Monday, July 22, 2024

Star Wars Rewatch: A New Critic

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After a long summer off, Gretchen, Zach, and Ian are back at it, picking up where they left off with Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. Up next is the first Star Wars movie to be made, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (hereafter, ANH). This is the one that started it all. This is the first time the iconic Star Wars characters we all know were ever seen on screen. Does it stand the test of time, or is it merely a footnote?

What were your feelings on the movie going in?

Ian: I feel like I’ve seen this so many times, it’s difficult to really watch it from a critical perspective. It kind of just is. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know Star Wars, as it was regularly viewed at my Uncle’s house at holidays. Even when I was too young to follow the story, I remember the garbage monster, and Darth Vader’s tie fighter. I remember trying to build tie fighters out of Legos before licensed Legos were even a thing. It’s nearly impossible to separate the movie from the nostalgia, but I’m gonna try.

Gretchen: I grew up on the Original Trilogy (OT); watching the trilogy with my mom was a coming of age ritual for each of my siblings and I. Looking back, it’s also a milestone in my geeky life story and a milestone in my sexuality (my feelings about the Skywalker twins were very confusing), but that’s another story. Like Ian, it will be hard to separate it from nostalgia, but I’ll do my best. However, having just read Claudia Gray’s Leia: Princess of Alderaan (PoA), I have a lot more feelings about it than just nostalgia (RIP Bail and Breha ;__;).

Zach: Thank the Force we’re past the prequels! In all seriousness, I have a lot of respect for this movie. It was the one that started it all, and for all the highs and lows that followed it, everything that exists in the Star Wars Canon was set up by this one movie. This is the standard by which all other Star Wars films will be judged. It’s not a bad standard, and stands as a pretty solid film on its own.

What did you think of the characters?

Ian: Right away, after the vast wasteland that is the acting and dialogue of the prequel trilogy, it’s nice to have actual characters again. Leia, 3PO, and R2 have more personality in the first ten minutes than in all of the characters in all of the prequels put together. It’s nice to see people acting like actual people and not approximations of people.

Gretchen: Oh my god, yes. The sarcasm Leia and Han ooze together is more sass than even Obi-Wan managed to bring to the Prequel Trilogy (PT). I could listen to them bicker all day long.

Zach: I had forgotten what good dialogue sounded like.

Ian: I like shouty angry Darth Vader. He’s so reserved through the other films, even as he’s choking people to death. In this one, he’s downright irritable.

Gretchen: I’d honestly forgotten just how shouty Vader was in ANH. And how Dramatic™. Like, dude, you don’t need to choke that guy for pissing you off, calm down. Also, there were so many cape swooshes. I think he picked that up from Obi-Wan in the PT.

Zach: I feel like ANH was a rough time for Vader. As we saw in Rogue One, complete victory on Scarif eluded Vader by mere moments, so his rage on the Tantive IV is somewhat understandable, but I have to say it really makes him an enjoyable villain. I love how much he can emote even without a face, and he has the best one-liners in Star Wars, after sass-master Obi-Wan of course. I mean “I find your lack of faith disturbing,” was the most Iconic line in this movie.

Gretchen: YES. Such a great line, and you’re right about Rogue One putting Vader’s behavior in ANH into a new light. I like how well that lines up.

Ian: Rogue One puts a lot of things in perspective, and the way it dovetails right into ANH made me run right home from the theater to watch it. Wait, which movie are we talking about? Oh, right.


Zach: As terrible as the prequels were, seeing Obi-Wan again after 18 years in exile is very poignant. We know how much he has lost in the course of this story, and now he has been forced to live in exile. I think it is telling that Obi-Wan allowed Luke to live with Owen and Beru for all of his life rather than forcing him into the Jedi way as his father was. He has come to realize that there must be a choice to act, rather than compulsion.

Ian: Yes, as disappointing as the prequels might be on their own, the context they give only adds to my enjoyment of the originals. This is true for Vader, but more so for Obi-Wan. Incidentally, there are a couple of cool one-off issues of Marvel’s new run of Star Wars comics that deal specifically with Obi-Wan’s time watching Luke from a distance. I highly recommend digging up those issues if you’re an Obi-Fan.

Gretchen: I know exactly which comics you’re talking about, and I second that recommendation. But back to the film, don’t even get me started on Obi-Wan. To be so close to Luke and yet hold himself aloof for all those years must have been torture, a daily reminder of both his success in saving the twins and his failure with Anakin.

Ian: Luke is hard to like in this first one. People complain about his whinyness, and that’s deserved I think. He steps up and does what needs doing when called for, but in between, he’s mopey and annoying. Poor Leia having to comfort him after Obi-Wan is struck down. “My whole planet and everyone I loved just blew up, but yeah, let’s talk about your feelings some more.” A couple times he does show flashes of Anakin’s impatience and cockyness, which I guess I never really put together before.

Gretchen: It’s hard for me to hate Luke because of how much he grows by the time we get to the end of the OT, but yeah. He’s hard to listen to in ANH. I know it’s the direction, not Mark Hamill, but it can be grating. I agree that you can see flashes of Anakin in there, in his desire for action the most, I think. But still, he mostly reminds me of Padme. He sees the good in people and believes the best of them the way she did.

Zach: I actually do not find Luke’s whining annoying. Everyone at that age wants to achieve greatness in some way, but Luke still remains at home with the people he loves. The only thing I find disconcerting is how quickly he seems to forget about Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. Luke is shown to be deeply affected by Obi-Wan’s death, even though they had only really known each other for a few days, but he easily moves past the deaths of his own family. I hope that the new Canon addresses this a bit.

Ian: I love Tarkin in this. Peter Cushing is perfect. Tarkin is the real villain of this story. He’s the one pulling all the strings and blowing up planets. Vader is just the Emperor’s lackey, and seems subservient even to Tarkin (as Leia snarkily points out). His cold and calculated brand of evil perfectly embodies the Empire as a whole, and I get the feeling that losing Tarkin was an even worse blow to the Empire as losing the Death Star. I don’t even mind them adding CGI Peter Cushing to the Rogue One. Tarkin is probably one of my favorite villains in the OT outside of Vader himself, and bringing him back was worth it.

Gretchen: Okay, I have so many feelings about Tarkin having just finished PoA. Gray introduces Leia and Tarkin’s interactions in the book, so there’s so much more force behind Leia’s snide remarks to him. And Peter Cushing is perfect as the oily, vicious villain we see him as. They don’t make villains like Tarkin every day.

Zach: I remember very distinctly that one of the writers of The Clone Wars or Rebels pointed out that, in many ways, Tarkin is more evil than Vader. He is a fantastic villain, and a perfect foil to Vader. Vader’s fall to evil was motivated by love, but Tarkin seems to have taken to evil like an aiwha to water. He has no motivation for his atrocities other than his own ambition.

I do think, however, that he was too uppity to have survived for too much longer within the Empire. He destroyed Alderaan, a populous and peaceful world in the center of the Galaxy, with no hesitation or consultation from the Emperor. Even his control of the Death Star was a challenge to Palpatine’s control; what was to stop Tarkin from turning the Death Star on Coruscant, aside from Darth Vader?

Gretchen: Before we move on, I have to say that seeing the original trio interacting together, especially the reunion after Luke returns from blowing up the Death Star, overwhelmed me in the best way. Seeing them happy, hugging, effusive from just dealing the biggest blow to the Empire ever. Leia and Luke are 19; they’re babies. And they’ve just done something amazing. And then seeing Han so unabashedly impressed with them (and himself, lbr), one of the first moments of honest pleasure we’ve seen from him the whole film. It’s beautiful.


Oh, and don’t mind me while I think about both Leia and Luke both having lost the only families they ever knew and not realizing that other than their villainous father the only family they have left is each other, and Leia was just tortured by their dad and Luke was almost killed by him, and one of the the only ones who could have told them stories about how wonderful their parents used to be is also dead. I’m not crying, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Go away. Don’t touch me.

Ian: Found family stories are the best. Of course in this case, Luke and Leia are literally family (but they don’t know that yet).

What do you love most about this movie?

Ian: I don’t know, everything? Well maybe not everything. There is whiny Luke, after all. I’d have to say my favorite thing is the opening scene. It is probably the most perfect opening to a movie ever. We get the opening crawl to give us the gist of what’s happening, but then that first couple minutes is almost without dialogue and yet we know perfectly well what’s going on. Even without the crawl, we know who is good and who is bad even if we don’t know their names. We have a sense of the oppressive reach of the Empire contrasted against the small but determined Rebellion based on the size of the ships alone. We don’t really need to be told anything to understand the conflict, and then right away when people do start talking and interacting it’s clear what’s at stake and what the character’s goals are. It is so completely different from anything Lucas tried to do with the PT, I almost don’t even believe he directed this.

Gretchen: Took the words right out of my mouth about the opening scene. So I’ll have to pick something different. What I love is how much the film does with so little. Unlike the PT, the OT does very few exposition dumps and relies more on showing than telling with characters. The scene where we first hear Leia’s theme–all soft, sweet, and gentle—as she holds up a blaster with a defiant look on her face tells us everything we need to know about her. Likewise Han’s casual snark, Luke’s whiny tone but underneath it the bright eyed optimism and belief in the ultimate goodness of those around him that we will come to love about him (well, at least what I love). Vader’s Dramatic™ reactions and Obi-Wan’s calm obfuscations. I feel like we know these characters because we get to see them exist rather than be told who and what they are. That’s my favorite part.

Zach: I do not know how to follow up on these stunning comments, as both of them encapsulate how deftly this movie succeeds. I think if I had to choose a single moment that I loved the most in this movie, it is the moment when Luke returns home to find what has become of Owen and Beru. We have seen death in the Galactic Civil War already, but it was never personal. With the death of Owen and Beru, we finally understand the stakes of the game that is being played. This is all supported by John Williams’ indescribable score, another high point in this movie. With the exception of the Imperial March, all of the themes that will come to define the Star Wars saga are introduced in this film. John Williams is a musical genius; of all his vaunted scores, Star Wars is his most memorable, and perhaps best work.

And how could I forget, the most Iconic moment in this movie, the stunning performance of “Mad About You,” by Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes?

Does this film hold up?

Gretchen: A million times yes. And it can’t just be my nostalgia talking because I recently rewatched some Star Trek episodes that really didn’t hold up, and I grew up with that show alongside Star Wars. Are the graphics and sounds not that great on the despecialized versions of the OT? Yes. But honestly, that’s the stuff that matters the least to me. The characters are still engaging (more on Leia deserving better later), the plot is well paced, the universe is interesting. It’s a fun, happy western in space where the good guys are rebel outlaws that fight space nazis. What’s not to love? All in all, I’ve seen it a dozen times and could watch it several dozen more. And from someone who rarely rereads books or rewatches films, that’s the biggest recommendation I can give.

Zach: Against what rubric does this movie not hold up? It is a solidly crafted narrative with well defined characters. The special effects are stunning, and cleverly used so that they can still hold up even today. One of the best things about the budget restrictions on this film was that it forced ILM to get creative. All the ships fly in space so there is no need to add any kind of fade or atmospheric coloring, and everything else is achieved with practical measures.

Ian: Unquestionably. Star Wars is timeless. Not much more I can say about that.

What is its biggest flaw?

Gretchen: There are two, both of which are a product of it being made in the 70s and have something to do with a word that begins with s- and end with -exism. One, the dearth of female characters in both the foreground and background. There’s no way around the fact that only 4 women exist in this universe on my screen, maybe a couple more in the specialized editions. When 50% of the population is female, such a tiny number is unforgivable, even if understandable given the time it was created.

The second flaw is one I’ll honestly never get over: Leia comforting Luke. I can honeypot it away; I can create compelling character reasons why she would sublimate her feelings and focus on Luke’s more immediate concerns. But the bottom line is that ANH and ROTJ, and even ESB to a degree, don’t particularly care about Leia’s feelings. And no matter how I explain it away, that’s always going to bother me.

Zach: Thank you for laying it all out there, Gretchen. This movie spends so much effort focusing on Luke and his feelings, and Han’s to a lesser degree, that Leia basically becomes an object.

I think the only other flaws that I might attribute to this movie come from hindsight… or foresight, depending on your point of view. As the first installment, a lot of the crucial aspects of the universe that would become established later on are conspicuously lacking. Again, this is only because none of that had been written yet, so I do not really consider it a flaw worth spending too much time on.

The first special edition of this scene is SO BAD. Who approved this?

Ian: No, Zach, Lucas had EVERYTHING planned out ahead of time, even the first three chapters. *eyeroll*. Seriously though, it is difficult to find anything really glaringly wrong with this movie beyond the whole manpain thing. A couple of the cantina aliens look a little like halloween masks, but that is totally forgivable.

The lightsaber duel is a little clunky. I mean it’s not as if an older actor and another with impaired eyesight from his helmet were gingerly poking at each other. If the lightsaber duels in the prequels are overlong and overwrought, then this one is at the opposite end. It looks a little more real than the extremely choreographed fight scenes in more recent films, but it is still a bit lackluster when you compare it to the absolute epicness to come in the next episode.

What about the Special Edition updates?

Zach: Updates? What updates? What special edition? There is no war in Ba Sing Se…

In all seriousness, I was actually raised on the Special Editions. Neither of my parents were big on Star Wars when it was new, and I was too young to understand that there were changes. Most of my opinions are relatively new, and are born from my renewed love of the OT brought on by TFA and reading articles here on The Fandomentals.

Gretchen: I admit, I watched the original version first and then went and watched the added scenes afterward. Most of the additions are relatively benign. The video quality is significantly better (not that I mind the despecialized version given it was what I was raised on), and I do appreciate the better CGI and special effects in some situations. In others, well…

Ian: This is my first time watching it with the updates in awhile. My prized possession is a set of the THX OT, which is the release right before the Special Edition came out, and that’s generally what I watch when I want to watch them. I have to admit, the improved picture quality of the Blu Rays is undeniable. My THX ones are pretty grainy and rough by comparison, and the sound isn’t that great either, so there’s that. The Han shooting Greedo scene doesn’t seem as bad as it used to. I feel like they altered it to make it happen faster than when they first changed it. Now you can barely see who shoots first, but it’s still pretty obvious both of them get off a shot.

Gretchen: I don’t see that this scene needed to be changed in the first place. When I watched the despecialized version, there was nothing wrong with it. They expanded it, ruined it, then had to ‘fix’ it. Should have just left it alone.

Ian: That added scene with Jabba is just as awful even with the updated CGI. It simply doesn’t need to be there. Jabba says some of the same lines Greedo just said a scene ago, and is in no way menacing to Han. He’s more like an annoying boss than a murderous gangster. It adds nothing to the movie and should be cut out (again). It was a fun thing to see added in as a novelty when the special editions came out theatrically, but I am so over it. I did notice this time that Boba Fett is there, but that still doesn’t make this scene worth adding. All the other CGI add-ins are jarring and seem out of place, but ultimately aren’t that terrible. They just remind me of the Phantom Menace version of Tattooine for better or worse. Probably worse. That said, on the whole, the trade-off for upgraded picture and sound quality is worth it, I just wish there was a despecialized version on blu ray.

Gretchen: What he said. I know there are copies of the despecialized editions that, ahem, let’s just say they’re ones Han would be proud of. But I’d love the updated graphics and some of the CGI (minus the Jabba scene and with the original Greedo scene) on a Blu-ray.

Zach: The additions of the Special Editions are often superfluous and also cause some continuity issues. When R2 hides from the Tuskens, the Special Editions add in some rocks that the droid is hiding behind. Those rocks not only make it impossible for R2 to have gotten in or out of that space, but they disappear as soon as Obi-Wan addresses R2. All in all, the new additions, while often harmless, were not well thought out, disrupt the pacing or characterization, and were not needed in the first place. That said, I really do appreciate the HD versions.

Overall Thoughts:

Gretchen: Like I said previously, I’ve watched it a dozen times, and I’ll watch it a dozen more. I love the OT; you can pry them and all these characters I love from my cold, dead hands.

Zach: I really just have to reiterate that this is an overall solid movie. It uses fantastic direction and writing to set up the characters and their relationships. Even though it is the foundation of the franchise, it is its own story, fantastically told.

Ian: I don’t think I will ever tire of watching this. It’s an annual watch for me. Sure, a lot of that may be based on nostalgia, but it is a genuinely great movie, and not just because this is where it all started.

Ian’s Score: 9 – Squee-Worthy. When you are excited about everything here and what it could be and can’t wait to see more. Leaves the viewer with a spring in their step and a song in their heart.

Gretchen’s Score: 9 – Squee-Worthy. When you are excited about everything here and what it could be and can’t wait to see more. Leaves the viewer with a spring in their step and a song in their heart.

Zach’s Score: 7 – Satisfying: Fantastic! Entertaining! I would be willing to watch it again. It isn’t perfect, but it hits an emotional or thematic sweet spot that leaves you glad you spent time on it.

Images Courtesy of Disney and Lucasfilm

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