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Sunday Classics Matinee: Star Wars Episode IV - A New Hope

by Robb Reel


I still vividly remember exactly where I was when I first saw those words in cyan on a movie screen.  Just thinking about it, I can feel the same joy as that night at the Shadeland Drive-In -- the rarity of seeing a first-run film, the 40-minute drive just to get there, the pickup backed into the parking spot, the smell of fresh popcorn and musty sleeping bags.

Then came the roll off and the first note of the John Williams score.

I have been trying to share that joy with Chris, a housemate at The Reel Estate, who had never seen any of the saga a mere four weeks ago.  Maybe it's because we started with the newer films, or maybe it's because we're not kids anymore, but he's just not as into it as I had hoped.  As we go back to go forward, I have A New Hope.

I am old enough to remember before this film had that subtitle.  It was just Star Wars when I saw it that first time.  There was a time when George Lucas thought he might only get to make the one movie.  He had to finance it himself because no one wanted to produce his "space opera" and no studio would back it.  When 20th Century Fox came on board near the end for distribution, Lucas wisely retained both the merchandising and creative rights.

Much like Citizen Kane, this is such a hard film to discuss objectively.  For the 90 percent who have seen it, getting past the iconic nature can be so daunting that the remaining 10 are put off.  When they finally do, the innovations are lost because they've been repeated and refined constantly for the last 35 years.  They don't find Darth Vader nearly as menacing as we did and they don't even recognize Peter Cushing from scores of classic Hammer horror films, which they would find silly and campy compared to the gore and guts of today.

What is unmistakable is the chemistry among the three young leads.  Harrison Ford [Han Solo] was the most recognizable, having worked for Lucas before in American Graffiti after working on his house as a carpenter.  Princess Leia Organa was embodied by true Hollywood royalty; Carrie Fisher is the daughter of Emmy-winner and Oscar-nominee Debbie Reynolds and crooner Eddie Fisher.  Not even 20 when filming began, Fisher had just one credit [1975's Shampoo] on her resume.  Oakland native Mark Hamill was even less known, with his first on-screen appearance as the farmboy on Tatooine, Luke Skywalker.  The magic among these three is something that is often aspired and imitated but rarely recaptured.

There is a great theatrical tradition, dating back to the Greek chorus, of the storytellers being a part of the story themselves.  Combine that with the bickering antics of Laurel and Hardy, put it all in outer space, and you get C-3PO and R2-D2.  As a young kid, these were the droids I was looking for.  Their simultaneously irritation with and affection for one another was something I recognized in my own misfit family.  Ultimately, I think this relationship is the real stardust in the mix.

If there's one line that echos in my head still these many decades later, it comes through the voice of Sir Alec Guinness.  "The Force will be with you, always."  It is a shame that, for a long stretch, Guinness hated his association with the series, or rather abhorred how his singular identification with it obscured the other great works of his otherwise lengthy career.  Still, both his character of Obi-wan Kenobi and the actor himself always resonated with me.  Guinness, like myself, was a Catholic and probably would have appreciated my instinct to respond to "May the Force be with you" with "And also with you."

Sure, it's not as slick as the later movies in the saga, or all the films inspired by it.  However, knowing that it is responsible for Industrial Light & Magic and Skywalker Sound -- entities Lucas had to create from scratch to birth this project -- and, consequently, an entirely new age in cinema should be enough to balance that.  So many things in the movies -- and so many lovers of movies -- would not exist with out it.

... including me.

The Force will be with us, always.