Here we are. The original trilogy. Out goes CGI and hammy acting and in comes… CGI and hammy acting. Oh, special editions. Well hammy acting is a Star Wars trademark I suppose. As is George Lucas messing with the films. What this film does have that the prequel trilogy does not is a fine collection of sideburns. Until they get digitally removed of course. Anyway, this is where it all started. This is where every child of the late 70s and early 80s gained their obsession for all things sci-fi. click the link yo!
I have no idea how old I was when I saw the first Star Wars film. I have a feeling that it was likely the first image I ever saw on a tv screen. I genuinely cannot remember a time when my life didn’t have Star Wars in it. I was never a collector of the toys as a child, Transformers being my toy line of choice back then, but Star Wars was always my go to movie of choice. That and Lethal Weapon. To say I enjoy the series is an understatement. Is A New Hope the greatest film ever made then? God no. It’s not even the greatest Star Wars film. But it’s an incredible introduction to the franchise.
Think about the sort of big budget space sci-fi movies around today. Now try to remember how many of them have as richly a defined setting/universe as just this film alone. Not many, if any at all. What’s always helped Star Wars survive is the sheer size of it’s universe. Every alien on screen has a name, a toy and likely a book based on them. Every planet is unique and has it’s own history. The entire universe of Star Wars spans thousands of years of tales of war, The Jedis and The Sith and every hero and villain that comes between them. It all stems from this one film.
On the one hand A New Hope tells a simple hero’s journey tale of a farmer named Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) who get’s dragged into a adventure that involves smugglers, space battles, daring rescues and a lot of geeky technology. He goes from being just this guy to being the hero of the rebellion against the evil Empire led by some dude called Darth Vader. We don’t know much about him other than he was a Jedi and eventually went bad and now he kills people for giggles. At least we used to know very little about him but thanks to the prequels we now know that under that imposing black armor is a whiny bitch who cries whenever he stubs his toe. At least he’s a whiny bitch that enjoys a bit of murder though.
The prequels have undoubtedly harmed the mystery around Vader. Any kids growing up now watching the films will, unless they have nice responsible parents, never know just how impactful Vader was back in the 80s. How big a deal every little revelation of his past was. It has been ruined because we have now seen it played out on screen and it was less than what we expected. Regardless though here Vader is an imposing figure who strikes fear into everyone he encounters. Except maybe Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) who’s a bit of a boisterous little minx.
What makes this film work so well is just how enthusiastic everyone seems to be throughout the film. Nothing feels half arsed and even the script, despite having the trademark Lucas dialogue, moves along at a smooth pace with plenty of action and conflict keeping events moving along. There’s no elongated scenes of people discussing duty or politics whilst either walking slowly down a corridor or sat in someones living room. If you do watch the prequels any time soon just make a mental note of every time the characters are not doing anything other than sitting around or walking whilst talking. In this film discussions are held while characters are being proactive. Luke is training with a targeting droid. Han is calculating the jump to lightspeed. C3PO is letting the Wookiee win. Stuff is happening with a purpose whilst the story is being progressed via character interactions. The original trilogy feel a lot more alive because of this.
There has been a few extra changes made to these new blu-ray special editions. Obvious ones include a terrible replacement for the Krayt dragon scream Obi-Wan makes to scare off some Sand People. I’ll post a link to a vide of that after this paragraph. R2-D2 is hiding behind a digitally added rock in that very scene which disappears a few shots later. So they actually added a continuity error. Well done. The sound and colour mix has been fixed after the mess that was the 2004 editions. Also a few lines of dialogue has been tweaked. Call me nuts but I think the gap between Greedo and Han’s shooting has been narrowed even further too. Apart from the Krayt dragon scream these are all small enough changes to not be an issue and in some cases an improvement.
Here’s a comparison of that Krayt Dragon scream. Oddly the footage in the second clip is from an earlier version, as evidenced by the missing digital rocks, but the scream is exactly the same. It’s so frigging bad.
Effects wise the Special Editions have always been a bit of an issue for me. Whilst they do a good job fixing stuff like the haze that can appear when shooting against a blue screen and the odd colour correction there is other elements that just jar now. CGI creatures walking around Mos Eisley, a CGI Jabba that looks entirely out of place and various other similar effects just don’t fit with the 70s style. One thing that makes the original trilogy stand out so well is just how much real texture there is to the environments, characters and models. The CGI effects are cool and all but they look too clean. Watch this film and look at how you can see scuffs and marks all over the droids and the space ships. Even Darth Vader’s helmet has fingerprints on it. With every element that has been added that real texture is lost. Even in the prequels when they did have practical effects for R2 and C3PO they had all the texture scrubbed off of them. Clean picture quality doesn’t mean no grit on the image.
Overall though Star Wars A New Hope is the best launching point the franchise could have hoped for. It’s camp and silly in places but it’s an enjoyable film that doesn’t talk down to it’s audience or bore them to death. I’d still rather have a version that didn’t have the bad special edition edits in it but the version you get on the new blu-ray release is plenty fine for now. The colour and image quality has been treated with the utmost care and it really is the best the films have ever looked. If you are a parent with kids that wanna get into Star Wars then please show them the original trilogy first. It’s the way the series is meant to be viewed.