Few films become such cultural phenomena as "Star Wars" aka "Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope" (1977). Even today, it manages to make the news, as Disney/Pixar prepare to justify their purchase of director George Lucas' production company for $4.5 Billion by reportedly planning to crank out as many related films as they can. It really doesn't matter whether you like the franchise or not, it simply is there and isn't going away any time soon.
Mark Hamill stars in this 20th Century Fox production as Luke Skywalker. Luke is a simple farm boy on a planet "long ago and far, far away" who has big dreams. Dissatisfied with his life, he runs away and joins up with renegade spaceship pilot Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Solo's cohorts (the alien ape Chewbaca (Peter Mayhew), the elegant robot C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), and the small robot R2-D2 (Kenny Baker). They receive a strange message from a young woman, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), and set out to rescue her from the Death Star in which she is imprisoned by chief henchman Darth Vader (David Prowse and James Earl Jones) and the Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing). Along the way, Luke receives advice from the mysterious presence of Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guiness).
The cultural impact of this film is difficult to grasp. "Star Wars" so far has spawned five sequels, with another three (at least, the next one planned for 2015) currently planned, all of them blockbusters. The term "Jedi Master" has entered the lexicon, and "May the Foorce be with you" became a catchphrase along with many other aspects of this film. The spin-offs are countless, and it was all the brainchild of one man: George Lucas.
The genius of Lucas was that he took basic science fiction, as established in film ("Forbidden Planet"), Television ("Star Trek") and books (the "Foundation" Series), and melded it with fantasy ("The Lord of the Rings"). In early drafts, Lucas actually planned to have Luke Skywalker and his family be dwarves.
This science fiction/fantasy combination pried films away from over-reliance on gadgets and hardware - though there are plenty of those in the "Star Wars" universe. The key idea is that there are forces beyond the mechanical that govern fate. This is personified by Obi-Wan Kenobi and the power of "the force," whatever that is. There are many other historical elements grafted on ("Stormtroopers" was the name for German shock troops of World War I), but using the science parts of science fiction only as a means to get at the real story of enlightenment and self-realization is what set the saga apart.
It is difficult to find any criticism of this film. The film exists in its own corner of Hollywood and lives on. It's almost uncanny how much its fans are devoted to it. In an earlier age, a thousand or ten thousand years ago, people would have found solace in icons and rituals. Today, they discover it in light sabers and TIE fighters. Perhaps the most damning thing that can be said is that it typecast all but a few of the actors. Carrie Fisher never escaped her "Princess Leia" image and still, to this day, references it, and Mark Hamill will forever be Luke Skywalker. Harrison Ford showed that it was possible to escape that prison, but only by playing off of his swashbuckling role to become one of the top action stars of all time.
The score by John Williams is an enduring classic. My head over-analyzes this and tells me that "Star Wars" is a simplistic, cartoonish film best left to children. My heart overrules those foolish thoughts and places it squarely on my Top Ten Films list.