The countdown keeps on truckin as we are now only four short weeks from the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And with it the future begins. We leave behind the old era and begin one anew. We look back fondly on what came before, but as new Star Wars content had been slowing before the sale to Disney, we now look forward with A New Hope towards what the future holds.
So in honor the original, under whichever nomenclature you choose to identify it with, we theme this week’s countdown to 1977’s Star Wars. (Episode IV: A New Hope). What does that hope mean to you? Well, in addition to your hopes of sprawling dogfights, twirling lightsabers, and some genuine top shelf space melodrama come December 18th, you also have the hope of winning more free stuff.
But first, the results of last week’s contest.
– The Making of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith
– The Art of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith
– Star Wars T-Shirt from FifthSun
This Week our own Dekka129 takes us into the trenches of the first Star Wars superweapon. The original Death Star Assault.
Dekka129 – A New Hope – Death Star Assault
Back in 1977, when this film was known to the world simply as “STAR WARS!!!” I was a nine year-old aviation nut, particularly when it came to the classic fighter planes of WWI and WWII. So, when Dad took us to see this new movie that everyone was talking about, I was completely blown away when, after everything else – the creatures, the gunfights, the lightsabers – the film’s climax ended up being this massive fighter plane battle in space!
Of course, I later came to find out that George Lucas had assembled clips of dogfights from numerous old WWII movies when he was plotting out the Rebel attack on the Death Star, and that a great many of the final effects shots of X-wings and TIE fighters battling it out closely resembled the original WWII footage.
Even some of the details about the starfighters themselves reflected the aircraft of the WWII era. One that always particularly impressed me was the bat-like TIE fighter with its signature engine howl. This was very clearly adapted from the vulture-winged German JU-87 Stuka, which had air sirens attached to its landing gear to create a loud wailing sound as the planes dove in at their targets. It was the little touches like this that took an already mindblowing action scene and made the whole thing infinitely cooler to me.
And that initial thrill never really faded for me. Almost 4 decades later, the Death Star assault still holds up for me as one of my favorite scenes from the entire Star Wars saga. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that, out of all six movies released thus far, this is the only one that truly focuses on the fighter pilots. We got some of that in the Hoth battle in The Empire Strikes Back, of course, but the attack on the Death Star had it in spades. You had two squadrons flying two very different styles of starfighter, attacking a virtually impregnable enemy space station with multiple flight-groups making a “hail Mary” run on a shielded target that wasn’t much larger than the proton torpedoes they were launching at it.And throughout this, we got to know (all too briefly in most cases) almost a dozen different pilots as they fought for their lives, the lives of their squadron-mates, and the lives of everyone on every world that might conceivably fall under the Death Star’s superlaser. All of this while the clock ticked away the minutes until the Death Star would obliterate their base and most of the Rebel leadership.
While the later “Special Edition” changes to the scene added some flashier special effects, the original version still holds up just fine. It’s the pacing, the editing, the dynamic movement of the starfighters and the ever-building drama of the scene (a large part of which is generated by John Williams’ amazing musical score) that makes the Death Star battle a true work of cinematic art. As each flight group makes their run on the exhaust port, determination gradually gives way to desperation as the Empire’s TIE fighters cut the pilots down one by one. Gold Leader and his flight of Y-wings don’t even get close enough to the target to take a shot, Red Leader and his wingmen barely get into firing range before his shot goes wide, and then it’s down to Luke, Wedge and Biggs… then Luke and Biggs… then just Luke. And he even loses Artoo to underscore the hopelessness of his task.
By the time Han and Chewie come screaming down out of the sun to blast the fighters off Luke’s tail, Han’s triumphant “YAHOOOOOO!!!” still echoing in the theater, you’ve got pure standing-ovation material there. And many is the time, even years after the movie came out, when I’d see ANH in the theater and the audience, familiar as they already were with the movie, would break into a spontaneous cheer.It’s practically a note-perfect scene for what, in the summer of 1977 became the first good old-fashioned “popcorn movie” in years.
True, it’s never really explained just WHY they needed to skim their way down that trench instead of just making a run at the exhaust port from above. Had Lucas and ILM designed the end of the trench a bit differently, creating an overhang above the exhaust port necessitating a lateral attack run (which was the rationale for the fjord attack run in the movie 633 Squadron, which was one of the main inspirations for the Star Wars trench run) then even this minor quibble wouldn’t have arisen.
But for me, that bit has always been easy for me to overlook. As a kid, seeing this scene for the first time (and the second, third, and god knows how many more times) made me think of Pappy Boyington, Eddie Rickenbacker and all the other fighter pilots I’d read about. There was a personal connection there to the Rebel pilots that carried over somewhat to the first act of Empire Strikes Back, but that we never really got again after that. Star Wars became more and more focused on the “capital-H” Heroes. The Death Star assault was about the “small-H” heroes – the individual pilots, some of whose names we never heard onscreen.
“All wings report in!”
Let us know what your favorite action sequence from A New Hope is in the comments to win some prizes:
1. The Illustrated Star Wars Universe:
2. Star Wars Storyboards: The Original Trilogy:
3. Officially licensed t-shirt from Design by Humans: