AFInity: Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
By Kim Hollis
August 14, 2009
Probably the most egregious, glaring problem with Star Wars, though, is that it's just plain boring for much of the film. I found my mind wandering frequently as I watched the movie, thinking to myself, "Hey, when is that one part I like going to get here?" It turns out that those parts happen to be in The Empire Strikes Back instead, because they never materialized while I was watching Star Wars. Sure, there's a lot of action and plenty of shiny things onscreen, but it's all a bit empty when you realize that there's just not that much going on, really. Part of the problem is that Han Solo doesn't appear until about 45 minutes into the film, and since he's the character I like best, I always feel like the movie is treading water until he arrives.
Star Was is effectively a place-setter for what's to come, and that's okay (other movies, notably The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, do the same thing); but if you're looking at it as a stand-alone film, it suffers in that regard.
The Good Stuff
I mentioned the bad acting before, but I can't bemoan the rough-around-the-edges performances of the less experienced newbies without lauding those of the veterans. Alec Guinness lends Star Wars some credibility; he gives Obi-Wan Kenobi a real air of mystery and impresses us as someone who is clever and two steps ahead of his opposition. Another fine old-time actor, Peter Cushing, is dastardly and cruel in his role as Grand Moff Tarkin. It helps that he truly looks the part of an insidious, unflinching villain, but it's not like he hadn't played the hero in the past (he's one of the past Doctors in Doctor Who and portrayed Sherlock Holmes on a number of occasions).
Although I don't love Carrie Fisher in the role, I do think that the character of Princess Leia is brilliantly written. It would have been very simple to make her nothing more than a damsel in distress - and that was sort of how I mistakenly remembered her in Star Wars - but instead she's whip smart, super savvy and plays a key role in not only her own rescue but also in dealing a blow to the Empire. More of these qualities come out in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, but the table is being set very early to make her a strong female character, and I respect that.
With regard to that sort of table setting, Star Wars does a magnificent job. I realize I mentioned I'd watch the film as if it was brand new, but it's awfully difficult to do when you know all of the big revelations that will come in the future. We get some small inklings that Darth Vader was once a good guy, and the fact that Luke's uncle worries that his nephew will one day be "just like his father" as a deeper impact. It feels like Lucas had a definite direction he wanted his series to take, and he does a fine job of building a universe that would continue through another five films.