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A New Hope for Understanding Star Wars

Previously, I mentioned how I didn’t get Star Wars—having only seen the prequels—and planned to increase my Star Wars I.Q. in the lead up to The Force Awakens.

So I spent last night watching Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. I was fascinated. I didn’t hate it. I… I actually liked it. I won’t say I loved it, but that’s not the fault of the movie itself.

Spoilers, y’all. If there is such a thing for a movie this popular and embedded into pop culture.

First things first—one of the reasons I was so nervous about embarking on this journey through the original trilogy in the first place was due to some critics of the prequel series saying that the original trilogy was just as bad. That the story and acting were just as wooden, that the script was just as horrible, and that the special effects just as awful, but 80s-awful instead of 00s-awful. Oh, and the droids were as annoying as Jar-Jar Binks. Basically, the movies were just for kids, and so we shouldn’t have expected anything better from the prequels, and Star Wars fans are working off nostalgia more than taste.

Thus I find myself in the curious position of defending Star Wars from the point of view of someone who’s only seen the prequels and hated them with a Wookiee’s fury, and has seen enough of the twists in mainstream and geek media that any surprises the story had in store should have lost their edge.

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For instance, I know that Obi-Wan Kenobi dies at the hands of Darth Vader. That death holds no surprise for me, no sense of impending doom, just cold knowledge that he’s going to sacrifice himself for some reason. I also know that Storm Troopers are a little… weak-minded and poor shots. And that Luke Refuses the Call of the Hero’s Journey and his aunt and uncle die.

I was entirely prepared for the “just as bad as the prequels” scenario to play out.

And yet… it didn’t.

Instead, I discovered that Luke Skywalker actually acted like a relatable teenager. A bit self-absorbed, but not to the sheer dramatic levels that Anakin was. He wanted to spend time with his friends, he wanted to enroll in the Academy and “get off this rock,” he didn’t have an all-encompassing assurance about himself but had as much humility as you can expect from a teenager.

There was an explosive chemistry between Han Solo and Princess Leia Organa that hadn’t been present in any shape or form between Anakin and Padme. Now, one could argue that the relationship between Anakin and Padme was supposed to be more romantic and nuanced, but it wasn’t—not even compared to the looks and occasional kisses between Luke and Leia. (And yes, I know about that twist, too.)

NewHope02

One place where I feel that knowing what happened in the prequels actually deepened my appreciation of a character was with regards to Obi-Wan Kenobi. (And I finally understand where the “That’s a name I haven’t heard in a long time” meme comes from.) Sir Alec Guinness’ acting alone would have given enough sense of the deep waters of his backstory, but the prequels fleshed it out.

Well. At least they fleshed it out if you didn’t look too closely. “Here’s your father’s light saber, Luke. He killed all the Jedi children with it,” wouldn’t have gone over well, but it was all I could think about. The sheer ludicrousness of that baton-handing gesture broke the mood.

From that perspective, I definitely believe that the prequels did more damage than not to the original trilogy—and that damage isn’t limited to the sudden appearance of the idea of a mitochondria midi-chlorian driven Force, the wrong most often cited by fans. The cracks go deeper than that—including making the final confrontation between Darth Vader and Obi-Wan feel stilted, in a way it wouldn’t have had there been actual passion and concern and, yes, chemistry between the two.

I think having two droids to play off one another was an excellent decision, compared to the single comic relief character of Jar-Jar bothering the main characters all the damn time. The fact that R2-D2 was actually an intelligent little machine contributed a great deal to soothing the otherwise annoying presence of C-3PO. Wow, C-3PO annoyed me, actually almost as much as Jar-Jar did, even though technically C-3PO was a little bit smarter than Jar-Jar. I think. It’s difficult to tell at times.

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The original special effects held up surprisingly well. Even if sometimes they were puppets, the actors interacted with them in a far more realistic way than in the prequels. The fact that there seemed to be an actual set instead of a green screen gave the performances authenticity. The only times the spell was broken, and badly at that, was whenever brand new CGI had been added. As your typical movie-goer, I’m now able to tell what’s CGI and what isn’t—CGI moves far, far too fluidly to be real.

The council room scene between the baddies… I actually dreaded the first few seconds of it, because I was so sure it would turn into any meeting scene in the prequels, especially in Episode I. If it were the case that the originals were truly as bad as the prequels, it would have been proven here. However, instead of being stagnated, the scene was pleasantly tense and had a sense of movement, even before Darth Vader showed up.

Whatever version I watched, Han and Greedo both shot at the same time. After watching Han in action, I feel he would definitely have shot first.

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I will say this for A New Hope: whatever unpleasant moments it had for me were due entirely to having watched the prequels. In many senses, instead of deepening the experience reliably, the prequels outright ruined what came before.

But not entirely so. The character elements save the original series in my eyes—the acting and chemistry is electric. I cared about the characters in a way I never did with the prequels. One could argue that the story is far simpler than that of The Phantom Menace, but that, too, is a strength of A New Hope. Streamlined plots are less likely to get screwed up.

Next time, it’s on to Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.

Ava Jarvis née Arachne Jericho is a freelance writer, techie, and geek. By day she writes about high-tech topics, and by night she writes about board games at her blog, the Elemeeple.

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