Pittsburgh has been one with the Force since “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope” first debuted in theaters on May 25, 1977.
On the day of the film’s release, Post-Gazette film critic George Anderson raved about “A New Hope” in his review, declaring that it “may be the greatest comic book movie ever made,” comparing it to so-bad-it’s-good sci-fi adventure “Flash Gordon.”
“The movie opening today at the Showcase Cinema is distinguished by great imagination, astonishing technical wizardry and an almost childlike sense of real fun,” Mr. Anderson gushed.
He singled out Princess Leia (the late Carrie Fisher) as a sign of the film’s “contemporary flavor,” admiring that she ”is not a damsel in distress, but a spunky, resourceful, independent woman.”
Mr. Anderson did criticize the film’s plot, calling it a “distillation of every simplistic good-guys-vs.-bad-guys cliché.” He was willing to overlook that, however, because of the sheer cinematic exhilaration “A New Hope” provided.
“See it,” he commanded. “Take every kid you know and find out how much kid still lives in you.”
“A New Hope” went on to become a bona fide phenomenon in the summer of 1977, though it was not without its critics.
One such grouch — Howard H. Hobaugh, a Pittsburgh native who continued to read his hometown paper eight years after moving to Vero Beach, Fla. — wrote a scathing note to Mr. Anderson questioning his review, which was published in the July 12, 1977, edition of the Post-Gazette.
“The plot was trite; the dialogue could have been written by an eighth-grade student and the robots acted and mouthed the dialogue as well as the live actors,” Mr. Hobaugh wrote.
“The depressing part of the affair,” he continued, “is that the critics’ acclaim will cause the picture to make a profit and we will have many sequels and imitations …”
One can only imagine Mr. Hobaugh’s outrage when the exact scenario he described happened.
The Post-Gazette published a more positive reader review of “A New Hope” in the same issue, with Gary Anthony Surmacz writing in with a simple expression of his love for the film: “WOW!”
Mr. Surmacz and every other “A New Hope” fan who was wowed by the film’s outer space scenes have a Pittsburgher to thank for that sense of wonder.
Joseph Paul Roth of Beaver Falls served as the movie’s optical photography coordinator, supervising a team of 16 people tasked with creating iconic scenes involving X-wings, star destroyers and the Death Star.
Mr. Anderson profiled the 1965 Art Institute of Pittsburgh graduate in the Aug. 11, 1977, edition of the Post-Gazette, and Mr. Roth wowed him with his mastery of “Star Wars’” then-groundbreaking special effects.
“Visual effects, commonly referred to by laymen as ‘trick photography,’ constitute one of the true mysteries of moviemaking and, therefore, are authentic magic as far as I’m concerned,” he wrote.
Movie reviewers in 2017 probably cannot get away with admitting they believe CGI is “authentic magic.”
Regardless of the wizardry employed in its creation, “A New Hope” spawned a multibillion-dollar franchise that has continued to produce new work in just about every medium imaginable to this day.
Pittsburgh has been enthralled with “Star Wars” since the beginning and, as evidenced by the more modern photos above, that passion for a galaxy far, far away does not seem to be dying down anytime soon.
— Joshua Axelrod