There's little debate that Star Wars has reached cult status, whether you've always been a die-hard fan or you're just discovering the original trilogy thanks to the release of Episode VII — The Force Awakens. But how did the movies fare when they first came onto the screen and audiences had little idea what a Jedi was or how the Force worked?
The first three Star Wars movies — now titled Episodes IV, V and VI — came out respectively in 1977, 1980 and 1983. And although Episode IV — A New Hope was a box office hit, reviews were far from unanimous, marveling at the technical achievement of the movie but confused with the new universe it introduced.
What Was The Critical Reception To 'A New Hope'?
A New Hope made $410 million worldwide when it was first released, with an initial budget of $11 million. But its undeniable success didn't convince everyone. While enthusiastic critics were amazed at the special effects and loved the guilty pleasure feeling of a story they found packed with references, a lot deplored the lack of a strong plot and didn't really get on board with the concept of the Force.
Enjoy a little roundup of the best reactions to the first ever Star Wars movie:
1. Some Loved This New Space Epic
Ron Pennington, from The Hollywood Reporter, wrote it was "spellbinding."
Lucas combines excellent comedy and drama and progresses it with exciting action on tremendously effective space battles. Likeable heroes on noble missions and despicable villains capable of the most dastardly deeds are all wrapped up in some of the most spectacular special effects ever to illuminate a motion picture screen. The result is spellbinding and totally captivating on all levels.
For Adrian Berry from The Telegraph, it was a remarkable innovation.
The special effects in this film may be something the screen has never seen before.
Roger Ebert, writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, identified what resonated so well with audiences.
'Star Wars' taps the pulp fantasies buried in our memories, and because it's done so brilliantly, it reactivates old thrills, fears, and exhilarations we thought we'd abandoned when we read our last copy of Amazing Stories.
2. Others Acknowledged Its Technical Prowess, But Weren't Quite Sold Yet
Vincent Canby of The New York Times started out with a flattering review...
'Star Wars' is the most elaborate, most expensive, most beautiful movie serial ever made.
...but showed no pity for the scenario.
The story of 'Star Wars' could be written on the head of a pin and still leave room for the Bible.
Derek Malcolm, from The Guardian, admitted it was good fun, but wasn't really convinced by the actual quality of the movie.
'Star Wars' is not an improvement on Mr Lucas' previous work, except in box-office terms. It isn't the best film of the year, it isn't the best science fiction ever to be translated to the screen, it isn't a number of other things either that sweating critics have tried to turn it into when faced with finding some plausible explanation for its huge and slightly sinister success considering a contracting market.
But it is, on the other hand, enormous and exhilarating fun for those who are prepared to settle down in their seats and let it all wash over them.
Writing for The New Yorker, Pauline Kael had an interesting take on the movie. She found it fun, but exhausting:
'Star Wars' is like getting a box of Cracker Jacks which is all prizes. This is the writer-director George Lucas's own film, subject to no business interference, yet it's a film that's totally uninterested in anything that doesn't connect with the mass audience. There's no breather in the picture, no lyricism; the only attempt at beauty is in the double sunset. It's enjoyable on its own terms, but it's exhausting, too: like taking a pack of kids to the circus. ... It's an epic without a dream.
3. A Few Hated It
Stanley Kauffmann, from The New Republic, was not impressed.
The only way that 'Star Wars' could have been interesting was through its visual imagination and special effects. Both are unexceptional.
Meanwhile, John Simon of The New York Magazine more or less ripped it to shreds.
And then there is that distressing thing called the Force, which is not a flat-footed allusion to New York's finest but Lucas' tribute to something beyond science: imagination, the soul, God in man. It is what Ben Kenobi passes on to Luke, making the receiver invulnerable, though it hardly protected the giver's skin. It appears in various contradictory and finally nonsensical guises, a facile and perfunctory bow to metaphysics. I wish that Lucas had had the courage of his materialistic convictions, instead of dragging in a sop to a spiritual force the main thrust of the movie so cheerfully ignores. Still, 'Star Wars' will do very nicely for those lucky enough to be children or unlucky enough never to have grown up.
Still, Time Magazine already started to envision the cult status that A New Hope has reached today.
A universe of plenty — as audiences can discover beginning this week in Star Wars, a grand and glorious film that may well be the smash hit of 1977, and certainly is the best movie of the year so far.