Star Wars, retitled Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope in 1981 (see note at "Title"), is the original (and in chronological story order, the fourth) film in the Star Wars series of movies by George Lucas. It was released on May 25, 1977, and was re-released, sometimes with significant changes, in 1979, 1981, 1982, 1997, 2000, and 2004. A 3-D release is planned for 2007.
Star Wars remains one of the most financially successful films of all time. Adjusted for inflation, its US gross profit is second only to Gone With the Wind. It was a word-of-mouth hit, having opened only on 37 screens. It was shown continually at some theaters for over one year.
The American Film Institute listed it 15th on a list of the top 100 films of the 20th century, but the film is not universally admired. Some blame it for accelerating a trend towards special-effects-driven movies targeting teenagers. Others claim that the trend is a natural consequence of economic and technological forces in the film industry.
In 1997, the movie was digitally remastered as the so-called Special Edition or SE for a 20th anniversary re-release. The controversial (amongst fans) Special Edition contains scenes not in the original release, most notably a conversation between Han Solo and Jabba the Hutt, as well as numerous other small changes and visual additions. Some of the added scenes were intended for the original version of the movie, but were not feasible without newer advances in special effects technology, particularly in the area of computer generated imagery. The Special Edition also had several scenes in which the events depicted were changed from those depicted in the original version; these changes are controversial as well, with many dedicated fans feeling the changes weaken the movie.
Further changes have been made in 2004 for the film's debut on the DVD format. With a few exceptions, most of these are minor or cosmetic in nature.
A radio adaptation was produced for National Public Radio in 1981. It was also novelized by Alan Dean Foster though the book was credited to George Lucas.
Like Flash Gordon serials of the late 1930s, Star Wars features opening text to give background to the story. Lucas emulated the way the Flash Gordon serials presented their opening text. The text "crawls" up the screen from the bottom to the top. The text is seen at a highly pitched angle. Instead of disappearing at the top, the text disappears into the distance as new text appears at the bottom.
- It is a period of civil war.
- Rebel spaceships, striking
- from a hidden base, have won
- their first victory against
- the evil Galactic Empire.
- During the battle, Rebel
- spies managed to steal secret
- plans to the Empire's
- ultimate weapon, the DEATH
- STAR, an armored space
- station with enough power to
- destroy an entire planet.
- Pursued by the Empire's
- sinister agents, Princess
- Leia races home aboard her
- starship, custodian of the
- stolen plans that can save her
- people and restore
- freedom to the galaxy....
Please note this summary is based upon the original 1977 theatrical release version, and not on the 1997 and 2004 re-releases.
As the opening scroll mentions at the beginning of the story, the Rebel Alliance, fighting the 19-year-old Galactic Civil War, emerges from a secret Rebel base and finally wins their first victory against the tyrannical Galactic Empire, led by Emperor Palpatine. Princess Leia Organa's ship, the Tantive IV, carrying secret plans to the Empire's superweapon, the Death Star, is pursued by an Imperial Star Destroyer. During the fighting, two droids, the fussy C-3PO and the feisty R2-D2, escape into one of the Tantive's secret corridors. The Tantive is disabled and swallowed up into the enormous Star Destroyer via a magnetic field. Imperial Stormtroopers blast their way into the Rebel ship; when the ship is brought under Imperial control, Darth Vader arrives to assess the damage. Princess Leia records a holographic message and stores it into the memory banks of R2-D2, then disappears as C-3PO arrives to discover his counterpart. The stormtroopers capture many Rebels, while Darth Vader questions the Tantive's commander, Captain Antilles (C-3P0's former master), about the secret plans. Grabbing Antilles by the throat, Vader demands an answer, but when he is unable to obtain any, the Dark Lord lifts him off of his feet and chokes the captain to death. While conducting a thorough search ordered by Vader, stormtroopers discover Princess Leia and capture her. The droids, meanwhile, use an escape pod (which R2-D2 programmed) and begin their journey to the planet Tatooine, a planet in the largely-ignored frontier region. Leia is later brought to Lord Vader for questioning, but when Leia flatly denies being part of the Rebel Alliance, he orders her to be held prisoner, knowing she is now his only hope in finding the secret Rebel Base.
On Tatooine, the droids (after being captured by scavenger creatures called Jawas) come into the possession of Owen Lars and his young nephew, Luke Skywalker, a young, frustrated resident of one of Tatooine's remote settlements. That night, while cleaning the droids, Luke triggers part of a holographic message from a mysterious, attractive woman (Princess Leia). Later, at dinner, Luke suspects that the droids might have been stolen, and that R2 really belongs to an "Obi-Wan Kenobi". Uncle Owen denies it and tells Luke to have the droids' memories erased by morning. Before nightfall, though, Luke enters his garage to discover that R2-D2 has escaped. C-3PO suggests Luke go after him, but nighttime is dangerous due to the increasing amount of Sandpeople, so they decide to wait until morning.
Early the next day, Luke and Threepio enter the Jundland Wastes and find Artoo, but suddenly Sandpeople appear. While checking out the situation, Luke and Threepio are attacked by one of the Sandpeople. As the Tuskens ransack Luke's speeder, the sound of a Krayt dragon is heard, scaring off the Tuskens. It is revealed that the sound was made by none other than Obi-Wan Kenobi, now going by the name of "Ben." Ben discovers the unconscious Luke and a partially damaged C-3PO. Luke wakes up and sees Ben, but then falls unconscious again; with the return of the Tusken raiders, Ben takes Luke and the droids back to his hut.
While Luke repairs C-3PO, Ben tells of his days as a Jedi Knight and the Old Republic. The old Jedi hands Luke a lightsaber once belonging to Luke's father, who was himself a Jedi Knight. Ben explains about how the Jedi kept peace in the galaxy before the Dark Times. Luke then asks how his father died. Ben tells Luke he was betrayed and murdered by Darth Vader, a former pupil of Ben's before he turned evil, then talks about the mysterious energy field called the Force. Finally, Ben and Luke see the entire holographic message from Princess Leia, who asks for Ben's assistance to take the droid and the plans to the planet Alderaan if the Rebellion is to survive. Ben invites Luke to come with him to Alderaan, but the young Jedi-to-be is reluctant at first, eventually offering to go as far away as Anchorhead to get a transport to Mos Eisley.
On the Death Star, Imperial commanders (including Grand Moff Tarkin) meet to discuss the full power of the battle station, but suspect the Rebels may find its weakness and attempt to destroy it. One commander dismisses the threat against the supremely powerful Death Star and even dares to insult Lord Vader's caution that its power is trivial compared to the Force. Incensed at the commander's "lack of faith", Vader uses the Force to choke the commander from across the room. Tarkin orders the Dark Lord to stop choking his subordinate, and announces his intention to have the battle station fully operational.
Back on Tatooine, Ben, Luke and the droids discover dead Jawas and disorganized Bantha tracks. Ben and Luke suspect Imperial stormtroopers have ambushed the Jawas in an attempt to find the droids and disguised it as a Tusken Raider attack. Luke then realizes that the Troopers learned who the droids were sold to and heads back to the Lars homestead, but after returning there he finds his family murdered and his house destroyed.
Meanwhile, on the Death Star where Leia is imprisoned, Vader attempts to use an interrogation droid to extract the location of the Rebel base from her. She has managed to resist the interrogation thus far.
Luke returns to the damaged Jawa Sandcrawler. Ben declares there was nothing Luke could have done had he been at the Lars homestead—Luke would too have been killed and control of the droids would have reverted to the Empire. Luke reluctantly decides to join Ben and become a Jedi.
The group then heads off to Mos Eisley Spaceport to find transportation to Alderaan. As they enter Mos Eisley, several Stormtroopers accost the group, looking for C-3PO and R2-D2; however, Obi-Wan uses a Jedi mind trick to convince the Stormtroopers that the droids accompanying him "are not the droids you're looking for". Later, at a seedy bar, they encounter a boastful smuggler Han Solo and his co-hort Chewbacca the Wookiee. Han agrees to transport them to Alderaan on the promise of a large financial reward of 10,000 in advance, but Ben offers to pay the pirate 2,000 now and an additional 15,000 later. Solo agrees, and as Ben and Luke head out the door, the pirate is jubilant about the offer as he owes money to Jabba the Hutt for losing a loadful of spice on an earlier run when he was boarded by Imperial forces. But when he tries to leave the bar, Solo suddenly meets up with one of Jabba's goons, Greedo, who had been looking to collect a large bounty that Jabba had placed on Solo's head (for losing the shipment). Solo quickly kills Greedo—shooting him before Greedo could even level his gun—and leaves the bar.
Back on the Death Star, the final inspection of the space station is completed, and the commanding officer Grand Moff Tarkin decides on a different approach to persuade Princess Leia to co-operate in revealing the location of the secret Rebel base. Tarkin orders the Death Star to set course for the planet Alderaan.
As Luke, Ben, and the droids approach Docking Bay 94 (the point of departure for Alderaan), the stormtroopers return in numbers and the party just makes it to Solo's ship, the Millennium Falcon, in time to escape.
Princess Leia is then brought to the Death Star's viewing room. Unable to provide the Empire with any clue to the location of the Rebel Base, Tarkin decides to test the Death Star's power on Alderaan, Leia's home planet. The princess tries to set up a ruse and tells Tarkin the Rebel Base is on Dantooine. Because Dantooine is too remote for an adequate demonstration, Tarkin destroys Alderaan anyway, as a public display of the Death Star's power.
En route to Alderaan, Kenobi begins instructing Luke in the ways of the Force. Solo is skeptical, but a blindfolded Luke is able to sense the location of an attacker whilst practising with a lightsaber. In the midst of this, Kenobi is suddenly weakened by a great disturbance in the Force, the kind that the simultaneous violent deaths of millions would produce.
One of the Death Star's commanders issues Tarkin a report on the fate of Dantooine: there once had existed a Rebel Base, but it is now deserted. Convinced that Leia has lied to the Imperials, Tarkin orders the Princess executed.
Arriving at Alderaan, or, at least, where Alderaan should be, the crew of the Falcon is surprised to discover there's nothing there except a hail of debris. They then come upon a short-range TIE fighter and pursue it blindly up to a "small moon". They are further surprised to be hauled by tractor beams aboard what turns out to be a moon-sized space station — the Death Star. Hiding in secret smuggling compartments of their ship, they manage to evade capture, and decide to attempt to disable the tractor beams holding them there. In the process, they discover Leia is being held in a nearby cell. Kenobi volunteers to disable the tractor beam. Luke offers to go with the old Jedi, but Ben orders his young apprentice to stay with Han and the droids (otherwise more star systems will be in danger of the Death Star). After Ben leaves, Luke (and Han, after some persuasion) go to rescue Leia under various acts of derring-do, including a wrestling match with a tentacle-like creature in a garbage hold.
After switching off the tractor beams, Kenobi encounters Vader, who attacks him. It is clear that they have known one another before, apparently in the roles of "student" and "master". Kenobi tells Vader in the clash that "If you strike me down, I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine." When Kenobi sees that he has distracted the guards around the Falcon, which allows his friends to board it though his own escape is cut off, he allows himself to be cut down by Vader, only to mysteriously disappear at the fatal instant; Vader is seen curiously probing Kenobi's empty robes laying harmlessly on the floor.
The droids, Leia, Luke, Han and Chewbacca make their way back to the Falcon and escape, fighting off Imperial starfighters, finally reaching the Rebel hideout on the fourth moon of Yavin where they pass the plans on to the Rebel leadership. Unknown to them, but suspected by Leia, the Empire had actually allowed their escape in order to track their ship back to the Rebel Base.
After General Jan Dodonna, chief stragegist for the Rebel Forces, retrieves the secret Death Star plans from Artoo, he leads a briefing to a group of pilots about the deadly space station. A discussion ensues where the Rebels plan to attack the Death Star by flying along a canyon-size groove in its surface, firing a torpedo down a narrow ventilation shaft; the torpedo will travel to the main reactor and destroy it, thereby destroying the entire station. Luke is amongst the X-Wing pilots of Red Group; Han, despite Luke's pleadings, decides to leave with his reward.
With time of the essence, Luke and an ad-hoc group of Rebel fighters begin their assault on the approaching Death Star. After several Rebels are killed by the power of the space station, Darth Vader suspects several Rebel ships "have broken off from the main group" and intend to attack them ship to ship down a canyon leading to the reactor system. Luke and a few others make it down to that canyon, with Vader pursuing them in an distinctive-looking TIE Fighter. Several more Rebel fighters are destroyed; one fighter makes it down the canyon, but is unable to hit the ventillation shaft despite his use of a targeting computer. As Luke makes his run down the canyon, he hears the unearthly voice of Kenobi to "use the Force" to aim his torpedoes, thus letting go of the targeting computers of the other Rebel fighters. With the aid of Solo and Chewie coming back and attacking Vader's assault squad (causing a collision between Vader's fighter and a escort fighter, leaving Vader spinning out of control towards deep space), Luke successfully launches torpedoes down the shaft, destroying the Death Star and striking a huge blow for the Rebellion against the Empire.
That night on Yavin IV, Luke is congratulated by his Rebel colleagues, but finds that Artoo has been damaged by one of Vader's laser blasts. The Alliance immediately works to repair the little droid. The next day, in a civil ceremony, Princess Leia and General Dodonna award Luke and Han medals for destroying the Death Star with Chewie, C-3P0 and a fully repaired R2-D2 in attendance, dancing joyously on the dais.
The designation of "Episode IV: A New Hope" comes from the heading of the introductory text of the opening title, but it appeared beginning with the 1981 re-release, in order to be consistent with The Empire Strikes Back (and the eventual sequels and prequels that followed since). This is because 20th Century Fox wouldn't allow these words in the screen crawl for the original release, fearing it would lead to confusion.
However, the film is still known as "Star Wars" to most people, though Star Wars fans often refer to it as "A New Hope." Up until the 2004 DVD release, the picture was even advertised simply as "Star Wars."
Sources and inspirations
See also: Star Wars sources and analogues
The film drew inspiration from a number of sources. This was conscious and has been acknowledged by George Lucas in interviews. It is characteristic of much myth-building.
The Hidden Fortress
Lucas has stated that Akira Kurosawa's 1958 film The Hidden Fortress (USA release 1962) was a strong influence. The resemblance between the two buffoon farmers in The Hidden Fortress and the two talkative droids in Star Wars is apparent. Indeed, when the droids find themselves alone on Tatooine, even the music and the style of "wipe" cuts are a clear homage to Hidden Fortress.
The Dam Busters
The climactic scene in which the Death Star is assaulted was modeled after the 1950s movie The Dam Busters, in which RAF Lancaster bombers fly along heavily defended reservoirs and aim "bouncing bombs" at their man-made dams in a bid to cripple the heavy industry of the Ruhr. Some of the dialogue in The Dam Busters is repeated in the Star Wars climax.
Battle of Britain
Scenes from the Death Star assault are also reminiscent of the film
Battle of Britain, particularly the use of camera showing the face of the pilot in the cockpit, and the radio dialogue between teams named after colours.
The actual real life battle itself provided inspiration also, with World War II providing a heavy influence on the look and feel of the films. While the dogfighting between the "Allied" X-Wings and "Axis" TIE Fighters, the ships themselves were based more on the Pacific Theatre, with the larger, sturdier rebel fighters based on the United States Navy carrier-born aircraft, and the smaller but faster and more manuoverable enemy TIEs based off of the famous Japanese Zero.
The costumes of the pilots reflect this, with the characteristic orange flight suits of the rebels, which are very similar to the real-life flight suits worn by American fighter pilots in the Pacific War. The cockpit design of the Millennium Falcon is also heavily based on the design used in the famous B-29 Superfortress, such as the Enola Gay.
Considering the evil 'Empire' (which is possibly based on the British Empire, considering the accents, although it is hard not to see it as an allegory for the Soviet Union), the helmets worn by the TIE pilots are reminiscent to those of the Japanese during the Pacific campaign, though this is not as blatant as the "Samurai style" helmet of the Darth Vader. Lastly, the uniforms of the Imperial officers are quite similar to those worn by the Germans in World War II.
Lucas has made mention of the film "633 Squadron" directed by Walter Grauman when citing movies that inspired themes or elements in Star Wars. The "trench run" in A New Hope wherein Luke flies his X-Wing through a "trench" on the Death Star and destroys the ship was inspired, at least in small part, by the finale of 633 Squadron, which involves several Royal Air Force planes flying at low level up a fjord aganist heavy, ground-based anti-aircraft fire, to attack a factory located at the base of a cliff at the canyon's end.
The planet Tatooine is similar to Arrakis from Frank Herbert's book Dune, although desert worlds were not original to Herbert. The planet Mongo from the Flash Gordon comics was also a desert world. In general, the Star Wars movies have followed the convention, common in space opera, in which planets stand in for regions of the Earth, so that there would be a desert planet, a jungle planet, and so on.
Triumph of the Will
The scene where Princess Leia gives Han and Luke medals is very reminiscent of a long scene in Leni Riefenstahl's 1934 film Triumph of the Will. Both scenes have large and enthusiastic crowds seated in a shallow amphitheatre bounded by columns, with a low dais where the leader stands. (Of course, in Triumph Of The Will, Adolf Hitler was the leader in question.)
Lucas wanted a grand musical sound, with leitmotifs for different characters and important objects, an approach used to great effect, for instance, in the operas of Richard Wagner. He put together a collection of classical pieces to give composer John Williams an idea of what he was looking for, and the music Williams composed often was distinctly reminiscent of the original classical pieces. In particular:
- The music associated to the opening capture of the blockade runner is very similar to Mars, from Holst's The Planets. In the liner notes to the original sound track recording, Williams implicitly acknowledged the connection by explaining why he didn't simply use Holst's The Planets. He said that he felt he could give the music a more unified feel if he wrote it all himself.
- The "Force Theme" (or "Ben's Theme") has been compared to parts of the ballet Swan Lake.
- The music for the awards ceremony at the end of the movie begins with the Force/Ben's Theme, and then transitions into a theme that, in the liner notes, Williams says is reminiscent of "the Coronation", which probably refers to Elgar's Coronation March .
- The opening title (the "theme from Star Wars", or "Luke's Theme") has been said to resemble the theme from Born Free, but is almost certainly taken from the opening strains of the 1942 film, "King's Row," scored by Eric Wolfgang Korngold. Later themes, such as from Chariots of Fire and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (also by Williams) have been said to bear a resemblance to it. Listening to them together, one observes that none is identical to any of the others, but they use many of the same musical intervals to achieve similar, or at least related, emotional effects.