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Star Wars 40th Anniversary Review: Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

Contributor: Rick McGimpsey

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Today is the 40th anniversary of the movie I am reviewing. This is a momentous occasion for the millions of fans; many of which who are going to celebrate in their own way. Some will go cosplaying, digging out and dusting off old Star Wars books, comics, and video games; others will talk about Star Wars with friends, and some like myself are going to spend the next few days marathoning the series.

In the 40 years since its inception Star Wars has been unrivaled in the impact it has had on popular culture. Special effects films were never the same again since its release when it shook Hollywood at the core and completely reshaped the trends of filmmaking at the time. With the popularity of Jaws, American Graffiti, and the Planet of the Apes franchise helping pave the way before it, Star Wars had suddenly given birth to the summer blockbuster. It is thanks to Star Wars that cinema has given us Indiana Jones, Alien, Terminator, Back to the Future, The Lord of the Rings films, and the immensely popular multitude of DC and Marvel movies that get released once or twice a year.

And not only was cinema affected. I could go on and on about how Star Wars changed the future of merchandising, created an unparalleled multimedia franchise involving books, games, comics, TV shows, etc.; engendered a fandom so massive that millions of people including celebrities turn up at conventions once a year; and I could even go on about people I have seen who made Star Wars a career. For example, there are Youtubers who work hard daily producing content on nothing but Star Wars. There are even people who make it a hobby and don’t even get paid for it. These are types of people who collect Star Wars toys, dress up as their favourite characters, and even spend a couple hours a day writing blogs and reviews about Star Wars. Get a life, right?

But seriously, as I said, I really could go on forever. But what I am here to do is review the movie that started it at all and changed everything for the next 40 years.

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope came out in theatres on 25 May 1977. The film, which at the time was only titled Star Wars, was a smash hit and before the year was over a sequel was being discussed, the main actors became instantaneous household names, and Hollywood producers were scrambling fast to cash in on and imitate its success. In the wake of Star Wars films like Alien and Star Trek: The Motion Picture were made which spawn blockbuster sequels of their own.

There are many people who remember first going to see Star Wars back in 1977 and will wax nostalgic about the entire 40 year ride of fandom since then. Alas, I am not one of them. Having been born in 1992 I was first introduced to Star Wars when the film was just old enough to get a drivers license. I was of the last generation to first see Star Wars prior to the 1997 Special Editions having had them on VHS when I was very young. I am half tempted to delve into anecdotes of my obsession with Star Wars when I was a 5 year old, but, as I write what is already becoming an overlong intro I realise that would address Star Wars as a whole and not this particular film that I am reviewing.
But, to be perfectly honest, do I really need to even bother? I mean it’s Star Wars! If you are the sort of person who needs to read a review of Star Wars then, frankly, you really have no reason following this blog.
And to be perfectly honest I am not even entirely sure what to say. I have went on about how it affected everything and changed the landscape of pop culture and fandom, but to me that is just trivia. That’s not personal. I wasn’t even alive when the original trilogy was released and I certainly wasn’t old enough to appreciate its affect on the future of cinema when I first saw them.

So what should a review of this subject consist of then? We already know the story. It would be insulting to the reader for me to review it the same I review the comics. We all know about the farm boy Luke Skywalker and his meeting with Threepio and Artoo which led him to Obi-Wan Kenobi. We know about Darth Vader and the Death Star. We know Senator Princess Leia of Alderaan is secretly a rebel leader. We know the secret base is on Yavin 4. We know how the Death Star solved Alderaan’s overpopulation problem. And we know how Luke blew up the Death Star after the rebellion ingeniously decided to give the controls of an expensive X-Wing over to an unknown 19 year old hillbilly from Tatooine who likes to turn their ships’ vital targeting systems off because the voices in his head tell him to. We know all that stuff. And we know it’s a great story. It has all the mythological and epic tropes of a classic fairy tale or fantasy. And it has all the fanciful space operatic worldbuilding found in great stories like Asimov’s Foundation or Dune. It has robots, wild western saloons with aliens for riffraff, space ships, princesses, smugglers, giant furry dogmen who hate losing chess, and weird old men waving shiny sticks around raving about invisible powers. In essence, it has everything we love.

Of all the seven currently released Star Wars movies A New Hope is the one that feels the most like a traditional fairy tell. It has all the colourful characters who tag along bit by bit, the evil sorcerers, the good sorcerers, the weird creatures, storming an enemy’s fortress, and it has a clear beginning and ending. It’s very much a classic yarn about a faraway place in a distant time that entertains both young and old. It’s a modern fairy tale in space.

While it is not my personal favourite of the Star Wars films it is arguably still its best. It does everything perfectly: telling a complete easy-to-follow story which loses none of its charm or rewatchability as the decades go by.

The only thing that can mitigate perhaps the film’s greatness is the fact that we may be too familiar with it. Knowing the story, the dialogue, the characters, and even the pacing of A New Hope so well it is hard to approach it any more without it starting to feel like white noise. Approaching it with new and fresh eyes becomes harder and harder and this makes it easier for us to miss any hidden gems the film has to offer that we had never noticed before. When a sight, layout, or image remains constant after awhile we stop really seeing it and it bothers me when I become conscious that this has happened to Star Wars. That is why tonight when I watch Star Wars in celebration of its 40th birthday I am going to cut out all distractions. The computer gets logged off and turned off, no fiddling with phones or tablets, no running back and forth from the kitchen for snacks, pure unadulterated attention, no heavy sluggishness-inducing foods like pizza to make me more docile, and no growth acceleration.
Basically, what I am trying to say is that I am going to watch Star Wars closely and soak it all in. See if I might just catch something new. I think the best birthday gift I can give A New Hope on it’s 40th anniversary is my full and complete attention. Just because we have had it for so long it doesn’t mean it needs to become white noise. All those years ago Star Wars was our first step into a larger world and however you choose to celebrate this special occasion we would be remiss to not pay our respects.

Before I go I would like to address the bantha in the room which are the 1997 Special Editions and the subsequent edits made since. Even though most fans seem to agree that the original theatrical editions were the superior versions the Special Editions have still succeeded in generating controversy. Many fans, myself included, feel that tampering with the movies was unnecessary and nigh to vandalism; and many have taken particular exception to certain changes that were made. Greedo shooting first is a notorious example, and there are also the extra content of Jabba the Hutt, adding obnoxious aliens to Mos Eisley, and other offences.
George Lucas’s reasoning for having Greedo shoot first makes no sense to me. He believes that having Han shoot Greedo in cold blood was too brutal for a future hero and he cites John Wayne as a proper frontier hero who displays unflinching honour and decorum during gunplay. Having seen The Searchers I know that to be utter nonsense. John Wayne has played absolutely despicable characters before and, besides, having Han Solo start off soft utterly lessens his transformation from a self-absorbed criminal to a sympathiser and patriot of the Rebellion. Character transformation is vital to good storytelling and the best stories make heavy use of it. Just watch Breaking Bad and you’ll know what I mean.
The Jabba the Hutt sequence was just unnecessary as most of his dialogue is just repeated from what Greedo was saying to Han in the cantina. The CGI in this scene is horrendous and subsequent attempts to fix it in later releases have only improved it marginally.
The only change that feels like a genuine improvement is the destruction of the Death Star which enhances what originally was nothing more than a glorified handful of sparks.
You know what would have been a good change? The lightsabers. You can’t sit there and tell me the lightsabers could not have been improved with CGI. The scene with Luke training against the remote aboard the Millennium Falcon still looks horrible. The blue blade is so washed out that it looks almost white. The lightsabers in this movie lack the vibrancy of colour that we will see in later films. Instead of fixing that George Lucas got too busy making Ewoks blink, adding aliens where they are not wanted, and reinserting scenes that were deleted for a reason.
I really hope one of these days Lucasfilm and Disney gets the right idea and releases the unaltered versions of the trilogy on Blu-ray. With the VHS, Laserdisc, and Betamax players no longer readily available there are no decent versions of the original trilogy to watch. There were Limited Edition DVD’s that contained them as a bonus discs, however those were direct transfers of the Laserdiscs and they look awful, sound awful, and are virtually unwatchable if you are using a large screen TV.
Oh well, no matter what stains and blemishes that may have been added to A New Hope it doesn’t cease to be a great movie and an immensely entertaining experience.

Check tomorrow for a review of The Empire Strikes Back and may the Force be with you.

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What Would Living in the Star Wars Galaxy Be Like?

Contributor: Rick McGimpsey

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If it turned out that the Star Wars universe was real and you could go live there would you do it? There are a lot of people who would probably scream YES!!!
But the question I would like answered first is what would living in a Galaxy far, far away actually be like? It’s easy to say yes to things when we don’t think about them. But sometimes when we fully appreciate the complexities of accomplishing something we feel less enthused about it. Now I am not saying that if people knew what living in the Star Wars Galaxy would be like they would all say no. I am just saying that perhaps a brief little tour might be in order before we start looking at real estate on Coruscant.

Unfortunately before we begin a lot of arbitrary assumptions have to be made about one’s life in the Galaxy since it is a very diverse universe of species, planets,  employment, and time periods. A Jedi’s experience on Coruscant during the Clone Wars won’t be the same as that of a Czerka contract miner working on Tatooine during the Jedi Civil War. So before I begin describing life in the Galaxy I am going to take the liberty of presenting the reader with a basic profile of who you are, where you are, and when you are so there are less extreme variables that would pose severe flaws for this essay. I shall try to be as general as possible to give full freedom of exploration and movement, but some background is still needed.

So for the sake of this argument you are a human living somewhere in the Core Worlds like Coruscant, Alderaan, or Corellia about ten or twenty years before the events of The Phantom Menace. You are neither poor nor rich, but rather a middle-class university student who hasn’t decided on a career yet. And from there we shall go on.

Now we must start looking at the things you are going to need to know and be ready to deal with now that you live in the Star Wars Galaxy and no longer have our real life world as a frame of reference. I am going to divide these things in categories for convenience and will be operating under the assumption that the Legends continuity holds true for the Galaxy I am describing. As much as I like the new Canon there is too little detail in it to make this sort of post work.

LANGUAGE

You will still be speaking English, but now it is not called English. It is now called Galactic Basic and it is the common speech of the Galaxy.
Sadly this doesn’t mean you don’t have to worry about having to learn a new language in the Star Wars Galaxy. Almost every citizen of the Republic also knows Huttese as a second language. Huttese is commonly spoken by Hutts, Twi’leks, and other species and it is not uncommon for humans and those species to interact in their own languages while understanding each other perfectly. Learning new languages isn’t too difficult, but it is time consuming and requires discipline to avoid getting lazy. But if you persist at it you should do fine, especially if you are immersed among speakers of the language you are trying to learn.
Also another major inconvenience is that you are going to need to relearn the alphabet. The Latin alphabet we use is also used there, but it is rare and is a very formal high-class writing method not favoured by common people. Most writing in all the signs and books you will see in the Galaxy will be written in Aurebesh which is the standard alphabet of the Republic.

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Memorise that and you should be good. There is also a Mandalorian alphabet, but I think you could survive without knowing it for awhile.

HISTORY

With the real world no longer a viable frame of reference a lot of reeducation is going to be needed. One thing you are going to need to relearn drastically is history. Knowing about the Crusades, the World Wars, and the Columbus voyages won’t help you because those things didn’t happen here.
You have new wars, new events, and new dates to learn and memorise all over again!
And 35, 000 years of Galactic history is nothing to scoff at either. In the real world human history is only about 10,000 years old and only about 6000 or 4000 years of that is even required learning to live in our world. The Star Wars Galaxy covers a wider span of history that involves hundreds of worlds and species. You will need to learn of the Rakatan Infinite Empire, the Fall of the Sith Empire, The Sith War, The Mandalorian Wars, The Jedi Civil War, the Sith Triumvirate, the Ruusan Reformation, and a bunch of other things that will make all the homework you need to catch up on a major headache. And that is nothing compared to the local history you are going to need to learn. If you live on Alderaan, for instance, you are going to need to study the Organa-Ulgo feud in addition to the expansive Galactic history you already have on your plate. Good luck. You’re gonna need it.

DATING AND CALENDARS AND UNITS OF MEASUREMENT

So what day is your birthday? What days of the week do you need to go to work? What time is it? These questions may be difficult to answer now that you are in a new environment that does not use the same calendar we do.
The Standard Week in the Republic has 5 instead of 7 days which are as follows:

  1. Primeday
  2. Centaxday
  3. Taungsday
  4. Zhellday
  5. Benduday

Seven weeks make a month and 10 months, 3 festival weeks, and 3 holidays form a standard year consisting of 368 days.
And for years you can forget the BC/AD dating system since the events that system marks aren’t relevant in the Galaxy. After the destruction of the second Death Star and the formation of the New Republic a system using BBY/ABY (Before Battle of Yavin and After Battle of Yavin) will be employed but since we are in the pre-Clone Wars era a different system that was not specified to my knowledge in the EU is used.
Most standard units of measurement are the same, but if you are an American you are gonna need to learn the Metric system and Celsius since those are used in the Republic rather than the Imperial and Fahrenheit systems.

GEOGRAPHY, ASTROGATION, FLORA, AND FAUNA

If you plan on traveling the Galaxy much you are gonna need to learn Hyperspace routes and what the different planets are. The frequent stops for a traveler doing business of any kind will be places like Coruscant, Alderaan, Corellia, Manaan, Nar Shaddaa, Naboo, Bespin, etc. You will need to learn where they are on the Galactic map, what sort of terrain they have, local customs, what cities, mountains, forests, rivers, and nations are on them, and you will obviously have to learn about traveling expenses, visas, and other arrangements. And if you don’t have a good droid or Wookiee to help you, you might want to learn how to pilot a ship.
And each planet has its own variety of plants and animals. There are dogs, cats, and horses in the Galaxy, but they seem to be a rarity. Instead you are going to have to contend mostly with such oddities as firaxa sharks, bomas, drexl, Eopies, Kaadus, kath hounds, kinrath, mynocks, and nerfs. And it is the same thing with plants too. All of this points to how alien the Star Wars Galaxy is to us. However, one of the apparent advantages is that new advanced medicines have been designed that can heal injuries that we cannot heal in our world. Bacta and kolto are medicinal products of the unique ecosystems that exist within this Galaxy and have worked wonders from severe plasma burns to wampa attacks.

NEWS, ENTERTAINMENT, AND FOOD

Do you wanna watch TV? Or a movie? Well the closest equivalent in the Star Wars Galaxy is the HoloNet which broadcasts news reports and programmes regularly via hologram. As for movies there are Holovids which are fairly popular in the Galaxy. Some well known classics are Quest for Quasar, Rodian Kisses, Zeltrons in Love, and Easy Spacer. Just know that if you love Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, Supernatural, or DC and Marvel comics you are going to live without them since they don’t exist in the Galaxy.
Also if you are craving pizza you are gonna face a sad reality that such a delicacy was never invented in the Republic or the Outer Rim. But if you like bantha steak or blue milk you are in luck! And while there is no coffee there are the equivalents caf and coffeine. And thanks to Timothy Zahn hot chocolate exists in this Galaxy.
In the mood for a game? Well we don’t have any Monopoly, Poker, or Skyrim. But the Galaxy does have the holographic chess game Dejarik. And there are card games like Pazaak and Sabacc you can play. And if you like NASCAR perhaps Swoop Racing or Pod Racing will be an apt replacement for you.
Like music? Well Figrin Da’an and the Modal Nodes are a popular Bith jazz band that frequents cantinas around the outer rim. You might be able to catch them on HoloNet one of these days.
Do you like social drinking? There is no Budweiser, but there is Juma Juice and Corellian whiskey.For a few credits you may find some in any local cantina. But if anyone offers you death sticks just say no.

ECONOMICS AND GOVERNMENT

Now that you are living in this Galaxy you are going to need to adjust to the new government of which you are now a citizen. In the Pre-Clone Wars era The Galactic Republic is an ancient edifice that has stood the test of time; surviving a history of wars, inner conflicts, and the differing political philosophies of the many cultures claiming membership. If you have ever taken a civics class you will undoubtably be aware that you will need to learn how the Galactic Senate functions, what the Senators and Chancellors do, what the Constitution contains, and who is in office at the time.
You will also need to learn the value of Republic money. The standard currency of the Republic is the Republic Credit which is acceptable throughout the Core Worlds and the Mid Rim. Out in the Outer Rim Territories and Unknown Regions you may run into trouble using Republic credits but for regular usage you should be fine.

ALIENS, DROIDS, AND THE FORCE

Most of the things I have mentioned are more or less replacements or equivalents to things we have here. But there are some things in the Star Wars Galaxy completely unique to itself.
In our world we do not (as far as we know) interact with aliens, but in the Star Wars Galaxy alien species are commonplace and to be seen everywhere. In addition to all the humans there are Rodians, Wookiees, Ithorians, Bith, Twi’leks, Quarren, Zabrak, and other denizens who enrich the Galaxy with a wide range of cultures, traditions, and beliefs. They also have unique anatomies which you would no doubt learn of in your travels. For instance, Wookiees have long life spans. Chadra-fans have two hearts which they can donate the way we do kidneys. Gand can drink dangerous toxins like alcohol. All these new creatures will create a fun, new learning experience. Just try to avoid prejudice and racial bias. Don’t call a Quarren “squid-head” and never refer to Tusken Raiders as “Sand People.”
You will also become acquainted with droids which are a controversial topic for many in the Galaxy. Some hate them, some are annoyed by them, some can take or leave them, and others form strong bonds with them and regard them as friends. Whatever stance you may take be prepared for the very harsh reality that droids have no rights in the Republic. But if you wish to buy one and make friends with it you certainly may do so if you have the credits. Just don’t expect to be able to bring them into a cantina. They won’t be welcome.
But, probably the most unique part of the Galaxy is the Force. You will find some in the Galaxy who are skeptical as to the reality of the Force citing it as nothing more than simple tricks and nonsense, but the fact remains that there is a mystical energy field that permeates all life in the Star Wars universe that is created by life and connects all living things together. Those especially attuned to the Force can manipulate its energies to lift objects, achieve otherwise impossible physical feats, influence others, and even generate lightning and storms.
Even if you are not a Force-sensitive yourself studying Jedi philosophy (or Sith philosophy if you are into that sort of thing) might be worth your while. There aren’t many Baptists or Catholics in the Galaxy, but there is a large number of Republic citizens who respect and venerate the Force and being aware of it and respectful toward it may gain you some respect and prestige among Republic citizens and Jedi. At least for the next 20 years anyway. When the Jedi Purge hits you may want to pipe down a bit. And on that topic you might want to move away from Alderaan in a few years. Trust me.

If you manage to get all these things down you may have a fighting chance of being successful in the Star Wars Galaxy. With time, patience, and energy living there might be doable. That is if it was real of course. Either way only you know if it is worth it. If it is then you have taken your first steps into a larger world.