Blast from the Past: Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope

Photo of Disney's Star Wars theme park
Sam Barnes

Iconic and familiar to us all is the opening passage: “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….”, accompanied by blaring trumpets as the Star Wars opening crawl begins. Even to those who haven’t watched it or aren’t fans of the franchise, Star Wars is a household name, and has been for several decades. It all began with A New Hope way back in 1977. How did George Lucas achieve this? What about A New Hope made it an instant classic? Sam Barnes takes a look at how A New Hope made trailblazing steps in the science fiction genre and why it resonates so well with viewers today.

Star Wars was never planned as a franchise, even the idea of a trilogy had not been conceived until after the release of A New Hope. The instantaneous success and mass fan following, after its release in May 1977, was a surprise to all, especially as the initial idea had been rejected by many influential studios such as Universal Pictures and even Disney. It was only intended to be a small, contained story, despite the audience being immediately thrust into this vast galaxy, with thousands of new alien species, spaceships, and planets.

The galaxy itself feels old and lived in, a testament to not only George Lucas’ writing, but all the practical sets; things are not shiny and new, as space is often depicted, but run down and lived in. There is a history to this world, unknown to the viewer, and even Lucas, when first released.

The use of new technology to push boundaries has been a continuing trend of the Star Wars franchise

It was Lucas’ own company, Industrial Light and Magic that designed much of the props, sets and aliens for the film. The film production was set apart from others at the time, such as Flash Gordon (1973), by the company using new and unique VFX techniques, as well as highly detailed miniatures.

The use of new technology to push boundaries has been a continuing trend of the Star Wars franchise and one reason for its persistence in pop culture. When the prequels were released at the turn of the century, they were the first to heavily implement and blend the use of practical effects and the improving CGI to create whole new worlds. Whilst somewhat dated now, it was a daring venture that for the most part paid off. Even now Star Wars is still setting trends with The Mandalorian being the first to use new technology known as the volume’. This aspect is key to A New Hope’s success: its willingness to test limits.

In spite of the seemingly in-depth and detailed world-building, at no point does any of it become overwhelming. A New Hope never tries to explain it all to the viewer; it just accepts that, regardless of the fancy made up words and the whacky technology, the audience just understands what it is and what it does. Ultimately this is because it’s never the focal point of the story.

These are relatable issues and struggles for every viewer, […] simply explored with a futuristic lens

At the heart of what made the original Star Wars so successful and enticing to many was its subtle simplicity. Under the guise of an epic sci-fi adventure is instead a familiar story, a fairy-tale, following common themes.

Our protagonist, Luke’s, story is essentially a coming-of-age story, of “taking your first steps into a larger world” as Obi-Wan tells him. For Han Solo, his arc is one of learning to fight for something bigger than himself. These are relatable issues and struggles for every viewer, across all generations, simply explored with a futuristic lens. And that’s what set Star Wars apart from most other sci-fi projects at the time, and still does now. Despite all the distractions of this vast new galaxy, it grounds itself with its characters.

Its exploration of relatable themes in a vast new galaxy gave it wide appeal to many audiences

Nevertheless, the Star Wars universe is ever expanding and at a much faster pace than before. The Disney acquisition has of course changed much for the franchise; whilst divisive this was simply inevitable. Not every new piece of media will always interest or please everyone. It’s easy to forget the franchise’s humble beginnings with A New Hope but everything that Star Wars is now is owed to what was achieved with the original film. Its exploration of relatable themes in a vast new galaxy gave it wide appeal to many audiences, whilst innovative, ground-breaking special effects and set productions redefined how cinema could bring fiction into reality.

For Disney to find true success they need only to take the lessons from the original: the universe is just a distraction, and the key focus should be on familiar characters and themes. Even so, with a whole new batch of films as well as expanding into live-action TV shows with The Mandalorian (2019-) and Andor (2022-), Star Wars fans are not going to be short of content any time soon, and now more than ever there is a chance for everyone to find something they can enjoy.

Sam Barnes

Featured image courtesy of Carol Kennedy via Unsplash.com. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image. 

In article trailer courtesy of Star Wars via youtube.com. No changes were made to this video

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