Hello. I didn’t see you there. Welcome to my asylum room – it’s rather comfortable as you can see, plenty of padding. Why am I here? Oh, dear foolish reader I am so glad you asked that. The tale begins with the thinkboxes at LUNKHEAD deciding that a healthy dose of the topical would draw in the curious and mildly bored, much like your fine self. A Star Wars Week was declared and I, James Hercule Arnold was tasked with bringing you a full retrospective of Lucas’ cinematic delights. It started oh so well…
So. Star Wars.
Due to the imminence of The Force Awakens, I’ve been going to and fro on this one for a while. Star Wars means a lot of things to a lot of people, myself included, and thinking about how to do justice to the monolithic topic has had my procrastination instincts in overdrive. I don’t normally care that my grossly under-informed and over-opinionated ramblings have enormous potential to make me look a total gooseberry, but with Star Wars that’s a legitimate worry. Like I said, Star Wars matters, often in surprising ways.
So. Star Wars.
Let’s begin with the basics. Where I stand on Star Wars as a whole (individual films and other gubbins comes later, I promise). Star Wars is, has been for a long time and probably will be for a long time one of the great social indicators and equalisers. What I mean by that is everyone knows and loves Star Wars – you put on a silly voice and mix up the order of words and people know you’re talking like Yoda and know instinctively what that means. If they don’t, you know to simply end the conversation and never talk to them again. Ever. It’s a baseline you can refer to no matter who you’re talking to, a shared experience that crosses all manner of social dynamics. Of course, it’s more complicated than all this, but the simple presence of this fact is something I’ve always found to be a comfort. Even the people who haven’t watched Star Wars tend to have opinions on it.
In a way it’s ridiculous that the assumption is that any given person has seen a film rather than hasn’t. There are a few, but they tend to be recent colossal releases such as Harry Potter and then that assumption fades away faster than the sense of fullness you get from a Chinese takeaway. But Star Wars came out in 1977. Surely it’s absurd that a cult film from 1977 is required viewing across the board. I’m not talking specifically about fandoms here, for example Bladerunner being required watching for people who move in sci-fi circles, I mean universally. A total stranger on a bus would be taken aback, you know the exact face they’d pull when they accusingly stumbled through the conversation with a “wait, you haven’t seen Star Wars?” You know the exact tone of disbelief and scorn that flavour the words Star Wars – the utter incredulity. You’re not expected to have enjoyed it necessarily, but you are expected to have seen it.
I, for one, first watched Star Wars when I was six or seven and I was treated with disdain for my lack of knowledge. A friend of mine used that exact tone and then showed me Return of the Jedi. He was also six or seven and didn’t know better. Although there is an argument for watching the weakest first (yeah, I said it and I will get to it). A day later I knew Star Wars and was a part of what is probably one of the largest media based demographics in the Western world. From there on, I fell in love with the worlds of Star Wars. After all, it is so much larger than the films. The lore and stories based in that setting range across video games, books, comics and, of course, the dark and treacherous corners of the internet. Let’s suffice to say I’ve done my time and know my Star Wars but I’m not the, as far as I’m aware, nameless Star Wars equivalent of a “Trekkie”. As a quick side note, if you ever, ever get those two mixed up in front of me, I will remove your blasphemous tongue backwards. The name and the fact that both have spaceships is where the similarities end and that will be the last we mention of it.
Now, time to put our best foot forward and discuss the original trilogy, more specifically the original film. A good way to tell roughly how old and/or how much someone cares about Star Wars is what they call this film. To the hardcore and those who first experienced it, it will always be simply Star Wars. To us scrubs who came later, it’s A New Hope. To the unwashed masses it’s Episode IV. I shall call it A New Hope because that’s how I roll (or perhaps scrub). I believe if A New Hope was all we had, it would still be a cherished classic, but perhaps not the phenomenon we know today. I also believe this because it’s classic fantasy fodder, only in space. For those who don’t know the lingo, the term sci-fi is used to cover two distinct genres. Science fiction, for further reading see Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, and science fantasy, see Star Wars. In a nutshell, science fiction is often based in the near future and is fiction about science, often predictive and cautionary, whereas science fantasy is hyperspeed space laser fights – the silly kind of time travel and exploding planets. Science fantasy is fun, bright and starry eyed and suitably hyped for how freakin’ awesome the future’s going to be, and science fiction is the guy who says “well, actually…”. I’m oversimplifying, and if your curiosity is in any way piqued and you have a spare lifetime, start with TV Tropes and work your way outward from there.
Right, A New Hope. This is archetypical science fantasy. Allow me to summarise the plot without any of the space bits in it:
A rural farmer’s life is forever changed after he comes into contact with two rebels who have the only means to destroy the Empire’s greatest weapon, a fortress with the power to destroy pretty much anything. With the aid of a mentor who teaches him forgotten magic and swordplay and a dashing rogue with the only means of transport, he heads off to the Empire’s fortress and rescues a princess, losing his mentor to the champion of the Empire who also has the magic. Then, with the rebels and the princess, he joins in a desperate assault to destroy the Empire’s greatest weapon, despite overwhelming odds. Using his magic, and a little last minute help from the dashing rogue, he succeeds where those who came before him failed and becomes the hero of the rebellion.
See? Pure fantasy, except it has a super-fun-space-laser-time coat of paint and it’s not “magic”, it’s “The Force”, but it’s magic. This is instant classic material if ever I’ve seen it. The difference between A New Hope, and anything like it that came before, is the special effects. From that opening shot of the Star Destroyer flying overhead to the exploding models, A New Hope is amazing escapism, especially when you remember that it came out in 1977. This is why some people get a rock hard hate on for the revised special editions. It’s not just the SFX though, is it? It’s a thousand tiny things, from the sword and scorcery in space to James Earl Jones’ voice over that iconic heavy, robotic breathing issuing from the giant black suit of one of the world’s most recognisable villains. Alec Guinness and Harrison Ford know their roles right out of the park and the way that not all the technology is shiny and new, it’s old and beaten. Everything just adds up to one of the most beloved films of all time. It’s as easy to suspend your disbelief for A New Hope as a coat on a hook. It will always be one of those films that, for me, accompany a hot chocolate (maybe with a splash of something harder, if it’s to hand) at the end of a long day to remind me that not everything on this miserable mortal coil is worthless and irredeemable.
Wait, quick, the doctor’s coming with my medicine. Here, take my number. No, do I look like I’m allowed phone access, those are my visiting hours. There’s still good, I promise. Come back tomorrow and I’ll tell you about how great things got. I’ll tell you about ‘Empire’. Maybe also ‘Jedi’, but don’t think about it too hard. But seriously, the doctor’ll give me the ECT if he finds you here. But tomorrow, yes, tomorrow. Promise me.
WORDS: JAMES ARNOLD