The Masterpiece: 40 Years of Star Wars

Fans gathered in the Hilton Grand West Sunday afternoon to discuss the 40th anniversary of Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope. Tom Hutchens, Caitlin Pleasher, Chadwick Miller, Charlotte Errity, Kevin Reitzel, and Michael Morris brought different generational perspectives and experiences that spanned the gamut of Star Wars fandom.

Panel moderator Tom Hutchens began by asking the panel to share their first encounters/impressions of the film. Whether coming to it as part of watching the first six, seeing it in the theater when it was released in 1977 or coming back to it after watching Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi, each spoke of the power of the film. What began for some as a fascination with collecting the toys became, with time, much deeper and more meaningful. With age the film became not so much about the toys but more the feeling of the moments in the film, such as when Obi Wan gives Luke his father’s light saber for the first time. For Miller, understanding the film within the context of the universe gives it even more power. Errity’s mother introduced the film to her at the age of ten and instructed her on the cultural impact of the film, a lesson which is fundamental to her now. For her it is the only complete Star Wars film that stands “perfectly” on its own. Reitzel saw the film for the first time at age six in the theater. Back in those days you could sit in a theater and watch a film over and over again. Simply put, it changed his life and the way that he looked at film. Hutchens actually saw New Hope on network TV and spoke for everyone when he declared that he had developed a deep love of the film.

Lively discussion ensued when the topic turned to the special edition. Morris flatly declared it was not necessary but most on the panel supported it. Reitzel argued that the special edition brought the film to the theater again and added interesting scenes. His one reservation was the Han versus Greedo scene and the issue of Han shooting first. The point came up as well that this was Lucas’s vision. He was never happy with the version released in 1977, which he finished under tremendous financial and timeline pressures. Lucas always said he wanted to go back and finish it. Morris remained unconvinced, arguing that the special edition was a bit like going back and painting eyebrows on the Mona Lisa!

The panel also agreed that the new films enrich New Hope by adding layers and depth of meaning.  Rogue One especially, with its intentional links, renewed everyone’s passion for episode four. A powerful example of this was the relationship between Darth Vader’s actions in Rogue One and New Hope. In Rogue One Vader “finally got to do what he does best” and as a result the audience has a greater appreciation for and understanding of Vader’s character in New Hope. All concurred that watching Rogue One immediately leads to watching New Hope.

The American Film Institute ranks Star Wars: A New Hope number 13 on its list of the 100 greatest American films of all time. It is an iconic film, standing with films such as Citizen Kane and The Godfather as masterpieces of the art form. As we celebrate its 40th anniversary, we see in Star Wars a film that demands to be considered and continues to be talked about.

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