Laser Beams and Fascism

Seconds before rebels deal a killing blow to the Death Star, Governor Tarkin (Peter Cushing) is glimpsed standing in defiance, waiting for his battle station to fire. The last image seen of the fascist Empire in A New Hope is that of arrogance and total authority. Minutes before, Tarkin is insulted by the mention of retreat in a “moment of triumph.”

All that Star Wars stands for is in that moment. It’s philosophically rich, exciting, and often dazzling, yet George Lucas based his saga on World War II. Tarkin’s refusal to admit defeat, believing himself superior to even Darth Vader, defines fascism. Not so long ago, not so far away, people like Tarkin thought the same. They too were defeated.

Lucas creates a plausible world, from design to dialog. People speak of things and places never seen, but enriching to the universe’s enormity. It’s sensible then Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) can exist away from the Empire, that poor farm boy whose true heroism is defined by choosing to fight even when the circumstances don’t affect him. Han Solo (Harrison Ford) then is the denier. When asked to save a princess from death, he retorts, “Better her than me.” In only a few lines, A New Hope makes clear how the Empire exerted control – people like Solo chose to stand aside and let it happen.

Harp on the prequels (A New Hope doesn’t need the political context) but they do enhance this world. Wealth and elegance seen in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith is now lost. A New Hope looks filthy, rundown, and oppressed. Gone are prospering skylines, reverting to barren landscapes where people barely survive. Characters like C-3PO show disrepair, his golden body gunky and splashed with muck. Production design project inequality, tightening the Empire’s total rule and self-serving goals. Concurrently, the rebel’s efforts seem appropriately minuscule as a result.

Scale matters. A New Hope stands for what one person, what one voice can do. Skywalker isn’t inspired by hate, but a call to do what’s right. He admonishes Solo for taking money rather than help. Skywalker’s traditional hero’s journey isn’t inventive, but its context is. Much as the unified rebel effort matters, that single person making the selfless choice to fight becomes the deciding factor. The Empire built the Death Star to ward off large scale attacks, but assumed those like Skywalker were sufficiently tyrannized. Tarkin’s ego didn’t account for the individual.

Video

Disney issues the previously available master – done around 2013 – to UHD. It’s… okay. Something like A New Hope deserves better. While adequate in resolution, grain reduction takes a toll in varying ways. Smearing textures and inconsistent grain leave behind digital residue. Mosquito noise buzzes around characters at times. Occasionally frozen grain indicates sloppy application, potentially a means to bring A New Hope more in line with the prequel’s clarity. That doesn’t work.

Minor edge enhancement leaves only a few halos, if enough coarseness to notice its presence. Wide shots lack precision available in any 35mm print. Both the DNR and sharpening take their toll. Fine detail is noticeable; the resolution bump alone allows for it. Facial texture bests the Blu-ray in close, resolving hair to the individual strand. Paint strokes on the Death Star’s walls show, as do the hand-crafted qualities of models or R2-D2. That’s excellent.

Deep color creates a positive impact, at times giving A New Hope a different sheen. Watching this countless times, the UHD brings fresh luster to C-3PO’s gold or the engine glow on the Star Destroyer compared to prior home presentations. The change isn’t drastic, but enough to bring something new.

HDR cannot compensate for black crush (Vader’s suit remains problematic), if emboldening lasers, lightsabers, sparks, and explosions. Brightness excels, and like the color, creates a freshness in these images. Dimension improves, portraying space as pure black and deepening range.

Audio

Endlessly remixed, here’s another pass, bringing the original film into the Dolby Atmos era. This is not a shy mix. When the Star Destroyer flies overhead in the first shot, those height channels engage. When the tractor beam locks onto the transport ship, that’s coming from above too. A New Hope isn’t wasting a chance to expand the late ‘70s audio.

No, this isn’t as active as the modern films. Lasers do not freely pan around the soundstage, sticking to the source track’s design. Still though, when in the Death Star, machinery and computers fill ambient speakers. Mos Eisley spreads activity wide. Dog fights stretch Tie Fighter and X-Wing movement during the finale.

Dialog varies in fidelity, as is typical to a source this aged. That’s no bother. At least range is plentiful, with strict, tight bass as needed. Using Force powers pushes dense rumble into the low-end.

Extras

The New Hope Blu-ray comes with two commentaries. George Lucas, Carrie Fisher, Ben Burtt, and Dennis Murren populate the first, the second all archival interviews pieced together. Quotes are pulled from 21 different contributors.

Creating a Universe looks at how the series evolved, with Joe Johnston and Roger Christian discussing their work. This runs eight minutes. Digging into the archives, there’s a look at the weapon props. Anatomy of a Dewback lasts 26-minutes, focusing on the re-release’s added effects. A tour of the archive shows countless props and miniatures. A collection of interviews run just short of 20-minutes. Sixteen minutes of deleted scenes come before an extensive reel of models and prototypes, with interviews too.

Star Wars - Episode IV: A New Hope
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
5

Movie

The success of A New Hope lies in defeating the authoritarian rule by proving one person ultimately matters even against incalculable odds.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our Patreon-exclusive set of 82 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: