So, Star Wars. With Episode VII guaranteed to be a mega hit come December 17th, having taken over the internet for a while after its final trailer went live, it’s a good time to take a look back over the existing saga, as I’m sure everybody is bound to do in the next week. Nothing too fancy, just to watching the films with others, getting some thoughts, and writing them down.
With Episode IV, I got to watch with my better half, Ashling. She first saw the films around the age of 5 or 6, in a cinema, which makes me extraordinarily jealous. While a sci-fi fan, Ash wouldn’t be as big a Star Wars nerd as I am, which made her the perfect person to watch – or re-watch – the film with.
The main topic of conversation during, and after, was based around the special edition alterations, their content and appropriateness, worth or lack thereof. You could spend a long time, and many have, talking about George Lucas’ seemingly insatiable need to alter things in Star Wars, how he chooses what to alter and why he is motivated to do so. Is he some kind of warped perfectionist who doesn’t know when to stop, or is he just looking to make any kind of change to justify the existence of a “special” edition? Like many, I’ve never been all that impressed by the special editions, but Ashling had a slightly more sympathetic viewpoint.
There are minor things that I don’t mind at all when it comes to the special edition of A New Hope – the CGI rodents as Luke, Obi-Wan and the droids arrive in Mos Eisley, the new establishing shots of Yavin 4, how the Death Star hanger was changed to greater resemble its equivalent in Episode VI. These are all in pursuit of greater ambiance, and on that minor level, I see no serious wrong with them.
But then you get things, like the “dinosaurs” as Ashling called them, which pop up repeatedly during those Mos Eisley sections, walking in front of the camera in a garish and deliberately eye-catching manner, for no real gain in quality whatsoever. That’s where things start to get bad.
The Han/Greedo confrontation created more chat. I’ve never felt as much outrage as others over the change – I understand Lucas’ reasoning, if not his conviction in absolutely needing the change to be made – since the scene still establishes Solo as a bad ass, and he was always intending to shoot Greedo regardless of who shot first or not: he didn’t take that gun out of its holster to oil it. But it’s a change that adds nothing in my estimation, and Ash was of the same opinion, dubbing it “silly”, and suggesting that the ambiguity the original presents about Han, about whether he is a potential hero or not, serves the plot better.
The Jabba scene that follows is one I’ve always hated. In my view, its inclusion is not only unnecessary, but damaging to the narrative: Han and Jabba repeat things – exact lines of dialogue even – that were said in the scene directly proceeding it and Han stepping on Jabba is beyond moronic. And that fan-service inclusion of Boba Fett, looking at the camera like he’s winking at the audience, always makes me roll my eyes. Jabba is fine as a briefly mentioned unseen threat to Han in A New Hope, and seeing him here doesn’t make him more impressive. Ashling didn’t mind this as much as I had – indeed, she couldn’t even remember the scene from previous viewings, indicating it didn’t make much of an impression – but still agreed it was superfluous.
Lastly on that score, is the addition of legions of Stormtroopers in the scene where Han chases a pack of them down a hallway, only to have to turn tail and run when they realise they outnumber him rather severely. I dislike this, again because it serves no purpose: the humour doesn’t increase when you throw in more Stormtroopers, it just adds a tinge of unreality to it all, since where did these hundreds of Stormtroopers come from? Ash considered this a minor thing, and I suppose it is. But minor things can build up and up.
Some other comments on that topic that I’ve garnered:
“About 50% of them are awful and detract from the movie in a very visceral way, by cluttering up the scene and clashing with the film footage. The other 50% is by-and-large simply unnecessary, and while they don’t ruin the movie entirely, they remove a level of 70s charm from the film.”
“They’re ok, not really necessary for the most part…some do just clutter the scene.”
“There are some parts that might have been good, like enhancing some of the special effects during the big battle at the end. Maybe the Jabba scene could have been good if the editing and effects weren’t awful. But for the most part they were unnecessary and just for the money.”
I would agree with this for sure. Certainly, a common thread in my thinking, and in the thinking of many others, is how little to anything is improved by the alterations. Too many of them seem to exist for the sake of existing, and that’s a huge criticism to be laid at Lucas’ feet.
Some other thoughts on A New Hope generally, re-watching it again:
-Ash mentioned the reuse of numerous shots a lot, and I think it is only when it is pointed out that it becomes noticeable. The trench run, which uses the same shots and bits over and over, is a particular stand-out in that regard.
-The scene between Obi-Wan and Luke in his desert home is an interesting one with the prequels existence, as the bird’s eye view of the past that they gave the audience makes Kenobi seem so much more manipulative in this scene. There’s so much he leaves out or is less than truthful about: his role as Anakin’s master, that Anakin wanted Luke to have his lightsaber, Anakin and Vader’s connection, any kind of detail for what occurred during the “Clone Wars” etc. I’m certain it was not Lucas’ intention, but Kenobi really does come off as a bigger schemer here, a much more calculating individual than he did before. And I think that is to the films favour.
-It is often the more casual fan that can see plot holes others don’t consider, and an example of that sort of thing was brought up when Ash wondered why Vader can’t sense Leia is his daughter. It’s not the first time I’ve heard the question asked, but it was the first time that the apparent plot-hole – one largely created by the prequels, where Anakin can sense his mother in danger from across the galaxy for petes sake – stuck in my head while watching the film. There’s only so much one can blame on “the Force/destiny” etc.
-Ash wondered on the appropriateness/make-up of the throne room scene, which she thought was a bit OTT and triumphalist, considering that the Empire had not been defeated. She thought it also seemed rather final, but that makes sense to me: in the event of no sequels, the throne room would be as good a place as any to leave things. It’s hard to imagine a time when Star Wars was not a franchise juggernaut.
-Having never really considered it, but it being something that I have often thought about in regards modern sci-fi, it is notable that A New Hope doesn’t have a romance sub-plot. Luke moons over Leia a bit in a few scenes, and Han is a bit more suggestive once or twice, but that’s it. There is no big kiss at the end, no declarations of affection, no hero winning the princess’ heart. And the film loses nothing for its absence, having done enough to set-up whatever romantic entanglement it wants to set-up for the next film, if any. And God knows I wish more films would do this.
-It was in this reviewing that a memory stirred, from watching the films or the first time as a child, on a rented VHS some Saturday morning when I couldn’t have been older than eight. I suddenly remembered, vividly, my reaction to the “Han/Luke taking on the TIE fighters with the AA guns” scene, as something I had been totally enthralled by, and was probably recreating myself as best as I could before too long. It’s funny how stuff like that jumps back into your head suddenly.
-Another was how the interactions and relationships between the central three characters was something that I was intrigued by the very first time I watched the film, which was probably the first time that I was consciously aware of an attraction to such things as entertainment. That is to say, I looked forward to the next scene, or even the next film, not just for the promise of lightsaber fights and space battle, but for the promise of more of Luke, Leia and Han just talking to each other. There’s something so delightfully simple about it all: the naïve farmboy dreaming big, the rogue with the heart of gold, and the snarky princess who is tougher than she seems, who start off sniping at each other but then get inevitably closer through their collective experience.
-Indeed, that is the true greatness of A New Hope: its sheer simplicity, in story, in characters, in heroes and villains, which makes it as accessible, enjoyable and mesmerising today as it was 38 years ago. You can hyper analyse the film as much as possible, but it is that simplicity that makes it what it is. You could sit nearly anybody down in front of A New Hope and have a fair chance of hitting the mark.
-Myself and the girlfriend talked a lot during the film, whether it was discussing scenes or just poking fun. A New Hope is the kind of film, for me anyway, that I have no problem talking over, since I could basically play the film in my head from memory anytime I wanted. I know I’m far from the only one, and that’s a rare level of prominence for any film to attain.
Tomorrow, Imperial forces return blows.