Five things I love about A New Hope

Rose Tico once said that we’re going to win not by fighting what we hate, but by saving what we love. That wisdom is pertinent for Star Wars fans; amidst seemingly incessant criticism, I want to spend time actually liking Star Wars. I love all Star Wars, so in this series, I’ll walk through each of the films identifying five things I love about it. That’s not to say there are only five, but I’m limiting myself to five here. One note: because I think John Williams’ work on every Star Wars film is fantastic, I’m going to essentially assume that would make every list, thus I’m leaving it out intentionally. But without Williams’ music, we don’t have Star Wars as we know and love it.

We continue today with the movie that started it all, A New Hope

1. The trench run

The trench run is, without a doubt, one of my very favorite scenes in all of Star Wars. I think it’s about as close to a perfect sequence as you can get, and it’s thrilling – and so groundbreaking too, at the time. This is what the whole movie was leading to, and it’s edited so brilliantly to maximize the tension and drama. The plans to the Death Star have been stolen, and the Rebellion has figured out a weakness. It’s a long shot, but at least it’s a shot: if a pilot can fire a torpedo into a small hatch, it will travel right to the reactor and destroy the massive station. If not, the Rebel base on Yavin 4 will be destroyed. So there’s a Rebel briefing that explains to the pilots their task, and it seems like a long shot – except to Luke, the young farmboy. So they launch the attack on the Death Star, and the Rebel X-Wings engage in a dogfight with Imperial TIE Fighters, and the first group makes their attack run. We’ve already been told what should happen in the briefing, but this first attack run shows us what could happen – Gold Leader is killed before even making it to the exhaust port. It’s an incredibly dangerous and improbable run.

But then, some hope! Red Leader makes his attack run, and things go exactly as they should, as we’ve already been told in the briefing. He makes it to the exhaust port, fires his torpedoes… and misses. He’s killed shortly thereafter. At this point, we’ve seen an attack run go wrong and fail, and we’ve seen an attack run go right and fail. Is a successful run even possible? The Rebellion looks doomed. All that’s left is Luke Skywalker, who’s never flown an X-Wing before this battle. And he goes in for his attack run, and right from the start, it’s nothing like what the briefing said should happen. Luke goes in full-throttle, so it’ll be harder to pull out in time. Wedge can’t see the port, casting doubt on the computer’s ability. Luke’s ship takes some damage, which R2-D2 must fix… until R2 himself is hit. Meanwhile, Wedge is forced to get clear after taking damage, while Biggs is killed, leaving Luke without any wingmen and without his astromech. The Death Star comes into range, prepping to fire on the Rebel base. And then, to top it all off, Luke turns off his targeting computer. Nothing in this run is happening like it was planned.

But Luke relies on the Force. And as he nears the port, and as Darth Vader prepares to fire, Han Solo and Chewbacca show up in the Millennium Falcon, providing Luke the cover he needs to fire his torpedoes, using the Force to aim and fire. It’s a hit. The Death Star is destroyed, and the Rebellion lives to fight another day – emboldened by this massive victory. This scene has everything you could ever want from Star Wars (I mean, I guess without lightsabers), as it’s got the drama, the emotion, the music, the heart, the excitement. It’s absolutely perfect.

And if you haven’t seen it, this Galaxy of Adventures take on it is absolutely phenomenal:

2. The binary sunset

Think about this for a moment: before Star Wars as we know it, when no one knew what to expect, in this strange space fantasy movie, we don’t meet our hero until 17:11 into the film. That’s a pretty bold move. And when we do meet this hero, he’s a farmboy on this backwater planet of Tatooine, where it doesn’t seem there’s much of anything. But we’ll learn in time that this is the planet where Obi-Wan Kenobi is, and that the reason he’s there is because of this young kid. And he gets caught up into his destiny. But before any of that, he’s just Luke. Living with his aunt and uncle, having never known his famous father. He’s caring for the droids, working the moisture farm, and longing for adventure – which seems like it’ll never come.

All of this is explicitly stated in the film, but the moment where it’s most fully felt and realized is a scene without any words, one that has become iconic in the saga, and it’s the binary sunset. After another conversation with his uncle in which it seems Luke’s going nowhere anytime soon, a discouraged Luke Skywalker walks out into the Tatooine evening, where the twin suns of the planet are setting. Luke walks out along the Lars Homestead and stares out longingly at this beautiful sunset. The storytelling contained in this one scene is incredible. Here we truly feel the kid longing for adventure, for excitement, and feeling like it’ll never come. He wants to do something with his life, but is stuck here in the middle of nowhere. We can see and feel the longing, and before long, Luke will get all the adventure he could want. But before any of that, we get this phenomeanl visual storytelling that’s among the best of any film ever made. Of course, a big part of it too is John Williams’s absolutely brilliant Force themes, which has become one of the most iconic in all of Star Wars.

Making this moment even better is how the rest of Star Wars has honored the moment and expanded upon it. While it’s branching out of A New Hope for a moment, we see that this binary sunset can be traced throughout Luke’s life. It’s there in Revenge of the Sith, when baby Luke is dropped off with his family. It’s there in A New Hope, right before Luke’s adventure begins. And it’s there in The Last Jedi, as the heroic Jedi Master becomes one with the Force. This binary sunset is thus a major one for Luke Skywalker.

3. Introducing Star Wars

Try to put yourself back in 1977. You go see this movie “Star Wars,” and you’re not sure what to expect. The words come on the screen, “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” And then the logo appears, accompanied by John Williams’s triumphant main theme. The opening crawl, and then we see a planet – and soon, a Rebel blockade runner comes onto the scene. It’s breathtaking, but only for a moment, because then our breath is taken away even more by a massive Star Destroyer that dwarfs the Rebel ship. We realize we’re thrust right in the middle of a battle, and it’s among the most stunning feats we’ve seen accomplished on the big screen. Immediately, you’re hooked.

A large part of why it works to delay introducing the main hero for the first 17 minutes is because of the way this opening sequence absolutely hooks you and demands your attention. Even today, when we’re accustomed to movie effects being stunningly good, this sequence holds up impressively well and still captures the attention of viewers as it begins. Without any doubt, Star Wars comes out with an incredible opening, from the opening title and crawl, to these ships coming onto the scene, to the battle we find ourselves in the middle of.

4. The Princess

While it took 17 minutes to introduce the main hero of the story, the first of our trio of heroes we are introduced to is an innocent-looking princess, Leia Organa of Alderaan. She’s the one who hides the Death Star plans in R2-D2, and then defiantly stands up to Darth Vader as she’s being arrested. We soon see her hologram recording, and we find out that she was on a mission to bring Ben Kenobi to Alderaan to help the Rebellion. Right from the start, we see the strength of Leia. And that’s a theme that continues on throughout. While Luke is the prototypical hero of this story, Leia is the strongest one – and the most capable, too. She’s the one already in this fight, whereas Luke and Han just find themselves caught up in it. She’s the one who defies Vader, withstands torture, and then watches her planet and her family get blown up by the deadly battle station.

And yet she doesn’t lose hope. Talk about an incredible strength and resolve!

So Luke, Han, Chewie, Ben, and the droids arrive on the Death Star and set out to rescue the Princess, who is set to be executed. And granted, Leia wouldn’t have been saved without Luke opening her cell door and letting her out, but from that point on we realize that this isn’t the ‘rescue of the princess’ trope we’re used to in films: this time, the princess takes charge. In an era where that wasn’t all too common in films, Leia is the one who leads the way in her own rescue. She grabs a blaster and leads them down into the garbage chute. “What the hell are you doing?” Han exclaims, to which Leia responds, “Somebody has to save our skins.” That somebody is Leia. She’s a diplomat, a Senator, a leader, and a capable warrior. She’s the strongest of the whole crew in A New Hope.

“She is a senator,” George Lucas once said in an interview.  “She graduated from college.  She’s a very smart person, very much in control.  And she’s a good shot.  And the two guys were – one was naive and didn’t know anything, had no knowledge.  The other one thought he knew everything, but he didn’t know anything either. She is the one that knew everything.  She was the one that was driving the whole story. … When you’ve lined them up, she’s the main character, for God’s sake.”

5. Old Ben

We’d never seen – nor heard of – a Jedi before Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi. We had no idea what the Force was until Ben sat Luke down and explained it to him – and, by extension, to us. Just as he was the guide to Luke Skywalker, so too was he the guide to the audience. When he told Luke, “you’ve taken your first step into a larger world,” so too had we. I say all of this because I want you to reflect on just how influential Alec Guinness’s portrayal of Ben Kenobi was, because in so many ways he defined what a Jedi was and looked like, and how they acted. It’s all we knew. But even now, in light of knowing hundreds of Jedi thanks to the prequels and shows and other material, Obi-Wan Kenobi still stands out as one of the greatest and wisest Jedi ever to live.

I love everything about Kenobi in this film. He shows up a half-hour into the movie, and at first we’re kinda left wondering who this guy is. Then we come to realize he’s the crazy old hermit we’ve heard about, but not only that – he knew Luke’s father! This guy is a Jedi knight. He rescues Luke from the sand people, and then back in his hut, Obi-Wan explains what the Force is: “The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.” He also explains what a lightsaber is: “An elegant weapon, for a more civilized age.” He explains who Luke’s father was: “He was the best star pilot in the galaxy, and a cunning warrior. I understand you’ve become quite a good pilot yourself. And he was a good friend.” And he explains what happened to Luke’s father: “A young Jedi named Darth Vader, who was a pupil of mine until he turned to evil, helped the Empire hunt down and destroy the Jedi knights. He betrayed and murdered your father. Now the Jedi are all but extinct. Vader was seduced by the dark side of the Force.”

In addition, Kenobi in this film gives us iconic Star Wars lines like, “wretched hive of scum and villainy,” “these aren’t the droids you’re looking for,” “I sense a great disturbance in the Force,” “that’s no moon,” “Who’s the more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him?”, “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine,” “Use the Force, Luke,” and more. He truly is the wise mentor who gives us – and our protagonist – a better understanding of what’s going on. Kenobi saves Luke, teaches Luke, heeds Leia’s call for help, calls Luke to the adventure of destiny, leads the way as they meet Han Solo and Chewbacca, disables the tractor beam to allow the others to escape on the Death Star, confronts Darth Vader, and guides Luke as he seeks to destroy the Death Star. His presence is all throughout this film.

And in the midst of all of it, we come to love Ben Kenobi. He’s a wise old man who carries himself with remarkable poise and possesses a calm confidence. He’s quite funny, he’s the wisest mentor in the film, and we get the sense that he used to be a great warrior – seen when he faces off against Darth Vader in a lightsaber duel (the first time we’d ever seen anything like it). And to know that he actually is more powerful in death? This guy is no ordinary figure. He’s a hero of legend, and Alec Guinness really sells it here. There are many ways in which Kenobi’s role in this one film lays the foundation for the entire prequel trilogy and beyond.

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