It betrays my age, but throughout this series of articles I’ve had to check myself from calling this instalment anything other than Star Wars. It’s time to continue the journey to the Force Awakens with the original…
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
Some swear it’s the best of the series, others prefer a less Saturday matinee take on the galaxy, but this film is the reason that we’re all here today. I won’t wax lyrical about Episode IV for long because we all know what it’s about by now.
A New Hope takes place roughly 35 years before The Force Awakens and introduces us to many of the key characters we’re going to meet on our journey towards The Force Awakens…
The First Order
A New Hope shows the Empire operating very much as business as usual: The Death Star is finally ready, the senate is permanently dissolved and soon Vader will have the stolen plans back in Imperial hands. It appears that this is the state of affairs that the First Order are looking to recreate; unless, of course, the ambitions of Supreme Leader Snoke reach even further than that.
The Clone Troopers now wear the iconic Stormtrooper armour, whilst the Republic Cruisers have morphed into the distinctive triangular shape of the Imperial Star Destroyers. A New Hope also introduces the TIE Fighter for the first time, a design that the First Order are clearly keen on. If the Original Trilogy is where Abrams is drawing the inspiration for the First Order from, he won’t find much better source material than here.
By the time of A New Hope the Rebellion has turned into a viable force, securing its first victory against the Empire with the theft of the Death Star plans. Bail Organa may have an ungracious off-screen death (at least until the next Disney retcon), but his dream is spreading.
It was a surprise to see that X-Wing fighters are still being used by the Resistance in The Force Awakens, given how spacecraft was shown to evolve from the Prequel era to here. These ships are the icons of the Rebel fleet though, so if the Resistance was going to keep any ship in active service, it would be this one.
As much as I love the X-Wing I think it’s a stretch that the design has only changed slightly in 30 plus years, but hopefully we’ll see a satisfactory in-universe explanation for that.
Scum and Villainy
This is the film that coined the phrase. The outlandish Jawas, Droids and Tusken Raiders (you can’t call them ‘Sand People’ in this day and age!) are all bonkers enough, but when we get to Mos Eisley we see the full unleashed force of the ILM creature shop’s imagination. From the first Jawa through to Pondo Baba, Greedo and Garindan, and even to the dianoga on board the Death Star, Star Wars is full of sinister alien low-lifes – and it’s hugely entertaining.
This is where we learn almost everything we need to know about the Force. This film shows us that you have to believe in yourself to use it, that it can be used to do both some good and some very bad things, and that midichlorians really destroy the magic of the idea.
We also see the prophecy of the chosen one becoming more clear. Luke Skywalker is the Force acting out to balance itself. Anakin Skywalker did all of the dirty work; now it’s up to Luke to finish what his father started. Where this will leave the young Jedi some 35 years later is still a very closely guarded secret; but this is where he takes his first step.
Seeing Luke lust after his sister so hard is somehow even creepier when you’ve seen their joint birth, and even scarier is that in comparison to Anakin with Padme, Luke is positively charming when it comes to his sister. Thank God for Han Solo, or the parentage of Rey and/or Kylo would be disturbingly easy to figure out. Or just disturbing, full stop.
It’s not all bad though. Sir Alec Guinness knew nothing of Luke’s true family yet plays the scene in his hut like an absolute don. Whether it was some amazing foresight on his part or just an extremely fortuitous way for the veteran actor to relay an uncomfortable truth, it works perfectly.
As for Vader; well, he’s as headstrong and callous as we left him in Revenge of the Sith. Whilst he’s a little one-note throughout the film (the Force is the only thing that sets him apart), he’s damned effective at being bad.
The Kylo Ren Collection
Anakin is the least forgetful of all in Episode IV, escaping with his TIE Advanced X1 Prototype and leaving not even a trace of Death Star behind. All that the Knights of Ren have to work with from the Battle of Yavin is the myth of Darth Vader – unless, of course, he was working on something else more sinister behind the scenes…
Despite the phenomenon that erupted around it, Star Wars is an odd beast. Epic world-building goes hand-in-hand with archetypal characters, intuitive mysticism and heroic naivety, all topped off with some dreadfully hammy acting and one of the greatest orchestral scores ever composed.
Regardless, watching it through so soon after the Prequels and within the context of the wider story does throw up some surprises. It’s unfair to judge it too harshly as Lucas didn’t really know what he had on his hands or where he was going with it (Darth Vader’s survival being a last minute addition to the edit, for example). However, as the saga plays out, it does make some moments more uncomfortable than they were previously – both for good and for bad.