Star Wars: Episode IV, A New Hope, was released in May of 1977. I was six months old, and my parents took me to the theater to see the movie because they wanted to see it. I’m told I behaved very well. The first toys I remember playing with are Star Wars action figures. My two younger brothers and I would recreate the movies as well as we could with the figures we had. We never had a Princess Leia figure – so Spiderman would stand in, because he was the slimmest of the Marvel figures we had. We attempted to recreate the Rancor battle scene using our toys and some stop-motion work with my dad’s early video camera. Star Wars to me has always meant family and fun.
After graduating from USC in 1967, George Lucas released THX1138 which was based on his own student film, then the nostalgia piece American Graffiti. He then wanted to make a Flash Gordon movie, but couldn’t get the rights. He then decided to write his own space opera, and in 1973 he began writing “The Star Wars”.
Because Lucas’s first writing included multiple characters and stories, he realized he had to narrow it down to get it to a filmable movie. He continued to write, and In January 1975 completed a second draft, which he gave to the conceptual artist he hired – Ralph McQuarrie, who created paintings of certain scenes in the story. The third draft was finished in August of 1975, and was finally picked up by 20th Century Fox who approved a budget of $8.25 million. Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic came into their own as the visual and practical effects company that put together the look of the film – using many models to create the iconic look of the ships and the space battles. Exotic locations were used to enhance the story, which took place in a far away galaxy.
Essentially the plot to the movie is very simple – The galaxy is ruled by the Empire, but there is a rebellion. The rebels get their hands on the plans to the Empire’s new weapon – As they attempt to get those plans back to their base, the plans end up with an old Jedi and his new young apprentice. Those two quickly make friends with a couple of space pirates. Together, they rescue a leader of the rebellion – return the plans to her, she gets the plans back to the Rebel Alliance, and they use the plans to attack the Empire’s new weapon. That’s really about it for the plot, but it’s the beauty of the story in the glorious details that win over the fans.
The movie begins with a crawl of words that explain the state of the galaxy; and we learn we are in the middle of the rebellion against the Galactic Empire as we are dropped right into the action. The Rebellion’s ship is being chased by a much larger Imperial Star Destroyer. The Star Destroyer captures the blockade runner, and the Imperials prepare to board. We are introduced to humanoid protocol droid C3PO and the trash-can on wheels astromech droid R2D2. R2 meets with the senator, receives some information – then gets himself and C3PO to an escape pod, leaving just as the ship is captured.
At this point, you have the greatest entrance of any character to any movie of all time as Darth Vader enters the ship. Remember how you felt the first time you saw that? He’s huge, dressed all in black, and very quickly establishes his power as he demands the ‘plans’ that the rebels stole. His Stormtroopers catch Senator Leia Organa of Alderaan, suspected of being a leader in the rebellion and transporting the plans. She manages to hide them in R2D2 prior to being captured.
The droids take an escape pod and head down to the nearest planet as Vader takes Leia back to the Death Star for some interrogation by a floating torture droid. At this point, we learn how excited the Empire is about this new Death Star, and that the Emperor has just disbanded the Senate, and given power to the regional governors to maintain Imperial control. That one line by Grand Moff Tarkin has all the political knowledge we get in this trilogy. The prequel trilogy was like 63% politics. The droid doesn’t really work (it’s a floating ball with needles, what were they expecting?) so they decide to destroy her home planet.
The droids meander around the desert, C3PO complaining as R2D2 looks for ObiWan Kenobi – a former Clone Wars Jedi General who can assist in getting the plans back to Alderaan. Along the way, the droids stumble into Luke Skywalker, a boy who dreams of joining the rebellion and participating in massive space battles, but is currently stuck drinking blue milk with his aunt and uncle on their moisture farm (how do they harvest it? Where do they sell it? How do they store it? These questions are never answered). Luke sees part of the message that R2 is carrying for Kenobi, and thinks it might be Ben Kenobi – a hermit who lives in the desert nearby. After a fight with his uncle about his future, Luke watches the double sun set on Tatooine to the dramatic swells of John Williams’s amazing score – creating an iconic image. R2 sneaks out, and Luke and C3PO have to head out after him in the morning.
They catch up to him in the Jundland Wasteland, and after an encounter with Tusken Raiders (or Sandpeople), They are rescued by Ben and head back to his place, where Ben attempts to reconcile with the fact that his past has just come looking for him. He gives Luke a lightsaber – a “more elegant weapon from a more civilized time” and tells him it belonged to his father, who was a great Jedi Knight. Here you get a brief explanation of the Jedi and the time that has passed – for more details on that, watch the Clone Wars animated series (Netflix that now!). Ben attempts to talk Luke into coming with him to Alderaan, but Luke is bound by guilty duty to his uncle’s farm. On the way to get Ben a ride, they quickly learn that Imperial Stormtroopers are tracking the droids, and have killed his Aunt and Uncle.
Luke, having nothing left, heads with Ben and the droids to Mos Eisley (a “Wretched hive of scum and villainy”, perhaps the greatest description of anywhere, ever) to hire a pilot to get them to Alderaan. They spend time in a cantina - with the most random group of aliens and creatures ever assembled.
They hire pirate, scoundrel, and all-around Indiana Jones-type Han Solo and his co-pilot, the 200 year old Wookie, Chewbacca. Han gets some brief backstory (Jabba the Hutt has a bounty on his head!) before they all meet up at Han’s ship. They barely escape some Stormtroopers, and on the flight, C3P0 and Chewbacca play Dejarik while Luke gets some preliminary training from Ben. Ben then feels Alderaan get destroyed.
They are pulled into the Death Star – a small-moon sized space station. Han and Luke dress as StormTroopers, and head out to rescue the princess while Kenobi shuts off the tractor beam. He then battles Darth Vader, and loses…or did he? They make it back to Yavin IV – give the plans to General Dodonna, and prep for battle, since the Death Star has tracked them. Han takes off with his money, Luke gets a ship – and the battle begins. The Empire gets cocky about their space station, Vader takes off into a small fighter to battle the ships one on one, and Han comes back to provide cover to Luke as he takes the shot that blows up the Death Star.
The rebels have a huge celebration, and everything is great – everybody gets Medals, except for Chewbacca!
Until, of course, you have the events of Empire Strikes Back: Vader gets obsessed with hunting down Luke as The Empire continues to chase the rebels. The movie opens with my favorite sequence of any movie, ever, as the Empire uses large AT-AT walkers to hunt down the rebels on their hidden base on the ice planet of Hoth.
Luke goes to Dagobah to train with Yoda about how to be a Jedi – Han and Leia fly to Could City, where Han’s old friend Lando accidentally betrays them to Vader who puts Han in carbonite freeze. Luke jumps the gun on the end of his Jedi training, heads to Cloud City – and loses badly in a fight with Vader – finding out that Vader is his father, and that his father didn’t actually get killed by Vader as Kenobi told him. The movie ends with Han in Boba Fett’s clutches and Luke and company getting ready to try to rescue him.
The trilogy ends with Return of the Jedi – the Empire secretly builds another, bigger Death Star and is prepping to wipe out the rebellion, once and for all – because surely it will work this time. Luke and company rescue Han from Jabba the Hutt – Luke goes to visit a dying Yoda and snaps at the ghost of Kenobi for not telling him about his dad and learns Leia is his twin sister. Everyone gets back together and they launch a huge plan to shut down the defense shield for the Death Star on the forest moon of Endor while the fighters attack it in space. Vader and the Emperor attempt to get Luke to join them, but instead, he stays good, convincing Vader to eliminate the Emperor – which eventually leads to Vader’s death. The rebellion is successful – everyone parties with ewoks as Luke burns Vader’s remains so that his ghost can hang out with Yoda and Kenobi’s ghost.
And now – 38 years later, we will get to learn what happened next. If you read the EU books, you know there was an accepted storyline that dealt with Han and Leia’s children, Luke’s relationship with Mara Jade, Grand Admiral Thrawn, then the invasion of the Yuuzhan Vong, and the battle between Darth Caedus and the Sword of the Jedi. When Disney bought Star Wars and announced new movies, all of that history was wiped away, and now we will have new stories. That’s exciting, but also a little sad for those of us who loved those stories and characters.
Original trilogy – 15 out of 10. Okay, that score makes no sense, but it’s the best group of movies made, and the basis for an incredible universe of stories. If you haven’t watched them in a while – rewatch them, then go see the new one. They completely hold up, thanks to the amazing mostly practical effects, and great storytelling.
Bonus - Honest trailer for the original --> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bsb9ZTmbSKQ
Bonus 2 - Honest trailer for the prequels....well, parts of them were okay.