There was really no other movie I could have written about this week. What can I say about Star Wars? That it’s the movie(s) I most associate with my father? That John Williams’ soaring, celestial score is practically imprinted on my genes? Or perhaps I should admit how, even if I wrote 100 posts on this film, I would still not be able to say all that I want to about that galaxy far, far away…
If I’m being honest, I can’t recall the first time I watched Star Wars with my father. It was just always THERE. Every Christmas, Birthday, and Father’s Day, Dad would inevitably receive a Darth Vader-themed present from my sister and I. He had shelves full of mugs, figures, books, and novelty-items (a lightsaber pen, for example) featuring the Dark Lord. The reason why Star Wars had always been with us, my mom later explained, was because it had always been Dad’s “thing.”
I joke that without Star Wars, I wouldn’t exist. When it debuted in 1977, mom and dad went to the theatre for their first official (solo) date. This went well, so they had another, and another, until finally they had me (there was some other stuff that happened in between). Long after a farm boy, a princess, and a scoundrel first traversed the galaxy, the Force remained strong in my family. And it continues to, even though my father is no longer with us on this particular blue planet. As I near the fourth anniversary of his passing, it only feels right to share my thoughts on Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. As summarized on its IMDb page: “Luke Skywalker joins forces with a Jedi Knight, a cocky pilot, a Wookiee and two droids to save the galaxy from the Empire’s world-destroying battle-station, while also attempting to rescue Princess Leia from the evil Darth Vader.”
The genius, it has been said, of George Lucas is how he used the narrative of the hero’s journey, which every human being knows by heart (and subconscious), to frame his space opera. For parents, children, friends, and strangers, this makes A New Hope a great shared experience. One of my favorite elements of the monomyth, as outlined by Joseph Campbell, is an initial refusal of the call to adventure. It comforts me that even those who were “chosen” were once so scared and uncertain about their own destinies. I believe this is an important lesson for us to remember when considering our individual life-stories. Luke Skywalker (the delightful Mark Hamill) does not arrive in the film all shiny, brave and noble. Instead, his tunic is stained with desert sand, he whines about having to do his chores, and he makes excuses to keep himself from “getting involved.” Yet by the end of Lucas’ tale, he is a legend. What I think most contributes to the staying-power of this saga is how easily the audience can imagine themselves in its galaxy, even if the story unfolded “a long time ago.”
Previous visitors to this blog will note that I often focus on a film’s characters. This is because when I spend one or two hours watching a movie, I prefer the best company possible, including the people onscreen. With an entire galaxy in which to play, Lucas offers his audience no shortage of characters. I could easily write an essay on anyone in A New Hope (including the “bit-players,” but for that you should read the brilliant anthology, From a Certain Point of View). However, for purposes of this post, I will focus on the eternal Princess Leia.
I wrote my first pop-culture-based essay in the third grade. It was the 20th anniversary of Episode IV, and there was a contest to write about which character you felt you most resembled. Being of an imperious, no-nonsense nature, I of course chose Leia. I carefully outlined my inclination towards leadership (others, like my sister, might have said I was just bossy), how I hated to be disrespected (none of that “your worshipfulness” stuff, bub), and my interest in diplomacy (I even read a book on Ralph Bunche to better educate myself on the subject). Although I didn’t win, Leia Organa is still my role model. As portrayed by the whip-smart, and much-missed, Carrie Fisher, Princess Leia is confident, combative, and compassionate. Although she may be in need of rescue at the beginning of the film, once she’s free, she takes charge and declares, “somebody has to save our skins!” Moreover, despite suffering great personal loss, Leia is always the first to keep fighting the good fight. War doesn’t harden Leia’s heart, and it was important for me to see how a tough-as-nails woman could also be kind and vulnerable.
Last, but certainly not least, I want to discuss John Williams’ score. The Force Theme (first heard in all its glory during “Binary Sunset”) never fails to make me lift my head in search of the horizon (even if I am sitting in my office and nowhere near a window). My father used to say that a truly great soundtrack was one that compelled him to re-watch the movie in his head as he listened to it, which is exactly what happens anytime I hear these musical motifs.
I have had the immense pleasure of hearing the Star Wars soundtrack performed live at three different Seattle Symphony events (one conducted by the iconic man himself). Most recently, the symphony played the score as a full-house at Benaroya Hall watched the decades-old film. After the credits rolled and the orchestra members lowered their instruments, the audience sprang to their feet, cheering and hooting. My family and I sat near the front of the stage, directly in the path of, and contributing to, the wall of sound that crashed against the boards. I had read in my program how Williams’ success with Star Wars ushered in a return to lush, symphonic scores for Hollywood films. I am forever grateful to him for setting my childhood, my adolescence (the prequel trilogy), and my first forays into adult-ing (the sequels) to such fantastic, timeless music.
In closing, here is what A New Hope has to offer:
- An old story, set in a new galaxy. Star Wars is a classic tale of good versus evil, with beloved heroes, worthy villains (Darth Vader just topped a recent list), and inventive practical effects that barely show their age
- A wealth of characters to fire your imagination (and inspire debates for decades to come). In particular, Leia Organa, the princess who saved herself
- A legendary score, by a legendary composer. When I ponder what will one day be considered “classical music,” I truly believe John Williams will be the Beethoven of the future
Head’s Up: As one might deduce from a series called Star Wars, our characters are involved in a galaxy-spanning military conflict. There are soldiers, and casualties on both sides, but the film is largely bloodless (the only exception being a very brief duel in a Mos Eisley cantina). There is gun and laser-sword-play, but nothing more graphic than what one sees during a block of Saturday morning cartoons. I advise watching this one with little kids, as there is some scary imagery (force-choking, sandpeople ambushes), but I do not think it will result in any nightmares. Broken furniture from younglings wielding plastic light sabers? … Maybe.
What Memories do you have of this film? Do you have Suggestions for my next post? Additional Resources to share on this one? Please, Comment below!
As always, “Here’s looking at you, kid.”