Star Wars had to start somewhere, and if it didn’t start with A New Hope, it would not have become what it is today. It has been a worldwide phenomenon for over 40 years, and it just continues to grow.
A New Hope isn’t only great because it’s incredibly fun, though. It somehow becomes a relatable story with characters you instantly connect to, even though it takes place in a galaxy far, far away…
This is perhaps the most basic and widely understood idea about Star Wars, but in the chronological progression of the story, you don’t really feel it until this movie. Again, it is perfect for the entire saga to have started out with this film because it immediately was able to endear itself to audiences everywhere.
The Prequels, Solo, and Rogue One each have relatable aspects to them, but this is the first entry in the franchise that feels different. It feels universally accessible. There isn’t a character in this that you don’t immediately fall in love with.
But if it wasn’t for Luke Skywalker, it wouldn’t work at all. He is meant to be our portal to these new worlds – the one that we relate to the most and root for no matter what.
Everyone knows what it is like to long for something more in the world. We might find our lives too mundane or difficult, which creates a longing inside us for something different – something bigger than ourselves. So the same way that Luke enters into something big and new that changes his perspective on things (the Rebellion), so do we in our own way (through watching Star Wars).
It even holds our hands at the beginning, as we get to see this whole new world through the eyes of C-3P0 and R2-D2. They are always side characters in the Skywalker Saga, but they are never our main protagonists. They’re something other (robots), but they still seem to behave like us and have emotions similar to ours, which makes them the perfect avenue to ease us into the world.
This first Star Wars film is really the epitome of why we love fiction, and why good fantasy in particular can be so great. I’ll never fight in a rebellion against an evil intergalactic empire or be friends with a wookiee, but through watching this film, I feel like I’m in this world. I’m transported to a new place that I really love. This film is so special because of how it sets up the rest of the franchise in that way.
Good vs. Evil
Luke’s arc is the Hero’s Journey. He’s a good person living at home, away from the battle against the supreme evil. But he wants to join the battle. Luke represents the complete good against the faceless evil.
When we are first introduced to Darth Vader and the rest of the Empire in this movie, they are very much a completely evil force with no sympathetic qualities. This will certainly change as this particular trilogy moves on and more gray areas are introduced (and having seen the Prequels, we know what Darth Vader came from), but looking at this movie in its own context, it really is a straight up good versus evil.
The overall lesson of this film then becomes how good triumphs over evil. Luke, Obi-Wan, and the Rebellion know what they need to tap into to destroy the Death Star, and it becomes a foregone conclusion that it will happen. All he needs to do is channel what he knows is inside him to defeat the completely evil threat.
Hope / Choosing Your Own Path
As Rogue One hammers home very well, rebellions are built on hope. Hope is in the title of this movie, but it isn’t as overtly a theme as it is in Rogue One. It is certainly there, though.
Luke begins the movie feeling hopeless. Uncle Owen won’t let him join the academy, and he thinks he has no chance of escaping Tatooine. In his estimation, he’s destined to be a moisture farmer forever.
But there is an obvious and actually exciting change in his demeanor as soon as he meets Obi-Wan. No longer is he a mopey, moody teen. Instead, he becomes wide eyed and ready to do whatever he can to learn the ways of the Force and save this mysterious princess. It takes him a while to get over what is ingrained in him – this belief that he’s stuck – but his small hope from Obi-Wan permeates the rest of the movie. There is hope for him, for the Rebellion, and for so many other characters.
All Luke really ever wants is autonomy and the ability to make his own way in life. As soon as he gets home after purchasing new droids, the first thing he does is to play with a toy ship. His head is always in the clouds, dreaming of and trying to find ways to get “off this rock.”
Additionally, he doesn’t know anything about his past. When Uncle Owen makes any mention of Luke’s father, Luke’s interest is immediately grabbed. He’s dying for more self-knowledge. To understand where you’re going, you first need to understand where you’ve come from. Again, meeting Obi-Wan unlocks a lot of that for him.
Obi-Wan tells Luke just little details about his father, Luke immediately grabs onto them. Whether he realizes it or not, he’s taking these steps closer to his future by beginning to understand his past. It’s difficult to form a personal identity, when your own identity is largely hidden from you.
Eventually, Luke is able to come to realize how he must make his own path. By the time they are on board the Death Star, Luke’s whole path to self-realization has come through Obi-Wan. But Obi-Wan tells him, “Your destiny lies along a different path from mine.” He needs Luke to know that he has the keys to his own car now. Luke knows enough to move forward and start to forge his own identity. This is officially set into motion when he sacrifices himself for the sake of Luke’s training and escape.
Similarly, Han is a person who hates being told what to do. He likes the little thing he has going with just Chewie and doesn’t want to stay and fight with the Rebellion – he wants to save his own skin. But he seems to be good at his core, which causes him to come back to help Luke and the Rebellion right when they need him, showing that we are who we choose to be, and not who others make us to be.
As with every other Star Wars movie, the Force is largely present here in A New Hope. We learn that it is what binds everything together and that many people don’t believe it exists. The ideas of religions and wizards aren’t very present in the films to come out after this one. Some people still don’t buy into the Force, but this specific language seems to be unique to these earlier movies. It does set a tone, though, for what the Force will represent thematically throughout the rest of the series.
Also notable is how Luke can hear Obi-Wan’s voice from beyond the grave. We’ll learn in upcoming films that this is because of the Force and that Obi-Wan has found ways to continue in life (“strike me down and I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine”), but in a vacuum, this idea is quite interesting.
In the Harry Potter series, those who have died are sometimes reanimated in a sort of ethereal way. Their thematic function is to show how those we love or have learned from who have passed on never truly leave us. They survive in our hearts and minds. Without the knowledge of Force ghosts, this is very much how the idea of Obi-Wan still talking to Luke works. Luke learned so much from his mentor, and this is the manifestation of his teachings beautifully helping Luke.