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A New Hope as a Stand-alone Movie

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 (Edited)

It’s often said that A New Hope (originally just “Star Wars”) was written as a stand-alone movie, because the good guys win at the end and the main conflict is resolved. George Lucas didn’t really know at the time if he’d ever get to make any sequels, so he wrote A New Hope to stand on its own, with all plot threads resolved by the end. The earliest known drafts of Star Wars, which are significantly different from the 1977 film, still follow the same basic story structure and end with all major plot threads resolved.

Of course, the fact that Lucas commissioned Splinter of the Mind’s Eye as a template for a low-budget sequel, just in case the 1977 Star Wars film failed, indicates he was at least thinking about a sequel even before 1977. Regardless, it’s pretty obvious that A New Hope is structured as a stand-alone film. The film’s major conflict is overcome by the protagonists (the Death Star plans are secured and used to destroy the Death Star), and the protagonist learns to use the Force (a metaphor for believing in yourself) and saves the day with help from his friend.

Of course, there’s a brief shot at the end that shows us that Vader survives. But this just comes off like Lucas hedging his bets about the possibility of a sequel. It doesn’t detract from the film’s ability to stand on its own.

However, it always struck me that if A New Hope actually WAS a stand-alone film (i.e. if no other Star Wars movies existed), there would be at least one issue that would stand out as a significant writing flaw:

The issue is that Luke’s lightsaber would become a major violation of the “Chekhov’s gun” principle. Luke is given this incredible weapon: his father’s lightsaber. Ben Kenobi even explains the significance of the lightsaber, what it meant in past times, and how Luke’s father wanted Luke to have it one day. Luke is mesmerized by it (who wouldn’t be?) Later on, Ben trains Luke a bit on how to use it. But after that… Luke never uses it again. Throughout the entire film, he never once uses it to overcome any obstacles. Sure, we see Ben Kenobi use a different lightsaber to fight Vader. But Luke’s lightsaber is setup as this really important thing - and then pretty much completely forgotten about. Luke never uses it even once to advance the plot in any way. As a standalone movie, it would seem like a good idea to simply delete all references to Luke’s lightsaber, because there is never any pay-off.

Now obviously, the pay-off eventually came around in The Empire Strikes Back. But that sort of just proves the point that A New Hope doesn’t quite work 100% as a stand-alone movie. Even if Lucas had no concrete plans for any sequels, he seemed to at least have some notion that there was more to this story.

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I agree that this keeps the film from being a perfect stand-alone, but there is a mitigating factor in that we do see a lightsaber fight so the lightsaber as an object is paid-off. The fact that it belongs to Obi-wan isn’t to troubling to me. Star Wars is a universe of unbounded promise, so giving Luke a weapon that he doesn’t use in a fight only fires the mind to imagine him using it in a future battle against Vader.

You probably don’t recognize me because of the red arm.
Episode 9 Rewrite, The Starlight Project (Released!) and ANH Technicolor Project (Released!)

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Guns have been known to jam. From time-to-time.

“Mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical. It has been well said that mythology is the penultimate truth — penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words. It is beyond words. Beyond images, beyond that bounding rim of the Buddhist Wheel of Becoming. Mythology pitches the mind beyond that rim, to what can be known but not told.”

― Joseph Campbell

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For me, the issue is less the lightsaber and more the fact that Luke expressed his wish to become a Jedi like his father, and the only mentor (supposedly) who could make that happen is dead by the end of the movie. That, along with the survival of Vader and the Emperor, are the two biggest reasons why the movie needed a sequel, in my opinion.

But we can’t turn back. Fear is their greatest defense. I doubt if the actual security there is any greater than it was on Aquilae or Sullust. And what there is is most likely directed towards a large-scale assault.

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Servii said:

For me, the issue is less the lightsaber and more the fact that Luke expressed his wish to become a Jedi like his father, and the only mentor (supposedly) who could make that happen is dead by the end of the movie. That, along with the survival of Vader and the Emperor, are the two biggest reasons why the movie needed a sequel, in my opinion.

The emperor is inconsequential in the original movie. And with the novelization taken into account, he’s only the latest in a line of impotent figureheads, anyway.

“Mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical. It has been well said that mythology is the penultimate truth — penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words. It is beyond words. Beyond images, beyond that bounding rim of the Buddhist Wheel of Becoming. Mythology pitches the mind beyond that rim, to what can be known but not told.”

― Joseph Campbell

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NeverarGreat said:

I agree that this keeps the film from being a perfect stand-alone, but there is a mitigating factor in that we do see a lightsaber fight so the lightsaber as an object is paid-off. The fact that it belongs to Obi-wan isn’t to troubling to me. Star Wars is a universe of unbounded promise, so giving Luke a weapon that he doesn’t use in a fight only fires the mind to imagine him using it in a future battle against Vader.

I would argue that the setup for Kenobi’s lightsaber happens in the Mos Eisley cantina, when Kenobi slices off that guy’s arm. This sets up that Kenobi is some kind of skilled warrior with an exotic weapon from a romantic age in the past. The payoff happens when Kenobi takes out his lightsaber again to fight Vader.

But Luke’s lightsaber is setup separately, and the setup connects the lightsaber to the idea that Luke’s father was a Jedi Knight who specifically wanted Luke to inherit it. (Thus, the lightsaber serves as a physical manifestation of the “hero’s call” - calling Luke away from his mundane life to adventure.) But there’s never any pay off for this setup in A New Hope. It’s kind of like setting up Excalibur in the King Arthur legends, but then just forgetting about it.

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When I was a dumb(er) kid, I thought that Obi-Wan was just using Luke’s lightsaber, i.e. holding for him except for the training on the Falcon, until Luke knew how to use it. Then of course I wondered how Luke got it back in Empire Strikes Back. Why would a retired Jedi have his own lightsaber? 🤔😉 I forgive myself now as there are only four lightsabers in the OT and the two that are blue are never used simultaneously.