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

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Star Wars (1977), (aka Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope) is one of the most popular, profitable, entertaining, and successful science fiction/action - adventure/fantasy films of all time. The film, shot mostly on location in Tunisia, Guatemala and Death Valley (California), advanced special-effects technology to a degree unseen before, with computerized and digitally-timed special effects. It ultimately helped to resurrect the financial viability of the science-fiction genre, a category of films that was considered frivolous and unprofitable, and brought the phrase "May the Force be with you" into common usage.

Pre-Star Wars director, USC graduate, and writer George Lucas had begun his career as director of the science-fiction film THX 1138 (1971), an expanded version of a prize-winning feature film he made while studying film at USC. It was produced by American Zoetrope and executive-produced by Francis Ford Coppola. He went on to direct and co-write the immensely popular American Graffiti (1973), a nostalgic story about California teenagers in the early 60s. It took four years for Lucas to develop his next film - this astounding cult film about "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..." from 20th Century Fox.

The modestly-budgeted production (of about $11 million) from the TCF/LucasFilm production company, made in Britain, was based upon Lucas' recollections of Saturday afternoon matinees, serials, and comic strips, usually with cliff-hanging endings.

The archetypal plot was influenced by a varied anthology of sources and eclectic references:

* legendary Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon comic-book heroes and films [Lucas had originally wanted to remake the 1930's Flash Gordon movie serials, but the rights to the comic book character were snapped up first by Dino Di Laurentiis]; the works of cartoonist Alex Raymond included Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim; Lucas cited the classic movie serial Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940) as the direct inspiration for his own space opera
* previous science fiction films (such as Forbidden Planet (1956) and Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968))
* the saloon setting of westerns (as a model for the inter-galactic watering hole)
* the James Bond films
* Joseph Campbell's book The Hero with a Thousand Faces
* Carlos Castaneda's Tales of Power
* medieval knights (King Arthur and Camelot) [Camelot's story also told of a young Prince, who with the help of a sorcerer/Merlin, a Sword and 'the Force' saves a Queen and defeats the Black Knight with the help of his Roundtable aides.]
* sorcerers' tales and stories about magic (Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and Carlos Castaneda tales)
* warrior legends, myths, fairy tales
* Western good-guy vs. bad-guy stories
* elements of other classic films or tales (e.g., The Wizard of Oz (1939), John Ford's The Searchers (1956), TV's Star Trek, Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1926), Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will (1936), and Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress (1958) and Yojimbo (1961))
* Errol Flynn swashbucklers
* dogfight-filled WWII war films, such as 633 Squadron (1964)
* similar to the Greek tradition of beginning an epic in the middle ("in medias res"), this film (the first in a trilogy) was the fourth film in the entire series

The mythological tale of space-age heroism (fighting Evil for the sake of Good) featured memorable characters - a benevolent ex-Jedi Knight (Guinness), an imprisoned Princess Leia (Fisher) of the peace-loving Rebel Alliance, two comical robotic droids (R2D2, named after a piece of film editor's jargon - Reel 2 Dialog 2, and C3PO), a smuggler/mercenary space-pilot (Ford), a beastly creature named Chewbacca (a Wookie), and an idealistic young boy (Hamill) who becomes trained in the righteous ways of the Force in order to rescue the captured Princess from the evil Empire's Death Star and the dark forces of the Empire, led by evil Darth Vader (voice of James Earl Jones/David Prowse).

Lucas wisely combined three basically-unknown young American actors in the lead roles (Hamill, Fisher, and Ford acting like a screwball comedy threesome) with the acting talents of the great British actor Alec Guinness, and then added a pair of cute robotic droids and a Sesame Street-style creature (Chewbacca) to the mix. [Note that the film's hero, Luke Skywalker or Luke S. (pronounced "Luc-as"), was a way for director Lucas to get his name mentioned, subliminally.]

The blockbuster film left itself open for sequels (and prequels). Lucas announced plans for a second trilogy (and hinted at three more films) ten years after Star Wars' release - in mid 1987. In total, there were really only six films. Two prequels in a second trilogy were released in 1999 and 2002, with a third in mid-2005. The prequels focused on how the father of Luke Skywalker (Anakin Skywalker) succumbed to the dark side of the Force and became the evil Darth Vader:

Star Wars Film Titles
(chronological order)

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

Original Theatrical Version: 121 minutes

George Lucas Grossed $1.5 million in its opening weekend, and overall grossed $780 million; nominated for 10 Academy Awards, winning six (in technical categories); and winner of a Special Achievement award; Star Wars: Special Edition (1997) earned almost $36 million in its opening weekend, and soon topped E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) as the all-time domestic box-office champ

Star Wars, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Original Theatrical Version: 124 minutes

Irvin Kershner, George Lucas (exec-producer) Grossed $6.4 million in its opening weekend and overall grossed $290 million; nominated for 3 Academy Awards, winning one (Best Sound); winner of Special Achievement award; famous for Darth Vader's line: "I am your father" and the severing of Luke's hand; set 4 years after the events in the 1977 film and considered by many to be a superior sequel to Episode IV

Star Wars, Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983)

originally titled Revenge of the Jedi)

Original Theatrical Version: 134 minutes

Richard Marquand Nominated for 4 Academy Awards, winning none; winner of Special Achievement Oscar; grossed $309 million; set single and opening-day box office records; the most under-rated of the segments of the Star Wars saga; the best scene = the speeder bike chase


Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)

133 minutes

George Lucas
(22 years after his original directorial effort)
Grossed $28.5 million in its first day of showings, and reached the $100 million level in a record five days; nominated for 3 Academy Awards, winning none; set 32 years before the original Star Wars films; introduced the young Darth Vader as a 9 year old boy named Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), and his future love interest - slightly older Queen Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman); also introduced CGI sidekick Jar Jar Binks; best scenes = the epic lightsaber duel, and the pod race through the Tatooine desert

Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)

142 minutes

George Lucas

Grossed $80 million in its first weekend (May, 2002); opened six months later in about 60 IMAX theatres; nominated for 1 Academy Award, without a win; shot on Digital Video using a new 24-frame, High-Definition, Progressive scan camera; the title Attack of the Clones is a misnomer - the clones don't attack, but come to the defense of the Jedi; set 10 years after Episode 1, with Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) now a 19 year old Padawan (apprentice Jedi) to Obi Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor); the best scenes = the breathtaking aerial chase through the asteroid field, and the light-saber duel between the good Yoda and the evil Count Dooku (Christopher Lee)

Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

140 minutes

George Lucas Released in May 2005, the 28th anniversary of the release of Star Wars, and the first of the films to receive a PG-13 rating; showed how Luke Skywalker's father, Anakin (Christensen), went from a sweet-natured slave boy to the galaxy-crushing villain Darth Vader. The Sith was the evil sect that corrupted Anakin by drawing him into the dark side of the Force - the cosmic power and living energy field that balances the universe; the best scene = the opening space battle
All six Star Wars episodes will be converted to 3-D
Expected releases are one per year, starting in 2007

The impact of the first film in the series was enormous - tremendous profits helped to generate funding for Lucas' state-of-the-art special effects factory known as Industrial Light and Magic (built in Marin County north of San Francisco), and merchandising associated with the film encouraged an entire marketing industry of Star Wars-related items (i.e., toys, video games, novelty items at fast food restaurants, etc.). In a revolutionary approach to Hollywood film-making and merchandising, Lucas had wisely accepted only $175,000 as his writer's/director's fee in return for the much more lucrative forty percent of merchandising rights for his Star Wars Corporation. Since then, the first five "Star Wars" films grossed over $3.4 billion worldwide at the box office, compared to $9 billion from merchandise sales.

The 20th Century Fox film set box-office records and was a critical success. However, this appealing film was criticized for encouraging a boom in spectacular (but sometimes drab) special-effects laden blockbusters (with thin plot lines) for decades after. It soon became the most commercially-successful film ever made (and held the record for many years). Prophetically, a few years later, the Soviet Union became the 'Evil Empire' during the Presidency of Ronald Reagan, and Reagan proposed a strategic space-defense program (or SDI - Strategic Defense Initiative), dubbed "Star Wars" in November 1985 by the media. Although Lucas went to court to protect his title, he lost the case.

It was nominated for ten Academy Awards, and won in six (mostly technical) categories: Best Art Direction/Set Decoration, Best Sound, Best Original Score (John Williams), Best Film Editing, Best Costume Design, and Best Visual Effects. Its other four nominations were for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Alec Guinness), Best Director, and Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen. The film was also awarded with a Special Achievement Award for Sound Effects for the creation of the alien, creature, and robot voices (Benjamin Burtt, Jr.). It was the first feature film to be screened in Dolby Stereo.

The memorable, adventure film saga begins with an opening title card, setting the film's time frame in the distant past:

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...

Then, an inventive scrolling of text crawls (or "rolls up") into the black background of space to describe the war, in a "far away" galaxy, between good and evil archetypal forces:

Episode IV, A NEW HOPE It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire's ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet. Pursued by the Empire's sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy....

The Rebel Alliance has attacked the tyrannical evil Galactic Empire, daringly stealing secret plans to the Empire's new battle station, the Death Star. In the opening view, the small Rebel ship belonging to Princess Leia, who possesses the secret plans, is chased across the screen by a large, wedge-shaped Imperial Star Destroyer cruiser of the evil Galactic Empire. Turbolasers strike the Rebel ship's shields and cause its passengers to be buffeted around in a corridor, including two robot droids, a tiny, round barrel-shaped, whistling and bleeping computer robot named R2-D2 (Artoo) (Kenny Baker), and its robotic pal, the constantly talking, tall gold-plated C-3PO (See Threepio) (Anthony Daniels). [C-3PO is clearly modeled after the female robot in Lang's Metropolis (1927).] Armed soldiers run down the hallway. Nervous as explosions rock the ship, C-3PO is pessimistic about their escape from the Imperialistic Forces, because their main reactor has been shut down: "We're doomed. There'll be no escape for the Princess this time." R2-D2 whistles a response. Their ship is sucked into the underbelly of the huge, armored space vehicle by a tractor beam.

Rebel soldiers take their positions at the end of the corridor, preparing to defend the door from an assault. The crippled transport Rebel ship is boarded by an advance guard of white, ceramic-like, space-armored stormtroopers, the Emperor's elite soldiers. A fierce laser-gun battle is fought in the hallway, quickly lost by the Rebel defenders as more and more Imperials charge into the smoking corridor. When control is secured, the leader of the cruel and villainous forces appears - black-garbed, helmeted and faceless Dark Lord of the Sith, Darth Vader (David Prowse, with a deep, breathy voice supplied by James Earl Jones). The two robots escape the crossfire by running across the hallway.

Fighting back against the Evil Empire is slim, white-robed Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), the leader of galactic Rebel Alliance forces. C-3PO hides from the invading troopers and loses sight of R2-D2. Turning a corner, the golden droid notices a young woman dressed in white - Princess Leia - transmitting the blueprints or plans for the Death Star battleship along with an S.O.S. plea, into the data system face plate of her computer robot R2-D2. When R2-D2 is located, C-3PO worries that they will be sent to "the spice mines of Kessel or smashed into who-knows-what!"

After a valiant and brave fight, the Rebel ship is brought under Imperial control. On the bridge of the captured ship, Darth Vader confronts the Rebel officers, searching for the intercepted transmissions of the Death Star's plans, but he fails to find them in the transport ship's main computer system. He ruthlessly holds one of the unresponsive Rebel officers by the throat and lifts him with one hand, crushing his throat and tossing him to the side. Vader orders his troops to find the plans and bring him the passengers: "I want them alive." Soon after, the Princess is confronted and refuses to surrender. She fires her blaster at the stormtroopers, but is apprehended and taken captive prisoner by Vader's forces.

R2-D2 insists that the two robots enter a restricted area and escape in a lifepod from the ship, bleeping about a "secret mission" and "plans." Threepio refuses to join his droid pal in the cramped spaceship pod, worrying about deactivation for disobedience until an explosion changes his mind. Regretting his decision to follow R2-D2 into the escape module, the two are permitted to jettison away from the stricken Imperial cruiser by Imperial navigators because no "life-forms" are scanned aboard. The two robots escape without harm.

Darth Vader, the Dark Lord, confronts the Princess and demands the plans. The Princess denies knowledge of the blueprints (transmissions beamed by Rebel spies to her ship) and refuses to cooperate, insisting that they have attacked a diplomatic consular ship:

Princess: I'm a member of the Imperial Senate on a diplomatic mission to Alderaan.
Darth Vader: You are part of the Rebel Alliance and a traitor. Take her away!
Vader's Assistant: Holding her is dangerous. If word of this gets out, it could generate sympathy for the rebellion in the Senate.
Vader: I have traced the Rebel spies to her. Now she is my only link to finding their secret base.
Assistant: She'll die before she'll tell you anything.
Vader: Leave that to me.

Lord Vader orders one of his troops to generate a fake distress signal from the Rebel ship, and then broadcast to the Senate that all the Rebels aboard were killed. Vader is informed that the stolen battle station plans are not aboard the Rebel ship, and that no transmissions were made from the ship. Vader deduces that the plans were hidden somehow by the Princess aboard the jettisoned pod during the battle. He sends a detachment to retrieve the escaped pod and recover the plans: "There'll be no one to stop us this time!"

The two robots crash land their lifepod on Tatooine, a backwater, arid, desert-like planet. There, they wander away from the space pod, lost on the planet's rolling sand dune surface. With a comical "Laurel-and-Hardy" type friendship, C-3PO tells his pal, "We seem to be made to suffer. It's our lot in life." Then he mutters: "What a desolate place this is." C-3PO stubbornly decides to split off from his partner after admonishing his pal's beeps: "Don't get technical with me." They go off in different directions, R2-D2 toward a low lying range of rocky mountains in the distance, and C-3PO across miles of hot desert toward the horizon in the opposite direction.

C-3PO blames his misfortune and being lost on his partner: "That malfunctioning little twerp. He tricked me into going this way, but he'll do no better." He spies a reflective piece of metal, a transport, and he summons it, believing it will save him. Meanwhile, traversing through the desolate, hilly terrain, R2-D2 is spied upon by pairs of eyes from the inner darkness of a cave. When a minor rock slide is noticed, R2-D2 whimpers with a child-like sound. Then, the robot is stunned by the blue magnetic rays of a gun, fired by some "Jawas," small, short, yellow-eyed, brown-cloaked, gremlin-like scavengers and scrap/junk collectors of the planet. With a groan, R2-D2 topples over onto the ground, short-circuited by the electrical bolt.

Immobilized, R2-D2 is deactivated and deposited at a tank-sized vehicle called a sandcrawler, a gigantic rolling factory. A restraining bolt is attached to his outer shell to keep him from escaping. An enormous suction device swallows him up, magnetically lifts him up and dumps him in the holding area in the interior of the sandcrawler. There, as he recovers from the paralyzing effects of the beam, he is reunited with C-3PO in the large junkpile. Stormtroopers quickly track the lifepod and find tracks going off in different directions. They discover a fragment of metal plating in the sand: "Look sir, droids."

The traveling, hooded auctioneers stop at a lonely homestead in the desert. They line up the most suitable robots at their sale - a motley collection of droids. A local moisture farmer Owen Lars (Phil Brown) and his young nephew Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) survey the droids and barter with the Jawas. Owen asks C-3PO if he understands the binary language of moisture evaporators:

Owen: Can you speak Bocce?
C-3PO: Of course I can, sir..It's like a second language to me. I'm as fluent in...

Having heard enough, Owen shouts: "All right, shut up!" and he agrees to buy C-3PO. A whining R2-D2 is abandoned when Uncle Owen chooses a different, smaller red droid along with C-3PO. To R2's delight, the droid short-circuits as it is led away, a faulty unit with a "bad motivator." C-3PO recommends the "prime condition" of the blue R2 unit, a "real bargain." And so, the two droids are bought together. Humorously, C-3PO tells his pal: "Now, don't you forget this! Why I should stick my neck out for you is quite beyond my capacity."

In his uncle's garage, Luke cleans up his two new droids by giving them a decontamination bath, although he dreams and longs to be in other distant worlds: "It just isn't fair...I'm never gonna get out of here!" C-3PO asks if he may offer assistance to his new owner. Luke replies: "Not unless you can alter time, speed up the harvest, or teleport me off this rock!" The young boy describes how far they are from the center of everything: "Well, if there's a bright center to the universe, you're on the planet that it's farthest from." While cleaning R2-D2, Luke notices the droid's carbon scoring: "It looks like you boys have seen a lot of action." C-3PO agrees: "With all we've been through, sometimes I'm amazed we're in as good condition as we are, what with the Rebellion and all."

Luke is intrigued by the droid's knowledge and experiences in the Rebellion: "You know of the Rebellion against the Empire?" While Luke is cleaning, polishing and repairing R2-D2, he accidentally trips one of his switches, and the mechanical robot projects a three-dimensional hologram into the middle of the room - a miniature image of a beautiful girl, the Princess. In a recording that plays over and over, Princess Leia pleads for help from wise and noble Jedi warrior/mentor Ben "Obi-Wan" Kenobi (Sir Alec Guinness):

Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You're my only hope.

R2-D2 bleeps and squeaks, trying to mislead Luke into thinking the image is nothing but a malfunction and a display of old data. Luke wonders about the miniature lady and her message: "Who is she? She's beautiful." C-3PO translates the beeps and blips of R2-D2 for Luke when the droids decide that they can trust their new master: "He says that he's the property of Obi-Wan Kenobi, a resident of these parts. And it's a private message for him." Luke has actually heard of a strange hermit with a similar name, Old Ben Kenobi who lives out beyond the Dune Sea. Luke considers listening to the entire message: "It sounds like she's in trouble. I'd better play back the whole thing." But the message cannot be played in its entirety, as C-3PO interprets: "...the restraining bolt has short-circuited his recording system. He suggests that if you remove the bolt, he might be able to play back the entire recording."

Deciding that the droid is too small to run away, the restraining bolt placed on R2-D2 by the Jawas is removed. Instantly, the message and the lady disappear. R2-D2 stubbornly refuses to play it again - the message will only be played for Obi-Wan Kenobi. Luke is interrupted, called to dinner by his aunt. C-3PO scolds his companion: "Just you reconsider playing that message for him." During the dinner conversation, Luke tells his uncle: "I think that R2 unit we bought might have been stolen...I stumbled across a recording while I was cleaning it. He says he belongs to someone called Obi-Wan Kenobi. I thought he might have meant Old Ben." Both of Luke's relatives turn silent. Luke's uncle, believing "that wizard's just a crazy old man," instructs Luke to erase the memory of the robot the next day because the droid now belongs to them. Luke worries that Obi-Wan may come looking for his robot, but his father answers: "He won't. I don't think he exists anymore. He died about the same time as your father." [Luke is an orphan, cared for by his aunt and uncle.] Luke excitedly asks: "He knew my father?" Owen refuses to answer and wishes the subject dropped: "I told you to forget it."

Luke wisely changes the subject, mentioning his intention to transmit his application to the Academy in the present year if the droids work out satisfactorily. Owen objects, wishing him to apply the next year after another harvest season: "Harvest is when I need you the most. It's only one season more." After Luke stalks out frustrated, his Aunt Beru (Shelagh Fraser) shows some understanding of the boy: "Luke's just not a farmer, Owen. He has too much of his father in him." Owen agrees: "That's what I'm afraid of."

Outside, white-robed Luke stands on a small rise, watching Tatooine's twin suns setting near the horizon. [Tatooine has a binary star system - therefore, he can watch two sunsets every night.] He believes he may never fulfill his dream of piloting a starship to distant worlds, never escaping from the dry arid desert of Tatooine. Returning to the robots in the garage, Luke finds C-3PO hiding and scared: "It wasn't my fault, sir! Please don't de-activate me!" According to C-3PO, R2-D2 is "faulty, malfunctioning. He kept babbling on about his mission" and then wandered off into the desert night. Luke scans the horizon with a pair of electro-binoculars equipped with night-vision, but R2-D2 is nowhere to be seen. Luke decides they must wait until morning to search for him: "It's too dangerous with all the Sand People around...That little droid's gonna cause me a lot of trouble." C-3PO concurs: "Oh, he excels at that, sir."

The next morning, without telling his uncle, Luke and C-3PO give chase into the desert after runaway R2-D2 in a jet-propelled landspeeder, a vehicle which skims a foot off the ground. They are watched from high on a ridge by two dangerous, nomadic warriors called Tusken Raiders (Sand People), riding on shaggy, elephant-like creatures. The landspeeder quickly catches up to R2-D2, who immediately senses and urgently warns them that there are "several creatures approaching from the southeast." Luke guesses Sand People are attacking. He grabs his laser rifle and binoculars and runs to a nearby hill to look for them. As he scans the land, one of the Sand People rises up in front of him with a battle-axe. Luke blocks some of the blows, but is knocked to the ground as the Raider shrieks and raises his axe. Luke faints and is dragged down to the landspeeder where a group of Sand People plan to ransack his vehicle. R2-D2 hides in a small crevice in the rocks.

A terrifying howling is heard from up in the canyon as a mysterious stranger in a brown-hooded cloak approaches. The Sand People immediately scatter and flee in fear. The figure removes the hood from his face to reveal an older man with white hair, a gray beard and kindly face. He greets R2-D2 who peers out of his hiding place: "Hello there. Come here my little friend. Don't be afraid." Luke slowly regains consciousness and recognizes the old hermit: "Ben? Ben Kenobi? Boy, am I glad to see you." Ben is told that the droid was searching for his former master, the property of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Luke asks Ben: "Is he a relative of yours?" This news brings back memories for him, because Ben's alias is Obi-Wan:

Ben: Obi-Wan Kenobi. Obi-Wan. Now that's a name I've not heard in a long time. A long time.
Luke: I think my uncle knows him. He said he was dead.
Ben (smiling): Oh, he's not dead. Not yet.
Luke: You know him?
Ben: Well, of course I know him. He's me. I haven't gone by the name of Obi-Wan since, oh, before you were born.
Luke: Well then, the droid does belong to you.
Ben: I don't seem to remember ever owning a droid. Very interesting.

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