We're finally here. We made it past the Star Wars saga of the aughts and the cartoons of the whatever-we're-calling-this-decade. We've sufficiently been set up to understand exactly the events that caused the war, the rebellion, and the Galactic Empire.
And thus we continue to “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope,” formerly known just as “Star Wars,” the story that started it all. And where, really, none of that setup even matters.
It's hard to pinpoint what exactly works about this movie, but it just does. Interestingly enough, we don't even meet our main hero until almost 20 minutes into the film. We meet the sidekicks, the princess, the villain, the other villain… nearly everyone else first. And that's one of the things this film does so successfully: it makes the world seem big without having to show us how big it really is. We get breadcrumbs of information that give us just enough of the picture to get it and leave just enough out to pay off later. We're not bombarded with treaty agreements, trade federation talk, and midichlorian minutia.
Where the prequels feel like there's some sort of shiny layer which prevents me from really attaching to the characters, locations, and action, “A New Hope” feels real and visceral, like you could reach out and touch it. Even though there are droids and jawas and sand people, I can still lose myself in the world and not feel like an outsider looking in. We only have one solar body, but I can understand what it would be like to be Luke, surveying the landscape while the two suns of his planet set in the distance. Unlike in “The Phantom Menace,” when we dive underwater to follow a too-zany character without much hesitation and swim an unrealistic distance to an unrealistic land, nothing in “A New Hope” feels outright unattainable or false.
Sure, there are those out there (including some of our writers!) who believe the prequels just don't get their fair shake, and I can agree with them to an extent. If the prequels were standalone movies, I might even feel the same way. To me, though, the prequels suffer the same fate as James Cameron's “Avatar”: pretty, visually interesting, but no substance, no real connection to anything, no reason to care.
It's not to say “A New Hope” doesn't have its moments of cheesiness or impracticality. Luke does come across as a bit whiny, and Leia and Han's banter a little too perfect. But those are moments, glimpses of character depth (and admittedly a few moments of bad directing or acting) that make this feel like I'm watching real people. All of the acting in the prequels feels so overwrought, trying so hard to be poignant or interesting that I end up tiring my eyes from rolling them so much.
There's so much that has been written about “A New Hope,” the prequels, and the connection between all of these movies and the newest installment, “The Force Awakens.” But really, I'm hard pressed to find anyone who likes the prequels but doesn't like the originals, and “A New Hope” is the OG of the OG. It's clear from the beginning who we're supposed to root for (which makes future movies even more satisfying when things change). The character development makes us care and root for the good guys,and even pick our favorites. The pacing moves perfectly between action sequences and bouts of dialogue, sometimes weaving them together and doing it well. The age-old story of good vs. evil, of a few lowly and rag-tag friends taking on the man … that's something we can all relate to, or at least we hope we can.
We don't have to know every detail of the “why” of what's happening. We don't have to know exactly what relationship Obi Wan and Vader had. We get that it was tumultuous, that any trust that was there is nearly irreparably severed. We don't need to know all of the varied reasons Princess Leia is helping fight a rebellion. We see that perfectly for ourselves in one quick planet explosion. The tension building works perfectly in Luke and Obi Wan's search for escape, the trash compactor scene, and the final battle for the Death Star.
Sure, for most, there is a nostalgia factor involved that can't be denied. But “A New Hope” is more than just nostalgia. It's a well-made movie that packs in everything a movie should pack in. It's got heart, connection, and tells a story we want to hear over and over again.
And a young Harrison Ford. That doesn't hurt either.