Hello there! You may have noticed I was M.I.A. for a couple of months. Or, maybe you didn’t. If you didn’t, good. Just don’t tell me that you didn’t. Anywho, I’m back, baby, better than ever, and I’m ready to inundate you with thoughts, feelings, and remembrances. What you are about to read is part 1 in what will be an ongoing series about the Star Wars films. We all love Star Wars, most of us started out with the films, and we keep coming back to them time and time again. We all do this for different reasons, but the one common factor is that they just kind of feel like old friends, don’t they? Or a warm, fuzzy blanket on a chilly afternoon. Or….you know what, I’m gonna stop that right there before I drink a gallon of hot cocoa and fall asleep. My point is this: We love the saga. What I have been pondering is each film as a separate work. What keeps me coming back to each film individually? When I decide that I want to watch one, why do I choose the one that I opt for? I’ve found that the answer is different for each chapter in the saga, and that’s what my next several blogs will be concerned with. I’m going to go through each film one-at-a-time and discover what it is uniquely about THAT film that I am drawn back to. I’m sure I’ll surprise myself with a few of my findings, and hopefully it will give some of you an appreciation for elements of the films you’ve never noticed, or encourage you to consider this topic for yourself and discover your own answer for each film.
I’m going to do this in the order the films were released, since that is how I have always experienced them (even though I saw The Empire Strikes Back first, but never mind that now). So, up first is Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, hereafter referred to as A New Hope (even though I always just call it “Star Wars”). I’ll be using the Blu-ray versions as my reference point for the films, since those are the versions I have available and the ones I go back to.
If I’m honest (which I usually am), most of the time that I put A New Hope on (or any of the films, really), it’s to serve as background while I work on something on my computer, build Legos, clean, or play Words With Friends on my phone. From that standpoint, they really DO feel like a comforting presence, familiar and soothing, and preferable to silence. But there are always scenes that I stop and watch in each. For A New Hope, the first such scene is the opening, partly because it is so iconic, and partly because it’s so cacophonous that it is difficult to ignore. That always sucks me in, but it wouldn’t be enough to keep me watching if there weren’t something else that compelled me.
I find that the overriding factor that makes me want to watch A New Hope after upwards of 50 viewings is nostalgia. It is the story that started it all, so I really do feel an allegiance to it. That isn’t the ONLY reason I go back to it, I’ll discuss that more in just a minute, but nostalgia plays a HUGE role in it. When I hear “Star Wars” it’s A New Hope that I first think of, which is odd, since it is not my favorite film of the saga. So why, then, would it be my initial thought in those instances? Nostalgia. Memories of my childhood. Back then, all my friends and I called it “Star Wars,” which is why that is how I refer to it to this day. We all know I’m a grown-up little kid, so I’ve manage to hang on to that portion of my childhood to this day. When I hear the words “Star Wars” my kid-side kicks in and in an instant, I’m thinking of the Star Destroyer chasing the Blockade Runner over a planet that looks like a slab of ham (remember, I was a fat kid, it always comes back to food), and from there my memory is off and running, playing the movie in my head. And it always makes me smile. So, when I want to feel like a kid, or when I want to just relax and let a story that I know already wash over me, my go-to is usually A New Hope.
Nostalgia is a powerful thing, but nostalgia alone isn’t enough to make me turn it on, so there has to be something else. I have a feeling that I’m going to find that there is more than one element in each film that brings me back, which is to be expected, since I HAVE seen most of these films an average of once a year since they were released. A New Hope is no exception. In pondering this, what I’ve learned is that it may be one of the most perfectly-paced films ever made. I’ve noticed over the years that I’m very attuned to the pace of a film, which is not to say that I dislike slower-paced films, it just means my enjoyment of a film is tied to how well the pace fits the film. Some films demand a slower pace, some demand a faster pace. A New Hope moves along at a decent clip, but isn’t afraid to slow down and take its time when necessary, such as everyone’s favorite moment with Luke gazing out upon the twin suns of Tatooine while John Williams’s score swells in the background. I know that when I sit down to watch A New Hope, I won’t have time to get bored, but I also won’t be out of breath by the end. There’s a push and pull at work that is absolutely perfect. It speeds up right when it needs to, and it slows to dwell on things precisely when necessary. The film is an example of a filmmaker and an editor both working at the top of their game, and it makes A New Hope a film that is easy to enjoy because its biorhythms seem to match my own, which is extremely rare for a film. I have a few other films on that list, and I’d be happy to discuss them if anyone is interested.
Nostalgia and editing are both strong with this one. Those two elements would be enough to bring me back, but I had a feeling there was something else, so I rewatched the film before writing this, and something stuck out to me that I did not expect: The environments. The sets, the locations, and the design are absolutely magical. When I say I did not expect this, that isn’t to say that I’ve never noticed it before, of course I did. Star Wars is known for its art direction. George Lucas was determined to present a “used future” in these films. As such, some of the ships are broken down, some the buildings are crumbling, and some of the costumes have stains on them. Above all of that, each location in the film is a fully-realized environment that has been lived-in or, in the case of the Death Star, has been designed to function in a realistic manner. The Blockade Runner at the beginning is stark white, the Lars homestead is somewhat ramshackle, but seems comfortable. Mos Eisley is a bustling city, and the cantina is a seedy bar that I would probably avoid. Even the interior of the Millennium Falcon is perfect. It looks like you’d get grease on your sleeve if you leaned against a single square inch of it. The Death Star is sterile and imposing, with very little color and even less light. It is a place for work, not a place for life. These are all features that I have noticed on an unconscious level, and only in thinking about the film for this blog have I realized just how important they are to my enjoyment of it. I keep coming back to A New Hope because it feels like home, and it feels like home because it feels REAL in a way that few other fantasy films do. Even though nothing is of this planet, it all feels very grounded in a reality, even if that reality isn’t mine. It feels like home because each place we see is someone’s home, in one way or another. I’m as surprised as you are!
Wow, I learned something today! That was my “New Hope” when I decided to write this series, so I look forward to my findings on the other films. I came in to this study knowing that nostalgia was an overriding factor, and I recognized years ago how good the editing was on the film, so neither of those were earth-shattering revelations. Realizing how important the sets have been to my continued enjoyment has been a surprising and most-welcome discovery. I have a feeling that the next time I sit down to watch A New Hope, I will pay even closer attention to the surroundings in each scene, and I suspect I’m going to find even more in the locations to enjoy that I’ve never noticed before. That is more evidence of A New Hope’s value as a FILM. Layer upon layer of detail, meaning, and thematic depth are some of the hallmarks of a classic. We all know it IS a classic, but it does not seem to get the appreciation as a classical filmmaking achievement that it so richly deserves.
Thanks for reading, I hope you have found something enjoyable and maybe even insightful in this entry, and I look forward to coming back next month to discuss my thoughts on the compulsory elements of The Empire Strikes Back!
May the Force of Others Be With Us all.
Margot and Archie both say hi.
Jeff can be heard weekly on Assembly of Geeks (www.assemblyofgeeks.com) and on his own podcast network, MarvinDog Media (www.MarvinDogMedia.com) where he hosts The Pilot Episode, Talking Toys with Taylor and Jeff, and Bantha Banter: A Star Wars Chat Show. He is also co-host of Comics With Kenobi with fellow CWK blogger Matt Moore, on CoffeeWithKenobi.com, which you have already found if you’re reading this blog. You can contact Jeff at firstname.lastname@example.org.