows on Cloud City in ESB are usually better. (And yet, all the visual tweaks made to the movies and they couldn’t bother to color-correct Luke’s lightsabre when he practices on the remote droid…)

A New Hope was such a perfectly crafted story — and the other two OT movies are near-perfect — that any change to story with new scenes or sequences usually derails the movie.

The excised Jabba the Hutt scene in ANH is terrible. Not only does it look bad — even the fixed 2005 version! — but it completely undercuts Han Solo’s debts. The lingering dread that gangsters and bounty hunters might come after the heroes is erased because they show-up as soon as you learn Han has a debt to pay. There is new “story” in the updated Tatooine establishing shots… dewbacks, chittering droids, and other creatures perform in small dramas as the cameras pan by, and they are distracting. Every time Lucas tries to fill a shot with more action, it distracts from the action that matters.

How about Greedo shooting first?

Actually, that one, I don’t mind.

Butthurt fans oft complain that the change nerfs Han Solo. “He’s supposed to be a ruthless killer. It’s a badass western-style move that he kills Greedo in cold blood!” Whatever. The supposed ruthless killer nature of Han is never called-back, called-up, challenged, or transformed in the course of the three movies. Han’s arc isn’t about being a killer and turning from heel to hero. Rather, Han’s arc is about his greed. Han begins caring only about paying his personal debts, and ends the series a selfless actor in the Rebellion, which fights for freedom and greater good. None of that changes depending Who Shoots First. It’s annoying, it’s kinda cooler if Han shoots first, but the change doesn’t “completely ruin” anything.

Whatever. A New Hope is still original revelation that started it all.

I love that it introduces Darth Vader before it introduces the heroes. I love Sir Alec Guinness every damn frame. I love that the rescued princess is impatient and ready to take the blaster out of Luke’s hands when he’s not getting it done. I love how weird and inconsistent all the different background creatures are. I love the Death Star sets. I love the editing in the Death Star trench run. I love the moment when the Millennium Falcon reappears to save the day.

I love how every time I watch A New Hope, I want to cancel my plans and pop-in Empire Strikes Back immediately.


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