I wasn’t sure what to expect when I sat down to watch Star Wars: A New Hope. I’m pretty much new to Star Wars – or, at least, I was until a few days ago. It’s not that I’m completely ignorant. Characters like Han Solo, Darth Vader, and Princess Leia, iconic props like lightsabers, and lines like “the force is strong with this one” permeate our culture in such a way that it’s almost impossible not to be aware of them. I even went to see a Star Wars movie once, when I was a little kid, but I fell asleep about halfway through and don’t really remember much, except robots and things blowing up. Based on the timing, it would have been one of the prequels, but I’m honestly not sure which.
So I guess what I’m getting at is that I’m not a Star Wars fan. Not by a long shot. Maybe it was the recent release of The Last Jedi and all the hype that came with that, or maybe because the kids at school talk about it so much. I like to be aware of the things the kids are passionate about – the books they’re reading, the movies they like. But anyway, I guess I was curious. So I caved in. I bought A New Hope on iTunes and watched it. And to my surprise, I found that I already knew the story.
No, I don’t just mean that I recognized some of those iconic bits of pop culture I was talking about earlier. I did, but that’s not the point I’m trying to make. Rather, the storyline itself – the story of a poor farm boy with a great destiny caught up in an epic battle of good vs. evil – is one that I know well. It’s the basis of most fantasy stories, and beyond that, it’s an archetypal hero’s journey.
Although Star Wars is science fiction, it’s definitely soft science fiction, more concerned with adventures on alien planets than explaining how the actual science works. In a way, it almost feels more like a fantasy story set in space, with its mystical ideas surrounding the Force, a magic-like power that its hero learns to use. The movie itself, which begins with “Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away”, seems self-aware of this genre-blending and embraces it. The story is filled with knights wielding swords (OK, lightsabers), a space princess, a heroic quest, and an emperor whose evil empire spans an entire galaxy, alongside the more typical science fiction elements such as spaceships, aliens, and sentient robots.
I’m not complaining about the space fantasy aspects of it. In fact, that was probably what I enjoyed the most. I happen to love seeing an old story revisited in a way that makes it feel new. If Star Wars reminded me of anything, it was probably the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer, a series of retold fairy tales set in a futuristic dystopia. Rapunzel is trapped in a satellite, Cinderella is a cyborg who loses her foot on the palace stairs, and so on. I happen to love the Lunar Chronicles, so I definitely mean that as a compliment. In both the Lunar Chronicles and Star Wars, the fantasy archetypes occasionally clash with the science fiction setting, but it’s interesting to see all the ways they meld together, and the ways that the setting changes the archetypes.
Princess Leia was without a doubt my favorite character. I was expecting a damsel in distress, a passive victim for Luke Skywalker and Han Solo to rescue, but what I got was a fierce young woman who defies her captors, thinks quickly under fire, cares deeply for her cause, and improvises an escape plan once she realizes her rescuers don’t have one. Leia is awesome, and my only disappointment is that she had so little to do in this movie, spending much of it as a prisoner on the Death Star and then on the ground while the battle unfolds in space. I feel sure I would have liked it much better if she was the main character.
The actual protagonist, Luke Skywalker, was in my opinion the least interesting character in the movie. I’m sure I’ve offended somebody, and I’m sorry, but I just have to say it. He’s a classic fantasy hero in a science fiction setting, and that’s an interesting premise, but he has very little depth. He’s a wide-eyed idealist with a good moral compass. He wants to see the galaxy and be a hero. He wants to train with Obi-Wan and become a Jedi, but feels duty-bound to stay home until the Empire conveniently destroys his uncle’s farm. None of those are bad things to say about the hero of a movie franchise, but on their own, without any further character development, they’re clichés. I’m truly hoping that Luke becomes a more compelling protagonist in future movies, because at this point, I really can’t make myself care about him.
The actual plot also feels kind of cookie-cutter, but as I’ve said before, the setting is enough to make up for that. I actually find cookie-cutter plots far more tolerable than flat characters, especially if the characters and setting are interesting. And yes, the idea of a hero-in-training, a roguish anti-hero, a wise mentor, and a princess in distress teaming up to fight an evil empire sounds very, very cliché. If it had been set in a classic medieval fantasy setting, it would have been utterly boring and unoriginal. It still didn’t really hook me in an edge-of-my-seat, can’t-wait-to-see-what-happens kind of way, but the outer space setting certainly helped.
The battle scenes weren’t really my cup of tea, but that’s probably because this isn’t the kind of thing I usually watch. While I do like both science fiction and fantasy, I’m one of those weird people who thinks fight scenes are the least interesting part of movies. However, I will say that there wasn’t as much pointless violence as I expected. Just about every battle or fight did serve a purpose in the story, even if a few of them went on longer than I would have liked.
Besides that, I found that I had a hard time taking the story’s antagonists seriously. I’m sure the Stormtoopers’ armor probably looked slick and futuristic at the time, but I just kept thinking it looked like it was made out of plastic and seemed to be about as effective. And Darth Vader just didn’t scare me the way I expected him to. I think what it comes down to is that the image of Darth Vader is so iconic it’s familiar even to non-Star Wars fans. I’ve seen him on t-shirts, backpacks, notebooks, kids’ tennis shoes, and just about anything else you can imagine. I feel like the fact that it’s so familiar takes the edge off the creepy factor.
I’m definitely not saying I hated the movie. But I’m also not saying I loved it, or thought it was the greatest cinematic masterpiece of all time. I know it was a huge game-changer in the history of movie-making and a beloved classic for many people. To someone like me – someone looking at it through an outsider’s skeptical lens – it couldn’t possibly mean the same thing it meant to its first fans, or to those who grew up with it.
I don’t think I’ll ever be a Star Wars fan in the way that I’m a Harry Potter fan, but I do feel that I now have a greater appreciation for Star Wars and a greater understanding of what it’s all about. Now I know that there is a story worth telling in Star Wars, and one that I found surprisingly familiar in ways that go beyond lightsabers and iconic characters. I do plan on continuing to watch at least a few of the other Star Wars movies, so I’ll probably update soon with more of my thoughts as I explore more of the series.