Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977): A Hero’s Journey and a Classic

Star Wars A New Hope Poster

         It was really difficult finding the original unaltered “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope,” but it was worth it. The bad CGI in the Special Editions completely took me out of it when I tried watching one of them first and the old organic feel to the Original gave the series life and made the world feel lived in. The only thing that really needed to be changed was just polishing up the picture as some shots didn’t look as great as they could have due to the film at the time…but it was worth it. “A New Hope” is easily one of my all time favorite films after watching it again after not seeing it for years, and I’ll get into the reasons why.

      The film was directed and written by George Lucas and produced by Gary Kurtz.

       The story involves the Rebel Alliance stealing the Death Star plans from the Empire leading to the ship’s capture as Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) hides the plans in R2-D2 who escapes with C-3PO to Tatooine. It is there Luke (Mark Hamill) buys them and finds himself pulled away from his life on the farm when the Empire kills his Aunt and Uncle and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guiness) and he must escape and get the plans to Alderaan.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – John Williams’s score is part of what truly makes this film a classic. Tension is always rising throughout the film and it happens from his use of sound to add mystery and shock when we are Tatooine to the threat of the Empire whenever Vader or the Death Star arrive on the scene. If there had been no dialogue and only this score it would be a favorite film.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful! Whether it is the opening shot of the Star Destroyer chasing down the Rebels or the final Death Star run the scenes are filmed in such a way that tension is created and our villains and heroes are clearly illustrated.

The Special Effects – The practical effects are what make this film work. From models of space ships and actual explosions that in the process gave us actual stakes, which sadly has been forgetten in so many films that are overdependent on CGI (Hello Prequels).

The World – The World is ,awesome! There are clear sides (The Rebels and Empire) but outside of those sides there are threats all around. If you are droid you could be captured and sold by Jawas and if you are a farmer killed by Sand People and the Imperial Influence is everywhere. Even if you are in the outskirts of Tatooine (like the Lars were) they will find you and kill you.

The Galactic Empire – The Empire is an awesome threat! We have the Emperor dissolve the Imperial Senate firmly establishing that the Governors like Tarkin now control their sectors of Space and the Death Star to enforce terror on any revolting populace. Darth Vader is the hand of the Empire too and we see him deal with threats easily, only being stopped by a surprise ally to the Rebels in the last battle.

The Rebel Alliance – These guys are small and use planets like Alderaan as safe havens since they can’t take the Empire on militarily. We see this when they are quickly dispatched in the opening and at the end when Vader kills most of the X-Wing Pilots who are attempting to destroy the Death Star. They are flexible though and driven as we see Leia sacrifice her home of Alderaan when she lies to the Empire about where the Rebel base is.

The Characters – The characters are amazing and feel fully fleshed out. They have wants, needs, desires and trials. Honestly after watching the Prequels it’s hard to imagine that George Lucas actually wrote this script. It’s quick, understands people and has heart to even the small characters like droids.

R2-D2 and C-3PO – These two are the odd couple with R2-D2 being fully in with the Rebellion while for 3PO is just doing his job as an interpreter. They care for each other though and any time they get separated you see the joy they feel at being reunited again. These  two go through a lot…from discrimination in Mos Eisley, near capture by the Empire at the beginning, captured by Jawas and in R2’s case nearly destroyed by Vader.

Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru – Knowing what happens in the future I get why they were so protective of Luke. They knew if he left he could face the same trials as his father and end up corrupted and lost. Sadly what they didn’t realize is that no one is safe from the Empire as a Stormtrooper group kills them. I liked their dynamic with Owen as the disapproving father figure and Beru as the supportive mother.

Chewbacca – Chewie is a small role but he is wonderful as Han’s support. We see him willing to risk himself as a prisoner to infiltrate the Death Star and see how deadly he is on countless occasions. He is the only one who tends to accurately hit Stormtroopers most of the time. Our other heroes are as accurate as the Stormtroopers themselves.

Grand Moff Tarkin – Peter Cushing is great as Vader’s boss in this as we see him kill an entire planet (Alderaan) just to make a point to Leia that the Empire doesn’t have compassion and that the only way to rule is through fear. He doubts the power of the force (due the Jedi being hunted to near extinction no surprise there) and even his arrogance isn’t misplaced. He only dies because Luke destroys the Death Star at the final moment when they are about to destroy the Rebel Base on Yavin. What an awesome villain.

Han Solo – Han Solo is the rogue who has an arc from being a very selfish guy (only being in it for the money and doing the good thing to survive and not out of any kindness). He changes over the course of the film as Luke’s idealism rubs off on him and when he realizes that he can’t leave the Rebellion to die (after experiencing how deadly the Empire was first hand there was so much selfishness there too). Harrison Ford owns this role and this is one of his most memorable characters. He is funny, witty, sarcastic and the only one who able to match wits with him is Princess Leia who he starts out having an antagonistic relationship with (like Luke) but who in the end he becomes friends with. Han is ruthless and smart as we see him kill the Bounty Hunter Greedo before Greedo can collect the bounty on Han’s head.

Princess Leia – Leia is a tough character who I wish we could have got to know more. Her homeworld of Alderaan gets destroyed, she is tortured by Vader and the Empire…but she never gives up the Rebels. She is also a quick thinker and helps Han, Luke and Chewie escape when the Imperials have them pinned. Carrie Fisher is fantastic in this role.

Obi-Wan Kenobi – Alec Guiness plays the wise, old mentor role really well in this and was my favorite character in the film besides Darth Vader. In him we see a tired old man broken from time, the Empire’s rise and the loss of his friend Anakin Skywalker. It is in Luke he finds hope for the future though so he teaches him the ways of the force and in the end sacrifices himself so that our heroes can escape. We see his goodness and nobility throughout and that he does have an awareness of the bigger picture, as he doesn’t even leave a body behind when he faces his old pupil Vader showing that he has become more powerful than Vader can imagine.

Luke Skwalker – Mark Hamill plays the winy farm boy who grows up over the course of the film. He is the idealist who just wants to do right by his Aunt and Uncle (he rejects being trained by Obi-Wan at first because of his obligation to them) but when circumstances force him on his quest he embraces it. This is Luke’s heroes journey as we see him use the force that Obi-Wan had taught him to destroy the Death Star, and it is his reminding Han of the good in people and in Han himself that leads to Han Solo saving him from Darth Vader and giving him the chance to destroy the Death Star. Luke goes from selfish to selfless, just like Han and changes this world for the better.

Darth Vader – James Earl Jones was perfect for the voice of Vader and Darth Vader is one of my all time favorite villains. We see that he is a man from the past (a former Jedi who goes into combat himself to fight unlike Tarkin safe behind the Death Star) and that he is a force to be reckoned with. When he sets the Empire on someone (the droids) they cause a path of destruction in their wake. Vader is that destruction and force and even the higher ups in the Empire (all the Admirals) fear him, and for good reason as we see him strangle a man who dares to question the power of the force. It is his courage and drive that make him a survivor to as when the Death Star is destroyed he is the only one who escapes as he was killing the X-Wings who had made the run to destroy the Death Star in the first place and as he escapes it’s hard for the victory celebration at the end not to feel empty. The Death Star was deadly but Vader was more-so…wherever he went, death followed.

The Force – The Force is what binds all beings together and allows those in touch with it to manipulate things around them, be they objects or minds. We see it in how Obi-Wan gets Stormtroopers off their back and when Luke forces the Torpedos down the shoot leading to a victory for the Rebellion. We also see Vader use it on countless occasions to destroy.

Okay: Leia’s Development – Leia loses her planet but we never see what that means to her. She has lost her parents as far as we know and that is never dealt with beyond her pleading for the life of Alderaan. Adding at least one scene could have fixed this.

Too Long with the Droids – The time with the Droids on Tatooine could have been cut in half. All it establishes is their odd couple relationship and that Tatooine is deadly, which we learn later anyway when the Sand People attack Luke. Adding Luke into the story earlier or giving Leia more development is what should have been done instead.

   This is a classic and one of my all time favorite films. Watch the Original version if you can. It is beautiful and there isn’t distracting CGI like in the Special Editions. It is fully focused on the characters and organizations being filmed which lends power and focus as we witness Luke’s Hero’s Journey as he helps the Rebellion win their greatest victory against the Galactic Empire. This film is part of what make “Star Wars” as a universe unforgettable.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

Star Wars A New Hope

The Hounds of Baskerville (1959): Hammer’s Good Adaptation of a Classic

The Hound of the Baskervilles

     Hammer pulled off a pretty good “Sherlock Holmes” adaptation! What certainly helped was having Sir Christopher Lee as Henry Baskerville and Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes, but it wasn’t simply this either. This was one of the early color films and their use of cinematography creates very powerful images that drive the story.

     The film was directed by Terrance Fisher, written by Peter Bryan and produced by Anthony Hinds, Anthony Nelson Keys and Kenneth Hyman.

  The story involves Sherlock Holmes (Peter Cushing) and Dr. Watson (Andre Morell) being asked to come to the Baskerville Manor to protect Henry Baskerville (Sir Christopher Lee) and solve the mystery of the Hound of Baskerville and the Curse of the Baskervilles as they have been slowly killed off under mysterious circumstances.

The Pros: Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and I think this is reason this version of the story received critical acclaim. It is one of the earliest color films and this is used to create beautiful color contrasts, especially with the use of red in regards to blood or murders.

The Prologue – The prologue is haunting and realizes that the Baskervilles were people high on their privilege who used it to rape and beat those on their land…which bread resentment leading to the final end of what we see in the modern day. The scenes are haunting and beautiful as this is where we see the Baskerville’s on in red symbolizing their lust and hedonism.

Henry Baskerville – Christopher Lee is fantastic as this character who just wants to do the right thing! He is the guy trying to set things right and get away from what his ancestors have done. To this end he helps those on his land and we see him very aware of other people. This also makes him susceptible when the Stapletons exploit this to try and kill him so they can get the fortune as their as Baskerville bastards.

The Stapletons – Cecile the daughter is the one who almost kills Henry to get revenge on what was done to her ancestors by the Baskervilles of the past and her father is in on it too. They have a dog they have made feral that they set on Henry but are killed when Watson and Sherlock stop them and Cecile falls into one of the sink holes in the moor.

Sherlock Holmes – Peter Cushing is amazing at Sherlock Holmes! His is a very sharp and cold Holmes and one who is very much the manipulator…this is perfect as he plays up Sherlock’s detachment and skepticism making a very enjoyable performance. Cushing truly owns this role and is a big reason besides Lee why I enjoyed this film so much.

Okay: Dr. Watson – Watson is alright and he does have a great voice but he also is just kind of there. Andre Morell isn’t memorable and so far the only memorable Watsons have been Lucy Liu as Joan and Martin Freeman in “Sherlock.”

The Minor Characters – Henry’s friend is unmemorable as are a lot of the other characters who aren’t Stapletons…which is a shame as the world could have got fleshed out a lot more.

The Cons: The Soundtrack – It is very Hammer (horrorish in the classic sense) and just doesn’t work. I would have preferred they do something more original given what made this film work was how it was unlike a Hammer film and got away from a lot of their tropes and going for cheapness.

   This film is not a favorite but it is really good and it is one I’d recommend. Cushing as Sherlock and Lee as Henry Baskerville drive the story and the early color cinematography makes for creating amazing cinematography that captures the mystery and haunting nature of the moors on the Baskerville estate.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10

First “Sherlock Holmes” Week

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   Sherlock Holmes is a fascinating character and one of the few characters in literature to have so numerous adaptations that initially I didn’t really know here to start in going about tackling the different versions of him.

      This is a character who connects to the way we are the “Other” and also is more than human in how he is able to put things together and solve difficult puzzles that are placed before him. It is little wonder why Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s books have inspired so many versions and adaptations.

      The versions of Sherlock Holmes I will be covering will be Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock from “Sherlock”  and his pilot episode “A Study in Pink.”

        Jeremy Brett’s version (who to me has always captured the character best) in his pilot episode of “A Scandal in Bohemia.”

        Jonny Lee Miller’s Sherlock from “Elementary” and his pilot episode simply labeled “Pilot.”

     Peter Cushing and his introduction as the character in the Hammer Films in “The Hound of the Baskervilles” for one of the said films and his first appearance as Sherlock.

      Finally, Sir Ian McKellan in “Mr. Holmes” the new film that is out to end it.

    Sherlock Holmes is one of my favorite characters in fiction and what he has brought to the cinematic world can never be fully comprehended as so many greats (only a few named here) got their chance to play the great detective.

I, Monster (1971): Christopher Lee Owns This Adaptation

FTI, Monster

         So many horror films arose out of classic literature. From all the versions “Dracula” that came out of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. To Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and for this film, Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. These classic stories have been the base for countless explorations of horror and aspects of humanity in both cinema and television.

      The production was Amicus who was famous for putting horror movies years ago, and it some ways it does deserve that praise. After watching this film, I plan on seeing more of their productions. I especially want to see more Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in action given how well they both did in this film.

        “I, Monster” was directed by Stephen Weeks and written by Milton Subosky, who also served as one of the producers along with Max Rosenberg and John Dark. The story is based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. 

        In this version Dr. Jekyll has the name of Dr, Marlowe (both played by Christopher Lee) and when he transforms becomes Mr. Blake. He is researching the mind and how to separate the good from the bad on both animals and his patients and later himself. This leads to his transformation which he attempts to deal with first by hiding it but is forced to make a choice as his colleagues and his friend Utterson (Peter Cushing) attempt to help him.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: Utterson – Peter Cushing is great in this role, I just wish he’d been given more to do. He’s very active in the first two acts, especially once Blake arrives on the scene and he thinks his friend is being blackmailed into giving Blake full reign of his house. He confronts Marlowe once over this but seems to have given up after. For someone who is supposed to be a friend I didn’t expect him to just give up than. He still is a great character though, it’s just he isn’t given enough to do. Still going to put him down as a pro though, since he does drive the action when Marlowe and Blake aren’t.

Dr. Marlowe / Mr. Blake – Christopher Lee is the best part of this film, which is saying something since Cushing is a phenomenal actor. The Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde role is a hard one to play and much of the cons here are  more due to writing since Lee plays Marlow’s empathy for his patients and Blake’s disregard for all so well. He does a good job contorting his face and showing the calm collected control of Blake versus Marlowe too. At one point it looks like he might be about to have a relationship with a patient, which would have been a nice change from the book but they decide to follow the book more closely and only change in his colleagues finding out the truth when one dies from a heart attack when he sees Blake change to Marlowe and Utterson kills him when Blake invades his home which changes Blake back to Marlowe. His story is still a tragedy as you see him realize his loss of humanity and how his idealism has brought him nothing in the end. Marlowe’s despair before his final transformation is very palpable.

The World – The world is great. It is dark and you have the feeling of mystery and loss of control from the beginning, when the antidote makes a cat crazy and Marlowe has to kill it, pretty much setting up his own end. The murders are dark and the shadows make it so the makeup does make Lee threatening in his Blake form. In this way it adds a lot to making it feel like a horror movie.

Cinematography – The cinematography is good, especially in how it is used to show Marlowe’s dilemma when he is alone and realizes he’s in over his head, or when Blake is hunting and his dark eyes, large teeth and gaunt face stand out in the shadows. This was a good horror technique and it gets the job done for establishing transformation. Moray Grant did fantastic.

Okay: The colleagues – Outside of Utterson the others don’t do all that much. They are there to disprove and one is a mentor and they have some good conversations all together at the beginning, but it’s never repeated again. For htis reason we don’t see the breakdown of the friendship done from the experiments, which is why I can’t list it as a pro. They just weren’t given enough to do.

The Ending – The ending wasn’t great. I never got why Blake decided he had to kill Utterson. It made no sense given that Utterson didn’t fully know that Blake was Marlowe and had stopped hunting for him. I would have liked to see more happen here. Why did he try and kill Utterson? What was driving Blake at that time? Was it Marlowe just wanting to die? I liked that there was a confrontation, but it should have been in the lab and Utterson should have witnessed the transformation of Marlowe into Blake.

     This was a good, but not great adaptation. It does more with the story in that we see Marlowe’s relationships with his colleagues and also the double life he lives as Blake, which in the book you don’t get to see as much. But so many character moments got left behind which is why I can’t call it great. Marlowe’s motivation is never fully established, Utterson just gives up, why Blake targets Utterson isn’t known and the relationship between Marlowe and Blake seems non-existent. It is still a solidly good film even with these plot issues. Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing add dimension to the characters and that is what makes it rich beyond how it was filmed.

Final Score: 8.3 / 10. Given more than 8 since Lee and Cushing did a great job.