The Original ‘Star Wars’ Film

Opening crawl of 1977 version

star-wars-episode-iv-a-new-hope

Matt Yglesias:

The other night my wife and I watched an incredible film. It was Star Wars — the 1977 science fiction classic that we remember from VHS tapes in the late 1980s and early 1990s and that older folks might remember from the big screen in the early 80s — except at Blu-ray quality on a high definition television in the comfort of our own home. And when I say Star Wars I mean Star Wars, as in the title that appears on the screen is Star Wars, with no reference to “Episode IV” or “a New Hope,” not the 1997 special edition re-cut full of random added CGI.

He goes on to tell us that, because George Lucas refuses to make this version of the film available, he had to enjoy this experience through the efforts of Petr Harmy. And that doing so is illegal because of the vagaries of US copyright law. I’ve got mixed feelings on the topic and little to add to that discussion.

What stuck out at me was the last sentence of the above excerpt. Although I was 11 when “Star Wars” came out, I didn’t see it for a couple years. But I saw it numerous times in standard definition via VHS before Lucas did any of his re-edits. Han shot first and all that. And I distinctly remember that “Episode IV” and “a New Hope” were very much part of that version. I remember because it seemed so odd: I knew there weren’t three previous movies.

So, one of two things are true. Either the version I saw on TV and VHS just a few years later and before the publicized re-edits in fact had the “Episode IV” business added in or Harmy’s re-edit to create an “original” version of the film in HD quality has taken the reference out. (I suppose a third option, that Yglesias somehow missed that reference in the opening sequence of Harmy’s version, is a possibility as well.)

UPDATE: It turns out that option 1 above is right:  ”In the original May 1977 release of Star Wars, the opening crawl did not feature an Episode number or the subtitle ‘A New Hope.’ Those would be added with the film’s April 10, 1981, theatrical re-release.”

FILED UNDER: Popular Culture, Quick Takes
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. PJ says:

    @James Joyner:

    He goes on to tell us that, because George Lucas refuses to make this version of the film available, he had to enjoy this experience through the efforts of Petr Harmy.

    My view of George Lucas is so low that I’m pretty certain that one of the demands he had when selling Star Wars to Disney was that it would never be allowed to clean and re-release the unedited original versions of the trilogy. It may even have been the only one.

    There’s this from Matt Yglesias:

    He’s gone so far as refusing to allow the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry to get its hands on a copy.

    To quote myself from 2011:

    George Lucas could go ************** ********* ************ *************.

  2. Pinky says:

    Just think of the needless grief we could have been spared if they’d accidentally labelled it “Episode 1”.

  3. Mikey says:

    ”In the original May 1977 release of Star Wars, the opening crawl did not feature an Episode number or the subtitle ‘A New Hope.’ Those would be added with the film’s April 10, 1981, theatrical re-release.”

    I saw it 11 times in 1977. Watching it years later I would wonder where that “episode IV” stuff came from. Now I know.

  4. DrDaveT says:

    I was 14 when Star Wars was originally released, and I saw it 11 times during that original run. I have very mixed emotions about the idea that Lucas doesn’t want to me to see that film again, ever. None of the emotions are warm or fuzzy.

  5. Mikey says:
  6. gVOR08 says:

    They added a lot of sound effects in the re-release, one of which cracks me up. One of the running gags in Airplane was that every time they did a longshot of the 707 jetliner they dubbed in prop plane noise. In the remake Lucas added background noise to the interior shots of the Millenium Falcon that sound like a 707.

  7. Kylopod says:

    My parents have a DVD version of the original film that doesn’t include the “Episode IV: A New Hope” in the opening crawl. It’s not unauthorized: Lucas does the commentary, and he even mentions the fact that those words weren’t in the opening crawl in the original version, but he claims it was a studio decision and he wanted those words there to begin with. (Rolleyes….)

  8. CSK says:

    May I ask a question? Why are men so devoted to this film? I mean, it was a nice little cartoon-like sci-fi flick, entertaining in its way, but hardly worth (to my mind) the kind of obsessive devotion some people accord it. And cosmic significance. I once had a male colleague who dedicated a good portion of his time to a study of how Star Wars influenced people’s philosophies, religious beliefs, ethics, world view, personal relationships, ideology, and so on. You know, this is not Socrates nor Aristotle we’re talking here. It’s a movie, guys. It’s not The Critique of Pure Reason.

    I realize that by posing such a question I’ve probably made myself very unpopular within certain precincts.

  9. Gustopher says:

    @CSK: Because it is awesome!

    It’s a near perfectly done fantasy story, hitting every beat you would want or expect in a story about a boy who discovers he’s a wizard, trudges off to meet a wise wizard master, and then has to stand on his own after the master is killed, with enough side plots to keep from being all wizard all the time.

    It’s the Harry Potter of the late 1970’s — although not as inclusive towards women (their career options are limited to either a princess, a slave, or a dancer… Sometimes combining all three). The science fiction trappings also make it more acceptable to people who would feel silly with wizards.

    And the designs for the costumes and the ships are all excellent. And there were toys.

    The AT-AT from Empire is possibly the coolest thing ever, a weapon of choice when you don’t need to turn, arrive quickly, be low enough to avoid weapons fire as you approach, etc — it’s a weapon deployed only out of arrogance, to show the people you are attacking how little you care about their so-called defense.

  10. CSK says:

    @Gustopher:

    I don’t dispute your explanation of the cinematic effectiveness of the story line, the special effects, the costumes, or the weaponry. But I can say the same of a number of movies. I’m just curious about why this movie has such deep significance for men, why viewing it seems to have been a life-changing event for so many of them.

    I should explain further about my male colleague and this “study” he was doing: He passed out questionnaires to all of us, asking us in detail what profound changes viewing the movie had made in our lives. Well…none in mine. I was the same person walking out of the movie as I was walking into it.

  11. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    @CSK: I’m in your camp on this. it was the same type of sci-fi adventure that I used to get to go to about once a summer when my mom and dad had the money for me to go to a Saturday “Kid’s Day” matinee event, only much more slickly produced.

    As I recall, some of the buzz that your coworker got caught up in involved metatext issues involving disputes between Evangelicals and Secularists about the nature and “meaning” of “using the force.” And there are some people out here who still see Star Wars as a Biblical or religious allegory. How does that work? Haven’t a clue.

  12. CSK says:

    @Just ‘nutha’ ig’rant cracker:

    Me neither, but we do now have an alleged religion called “Jediism,” according to Wikipedia “a nontheistic new religious movement based on the philosophical and spiritual ideas of the Jedi as depicted in Star Wars media.

  13. Mikey says:

    @Gustopher:

    @CSK: Because it is awesome!

    And in addition to all that there were pioneering and incredible visual effects unlike anything done before. It was truly something new. Look at it today–nearly 40 years later it still holds up. In an age when everything they did with painstaking model building and innovative cinematography can be done by a powerful home computer, Star Wars still looks incredible.

  14. de stijl says:

    Because it is awesome!

    As a story it’s middling and derivative

    As acted it’s embarrassingly bad*

    As filmed it’s boring

    YMMV

    (* Is there a word or succinct phrase for the concept of “I’m embarrassed that you’ve embarrassed yourself. I don’t know you, but you seem like a decent sort and you can say lines on camera like your boss told you to. It’s not really your fault that you had to say poorly or indifferently written dialog in such an affectless manner.”

    The Canadian way of saying “sorry” comes close but not quite. I’m looking in your direction, Germany.

  15. Gustopher says:

    @CSK: It’s the toys. It allowed children to continue playing in that universe after the movie ended, and it gave them the ability to create their own adventures, and make Star Wars part of themselves. And, Star Wars was give or take the first franchise to really market the crap out of the toys.

    It was also one of the first real blockbusters, so it was a cultural phenomena that kids of the day could share. I didn’t know anyone who didn’t have the toys, hadn’t seen the movie, and wasn’t a little excited by it. Except for girls, but I was 7 so I had no use for them.

    And, now, decades later I want a clean release of the first three movies, as they had been shown in theaters. I would pay for them, very gladly. I have little doubt that most of the changes were improvements (except for Greedo shooting fIrst, and the Jabba scene), but I want to see the award winning special effects — even though they have been completely eclipsed by close to four decades of technological improvements. The work of those artists captured my imagination as a child, I want that to live on, rather than some cheap knockoff (of higher quality).

  16. grumpy realist says:

    @CSK: I ended up taking my father and one of his colleagues to the film when it was originally released. They had a grand time. My father told me later that Star Wars reminded him of all of the gung-ho movies he had watched during WWII. Every single cliche was there.

    (Both my father and his colleague had worked on the Manhattan Project, which was how they had met.)

  17. James Joyner says:

    @CSK: I’m more of a Trek guy than a Star Wars guy and wouldn’t consider myself obsessive about either. But, in addition to what @Gustopher says above, I think the franchise aspect of Star Wars (and Star Trek) is key.

    It wasn’t a nice little film that showed one time in 1977. There were two follow-on films spread out over the next six years. Sixteen years later, he did it again with the prequels. Thhree years later, an animated film. This December, yet another trilogy launches. And that says nothing of all the theatrical re-releases and the incredibly controversial tweaks to the original films. Thus, “Star Wars” continues to be a very live thing 38 years after the release of the first film. A third generation of little boys are buying light sabers and other toys and their dads and even granddads are in on it.

    The only franchises that come anywhere close are Star Trek—around in one form or another since 1966—and the Bond movies, which debuted in 1962. There’s nothing comparable around, say, “Gone With the Wind” or “North by Northwest.”

  18. @CSK:

    May I ask a question? Why are men so devoted to this film? I mean, it was a nice little cartoon-like sci-fi flick, entertaining in its way, but hardly worth (to my mind) the kind of obsessive devotion some people accord it.

    I suppose that next you’re gonna ask what’s supposed to be so funny about the Three Stooges.

  19. @James Joyner:

    There’s nothing comparable around, say, “Gone With the Wind”

    Do Lindsey Graham voters qualify?

  20. CSK says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Never. I’m actually one of the few girls who found them funny.

  21. CSK says:

    @Mikey: @James Joyner: @Gustopher:

    I get it about the special effects, the toys, the franchise, etc. What I’m curious about is why so much intellectual energy was invested by men so early in investigating, or trying to prove, that the movie (a stand-alone event till 1983, when the first sequel or prequel came out) was a profound statement on the human condition: a philosophical, metaphysical, theological, and psychological watershed. For example, this article from 1981: “The Appeal of Star Wars: An Archetypal-Psychoanalytic View,” in American Imago, Vol. 38, No.2, by Martin Miller and Robert Sprich. Notice that article was written and published in a scholarly journal well before there was a second SW movie.

  22. Mikey says:

    @CSK: I didn’t know about things like scholarly analyses…I just thought you were asking why dudes like it so much. Spaceships, lasers, explosions, great toys…11-year-old me didn’t need much beyond that. And the 11-year-old that’s still in there somewhere doesn’t, either.

    Maybe some people just take it too seriously–they remember the impact it had and infer a deeper meaning from that memory than the series actually warrants. At the same time, though, for all its successes–and failings–as cinema, it seems to me to fit pretty well into the mold of epic saga.

    Still, why Star Wars and not (as the abstract of that American Imago article asks) something like Planet of the Apes, which is epic in its own rightThere have even been several modern adaptations of the latter, but there isn’t the kind of overarching social impact Star Wars has had.

  23. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @CSK: I might have an opinion or two on this, that I might share…

    1) Lucas hit a TON of classic tropes in that first movie, as spelled out above. And tropes aren’t necessarily bad; it gave the audience ways to recognize and identify with the movie on a subconscious level, to have a sense of familiarity with something so new.

    2) He presented them in ways that we hadn’t seen before. A lot of science fiction cliches (and non-sci-fi, for that matter) come from Star Wars, when they weren’t cliched yet. My personal favorite is the “dirty” look. Before Star Wars, one key element of sci fi was how everything was clean and shiny and pristine. In Star Wars, things were dirty, corroded, gritty, musty — they had history. The Millennium Falcon was a tramp freighter run by a scruffy smuggler who’d been around the block quite a few times — and it looked it. The Mos Eisley cantina was smoky and grubby and filled with very unreputable sorts.

    Lucas kept the clean, shiny, sterile aspects, though — he gave it to the bad guys. The Empire’s ships were stark white. The stormtroopers’ armor was stark white. And while Vader was clad all in black, it was largely a shiny black.

    Remember, this was all new at the time. Sci fi was Star Trek and 2001. And they were all about associating the white, the clean, the shiny with the good guys. It was a visual shorthand that everyone understood. And Lucas turned that upside down.

    3) Lucas also lifted a lot of elements from other popular genres and brought them to sci-fi. Han Solo is a cowboy, and Chewbacca was his faithful Indian companion. The space battles were World War II dogfights (Lucas even copied some sequences straight from The Battle of Britain). As noted, Ben/Obi-Wan was the wise old wizard, and Luke was the Hidden Prince. Leia was a prototypical Disney Princess, starting off as a damsel in distress and then turning into a kick-ass tough chick in her own right. R2-D2 and C-3PO were a Mutt and Jeff team that had hints of Jeeves and Wooster, and Abbott and Costello.

    4) Attitude. While Luke was, admittedly, a bit bland, Lucas had three characters who were seriously snarky. Han, Leia, and R2-D2 all brought considerable spunk to the screen. And Lucas was smart enough to let them cut loose. Hell, Harrison Ford improvised some of his most memorable lines — “we’re fine, how are you?” and “I love you!” “I know” weren’t in the script.)

    That’s just four examples. There are a lot more.

    However, since then, Lucas has pretty much convinced me that he did a lot that by accident…

  24. CSK says:

    @Mikey: @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Thanks: I appreciate the interesting responses. My curiosity is two-pronged: I’ve wondered why academics take the movie so deadly seriously, and why normal men (I can be snide about academics; I’ve been one longer than is healthy) seem to love this movie so much.

    Were men of previous generations quite as absorbed by the Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials they watched? ( Bear in mind that the stuff that looks hopelessly hokey to us now would have looked great to them seventy years ago.) Did they carry the fascination into adulthood? I don’t think so.

    And, let’s face it…inventing a “religion” (Jediism) based on a movie is a pretty extreme reaction.

  25. Mikey says:

    @CSK:

    And, let’s face it…inventing a “religion” (Jediism) based on a movie is a pretty extreme reaction.

    Well… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dudeism

  26. Grewgills says:

    @CSK:
    I know a lot of women that LOVE the originals and are every bit as invested as men are. It may have been and may be more men and boys into it than women and girls, but that certainly isn’t near all of it. Maybe you need a nerdier/geekier set of female friends or a less nerdy/geeky set of male friends 😉

  27. Grewgills says:

    Lucas borrowed heavily from Kurosawa’s “Hidden Fortress” and worked on it for years with a LOT of (mostly unattributed) help. That goes a long way to explaining why the latest three were such a train wreck.

  28. CSK says:

    @Grewgills:

    Well, I may have spent more time than is healthy working in academe, where one is more likely to meet the kind of individual who really does place SW up there in the cultural firmament along with The Poetics, The Inferno, Paradise Lost, etc. Or as some sort of New Age guide to living.

    In any case, I thank all of you for indulging my curiosity.

  29. grumpy realist says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: Nice analysis. Don’t forget the Maschineman from Metropolis, as reissued in C-3PO.

    There’s a special edition of Star Wars floating around that has a documentary about the making of Star Wars. It’s quite eye-opening to see what Star Wars was like before the film editor (Lucas’s then-wife) got hold of it and turned it from a plodding wreck to a gung-ho gangbusters movie. Star Wars just magically happened to get all the parts to come together, albeit quasi-accidentally. The Empire Strikes Back also kept control insomuch as the story still came first. The Return of the Jedi was where Lucas really started to let his crass commercialism take over (I can’t be the only one who wants to kill all the Ewoks as being disgustingly over-cute and plopped into the plot solely for marketing purposes.) And I haven’t bothered to watch the rest (aside from one still which my aikido teacher showed us as demonstrating the exact wrong way to stand with a blade.)

  30. Jeff says:

    CSK: I realize that by posing such a question I’ve probably made myself very unpopular within certain precincts.

    That’s usually shorthand for “hey, no one likes to be trolled, but I’m going to derail this thread anyway.” Mission accomplished, by the way. So, kudos I guess.

    First of all, there’s no way that this phenomenon can possibly be as incomprehensible as you claim. Anyone who’s ever met an 11-year-old should at least be able to venture a hypothesis about the film’s impact on American culture. You’ve had a few decades to puzzle it out and you’re still coming up blank?

    If you were honestly interested in answering the question then it wouldn’t be difficult to investigate the enduring popularity of Star Wars. This isn’t the best forum to conduct that investigation. OTB threads don’t focus on popular culture and they get maybe a few dozen comments. You would want a Star Wars forum dedicated to the subject matter with hundreds or thousands of participants and you would want to adopt a less dismissive tone before you engaged with the community.

    For example, less of this: “why do all men care so much about this silly trifle?” And more: “tell me about the first time you watched Star Wars.”