My love for Star Wars began at an early age. I watched the original trilogy so many times that I had them memorized. My favorite of them, as I have indicated in other reviews, is Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980). However, it and the rest of the billion dollars franchise would not have been possible without the grandaddy of them all: Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977). Given my love of The Empire Strikes Back, you might be surprised to find out that it was not the film I had in totality fixed in my memory. Rather, it was the one that launched the whole thing. When I was in high school, whenever I was bored in class (a common occurrence for this once cocky student), I would turn my attention away from the lesson and into my brain. In my mind, I could watch the entirety of A New Hope in my head, including every last bit of dialog. On top of that, apparently my brain was a human digital video recorder (DVR) as I could stop and start the film between classes. While I do not think I could do that anymore, it is still as familiar to me now, and beloved, as it was at that time.
Given how big of a film is A New Hope, I do not believe I need to rehash the plot in any detail. So rare is it for there to be somebody who has not seen it, it has become a running joke in popular culture. I have not seen a single episode of the show, but even I know this was referenced in How I Met Your Mother. And it always starts with A New Hope. The reason it reached that level of widespread familiarity is because the story speaks to timeless themes with which we can all identify. I feel like too much has been made of Joseph Campbell’s influence on George Lucas in the writing of Star Wars. Campbell can certainly be credited with bringing to light literary themes that have been a part of Western culture for thousands of years. That is what makes A New Hope timeless. In it, heroes are heroes and villains are villains. This may seem simplistic, but also keep in mind the timing of the film’s release. In American cinema, starting in the late 1940s and 1950s, gaining more attention in the 1960s, and seeing its apotheosis in the 1970s was the anti-hero. In other words, the kind of heroics you see in A New Hope were fresh to American audiences who had seen too much of these roles in the years preceding. The way the characters are presented reinforce their status as heroes and villains. Perhaps no other exemplifies this better than Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher). Her fresh face and white robes speak to purity, though she does carry herself with a haughtiness born of her royal title. There is also Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), another youthful person, whose commitment to wanting to do the right thing no matter what is refreshing. And, in case you are wondering whether or not there is any character development with all these goody two-shoes people, there is also the piratical Han Solo (Harrison Ford). We meet him as a smuggler working for a criminal organization, yet the earnestness of Princess Leia and Luke rubs off on him and he helps save everyone’s life in the end.
While characters you can root for are all well and good, what arguably put A New Hope in a category of popular by itself was its science fiction wizardry. George Lucas made a career for himself by being a pioneer in filmmaking, and his 1977 smash hit established his reputation in this regard. When you see the Millennium Falcon soaring through space, it looks as real as if such vehicles were actually possible. That, along with the rest of the spaceships you see in the film, were a quantum leap ahead for special effects. While I love Han Solo’s trademark Corellian light freighter as much as the next nerd, it is the lightsaber that particularly drew my attention. It is the weapon of a Jedi, and it is introduced to Luke by his neighbor and mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi (Sir Alec Guinness). The blazing blue blade, its alluring hum as it is waved through the air, is mesmerizing. And the one that Luke inherits, as Obi-Wan leads him to believe, is the weapon formerly wielded by his long-lost father Anakin Skywalker. By accepting the lightsaber, he wants to take his first steps in making a difference in the galaxy and following the example of his father. This last bit was personally attractive for me.
As a young person growing up in the Catholic Church, I always looked at its centuries old traditions as a comfort. In A New Hope, when Obi-Wan gives Luke the lightsaber, the Jedi tells the young man about how his order had been the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy for a thousand generations. In other words, Luke is going to be a part of a long tradition. To my young mind, our clergy was essentially Jedi Knights. Heck, even some monks dress a little like we see Obi-Wan in the film. As I have gotten older, I have come to appreciate Jedi philosophy in a deeper sense. Subsequent films and television shows in the Star Wars universe have filled out this philosophy more, but in the context of A New Hope I see parallels between it and my Faith. The Church, with some notable periods excepting, has promoted a message of peace in the world. You can use the tired argument of the Crusades against what I am saying here, but I would answer with St. John Paul II. As pope beginning in 1978 during the Cold War, he is one of the international figures responsible for bringing down the Soviet Union and unifying people. Of course, it is silly to think of St. John Paul II wielding a lightsaber, but there are aspects of the Jedi’s mission as stated by Obi-Wan that jive with the things that the Church Militant is trying to accomplish.
As I said with other Star Wars reviews, if you have not seen A New Hope what are you doing with your life?! I am kidding, of course. If you have not, I truly recommend that you sit down and do so, either by yourself or with your whole family. While special effects have advanced since 1977, the film still stands the test of time. And if it can spark your imagination as it did for me, then so much the better.