Journey to The Force Awakens: Back to where it all began

Born to Kessel Run

It goes without saying that 1977’s Star Wars – later rebranded as Episode IV: A New Hope – is one of the greatest and most important movies ever made. Star Wars is the biggest multimedia franchise in the history of the world. Three trilogies of films, cartoons, comics, books, video games, theme park rides, entire theme park lands, toys, ridiculous collectibles, the list goes on. You’ve come across Star Wars in some way multiple times in your life. All of that is owed to this movie.

Using the very scientific website Box Office Mojo, we see A New Hope has the second highest domestic gross of all time, adjusted for inflation. Unadjusted it is still seventh. This movie was fucking huge. My mom saw it in theaters eight times. People ate this movie up and it changed the world.

I first saw A New Hope back in the mid-90s when my brother got the original trilogy on VHS. I’ve seen this movie so many times, and after suffering through the prequels my journey to The Force Awakens has brought me to it once again. I still enjoy it every bit as much as I did as a kid because it is such a timeless, fun story. It is fun for the whole family! Look no further than Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru’s charred bodies for proof of that!

Just a flesh wound!
Just a flesh wound!

Aside from one of the grizzliest dead body shots, like, ever, A New Hope really is fun for the family. It is the classic tale of good versus evil set in this super awesome sci-fi world. It is the hero’s journey to save a princess and beat the bad guys. Simple, but effective.

JJ Abrams recent comments on this movie were interesting. He said of making The Force Awakens, “We wanted to tell a story that had its own self-contained beginning, middle, and end but at the same time, like ‘A New Hope,’ implied a history that preceded it and also hinted at a future to follow.” That is part of what makes A New Hope so cool. It works on its own, but it is also an incredible chapter in a larger saga.

The original gangsters
The original gangsters

A New Hope is the story of Luke Skywalker. Luke is like an interstellar Springsteen song – just a simple farm boy desperate to get off the dead end planet of Tatooine and see the galaxy. Luke’s journey begins when he meets droids R2D2 and C3PO. R2 is the mischievous little trashcan troid, and C3PO the golden, prissy shit. R2 is carrying plans for the Empire’s Death Star, and that sets off a journey across the galaxy to save Princess Leia and destroy the battle station.

We’re thrown into this strange universe, and as Luke goes on his adventure, we learn about everything with him. When he meets Obi-Wan Kenobi (played by the awesome Alec Guinness) we hear about Jedi Knights and lightsabers. Things only get crazier from there.

She's got the best earmuffs in the business
She’s got the best earmuffs in the business

Then we’re whisked away to the seedy cantina in Mos Eisley. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. While there we’re introduced to smuggler Han Solo and his Wookie copilot, Chewbacca. An entire post could be dedicated to what a badass Han is. He is pilot of the Millennium Falcon, a ship very special to me. Then we meet Princess Leia, the totally badass leader of the Rebellion. It is exciting to be constantly pulled into these new situations and meet new characters and see all of this different technology.

What I was most excited about with this viewing was seeing the real Darth Vader. This guy was such a badass. The prequels tried to make him this sympathetic character and turn the saga into “The Tragedy of Darth Vader” but that’s not the Vader I know. I don’t care about his mom or wife, I only want to see him wreck shit. When we first meet him, he’s got a Rebel held about a foot off the ground, by his throat, and is interrogating the guy to find the plans for the Death Star. We learn very quickly that this guy doesn’t fuck around.

He ain't gonna be in Rush Hour 3
He ain’t gonna be in Rush Hour 3

Seriously, Darth Vader is established as such a motherfucker. He crushes that one guy’s throat with his hands, but we soon learn this guy doesn’t even need to touch you to fuck your shit up. When the power of the Force is mocked, Vader proceeds to Force choke the shit out of somebody. I’ve seen this movie a million times, but to see it now after watching the horrible prequels made Darth Vader so refreshing. No crying and complaining, just evil.

And don’t forget the inclusion of horror legend Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin. Not only does he look like the most evil dude in the universe with those sunken in cheeks, Tarkin is supremely evil as he destroys Leia’s home planet just to show her who runs the show. As a kid I didn’t care either way for Tarkin, much like I didn’t care about Count Dooku – played by Cushing’s good friend Christopher Lee – in the prequels. Being older and having seen their work in the Hammer horror films, I see a whole new wrinkle of awesomeness in these movies.

Grand Moff Tarkin. It is sad this is the only movie he is in.
Grand Moff Tarkin. It is sad this is the only movie he is in.

Speaking of awesomeness, John Williams’ Star Wars theme stands alone atop all movie themes. It is perfect. When it hits in a few weeks to open The Force Awakens, I’ll get chills and I’m sure there will be people crying. That’s not even a joke. There will be tears in the theater for sure. Everybody knows it, even if you haven’t seen the movies. And then there’s the cantina band. Their little jam is top notch.

But alas, watching this movie isn’t all fun and games. When I watch the original trilogy, I take great pride in the fact I have only ever seen the original, theatrical cuts of these films. What am I talking about? In the 1990s and 2000s, George Lucas began to bastardize the original trilogy by adding in new scenes, alternate lines and new special effects. It’s stupid and it makes me so angry every time I watch these.

I remember one time getting real mad at a friend who mentioned seeing Jabba the Hutt in this movie. This confused me since Jabba isn’t seen until Return of the Jedi. If you’re wondering why I was mad about this, it is simply wrong to confuse such an important element of the Star Wars saga. But it turns out I was wrong; apparently George Lucas added in a scene with Jabba in the ‘90s.

I find your changes to the original trilogy disturbing...
I find your changes to the original trilogy disturbing…

The worst change, however, came in the cantina scene. Han Solo is confronted by the bounty hunter Greedo. Jabba’s put a bounty on Han’s head so Greedo has come to collect. He tells Han he’s been waiting a long time to kill him, and Han goes, “Yes, I bet you have,” then proceeds to cap his ass and walk out of the cantina like a boss.

In 1997, Lucas changed the scene so Greedo shoots at Han first and misses, and then Han shoots back. This started the whole “Han shot first” controversy. In 2004, the scene was edited again so the timing of their shots is closer together, but Han still dodges and returns fire. This is a stupid change since when we’re introduced to Han Solo, he’s a dick. He’s this rude, gruff smuggler, then we see him gun down Greedo in the middle of the bar. This established that Han is a rough character and Luke might be in over his head with these seedy characters.

Changing the scene to reflect the morally clean hero Han becomes by the end of the trilogy is a totally unnecessary change. I have very little knowledge of what else Lucas changed in these movies, but this one bothers me to no end. And it shouldn’t even be “Han shot first,” as Han is the only one who shot. Han shot only.

George Lucas’ cosmetic changes to the original trilogy are largely pointless. When R2 is roaming through the desolate wasteland of Tatooine, why go back in and make the cliffs around him look even bigger? Why completely change how Han is introduced? They are just weird, little changes that Lucas says make his vision more complete, but really it just craps on the originals and gave Lucas an excuse to make more money by releasing “updated” versions of the films in the ‘90s and 2000s.

For us traditionalists, a release of the original, theatrical cuts seems to be nowhere on the horizon. If you hunt around on the internet you can find the “Despecialized Editions” of the original flicks, in which people used the Blurays and other footage to try and piece together HD cuts of the originals. They’re pretty good. There are also the DVD versions from 10 years ago that have the original cuts on a bonus disc. Those are probably my most cherished DVDs in my collection.

This picture of Jek Porkins has nothing to do with what I'm talking about, but his sacrifice cannot go unnoticed. "I can hold it!" Turns out you couldn't, but you now hold all of our hearts.
This picture of Jek Porkins has nothing to do with what I’m talking about, but his sacrifice cannot go unnoticed. “I can hold it!” Turns out you couldn’t, but you now hold all of our hearts.

When my nephews are older, I will not show them Lucas’ bastardized versions of these movies. There is one change in Return of the Jedi that is so rage-inducing I’m not even sure how I’ll be able to type about it when I get there. The moral of the story is that the original theatrical cuts are the only versions of these movies that matter, and I will die before I see the other versions.

As for the film generally, you are living a sad life if you have never seen it. The original Star Wars trilogy is iconic in every way imaginable and changed the entire world, and it started with one heck of a movie. Let’s hope The Force Awakens is closer to A New Hope in quality and less like Episode I. And when a major character dies in The Force Awakens, let’s hope it isn’t so blah like Qui-Gon Jinn’s death and instead more awesome like Obi-Wan’s.

He is now one with the Force
He is now one with the Force

If you want to take a sad journey into the heart of awful American cinema, don’t forget to read up on Episode I, Episode II and Episode III.

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