Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)


Introduction

Star Wars (retroactively titled Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope) is a 1977 American epic space opera film written and directed by George Lucas, produced by Lucasfilm and distributed by 20th Century-Fox.

It stars Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Cushing, Alec Guinness, David Prowse, James Earl Jones, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker and Peter Mayhew.

It is the first instalment of the Star Wars original trilogy, the first of the franchise to be produced, and the fourth episode of the “Skywalker saga”.

Lucas had the idea for a science-fiction film in the vein of Flash Gordon around the time he completed his first film, THX 1138 (1971), and began working on a treatment after the release of American Graffiti (1973).

Star Wars focuses on the journey of Luke Skywalker (Hamill), who along with Han Solo (Ford) and the wizened Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi (Guinness), attempt to free Rebellion leader Princess Leia (Fisher) from the clutches of the Galactic Empire and the Sith lord Darth Vader (Prowse, voiced by Jones). The heroes, in league with the Rebel Alliance, attempt to destroy the Empire’s planet-destroying space station, the Death Star.

Outline

The galaxy is in a period of civil war. Rebel spies have stolen plans to the Galactic Empire’s Death Star, a moon-sized space station capable of destroying an entire planet. Princess Leia, secretly one of the Rebellion’s leaders, has obtained its schematics, but her starship is intercepted by an Imperial Star Destroyer under the command of the ruthless Sith Lord Darth Vader, an agent to the Empire. Before she is captured, Leia hides the plans in the memory of astromech droid R2-D2, who, along with protocol droid C-3PO, flees in an escape pod to the desert planet Tatooine.

The droids are captured by Jawa traders, who sell them to moisture farmers Owen and Beru Lars and their nephew Luke Skywalker. While cleaning R2-D2, Luke accidentally triggers part of a holographic recording of Leia, in which she requests help from Obi-Wan Kenobi. The only Kenobi whom Luke knows is “Old Ben” Kenobi, an elderly hermit. He asks his uncle if he knows anything, but his uncle curtly drops the subject. The next morning, Luke finds R2-D2 missing, and while searching for him, encounters Old Ben. Ben, who reveals his true name to be Obi-Wan, tells Luke of his days as a Jedi Knight, former peacekeepers of the Galactic Republic who derived their power from an energy field called the Force until they were wiped out by the Galactic Empire. Contrary to what his uncle has told him, Luke learns that his father fought alongside Obi-Wan as a Jedi Knight until Vader, a former pupil of Obi-Wan’s, turned to the dark side of the Force and murdered him. Obi-Wan presents Luke with his father’s old weapon, a lightsaber.

R2-D2 plays Leia’s message for Obi-Wan, in which she begs him to take the Death Star plans to her home planet of Alderaan and give them to her father for analysis. Obi-Wan invites Luke to accompany him to Alderaan and learn the ways of the Force, but Luke declines, saying his aunt and uncle need him. Returning home, however, he finds Imperial stormtroopers have killed his aunt and uncle and destroyed their farm in their search for the droids, leaving Luke no choice but to accept Obi-Wan’s invitation. They travel to a cantina in Mos Eisley, where they hire smuggler Han Solo to transport them. Han is intercepted by Greedo, a bounty hunter working for local mobster Jabba the Hutt, to whom Han owes money; the confrontation ends with Han killing Greedo. Obi-Wan, Luke, R2-D2 and C-3PO flee Tatooine, with Han and his Wookiee co-pilot Chewbacca on their ship the Millennium Falcon.

Death Star commander Grand Moff Tarkin orders the destruction of Alderaan, Leia’s home planet, using the Death Star’s superlaser as a show of force. The Falcon crew discovers the planet’s remains and is captured by the Death Star’s tractor beam, which Obi-Wan goes to disable. Luke discovers that Leia is imprisoned on the Death Star and scheduled to be executed, and rescues her with the help of Han and Chewbacca in a swashbuckling series of escapes. His task accomplished, Obi-Wan sees that the others need a distraction to board the Falcon, and sacrifices himself in a lightsaber duel with Darth Vader. They depart the hangar but are caught up by four Imperial TIE starfighters which they fight off. Using a tracking beacon placed on the Falcon, the Imperials follow the rebels to the hidden base on Yavin 4.

Leia’s schematics show that the Death Star might be destroyed by firing torpedoes into a two-meter-wide thermal exhaust port that directly leads into its reactor, triggering a chain reaction. Han collects a reward for his role in Leia’s rescue, intending to leave and repay Jabba. Luke joins the Rebel squadron in a desperate attack against the approaching Death Star. In the ensuing battle, the Rebels suffer heavy losses in several unsuccessful runs. Vader leads a squadron of TIE fighters and prepares to attack Luke’s X-wing, but Han returns and attacks the Imperial fighters, sending Vader spiralling into space. Guided by Obi-Wan’s spirit, Luke turns off his targeting computer and uses the Force to guide the torpedoes into the exhaust port. The Death Star explodes just before it can fire on the Rebel base, killing Tarkin and the Imperial troops onboard. In a triumphant ceremony at the base, Leia awards Luke and Han medals for their heroism.

Casting

  • Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker:
    • A young adult raised by his aunt and uncle on Tatooine, who dreams of something more than his current life and learns the way of a Jedi.
    • Lucas favoured casting young actors who lacked long experience.
    • To play Luke (then known as Luke Starkiller), Lucas sought actors who could project intelligence and integrity.
    • While reading the script, Hamill found the dialogue to be extremely odd because of its universe-embedded concepts.
    • He chose to simply read it sincerely, and he was cast instead of William Katt, who was subsequently cast in Brian De Palma’s Carrie (Lucas shared a joint casting session with De Palma, a longtime friend).
  • Harrison Ford as Han Solo:
    • A cynical smuggler hired by Obi-Wan and Luke to take them to Alderaan in his ship, the Millennium Falcon, co-piloted with Chewbacca.
    • Lucas initially rejected casting Ford for the role, as he “wanted new faces”; Ford had previously worked with Lucas on American Graffiti.
    • Instead, Lucas asked Ford to assist in the auditions by reading lines with the other actors and explaining the concepts and history behind the scenes that they were reading.
    • Lucas was eventually won over by Ford’s portrayal and cast him instead of Kurt Russell, Nick Nolte, Sylvester Stallone, Bill Murray, Christopher Walken, Burt Reynolds, Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino, Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, or Perry King (who later played Han Solo in the radio plays).
  • Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia:
    • A member of the Imperial Senate and one of the many Leaders of the Rebel Alliance.
    • Many young Hollywood actresses auditioned for the role of Princess Leia, including Amy Irving, Terri Nunn (also a singer), Cindy Williams, Karen Allen, and Jodie Foster.
    • Foster, for one, turned down the role because she was already under contract with Disney and working on two films at the time.
    • Fisher was cast under the condition that she lose 10 pounds (4.5 kg) for the role.
  • Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin:
    • Commander of the Death Star.
    • Lucas originally had Cushing in mind for the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi, but Lucas believed that “his lean features” would be better employed in the role of Grand Moff Tarkin instead.
    • Lucas commended Cushing’s performance, saying “[He] is a very good actor.
    • Adored and idolised by young people and by people who go to see a certain kind of movie. I feel he will be fondly remembered for the next 350 years at least.”
    • Cushing, commenting on his role, joked: “I’ve often wondered what a ‘Grand Moff’ was. It sounds like something that flew out of a cupboard.”
  • Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan ‘Ben’ Kenobi:
    • An ageing Jedi Master and former mentor of Darth Vader who introduces Luke to the Force.
    • Lucas’ decision to cast “unknowns” was not taken favourably by his friend Francis Ford Coppola and the studio.
    • Lucas felt Obi-Wan Kenobi should be played by an established actor.
    • Producer Gary Kurtz said, “The Alec Guinness role required a certain stability and gravitas as a character… which meant we needed a very, very strong character actor to play that part.”
    • Before Guinness was cast, Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune (who starred in many Akira Kurosawa films) was considered for the role.
    • According to Mifune’s daughter, Mika Kitagawa, her father turned down Lucas’ offers for Kenobi and Darth Vader because “he was concerned about how the film would look and that it would cheapen the image of samurai… At the time, sci-fi movies still looked quite cheap as the effects were not advanced and he had a lot of samurai pride.”
    • Guinness was one of the few cast members who believed that the film would be successful; he negotiated a deal for 2.25% of the one-fifth gross royalties paid to Lucas, which made him quite wealthy in later life.
    • He agreed to take the part of Kenobi on the condition that he would not have to do any publicity to promote the film.
    • Lucas credited him with inspiring the cast and crew to work harder, saying that Guinness contributed significantly to the completion of the filming.
    • Harrison Ford said, “It was, for me, fascinating to watch Alec Guinness. He was always prepared, always professional, always very kind to the other actors. He had a very clear head about how to serve the story.”
  • Anthony Daniels as C-3PO:
    • A protocol droid who is “fluent in over six million forms of communication”.
    • Daniels auditioned for and was cast as C-3PO; he has said that he wanted the role after he saw a Ralph McQuarrie drawing of the character and was struck by the vulnerability in the robot’s face.
    • Initially, Lucas did not intend to use Daniels’ voice for C-3PO.
    • Thirty well-established voice actors read for the voice of the droid.
    • According to Daniels, one of the major voice actors, believed by some sources to be Stan Freberg, recommended Daniels’ voice for the role.
  • Kenny Baker as R2-D2:
    • An astromech droid who is carrying the Death Star plans and a secret message for Obi-Wan from Princess Leia.
    • When filming was underway in London, where additional casting took place, Baker, performing a musical comedy act with his acting partner Jack Purvis, learned that the film crew was looking for a small person to fit inside a robot suit and manoeuvre it.
    • Baker, who was 3 feet 8 inches (1.12 m) tall, was cast immediately after meeting George Lucas.
    • He said, “He saw me come in and said ‘He’ll do’ because I was the smallest guy they’d seen up until then.”
    • He initially turned down the role three times, hesitant to appear in a film where his face would not be shown and hoping to continue the success of his comedy act, which had recently started to be televised.
    • R2-D2’s recognisable beeps and squeaks were made by sound designer Ben Burtt imitating “baby noises”, recording this voice as it was heard on an intercom, and creating the final mix using a synthesizer.
  • Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca:
    • A 200-year-old Wookiee, Han Solo’s sidekick, and first mate of the Millennium Falcon.
    • Mayhew learned of a casting call for Star Wars, which was being shot in London, and decided to audition.
    • The 7-foot-3-inch (2.21 m) tall actor was immediately cast as Chewbacca after he stood up to greet Lucas.
  • David Prowse as Darth Vader:
    • A Sith lord of the Galactic Empire who aims to destroy the Rebel Alliance.
    • James Earl Jones as the uncredited voice of Darth Vader.
    • Lucas originally intended for Orson Welles to voice the character after dismissing Prowse due to his West Country English accent (which led to him being nicknamed, within the cast, as “Darth Farmer”).
    • However, determining that Welles’ voice would be too familiar to audiences, Lucas instead cast then-relatively less recognisable Jones.

Other actors include Phil Brown and Shelagh Fraser as Luke’s Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru; Jack Purvis, Kenny Baker’s partner in his London comedy act, as the Chief Jawa in the film; and Eddie Byrne as Vanden Willard, a Rebel general. Denis Lawson and Garrick Hagon played rebel pilots Wedge Antilles and Biggs Darklighter (Luke’s childhood friend), respectively. Don Henderson and Leslie Schofield appear as Imperial Generals Cassio Tagge and Moradmin Bast, respectively, and Richard LeParmentier plays Admiral Motti. Alex McCrindle portrays General Jan Dodonna, Alfie Curtis portrays Dr. Evazan and Peter Geddis portrays Captain Raymus Antilles. Michael Leader plays a minor role as a Stormtrooper known for accidentally hitting his helmet against a door.

Trivia

  • Parts of the plot are similar to The Hidden Fortress (1958).
  • In 1975, Lucas formed his own visual effects company Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) after discovering that 20th Century-Fox’s visual effects department had been disbanded.
  • ILM began its work on Star Wars in a warehouse in Van Nuys, California.
  • Most of the visual effects used pioneering digital motion control photography developed by John Dykstra and his team, which created the illusion of size by employing small models and slowly moving cameras.
  • Star Wars was released in a limited number of theatres in the United States on 25 May 1977, and quickly became a blockbuster hit, leading to it being expanded to a much wider release.
  • The film opened to critical acclaim, most notably for its groundbreaking visual effects.
  • On a budget of $11 million it grossed a total of $775 million, surpassing Jaws (1975) to become the highest-grossing film at the time until the release of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982).
  • When adjusted for inflation, Star Wars is the second-highest-grossing film in North America (behind Gone with the Wind) and the fourth-highest-grossing film in the world.
  • It received ten Oscar nominations (including Best Picture), winning seven.
  • In 1989, it became one of the first 25 films that was selected by the US Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
    • At the time, it was the most recent film in the registry and the only one chosen from the 1970’s.
    • In 2004, its soundtrack was added to the US National Recording Registry.
  • Today, it is regarded as one of the most important films in the history of motion pictures.
  • The film has been reissued multiple times with Lucas’s support – most significantly with its 20th-anniversary theatrical “Special Edition” – incorporating many changes including modified computer-generated effects, altered dialogue, re-edited shots, remixed soundtracks and added scenes.
  • The film became a “pop-cultural phenomenon” and launched an industry of tie-in products, including novels, comics, video games, amusement park attractions, and merchandise including toys, games, clothing and many other spin-off works.
  • The film’s success led to two critically and commercially successful sequels, The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983), and later to a prequel trilogy, a sequel trilogy, two anthology films and various spin-off TV series.

Star Wars Series

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s): George Lucas.
  • Producer(s): Gary Kurtz.
  • Writer(s): George Lucas.
  • Music: John Williams.
  • Cinematography: Gilbert Taylor.
  • Editor(s): Marcia Lucas, Paul Hirsch, and Richard Chew.
  • Production: Lucasfilm Ltd.
  • Distributor(s): 20th Century Fox (1999 to 2019) and Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures (2019 to Present).
  • Release Date: 25 May 1977.
  • Running time: 121 minutes.
  • Country: US.
  • Language: English.

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