Star Wars is hailed as one of the best films ever made, but what would the reaction be if it came out today? Forty years ago, George Lucas’ strange space opera was released in theaters and changed the industry forever. Thanks to revolutionary visual effects, magical storytelling, and memorable characters, the movie became a pop culture phenomenon and legions of fans remain obsessed with the galaxy far, far away to this day. Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm back in 2012 reaffirmed Star Wars‘ status as one of the premier franchises in the business, as illustrated by the astronomical merchandise sales and broken box office records. The Mouse House’s first Star Wars film, 2015’s The Force Awakens, is the highest-grossing movie of all-time domestically.
Both Episode VII and last year’s spinoff Rogue One were largely successful in the eyes of critics and fans, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t without their detractors. As part of one of the most influential properties ever, the two films have been heavily analyzed and hit with various critiques (some valid, some that are nitpicks) as fans judge them against what has come before. But how would the original Star Wars film from 1977 hold up if social media was around and prevalent back then like it is in the 21st century? In honor of A New Hope‘s 40th anniversary, we’re going to do just that. Some people were quite harsh to the the movie back when it premiered, so Star Wars isn’t untouchable.
Movie Is Doomed Due to Production Woes
Star Wars had one of the more troubled productions of all-time, as Lucas and his crew dealt with horrible weather conditions, malfunctioning props, and a cast that barely took the material seriously. Fledgling visual effect company Industrial Light & Magic was attempting to pull off shots that had never been done before, and blew most of their budget on sequences that were deemed unusable. It seemed like every day brought a new problem for Lucas, who was under tremendous stress and pressure with limited support from the studio executives bankrolling his strange little odyssey.
News about the difficulties Star Wars faced would spread like wildfire in an era of social media (just look at the reaction to Rogue One‘s reshoots), and many viewers would probably become doubtful of the project entirely. Even if an advertising campaign managed to intrigue, the clouds of negativity might be too much for some people. A New Hope would be facing an uphill battle against the headlines, causing some to proclaim doom and gloom months before it reached theaters. And unlike Rogue One, which had decades of fan support and nostalgia to help viewers get through the trying times, Star Wars was something completely new and nobody had an emotional connection to it, so they’d look at it as a weird thing without much going for it.
The Story Lacks Context
A common complaint viewers had after Episode VII was that the film failed to do an adequate job of setting up the state of the galaxy 30 years after Return of the Jedi. J.J. Abrams just thrust audiences into the middle of a conflict between the Resistance and the First Order with only the opening text crawl serving as the setup. Moviegoers learned all of the information they absolutely needed for Force Awakens to make sense, but never elaborated beyond that. How the First Order rose from the ashes of the old Empire and why General Leia Organa formed a Resistance against them was a mystery left to be answered in the story group’s many non-movie canon materials.
The same thing can arguably be said for Star Wars. In the crawl, we read that the Rebel Alliance is currently in a civil war with the evil Galactic Empire, and the villains are in possession of a weapon powerful enough to destroy an entire planet. Any background information is virtually non-existent. Based solely on A New Hope, we have no idea how the Emperor rose to power and why so many people oppose his rule. Lucas did an excellent job incorporating visual cues to indicate the Imperials were the antagonists (and not simply a normal government dealing with a troublesome uprising), but as Abrams did many years later, Lucas set his story in the middle of a war and dropped us right in the heat of the action. Many years later he would go back to fill in the gaps, but that’s another story.
Darth Vader Is A Weak Villain
Despite ordering the deaths of several innocent villagers, torturing his prisoners by reading their mind with the Force, and committing a heinous act of patricide to sink deeper into the Dark Side, some felt that Kylo Ren was an unworthy successor to Darth Vader because of his whiny demeanor and tendency to throw temper tantrums when things don’t go his way. It’s amusing to think what the reaction would be to Darth Vader if he was introduced to moviegoers now instead of four decades ago. When one compares Episode IV and Episode VII, the argument can be made the former Ben Solo is a more realized character. Vader looks undeniably cool in his suit, but he’s thinly written.
Obi-Wan Kenobi does tell Luke Skywalker that Darth Vader was his former apprentice and killed Anakin Skywalker, but for the most part, Vader is merely an enforcer type who stands around and is actually a subordinate to Grand Moff Tarkin. The Sith’s biggest action sequence is an awkwardly choreographed sword fight with an old man, and while he does destroy some X-wings during the Battle of Yavin, he’s wiped out when his wingman is shot down by Han Solo. The sequels and Rogue One would help cement Vader’s status as one of the premier cinematic antagonists, but he really wasn’t much to write home about when he first burst on the scene. Twelve short minutes of screen time will do that to a character.