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Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope was a success beyond its creator’s wildest dreams during its release in 1977. The movie was the first installment of the world’s biggest sci-fi saga, sprawling over nine parts and many more offshoots. A New Hope introduces viewers to the Star Wars universe, its heroes, and its struggles.
Bottom Line Up Front
Tatooine moisture farmer Luke Skywalker finds a message from a mysterious Princess, leading him to an old friend of his father. The 19-year old has to leave everything behind to deliver hope to a Rebellion. Skywalker joins the fight against the oppressive Galactic Empire and its ultimate weapon: the Death Star planet killer space station.
After a millennium under the custody of the Galactic Republic, the galaxy had found itself under a new administration for 19 Standard Years, based on the timekeeping at the galactic capital of Coruscant. The Clone Wars between the Republic and the Confederacy of Independent Systems (CIS) was the catalyst that spelled the reorganization of the Galactic Republic into the First Galactic Empire, coinciding with the fall of the Jedi Order.
Fall of the Republic
During the last months of the conflict, the Grand Army of the Republic, a large clone army led by Jedi Generals, defeated the Confederacy of Independent Systems in a series of battles. When victory over the separatists was certain, Chancellor Palpatine commanded Order 66 to the clone army.
Order 66, also known as Clone Protocol 66, was a security protocol installed on all clone troopers in Kamino through a behavioral biochip. Ostensibly there as a fallback for soldiers to defend themselves against a Jedi knight gone rogue, its usage was more perverse. It would weaponize the Grand Republic Army against the Jedi Order to wipe it out and consolidate the Sith reign. Its activation killed almost all Jedi, condemning survivors to live in the shadows.
With the Jedi Order no longer a factor, Galactic Chancellor Palpatine, secretly also Sith Lord Darth Sidious, used the Jedi attempt on his life as a prerogative to reorganize the Republic into the Galactic Empire. These events took place 19 years before A New Hope. The populace of most systems found itself worn out by the war raging across Republican territory. Palpatine’s promise of security and stability was enough to secure support for the Proclamation.
To achieve his promise of peace, Emperor Palpatine began a campaign of brutal repression, using his forces to eliminate all those that stood in its path. The end of the Clone Wars officially came with the killing of Confederacy leaders at Mustafar on the Sith Lord’s orders. The separatist droid armies were deactivated from the control room, shutting down all active units in the entire galaxy. The Empire’s consolidated its power by using the clone army inherited from the Republic era to strike down conglomerates, federations, and guilds aligned with the CIS.
An Empire Reorganized
Fallen Jedi Knight Darth Vader enforced Imperial control over the galaxy. After enduring grievous injuries in the battle against his old Master Obi-Wan Kenobi, he became consumed by hatred for him. Vader wore robotic prostheses and protective armor for life support and defensive functions.
After eliminating the Jedi Generals, the Empire’s army needed reorganization. Republican clone troopers quickly transitioned into Imperial stormtroopers. Due to their quality training, physical excellence, and obedience, clones became shock troops deployed across the galaxy to quell pockets of resistance. Now under the leadership of officers enlisted from the Republic’s Judicial Department, clone troopers also helped with repression and law enforcement duties in territories under Imperial control.
While the clone army proved extremely useful in smoothing out the transition to the Galactic Empire, some of its commanding officers began to doubt its effectiveness in the era after the Clone Wars. One such officer was Admiral Wilhuff Tarkin, an old favorite of Emperor Palpatine during the former’s tenure at the Judicial Department. Admiral Tarkin believed that the long-term viability of the Empire’s military depended on an affordable conscription force. The high costs of clone production at Kamino went directly against his vision. With the Emperor’s blessing, Tarkin visited the planet to announce his new plans.
Tarkin’s meeting with Kamino Prime Minister Lama Su was tense. The Kaminoans had counted on continuous support from Palpatine during his tenure as Chancellor. The original contract established by the Republic stipulated continuous production of clone troops. While acknowledging Lama Su’s argument that the Empire would need more troops to control its territories, Tarkin felt the program’s costs to be prohibitive at the scale required. The parties reached a compromise to produce one more generation of clones, giving the Empire time to build its conscription military. As clones from earlier batches approached the end of their active duty, many sought jobs within the Imperial Royal Guard and other security institutions.
The Death Star Threat
Central to the new Empire’s doctrine for power projection was the DS-1 Orbital Battle Station, commonly known as the Death Star. It was a moon-size, deep-space battle station built around a laser capable of destroying an entire planet with one hit. The weapon’s design required the use of supersized kyber crystals, inspired in part by old Sith technology.
The design of the Death Star dates to the Separatist Crisis. The project idea came from CIS leader Count Dooku. Its design and early construction began at Geonosis. During the Clone Wars, the plans were intercepted and presented to the Republic, which secretly appropriated the project after the Second Battle of Geonosis.
Lieutenant Commander Orson Krennic was a leading figure in the Death Star’s construction. Krennic sensed the difficulty brought by such a large vessel. He negotiated a deal with the captive Geonosian Archduke Poggle The Lesser to allow his local workers familiar with the design philosophy to work on the project in the Geonosis orbit.
The fall of the Galactic Republic had the weapon’s development swiftly passed onto the emergent First Galactic Empire. The Special Weapons Group became the Imperial Military Department of Advanced Weapons Research under Imperial Intelligence. Emperor Palpatine appointed two men familiar with the project to oversee its completion. Lieutenant Commander Orson Krennic was made project director under Admiral Wilhuff Tarkin, who also acted as Moff of the Greater Seswenna sector. The two officers did not see eye to eye about the battle station and wished to work alone in its development. Radical rebel Saw Gerrera’s band constantly attempted to track down the battle station.
The Death Star’s laser was the core feature of the station. The number of scientists with sufficient experience with manipulating kyber crystals was scarce. One such mind was Galen Erso, a close friend of Orson Krennic from the Republic days. Erso’s pacifist ways challenged Krennic, who manipulated the scientist into believing his research would expand communication and energy networks.
Upon discovering his work to be weaponized, Erso and his family escaped Coruscant with the help of radical Rebel leader Saw Gerrera. Galen Erso’s exile did not last long, however. His farming years in Lah’mu alongside his wife Lyra and daughter Jyn came to a halt when Krennic tracked him down. In the ensuing altercation, Lyra died at the hands of Imperial troops. Seeing no other choice, Galen agreed to go with Krennic and resume work on the Death Star. Jyn Erso stayed in the custody of Saw Gerrera.
Galen Erso realized the only way he could interfere with the Death Star was to be an integral part of the project and crack it from the inside. While the Death Star had a well-secured main thermal exhaust port, Galen added a smaller second one which led directly to the reactor, ostensibly in the name of redundancy.
The station’s construction repeatedly fell behind schedule due to its complexity and deliberate delays incurred by Erso. As its completion became inevitable, the scientist contacted a deserting pilot to deliver data on the vulnerability to his daughter. Galen hoped she would pass them onto the Alliance to Restore the Republic, a resistance organization commonly known as the Rebel Alliance. Jyn Erso and Saw Gerrera saw the message but lost it as the Death Star attacked their hideout, killing Gerrera in the process.
As the survivors debriefed the Rebel Alliance leaders at a secret base, the council could not act without solid evidence of the design flaw. Frustrated with the inaction, a group of Rebel agents and sympathizers made an unauthorized raid on the moon of Scarif, which hosted the Death Star plans. As the infiltration grew into a full-scale battle, the Rebel raiders transmitted the blueprints to Rebel leaders. They died at the hands of the Death Star’s laser, along with the entire Imperial garrison on Scarif. The plans detailing the Death Star’s vulnerability reached Princess Leia Organa.
Key Characters (Roles and Motivations)
Son of Anakin Skywalker, Luke Skywalker was raised in Tatooine by his uncle Lars and aunt Beru at their moisture farm. He did not meet his father, who he knew as a navigator on a spice freighter during the Clone Wars. Despite his guardians’ disapproval, Luke lived an adventurous youth, fascinated with space and piloting. He and best friend Biggs Darklighter regularly flew T-16 sky hopper ships in Tatooine’s Beggar’s Canyon. Skywalker’s social circle gradually shrank as people left off-world, but his uncle Lars forbade Luke from leaving.
Princess Leia Organa
Leia Organa was the adoptive daughter of Senator Bail Organa and Queen Breha of Alderaan. Despite her royal upbringing, Leia grew to loathe the idea of becoming the silent, expressionless royal. Upon discovering her father’s involvement with the Rebel Alliance, she became involved in the fight against the Empire while doubling as a representative to the Imperial Senate.
Living a low-profile life in the Tatooine deserts, Obi-Wan Kenobi took up the name of Ben after his exile. Before the rise of the Galactic Empire, Kenobi was a Jedi Master and a General during the Clone Wars, serving alongside Anakin Skywalker. Despite repeated requests by Owen Lars to stay away from his nephew Luke, Obi-Wan constantly intervened in the boy’s favor during his childhood.
The fist of the Galactic Empire, Darth Vader was the former Jedi apprentice of Obi-Wan Kenobi before falling to the Dark Side and becoming a Sith Lord under the mentorship of Emperor Palpatine. Little was known about Vader’s past by most in the galaxy. His heavy breathing and machine-like movements struck fear in most who survived an encounter with him.
Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin
Wilhuff Tarkin was a military commander and career bureaucrat from Eriadu. Tarkin enforced a rule of terror away from the Core Worlds, going as far as enacting slavery in certain planets under his control to achieve his goals. As part of his belief in fear as the pillar of governance over such a vast galaxy, Moff Tarkin was appointed commander of the DS-1 Mobile Battle Station.
Han Solo was a self-assured skilled pilot and professional smuggler. After a difficult youth in Corellia and a brief stint in the Imperial military, Solo got involved in the world of heists while deserting the Empire. Solo gambled his way into the possession of the YT-1300 Millenium Falcon light freighter and became a runner for the criminal underworld of Tatooine along with his Wookiee co-pilot Chewbacca.
A Wookiee warrior from Kashyyyk. Chewbacca fought against the Separatist army and later the Empire during the battle for his planet at the end of the Clone Wars, eventually falling slave to the newly formed Imperial Army. Set free by then-Corporal Han Solo, Chewbacca pledged a Wookie life debt. The two became fast friends, with Chewie acting as both the muscle and common sense of the pair, balancing out Solo’s impulsiveness.
The Tantive IV Capture
Nineteen years after the Republic became the Empire, the Galactic Civil War engulfed the galaxy in conflict once again. After detaching from the Rebel flagship following its boarding by Imperial troops in the Scarif orbit, the Tantive IV corvette made its way towards Tatooine, with the Star Destroyer Devastator closely in pursuit. The Rebel ship carried Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan. She carried a stolen copy of the Death Star battle station blueprints.
The Devastator was operating under the orders of Darth Vader, present on board to retrieve the plans. Despite multiple broadcasts from the Tantive IV claiming it was on a diplomatic mission, the Imperial ship damaged its powerplant enough to close the gap. The Rebel ship was dragged into the hangar by a tractor beam. The Empire’s intention to board the ship was obvious. Rebel troopers lined up along the ship’s entrance corridor to resist the incoming assault and buy time for Princess Leia.
Boarding was swift and merciless. Imperial stormtroopers blasted through the door and engaged the stunned Rebel party through the smoke, overwhelming the security detachment.
The resistance put up by Rebel troops was not in vain, however. Captain Raymus Antilles extracted the Death Star blueprints from the ship’s computer and handed them to Princess Leia Organa. Using the little time available, Leia uploaded the data to the memory bank of astromech droid R2-D2. She recorded a plea of assistance to Obi-Wan Kenobi, her father’s old ally from the Clone Wars. The message requested that Obi-Wan, the Rebellion’s only hope, bring the Death Star plans to Alderaan. R2-D2, tasked with finding Kenobi, entered an escape pod with protocol droid C-3PO.
With the ship under Imperial control, Darth Vader boarded it to begin interrogations. Vader ordered a tear-down of the Tantive IV to find the stolen data.
Despite Princess Leia’s resistance, she was hit with a stunner wave and taken prisoner by stormtroopers. When brought to Darth Vader, she denied any involvement with the Rebel Alliance. She insisted her ship was on a diplomatic mission to Alderaan. The Princess also noted the Imperial Senate would be displeased with the boarding. Vader ordered his troops to take Leia away as a Rebel prisoner.
The escape pod carrying both droids fired itself towards Tatooine. Imperial gunners aboard the Devastator initially planned to engage it, but an officer told them to stand down. Scans showed no life signs on board, and thus it was assumed the pod simply misfired. Aboard the Tantive IV, an officer informed Vader the plans were decidedly not aboard the ship. After learning about the escape pod, he ordered a scouting party to track it down in Tatooine.
Droids in the Desert
The escape pod carrying C-3PO, R2-D2 crashed into a remote area of Tatooine. The dunes made it impossible for the droids to pinpoint their position. While R2-D2 knew which planet he was on and who to look for, he refused to share this information with C-3PO. The two disagreed about which direction to follow and went their separate ways.
C-3PO spotted a large vehicle in the desert, but what seemed like salvation was a Sandcrawler, owned by Jawa traveling merchants. Elsewhere, R2-D2 wandered through a canyon in search of Obi-Wan Kenobi but was disabled by a group of Jawas as well. The two droids met again inside the Sandcrawler, part of a group of robots gathered during its journey.
With the help of probe droids, the sand trooper detachment in Tatooine located the escape pod crash site.
During one of the Jawa stops, Owen Lars and his nephew, Luke Skywalker, approached the Sandcrawler to shop for droids to work in their moisture farm. The locals negotiated a favorable deal in exchange for two droids, C-3PO and a red and white astromech droid designated R5-D4. Despite R2’s protests, the purchased droids departed with Skywalker and Lars, but it was not long until R5-D4 suffered a critical malfunction. Skywalker argued that its bad motivator was enough grounds for a return, with the Jawas reluctantly accepting to trade it for R2-D2.
The droids’ difficult journey through Tatooine was not kind to their exterior, and thus Luke had to clean both before they could work at the moisture farm. While dislodging a restrictor pin installed on R2-D2, he accidentally triggered the unit to play Leia Organa’s holographic message. Skywalker did not know anyone by the name of Obi-Wan but figured the hermit Ben Kenobi, who lived past the Dune Sea, could be his relative. Luke reported the message to his family and asked them if they had any idea who that was. Lars conceded that he knew an Obi-Wan Kenobi who was acquainted with Luke’s father Anakin but said both had died around the same time.
Determined to complete his mission, R2-D2 used this time unwatched to escape from the farm and set off in search of Obi-Wan. Luke, fearing for the fate of the droid in the harsh environment of Tatooine, took off on a land speeder with C-3PO to retrieve it. The pair successfully located R2-D2 in the Jundland Wastes but were ambushed by a band of Tusken Raiders. The assailants knocked Luke unconscious and tore off the protocol droid’s left arm before being driven away by Ben Kenobi.
The Old Jedi
Kenobi took the Skywalker and his droids to his home. Upon coming to his senses, Luke asked Ben about a man called Obi-Wan, who the hermit said was simply the name he used back in the day. The visitors shared Princess Organa’s message stored in R2-D2’s memory. Kenobi explained his past as a Jedi Knight who fought alongside Anakin Skywalker during the Clone Wars. He confided in Luke that his father had also been a Jedi. Obi-Wan gifted Anakin’s old lightsaber to Luke. According to Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker had bee by Darth Vader.
Because of his advanced age, Obi-Wan asked if Luke could come along to deliver the message to Bail Organa in Alderaan. The young farmer refused because of his obligations at home but offered to lead Kenobi to Anchorhead so he could secure transportation off-world. Aboard Luke’s land speeder, they stumbled upon the corpses of the Jawas who had sold R2-D2 and C-3PO. Fearing for his family’s safety, he diverted course back home, but it was too late. Imperial troops had killed Owen and Beru. Having nothing left behind in Tatooine, Luke accepted Kenobi’s offer to travel to Alderaan and learn the ways of the Force, set on becoming a Jedi like his father.
Escape from Tatooine
Knowing the Empire would hunt them down, Kenobi left for Mos Eisley, a spaceport city infamous for its abundance of crime and violence. Sandtroopers had set up a checkpoint on its outskirts to track down the droids, but Obi-Wan got past it thanks to a Jedi mind trick. Leaving the C-3PO and R2-D2 outside, the pair wandered into Spaceport Cantina to find a pilot to fly them to Alderaan. At the bar, Luke Skywalker had a run-in with two criminals, but the situation ended when Obi-Wan sliced off the arm of one of them as it prepared to attack.
In one of the Cantina booths, smuggler Han Solo had a tense encounter because of his debt to local crime lord Jabba The Hutt. Bounty hunter Greedo planned to bring him to Jabba in exchange for credits but died from a blaster shot before that. During this time, Kenobi had bumped into co-pilot Chewbacca, who brought him to Solo. The smuggler offered to make the trip for 10000 credits, paid upfront, but Kenobi countered with 2000 now plus 15000 credits in Alderaan. Solo’s debts in Tatooine forced him to accept the riskier but more lucrative option.
Luke sold his speeder to earn the down payment for the ride, and the parties regrouped later at Docking Bay 94. As they prepared to depart, a group of stormtroopers entered the pad and fired at the Millenium Falcon. Its departure was successful, but an Imperial group of star destroyers met the smuggler in the Tatooine orbit. The ship’s deflector ships held on while its crew set course for a lightspeed jump. The Millenium Falcon evaded its pursuers and departed towards Alderaan.
Despite entering accurate coordinates, what they found in place of Alderaan is a large asteroid field. Unbeknownst to them, the planet had been obliterated by the Death Star’s super laser on orders from Grand Moff Tarkin, hoping to set an example to the rest of the galaxy. Matters were made worse for the crew when they saw what appeared to be a moon not far from there. The object was the Death Star battle station, which used its powerful tractor beam to arrest the Millenium Falcon.
A Princess in Distress
The pilots and passengers hid in the smuggling compartments of the Falcon and ambushed the Imperial boarding party. Luke and Han took their uniforms to plot an escape, while Obi-Wan sought to disable the tractor beam. The disguised party discovered that Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan was being held prisoner in the Death Star. Solo was reluctant to help at first, but the prospect of a handsome reward convinced him to try.
The pair handcuffed Chewbacca and marched towards the Princess’ expected location in Detention Block AA-23, claiming to be making a routine prisoner transfer. The group made it to the area where Leia was being held and quickly subdued the Imperial guards on the floor. As Luke freed Organa, the garrison had sent reinforcements towards them. Seeing her would-be rescuers struggle, Leia blew a hole through a grate and jumped into it, followed shortly by Chewbacca, Luke, and Han.
The escape route picked was unfortunate, leading right into one of the Death Star’s garbage compactors. While struggling against an unknown monster lurking inside it, the group also found itself under the threat of being crushed as the machinery activated. Luke’s desperate cries for help to C-3PO over their commlink, and R2-D2 managed to stop it in time for them to escape. The party took this opening to fight its way back to the Millenium Falcon, hoping that Kenobi had succeeded in disabling the tractor beam.
By the ship, Luke saw a fateful reencounter. Obi-Wan Kenobi was engaged in lightsaber combat with Darth Vader, his former apprentice. Kenobi stalled Vader long enough for his friends to board the ship before being struck down by the Sith Lord before Skywalker. Luke boarded the Millenium Falcon as it successfully escaped the Death Star, fighting off a series of TIE fighters on its way to the Rebel base in Yavin IV.
The Battle of Yavin
Despite the Falcon evading capture, the Death Star followed it to the moon of Yavin IV. Grand Moff Tarkin hoped to use its laser to destroy the Rebel base and end the resistance to the Empire once and for all.
After their arrival, Princess Leia delivered the data within R2-D2 to Rebel military commanders, who by now were aware that the Empire would soon engage the base. Luke volunteered to join the Alliance and participate in the attack to avenge Obi-Wan. Much to his dismay, he learned that Han Solo and Chewbacca were leaving after receiving their reward from Princess Leia.
Rebel General Dodonna plotted a strike against the Death Star using the full strength of the Rebel forces in Yavin IV. The plan was ambitious and verged on suicidal, but it was the Alliance’s only hope to stop the Death Star before it could destroy the base. Luke learned that his old friend from Tatooine, Biggs Darklighter, would also be participating in the assault.
The Rebel fighters would have to fly down into a maintenance trench and place a salvo of proton torpedoes into the auxiliary exhaust port leading down the main reactor. If successful, according to the stolen plans, the explosion would cause an overpressure and set off a chain reaction.
Three Rebel squadrons sortied against overwhelming odds and fought off Imperial fighters and air defenses so that a group of X-wings could make their way down the trench. Attrition among the assault force was stark, with Darth Vader leading a group of TIE fighters against them. Three Rebel fighters approached their target, but one crashed as it prepared its attack. Wedge Antilles made it close enough to take his shot but missed before combat damage forced him to abort.
Darth Vader closed in on Luke Skywalker’s X-wing and ordered his wingmen to stand aside so he could destroy it himself. Instants before he could fire, however, the TIEs fighter flying along him exploded under fire from the Millenium Falcon, putting Vader’s ship out of control. Han Solo had returned to aid his new friends. Skywalker initially prepared to use the ship’s targeting computer to place the torpedoes into the exhaust port but heard Obi-Wan Kenobi’s voice instructing him to use the Force instead. Luke manually aimed and fired two proton torpedoes that found their target. They traveled down to the reactor and destroyed the Death Star with all its crew.
The Rebel force, now reduced to two X-wings, one Y-wing, and the Millenium Falcon, made its way back to their base. The Rebellion held a victory parade in honor of the participants of what would become known as the Battle of Yavin. Princess Leia awarded Han Solo and Luke Skywalker for their service to the Rebellion. The galaxy no longer trembled in fear under the Empire’s grasp.
Question: Was Star Wars originally called A New Hope?
Answer: When it first hit the theaters, the movie was originally called Star Wars. It only received the Episode IV and A New Hope add-on in 1981 during its theatrical re-release.
Question: Why did George Lucas start with Episode IV?
Answer: George Lucas intended to make a prequel trilogy from the beginning and decided that calling A New Hope “Episode IV” would set the stage for that.
Question: Was Star Wars: A New Hope a flop?
Answer: Not in the slightest. The movie brought in an astonishing $1.5 million during its initial release in 1977, beating all standing box office records. Over the years, it raked in $775 million, making it Star Wars: A New Hope of the most successful movies of all time.
Question: How long after Revenge of the Sith is A New Hope?
Answer: The last episode of the prequel trilogy and the first of the original trilogy are around 19 years apart.
Question: How old is Darth Vader in A New Hope?
Answer: Darth Vader is 41 years old in A New Hope.
The Battle of Yavin was a crucial moment in the galaxy’s history. The Empire’s ultimate weapon was no more. The resistance forces had prevailed over the symbol of Imperial might. The battle was so remarkable that timekeeping across the galaxy shifted to Before and After the Battle of Yavin (ABY and BBY), still measured in standard years according to the Coruscant orbital characteristics.
For the Empire, the loss of the Death Star proved to be a crushing blow in many ways. Construction of the space station spanned two decades. It had strained Imperial manpower and resources. Despite that, it failed to achieve the one goal put before it: to scare the galaxy into submission.
The loss of the Death Star wiped upwards of 1.7 million Imperial military personnel and contractors, including high-ranking officers such as Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin, seen across the galaxy as the Emperor’s right-hand man for political affairs. Equipment losses were extensive, with a large fleet of star destroyers, TIE fighters, and bombers eliminated in short order.
For the Rebellion, the victory over Yavin IV was not without sacrifices. After revealing the location of their main base once more, the Alliance evacuated towards the remote planet of Hoth. The destruction of the Death Star had energized their cause but came with heavy losses of equipment and personnel. Unlike the Empire, the Alliance did not possess the shipbuilding capability to replace these ships as quickly as desired.
Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, and Han Solo quickly became the backbone of the Rebel forces. Skywalker tried to follow the Jedi teachings of Obi-Wan Kenobi but found himself struggling with the lack of a mentor to complete his training. Solo and Chewbacca gave up their life as smugglers to fight against the Empire. After part of the leadership had been lost in Alderaan, Princess Leia took up her father’s place as one of the Alliance’s leaders.
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