STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE (SPECIAL EDITION) A film review by Scott Renshaw Copyright 1997 Scott Renshaw
(20th Century Fox) Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Alec Guinness. Screenplay: George Lucas. Producers: Gary Kurtz. Director: George Lucas. MPAA Rating: PG (violence) Running Time: 125 minutes. Reviewed by Scott Renshaw.
The impact of STAR WARS on those who are writing about movies today can be measured by the number of reviews or articles of the past few months which began as follows: "I was x years old in 1977..." The release of George Lucas' seminal blockbuster 20 years ago was the kind of happening which affected a generation of movie-goers, and I include myself in that generation. I was 10 years old in 1977, and when you were 10 years old in 1977 you were not judged by whether you had seen STAR WARS; you were judged by how many _times_ you had seen STAR WARS. It awed us, it delighted us...and yes, hyperbolic though it might seem to say so, it changed us.
As much as it changed the people who watched movies, however, it changed the people who made movies even more. Hollywood heads were sent spinning by the success of STAR WARS, a film with no stars, a simplistic story-line out of old Westerns and some nifty special effects. It was not long before studio executives realized that two fundamental lessons of STAR WARS could be translated to other films: 1) If you made a special effects-laden adventure with a modicum of skill and dropped it into your summer release schedule, when young potential movie-goers had summer job money burning holes in their pockets, they would come and come again, story be damned; 2) One successful film could turn into one or two more, plus action figures, lunchboxes and T-shirts (the twin goddesses of Franchising and Merchandising). And thus STAR WARS begat the "event film," which begat BATMAN, which begat TWISTER and INDEPENDENCE DAY. And they slew the medium-budget film, and there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth.
You can't really blame Lucas for what has happened to American film-making, though, because there is no way he intended for crass commercial concerns to become so dominant. There is no way STAR WARS could have worked if he _had_ had such an intention. Lost in all the ink spilled with references to Joseph Campbell, back-brain mythopoetics and anti-technological humanism is the fact that STAR WARS was not a great movie. The most surprising thing a viewer might find in the SPECIAL EDITION has nothing to do with with the dozens of critters tossed into the backgrounds, but rather how restless he might get waiting through the first half. For nearly an hour, STAR WARS is characterized by the fussy quarrelsomeness of C-3P0 (Anthony Daniels), the intergalactic Leo Buscaglia sermonizing of Ben Kenobi (Alec Guinness) and the laughably petulant plea by Luke (Mark Hamill) to "go to Tashi Station and pick up some power converters. STAR WARS wasn't a great movie; it was, however, an extraordinary movie-going experience. You sat in a theater with a few hundred other people and for two hours you were utterly transported, because it was innocent in a way no film can ever be innocent again. You felt as though you were part of something joyous, a celebration of cinema as fantasy and a celebration of good triumphing over evil. In an era when you can see the veins bulging on big-budget action films as they strain to impress you, STAR WARS was effortless in its enchantment.
That movie-going experience is what this re-release is all about. The difference between STAR WARS on the big screen and STAR WARS on the small screen is the difference between Mount Rushmore and a picture of Mount Rushmore, between Wagner on a cassette deck and Wagner played by a symphony orchestra. If there is an element of not-inconsequential element of nostalgia in the way crowds will flock to this re-release, that is understandable; many will be hoping to re-capture a youthful moment when they fell in love with movies for the first time. STAR WARS: SPECIAL EDITION may end up disappointing those who come to it as though on a pilgrimage, but the dazzling editing of the climactic trench run will certainly remind anyone who has seen what passes for a "spectacular" in the last few years how exciting a science-fiction adventure film can be.
There has been some consternation over the idea of Lucas fiddling with such a cherished film, but frankly, I don't understand all the fuss. This isn't a case of someone whose only connection with a film is ownership of its rights deciding to colorize it; this is a director's attempt to realize the vision he always had for his film, a fairly common practice in an era of "Director's Cut" video and laserdisc releases. Some of the new additions are merely window dressing, including Han Solo's (Harrison Ford) encounter with Jabba the Hutt; others, like a scene between Luke and his friend Biggs (Garrick Hagon) help set up later scenes more effectively. But if anything Lucas has done threatens someone's memories of a first experience of STAR WARS, I can only suggest that the experience couldn't have been terribly profound. In terms of the details, this is a different STAR WARS, but it is the spirit of this story which has moved people for twenty years. Now they have the opportunity to come once again -- some with their children -- and visit that galazy far, far away.
On the Renshaw scale of 0 to 10 shooting stars: 9.
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