Oh, thank the Maker’s, there’s a new one! I don’t know what the fuck 20th Century Fox were thinking ending part 3 with all our space heroes dead or running away to hide under a rock. Not everything has to be a Hollywood ending, but that was a little grim there, fellas.
PART 4: A NEW HOPE is like a new beginning after a final chapter. It’s all kinda stripped down, rawer, lower budget, 15 minutes shorter, minimal CGI and slower-moving, and refreshingly optimistic in comparison. I mean, a young man does find the burning corpses of the aunt and uncle who raised him, but no children are murdered and nobody gets more than one limb severed, so it’s pretty light-hearted compared to the last one.
Our former hero Anakin has turned into “Darth Vader” (David Prowse from FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL), stomping around in the black helmet, unrecognizable as he storms that ship that the robot droids R. D2 and C. 3PO live on now, accusing the humans of being part of a “rebel alliance.” And the guy’s got a pretty good case because when he and his soldiers (in white armor similar to the clones) board the ship a bunch of uniformed soldiers shoot back at them. They’re obviously some type of organized militia.
Mr. Vader and his guys have been sent by the governor (Peter Cushing, also from FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL) to stop the rebels from passing on the plans for their powerful moon-sized space resort “The Death Star” so they don’t find a weakness, give them to WikiLeaks, sell them to Boeing, nothin like that.
Our old friend Mr. D2 is kinda the main hero this time, he gets a message (and I believe the plans) from this rebel princess/senator (Carrie Fisher, FRANKENSTEIN ) to deliver to Obi Wan Kenobi (now played by Alec Guinness from LAWRENCE OF ARABIA). We eventually hear this princess referred to as “Leia” (pronunciation varies) which means it’s gotta be Anakin and Padme’s baby daughter in my opinion, but if so nobody ever mentions it.
Anyway 3PO got his mind wiped last time so he doesn’t know who the fuck Obi Wan Kenobi is, but R2’s gotta be thinking “oh shit, the day has finally come.” Remember, D2 and Kenobi worked together alot, but there was some tension between them last time, when they saved the life of that, uh, evil Sith who then declared himself Emperor and has been responsible for decades of terror and misery ever since. D2 cannot be happy about having to go talk to Kenobi again, but he droids up and and does what he’s gotta do. The two robots sneak away to Anakin’s home planet Tatooine (Birthplace of Podracing) but get abducted by Jawas (the little hooded guys who gave Anakin directions when he was trying to rescue his Ma).
I don’t want to impugn the entire Jawa race, but these specific Jawas are robot poachers and re-sellers, and they sell our droids to a local farmer and his nephew. And I’ll be damned if it ain’t Anakin’s stepbrother Owen Lars (Phil Brown, VALDEZ IS COMING) and son Luke (Mark Hamill, THE BIG RED ONE), no longer a newborn baby but a young man. In fact, a talented and somewhat whiny pilot, just like his old man. So however old he is (late teens-ish) is how much time has passed.
That there is a testament to this new Empire’s Jedicidal effectiveness. In that short window they’ve killed all but two of the Jedis and eradicated the religion so thoroughly that anybody who’s heard of The Force tends to make fun of it, treating it like some laughable fad cult that nobody takes seriously anymore. Luke never heard of it. The British Empire guys that Vader works with on the space station give him a bunch of shit about it, even though they look more than old enough to have been adults during the Jedi-led Clone Wars. I guess they were just sheltered. A guy the heroes team up with later will make fun of it, and Governor Tarkin will tell Vader, “You my friend are all that’s left of their religion.” Kinda harsh but on the other hand kinda sweet that he calls him “my friend.” I bet a big magic guy encased in black plastic doesn’t get very many people calling him their friend.
Notably, though, there’s a later scene where some of the brass in the Rebel Alliance explain the game plan to their pilots and instead of “Let’s see some hustle!” he ends with “May the Force be with you.” So at least in this rebel subculture there is some amount of respect or recognition for the religion.
Lars owns the robots now but R2 is no man’s droid. He makes a run for it and leads Luke and 3PO to Obi Wan’s pad out in a rough part of the desert. Kenobi – who goes by “Ben” now, so please respect that – seems like kind of a lovable eccentric in his retirement. He’s “kind of a strange old hermit” according to Luke, and “that wizard is just a crazy old man” according to Uncle Owen. If their was any urgency to strike back at the end of the last one it seems like he’s kinda moved on in the post-star-war years. I don’t get the feeling he’s been biding his time like Darth Maul behind a force field, waiting to be called into action. Nah, he gave up on all that shit a long time ago and is happy to just live alone in his little house and occasionally go outside to chase away marauding People of Sandness.
When all this shit comes up again Ben is kinda playful about it, not very honest. At first he calls R2 “my little friend,” but I believe it’s just out of politeness. He definitely doesn’t recognize him, or he wouldn’t be so surprised when his old name “Obi Wan” is mentioned. If he does recall him he pretends otherwise. And when Luke asks him about his father he doesn’t say “oh yeah, it’s Darth Vader,” he gets all poetical and talks about Darth Vader “killing” his father.
It’s kinda sweet when he reminisces about their star war days, says Anakin was a good friend. It’s true, despite everything. Then he remembers to go into the junk drawer and get Anakin’s light saber, give it to Luke saying his father wanted him to have it when he was old enough. Of course we know that Anakin never said anything like that. Ben picked that thing up off the ground after triple-dismembering the motherfucker and leaving him for dead, crying in the dirt, catching on fire. But you know what, he’s right, if the old nice Anakin he knew had stuck around I’m sure he would’ve wanted to pass his light saber down to the next generation. And if not what’s the harm in letting Luke think he did?
Although you’re right it’s kinda sexist that the boy automatically gets it, maybe he would’ve wanted to give it to the girl, it’s not like Jedis are a strictly male order.
For Ben it kinda seems like a nostalgia trip. He gets this message and knows he can go off on an adventure, wants to bring the kid with him and teach him some Jedi shit. He talks self-deprecatingly about his tendency to go on “damn fool idealistic crusade”s, and notes that Owen Lars always disapproved of shit like that. Luke – who dreams of going to “The Academy” and perks up at any mention of “the rebellion against the Empire” – nevertheless demonstrates textbook apathy as soon as it becomes non-hypothetical: “Listen, I can’t get involved. I’ve got work to do. It’s not that I like the Empire, I hate it! But there’s nothing I can do about it right now… it’s all such a long way from here.”
Yep, that’s why there’s an Empire, kid. First they came for the Gungans, and I said nothing…
Well, Vader’s troopers (without him, because he has other shit to do) follow the droidprints to Luke’s uncle’s farm and kill everybody, so he decides you know what, maybe I don’t have work to do, maybe I can get involved, maybe there is something I can do right now. He straight up says “I want to learn the ways of the Force and become a Jedi like my father.” Packs the droids in the car and heads for the city with old Ben, to try to hitch a ride to the star war.
This is not a total bummer movie though. R2 gets some funny parts, for one thing. I can’t understand anything he’s saying, but I can tell it’s funny. Like when 3PO says “No, I don’t think he likes you at all,” and we know that means that R2 asked him “Do you think he likes me?” Ha ha, bashful little guy worried about whether or not Anakin’s kid thinks he’s cool.
Also there’s alot of what the internet called “world building” when AVATAR first came out and that was their favorite obsession. Little details that aren’t important on their own but combine like pointillist dots to create a portrait of the place and time where this takes place. For example, when our boys are raising havoc on the Death Star one of these “stormtroopers” doesn’t know the facts yet and says to a co-worker “Maybe it’s another drill.” So we know that this is a place where they do an annoying amount of drills. Fucking tightass Governor Tarkin trying to keep everybody busy, justifying the expense of this Death Star at a time of mostly star peace.
One of the best scenes is when our heroes go to this little dive bar to mingle and find their pilot. It’s much smaller than the Coruscant night club from part 2 but in my opinion it’s got a better vibe to it, not as much of a corporate sports bar chain type of feel and more of a local watering hole. Then again this city is a “spaceport” so I guess you got alot of people just passing through. I think it would be more comparable to a truck stop than an airport bar, though. I don’t see any obvious tourists. Well, maybe this guy:
It seems like a pretty cool place, kinda rowdy, the kinda place where Ben has to chop off some asshole’s arm and everybody looks over for a second and then goes back to what they were doing. Also they got live music.
I gotta say, Luke doesn’t have the best bar etiquette. He handles that guy that gets in his face pretty well, but when he wants to order a drink he actually grabs the back of the bartender’s shirt and yanks on it.
What the fuck is that? That guy’s gotta be a saint not to toss the kid out on his ass like a droid. Not to be racist. That’s just the way it was back then, they didn’t serve droids, they made them wait outside like horses or dogs. I feel uncomfortable with that, for that reason I would never write a Yelp review of this place, no matter how cool it is to hang out there. I just can’t go along with a shameful, backwards policy like that.
Anyway, Ben meets a bigfoot type of individual named Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew, SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER) and his partner Hans (Harrison Ford, EXPENDABLES 3), offer them some cash they badly need (Hans owes a bunch of money to the jolly gangster Jabba, that podrace gambler who used to date Gardullah the Hutt) to fly them to the princess, who Mr. Vader is holding captive and torturing on the space station, it’s fucked up. Their whole ship gets swallowed up by the thing but they hide and manage to sneak around undetected.
The most interesting thing about this story is seeing Obi Wan come face to face with burnt up Ani all these years later. I’m sure he stands by what he did but Jesus, it’s gotta be awkward facing his old friend for the first time since making a teapot out of him.
Uh, hey… look man, that was– that Mustafar shit was a long time ago, you know? Plus there was a chick involved, emotions got understandably high… But let’s be the bigger man here, Anakin. Let’s not dwell on old shit. All right?
Plus back then Kenobi only had a slight edge. These days he doesn’t have a fuckin prayer. He’s not Randy Couture, training harder than a man half his age. He’s gone soft as butter. He’s been in his little hovel past the Dune Sea, probly doing puzzles and shit, watching Midsomer Murders. Vader’s younger, he’s mechanically enhanced, he’s more practiced than ever. When the Clone Wars ended he didn’t kick back, he’s been chasing Jedis and rebels down ever since, using the Force all the time, even practicing the Padme Amidala Memorial No-Contact Choke Hold on his co-workers. So Vader v. Kenobi II is an embarrassment, like Ali v. Holmes. Vader doesn’t break a sweat, doesn’t even have to climb onto anything or do any flips or try to get the high ground. He could be wearing a bib around his neck, eating corn on the cob during this fight and would still win easily.
Kenobi’s gonna get killed, and when I say “killed” I mean that he will actually be killed, that is what will actually happen in this scene (SPOILER). But he has a trick up his sleeve. He lets Vader win, almost definitely an idea he got from 3PO saying “I suggest another strategy: let the Wookiee win” during a star chess scene earlier. They should have a flashback to make it more clear. Ben just stands there and leaves himself open to saber-chopping, but he waits until Luke is there to see it.
This is not an accident. When he knows he has all the pieces in place he actually smiles.
He does this little meditation thing and when Vader swings on him he has turned into an empty cloak. Vader moves it around with his foot like “what the shit? Where did he go?”
Now, don’t get too excited, it does seem like a ninja escape technique, like in NINJA III where the ninja is surrounded by cops so he throws down a smoke bomb and buries himself and they think he’s gone, but that’s not what’s going on here, Kenobi actually died. See, earlier he said something to the effect of “you can strike me down, motherfucker, but I’m just gonna become more powerful than your Sith ass ever fuckin dreamed.” And this has both a literal and poetical type meaning:
LITERAL: Remember, after Qui-Gonn Jinn died we heard his voice trying to warn Anakin not to commit genocide in part 2 and then at the end of part 3 Yoda told Ben (then Obi Wan) that he has a message from Qui Gonn from beyond the pyre. Well, he musta taught Kenobi his trick, now Kenobi is dead but later in the movie his voice can speak to Luke, give him encouraging words that in a martial arts movie would be an audio flashback to a soundbite from an earlier training montage, but in this is literally the voice of a dead guy speaking to him. That’s powerful. Vader can’t throw his voice like that.
POETICAL: Kenobi gets struck down but he symbolically lives on through the lessons he taught Luke and the powerful actions Luke performs in combination with the rebel star fleet. One young Jedi with an army is more powerful than an old Jedi out in the desert alone.
The actual starwarfare in this one seems a little clunky and basic compared to what went down in the earlier pictures, but it’s got a great sense of speed and visual clarity, a distinct difference between the rebel ships and the bad guys as they drag race down a narrow trench on the space station that’s almost as long as the air strip in FURIOUS 6. There is a simple goal and a martial arts type bit of philosophy: Luke has to shoot a bullseye on this one sweet spot and he figures out the way to do that is to turn off all his equipment, shut his eyes and U.T.F., Use The Force. He hears Ben Kenobi telling him that but he might as well hear Bruce Lee saying “Trust your instincts.”
At this point Vader seems to be in a position in the organization where he wouldn’t have to get his gloves dirty, but he’s very robotic-hands on, he goes out there with the grunts to get shit done. And he’s gotta live up to Ben’s stories about him being a great pilot. I like that when he joins the space battle he has a ship that’s longer and sleeker than the other guys get to use. That’s just like Ani, going back to the pod race days. I bet he customized that thing himself. I’m just surprised he didn’t make it yellow, he seemed to have a thing for yellow sports ships in parts 2 and 3. But maybe he grew out of that when his life got darker.
This is a simple but solid entry in the series. They coulda fucked it up with all these recastings and new characters, but they pulled it off. Congratulations to returning writer/director George Lucas. You still got it, George.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.