Positive Films & TV

Positive Films & TV

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Star Wars: Episode IV (A New Hope)

Yes, I am going to talk about Stars Wars. Yes, the original. Yes, the one that came out in 1977 (May 25th, to be exact). No, not everyone on the planet has heard about it. As a matter of fact, there is a strong likelihood that kids turning 8 in 2013 have never heard of any of the movies. The last movie in theaters (Episode 3) was released in May of 2005, it hit home release in November of 2005. So, if a kid was born in 2005, they would be turning 8 in 2013 at some point, and in their lifetime, Star Wars has never been in theaters. Yes, I know there have been TV shows (notably the Clone Wars animated show), and yes I know a LOT of people have the films on VHS/Laser-Disc/DVD/Blu-Ray/etc. However, I have met plenty of people in their twenties and thirties (mostly women) who haven't ever seen the movies either.  Okay?  This article isn't FOR you, it's for THEM. This article is for anyone who missed Star Wars when it first came out (or was re-released, or re-re-released), or who missed (or stayed away from) the prequels (and I can't say I blame you, although I can tell you they did get better after Episode 1), or is too young to have seen any of it. All of the rest of you can either read this article for nostalgia's sake, or skip it -- and may the Force be with you :)

Okay, so, if you're still reading, I want to talk to you about Star Wars: Episode IV.  But really, instead of reading all this, I highly suggest you just go watch the film. It is an excellent film. But, if you need some convincing, please continue reading.  Episode 4 is also frequently just referred to as Star Wars without the subtitle or Episode number. That is because the episode numbers (and subtitles) didn't really matter until the sequels started to get made. George Lucas decided to start this series of movies in the middle, with Episode 4. Throughout this article, I will alternate between calling it: Star Wars, Episode 4, and the First Film.  Anyway, we get some history in the opening text crawl on the screen that lays the foundation for what's going on. Basically, the galaxy is in civil war, the rebels are striking against the Galactic Empire, and have stolen plans for a massive new super weapon the Empire has (the Death Star) which is capable of blowing up a planet. Princess Leia is being chased by the Empire and she has the plans on board her ship, and that's where the movie opens up. We then learn through conversations from the characters that the Jedi used to be the guardians of peace and justice, but they aren't around any more (we don't really know why, right now). We also learn that people are afraid of the Empire, and that they hate it.

So, with the stage set, I want to talk to you about the film, without giving the plot away.


First, let's talk about what is probably the most interesting aspect of Star Wars, the Force. The Force was basically George Lucas' way of putting magic into the story. In the Star Wars universe, those attuned to the Force are able to use it to do things. The most basic of these things includes the ability to achieve super-human speed/agility/strength/endurance/etc. Without training, someone who is Force-Sensitive (attuned to the Force) would just appear to have a very lucky life, and able to sometimes do things that normal humans can't do (especially when feeling strong emotions like anger, fear, joy, celebration. They would be using the Force to influence the world around them, but they wouldn't know they were doing it. Even if they thought they were magic in some manner, they wouldn't understand it, and wouldn't have real control over it.  Someone trained to use the Force, is capable of almost limitless things, including: seeing the future, affecting gravity, precognition, memory replay, mind-control, telekinesis, etc.

Like most magic systems, it has the capacity to be abused. Followers of the "Dark Side" of the Force use it for their own personal gain or selfish goals (to be powerful, to get revenge, to win a fight, etc.), they harness dark emotions (fear, anger, hate) and feed off those emotions to make their powers stronger. Followers of the "Light Side" generally try to avoid emotions all together, but allow themselves to feel & react to happiness, joy, sadness, grief, etc. For the negative emotions, they just keep a tight control on their response.  The Dark Side is generally the only aspect of the Force that can be used directly as a weapon (choking the air out of someone, or creating lightning to burn them with, etc.), while the Light Side is generally the only aspect of the Force that can be used for healing and growing things.  The other major difference between Light and Dark Side followers, is that Light Side followers use the Force as a partner, which aids and helps their actions, but they also listen to it, and allow it to guide them. Dark Side followers attempt to assert their dominance & control over the Force, and use it as a tool or weapon, etc. (It is worth noting that the ancient Jedi (back when they were called the Je'daii) didn't differentiate between the Light & the Dark Side of the Force. They used both, and strove to stay in balance between them. It was just as frowned upon to move too far to the Light, as it was to the Dark). So, anyway, that is the Force in a nutshell.  Next, let's talk about the characters, which, quite frankly, make the movie.


The three main characters in Star Wars are: Han Solo (played by Harrison Ford), an exceptional pilot and smuggler. Luke Skywalker, a farm boy from the desert planet who finds out he has a much greater destiny than he thought he did. And Princess Leia Organa of planet Alderaan, currently a Senator in the Imperial Senate (previously, the Galactic Republic Senate).

Han Solo
Han Solo is my (and many other people's) favorite character in the original Star Wars trilogy. I love Harrison Ford in pretty much anything, but I especially love him in Indiana Jones, and Star Wars. He plays the rakish rogue brilliantly. His comedy lines, and interesting personality really sold the movie. Without him, the movie would have been far too goodie-goodie, and head-in-the-clouds idealist. Han Solo is smart, quick-witted, determined, driven,  talented, and a natural charismatic-leader. He is older than Luke & Leia by a good 10 to 15 years, so he has better experience
than they do making judgement calls in the real world. He is often the voice of reason that is frequently ignored (and proven to be right). He isn't impressed with the Force, political standing, birth standing, or anything else not earned with blood, sweat & tears. He is a good ground to the electric idealism & naiveté of Luke & Leia. I honestly don't believe the movie would have been able to succeed without his character in it, and I don't think the character would have worked nearly as well with anyone else playing it.

Princess Leia
Princess Leia Organa (although I am not sure if her last name is ever actually said in the original movie, but it is indeed Organa) is played by Carrie Fisher.  Unlike Harrison Ford, she was pretty much unknown before Star Wars. She was actually 19 when they started filming the movie, the same age as the character she was playing. That was on purpose. Lucas wanted someone who could play Senator Leia Organa, a young, feisty firebrand of a politician who could go toe to toe with military madmen without blinking. He
also wanted someone who could play Princess Leia, Rebel Alliance leader and bad-ass. He also wanted her to look the part, and to be physically as young as the character, without having to use makeup tricks, etc. Finally, she had to be convincing in her dialog delivery, and sound like a well educated person holding her own in any situation. Carrie Fisher checked all those boxes off the list, so she got the gig. As a character, Leia is a fantastic one. She is gutsy, smart, motivated, passionate, beautiful, engaging, sincere, and charismatic. Seeing her square off against Vader is a highlight of the movie, as are her running gun battles and piloting skills. Young girls could do a LOT worse than Leia for a role model.

Luke Skywalker
Luke Skywalker (played by Mark Hamill, another unknown before Star Wars) is your typical farm boy with dreams of a better life off the farm, adventure, excitement, etc. Of all of the actors in the movie, he is my least favorite, although as I understand it, quite a few of the ladies fancied him back in the 1970s, and continue to do so now. [shrug] Luke discovers early on in the movie that he is an heir to a Jedi bloodline that means he can be trained as a Jedi, wield a lightsaber, etc. He is guided by Obi-Wan Kenobi (also known as Ben Kenobi), an old Jedi Knight who knew Luke's father. He is your standard white-knight wanna-be-a-hero type. Luckily for him, he has the Force to back him up -- too bad for him he doesn't really know how to use it yet.


In addition to the main 3 characters of Han, Leia & Luke, we have a few other characters I should mention. The Rebel Alliance is mostly a faceless army & space-navy throughout the films, we do see a few more named characters in Episodes 5 & 6 that flesh it out a bit, but for the most part, the Rebel Alliance in the films are the main characters and their side-kicks. There are some bit characters in the film who get some brief screen time, like General Dodonna, Wedge Antilles, Biggs Darklighter, etc. But they only come in to the movie at the very end, play very minor roles, and are never seen on screen again (except for Wedge).

Chewbacca (Chewie) is a Wookie. He is a 7 feet & 6 inches (2.28 meters) tall humanoid, and covered with shaggy fur. He is a fan-favorite character. He is played by Peter Mayhew, who is 7 feet & 2 inches (2.18 meters) tall. He was cast primarily because of his natural height (slightly added to by the costume he wears as Chewbacca). He later proved himself to be a good mime actor, with very believable gestures and postures that along with his artificial voice make the character very believable. Chewbacca is the first mate and co-pilot of the Millennium Falcon, of which Han Solo is the captain. Chewbacca is best friends with Han Solo, and also has a Life Debt to Han for saving him from slavery from the Empire. (The Life Debt isn't actually spoken about on-screen in the first movie, Episode 4. It is mentioned (without using the words "Life Debt)" in Episode 5 when Han asks Chewie to look after Leia. It is talked about at-length in the novels, though.). An interesting aspect of Chewbacca's character is that he doesn't speak English, and isn't subtitled. So, the only way we know what he says, is by the responses people say to him. This is mainly done by Han Solo, & C3PO, but is also done by Luke and other characters as well from time to time. It is actually done very cleverly and seamlessly, a true testament to the genius applied to the film. Fun fact: when I saw Episode I: The Phantom Menace, I totally thought Jar Jar was a Chewbacca-type character. E.G. I didn't think he was speaking English. So, I was TOTALLY confused that the characters didn't respond to him like they did to Chewbacca, so that their answers made clear what he was saying. It wasn't until I saw that movie the second time, that I realized he was speaking a pidgin-English with a heavy accent >_<  True Story.

R2-D2 & C3PO
R2-D2 (Artoo) & C3PO (Threepio) are droids. Droid is the Star Wars universe word for robot/android. The word Droid is obviously a shortening of the word android, and android would be the best word to describe them from a scientific point of view. Robots do not have wills of their own, they are at best glorified machines that can do something more or less on their own. An android, on the other hand, is for all intents and purposes an independent being with its own thoughts, will, capacity to learn, etc. An android (Droid) doesn't have to look humanoid (although many do). In the case of the 2 main Droids in Star Wars, R2-D2 doesn't look humanoid at all -- he basically looks like a shiny garbage can/mailbox on wheels, whereas C3PO is obviously humanoid, right down to his mannerisms and speech patterns -- he just happens to be shiny gold in color. The Droids provide a lot of comedy in all of the films, and are the only characters that are featured in all 6 of the films to-date. Additionally, C3PO, is actually a (very skinny) actor in a suit. The actor is Anthony Daniels, and he is only one of two actors to appear in all 6 of the Star Wars films, to date. The other actor to appear in all 6 films is Kenny Baker, who is the little person who is inside R2-D2 whenever the smaller droid needs to do anything besides wheel around. I personally find the Droid's humor to be too slap-stick and aimed a bit too juvenile to be funny, but I am in the minority. Most people I know love the droids, especially R2-D2. And they do have their moments, especially R2. C3PO is funny in the sense that his antics and histrionics tend to provoke funny reactions from other characters, especially Han Solo :)


No discussion of any film, Star Wars or otherwise, would be complete without talking about the antagonists/villains/etc. In the first movie the main villain who gets the most screen time is Darth Vader. He is backed up by his Stormtrooper soldiers. We also see Grand Moff Tarkin in command of the Death Star. The Galactic Empire, headed by the Emperor, is referenced, of course. We can see the military might of the Empire in the number of ships and soldiers on screen in various scenes, but except for the Emperor, they are just a nameless & faceless army. The Emperor doesn't make a screen appearance until Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back.

Darth Vader
We don't know much about Darth Vader in the first movie. Obi Wan Kenobi tells Luke near the start of the movie that Vader, "betrayed and murdered [his] father." We also know he is the one who chased down Princess Leia's ship and boarded it, trying to get back the plans he thinks she has. We know he is powerful, and that he commands the Stormtroopers. We see him pick up a man with one hand, and kill him effortlessly, and we see him ordering around ship's Captains, Admirals, Moffs, etc. So, we know he is someone important, and dangerous. I don't want to ruin the plot for you, if you haven't seen the movie yet, so, suffice it to say that Vader is chasing Leia, is a major player in the Empire, and is very powerful.

Grand Moff Tarkin
Grand Moff Tarkin is in command of the Death Star. Don't ask me what a Moff is, because I have no idea. It apparently ranks higher than an Admiral, though. George Lucas never once in the movies explained what the rank/title means, so we have to go by inference if we just use the films. However, the expanded universe lore tells us that a Grand Moff is the second highest Imperial rank for the navy, under only a Grand Admiral. The ranking chain down from Grand Admiral to ship's Captain in the Imperial navy is:

  • Grand Admiral
  • Grand Moff
  • Moff
  • High Admiral
  • Fleet Admiral
  • Admiral
  • Vice Admiral
  • Rear Admiral
  • Commodore
  • Captain of the Line
  • Captain
So, Tarkin is definitely important. We also know the Death Star is new, and the Rebel Alliance is desperate enough to be running around being chased by Vader to get plans for it. So, it is the newest, biggest, baddest toy in the Emperor's arsenal, and Tarkin is in charge of it. Also interesting to note is that Tarkin can give Vader orders, and Vader listens. That must mean that Vader is at least reluctant to disobey him because he has been: ordered to obey Tarkin in specific or Grand Moffs in general by the Emperor, respects Tarkin, or fears Tarkin for some reason. My money would be on being ordered by the Emperor to at least not kill Tarkin (if not outright obey him). Tarkin's character is interesting, and very well played, but because it is so closely tied to the plot, I don't think I can write about it here without giving away key plot details. Suffice it to say he is a bid, bad, evil dude wielding a lot of power.

The Stormtroopers are the most feared soldiers in the galaxy. In the first movie, all we know about them is that they have a reputation for not missing their targets, being ruthless, and being scary. Lucas named them after Nazi soldiers on purpose, because he was making obvious comparisons to his evil (fictional) empire, and the real Nazi empire. He even based their signature helmet design off the World War II imagery of a Nazi storm troopers wearing gas masks with full goggles, and dual cylinder filters. If you look up historical images of that, you see that the resemblance to Star Wars Stormtroopers is downright creepy. Suffice it to say that the Stormtroopers are the elite soldiers of the Empire, Darth Vader can command them, and they are feared.


Next, let's talk about technology & science. In the Star Wars universe, laser/ray guns exist (and are called blasters). Shields also exist, there are 2 kinds: ray shields (which deflect laser/ray/blaster bolts) and deflector shields (which block physical objects like rocks and space-dust). According to the dialog in the movies, the terms for ray-shields and deflector-shields may be somewhat interchangeable (phrases like "angle the deflector shields to cover us" are frequently used when talking about defending against attacks from other ships firing ray/laser/blaster weapons) -- or deflector shields may simply also be able to also deflect rays & lasers in some or all cases (this isn't fully explained). Things like laser swords (lightsabers) also exist, and the ability to go faster than light is used frequently.

Star Destroyers
The main ship we see being used by the Empire in the movie, is a massive ship called a Star Destroyer (a "big Corellian ship" according to Han). They measure 1,600 meters in length. Compared to the 34.4 meters of Han's Millennium Falcon, they are about 47 times larger than the ship we see Han, Luke & Leia in. They are bristling with weaponry, tractor beams, and other fancy things. They are one of the main symbols of the Empire, and can be found all over the galaxy.

The Death Star
I already mentioned the Death Star in previous topics, but here is a picture of it, with a Star Destroyer in the foreground, to give you an idea of its size and power. The Death Star is said to be capable of blowing up planets. It is scary and crazy all at once.

Space Travel & Hyperspace
Star Wars takes place in space, on a desert planet, on a space station, and at a rebel base on a jungle planet. The majority of the movie takes place on the desert planet, and in space/on a space station. In the Star Wars universe, humans (and the rest of the species in the galaxy) can travel faster than light with a hyper-drive (similar to the warp-drive from Star Trek).  The hyper-drive has allowed the various species to more or less go wherever they want in the galaxy with travel times measured in hours, days and weeks instead of generations. That has lead to a galaxy full of mixed-species, cosmopolitan cities and planets. Even the backwater desert planet we find ourselves on has plenty of aliens and interesting things going on in the major port cities.

Blasters & Lightsabers
I saved the best for last. It can be argued that the two "coolest" parts of the Star Wars films are the laser/ray guns (blasters), and the laser swords (lightsabers) -- and I would agree with that argument. Blasters in their own right are cool, they are weapons that mankind has been collectively been dreaming about for at least a century of recorded media. Lightsabers are a relatively new idea, but Lucas wasn't the first to have it. But, his version of it is most certainly the most well known, and (in my opinion) the best. A lightsaber is basically a sword made out of a magnetic field that contains super-heated plasma, charged by a crystal contained in the hilt, and an energy source also in the hilt. When the weapon is off, the energy blade dissipates, and disappears, leaving just the hilt. Jedi and other have to custom-build the weapons, and not just anyone can, a knowledge of and connection to the Force must be present in the builder, in order to be able to build one. Once built, though, most people can turn one on or off. Lightsabers are capable of blocking/absorbing blaster shots, and cutting through most substances. We see them do more in further movies, but in the first one, that is the majority of what they are employed to do.

So, that is my summary of Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope. Watch it, you won't be disappointed. The Star Wars trilogy is easily in my top 10 movies of all time list. As a matter of fact, I think I'll make that list soon. Watch this space for it :)

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