A New Hope In A New Light: A Reappraisal Of The Movie That Started It All

Why “Episode IV” Will Always Be No.2 In The All-Time Star Wars Chart

“Suddenly the film starts, and every kid in the audience starts screaming!” – Irwin Kershner.   

It’s over a month now since we were subjected to the travesty that is Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Not only has it lessened my attitude towards the saga (will probably never watch Episode VII again, now knowing that Episode VIII fails to develop the new characters in any way 😦 ) but – as you may have gathered this past few weeks – it has almost completely sapped my will to write! A staggeringly bitter irony to take, considering that the original Star Wars – with all its bewitching escapist fare, “done with all the energy and intelligence and thought that I could muster,” as its creator George Lucas remarked back then – inspired me to create my own science fiction.

Ahem, it has come to my attention that a number of fans have recently blogged their Star Wars rankings – in many such Posts, The Last Jedi has been ranked far too highly; but more surprisingly, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope appears far too low on these charts.

You probably wondered why no 40th Anniverwary Celebration appeared on this site last May. Here in the UK, “Star Wars” did not get its theatrical release until 27 December 1977, (cinemas – like everything else around the country – are closed on Christmas Day) and even then, it would take good ol’ word-of-mouth to convince us that something quite extraordinary awaited us at our local popcorn parlour…

So, to mark four decades since its release on the tea-and-scones side of the Pond, me writers’ block has been jiggled orf in order to cobble together some hopefully-entertaining thoughts. 

By the mid-’70s, a more gritty, often brutal, realism had permeated the big screen; Star Wars brought a timely sense of magic and fantasy back to the movies. No matter how much the original cast and crew complained about the simple script and dodgy dialogue, there were no niggles to be had from yours truly. Besides, many of the lines have become immortalised in pop culture.

It will be forever intriguing to speculate who else could have played these iconic roles. We could be here all night discussing all the influential major and minor players, but for the moment, let me focus on a role that remarkably receives less treatment.

Star Wars helped convince me that Peter Cushing was one of the greatest actors. He could portray the fiendishly evil Dr. Frankenstein and create a fetching, grandfatherly Dr. Who with equal relish. A young Mark Hamill was in awe, and has confessed that – even though they shared no scenes together onscreen – he would visit the Hammer Horror legend in his dressing room to pick up acting tips.

And, of course, “dear little Carrie” simply could not bring herself to shout at this gentlemen even if he was playing “a rather frightful Edwardian chauffeur.”

Sure, today’s technology can recreate the likeness of Peter Cushing, but it will never capture his charm:

“I was absolutely knocked for six. I was riveted! Star Wars was a picture you had to see again… My only disappointment was that poor old Moff Tarkin was blown up at the end, which meant I couldn’t appear in the sequels” – Peter Cushing.

“I actually designed the sandcrawler. R2-D2 was my concept. Darth Vader was my concept. And the white stormtrooper costume was mine; George wanted a white costume, but that’s about all he said. Many people could have done them. I happened to be available and capable of doing the stuff when it was needed… It’s just a big happening” – Ralph McQuarrie. 

Biggs Darklighter: “Luke, I didn’t just come back to say goodbye… I made some friends at the academy. When our frigate leaves for the central systems, we’re gonna jump ship and join the Alliance-“

Luke Skywalker: “THE REBELLION?!”

Biggs Darklighter: “Quiet down, willya? You got a mouth bigger than a meteor crater…”

On Christmas Day 1987, Star Wars (at last) received its UK TV premiere. Naturally, a brand new VHS tape was utilised – for the next few years it would have to withstand umpteen repeated viewings. 

Also that year, Starlog magazine put out an amazing special issue celebrating Star Wars‘ 10th Anniversary; one of the numerous jaw-dropping facts to grab my attention concerned the deleted scenes. This section even published a still from the scene in which Biggs Darklighter returns from the academy to tell Luke of his intention to join the Rebel Alliance, and suggests that they go together…

Admittedly, most of these scenes (set on Tatooine) were rightfully deleted, but this scene in particular has long evoked a personal fascination. It offers some nifty dialogue between these best buddies; in addition, it reveals the effects of Imperial dominion on a domestic level (and would help give the emotional resonance that Biggs’ death requires.

Such a shame: a poor copy can be found on YouTube, but most likely, you probably never heard of it.

In 1997, when news broke of a Special Edition – released to herald the movie’s 20th Anniversary, chances of finally getting to know Biggs looked more promising. 

Well, what a swiz… 

Instead, we had to watch needless – not to mention mindless – animated inserts; at least the remastered climactic attack on the Death Star  got spruced up rather well. Although we got only one previously unseen moment with Luke and Biggs meeting up at the rebel base on Yavin, this still did not help explain Luke’s line: “Biggs is right, I’m never going to get out of here!” which, curiously, was still left in. 

“Much of my personality has gone into Chewie, and people can pick those bits out. There are quirky movements that nobody else does. I feel that I’ve put a great deal of Peter Mayhew into Chewbacca” – Peter Mayhew.

“We were very worried about credibility. We wanted everything to come across as if it existed in the real world. The film’s whole style was dented, rusty and realistic” – Ben Burtt.   

From Tatooine, to the Death Star, and then onto Yavin, the pace never lets up (unlike The Last Jedi where, at some points, staring at my watch – or my cinema’s exquisite early 20th century décor –  proved to be a more engrossing spectacle than anything delivered onscreen).

Perhaps, the moment in the trash compactor aboard th Death Star is Episode IV’s slowest, least appealing moment? A few times my infant self felt propelled to fast forward to that gripping TIE fighter attack. 

With the climactic battle against the Death Star, both my interests in Second World War aerial dogfights and sci-fi action were spectacularly combined, but this next sequence always excited me more.

Stuff the ridiculous video game effects of the prequels! And that bland bombing run with which The Last Jedi begins – THIS is Star Wars!:  

So, let me get this straight: 

you really believe that Benicio Del Toro is more important than Ben Kenobi? That the salt of Crait is more precious than the sand on Tatooine? And that Canto Bight (ugh) is more awesome than Mos Eisley?! 

You may put forth your arguments defending what is no more than a 150-minute Disney commercial in the Comments section below.

“I’m going to cut across the axis and try and draw their fire!” 😉

And please don’t tell me you’ve already forgotten this magical scene:

“In six weeks, we set up shop, made 30 aliens – some were my designs, some were Ron Cobb’s… I’m very proud to have done something on the picture. I wish to God I had spent a year on Star Wars rather than King Kong” – Rick Baker.   

This clip brings us nicely to my last – and arguably most endearing – point.

Seeing how anybody could have written this Post – let me add my own 25-satangs-worth. 

While everyone wanted to be Han Solo, or a Jedi, my time – and ebullient imagination – became captivated by those Tusken Raiders aka Sand People, those nomadic, primitive crack-shot ruffians of the Jundland Wastes who – when easily startled – could be guaranteed to  “be back, and in greater numbers…”

Instead of clamouring for a (decidedly naff) plastic(?!) lightsaber, this innovative moppet improvised with a Tusken Raider mask (remember it being so brittle it could have torn like paper). Found a fallen branch from the small pear tree in our back garden – miraculously just the right size for me, AND with one end unbelievably curved exactly like a a Tusken gaderffii stick; to complete this “transformation” Mum wrapped me in that small, sand-coloured blanket from the airing cupboard under the stairs (besides, it was pretty nippy outside at that time of evening!).

Sadly, there are no photos of me in my very first dabble with cosplay – ‘twas a time in which having photos of you doing anything and everything was not essential. Perhaps people were too scared to take a snap of me, fearing the prospect of stealing this pint-sized primitive’s virtue, or somesuch. 

Beware of the Bradling?!

Loved wandering around outside the corner store up the road, in character, for hours, as a formidable liddle Sand Person, waving my homemade gaderffii menacingly at any outsider who dared venture into that establishment…

Ask anybody in that neighbourhood at that time and they would testify to that end..

“They had a guy wandering around in a dog suit. It was ridiculous” – Harrison Ford.

 

“I got the job of this movie with the caveat that I lose ten pounds… I was terrified they were going to look at me and say: ‘Bring in Jodie Foster and get that fat girl outta here!'” – Carrie Fisher. 

 

“The Hand Of Oberon”: And Other SF Delights From The Bradcave Of Books

 Escape Into A Good Book (Or Four)…

“As soon as you have an idea that changes some small part of the world, you are writing science fiction. It is always the art of the possible, never the impossible” – Ray Bradbury. 

So, 2018: the Year of the Black Panther is upon us.

First and foremost, let it be a groovy one for you, dear reader. 

For me, one major objective this year is simple, but imperative: Read More Science Fiction Novels and, thus, feature more book reviews on this site! Over this past year, my visits to secondhand bookshops have intensified, and some interesting titles have come my way.

Save them for a rainy day, methinks. By Holdo’s beard! It’s a-rainin’ now!

“I visualize eperything in my stories in considerable detail. If I cannot see a person or place clearly I cannot write about them too well. I tend to hear the dialogue, also, when rehearsing it in my mind. I sometimes think that this has something to do with a childhood spent listening to radio dramas” – Roger Zelazny.

At the zenith of otherworldly wonders on the printed page, Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny stands as one of the most astonishing SF masterpieces ever written.

Endeavouring to catch up with other scintillating works by this SF grandmaster, The Hand Of Oberon (1976) is an intriguing addition to his five-part Amber series – a foray into the fantasy genre, in keeping with his interest in myth, miracles and theatricality. 

Is Amber treading the path to destruction? 

The whole kingdom is set to plunge into chaos, for Oberon, Amber’s magical king, has gone missing. Monstrous evil forces emerge from the dark, alternative world of Shadow. Upon the shoulders of the magus Lord Corwin falls the task of finding King Oberon – and foiling the sinister alternative reality threatening to destroy Amber… 

Highly and widely praised as “a brilliant creation of a weird alternative reality,” this enthusiastic bunny is beginning to agree.

“Those whom heaven helps we call the Sons of Heaven. They do not learn this by learning. They do not work it by working. They do not reason it by using reason.

“To let understanding stop at what cannot be understood is a high attainment. Those who cannot do it will be destroyed on the Lathe of HeavenChuang Tse: XXIII.

Keen to read more female SF writers, you could not ask for a more prominent example than Ursula K. Le Guin. 

The Lathe of Heaven (1971) is “a dark vision and a warning –  a fable of power uncontrolled and uncontrollable. It is a truly prescient and startling view of humanity, and the consequences of playing God.”

George Orr is the individual whose dreams possess the uncanny ability to alter reality. And his psychiatrist, William Haber, plans to benefit from this power…

Interestingly, each chapter begins with a quote from ancient Chinese philosopher: Chuang Tse, but one chapter leads with a staggering quote from Lafcadio Hearn.

Le Guin has “gracefully developed” an absorbing and inventive read. An intriguing fusion of science and poetry, and reason and emotion, this “clever exercise in alternatives and ethics” should serve me well until The Left Hand of Darkness eventually finds its way into my eager mitts…

“Patiently, and out of his own enormous vitality and talent, [John W. Campbell Jr.] built up a stable of the best science-fiction writers the world had, till then, ever seen” – Isaac Asimov.

August 4

“Dark, flickering shadows. We cannot use more mantles, as they require the oxygen of six men, give little light… I sat up and watched the store-rooms for three hours, but could not remain awake longer. No food was taken.” 

August 5

“The suit batteries are giving out now. The men complain their batteries will not stay charged…” 

This gives just some idea of the chilling tone set by The Moon Is Hell by John W. Campbell. 

As someone who used to try SF novels based purely on the awesomeness of its cover art, this particular cover fails to either entice or excite any potential reader, but this happened to be the first time ever that my book quests have located any work by the legend that was John W. Campbell Jr. so had to be snapped up regardless. 

As editor of Astounding Magazine (still in curculation as Analog) Campbell “made modern science fiction what it is today.” The success of such SF greats as Asimov, Heinlein, Sturgeon and numerous others can be attributed to him. He is perhaps best known for the classic short story: Who Goes There? – twice filmed, once as The Thing (From Another World) (1951) and again as John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982). 

Apart from being an influential figure in publishing, Campbell knew how to weave some thrilling tales. Sure enough, The Moon Is Hell is quite a distinctive piece of work. First published in 1951, it tells of the first manned mission to the Moon in the far-future of  1981.

Essentially, it is the diary account of Dr. Thomas Ridgeley Duncan, physicist and second-in-command of the Garner Lunar Expedition. It turns out to be anything but the stupendous landmark achievement reserved for the history books. Constant tech faults, oxygen leaks, deliberate sabotage, you name it: each new day brings a fresh nightmare. 

Harrowing, claustrophobic, hopeless: it sounds like the last thing you would want to read! (>_<)

And yet…

The immediacy and intimacy of the personal journal format, plus the brevity, and tension inherent in Campbell’s style pulls you into this utterly compelling thriller.

“Ringworld is the best of the newest wave, the return to classical hard-science fiction of the kind popular in the Golden Age. Niven’s imagination is 3-D and detailed, and his style is lucid and appealing” – Frederik Pohl.  

On that dull and breezy day in May in which that bright and cheezy Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol.2 came into my life, imagine my joy upon discovering a copy of Ringworld, by Larry Niven. 

With the inception of this blog, my long-dormant interest in SF could flourish once more – as a starter, compiling for myself a provisional list of essential SF classics to track down – Ringworld was one of them. Only took me four years to find this Hugo and Nebula Award-winning epic, first published in 1970. 

In this deep-space adventure, the titular centre of attention is a solar satellite which actually encircles its sun, populated by a whole coterie of alien races.

An inventive writer, Niven keeps his ideas solidly based in contemporary astronomical knowledge and physical theory. My attention was particularly drawn towards his critically-acclaimed concerted effort to recapture the spirit of Golden Age SF.  

That trip to the cinema was fine, but this novel is proving to be more memorable. 

“A good writer should be able to write comedic work that made you laugh, and scary stuff that made you scared, and science fiction that imbued you with a sense of wonder…” – Neil Gaiman. 

Well, these are just some of the books keeping me quiet and occupied in my den during this wet and windy Winter. 

Plenty of other amazing novels have accumulated around the Bradcave!

Forthcoming Posts will explore some of these amazing items; you can also look forward to a snazzy fiesta of science-fantasy – the subgenre of tales set in a far-future bereft of technology (sounds like my ideal world! 😉 )

And in case you were wondering what Bradscribe listens to whilst reading, and cataloguing, new additions to his ever-expanding Library this week – and never ceases to please the neighbours! – it’s this: 

“It may remain for us to learn . . . that our task is only beginning, and that there will never be given to us even the ghost of any help, save the help of unutterable and unthinkable Time.

“We may have to learn that the infinite whirl of death and birth, out of which we cannot escape, is of our own creation, of our own seeking; – that the forces integrating worlds are the errors of the Past; – that the eternal sorrow is but the eternal hunger of insatiable desire; – and that the burnt-out suns are rekindled only by the inextinguishable passions of vanished lives” – Lafcadio Hearn, Out of the East.