Star Wars (1977)

(also known as STAR WARS: EPISODE IV - A NEW HOPE)
George Lucas
1977 • 121 Minutes •  2.35 : 1 • United States
20th Century Fox

Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Cushing, Alec Guinness, James Earl Jones, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Kenny Baker, David Prowse
Screenplay: George Lucas
Cinematography: Gilbert Taylor
Producer: Gary Kurtz

Awards & Honors

Academy Awards
Winner: Best Art Direction-Set Decoration
Winner: Best Costume Design
Winner: Best Sound
Winner: Best Film Editing
Winner: Best Effects, Visual Effects
Winner: Best Music, Original Score (John Williams)
Winner: Special Achievement - Sound Effects
Nominated: Best Picture
Nominated: Best Actor in a Supporting Role - Alec Guinness
Nominated: Best Director
Nominated: Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

American Film Institute
AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (1997): #15
AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills: #27
AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains: #14 (Han Solo – Hero), #37 (Obi-Wan Kenobi – Hero), #3 (Darth Vader - Villain)
AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes: "May the Force be with you." #8
AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores:  #1
AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers: #39
AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition): #13
AFI's 10 Top 10: #2 Sci-Fi Film

BAFTA Awards
Winner: Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music
Winner: Best Sound
Nominated: Best Costume Design
Nominated: Best Film
Nominated: Best Film Editing
Nominated: Best Production Design/Art Direction

Director's Guild of America
Nominated: Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures

The Essential Films
100 Greatest Movie Villains - #2 (Darth Vader)
100 Greatest Movie Heroes - #48 (Obi-Wan Kenobi), #12 (Luke Skywalker), #6 (Han Solo)

Golden Globes
Winner: Best Original Score - Motion Picture
Nominated: Best Motion Picture - Drama
Nominated: Best Director - Motion Picture
Nominated: Best Actor in a Supporting Role - Motion Picture (Alec Guinness)

National Film Registry
Preserved by the Library of Congress in 1989

Writers Guild of America
Nominated: Best Comedy Written Directly for the Screen

For over a thousand generations, the Jedi knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the old Republic... before the dark times... before the empire.


A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...

In honor of the 40th anniversary, a look back at the film that started, pardon the pun, an empire. George Lucas was the ultimate underdog when making this cinematic classic. While he did have major box office success with American Graffiti, his previous venture into science fiction, already mentioned on this list, THX 1138 was considered a failure. Lucas' story of a young farm boy getting caught up with a Jedi knight, two robot droids, a space pirate and his 7 foot tall furry companion to save a princess from an evil galactic empire is the stuff of fairy tales and Flash Gordon serials. However as "simple" as the story was, the execution of it on film was far from it. Plagued with production problems and having a special effects that basically had to invent a new language of visual effects, it's a miracle the movie was released, let alone becoming one of the biggest movies in history. Not only did it spawn two direct sequels in Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, a (much maligned) prequel trilogy, a new trilogy with The Force Awakens, and a spin-off with Rogue One, but also an entire entertainment empire (there's that word again) that includes toys, video games, t-shirts, tv shows, cartoons, lunch boxes... if there's anything you can stamp a Star Wars logo on, then it exists. Not to mention that Industrial Light and Magic was born right alongside Star Wars, which has become the go-to visual effects house for major Hollywood productions. Some science fiction purists would argue that the saga's fantasy elements disqualify from consideration, to that I say: go back to your hive of scum and villainy.

Star Wars is such a rare instance of a perfect storm in filmmaking. From the story, to the cast, to the action, to the visual effects, to the music... everything working in perfect harmony to deliver THE defining film of a generation. Calling it anything less than a triumph is an understatement. George Lucas will forever be the a paradoxical figure to fans: a man who created an entire universe they love yet has gone back and "adjusted" so many things that they hate. But one must give credit where credit is due, his little space opera Flash Gordon rip-off created something so beloved by fans the world over.

As stated above, the story is simple: a young farm boy gets the call to adventure from a wise old magical hermit to fight the evil galactic empire. Along the way he learns the ways of the Force and the Jedi while outmaneuvering imperial troops. On a quest to save Princess Leia, who has detailed plans on how to destroy the empire's ultimate weapon, the young farm boy, accompanied by a space pirate, his giant co-pilot and a couple of bickering androids, the unlikely alliance save the day. With the exception of certain details, the spine of the story is pretty standard, Hero's journey kind of stuff. Even the opening "A long time ago..." invokes fairy tales. Stories like this had been done hundreds of times on film before, usually with shoe-string budgets, hokey special effects and terrible actors. But this is the first time a film of this nature was treated seriously by the studio (even though they spent many weeks panicking) with millions of dollars put into the set construction, costume design, location shoots and special effects. Suddenly this silly little space movie actually looked like an epic motion picture. And audiences lined up around the block to see it in record numbers.

Mark Hamill plays Luke Skywalker, our farm boy hero. Hamill was found through an extensive
audition process of relatively unknown actors. The actor's inexperience as a young artist thrust into a major Hollywood production only helped the portrayal of the wide-eyed farm boy thrust into the middle of an intergalactic struggle. His inexperience does not mean he was a bad actor, even though some of his line delivery did come off a little wooden. (That said, the dialogue is a little difficult to make believable.) But Hamill's performance works in this film, especially in contrast with his co-stars.

The late great Carrie Fisher as the damsel in distress, Princess Leia, also joined the cast. Although this princess, as we come to find out, can do her own rescuing thank you very much. Fischer, daughter of Hollywood royalty in Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, beat out impressive names like Karen Allen and Jodie Foster for the role. Her brash, tough as nails kick-ass warrior princess worked well in contrast to Luke's naivety and Han Solo's charming arrogance.

Speaking of, Harrison Ford as his second most iconic character, behind Indiana Jones (though not by much) broke out as the star of the film. Although an experienced actor, even appearing in Lucas' American Graffiti, Ford was a late addition to the cast as Lucas initially refused to cast him. However, Lucas did ask Ford to help audition potential Luke Skywalkers and his performance eventually won him over, getting him the role over the likes of Kurt Russell, Al Pacino, Burt Reynolds and Sylvester Stallone. Ford would forever be linked with this character, a fact that he resented for many years, though he has since softened in his old age. Ford's portrayal of the rogue smuggler is so endearing that he would often times outshine the actual hero of the story, Luke Skywalker. 
These three leads in particular had tremendous on-screen chemistry that would carry throughout the entire trilogy. It's a shame we will not get an on-screen reunion of all three in the new trilogy, due to story developments in Force Awakens and the real-life death of the beloved Carrie Fisher.

Sir Alec Guinness earned himself an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of the wise old Obi-Wan Kenobi, the mysterious hermit that lives in the desert and teaches Luke the ways of the Force. Guinness reportedly hated working on the film and, more so than Ford, resented his connection to the Saga for the rest of his life. It did not show on film, however, as his veteran performance gives the film much-needed credibility. 

And let's not forget the iconic Darth Vader. One of the greatest (the greatest according to many) movie villain of all time. A menacing figure from his Ralph McQuarrie designed black suit of armor, his labored breathing, his imposing physical presence and the intimidating bass tones of James Earl Jones... Darth Vader is a villain fans both love to hate and hate to love. There is perhaps no movie villain more recognizable in history than Vader, and he still strikes fears into the hearts of filmgoers as recently as last winter's Rogue One anthology adventure. 

Rounding out the supporting cast is Hammer Horror veteran, Peter Cushing, known for his roles in Dracula and Frankenstein films as the sinister Grand Moff Tarkin, the imperial commander of the Death Star. Cushing is at his most diabolical in the film, and much like Guinness, grounds the film with his veteran experience. His frequent Hammer co-star, Christopher Lee, would go on to appear in the prequel trilogy as Count Dooku. 
Anthony Daniels has made an entire career of playing the constantly flustered C-3PO in movies, television, video games, radio plays... pretty much anything Star Wars. Good work if you can get it.

And of course let's not forget about the other notable cast members that perhaps don't get as much love since they were buried under make-up and costuming: Kenny Baker as R2D2, Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca and the hulking bodybuilder David Prowse performing the physical parts of Darth Vader.

As mentioned before, Lucas' imagination outpaced what was technically possible in movie making effects at the time. The film was revolutionary in terms of visual and sound effects. Lucas founded Industrial Light and Magic in 1975, in anticipation of this film. The legendary John Dykstra developed motion control photography to be able shoot the epic space battles that Lucas envisioned. ILM is still to this day the premiere visual effects company, rising above all others. In addition to creating magic with the Star Wars saga, ILM also paved the way in CGI effects in movies like Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), Young Sherlock Holmes (1984), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), The Abyss (1989), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), Death Becomes Her (1992), Jurassic Park (1993), Forrest Gump (1994), Dragonheart (1996), The Mummy (1999) and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006). Gary Kurtz also revolutionized sound effects editing by creating the sounds for light sabers, blasters, starships and more, earning him a Special Achievement Academy Award.

And before we go, we cannot end the column without discussing John Williams' EPIC musical score. When it comes to all-time film composers, no one can touch John Williams. On his resumé are films like Jaws (1975), Superman (1978), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981),  E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Home Alone (1990) Jurassic Park and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001), but the all-time champion is his score for Star Wars and its subsequent films. It's iconic, it's inspiring and it is absolutely unrivaled. It instantly invokes cheers, nostalgia and a sense of adventure. There is no score like it nor will there ever be.

So today, on the 40th anniversary of this film, I salute you Star Wars: the silly little space opera that blew up and became a billion-dollar industry (now owned and operated by the Walt Disney Company.) Thank you for the memories you've given us and the memories you continue to make with future installments in the saga. 

May the Force be with you.