Notes on the Star Wars trilogy, part 1: A New Hope

[Note: This is an expanded (to put it mildly) version of a post from my blog. It also covers the special edition versions of the trilogy, whereas the original version of this article was just the initial theatrical cuts. Add to that the fact that I’m splitting this into three pieces, and it can be safely said that I have entered “indulgent ‘70s director” territory as far as my tenure on this site goes.]

I’m back from the outer reaches of the web (also known as working on other projects/having dick all to say about much) to give a little tribute to a fantastic trilogy. You know, seeing as we’re getting a new movie later this year and all.

While the James Bond films may be my first love when it comes to franchises, Star Wars probably comes in a fairly close second; mainly the original trilogy. And by mainly, I mean I pretty much enjoy those three, some of the video games are decent, the prequels are decidedly meh in a gradually more watchable sort of way, and the expanded universe can respectfully go stuff itself. (Except for the first run of the Marvel comics and some of the Dark Horse stuff. That’s pretty fun.)

Needless to say, these three films speak for themselves, so recapping the plots is an exercise in wasted time. I love all three movies and agree with all the accolades they’ve received over the years. So for this mega piece (and how, given that I’m going all Peter Jackson on it and splitting it up), we’ll be sticking to favorite moments, jokes, and odd little tidbits.

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Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)

I’d like to think that at some point during the first run of this movie, some stoner went to see a screening and looked up in awe at the first shot… and promptly went into munchies overload, muttering, “Man, that is one big wedge of cheese!” At least, I hope.

Notes on the Star Wars trilogy, part 1: A New Hope

To date, I think the total kill count for Imperial Stormtroopers is still just the six in the first five minutes of this movie, and maybe about ten or so over the course of the rest of the trilogy. And to be frank, most of the ones in Empire Strikes Back shouldn’t count, because the laser beams coming from those Imperial walkers were frigging huge.

Notes on the Star Wars trilogy, part 1: A New Hope

Even with the prequels sort of diluting the overall effect of the character, Darth Vader’s first appearance is still damn impressive. But then again, screw it; the prequels may actually help it in a way, since now you don’t just think Vader is an asshole. You know exactly how much of one he is, to the precise degree!

Notes on the Star Wars trilogy, part 1: A New Hope

Carrie Fisher: Proving that you can kick ass even with two Danishes as big as your face strapped to your head. Yeah, it’s an old line, but what else can I do? Height jokes and cracks about her being coked off her ass? No! I do have some standards, for God’s sake. Besides, those will come later.

Caption contributed by Ed

I hear when the weather is just right, she can pick up FM stations on those buns.

The thing I love about these films is the stuff that pops into your mind after repeated viewings. You know, because watching three movies repeatedly over a span of thirty years isn’t generally thought of as “rational”.

For instance, it was a joy for me to come to the realization that between the two droids, R2-D2 is the real brains of the operation, held back only by the fact that he can’t talk. He saves the day, kicks some butt, and if the exchanges throughout the series are any indication, he gives C-3PO crap nearly every second of the way. He’s essentially the biggest jerk hero you can imagine, only in the form of an ambulatory trash can that beeps.

Notes on the Star Wars trilogy, part 1: A New Hope

You also have to realize that thanks to the prequels, we know that by the time we see the two droids here, R2 has been putting up with 3PO for over twenty years. You ever seen a married couple that’s been together that long and can’t stand each other? Yeah. Goldenrod should thank his maker that R2 doesn’t have a death ray under his dome.

Caption contributed by Ed

The all-robot version of What’s Love Got to Do With It was different, to say the least.

I like to think that the Jawas capturing C-3PO went something like this: They drive up and begin to get out, but he just gets into their sand crawler as they all look at each other in shock, probably muttering something along the lines of “Jesus, why can’t they all be this easy?”

Caption contributed by Ed

“They shot you? Damn, all they did to me was laugh a little and call me a putz. Yes I’m sure, fluent in over six million forms of communication. Remember?”

I don’t know why, but for some reason, I’ve always gotten a chuckle out of there being just one or two really tall Jawas wandering around. Most are around the 3’6 range, but at least one or two of them could look Carrie Fisher right in the eye.

Notes on the Star Wars trilogy, part 1: A New Hope

I love how this film retroactively makes some of the stuff in the prequels make sense. Darth Vader started out a whiny little bitch? Guess what? It’s just in the genes!

Christ, Luke is the kind of dude I would have mocked in school, and I was one of the nice kids. Actually, R2 kind of screws with Luke to begin with, if you think about it. To Mark Hamill’s credit, he smoothes his performance out and is actually pretty damn good for the most part in all three films.

Notes on the Star Wars trilogy, part 1: A New Hope

Not sure why everyone makes a big deal out of the blue milk. You get a carton of the regular and leave it out for a few months, you get the same damn thing. Though to be fair, I would hate to see what Luke’s aunt had to milk to get that stuff. There’s an outside chance she stood her ground against those stormtroopers and said, “Go on and fry us, assholes! You know what I have to do to get my family milk? Death is not something I fear anymore.”

Caption contributed by Ed

“Don’t look at me like that, old man. Do you want to milk the Bugblatter Beast once a goddamned week?”

Thanks to the version of the movie I recorded off TV in the late ‘80s, every time I see the first scene with the sand people I think of the song “Lookin’ Out for Number One”. I think it was in a Dodge commercial or something. I don’t know, it could have been a beer ad.

Notes on the Star Wars trilogy, part 1: A New Hope

Alec Guinness personifies the motto for British performers: No matter how much you think the script stinks, do your best. If nothing else, he makes the inherently goofy Jedi philosophical stuff sound at least halfway reasonable.

Notes on the Star Wars trilogy, part 1: A New Hope

Not sure which is easier to break into several pieces: the old Kenner C-3PO action figure, or the character in the movies.

Caption contributed by Ed

“Did you get a receipt from the Jawas for this one? Shit, it’s like he’s made of tissue paper!”

Peter Cushing: When you need pure evil in the most gaunt, skinny package imaginable. God, he was awesome!

Notes on the Star Wars trilogy, part 1: A New Hope

I get a chuckle out of the way Vader sort of resignedly moves over before he begins to choke the guy giving him crap about the Force. You can almost hear him thinking, “Ugh, this crap again? I slaughtered every Jedi, only to have to eat shit from this prick?”

Caption contributed by Ed

Man, ‘70s PSAs on respecting other religions didn’t fart around!

Not for nothing, but it has to be said that Mark Hamill plays grief more subtly and effectively than Hayden Christensen. Come to think of it, so does Nicolas Cage.

Notes on the Star Wars trilogy, part 1: A New Hope

I actually don’t mind the visual enhancements Lucas threw into the special editions all that much (with a few exceptions). Honestly, they only hurt the flow if you let them. It’s like getting a flu shot; it only hurts for a second or two. Whining about it when you’re legally an adult just makes you look like a big baby. Just so long as it doesn’t hurt the story.

Ever wonder how many kids tried the Jedi mind trick on their parents as a way to get out of trouble?

Gotta love the Stuart Freeborn creature designs, along with the early Rick Baker stuff. For a fan of creature f/x like me, it’s a real feast. The cantina scene is still one of the best scenes in the entire franchise. And the best part is that they top it in the third film.

Notes on the Star Wars trilogy, part 1: A New Hope

I’m not sure what the exact stats are, but I’m fairly certain virtually every single alien in the cantina has had some story written about them, detailing how they’re actually the savior of their home planet. Even the little guy below.

Notes on the Star Wars trilogy, part 1: A New Hope

Yeah, he might look cute. But while fighting for the people of Grpnlp at the Battle of Plorvox 12, he racked up a body count that would make Rambo shit himself!

Actually, I did a little research and found out that this character is a thief who was the adopted daughter and partner in crime of the white alien in the first cantina picture in this piece. You see what I do for you people? That’s five minutes of my life I will never see again.

And yes, I do agree the whole “Greedo shooting first” thing was a silly addition.

Caption contributed by Ed

“I shot first; he shot first, doesn’t matter. I’m the one still breathing!”

I kind of like the addition of the Jabba scene. It’s sort of cool, though having Boba Fett there isn’t really necessary.

Notes on the Star Wars trilogy, part 1: A New Hope

I always got a laugh out of Chewbacca roaring at the little droid in the Death Star hallway. It’s the shrug and exhaling afterwards that makes it. Sort of a “Well, I needed that. Let’s get moving” sort of thing.

Notes on the Star Wars trilogy, part 1: A New Hope

I like to think the real name of the thing in the garbage chute was “Plot Element”, before Lucas put in one of his patented names that sounds cool for about a second and a half and then is just silly later on. (I don’t give a damn if he pronounces it “Count Doku”. Every actor in that damn film threw in another “o” and made it sound like shit. Pun intended.)

Notes on the Star Wars trilogy, part 1: A New Hope

Based on the performance of the average stormtrooper, and given that a slightly fey droid can outwit them, I’d say you don’t even need to use a Jedi mind trick on them. Pointing in one direction and running in the other should do the trick just fine. Bottom line, I’m not sure Obi Wan really needed to use the Force to distract from his shutting down the tractor beam.

Notes on the Star Wars trilogy, part 1: A New Hope

I always loved how Harrison Ford goes bug-eyed at the sight of danger. Just one of the many things that makes him so great.

Notes on the Star Wars trilogy, part 1: A New Hope

The powers of quality filmmaking: when I was a kid, the brief bit where the blade of Ben’s lightsaber is visibly just the dowel they were using while shooting the scene with some post-production f/x added in was interpreted by my young brain as the guy’s sword shorting out. Of course, the MAD magazine parody also helped in that regard.

Notes on the Star Wars trilogy, part 1: A New Hope

Sometimes grief counseling takes the form of blowing the living shit out of enemy starships. Beats paying a shrink.

Caption contributed by Ed

The sixth stage of grief: “Eat hot laser justice, motherfuckers!”

Based on this film, would it be fair to say that the Y-Wing fighter is sort of the Emilio Estevez of the rebel fleet when compared to the X-Wing’s Charlie Sheen level of coolness? Good, and maybe even better in some ways, but you really prefer the X-Wing because it’s just more memorable.

Notes on the Star Wars trilogy, part 1: A New Hope

Granted, it’s a nice ship design, but they really do get stomped quite badly in the film.

The story of Wedge: It’s sort of funny how a relatively minor character can become one of the more popular ones just by sheer virtue of not getting his ship blown up in every single major battle. No wonder there are entire novels dedicated to the guy. They’re novels I’d never read unless there was no other choice, but still!

Notes on the Star Wars trilogy, part 1: A New Hope

The funny thing to me about the medal scene at the end is how it’s shot so that you never notice just how damn short Carrie Fisher is. I myself didn’t notice until around viewing #873.

Notes on the Star Wars trilogy, part 1: A New Hope

Oh, and I’m pretty sure Chewbacca is roaring, “What about my damn medal, you shaven assholes?” at the end.

Notes on the Star Wars trilogy, part 1: A New Hope

The first entry in the franchise is just fantastic and iconic. Forget whatever the prequels did right or wrong, forget the incessant changes Lucas liked to indulge in; the first three are still fantastic movies. Stay tuned for The Empire Strikes Back, coming soon(-ish).

Ed Harris

A fan of less than great cinema since childhood, Ed divides his time between writing scripts, working an actual paying job and subjecting himself willingly to some of the worst films society has produced.

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  • Doc Skippy

    Not to take away from anything you said, Ed, as I generally agreed with your main points (save the prequel trilogy – SHUDDER), but here’s something I’ve been wanting to say about A New Hope ever since I showed it to my 7-year-old son (the original version, not the tweaked re-release) a few months ago, to wit, the Death Star battle is some sloppily edited stuff. The frequent cuts to characters in their cockpits look to my eyes like cover for the fact that the model work just wasn’t very good.
    Since I don’t want to end with a downer, let me just say the subsequent films MORE than made up for the crappy Death Star battle. Indeed, the attack against the rebuilt Death Star in RotJ is, for me, still the BEST space battle I’ve ever seen in a movie of this type.

  • Murry Chang

    For all the crap that gets heaped on them, the ‘Tales from’ series are actually some of the best stories in the EU.

    • Thomas Stockel

      I guess maybe everyone has their favorite corner of the EU.

      • Murry Chang

        Nah my favorites are the first Zahn books and the Rouge/Ghost Squadren books, but the Tales books are actually really good. People give them crap because they give all of the aliens in the Catina backstories or whatever, but those aliens are actually interesting and the stories are competently written, so they’re pretty good. They’re a billion times better than dreck like Crystal Star or the Anderson Jedi Academy books.

        • Zee Panda

          I like the “Tales from” books myself; not every story in them, mind you, but some of the stories (especially in the Jabba’s Palace book) are well-written and to me, at least, feel like those could be those characters’ stories.
          The rest of the EU, as far as I’m concerned, is either badly written or just plain uninteresting. To be fair, a lot of what I consider to be uninteresting is probably that way to me because I’ve long had my own ideas about “what happened” before A New Hope and “what happens” after Jedi and no one’s written works that coincide with my own vision. I definitely think that the Star Wars story in general is one that lends itself to a variety of interpretations and points of view which I think is one of its greatest strengths.

          • Murry Chang

            Yeah Jabba’s Palace is probably the best, the monks with their brain spider things are an amazing idea.

  • Sardu

    Carrie Fisher = Sandy Cheeks; i.e. basically a chipmunk with boobs that’s smarter than the people around her and gives me a large erection. I suppose the last part is my own problem…

    • MikeXeno

      I don’t know what’s more disturbing – this comment, or the fact that it made me literally LOL.

  • Thomas Stockel

    I was never a huge fan of the Expanded Universe myself. Yeah, I liked some of what they did in the Marvel Comics, when I picked them up. And I thought the writers did a credible job filling in the blanks between movies much like Peter David had to do with the Star Trek comics over at DC. I do recall loving Splinter of The Mind’s Eye, but that may have been in large part because of the novelty of it; to my knowledge that was the first non-adapted Star Wars novel and I ate it up.

    As for the other stuff, I liked the Han Solo/Chewbacca trilogy that occurred before the first film, and Lando’s trilogy of books wasn’t bad. But my favorite was Timothy Zahn’s Admiral Thrawn trilogy. When you read it you can hear the actor’s voices in your head, that to me was how well Zahn had captured their personalities.

    I know it sounds like I read a lot of EU stuff, but compare the number of books published over a thirty year period and you’ll see I touched only a fraction of ’em. Hell, twenty were released in 1997 alone! No wonder JJ Abrams didn’t want to be saddled by all of that.

    • Soli

      Agreed. It’s too much baggage, too many “fanfic” characters clogging up the story, and too much going on. Jettison the lot and just go afresh, Abrams!

  • jbwarner86

    I agree, to hell with the expanded universe. When I was ten years old and the remastered original trilogy came out in theaters, I saw all three of them and thought I was the biggest Star Wars fan in the world. And then along come my classmates who read the novels and the comic books and played the RPGs and I don’t know what else, spouting off all these irrelevant factoids about minor characters’ backstories and delighting in making me feel like a moron. I don’t have time to read a twelve billion part series of books about the annotated history of the Tusken Raiders or some shit, nor should I have to feel like less of a fan for it – just let me enjoy the fucking movie.

  • BrandonH

    The original Star Wars film is a classic and a blast to watch.

    The X-Wing books and others that feature Wedge Antilles are actually some of the best Star Wars books out there. I’d also recommend Kenobi as a fun read in the western vein.

    The movies are great, and I agree that nobody should be made to feel bad for stopping there, as most of the population does. However, I don’t think the Expanded Universe as a whole should be bad-mouthed, either. Some of the material is insanely enjoyable, and they can be appreciated without having to endure the inevitable low points (most of which are not universally agreed on).

  • Zee Panda

    The original trilogy is beyond a doubt my favorite movie series ever and A New Hope is one of my absolute favorite films of all time. It’s basically accepted wisdom these days that Star Wars helped usher in a new era of f/x work, etc. etc. but what I’ve always liked best about it is the characters. One of the reasons I hate the prequels as much as I love the originals is that I feel like the character development was really skimped or rushed or forced. Lucas has said that he considers the six movies together to be the rise and fall and redemption of Darth Vader but for me this has always been the story of Luke Skywalker (and friends). I think Luke has the best story arc. Leia is an awesome character but she basically goes from total bad ass to…uh…total bad ass. Admittedly my ten zillion viewings of the movies have destroyed my ability to look at them from a fresh new perspective but even as a kid coming into it from nowhere (I was about 7 when the first movie first came out), it was pretty evident that Han Solo would turn out to be a pretty okay guy after all.
    Luke, though…Luke starts as this bored kid who is kind of a loser, really. It’s not his fault: everyone laughs about how whiny he is, but think about where he’s at when the story begins. He’s a bright, restless kid with a talent for piloting and he’s stuck on a dirt farm in the literal middle of nowhere with surrogate parents who have kept him in the dark about his own history and he’s being told that despite his complete disinterest in being a farmer he can’t do the one thing he’s really excited about, which is go to the academy. Later, of course, we learn that Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru had good reason for making the decisions that they did, but no one knows that at the start. Then he goes chasing after this rude droid (absolutely R2 mocked him but, hey, look at what great friends they turned out to be) and the local weirdo drops this epic history on him out of nowhere and then the only family he’s known is blown to bits. I’m glad to see some recognition for Hamill’s ability to emote because his expression of grief catches me every time I watch. If anyone’s earned the right to be a bit of a whiner, it’s Luke Skywalker. And then his story takes him from that point to being this incredible superman. It’s again credit to Mark Hamill that the Luke Skywalker who is so steady and self-assured as he walks into Jabba’s palace is both the same and not the same Luke Skywalker who groused about not being able to hang out with his friends.
    I don’t mind the digital enhancements and I don’t care whether Greedo or Han shot first. I’ve heard all the arguments from the people it matters to and I totally get them but it’s just not something that means that much to me. I have really mixed feelings about the Jabba scene, though; it’s cool to see Jabba the dialogue is really quite pointless since all it does is repeat Han and Greedo’s conversation. I do like that Jabba seems to have some affection for Han; that Han didn’t pay what he owed is reason enough for Jabba to use him as wall art but this scene adds a little more feeling to it, like Jabba really couldn’t just let it go because he felt personally betrayed.
    Peter Cushing was awesome.
    I really enjoyed this post – looking forward to your thoughts on Empire Strikes Back.

  • JustMe

    I’m going to go ahead and say it – the original trilogy left me cold for 2/3 of it. “A New Hope” and “Return of the Jedi” simply are movies I saw once and don’t particularly have any big urge to rewatch over and over.

    Now…”Empire Strikes Back”… THAT was an outstanding movie. The effects still hold up pretty decently, the writing is crisp, the characters feel like characters and the plotting and pacing are brilliantly handled. In my mind, that second movie is where the series derived most of it’s real legacy from… It’s excellent. The other two are, for me at least, just “okay”.

  • Sir Raider Duck, OMS

    In case anyone reading this wants to know some good EU stuff, I’d recommend two trilogies:

    1) Timothy Zahn’s Admiral Thrawn trilogy, as mentioned below, is a worthy follow-up to the original movies. In fact, few would have objected if they’d made this trilogy into movies 7, 8 and 9.

    2) If you like stories where an evil anti-hero is the protagonist, Drew Karpyshyn’s Darth Bane trilogy (taking place about 1,000 years before the movies) absolutely rocks.

  • Timothy Byrne

    I’m 39, and it is impossible to describe how much I loved Star Wars during the period 1979-1985. I would estimate I watched A New Hope 75-100 times. I owned all three novelizations and, BTW, James Khan’s book of ROTJ is simply awesome. His description of the final battle between Luke and Vader is incredible. I read the Han Solo prequel trilogy, and ate up Splinter of the Mind’s Eye with a spoon. There were even those old book and audiotape combos, and I had both Planet of the Hoojibs and Droid World.
    In terms of character arcs, Han’s is really complete in the first movie. Luke’s takes three movies and Anakin’s takes six movies.
    Minor points :
    1. C-3PO’s lie to Luke early in the movie always bothered me. He clearly knew who Leia was (his comment at the start “There’ll be no escape for the princess this time”), so why lie to Luke about how he didn’t know who Leia was?
    2. Alec Guinness just absolutely sells the crap out of his role, treating it with all the gravitas of Shakespeare or Bridge on the River Kwai. The man was one of the great all-time actors – watch him play eight roles in Kind Hearts and Coronets (pre-CGI) and be amazed.
    3. People complain about Obi-Wan using Vader’s title during the lightsaber battle. I never had a problem with it, just as people will often address a noble as ‘Baron’ or a politician as ‘Senator’.
    4. The feeling of frustration and boredom for Luke in the first half hour of the movie is magnificently done. Yes, he whines a bit, but that’s what young men do when they feel stifled by authority. I wish the early scenes with Biggs had been kept, because they really spoke to the greater context of the world-building of the movie.
    5. I always adored Tarkin’s absolute outrage that Leia had DARED to lie to him. Yeah, right after he’d blown up her homeworld, including her family and friends.
    6. Han’s clumsy attempt to cover for him and Luke over the microphone when they are freeing Leia from her cell cracks me up EVERY TIME.

  • KM

    RE: the EU, I’d recommend the Han Solo novels by Brian Daley. Since they were all written and published before TESB was made, you don’t need to know all the backstory. They’re just really fun adventure stories with Han and Chewie. No lightsabers, no prophecies, the Jedi are mentioned in passing a couple of times, and nobody is a Chosen One. And, if you are into the rest of the EU, they pretty much established the character of Han for the rest of the series, and much more fully than the original movie did.
    And I agree that the early Marvel stuff is fun, especially Valance (the first cool “Star Wars” bounty hunter) and Jaxxon (who desperately needs to get his own spin-off cartoon).