It’s like Lucas is giving you a diagram, a flatpack from which to build your own universe, in your head. There’s one Hero – not, in any sense, the Chosen One or the Universe’s last hope, just a rather hopeless farmboy who is in the wrong place at the wrong time and naturally becomes a hero. There’s one Heroine – and we put up with the really sexist idea of a damsel in distress because she takes charge of the three blokes the second she’s rescued. There’s a Wizard, who gives the hero a magic sword, which somehow manages to be a high-tech gadget, and a scary pirate who shoots first but turns out to have a heart of gold. Lucas doesn’t seem to have read Hero With A Thousand Faces when he made the film, but you still get the sense that he’s not telling you one story, but every story. That’s why I’ve watched the film 40 or 50 times without it wearing out.
Star Wars was made a long time ago in a galaxy without CGI. In the last 30 years, there have been bigger and flashier space battles. But never, I think, one more dramatic than that final assault on the Death Star. Lucas gives us two of the most iconic space vehicles ever imagined. The X-wing is half Spitfire and half space rocket and I can’t explain why it’s cool that the wings split into an X shape, but it is. The TIE fighter is the only spaceship that’s ever managed to actually look evil. You know exactly where you are on each stage of the attack run, what each spaceship is trying to do, and what depends on it. Everything in the film – everything in the universe – manages to come down to a single point. You think that the attack run is about whether Luke can destroy the Empire’s Ultimate Weapon and save the rebellion (while the traitor who murdered his father is closing on his tail). But it turns out that it’s really about Luke’s spiritual growth; about whether he’ll have the guts to “trust his feelings”; and whether Han Solo will show his true colours at the last second. As if all that wasn’t enough, Lucas drops in a poignant little character spot between the two robots (“Sir, if any of my circuits or gears would help. I’ll gladly donate them”) and without giving us a chance to pause for breath, takes us to the final medal ceremony so we leave the cinema with a spring in our step, feeling good about life.
That’s why I can’t quite bring myself to call it ‘Episode IV’. For me, the greatest sci-fi film of all time is the one I watched 30 years ago: a standalone fairy tale, at the end of which everyone lives happily ever after.
To find out more about this exciting phase in SciFiNow’s forum feature, hit the link and check out the other movies that made our shortlist. Clue: Battlefield Earth is not one of them.
Don’t forget to log on to our forums to discuss the films on our shortlist, and to read any of the other articles in this series as they are written, click on the title below.
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
Planet Of The Apes
ET The Extra-Terrestrial
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
2001: A Space Odyssey
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
This article originally appeared in the print edition of SciFiNow issue 32 by Andrew Rilstone To buy a copy of the magazine or subscribe, go to www.imagineshop.com, or call our subscriptions hotline on +44 (0) 844 844 0245.