AFInity: Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
By Kim Hollis
August 14, 2009
And yet, I feel a lot of ambivalence about the film and its lasting impact. I think there's much to appreciate, but I also believe it's led to some negative developments in cinema as well as in science fiction in general. As for the movie itself, for every awesome thing it does, there's a little bit of awfulness to be found. It's clear that I'm not the only person who feels this way, either. Every time we write about the Star Wars franchise on this site, our mailbox fills up with passionate feedback that either denigrates the series or lauds it with praise.
For this reason, I tried to watch Star Wars with fresh eyes, admittedly a difficult task. I can't help but bring my preconceived notions along with me, not to mention the taint that has been left by the prequels. Since I'm so divided on the film, I'm going to specifically look at what Star Wars does well as well as its failures, and ultimately, its impact on pop culture and worthiness of being on the AFI 100 Years... 100 Movies list.
The Bad Stuff
So far, the movies on the AFI list that I've watched have been, for the most part, timeless. You're not required to know anything about the era from which they came, because it's completely possible to enjoy them in their own right. Sure, a little history might add some perspective to certain themes and elements, but generally, I've been extremely impressed at the fact that the movies selected for the list have held up so well over the years.
I can't really say the same for Star Wars. Admittedly, that's somewhat a danger of any film that relies heavily on special effects. Newer, better things are bound to come along as advances are made in technology. Even so, Star Wars does feel like a relic (which, of course, makes me older than a relic). The effects are downright silly throughout much of the film, and that can make it hard to put the necessary weight to scenes like the destruction of Alderaan or the explosion of the Death Star. Yes, this is a function of time, but I'll bet that something like Titanic doesn't seem similarly hokey in 20 years. I try to imagine someone watching this for the first time, and I have to think they would wonder what all the fuss is about. After all, the effects in the new Robert Rodriguez kid flick look just as good.
Speaking of hokey, the acting in Star Wars is just as much a problem as it is in all the films of the series, which is to say that it's generally pretty bad (there are some exceptions, which I'll get to later). Since he's in the lead role, Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker takes the brunt of the criticism, but I'm not really sure that the issue is the acting so much as I believe that director George Lucas has a tough time eliciting strong performances from inexperienced players. Carrie Fisher is similarly rough around the edges, and even Harrison Ford doesn't have the polish that he would develop in later films. But this trio is still head and shoulders above the minor supporting players, whose line delivery varies between flat and uninterested to melodramatic and over-the-top.