New Hope revisited
Monday, May 16, 2011
What is remarkable about New Hope, the first release in the Star Wars series, and what makes gives it a special magic that the other films lack is how each character is drawn into the mythological mission.
In many ways, New Hope is the purest of the six films, partly because it remains most loyal to its mythological roots.
Although some have called it a cowboy movie with ray guns, New Hope and its sequels have more in common with fantasy fiction like The Lord of the Rings than it actually has to do with western mythology.
By this I don’t only mean the light sabers.
The concept of a powerful force that people can draw on, god-like in its nature, gives these three films a special, mystical appeal the prequel films lack.
Once George Lucas turned the films in science fiction, he lost this special quality.
That’s what horrified me when he released the first of the prequel films – how can you measure God?
But in the prequels, Lucas has the force measureable just in the same way you can measure electrical force. And he lost me.
Going back to the original three film over the last few weeks, I was captivated again, even though I am watching the original film production and not the digitally touched up versions he later released.
Even between New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, there is a huge gap in production values that becomes obvious after I have worked with green screen technology. The first film appears to have used miniatures more, and while this is limited in the scope of action they can produce, the quality of the image is better.
Lucas claims he doesn’t like The Empire Strikes Back as much as he liked the other films in the series. I held this position, too, when I first saw The Empire Strikes Back – while it is probably the best science fiction film of all six, something about it doesn’t feel right to me, even seeing it again all these years later.
New Hope remains my favorite, partly because Lucas started the series at the exact right moment, bringing all these characters into the plot through mythical calling. Each character is called to action, as Joseph Campbell said of myth, and must choose to go or not go, and to suffer the consequences of not going.
While you might argue that Luke’s family would have died anyway, in mythological terms, their death is symbolic of his original refusal, a punishment by the gods for not accepting his fate from the start.
Each character is called to duty in a similar way, and Hans, does so not for a pure motive, but out of greed and the need to pay off old debts. His being won over to the right side also delays his repaying of the debt, and by the end of the second film, he must under go a symbolic death in order to be reborn as a hero – pure of heart.
New Hope and to a lesser degree the following films tend to follow the Campbell model for the dark voyage and the return of successful heroes.
The prequel films – although saturated in classic images – tend to fall farther from the source and as a result feels less satisfying, questionably good science fiction, but piss poor myth.