Review by Nate
Roger Ebert once said that it was difficult to see Star Wars: A New Hope “simply as a motion picture, because it has so completely become part of our memories.” I emphatically agree. As a matter of fact, the film has so thoroughly captured us into its tractor beam we not only get gleefully lost in the galactic tale of jedi knights and the struggle against the Empire, we also long to bring the universe back with us into our own. Even if you did not like the films, it’s hard to deny the franchise’s indelible mark on the culture. This is what makes writing a critique of the movie so daunting. Trying to write objectively about the film is akin to asking me to forget my childhood altogether. So I’m going to approach this critique with a different tack. I think this movie deserves four and a half stars, not only for its engaging story and incredible production but because of the long shadow it cast onto the movies that came after it. Usually my review comes at the end of a post, but since this film is more than just a movie, it’s time to throw out the playbook. Instead, I’d like to spend my time focusing on particular aspects of the film that I appreciate and discuss an element that I think is useful to identify when reflecting on what we know to be true in God’s universe.
The remastered version begins rather disjointedly (and brilliantly, might I add) with the familiar preface, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” and the title of the episode, “Chapter Four: A New Hope”. This juxtaposition between placing the story into the past and in the middle of the series gives one two impressions: First, the story we are entering into is very old; and second, it is still (at the start of the film) unfolding. This reminds me of how Christians view the Bible. That is, on the one hand, the story has been written ages ago, and we are merely peering into what took place in that particular time. On the other hand, the story is still unfolding. The kingdom of God is still spreading and the Holy Spirit is still moving through the hearts of many to seek and save the lost. As a matter of fact, the best expression of this unfinished sense of Scripture is in the particular way that the Book of Acts ends, i.e. rather abruptly and without resolution. In a sense we can view our participation as a very small part in the large-scale resolution spearheaded by God in His redemptive purpose for humanity.
There are two sets of visual aesthetics that reinforce the authenticity of the long and arduous struggle in A New Hope. The first is the clean, crisp appearance of the Galactic Empire. It is clear that these are the big sharks with lots of money (Imperial credit?) and the power to strong-arm the universe. The second is the well-worn, and sometimes earthy, appearance of everyone else, particularly the Rebel Alliance. It’s almost as if the Empire has amassed the universe’s wealth at everyone else’s expense. George Lucas and his crew should be applauded for the meticulous attention to detail with regard to the authenticity of set design and costumes. With the kind of lines that the actors needed to pull off (like “I’m a member of the Imperial Senate on a diplomatic mission to Alderaan!”), it was crucial to be undergirded with such authenticity.
The production crew should also be commended on the costumes of the characters as well. Han Solo, the perennial western gunslinger is perfectly outfitted in a black saloon vest and holster. Obi-Wan looks like he’s been spending his time meditating on the ontological argument in a Roman convent, ala robe, cloak, and hood. And Darth Vader’s look is an excellent blend of monk’s cape, Nazi helmet, and leather-clad motorcycle jumpsuit. He’s like Evil Evel Knievel with telepathy.
The storyline is still intriguing after all these years. A mysterious princess sends a droid to find an old (jedi) knight to help her defeat an evil knight and his army that is hell-bent on crushing their enemies. The old knight mentors a young knight-in-training and teams up with a couple of (space) pirates to defeat the evil knight and his army. This is The Sword and the Stone and 2001: A Space Odyssey with some High Noon and a bit of The French Connection (in space). But it works. The dialogue, while sometimes cheesy, reflects a deeper, more interesting story of betrayal, mystery, and intrigue. Who is the pretty girl seeking Obi-Wan Kenobi? What really happened to Luke Skywalker’s father? Can the Rebel Alliance really defeat the Empire’s Death Star? Underneath these elements, deeper than the overall story and its various plot points is an invitation to join Luke into his hero’s journey and learn alongside him the secrets of his family’s past. It is this particular journey, not the special effects or other clever devices, that makes A New Hope so compelling.
Despite these particular aspects that, I believe, make Star Wars: A New Hope such a cool film, there is one aspect that I have a problem with: the Force. According to Obi-Wan Kenobi, the force is “an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.” This sounds an awful lot like the monistic hindu belief that all is one, and this one is interconnected with all things. Another feature of hindu belief is the notion that reality is an illusion or maya. Obi-Wan tells Luke, “Your eyes can deceive you. Don’t trust them.” This notion of reality as an illusion is illustrated by Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back as well. Now, I’m not saying that everyone who has seen Star Wars is going to run off and become a hindu. But I do have a problem with a film device that does not reflect back on what we know to be true of reality.
The universe is ordered in such a logical manner that it is impossible to suggest that an impersonal force is its cause. Rather, as Christians posit, teleology (i.e. order) suggests a volition or intelligence behind it. And the only things that possess volition are minds, not energy fields. So to suggest, even as a film device, that characters should let go of themselves in order to tap into an energy source that is the basis of existence is simply foolish. Obi-Wan tells Luke to “let go of your conscious self and act on instinct.” This is to deny a feature of the mind that has been given to us by God for a reason. In Isaiah 1:18 God invited the Israelites to come and reason with Him. Jesus reminded us in Mark 12:30 that part of the greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all your mind. And Paul told us to be transformed by renewing our minds in Romans 12:2. The particular battle that we face in this life trades on being able to think clearly and strike down falsehoods (2 Corinthians 10:5). Had the force been something more like a personal “Spirit” that calls and guides Luke down his path, this would have been way more in line with what we know to be true. However, since the force is a reflection of hindu belief (which, if I’m not mistaken, is commensurate with George Lucas’ own beliefs), it is necessary to point back to the logical and rational God that is the basis of our existence.
This particular issue with the force is not make or break for me. As I mentioned I do not believe that everybody who sees the film will be compelled to become hindus. So, for that reason, my issue with the force only knocks my rating down from a five to four-and-a-half stars. I do recommend seeing the film, particularly with youngsters as I think that the force can be a great conversation piece to talk about how the true nature of reality is held together by a rational God. Oh, and for all the cool light-saber battles, X-wing and tie-fighter chases, and that weird E.T.-looking snake in the trash compactor. Love that!