One of the things I noticed on this viewing is how slowly and carefully the world is revealed in this movie. Sure, there’s a slam-bang intro with blasters and two weird comedic droids escaping, but everyone else is human, and the drama is pretty straightforward. The big guy in black is the bad guy, the little girl in white is the good guy. (I can’t remember if Leia’s name is mentioned, so I don’t know if I would reasonably be aware that she’s his daughter. Still, that reveal doesn’t take long, if you’re familiar with the prequel trilogy.)
We move then to the central figure of this new trilogy, Luke Skywalker. We also have our first ridiculous dissonance with the first trilogy. You want to protect this kid, right? Why take him to Anakin’s home world and leave him with people Anakin has met and leave him with the name Skywalker? Dear God, it’s like Obi-Wan is daring Vader to steal him away in the night. Amazingly, Luke has survived unmolested for twenty years on Uncle Owen’s moisture farm.
It takes quite some time before the first alien appears, and even then, the design of the creature is plenty subtle. The Jawas are really just little people in cloaks with glowing eyes and unseen faces. Considering the craziness of the first three films, this is so very methodical.
Events transpire, and the film (re)introduces us to Obi-Wan Kenobi. Of course, nearly the first line out of his mouth is a lie. “I haven’t gone by the name Obi-Wan since before you were born.” False. But I supposed I can chalk that up to faded memory. Then there’s the wonderful explanation of what the Force is, without a midichlorian to be seen. Love it.
I can’t really know how much of the future story Lucas knew at this point, but I feel like there’s a hint in Alec Guiness’s performance that he’s bending the truth (aka lying his ass off) when he describes the death of Anakin Skywalker at the hands of Darth Vader.
The film kicks into high gear with the death of Luke’s aunt and uncle and the arrival at Mos Eisley. Now there’s aliens aplenty! And a smuggler by the name of Han Solo. And a “walking carpet” who’s his first mate. That’s fun.
The oddest thing about this film is the off hand way it deals with the destruction of an entire planet. Yes, Leia is sad for about three seconds. And, yes, Obi-Wan has this “disturbance in the force” moment. But, man, that exceptional piece of violence is then sort of forgotten in the grander scheme of things. I assume it helps to motivate the rebel fighters willing to risk their lives to destroy the Death Star. Still, compare the treatment of this to the treatment of the death of Vulcan in Star Trek. Spock was way more affected than Leia by the deaths of his parents and his home.
Also, why did it take so long (twenty years) to complete the Death Star when most of the superstructure was already in place after only three years of construction at the end of ROTS? I certainly hope they don’t build another one laughably fast in a subsequent film. (Spoiler.)
Another thing that sets ANH apart from episodes I through III is the fact that the Han Solo character is not connected to the politics or the Jedi drama. He’s just this guy, you know? It’s refreshing.
Some of the most annoying things about ANH (with respect to the prequels) come during the Death Star rescue. Part of it is Obi-Wan referring to Vader as “Darth” the whole time. It’s clearly him calling the guy by his first name. Unfortunately, we know from the prequels that Darth is an honorific, not a name. I realize he couldn’t call the guy “Anakin” (to save the secret for the audience, or possibly because that twist wasn’t yet planned), but he should have called him “Vader” instead. Worse still is the confusion this interlude adds to the timeline. I’ll explain.
My understanding is that AOTC comes ten years after TPM, and ROTS comes three (?) years after ATOC. Then ANH is twenty years after ROTS. That means that Alec Guiness Kenobi is thirty-three years older that the first Ewan MacGregor Kenobi. If we assume that MacGregor starts the role looking roughly 20 years old, that would make Alec Guiness 53? He looks older, at least 60. (For the record, he was 62 when they filmed ANH.) If Kenobi really was MacGregor’s age (27) when the events of ANH occured, that would make Guiness an even 60. I think MacGregor played the part younger, but at least the actors ages are reasonably in line at that point. (They aged MacGregor for subsequent films, of course.) But then why did the Imperial guy say that Obi-Wan should be dead. Is it reasonable to assume people are dead at the age of 60? Particularly Jedi?
I think that the original idea was that Obi-Wan was a Force-youthened much older man and that the events of the Clone Wars were a few decades earlier, not just twenty years. That would also help to explain why the duel between Vader and Kenobi is really quite boring. They’re supposed to be old men. I mean, according to the prequels, Anakin is only, what, 43 years old at this point? And enhanced by bionic implants. We’ve seen what General Grievous could do. Why is Vader not jumping around like that?
Still, Obi-Wan’s self sacrifice is still affecting, and the finale is a rousing success, even if Chewbacca gets screwed out of a medal. All in all, I still feel about the same about this film as when I first saw it. It’s good. Really good. Not great.