I sat down with a friend recently and started watching A New Hope for the first time in, oh, about five years, I’d say. She had never seen any of the Star Wars films, and I had asked her which she preferred: original trilogy or classic trilogy first? As many Star Wars fans know, this is a crucial question. Watch the OT first and you get the surprise that Vader is Luke’s father. Watch the prequels first and your expectations for the rest of the series will include lots of CGI and Jedi who jump around and are superheroes, for all intents and purposes. I gave her the choice and she went with OT first. (Somewhere, I’m sure a lot of Star Wars fans are nodding in approval, but I really wouldn’t have minded starting with either trilogy.)
The movie starts as everyone remembers it: the text crawl, the Tantive IV, the Star Destroyer in pursuit. Vader is introduced. I’m really excited at this point. I even keep looking over at my friend, knowing she can’t possibly be as excited about Darth Vader as I am, but I want to check anyway. Then the droids go to Tatooine. We meet Luke. We see Jawas and Tusken Raiders and old Ben Kenobi. Aaaaaaaand my friend is asleep.
I turn off the movie halfway through, my time ruined by her lack of attention. When she wakes up later, I ask her why she fell asleep so quick.
“I don’t know. There were some cool things and stuff, but it was pretty slow. Kinda boring.”
Frustrated and aghast, I watch the film in full the next evening. Alone. I know Star Wars isn’t for everyone, but she didn’t even give it a chance! But as I watched the film, I tried really hard to see what her problem with it was.
A New Hope is clearly one of the greatest films of all time. Metacritic has it at a 92 which, if you’re on Metacritic a lot, you’ll quickly discover that a rating of 92 is almost unheard of for films. I didn’t bother to look into who Metacritic surveyed for the score of 92, but it clearly wasn’t the original film reviews, which were mixed. Yes, A New Hope, one of the greatest films of all time, met with mixed reviews when it came out.
This shouldn’t surprise anyone. Reviews don’t really tell us too much about a film’s success or its legacy. (Attack of the Clones has a higher Metacritic score than Return of the Jedi.) And a huge part of what made A New Hope so great – and Star Wars in general – is the marketing and fan involvement. A New Hope just struck all the right chords back then and became the cultural juggernaut that Star Wars is today.
But is A New Hope boring? Am I somehow, in my nostalgia, enjoying something as a fan that just doesn’t hook people today? Maybe. A New Hope is a great, great 1970’s film. But there’s a lot to it that could be seen as unappealing to a modern viewer. And a lot of that has to do with the pacing and the breadth of the flick. For all its space stations, desert planets and aliens, A New Hope is a small film. The budget wasn’t astronomical and most of the special effects outside of makeup and puppets involve laser swords and guns.
If A New Hope had been the only Star Wars film ever, we would’ve never learned that Darth Vader was Luke’s father, and the plot is totally fine with that. Obi-Wan Kenobi is not a liar. Luke has a shot with Leia. That ceremony at the end of the movie is celebrating – perhaps – the rebel’s defeat of the Empire. It wasn’t until Empire Strikes Back that the battle between the Empire and Alliance, and the Star Wars universe as a whole, expanded so massively.
And this, I believe, is A New Hope‘s charm. Unlike any of the other films in the Star Wars series, it is a wholly-contained film, with only the escape of Darth Vader to hint at a sequel. And it is also a humble beginning to a series which would grow to unforeseeable heights. With planned sequels for years to come, there will probably never be another film in the Star Wars canon like it, a mix of tight filmmaking with no need to reference other movies. Even the coming anthology films – one-offs – will likely reference the other films (the first, Rogue One, certainly does) and still others will plant seeds for other films.
So while some might find A New Hope a bit slow, without the expansive, interconnecting plotlines featured heavily in the other films, A New Hope is indeed a treasure of its own. It’s a one-of-a-kind Star Wars experience and I’d be happy if it stayed that way.
What It Gets Right: Fun cast and a good, tightly-told adventure story. The Mos Eisley Cantina scene is one of the best in all of science-fiction. Great use of mythology and storytelling to weave something new and captivating.
Where It Goes Wrong: The Special Editions didn’t help the film much. Some of the CGI from them hasn’t aged well, either.
Our Score: A-
Rotten Tomatoes: 94% | IMDB: 8.7 | Metacritic: 92