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Thursday, 25 May 2017

Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope

Written by:George Lucas|Directed by:George Lucas|Release Date:1977

I've been writing about science fiction for just over a year now, but this week on Sci-Fi Adventures I face my greatest challenge yet: trying to find something even slightly original to say about Rogue One 2: The Star Wars, also known as Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope. Or just Star Wars.

The 'Episode IV - A New Hope' bit was added in a theatrical re-release later, but then everyone knows that already. Everyone already knows everything about this bloody movie! There's been essential guides and technical manuals and visual dictionaries and Wookiepedias and Plinketts and podcasts analysing every minute of it, every frame of it, for 40 years now (happy birthday Star Wars!) So it wouldn't come as a huge shock to me if you know more about the movie than I do.

I'm definitely a Star Wars fan, but I've never been obsessed with it to the level that some people are. I've never bought action figures or gone to conventions. I didn't even watch the films in the right order! My introduction to the series was Return of the Jedi, then I watched (some of) Empire Strikes Back, and then Spaceballs. In fact I was probably playing the games before I saw the movie itself. I've put more hours into TIE Fighter and the Jedi Knight series than any of the films.

Though I'm sure I must have seen A New Hope at least of three times by this point. First I rented it on VHS, then I saw the Special Edition in widescreen at the cinema in '97, then I watched the 2004 DVD version a year or so back. So the movie keeps changing every time I see it and that's just weird.

Alright, this is a two hour movie so I'm going to be showing off an absurd amount of screencaps and providing my dumb commentary under each one as I go through the film. Here's something I've noticed already: the Star Wars logo text isn't hollow, the letters are filled in black. Man if I can demonstrate this level of startling insight all the way through maybe there's a chance I can pull this off!

It should be fairly obvious that this will be filled with SPOILERS for Star Wars: Episode IV, but it might come as a surprise that I won't be spoiling anything made after it. So no spoilers for Empire, the prequels, or Rogue One. Some people think that insanely popular 37 year old movies are fair game for spoilers, but that's not how I do things.

War, spaceships, evil Empire... yes yes I'm sure this is all very interesting, but when is it going to get to the part about taxation of trade routes and debates in congress? Hang on, this is giving away the entire plot to Rogue One! So much for no spoilers.

Star Wars starts with a line right out of a storybook, then a logo explodes out of the screen with a fanfare and speeds off, which is then followed by an angled opening crawl right out of an old movie serial. Says a lot about what we're getting here. Opening crawls are generally a bad sign in a film, but stick John Williams' theme over the top and it somehow works.

It was an interesting choice to put an orchestral soundtrack on a sci-fi movie in the 70s, but man did it pay off. The film sounds timeless... even though the theme is suspiciously similar the film Kings Row from 1942. Like with most films since the dawn of cinema, Lucas used temp tracks to get an idea for what he wanted the film to sound like. In fact he nearly pulled a 2001: A Space Odyssey and used classical music for the movie, but I'm glad he didn't.

The crawl was original filmed with a camera running on tracks over a lightbox, but it's been replaced with a computer generated version since then. Plus they've stuck 'A NEW HOPE' on the top, which isn't the best of the titles but fits the retro 30s film serial theme well enough that I can't complain.

One thing that's very modern is the lack of opening credits, which got George Lucas in trouble with the Director's Guild of America when he made Empire Strikes Back a few years later. He got away with it here because the 'Lucas' part of the Lucasfilm logo technically counted as his director's credit, but he wasn't the one who directed Empire, that was Irvin Kershner. He didn't direct another movie until 1999's The Phantom Menace in fact. Lucas paid his fine and then quit the director's and writer's guilds so that he could do whatever he wanted, and the Star Wars openings have remained creditless ever since. Even in the Disney films.

After the opening crawl the camera pans down to reveal a moon, then another moon, then a planet, and then a little spaceship trading fire with a gigantic menacing grey triangle that flies in overhead and keeps going. After 6 seconds you see the giant docking bay and think you must be near the back of it now but nope you're only halfway through.

Of course the Special Edition removes most of this and replaces it with a shot of CGI Stormtroopers running down the corridors, with one slipping on a banana peel and sending the others toppling over like bowling pins. That's not actually true, but man it seems plausible

Filming model sizes
One thing I find harder to believe is that the Star Destroyer model was only half the size of the ship it's chasing! ILM were able to pull things like this thanks to their revolutionary Academy Award winning custom built Dykstraflex motion control camera system, and the fact that they glued lots of little bits of model kits to their ships to add detail.

The Star Destroyer model was actually around 3 feet long and didn't even have internal lighting, save for the engines at the back, but it was so finely detailed that they were able to stick a camera right up next to it for a 12 second shot and it stood up to scrutiny.

The Tantive IV Blockade Runner on the other hand was 6 feet long and so detailed that it actually has a tiny Star Wars poster and a Playboy centrefold (Miss July 1976) hanging inside the cockpit. It also has a tiny bit of red paint on it which is awesome. The idea that you can have colour on spaceships still seems like a revolutionary idea sometimes.

If you're curious, the Star Destroyer Devastator here is meant to be 1,600 meters (1 mile) long, which is 12.6 times longer than the Blockade Runner, 5.5 times longer than the original Starship Enterprise, 4.8 times longer than an aircraft carrier and 1/7th the length of Spaceball One. In one draft there were going to be four of these things chasing the Blockade Runner, but that kinda seems like overkill.

This Imperial Star Destroyer model was likely retired after the movie as Empire Strikes Back featured a slightly different class of Star Destroyer (Imperial II) with a new model which was twice the size and had different details. Plus the windows lit up. But the old Imperial Is got to make a second appearance 40 years later in Rogue One, which was a nice touch by the filmmakers. They could've just made them generic Star Destroyers but they went the extra mile for the sake of continuity even though it's bloody hard to even tell the difference. Here's a fun Star Wars fact for you: ILM kicked ass on all these movies.

There's an explosion outside the Blockade Runner and it cuts inside to show three robots looking worried. Two look a bit like Maria from Metropolis and the other looks almost (but not quite) entirely unlike the drones in Silent Running. I'm struggling to remember many space movies that predate Star Wars but these clear white hallways are very 2001: A Space Odyssey. They're starting us off with a typical sterile sci-fi set so that we're not thrown into this universe at the deep end.

Straight away we see two C-3POs at once which makes it clear that he's not anything special in this world, though one takes a wrong turn and walks right out of the movie. And then we get to see some human troops running around as well to alleviate any concerns that this is a movie entirely about robots. It still blows my mind that there's blokes in those suits, and one inside R2-D2 too. Also I'm apparently not much of a Star Wars fan, as I had to look up how to spell their names just now. It's apparently C-3PO with an 'O' not a zero, and R2-D2 has a dash in it. Not that we have any idea what they're called at this point.

And C-3PO gets the first line in Star Wars: "Did you hear that? They've shut down the main reactor. We'll be destroyed for sure! This is madness." I'm impressed that he even knows what a reactor shutting down sounds like.

Other first lines include: "Echo Three to Echo Seven", "This will begin to make things right",  "Lock on to him, R2" and "Command station, this is ST321, code clearance blue"!

The Star Destroyer captures the crippled ship in its docking bay and the Stormtroopers blast their way in. But the Rebel crew are going to have a go at fighting them all off in a futile last stand, because why not? You never know if you're going to be cannon fodder or a protagonist unless you try.

It doesn't work out for them though as they're slaughtered. Though in death they get some small measure of revenge as the Stormtroopers struggle to step over all their googy oversized helmets on the floor.

I've heard that the DVD version of the movie has some colour and saturation issues, and yeah I'm starting to see what they mean. That ceiling didn't used to be purple a minute ago.

And then C-3PO and R2-D2 decide to take a stroll right through a corridor full of soldiers shooting at each other! If they're trying to establish that this guy's a coward they're doing it the wrong way.

It's not stretching credibility that they escape unscathed through, because why would anyone aim at them? The Rebels don't want to shoot their own robots and from a Stormtrooper's point of view, a shot wasted on the droids is a shot that they could've sent towards one of the people on the opposite side of the corridor that's trying to kill them. And they're not likely to miss and hit them by accident because Stormtroopers have incredible aim (though one of them totally misses and takes a chunk out of the wall).

I'm not really impressed with anyone's tactics so far, as there's a lot of standing in the middle of corridors going on, but I have to give the Rebels points for actually raising their weapons high enough to look down the sights. Stormtroopers are more into shooting from the hip it seems.

Hey it's Darth Vader, sealed up inside his space suit because the concept art looked too cool for him not to be. He's just here to breathe heavily and look around at all the dead people right now. The Stormtroopers break the white hats = good, black hats = evil rule, but Vader's so dark he's practically a silhouette right now (his costume gets shinier in the later movies). The Stormtroopers are blending into the background by comparison, which shows that their gear is probably spaceship camo.

I'm not sure Vader would count as the main villain of the movie, he's more of a henchman to Grand Moff Tarkin, and R2-D2 isn't quite the main protagonist either, so we're still waiting on their introduction. In fact we're still waiting for anyone's introduction, as no one's been given a name yet.

But Luke Skywalker would've originally shown up about now, watching the battle from the ground with his binoculars. There's a deleted scene where he sees flashes in the sky, yells to his robot buddy to follow him to his landspeeder... and the robot sparks a bit and blows up. So he just leaves him there and drives off. And I don't think it's to get help.

Man this movie has some nice shots in it.

R2-D2 inexplicably manages to give C-3PO the slip and meet up with a mysterious woman to receive a mysterious data card. I always thought it was a disc but frame by frame analysis seems to indicate that it's rectangular. See, you're going to learn all kinds of fascinating new things about Star Wars here! Plus she slides it into a slot right under his eye, it's so gross.

I remembered that C-3PO found his buddy just in time to catch the last few words of the message she had him record before running off, but nope she's entirely silent and mysterious during her entire appearance. Once he's reunited with his old friend C-3PO immediately gets back to listing all the ways in which they're screwed, but he actually addresses him by name this time so we finally know who someone is!

Meanwhile the invaders have captured the ship, taking several crewmen and R2-D2 lookalikes prisoner. I guess those poor droids are going to be sent to the spice mines of Kessel or smashed into who knows what.

A brave Stormtrooper comes over to tell Darth Vader that the Death Star plans the Blockade Runner intercepted aren't in the main computer, so Vader chokes Captain Antilles one-handed for information until his neck snaps and then throws him into a pipe. The film's not ready to reveal Force powers just yet, so he uses his cyborg super strength instead.

Darth Vader's last name isn't a clue that he's someone's dad by the way, even though 'vader' means 'father' in Dutch. George Lucas went the same school as a guy called Gary Vader, so it was a last name that was floating around in his head to be used. Later on we got Darth Sidious as well, so there was a definite 'pick a sinister word beginning with 'in' and remove the first two letters' theme beginning to form. Somewhere in Lucas' house there must be an old notepad covered in crossed out names like Darth Edible, Darth Decent, Darth Justice, Darth Sufferable, Darth Ebriate, Darth Flammable, and Darth Bred.

The mysterious woman is captured with probably the only stun shot in the whole movie series (followed by the first mention of Lord Vader's name), but R2-D2 has been given a secret mission to deliver the Death Star plans so he and his mate slip out in an escape pod.

It seems that other people have tried to do this already and got immediately blown up by the Star Destroyer (they really are that evil), but with two droids aboard there's no life signs to detect so the gunner is ordered to hold fire because... they're conserving ammo? Incidentally, that scene with the gunner is the only time we get a glimpse of the inside of a Star Destroyer in this movie.

The droids then watch the two ships vanish into the distance from a window that clearly isn't on the model (unless it's hidden between the engine nozzles).

The mysterious unnamed agent gets brought to see Vader and we finally get some confirmation that she's that Princess Leia that was mentioned in the opening scroll! Well he calls her 'your highness' anyway. Vader figures that she must have hidden the plans in the escape pod and sends a team down to the planet retrieve them. He also breaths at the same time as he's talking and that's weird.

Meanwhile R2 and 3PO have landed in the middle of nowhere, and are leaving very obvious tracks as they go. Still it's impressive that they're even able to move in all this sand. They must be cursing the day that George Lucas read the novel Dune. Though they're not actually that far from where they need to be, so either R2 was steering the pod towards coordinates given by Leia, or the Force did it.

But 3PO decides that R2, with his astromech sensors and obvious knowledge about where to go, is clearly going in the wrong direction, and abandons his best friend to walk in the opposite direction!

The scenes with R2 in them feel different now that I've seen Rogue One. I'm not spoiling anything here, the movie's plot is in Star Wars' opening crawl, but it's one thing being told that rebel spies got a message to Leia's ship and it's another seeing what they went through to do it. Everything they did, all the people who died, it was all to get the plans that R2's now responsible for. He's got the ball, it's all on him, and now he's stepping up and being a big damn hero while 3PO's just bitching about everything.

Well, he was until he got shot anyway.

I guess it didn't really matter which way they went as they both get captured by Jawas. Seems that hunting rogue droids is just something they do out here on the inexplicable desert world of Tatooine. I mean how do they even breathe here? Where does the oxygen come from huh?

R2 wakes up to find that they're trapped inside the Jawa's sandcrawler amongst a bunch of other robots, like that one that Luke abandoned in the deleted scene, and another one that says "Gonk." It's basically the famous cantina scene except with robots instead of aliens.

It's lucky they got caught though really as the Stormtroopers are hot on their trail. Well they've at least figured out now that they're chasing droids after one finds a metal ring lying in the sand. It must be from 3PO, considering how much he's leaking. R2 was built to withstand extreme conditions to fix spaceships in outer space, 3PO was built to complain about things.

This is one of the new shots created for the 1997 Special Edition, featuring a CGI landing craft and CGI Stormtroopers riding CGI dewbacks. The original scene had a single animatronic dewback in the background, but that was apparently deemed insufficient to entertain modern audiences. Makes me wonder where they got them all from though. Did they bring them down from their ship? Buy them from a Jawa sandcrawer full of dewbacks?

Speaking of Jawas, they've parked their truck next to the Lars homestead to see if they can sell them some robots. Man that's a huge sandcrawler prop. It was so big that the Algerian government apparently sent someone to inspect it to make sure that they didn't have a super weapon parked up next to their border.

It's taken about a quarter of an hour but we finally get the introduction of Luke Skywalker and the reveal of C-3PO's name here. R2's probably said it once or twice already but he speaks in beeps and bloops so that wasn't much help. 3PO was apparently meant to be more of a slick car salesman type and he kind of slips into that personality here as he tries to get himself (and eventually R2) bought into robot slavery to escape the Jawas.

Droids in this are pretty much sapient as far as well can tell, so it seems kind of shady for people to be to buy, own and chain them up with restraining bolts (including our hero!) But hey they've got human slavery here too, one of the main characters was a slave in fact, so no one's going to be claiming that the Star Wars universe is a progressive utopia. Though I don't remember any characters displaying obvious racism or sexism in the film (aside from Han Solo's aversion to 'female advice'). I suppose it's hard to discriminate against people who aren't there.

Now that Lucas' main protagonist has appeared, the movie's clearly shifted its attention to Luke S. and his problems. But he's on the hero's journey so he's got to start off whiny and rubbish.

He wants to take off in his T-16 Skyhopper and be free to fly off to the Academy, but he's stuck here playing with a model of it instead. You can see the craft right outside the window now, parked in his giant spaceship garage (the car garage is on the left). 3PO asks if he can help, but Luke says what he really needs is for some to speed up time or teleport him away, which are two sci-fi tricks that haven't been shown to exist in the Star Wars movies. It seems that Luke's been reading SF stories, though I'm not sure what he's been reading them from as it doesn't seem like books exists in this universe either! (Okay we see one in the Last Jedi trailer, but maybe paper was invented in the meantime!)

When 3PO reveals he doesn't actually know where he is, Luke replies "If there's a bright centre to the universe, you're on the planet that it's farthest from." I'm sure he's speaking metaphorically though and he's not really on the outer rim of the universe, looking out into the absolute blackness of an infinite empty void. That's all we get out of him though, as he gives so few fucks about the planet he's on that he never mentions its name. 'Tatooine' isn't spoken once in the whole movie! It's named after a town in Tunisia called 'Tataouine' by the way, which I've only just learned.

Then they do a 'Sir Luke' routine, which thankfully doesn't last long, and 3PO says that he's "C-3PO, human-cyborg relations", which raises so many questions. Is he a cyborg? Does he have an organic brain in there? Did they pull a RoboCop on a murdered human butler, and rebuild him with full body prosthesis and no memory? Or does he just help humans get along with cyborgs?

Luke's ears prick up when 3PO mentions the rebellion, though the droid's careful not to mention what their involvement was (or even what side they were on). Then he gets to work trying to unjam something stuck inside R2, which I guess is meant to be the card with the plans on it... but that was inserted just under his eye, and he's trying to get something out of his body.

Even if Luke's looking in the wrong place R2 wants to discourage any further unjamming so he plays a bit of the hologram message recorded by Leia to trick Luke into removing the restraining bolt the Jawas put on. Once it's off he stops the message entirely and waits for Luke to leave the room so that he can make a run for it and continue his mission. Man this scene would be so creepy if the droids were humans.

It's interesting that 3PO tells R2 to behave himself because he can trust Luke, while also holding back that he knows that the woman in the hologram is Rebel agent Princess Leia.

It's also interesting that he falls off the step when the hologram comes on, but regains his balance so well that I never noticed until now.

It turns out that Leia got the Death Star plans from the Rebel spies and then decided that she was in no real rush to get them back to base, so she might as well swing by Tatooine and visit a guy called Obi-Wan Kenobi along the way. But now everything's gone to crap and we can piece together from the info we have that R2's intent on taking the plans to Kenobi.

But when Luke's Uncle Owen hears the name Obi-Wan Kenobi he immediately tells him to have the droid's memory erased. Also he won't let him go to the Academy this year because he claims that he needs him around to help with the harvest. Maybe he does, but it's also clear that he's deliberately holding Luke back even though most of his friends have gone because he's too much like his dead father. So there's a hint.

Also Luke's Aunt Beru is in this scene, bringing the female character count to two... I think. And we're still only in the first half hour! But we could've been up to three if these scenes of Luke with his friends hadn't been cut.

It's Lady Sabrina Mulholland-Jjones from that episode of Red Dwarf!

There was going to be a lot more of Luke living his boring normal life in the first act. His friends call him Wormy, so there's a fact I never needed to know.

In one deleted scene Luke is hanging out with his friend Biggs, who's back for a visit after joining the Academy. Luke tells him stories about the exciting things he's missed while he was off world, like the time he busted up his Skyhopper and got grounded, but they don't really compare to what Biggs' has to tell him. He and a few of the folks he met at the Academy are going to jump ship and try to join the Rebel Alliance!

The scene would've put the brakes on the movie even more than they have been already so I'm glad it got cut, but it also makes clear that the Academy has nothing to do with the Empire and that Luke isn't desperate to leave home and be a TIE fighter pilot, so it's a shame that bit of info was lost. He's probably too short anyway.

They had the sense to keep this iconic binary sunset scene though, with Luke staring directly at the two suns of his alien world (which is, like, double bad for your eyes). This scene helps reinforce that this really honestly isn't Earth that they're on, and lets John Williams' score summarise the content of the deleted scenes with just a few seconds of music: this guy really really wants to get off of this craphole planet he's trapped on and go have adventures.

And then Luke goes back inside to find that R2 ran off into the desert while he was distracted.

The next morning he takes 3PO out in his landspeeder to find him (with 3PO at the wheel) and soon catches up to his rogue droid. But R2 tells him that creatures are approaching, so he rushes back to his landspeeder and... gets his gun and goes somewhere he can have a better view. Dude they're riding elephants with fake masks on, I'm sure you could outrun them!

But Luke had to be an idiot so now he's been knocked out by Sand People and they're raiding his landspeeder. They're not actually taking anything though, just going through the sheets of bent metal piled up in the back seat and throwing it around.

Eventually the crazy hermit wizard Old Ben Kenobi shows up dressed like a really tall Jawa and he scares them off with a cry. Though what cry you get depends on the version of the film you're watching. Luke wakes up, learns that this guy's the Obi-Wan that R2's looking for, and they're ready to drive off when R2 interrupts with some beeping to remind him about 3PO.

Together they find 3PO lying with his arm torn off, revealing that it's basically just cables in there, and he's all like "Leave me here, I'm done for!" and they're all like "Nah mate, you'll be fine." For someone who constantly lists all the ways in which he's screwed he doesn't seem to be too bothered about being left to rust in the desert alone. Maybe he wants a second try with the Jawas to see if he can get a better master.

Every time I see this scene I'm worried that Luke's going to take 3PO's head off with his new lightsaber. I'm sure he'd be able to put it back on again though, he did a good job fixing his arm.

Turns out that Ben Kenobi knew Luke's dad, and he was the best space pilot in the galaxy who was also a Jedi Knight with a laser sword who could use an energy field called the Force to give him super powers. But he was murdered by Darth Vader. Man, they should make a trilogy about this guy, he sounds awesome. Though that's partly because Alec Guinness delivers his lines with so much gravitas. The actor may have considered Star Wars to be fairy tale rubbish but he got the job done. Even his wig is convincing!

R2 plays the full hologram message from Leia, so now they all know that the droid has the crucial information in him and they need to get him to her dad on Alderaan (except for 3PO who fell asleep). But Luke refuses the call to adventure because his Uncle really really needs him to stick around and farm moisture for another year. He's totally keeping his dad's sword though.

Meanwhile, in space, that really big grey triangle we saw at the start is being utterly dwarfed by an even bigger and greyer circle!

Now that the heroes have Alec Guinness on their side, the villains need to step things up a notch. So they bring in Peter Cushing as Governor Tarkin! I've also spotted the guy from that Doctor Who episode I just watched (The Face of Evil) sitting on the right, but he's not saying a whole lot.

I've been paying attention to the way the camera's been moving around this scene and I'm starting to think that this George Lucas guy might actually be a pretty good director! At least when it comes to the technical side. It's a shame he couldn't stop the back of Tarkin's chair wobbling though.

This scene establishes that the Imperial Senate has been disbanded by the Emperor and that Darth Vader can choke a man from across the room with that Force thing that was mentioned earlier without getting thrown out of the room for assaulting someone! This scene originally went on a little longer and introduced him as being a Sith Lord sent by the Emperor, which is interesting as I don't think the Sith are ever mentioned in the original trilogy.

Star Wars #1 (July 1977)
I don't think they ever filmed a version where Vader's enjoying a hot cup of coffee during the scene though. You have to read the Marvel comic adaptation for that. Or watch Spaceballs.

Anyway back on Tatooine we discover that Stormtroopers have wrecked the sandcrawler, murdered all the Jawas, then killed anyone they've sold droids to recently as well. So Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru are now a pair of charred skeletons. It seems a bit like overkill to show us this, especially if Lucas was considering the film to be a kids movie, though I guess it removes any ambiguity about their fate. Plus it gives Luke another chance to stare at something and have emotions while the music plays.

Though for some reason the Stormtroopers decided to hide their involvement and make it look like the Sand People have been going on a rampage, maybe because they were bored? I can't think of any other reason.

Now that Luke's lost everything tying him down he's ready to accept the call to adventure. So he goes back to pick up Ben Kenobi and finds 3PO busy throwing Jawas corpses into a fire. Too soon 3PO, too soon.

Back on the Death Star, we learn that Princess Leia's elaborate hair style has survived her incarceration by the evil Imperials. But they really want to know where the Rebels' hidden base is so Darth's come by to use his torture ball on her. It's like a regular floating ball, except with a syringe stuck to the side to make it scary.

Now that I've got a clear shot of the guy I can mention that Vader dresses a little differently in this movie than he does in the sequels. An expert could point out all kinds of subtle changes, but the thing that jumps out to me is that his robes are running over his armour instead of under it. Though the movies did return to this original look when it was appropriate, and I appreciated that when it happened.

I've heard people say that sci-fi movies and TV series aren't a historical drama where everything has to be period accurate and have strict continuity to the established visual styles, but those folks clearly have their brains wired differently to me because when I go back to something I like to see everything exactly where I left it.

See, this is what happens when creators start reimagining history!

Mos Eisley spaceport is looking a lot more like late 90s CGI than it used to and I'm not sure that's a good thing. I'm definitely not keen on all the goofy slapstick that's been added, like a droid punching an annoying floating robot and Jawas falling off a startled dinosaur thing. It's like a sneak preview of The Phantom Menace.

It would've all been fine as an isolated clip to show off Lucasfilm's new technology or whatever, but it doesn't belong in this movie because, spoilers for the rest of the movie, Jawas don't fall off dinosaurs at any other point in it. From what I can recall the closest the film comes to slapstick after this is the time 3PO falls into some wires and the bit when the Stormtrooper bumps his head on a door. And that second one was accidental!

But I can't complain about this subtle cameo by Dash Rendar's ship, the Outrider. Not that you can really tell what it is.

Dash Rendar was a Han Solo clone invented for the Shadows of the Empire book/video game/multimedia project that Lucasfilm had going on around this time. It was like they released all the tie-ins for a spin-off movie and then forgot the movie. But even though Star Wars Special Edition came out the year after, the Outrider model was apparently designed for the movie first and then borrowed by Shadows.

The Imperials aren't idiots so they've got people at the spaceports asking for identification, so even people in the ass end of Tatooine have to have ID apparently. Fortunately Ben gives us our second demonstration of the Force by editing the script in real-time so that they just let them go. Harrison Ford would later demonstrate the same skill to fix some of his dialogue.

They go to a cantina to hire a pilot but find they have to leave the droids outside because of anti-droid racism (or maybe they've been used to help people cheat at cards with their sensors, I dunno), so the super important R2 unit packed with secret plans gets to wait in the street unguarded. On the plus side he doesn't have to listen to the music any more. What sort of hive of scum and villainy has a live alien jazz band anyway? Sorry, I mean 'jizz'.

So now we get the famous cantina aliens scene, except they've replaced this shot of a wolf... bat... thing with a different shot of a CGI alien with a hat on! Wolfbat shows up in another shot though so he's still in the movie.

This wolfman has also been replaced with another CGI alien. Wait, hang on, that's the same CGI alien! Imagine the guy on the right in the previous screenshot with his head tilted back. Now imagine that he's taken the red hat off and that his mouth is actually the back of his head. That's downright sneaky.

We get Luke's second brush with danger here as some asshole comes over to tell him that his friend doesn't like him and he doesn't like him either. Hey, that's a callback to what 3PO said to R2 back at the Lars homestead! He shoves Luke over and draws his gun (Luke's hero status: still minimal), but Ben whips out his own lightsaber, and after some samurai action there's an arm lying on the floor covered in blood. But it's his friend's arm, so I'm not sure what happened there. I guess it was meant to be chaotic and impossible to follow.

All we need to know is that blood was spilled, a limb was detached, and no one's bothering anyone any more. So Ben's able to get back to making a deal with Chewbacca, the first mate on a ship that might suit them. He's also the R2 to Han Solo's C-3PO as they have the same double act where one can't speak English and the other has to reply to them in a way that tells usewhat they're saying.

So 45 minutes into the movie we finally meet smuggler Han Solo, which means we're up to the Han Shot First controversy!

Actually first there's the bit where Han brags about his ship being so fast that it made the Kessel Run in just 12 parsecs (maybe delivering doomed droids to the spice mines). Is Han dumb enough to think that parsecs are a measurement of time? Let's check the script:
"Ben reacts to Solo's stupid attempt to impress them with obvious misinformation."
Well there you go.

The script I saw also has Han blast that asshole bounty hunter Greedo away a split second before the guy can execute him, but George Lucas changed his mind on that because it made his hero look like a cold blooded killer to younger viewers who may not have picked up on the fact that he just saved his own life. I can actually see his point a little, because to be honest I remember having no idea what this conversation was about the first time I saw the movie (I blame the writing!) But even young me got that the original version was a great introduction to the guy.

When we first see Han he's the suavest badass in this hive of scum and villainy, but once Luke and Ben are gone we get a glimpse of his true nature as he's secretly all excited about earning enough money to not die. Then Greedo appears and we immediately see the flipside of that as he stays absolutely calm while secretly pulling a gun under the table to shoot the guy dead. It quickly establishes that Han's less tough, but more dangerous than he appears, and this is basically just another day in his life for him.

Except not any more, because now he's established to be an idiot who waits for someone to shoot him in the face before firing back.

Oh crap, I forgot they added this deleted scene back in. Mostly because it's entirely pointless and actually detrimental to the movie. It spoils the reveal of Jabba the Hutt in Return of the Jedi, it spoils the reveal of the Millennium Falcon, and it only exists to repeat information we already got in the Greedo scene!

But Lucas just had to put it back in to show off how he could integrate a fully digital Jabba into the shot. And then he had to replace it with a new model in the 2004 DVD version because it looked terrible. Oh plus he composited Boba Fett in the shot as well, but he doesn't look so bad.

Now we have the proper reveal of the Falcon, the oldest of the Star Wars heroes. I read somewhere that it's supposed to be something like 60 years old by this point. We also get the reveal that R2 struggles to get down stairs and the rest of them are assholes who won't wait for him.

Luke thinks that the Falcon looks like a piece of junk, which is strange as it looks like pretty much everything else on this shithole planet. Though the prop really is made out of junk. When they were making the scale model they covered it in bits of model kits, so when it came to the full sized one they used actual military scrap to replicate the look. They built the interior out of old aircraft parts too (because they were on a tight budget and it worked out cheaper).

Wait... where's the dish? I get that they only had room to build half the ship, but you can't leave off the dish! Also they needed something to prop it up, so they put a support where Han's standing now and disguised it as a fuel pipe. That's why the ship grows two extra sets of landing gear by Empire. It's a special modification by Han to keep the thing from tipping over.

The Millennium Falcon was meant to look like the Blockade Runner from the start of the film, but Lucas scrapped that plan when he decided that the ship they'd come up with looked too much like the Eagle transports from Space: 1999. He had the expensive 6' model reworked to play the smaller role of the doomed Tantive IV while they designed a new model for the Falcon that looked like nothing else in sci-fi. So that's probably the most important positive impact Space: 1999 ever had on science fiction.

But the heroes don't have long to gaze at its atypical asymmetrical beauty as Han's in a hurry and the Stormtrooper have been called in by a spy who spotted them in the street. I guess they were on the lookout for a group of people selling a speeder then heading to a docking bay?

Wow, did they attach the right hand wall wrong? The lights strips aren't misaligned like that in the sequels. That's going to bother me forever now.

Our heroes escape the Stormtroopers on the ground and take off, but then they run into three Star Destroyers in orbit! This gives Luke an opening to be annoying again and he jumps at the chance, asking why stuff is flashing on the dashboard. Han explains that travelling through hyperspace ain't like dusting crops, which has to confuse the poor kid even more. He can fly a T-16, he knows all about flying, but crops? What even are crops? What's dusting? He's a moisture farmer on a desert planet, he doesn't know!

But then they activate the flashy hyperspace effect and they're gone. Turns out that the Falcon is actually bloody fast when it makes a jump to light speed. I wonder if they actually have falcons in the Star Wars universe...

Of course it's not literally going the speed of light (or even .5 past it) as it'd take like 4 years for them to get anywhere. In fact everything I've read suggests that Star Wars hyperdrive is incredibly fast. Trying to comparing FTL speeds in different sci-fi universes could drive someone mad, as ships generally travel at the speed of plot, but the clues we've got seem to indicate that if Captain Janeway had met Han Solo in Star Trek: Voyager, he could've likely gotten her home in a couple of days rather than 70 years. Though she could only choose a half dozen people to take with her because it's not a huge ship. Sorry Harry Kim.

The Death Star's also surprisingly speedy for a metal sphere the size of a moon and it manages to reach Alderaan first.

The Imperials have tried intimidation and a floating torture ball with a syringe stuck to the side but it seems that nothing will make Leia crack and give up her base's location. So now Governor Tarkin is going to blow up her home planet and see how she likes that. He's also signed the order to terminate her life, which apparently requires more paperwork than atomising a planet with several billion people on it.

Leia gets pinned between Tarkin and Vader and finally gives in, telling him that the Rebel base is on Dantooine, which sounds annoyingly close to the word 'Tatooine'. But no one ever says the name Tatooine in this movie so it's only irritating retroactively.

But Tarkin's a colossal dick so even though he's gotten what he wants he orders the guys in giant helmets to press the buttons to blow up Alderaan anyway.

So we've learned two lessons from this: don't trust a man with a Death Star to hold up his side of a bargain, and don't expect to get accurate intelligence from torture or extortion (spoiler: the Rebel base isn't on Dantooine).

The good news is that Leia's probably just got promoted to queen. The bad news is that she's queen of a cloud of rocks. It's interesting how they don't show any shots of innocent Alderaan folks living their lives, blissfully unaware that they're about to be obliterated from space. I'm glad they didn't, but that's the typical way that filmmakers will establish how terrible an imminent disaster is.

Also I've always hated the way the Death Star's planet-destroying super-laser looks. For some reason I've never had any problem with the idea of a lightsaber, but when a dish basically fires out 8 lightsaber blades that activate in sequence, then stop and focus at a certain point to fire out an energy beam, that just seems a bit ridiculous to me.

I love this shot though. It's got all the characters in the frame together at once, sitting around the fantastic Millennium Falcon set. You've got one actor in a furry alien suit and at least one more in a shiny robot costume playing a stop motion hologram game, and in front of that you've got Ben walking around and Luke waving his glowing lightsaber at a drone firing lasers at him. There's so many elements going on at once and yet it never feels like a showy effects shot, it's just people hanging out on a trip to the former planet of Alderaan.

Though I'm a bit confused about whether Luke's lightsaber is blue or green. I realise that a GIF is a terrible way to show a difference in colours, but it's still pretty obvious here how one image has a green saber and a blue R2, while the other has a blue saber and a grey R2.

Funny thing is, these shots aren't from different releases of the movie, they're from the same DVD! The colour timing isn't even consistent within the film. I don't get how they can digitally composite Boba Fett into a scene and make it seamless but they can't get the lightsabers perfect.

I've heard some people complain about how quickly a certain Force user in a certain Star Wars sequel picks up new powers, but Luke manages to block 3 out of 4 close range blaster bolts on his first try here. Attack of the Clones shows Jedi students learning how to do this in a class, it seems to be something that requires time and practice, but when Ben tells him to put a blindfold on and stretch out with his feelings Luke masters it instantly, and blocks every shot from that point on. He can't feel the great disturbance in the Force when Alderaan explodes though.

You'd think all this sword practice would be leading to a duel later, but nope! This is the last time Luke turns his lightsaber on in the movie. We've just reached the halfway point by the way.

The Falcon drops out of hyperspace into a cloud of glitter and Han realises that Alderaan's been blown up! He mentions that the entire Starfleet couldn't destroy a planet, it'd take a thousand ships! So apparently the Imperials have less than a thousand ships. Either that or he's just dissing Star Trek.

A TIE fighter takes a shot at them and then runs away, which is apparently bad because if they get identified then they're in big trouble. Which makes me wonder why. The Imperials already got a good look at the ship back at Tatooine so what does it matter if they spot them at the former planet of Alderaan too?

But Han's determined to chase and blow the thing up and ends up flying right into tractor beam range of the most deadly weapon in the galaxy. Nice job flyboy. Though this does at least give Luke a chance to say "I've got a very bad feeling about this," for the first time in the series.

This is one of the best changes in the 1997 Special Edition here. I've heard absolutely zero people complain that they redrew the matte painting of the hangar, adding lights along the back walls and making the set blend in better. It looks great. Plus they kept the pointless bottomless pit!

In an earlier draft of the script the Falcon would've ended up at a prison on the Imperial City of Alderaan, capital of the Galactic Empire and home of the Emperor. To give you a mental image of what that would've looked like, the concept art for the city was later used for Cloud City in Empire Strikes Back instead.

Fortunately Han's got shielded smuggling compartments on his ship so they're able to trick the Imperials into thinking that the ship's empty, knock out the scanning crew when they come on board, then call some Stormtroopers inside and murder them. Then they steal their uniforms as a disguise and kill everyone in the hangar's control room too! They're really making a mockery of Imperial training here. Plus it's so weird seeing Harrison Ford in his 70s hairstyle dressed like a Stormtrooper, with his feet up on a desk.

R2 takes the role of the team's smart-ass hacker and gets Ben the location of a terminal he can use to disable the tractor beam. He could probably disable a few of the billion turbolaser turrets as well, but it's probably best not to push their luck.

The droid just can't resist snooping around some more though and discovers that Princess Leia is being held captive on this very space station! Han just wants to lounge around in the control room but Luke's got ambitions of being an action hero and talks him into doing the decent noble thing and coming with him to rescue her... by pointing out that it'll earn him a shitload of money. So now the droid with the plans to the Death Star in him has been left alone and unguarded again.

Holy shit look, there's a railing there! They've actually put something up to stop people falling off into the abyss. This is really out of character for Imperial architects. The Death Star has some great set design though. It's all grey hallways, strange light patterns and pointless chasms, and it doesn't look dated at all. Plus it's funny how the painted set extensions in this look more realistic than the actual sets in the prequel trilogy.

Chewie's a bit big to wear the Stormtrooper armour so Han and Luke stick some cuffs on him and disguise him as their prisoner instead. Fortunately there's pretty much zero security in this place so they're able to go anywhere they want, with Chewie scaring off a mouse droid along the way by growling at it.

Luke mentions here that he can't see a thing in the helmet, which explains everything about the Stormtroopers really.

I don't know why they need so many controls panels in a prison, but I love the design.

Luke, Han and Chewie find themselves in a room filled of Imperial prison guards and security cameras (seriously, there's a ridiculous number of cameras), so they name drop Lucas's first movie THX 1138 and then make it look like Chewie's broken loose and they're trying to stop him. Well for the first half-second anyway, then they just start blasting things, alternating between people and cameras, and somehow manage to avoid being hit by the return fire in the chaos.

So this is like Luke's... fifth fight at this point (sand people, cantina, scanning crew, control room, detention block) and now he's just gunning people down without guilt or hesitation. Not that he should feel guilty about killing these guards, their boss called Chewie a 'thing'! I'm just saying that in an hour of screen time he's already gone from 'I've got the death sentence on 0 systems' to 'I've got the death sentence on 2 systems' on the cantina bragging scale.

Han on the other hand is crap at trying to bullshit people over the intercom, so they're about to be trapped in here by as many Stormtroopers as you can pack inside a metal moon.

Here's another change they made for the Special Edition that works great. The painting at the end of the cell bay has been replaced to correct the perspective, which is doubly impressive considering all the blaster fire, smoke and actors in front of it. Though maybe a long corridor with a light at the end was a bad choice from the start if we're supposed to feel like they're trapped here.

They got Leia out though! Luke even got to make a heroic introduction saying "I'm Luke Skywalker I'm here to rescue you!" which is the first time we ever hear his last name. And Leia got to spoil the moment for him by quipping "Aren't you a little short to be a Stormtrooper?" Somehow I wouldn't be surprised if Carrie Fisher herself was to blame for that line.

Shame they didn't think to bring Leia some Stormtrooper armour to make their escape easier... shame they didn't think of any exit plan at all really. Fortunately Leia's been here long enough to know how they can get out. She thought that she recognised Tarkin's foul stench when she was brought on board, but she's figured out by now that there's actually a vent leading to the sewers right next to her cell. So the princess grabs a rifle and blasts it open, then they dive in head-first like lunatics.

You know, this could all have been avoided if they'd R2 had manage to edit some records for them. They could've left Chewie behind, turned up at the detention level with fake orders in their computer saying that they're there to collect Leia for a prisoner transfer to cell block 1138! Though the downside of that plan is that they wouldn't have been able to rescue anyone else. Wait, they didn't try to rescue anyone else anyway! Maybe Luke checked all the doors and found that Leia was the station's first and only prisoner.

Fortunately it turns out that the Imperials have been mostly throwing out water, sea monsters and light-weight spongy space metal so they our heroes have a soft landing when they reach the garbage masher below. And the Stormtroopers are all too scared to jump in after them.

So now they're trapped in an Indiana Jones style death trap with an alien creature swimming around their ankles trying to pull them underwater. I like that Leia's decisive action got them out of one crisis only to put them into another. It was clearly the right move and it's cool that she's a proactive princess not a meek damsel in distress, but she's not exactly outclassing the other three with her schemes either and it's nice that they all get a turn to be the hero. Though she sure is saying a lot of mean things to them. Oh plus Han says the movie's second and final "I've got a bad feeling about this," line here.

Fortunately R2 reminds 3PO to turn his comlink on so Luke's able to get their assistance before they're crushed alive. Those two are actually really useful during the Death Star chapter of the movie. You know what else would've been useful here though? A lightsaber. It's crazy that our hero got his weapon/door cutting tool in the first act, learned how to use it in the second act, and then left it behind on the ship instead of hiding it inside his suit! It's Chekhov's red herring.

Meanwhile Ben has been creeping around the Death Star like a ninja unseen and has discovered that the power terminal he needs to deactivate is only accessible from a narrow ledge over a 50 mile drop.

These scene was altered for the 2004 DVD edition to replace the writing on the control panel with made up Aurebesh text, because they decided at some point that people in this galaxy far far away don't write things in English. I'm filing that under 'good change', mostly because I had no idea until it was pointed out to me.

The others change out of their Stormtrooper gear to reveal that they had all their clothes on underneath and they're not soaked with sewer water (even Leia's fine). But they keep the utility belts, because who doesn't want a utility belt? Also Leia calls Chewie a "Walking carpet," here, which is just cruel. He's done nothing wrong!

Then there's the scene were Han scares a bunch of Stormtroopers and chases them to a dead end. Except Lucas decided it'd be even funnier if there was a small army waiting for him, so his team carefully cut around him and replaced the original background with a hangar. They didn't replace the reflections on the floor though so you can still see evidence of the pipes and light strip that used to be there. Plus I think they flipped the wall on the right to put it over on the left as well, and they haven't quite got the colour timing right so Han's waistcoat has a bit of a purple cast to it compared to the background.

It's basically a rubbish unnecessary change that fails to solve a problem that didn't exist.

Speaking of rubbish shots, it takes forever for anyone to hit anyone in this scene. Though Luke and Leia do manage to get a kill each before he finds the grappling hook on his belt and uses it to get them across. It's fine though, as anyone Luke misses now he'll come back and kill later. That's just the kind of man he is. That was Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher doing their own stunt by the way.

So now we know that all Stormtroopers get issued a grappling hook as part of their standard equipment, which is giving me some interesting mental images. Seems sensible considering Imperial architecture though. Personally I'd be terrified to set foot on the Death Star without a parachute. I mean these lunatics even have a bottomless pit in the hangar to catch you as you're leaving your ship!

It's funny watching this escape sequence again now that I've seen Force Awakens, because I've become very aware of how Luke keeps grabbing Leia's hand as they run. Another thing that's funnier in retrospect is her giving him a kiss for luck.

While all this action and sneaking was going on I caught a glimpse of this guy in the background: R2-D2's evil Imperial duplicate. He's called R3-M3 apparently and you can even get a toy of him, but I'm only mentioning him because he's got a transparent dome so you can see right inside his head! The inner workings of an astromech droid laid bare. It's hard to make any of it out, but as far as I can tell there's a lot of empty space in there, so if one of them was to get hit by a TIE fighter laser at the top of the dome I think it'd probably be fine.

This guy's not going to survive the film though.

Speaking of characters who aren't going to make it out of the movie, Ben Kenobi ran into Darth Vader a while back and they've been having a crappy looking sword fight. In fact it looks even worse than it used to at times due to lightsaber effects weirdness, like here where Ben's blade barely has a glow to it.

Apparently Lucas hadn't decided whether or not to kill Ben until filming had begun (he was still alive by the fourth revision of The Adventures of Luke Starkiller as taken from "The Journal of the Wills": (Saga I) Star Wars), but now it seems like a foregone conclusion that the mentor would die so that the protagonist can become his own man. Plus if he'd lived he would've likely spent the ending hanging out around the circle table with Leia and 3PO, with nothing to do but get on the radio and say "Use the force Luke!"

But Ben doesn't die exactly, he disappears into the Force, which must have been disappointing to the actor who didn't even get a cool death scene. Vader doesn't even know what's going on here and he gives his cloak a bit of a poke with his foot just to make sure he hasn't turned into a mouse or something. Then the Dark Lord of the Sith gets humiliated when Luke shoots the door controls and locks him out while they make a getaway on the Falcon. Funny how Luke's suddenly able to hit something here, especially considering that he's waving the gun all over the place when the camera cuts back to him.

And so they all get on board the Falcon and escape the Death Star! Except not quite as there's still a few TIE fighters that would like to kill them. Less than you'd think though. You can pause this video by the way if you're sick of watching it loop.

You may be thinking that this clip looks a bit worse than you remember. That's because I've halved the frame rate and exaggerated the weird boxy glow around the TIE fighters to show the fight as it's never been seen before! Unless you've got your TV settings wrong.

Behind the scenes shot from the wrong movie.
I've noticed this strange box around spaceships in other sci-fi movies and series (classic Battlestar Galactica jumps to mind), but I never understood why it was happening. The models were filmed in front of a blue screen which was used to generate a mask, so what's causing the weird artefacts?

The answer is that two masks were used to remove the background from the model: the blue screen matte and the garbage matte. Sometimes the blue screen behind the model would have bits covered up to reduce blue spill, plus there was filming equipment around that'd be caught by the camera, so this had to be masked out with a rough garbage matte which was rotoscoped frame by frame. The trouble seems to be that the garbage matte was just a little bit more opaque than the blue screen matte, so it does a better job of removing the model background and preserving the starfield and it leaves a boxy glow around the part it doesn't cover.

ILM wasn't that bothered about this at the time because it's doesn't show up so much on a cinema screen. It's noticeable on TV though so I'm surprised it took them until the 2011 Blu-rays to finally fix it, considering how much they love tweaking things. They should've taken some people off the 'make Han step over Jabba's tail' team for the '97 release and put them on the matte correction crew.

I love how when Han and Luke climb into a turret, the artificial gravity shifts to pull them towards the back of the ship, and this is never commented on. I'm a bit surprised that the ship's big enough to have a ladder leading to a room above the hallway though.

Our heroes do pretty well, especially considering that the windows they're looking out are concave and they can only see directly above or below the ship, and Luke is absolutely hyped about murdering all these pilots. Leia's not so impressed though as she's noticed that their whole escape was ridiculous. And yet she still tells Han where the Rebel base is even knowing that they're likely being tracked! It seems like there must be a safer way to transport the plans; maybe she knows a Rebel agent who could give her a lift. Failing that they could try searching the Falcon for a homing beacon. The thing has to be sending out a signal powerful enough to be picked up light years away so it can't be that hard to detect.

Now that the action's over the movie's able to pull back from its breakneck pace a little to let the characters breathe and give them a moment to grieve over their dead friend set up a love triangle between Han, Luke and Leia. Well kind of. Han notices that his friend's falling for her and decides to amuse himself by asking "You think a princess and a guy like me..." to get a reaction from him. It's a nice natural human interaction spoiled just a bit by the revelation in Return of the Jedi.

The film's still taking it easy for a bit, so we get six separate shots of the Falcon approaching the Rebel base on Yavin IV and then a couple more to establish that our heroes got onto a cart outside a pyramid and then got back off inside a hangar. But Leia eventually manages to get R2 to the Death Star analysis team, meaning that she's pretty much done for the movie! All she has left to do now is worry, hug people and hand out medals.

Though the plans are clearly wrong, as the display up there shows the dish cutting through the equatorial trench instead of being above it! Lucas decided to alter the Death Star's design during production but there wasn't enough time to redo the advanced mid 70s computer animation to match,  so all he could do was live with it. Interesting how that wasn't fixed in the Special Edition.

One thing that is in the right place though, is the trench leading to the thermal exhaust port. You can see that there's actually 12 trenches equally spaced around the upper hemisphere of the Death Star, all far thinner than the giant trench full of hangar bays that circles its waist. So the hole that one of these pilots will need to get a torpedo down is located at the very top.

There's two things that are weird about this briefing. First Han Solo's been invited and is hanging around the back, even though he claims to have no interest in their rebellion. Second, they've got Luke there as one of their X-Wing pilots even though though his combat experience is limited to blasting womp rats for fun in a T-16 airspeeder, and his space flight training is limited to Han telling him what the blinking light on the dashboard meant earlier. So they must be really desperate for pilots right now.

One more thought: General Dodonna mentions that the Death Star only has the firepower of half the Starfleet, so Han's estimation earlier was way off.

Hey the Rebels gave Han a shitload of money to pay off Jabba! These guys really are the heroes. Plus he's walking off with all of Ben and Luke's savings too so he's done well here.

And that's Han (and Chewie) departing the movie. I guess he's an act two kind of guy, too busy with his own story to help set up the movie and too cool to stick around for its resolution. These two were only around for about an hour in the end, same as Ben Kenobi.

Turns out that the Death Star did track the Falcon like Leia thought, so now it's orbiting Yavin and the Rebels are minutes away from being annihilated. Seems like it'd be a good time to start evacuating anyone who doesn't absolutely need to be here, but it seems that the Falcon's the only ship getting out of the system and no one seems interested in hiring him.

I suddenly want to delete half my screencaps so far and replace them with shots of this hangar instead.

There was apparently only one full size X-Wing and part of a Y-Wing built for this scene, so most of this shot is a matte painting. For other shots they created the illusion of a full hangar through clever editing and cardboard models. For example, they shot Luke in front an X-Wing talking to Han, then in the reverse shot Han's standing in front of the same prop from the different angle. Two X-Wings. Then Luke walks off around the front of an X-Wing and a few seconds later he's shown approaching the same prop from behind. Three X-Wings!

This particular shot has been upgraded for the Special Edition, to replace the Y-Wing in the foreground with a more detailed model and make it less obvious where the live action ends and the painted set extension begins. Though sadly there was nothing they can do by this point to make it so that the X-Wing's landing gear doesn't fold out of its engines. I realise that the landing gear has to come out of somewhere, but X-Wings need the stuff inside those engines to go!

There's an extra scene inserted into the Special Edition here with Luke meeting up with his friend Biggs again and Red Leader coming by to talk with him. They've performed a sneaky edit on it though, to remove a line about him meeting Luke's father. The cut is covered up by a pilot walking across the shot, but you can tell there's been a time jump as 3PO and R2 teleport as he walks by.

I was the one who froze the footage like that by the way, as it makes it more obvious what's happened and more importantly keeps the filesize down. The transition works much better in the movie.

So now Luke, R2 and a whole lot of characters that we don't know are leaving the rest of the main cast behind to have an extended action scene in space! It's a bit of a strange move to put the last 10-15 minutes of the movie on the shoulders of a bunch of strangers bouncing around inside cockpits, but it does give Luke a chance to prove that he's the biggest damn hero of them all through the process of elimination. Unless the Death Star just tractor beams them all into a hangar.

The Special Edition goes crazy with new VFX shots at this point, with 90s CGI X-Wings and Y-Wings invading the movie. Like this scene for example, which replaces two separate (and fairly reasonable) model shots with one panning shot which first shows the Rebel fighters coming from Yavin IV then swings around to show them flying to the Death Star. It wasn't exactly something that needed fixing, but the CGI's held up much better than Babylon 5's so I won't complain.

It's a shame though that I can't show this clip off and say 'they did all this with 70s VFX technology!'

They did a lot of it though, and the original model shots and newer CGI shots are integrated so well that the main giveaway that you're watching a something rendered in a computer is that the camera move looks slick. Though if you really pay attention to the wings, you'll notice that every X-Wing in the CGI shots seems to have Red Two's markings. They've inadvertently retconned it so that Wedge is the only one that's getting anything done!

There's lots of fast paced pew pew pew here as the X-Wings swoop in and start wrecking the towers and random bits of the overly detailed Death Star's hull. They're just blowing anything up it seems, but it's cool as wherever they hit it's guaranteed that there'll be Stormtroopers behind the wall getting exploded.

They've actually got people manning the guns in the towers! Look at the poor guy on the right, he doesn’t like any of this.

This is like the inverse of that turret scene inside the Falcon earlier. They firmly established how easy it is to blow up a space fighter with one of these guns, and now it's the hero being shot at.

Meanwhile the Rebel top brass like General Dodonna, Princess Leia and C-3PO gather around the big circular table to listen to all their pilots dying. It's weird, I think of 3PO as being an outsider like Luke and Han, but he's not is he? He was on board the Blockade Runner, everyone here already knows and tolerates him.

I like that giant table they've got by the way, though I'm not sure why it turns blue in close ups. There's a computer display on it showing the Death Star's position as it makes its way around the gas giant of Yavin to get a clear shot of the moon that they're on. Apparently just shooting the gas giant itself and then taking his crew out for a McDonalds isn't an option for Tarkin, so he's got to wait and the Rebels have 15 minutes to pull off a miracle.

Then there's more pew pew pew as the TIE fighters come out and start dogfighting. Not too many TIE fighters mind you, just enough to take on a tiny rebel force.

These shots were based on dogfight footage from old World War II movies, as it wasn't so easy to create animatics to plan out and preview their shots back then. They technically shouldn't be dogfighting at all, seeing as they're advanced space fighters armed with homing missiles, but Star Wars is built on the rule of cool.

Here's a picture of Luke in his cockpit as I haven't shown one yet. If I've got one problem with this sequence it's that the Rebel pilots are getting bounced around so much that it looks kind of ridiculous.

I was going to follow this with a shot of his co-pilot R2 sitting outside looking all monochrome, but I'm sure you can imagine/remember what a black and white R2 looks like. Apparently having a blue robot caused some issues with the blue screen compositing, either that or space sucks all colour away leaving only grey. Blue screen issues is also the reason why there's no Blue Squadron on this mission and I'm certain I read somewhere that it's the reason why X-Wings don't have bubble canopies as well. Sticking a clear, curved, reflective surface in front of a blue screen you're trying to get rid of is just asking for trouble.

But ILM went and gave curvy cockpits to all the new Rebel space fighters in Return of the Jedi anyway, because I guess they liked to suffer.

Then the pew pew pew intensifies as we get a nose-cam view from the Y-Wing bombers entering the Death Star trench itself.

There's a bit during the approach that's always bothered me, so I slowed it down and there's definitely a cut there hidden by a laser blast. You've probably noticed it already, but it happens just as the camera ducks into the trench, to mask the transition from what's presumably an insanely detailed matte painting to the physical model.

I watched a behind the scenes clip of them filming these scenes, and they had the Death Star panels outdoors in the sun and were driving past with a camera on a truck, setting off explosions. I'm a big fan of CGI but that kinda sounds more fun.

This is around the point where Tarkin makes a bad choice. The bloke from that Doctor Who ep comes over to tell him that they've analysed the attack plan that the Rebels came up with by analysing their plans, and there's an actual possibility that the movie's going to end with the scrappy underdog protagonists winning. But Tarkin's arrogance overrides his fear and he decides to stay put. By the way Peter Cushing didn't find the Imperial boots very comfortable so he's probably wearing slippers in this scene. Just to ruin it for you forever.

The Y-Wings in trench notice that the towers have stopped firing and switch power to rear deflector screens (by pressing the 'S' key twice and then hitting Shift + F10 a few times if I remember the X-Wing video game right) but they're still helpless when Darth Vader and his bros come down the trench and start filling their engines full of green bolts of light. His first few shots go wild despite the computer promising him that he's locked on, but Vader's soon picking all of them off. It's fine though, we don't know any of these people!

So many Rebel fighters get wrecked that it's eventually down to Luke to give the trench run a shot himself. So he and Vader get into a targeting computer twiddling contest as he tries to lock onto the exhaust port to make the crucial shot while the TIE fighter behind locks onto him.

But the ghost of Ben Kenobi starts talking to him, telling him to turn his targeting computer off and use the Force instead! He's never tried to use the Force like this before but he'll probably figure it out on his first try because he's the most absurdly gifted Jedi since the last protagonist. Though Darth Vader's pretty damn powerful himself and he's using his targeting computer, so maybe Ben's not really the authority on this one. Maybe he should've been whispering to Darth Vader instead, trying to throw off his aim.

Then we get the best line in the movie ("WHAT?") as Han Solo makes his surprise return, flying in to save the day! He then shoots the wrong TIE fighter, but it's okay as the one the other side panics and clips Vader's wing, sending him spinning off into space. This could've been Han killing the Dark Lord of the Sith right here, Vader had no idea that he was coming, so I guess he must have got that homing beacon turned off then.

Then Luke nails the shot with the Force, possibly steering two missiles in an impossibly sharp 90 degree turn into a tiny hole with his mind while also piloting an X-Wing. It's only been a couple of days since he was getting his ass kicked by sand people, but he went from 'zero' to 'the angel of death' with record breaking speed as soon as he was exposed to Han and Ben. Whatever they've been able to do thanks to their years of training and experience, Luke's mastered almost immediately. He's discovered an innate talent for destruction on an epic scale.

Boom! The Special Edition added an unnecessary Praxis effect shock wave to the Death Star explosion but didn't get rid of the weird coloured glow.

Poor Vader, now he knows what his laundry feels like. He gambled big on his scheme to let the Falcon escape and he lost. But he's got all kinds of luck to survive being shot at by Han, bounced around a trench and then blown up with a Death Star. I guess the Force was with him. Plus he's got like the only TIE fighter with a hyperdrive so he doesn't have to fly to Yavin VI now and give himself up. Actually he should've flown down there and murdered them all! Some Dark Lord of the Sith he is.

And 3PO very nearly gets the privilege of having the first and last lines of the movie, until Luke swipes it from him by saying "He'll be alright." Then the last few minutes play out in silence as the heroes go to get their medals. Well not actual silence, as John Williams' heroic music is playing... though I have heard it in silence and it's kind of awkward: Star Wars Minus Williams - Throne Room (YouTube Link).

In the original version of this shot, the Rebel soldiers in green on either side of the hall were painted on and it was really obvious. Well, unless you had the pan and scan version, then they'd be cut off. The background's a matte painting too; they didn't film this in an actual giant temple.

And Princess Leia finally respects her rescuers. But what about Wedge? He was kicking ass all over in those new CGI shots! I guess this must be the ceremony for rescuing the princess/getting the Death Star plans back. He'll be coming up in the next group then, along with whoever was flying those Y-Wings.

It might seem strange that only Luke and Han get medals, but if you look closely at them one has "Blew up the Death Star" engraved into it and the other has "Made Darth Vader his bitch" on it. I would assume.

Look at Luke, he's completed his hero's journey and now he's all grown up, with his own gun holster and everything. I guess the good thing about losing 90% of your pilots every time you carry out a mission is that there's spare outfits for the survivors! Sure he looks like Han Solo's little brother now, but that's better than dressing like Chewie's little brother. You know that's not a bandolier the Wookie's wearing? It's actually the strap for his bag. There's a Star Wars fact for you.

And they all lived happily ever after. Except not quite, because once the cameras are off and the awards ceremony winds up, everyone packs up and runs away. Because the Empire knows where their hidden fortress is now and for all they know half the Starfleet is coming over to blow the planet up the hard way. Also Luke's got years of front line warfare to look forward to.

Then it ends with the very best change in the Special Edition: James Earl Jones finally gets credited as the voice of Darth Vader.


Star Wars was a mistake. Not the film, the title. Sure it's bold and catchy, but there's an incredibly compelling universe created here and thanks to that name every story set in it has to be about a war! Star Trek had the right idea, as its title promises that it's about people on a journey through space (though Deep Space Nine stretched that a little). Stargate got it right too, as there's limitless story potential in a super advanced ancient artefact that can take you to thousands of mysterious worlds. Battlestar... oh wait that one's just Star Wars backwards.

You know what I like about Star Wars? Apart from the fantastic production design, the amazing soundtrack, the charismatic actors doing fun things, the action, the acceleration to a breakneck pace, and the way you could take every shot and make it into a poster? What I like is that they never go to Earth, they never mention Earth and Earth is never threatened. It's a nice change from all those Star Trek movies I just watched, where the team of explorers generally starts each adventure parked in Earth's orbit and rarely get far before having to race back to stop it being blown up. This takes place somewhere else, somewhere exotic, without our modern problems and humanity's accumulated baggage.

It's both a fairy tale in a land far far away and science fiction without the science, but it's got that 70s grit that makes it feels as real and tangible as something like Alien. Though Lucas started out with the idea of making a Flash Gordon movie and it shows. He went retro with his influences, taking classic black hat/white hat westerns, samurai films, pirate films, WWII films, fantasy movies, sci-fi serials, and space opera novels and mixing them up together to create something deliberately old fashioned and timeless without coming off as being a parody. It's got wizards with sci-fi samurai swords, a smuggler with a space ship, a princess with a rifle, Peter Cushing rolling his 'r's and Alec Guinness struggling to talk about 'The Force' with a straight face, and somehow these elements resonate with each other instead of clashing. It pulls off the same tricks that have made comic book movies so popular lately and sets up a modern mythology that has inspired countless people on their own journey to adulthood to spend shitloads of cash on merchandise.

In fact I'd probably put Star Wars as my favourite of the Star Wars movies, despite it being the most primitive. Nostalgia's pulling me towards Return of the Jedi as it's the first one I saw, and Force Awakens and Rogue One both take advantage of four decades of advancements in film making, but for me Star Wars is the most consistently entertaining and has the least Ewoks, so it gets first place on my list. Plus it doesn't take place in a swamp, that's a factor too.

I wouldn't expect to see any more writing from me on the subject of Star Wars movies for a while. I mean haven't I written enough? But next on Sci-Fi Adventures I'll be watching Babylon 5's A Distant Star.

You're welcome to leave a comment! Please, add to the word count.


  1. You never know if you're going to be cannon fodder or a protagonist unless you try.

    Crikey, that's a bit more profound than I was expecting on a Friday morning.

    Makes me wonder where they got them all from though.

    I've always assumed -- probably influenced by the rpg -- that there's a garrison on Tatooine, and that the dewback riders are the local lads, pressed into service by Vader. I imagine they spend all their time hanging around Mos Eisley drinking blue beer and taking bribes from Jabba, and are a bit annoyed that Vader has turned up and sent them out into the desert to look for a random droid.

    Funny how Luke's suddenly able to hit something here, especially considering that he's waving the gun all over the place when the camera cuts back to him.

    In the comic Luke goes into a berserker rage at this point, and is trying to shoot Vader rather than a door panel. I think I like that better.

    1. Damn, it never even occurred to me that there could Stormtroopers garrisoned on the planet. I figured they all came down from the ship, but it does make more sense if some of them were already there.

    2. I don't think it's stated, but I always got the feeling that it was an occupying rather than invading force. They seem to run the spaceport, for example, which is a bit weird if they arrived ten minutes ago.

  2. Huh. I never noticed Chewbacca's shoulders and legs are so much darker than the rest of him. (Except the top of his head, which I did know is darker.) I thought that was just the lighting.