November 18, 2013

Queer Review: Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977)

Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope
Director: George Lucas
Writer: George Lucas
Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Cushing, Alec Guinness, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, David Prowse, James Earl Jones, Ken Burtt

The first Star Wars movie released, A New Hope introduces us to a galaxy far far away, filled with the likes of Darth Vader, Princess Leia R2-D2, C-3PO, Han Solo, and a whiny, angsty teenager by the name of Luke Skywalker.

Two droids, R2-D2 (Ben Burtt, Kevin Baker) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), fall into the hands of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), a moisture farmer on the backwater planet Tattoine. The droids contain plans vital for the destruction of the recently completed Death Star, a space station capable of destroying an entire planet, which makes it the most dreaded weapon in the Galactic Empire's arsenal. With the dreaded Darth Vader (James Earl Jones, David Prowse) in pursuit, Luke, C-3PO, and R2-D2 join with Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guiness), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and blast off from Tattoine for Alderaan, only to find the entire planet was destroyed.

The Queering
The first time I saw A New Hope, it was in my Grandmother's basement on a TV that could double as a piece of furniture. The television was old, really old, and still works today. It had a remote control that attached to the TV directly via a physical wire that, in contrast to today's modern remotes, had only one knob that you turned to chain the channel. With the recent passing of my Grandmother, I find myself actually trying to figure to get it to my current apartment in Wilkes-Barre, so I can use it as a TV stand. Because nostalgia.

A New Hope opens by introducing us to R2-D2 and C-3PO, two characters whose chemistry was severely missed in the prequels. One wonders if somehow, they had been given more screen time together in Episodes I - III, those movies would have been better received. Re-watching the Star Wars films recently in order to write these reviews, the biggest difference I could find between the two trilogies had nothing to do with overall artistic quality of the films but rather with how long C-3PO and R2-D2 spent together on screen.

Of course R2-D2 and C-3PO could also be seen as something of a gay-odd couple. In fact, in spite of all droids in the Star Wars universe appearing fully sentient, they are consistently de-humanized. Given that they are mechanical and therefore genderless, they seem a natural set of characters to impose queer subtexts upon. A subtext that can be seen perhaps most obviously in the scene where the two droids try to enter Mos Eisley Cantina and are told "we don't serve their kind here". This scene reminded me of the fact that during the time of the Stonewall Riots, it was illegal to serve known "homosexuals".

Another queer subtext shows up in the relationship between Han Solo and Luke Skywalker. While both Luke and Han both express heterosexual desire for Princess Leia at some point, there is a pattern worth commenting on. Han, a space freighter who has been cavorting around the galaxy up to this point in time with only a Wookie companion, takes quite a bit of persuasion before he is willing to go and rescue Princess Leia from captivity. In the end, it's pretty clear he's only does participate in her rescue because of the potential reward. Later, he does verbally express interest in Leia, but it's Luke that he puts his on the line to save at the end, without any promise of material reward. Talk is cheap Han, talk is cheap.

Also, if anyone can explain how the last scene does not resemble a marriage ceremony between Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, I would be interested in knowing about it. Thanks.

There is however, a rather unfortunate negative ableist subtext regarding Darth Vader. Vaders' most visible and memorable traits (heavy breathing, scary mask thingie) are directly tied to the character being physically disabled. I talked about Darth Vader being de-queered during his transformation into most evil Sith Lord, but what escaped my notice was how this came about through Anakin's body being several damaged, 3 of his limbs light-sabred off, and his lungs burned, forcing him to breath through a respirator to live.

But what message does it send when a characters' descent into evil is marked by bodily damage? It happened as well with both Palpatine and General Greivious in Revenge of the Sith, with General Greivious being a precursor to Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine rapidly aging specifically due to his use of the Dark Side. Obi-Wan specifically mentions here in A New Hope that Darth Vader is "more machine now, than man". In the Star Wars universe it seems, a damaged soul equates to a damaged body. Actually it's not so much a Star Wars trope as it is a highly problematic ableist trope in general. This is just something that needs to be said.

Problematic elements aside, A New Hope effectively sets up the Star Wars Universe by cramming as many strange beasties and clunking mechanical beings into every frame possible. The Special Edition, released in 1997, inserted even more creatures, particularly into the Mos Eisley sequences. While critics have complained about Lucas's tendency to insert as many background material, be it cantankerous machinery or alienated monsters, it is the intricate background details that make the story work. This Galaxy Far, Far Away works the way it does for so many fans the way it does precisely because there is so much texture. No movie series before (or since really) has managed to create an entire universe with this much depth of background detail to get lost in.

Would be worth seeing, even if in fact there was no new hope to be found here.

The Rating
4 Stars out of 4


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