This article was written by Tiffany and Rebekah Brannan as part of the Breening Thursdays series.
Some movies are successful upon their initial release. Others are not. Some movies are widely popular, so much that they remain part of culture long after coming out. However, some movies’ popularity goes beyond the normal scale of success. They achieve a fame which goes beyond profit at the box office, since they make a deep impact on people’s minds and imaginations. These films are so powerful in their impact that they take root in culture and influence media and society for years to come. They inspire spin-offs, sequels, fan fiction, fan theories, and sometimes even begin whole genres. Few movies have reached this degree of fame, but it is interesting to note how some of them might have been different if they had been made under the Motion Picture Production Code. We are going to analyze this idea by breening one particularly famous Rating System Era film today.
As you may have guessed, our film of choice today is a part of the Star Wars franchise. This is in honor of Star Wars Day, “May the 4th Be with You,” which was on Monday. Tuesday was also a Star Wars-themed day, “Revenge of the 5th.” We are continuing this celebration through Thursday with this article. Our knowledge of the Star Wars universe began after a trip to Disneyland last July, which prompted curiosity in the stories. After our father told us what he remembered about it during the drive home, we were curious to know the exact stories. Thus, we read the synopses on Wikipedia and watched some trailers. Rebekah became fascinated with the saga, which she had heard peers discuss for years, especially the prequel trilogy (Episodes I-III). We decided that Star Wars week would be an apropos time to discuss this popular franchise at our website. Since this is a strictly Rating System Era series, we thought it would be interesting to consider how one of its films would have been different if it were made under the Code.
A common debate among Star Wars fans is whether one should watch the series starting with Episode IV – A New Hope, the film which was made first, or Episode I – The Phantom Menace, the film which is set earliest chronologically. Although artistically we are inclined to agree with creator George Lucas’s opinion that they should be watched I-IX, this analysis is from a filmmaking standpoint, not an artistic one. Thus, we must begin with the movie which was made first, Episode IV – A New Hope from 1977, the film which started it all. This is the only Star Wars film we have seen in its entirety, since we watched it to breen. We have only seen clips from the other eight films.
When this movie first hit theaters on May 25, 1977, it was simply called Star Wars. The subtitle A New Hope was added later to distinguish it from other films in the series. The story is simple and, after forty-three years, widely known. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is a young farmer on a desert planet who is eager for his Uncle Owen (Phil Brown) and Aunt Beru (Shelagh Fraser) to let him go to the academy. His life changes forever when his uncle purchases two droids, C-3P0 (Anthony Daniels) and his speechless counterpart, R2-D2 (Kenny Baker), who have secret information in them. He eventually is led to hermit Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness), a friend whom he has only known as Old Ben. Obi-Wan tells him that he and Luke’s father were both Jedi knights before Darth Vader turned to the Dark Side and killed many Jedi, including Luke’s father. He encourages Luke to learn the ways of the Force, train as a Jedi, and help him assist the Rebel Alliance against the tyrannical First Galactic Empire. When Luke’s homestead is attacked and his family is killed, he decides to join Obi-Wan on his mission to return the droids to Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), who is held captive on the Empire’s Death Star. To get there, they hire mercenary smuggler pilot Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and his Wookie co-pilot Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) to fly them there on the Millenium Falcon. There, they must evade the evil Darth Vader (Davide Prowse, voiced by James Earl Jones) to strike a blow for the Rebellion.
Now, we are going to make the jump to hyperspace to travel to a galaxy far, far away, so let the breening begin!
Note: We are breening the original release version of this film, not one of the later releases. We will specify when referring to special edition changes.
This movie begins with stormtroopers’ invasion of Princess Leia’s ship. The armored stormtroopers ruthlessly shoot the soldiers aboard the ship. During this blaster fight, there are shots of individual soldiers getting shot. No focus should be on individual people getting killed. Instead, there should just be a general shot of the fighting.
In this, we see stormtroopers for the first time. These men are wearing robotic white suits which resemble armor. These outfits are made of hard plastic, and they have several fitted pieces. There are two pieces on the torsos, which, like ancient Roman breastplates, resemble muscular male abdomens. On the lower piece of armor on the torso, it is sculpted too much like human anatomy. Instead of being so molded, it should just be rounded on the bottom.
Soon after, we see Princess Leia for the first time. Her famous long white dress is properly covering, but her chest doesn’t look supported enough. She probably isn’t wearing supportive undergarments, as was the fashion of the 1970s. She must be properly supported so that she never looks indecent during the action scenes.
After stormtroopers clear the way, Darth Vader enters the ship. This iconic villain is as famous for his menacing power to Force choke those who oppose him as his robotic breathing. We first see this intense ability when Vader interrogates one of the officers on the ship. Believing that he is lying about the ship’s mission, Darth Vader actually grabs the poor man by the throat and lifts him off the ground, this time using his imposing size and physical strength in addition to the Force. As he holds him in the air, we can hear his victim’s neck cracking. The cracking noises and his choking gasps should be eliminated. The scene is quite powerful enough without these disturbing sounds.
When Owen Lars discovers that Luke is gone, he starts complaining that he’d better be back with the droids by midday, “Or there’ll be – to pay.” This use of profanity is unacceptable. Instead he should say, “Or he’ll be in for it.”
When Luke and C-3P0 go out in search of R2-D2, they come upon some sand people. One of them sneaks up on Luke and attacks him. After he knocks him down, we see the sand person savagely striking Luke’s body with his stick. The rest of the attack is tactfully not shown, but I think it would be better if no direct blows to Luke’s person were shown.
After Obi-Wan rescues Luke from the sand people, he brings him to his house. He tells Luke about how he and his father fought in the Clone Wars years ago. He says that his Uncle Owen didn’t want Luke to know about his father’s life as a Jedi, saying, “He feared you might follow old Obi-Wan on some – fool idealistic crusade.” This swear word must be eliminated. I think it is quite out of character for a wise old sage like Obi-Wan to use profanity. In addition, there are two many adjectives modifying crusade in this sentence, so it is just as well to eliminated one of them.
Many of the imperial officers doubt the existence of the force, despite Darth Vader’s devoted adherence to it. One soldier, Admiral Motti, is imprudent enough to express his doubts of its power to Darth Vader, saying he doesn’t believe it will help find the Rebel Base. Vader punishes him for his disturbing lack of faith by Force Choking him, this time not even touching him. This scene would be just as powerful without the distasteful cracking and choking sounds, so they should be eliminated.
After Luke realizes that stormtroopers traced the two droids his uncle purchased to the Jawas from whom they bought them, he realizes that they may have attacked his home. He hurries to the homestead but finds it is in burning desolation. Two burning skeletons are visible on the ground, clearly the pitiful remains of his murdered uncle and aunt. This is the most unacceptable thing in the whole film, since the images of the burning skeletons are quite grotesque. There must be no visible remains, including skeletons, corpses, or any other human material.
Eliminate the prominent needle on the interrogation droid. – Back on the Death Star, Darth Vader prepares to interrogate Princess Leia. When he comes into her cell, he is accompanied by a floating interrogation droid. This small, robotic sphere has a prominent needle on one side, on which the camera focuses. The 1981 Star Wars radio drama revealed that this needle was used to inject a drug which caused psychological torture. However, since that is not explained in the film, we are left to wonder what sinister purpose this machine has. If a needle is included on the droid, there should be no close-up shot of it.
When Luke returns to Obi-Wan, we see Obi-Wan and the droids burning the remains of Jawas. Showing the cremation of any body, even that of an alien, is distasteful. These shots should be removed.
At Oga’s Cantina, there are several shots of aliens which are unacceptably odd-looking, to the point of being disgusting. These include a demonic fiend, a walrus-like creature, a worm-like thing, and other creatures with grotesque faces. It is acceptable to have odd-looking aliens, but they must not be repulsive. Changing some of the Cantina customers would not be a problem for George Lucas, who voluntarily changed many of the aliens for later special edition releases of this film.
At the Cantina, there are shots of some customers smoking water pipes. All shots of hookah smoking should be eliminated, since it is suggestive of drug use.
When Obi-Wan and Luke are at the Cantina looking for a pilot to take them to Alderaan, two wanted men decide that they don’t like Luke. One of them starts bothering Luke for the sole reason that they don’t like the look of him. When they refuse to be pacified by Obi-Wan’s diplomacy, the retired Jedi hermit must take out his lightsaber and attack the two troublemakers. The conflict occurs in just a moment, but, afterward, Obi-Wan’s handiwork is highlighted as the camera focuses on a bloody severed arm. I hate to be critical, but the arm and blood here have always looked surprisingly fake to me. If this shot were just eliminated, as it should be, realism would no longer be a problem!
One of the most popular Star Wars jokes, which is fuel for many memes is “Greedo/Han shot first.” In the original 1977 release of this film, Greedo, an alien henchman employed by Jabba the Hutt, comes to the Cantina in search of Han Solo. Han, a smuggler who works for Jabba, owes the Hutt a lot of money, so Greedo is out to get him. When Greedo basically threatens to kill Han, Han can be seen pulling his blaster out under the table. Greedo has his blaster out on the table, but he isn’t poised to shoot yet. Before he can plan an attack, Han shoots him point blank under the table. Later, George Lucas thought that this action made Han Solo seem ruthless, so in a special edition release, he changed it to Greedo shooting first and missing, which prompted Han to shoot and kill him a moment later. After fans balked, the next special edition version saw Han and Greedo shooting at the same time in an Old West “beating him to the draw” style. Although many people find the multiple changes to this scene to be ridiculous, Mr. Lucas was actually moving more toward Code-compliance with his post-production changes. We think the version of this scene in which they shoot simultaneously is the best, being both Code-compliant and dramatic.
When Han shoots Greedo (Paul Blake), the alien seems to explode in a huge burst of flames. However, his body is then seen slumped over the table, apparently undamaged. There should be no explosion or flames. Han should just be shown shooting, then we can see Greedo slumped over the table. Han’s blaster could be smoking.
When Leia sees Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing) aboard the Death Star, she says, “I recognized your foul stench when I came aboard.” This is rather vulgar. Instead she should say, “I recognized something foul when I came aboard.”
Aboard the Millennium Falcon, Chewbacca and R2-D2 play a Chess-like game called Dejarik in which the players are hologram figures of monsters. These holograms are unacceptably grotesque. They should be more whimsical monsters or some other type of alien which isn’t as distasteful.
When Luke and Han break into the Death Star disguised as stormtroopers, a few imperial soldiers try to stop them. One of them gets shot in plain view. There should be no focus on the man as he is shot. Instead, the rebel shooting him should be shown.
When Luke and Han try to find Leia’s cell while disguised as stormtroopers, a fierce blaster battle breaks out between the three rebels and a group of imperial officers. As in earlier scenes, there should be no focus on individuals getting shot, even though they are the villains.
After the fight, an imperial officer’s body is lying on the switchboard. Since Han wants to communicate on the switchboard, Luke pulls the body off. This is rather grotesque. No body should be on the switchboard.
When Leia shoots a hole in the wall during a shootout with stormtroopers, Han says, “What the – are you doing?” This profanity is unacceptable. Instead, he should say, “What do you think you’re doing?”
When Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewie escape the stormtroopers through the hole that Leia created, they end up in a garbage compactor. Disgruntled about the disgusting place in which they landed, Han sarcastically says to Leia, “What an incredible smell you’ve discovered!” This is unduly pointed. Instead, he could sarcastically say, “What a lovely place you’ve discovered.”
When they are in the trash contractor, Luke feels something slither by him in the water. Although the others at first don’t believe that there is something alive in there, they are convinced when the snake-like creature grabs Luke and pulls him under the water. This is Omi the Dianoga, also known as the garbage monster. When we get a look at this creature, we see that she is a grotesque worm-like creature with a giant eye. I found this part of the film disgusting. If this monster remains, there should be no focus on its head. The only thing we should see is the serpentine body as it ensnares Luke.
Leia’s last neckline is too low. – In the final scene, Leia bestows medals of honor on Luke and Han. In this scene, she is wearing a different dress. This dress has a neckline which is too low. It must be raised to an acceptable level.
That concludes the surface problems. There are only two elements which are core issues. The first is the matter of a small incestuous romance between Luke and Leia, who are revealed to be twin siblings in the third film, Episode VI – Return of the Jedi from 1983. From what we have read and watched in clips from that film, their relationship is nothing but fond and platonic in Return of the Jedi. However, there is a definite implied romance in the two earlier films. There is the obvious beginning of a love triangle between Han, Leia, and Luke in A New Hope, during which Leia kisses Luke on the cheek a couple of times. However, it seems more like a friendly thing done during action rather than a romantic gesture. Not so in The Empire Strikes Back, in which Leia kisses Luke on the lips. True, she mainly does it to make Han jealous, but Luke obviously likes it. Viewers thought nothing of the simple kiss at the time, but it retroactively developed a strange quality when their siblinghood was revealed in the next film. In this film, it isn’t really an issue. As a matter of fact, if viewing it strictly from a 1977 perspective, there is no problem whatsoever, since the fact that they are twins wouldn’t be revealed until six years later. Even if the siblinghood were to remain, I think it would be fine in this movie. A hinted attraction is alright as long as it goes no further than friendship. If the breening continued throughout the series, the kiss in The Empire Strikes Back would have to be removed if the twin element were to remain.
The other core issue is the Force itself. It requires a little consideration. Mind you, we are not suggesting the removal of the Force, for that would mean the destruction of Star Wars itself. We simply want to make some notes about it. The Force has been described and defined differently as the saga has progressed. New powers and ways of using it have been added in subsequent films and other material. George Lucas said that he thought of the concept of the Force as a combination of the basic principle in all religions, particularly ancient and primitive ones. The Force is a name for the life source or force or higher being in which most early civilizations believed in some way or another. However, in the modern context of the 1970s and beyond, there is something rather hippieish about some aspects of the Force. The elements of balance and looking inward, in some instances, are very much ideas of New Age religion, even tending toward theosophy. It is not for Code-enforcers to belittle these ideologies. It is, however, against the principles of the Code to subtly or sneakily include New Age or Eastern religion concepts in story subtexts, since these influence impressionable viewers dishonestly. Basically, it is acceptable for the Force to be an outside force but not an inside force which one looks inward to find. Energy fields and midichlorians are fine, since they actually are more mystical. Obviously, human beings do not have midichlorians in their blood, and there is no such powerful energy field. Since it is just fantasy, it is acceptable. In this particular film, Obi-Wan Kenobi describes the Force for the first time to Luke thus: “The Force is what gives a Jedi his powers. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.” This is acceptable except for the following sentence: “It’s an energy field created by all living things.” The idea that living things create the Force is not in accordance with this new idea. The italicized words should be replaced with which powers. That fuels the idea that the Force is something separate which penetrates living beings, rather than emanating from them. That would be sufficient in this film. Further revision would be necessary in future films to maintain this idea.
Tiffany’s Conclusion: That concludes our breening! It is difficult to breen a film like Star Wars – A New Hope, which is regarded as such a classic that it changed filmmaking from then on. One feels a great need to remove problems without harming the actual story. However, the process is no different than with any other film. The purpose of breening is never to destroy a plot or damage a filmmaker’s vision. It is merely to remove the unacceptable elements. As the creator of this complex saga, George Lucas has a very definite vision, and I have great respect for his dream. As a writer myself, I can appreciate how a creator feels about his vision regarding his creation. The Code never is meant to be used to harm a creator’s vision. It is used to guide and assist them. I don’t think that George Lucas would mind many of these changes, since he is constantly looking for ways to improve his films in special edition re-releases. Mr. Lucas has said that people think of this as a “kid’s film.” This film is an example of a movie which “worked” the Rating System by purposely including pointed, out-of-place profanity to attain a PG rating and thus attract a larger audience. This is an unfortunate tactic which rating stigma encourages. This movie didn’t need a parental guidance warning to be successful. I know that Mr. Lucas wanted this film to have characters which fans of all ages could idolize and with whom they could identify. Indeed, this film has many classic story ideas which present admirable messages about bravery, loyalty, working together and risking yourself for a higher purpose. Although it is set in a fictional galactic world, it is a success because it has a deep story about very real human relationships. Breening can only make that stronger.
Rebekah’s Conclusion: I have been interested in Star Wars since July of last year. I watched numerous clips on YouTube, read about it, and saw many videos about fan theories, plot leaks, and novelization backstories. However, it wasn’t until last week that I finally watched a Star Wars film all the way through. I found it to be just as wonderful, fascinating, and entertaining as I’d expected, and I certainly can see why it is such a wildly popular franchise. In Episode IV – A New Hope, our few breening points don’t do anything to alter the core ideas or plot. It is interesting to wonder how Star Wars and its effect on society would have been different if it had been made under the Code. If we got further into the series, some aspects of the plot might have required more drastic changes, but the changes listed above would not make A New Hope any less wonderful or entertaining. If anything, they would surely make it better, for this is considered a good family film, and breening it would only make it more family friendly. I sincerely hope our changes have not upset any of our readers from a galaxy far, far away. I, as a tentative Star Wars fan, can certainly understand how some of you wouldn’t want anyone to touch Star Wars. However, we only wish to show how even the most artistically pleasing films could be improved by the Motion Picture Production Code. Goodbye, old friends. May the Force be with you!
May the Force be with you after our breening? Let us know what you think! We will just leave you with this interesting tidbit from IMDb’s trivia on the film: “During production, George Lucas referred to this movie as a ‘Disney movie,’ trying to capture the whimsy of classic 1950s Disney family movies, one of Lucas’ favorites being Swiss Family Robinson (1960).” No Shurlock Era films were as Codish as Disney movies, so George Lucas has good inspiration there. That appreciation for family values in exciting tales is obvious in the finished version of Star Wars. It only needed a little guidance from the Production Code Administration to make the Force even stronger with it.
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