Wookiee Hut Movie Reviews presents:
Star Wars DVD, Episode IV: A New Hope
Review by Csillag

Starring: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Alec Guinness, (the voice of) James Earl Jones, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, David Prowse, Peter Mayhew, and Peter Cushing

Director: George Lucas

Rating: Death Star! What else?

A long time ago, in a state not that far from here ...

I saw the original release of this movie sort of by accident. We had tickets to a concert which was cancelled at the last minute. Instead of driving all the way back home, almost two hours, we decided to go and see this movie called Star Wars that we had been hearing about. We found a theater complex (and those were just coming into being too) that was showing the movie. We bought tickets for the 9:00 PM show, then went to grab some dinner. By the time we got back to the theater, the line to get in was almost around the whole building. We got to our seats, which were nice high-backed stadium style — also very new, and chit chatted till the lights went down.

The 20th Century Fox logo came up on the screen and the fanfare blared out of the speakers. Then, those words now etched into our conciousness appeared. The famous crawl setting up the story told us of the fragile, but determined Rebel Alliance stuggling to free the galaxy from the tyranny of the Empire. How could we not be intrigued? And that music! Orchestral, complex, rich -- it practically blew me out of my seat!

But even that did not prepare us for what was to come. That first shot of the enormous Imperial cruiser that seemed like it would never end grabbed the entire audience and we were hooked. But that was not all we had in store. The two droids, comical in appearance, but central to the the story, made us smile even as they took us along on their journey. Through the droids, we came to meet the rest of the characters who would play out this classical tale.

I won't bother recounting the story. We all know it. What I will say though, is that this film was like nothing else that audiences had ever seen before. It grabbed us in an emotional place that sorely needed to be touched in that time of cynicism and hopelessness. Not only did the story touch us, John Williams' powerful orchestral accompaniment propelled our emotional involvement and attachment to the characters. Luke staring off toward the horizon as the two suns set had us aching with him, while Obiwan's theme evoked majesty, strength and hope (it later became "the Force" theme). Of course the Cantina band was a lighthearted touch in a grim and forbidding place. And the awards ceremony finale fanfare gave us goosebumps in a good way as we rejoiced in the Rebels' victory with them.

I was lucky enough to see this original version in the theater not once, but the following year when it was re-released (in itself an unusual occurence), then again when it was released as a "special edition." In fact I saw it multiple times for each release -- even skipping a college class on one occasion (horrors, I was a devout class-attender, too!). It was such a powerful experience each time I saw it in that darkened space with those contemporaries, and I feel really fortunate to have been alive back then.

1977 was before, LOOOOOOONG before, digital animation and the other film magic we expect as a matter of course today, but Star Wars and George Lucas's special effects house, Industrial Light and Magic, really did create magic even with rubber puppets of dewbacks. We all know — because George keeps telling us — that he was never really happy with the version of the film that he originally released. When technology finally caught up to his vision, he decided to "fix" what he thought of as flaws in the original versions of the original trilogy and release them as Special Editions.

Film purists were aghast, but other fans were excited — especially when it was announced that he would begin production on Episodes I, II, and III and that Return of the Jedi would have a sneak peak at what Episode I would look like.

So maybe I'm a bit of both, a purist who loved the original version and didn't see anything that needed fixing, and a fan who was looking forward to seeing what ILM could do.

I have to say, I liked the enhancements to the climactic battle with the Death Star, but the one little scene of Luke and Biggs meeting at the Rebel base just before the battle was either too much or too little. George had filmed a scene with Luke and Biggs on Tattooine back in 1976 which explained their friendship and foreshadowed Biggs' joining the Rebellion, but it never made it into the film because it slowed down the story. The scene as shown in the SE establishes that they are friends, isn't enough, it might as well have been left out here too. The novelization of the story handles it much better.

Another scene George played with was in the Cantina where Greedo now shoots first. I suppose George didn't want a character who was supposed to be one of the heroes to be the one who shot first, but since he was defending his livelyhood as well as his life AND he had not manifested his heroic side yet, I could see the justification for shooting first.

Adding more life and action to Mos Eisley was not a problem for me either. He was under serious budget, studio, and time constraints at the time, but could enhance the spaceport city without damaging the story with the new technology available to him 20 years later. I even understand that he felt it necessary to tie Episodes IV and VI together by completing the circle between Han and Jabba, but even that was not critical to advancing the story. Oh well ...

Now comes the DVD release of the original trilogy. Or is it? The answer of course is no. The original release didn't have all the bells and whistles he added in the SE's, but it was an incredible film that changed the industry as well as audience perceptions and expectations just as it was. Frankly, I didn't see much difference at all between the SE video release version from 1997 and the DVD release. In fact, I liked the little 15-minute documentary at the beginning of the VHS version and was disappointed that it was not included either on the movie disc or on the Bonus material disc. I did like that there was a commentary track you could listen to with George Lucas, Ben Burtt, Dennis Muren, and Carrie Fisher providing the commentary. I think that the whole DVD release would have been much more worthwhile if it had included more behind the scenes things like more making of, deleted scenes, and even bloopers.

Does this mean I don't like the DVD release? No. I gave it a Death Star rating, didn't I?



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