This one comes to us from director Ron Howard, and I remember being pretty excited about that name being attached to a 'Star Wars' film. This guy gave us great fantasy stories like 'Willow' and great true story films like 'Apollo 13'. I kinda figured he'd be a shoe in for something like 'Star Wars', although many thought otherwise. Even after seeing it for the fourth time, I still think he had something here, bringing Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan's script to life. By the way, that was another draw - Lawrence Kasdan helped give us 'Empire' and 'Jedi'. So really, why wouldn't I have wanted to check it out?
I remember going to the theater to see it, and feeling like things were pretty deserted. While I remember the opening weekend to 'Attack of the Clones' feeling somewhat underwhelming, this was the first time I actually thought to myself that people were really starting to give up on 'Star Wars'. Of course, it wouldn't be until the next year that the final nail was driven into the coffin with 'Rise of Skywalker', and the shadow of the dark side started to grow over 'Star Wars' fandom completely. It was unfortunate, but with this, 'Rogue One' and 'Mandalorian' all being at least somewhat decent tales that mostly veer away from the Jedi/Sith lore, there IS still that spark of hope that new life can be breathed into 'Star Wars' with new stories (there's a LOT they can do!)
After having seen it, and seeing the reviews come in for it, to me, it felt somewhat underrated. But I will say that I fully understand why it's not among the most beloved 'Star Wars' films out there. I don't think I've ever heard anyone say how "bad" it is, but it's more of an overlooked story, and admittedly, not one we necessarily needed. It's put in there as a placeholder for the fans who are clambering for 'Episode IX'. At that point, the idea was still fairly exciting... but yeah. Anyway, this is really just another origin story, like 'Wolverine', only better.
The formula here is about the same as most origin stories; another movie that dabbles into everything we may or may not know yet about a fan favorite character. There was a very split audience for it - the people who want the answers behind their favorite 'Star Wars' character, or the people who don't generally care. 'Last Jedi' disappointed so many, and without even a year to adjust from it, this was released May, 2018 to an audience collectively saying "too much". Interestingly enough, it did have a successful opening weekend, but as far as its grosses go, it stands dead last in the franchise, only above 'The Clone Wars', which I have not included in my list, as I feel it's a separate entity.
Getting to the story, it opens on the planet Corellia, where a local gang, watching over slave orphans, Han (Alden Ehrenreich) and Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke), is thwarted by them and they manage an escape. Using their wits, and some precious coaxium fuel, they bribe an Imperial officer for passage onto a transport. But while Han makes it, Qi'ra is captured, and the pair are separated. Making a vow to come back for her, Han joins the Imperial Navy, and is given his name "Solo" due to having no real family name.
Fast-forward three years later, where Han finds himself in the midst of a battle, serving as an infantryman following his expulsion from the Imperial Flight Academy for insubordination. Here, he meets a band of thieves, led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), which sets him on his journey to find his place in the galaxy. We watch his origin story unfold; a lot of it having to do with stealing and delivering coaxium to a high ranking crime boss named Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). Along the way, we see how he meets Chewie (Joonas Suotamo) and Lando (Donald Glover), gets the Millennium Falcon, and it answers the age-old question about doing the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs (much like 'Rogue One' answers the one about why the Empire left a weak point on the Death Star).
There's nothing about the movie that I really don't like. But I have to admit that it's also a very middle-ground movie, based on what it is. It's there to fill in a blank that doesn't really need filling in, but the way it goes about it is still pretty decent. This one plays out a lot more like a space western, and has always kinda reminded me a little more of an episode of 'Firefly' than an actual 'Star Wars' movie. That's still what I would compare it to, with its overall style and sense of humor, and I personally really appreciate any 'Star Wars' story that doesn't need to focus so much on Jedi, Sith, the Force, etc.
As far as performances go, all is well and good, but there are a couple of players here who had to try to nail their characters - Alden Ehrenreich as a young Harrison Ford/Han Solo, and Donald Glover as a young Billy Dee Williams/Lando Calrissian. I always thought Glover to be the perfect casting as a young Lando, so never had any trouble trying to see the character. Ehrenreich ends up being a tiny bit more of a challenge, but if you watch closely enough, he actually does a great job of it. He doesn't necessarily look a lot like Ford, but a lot of the mannerisms are there, and you do get brief glimpses of Ford in his face - namely when he smiles. There's one particular scene with Chewbacca that shows his face in the mud, and if you pause it, you can really see it.
While it's certainly not without it's famous weaknesses (here, an equal-rights preaching droid named L3-37 [Phoebe Waller-Bridge]), and it's many fan service moments (some of them fairly eye-rolling), I still think it's enjoyable. It's pretty well-written by people who are all too familiar with the characters involved, there's plenty of action, funny moments, and the cheesy humor fits for a character like Han Solo. However, the one bother has to do with the ending, where they randomly bring in a character who should be long dead. I'm SURE there's an answer to that by now, but regardless, it really left the audience hanging and felt like a studio decision that was crammed down our throats. What will ever become of it? Perhaps time will tell... or already has? Maybe it's time for me to check out some of those animated series...
I remember this one getting a whole lot of flack upon its release due to, what for me, seemed like minor details. Things like the fact that there was no famous 'Star Wars' opening crawl, or the fairly poor CG rendering of certain characters were very open to ridicule, but a lot of people overlooked a lot of good about the film, including incredible visuals (other than character rendering), a band of likable characters, and a cool story that acts as a prologue to 'New Hope'. As most who have seen it already know, you could watch this, follow it with 'New Hope', and it would make perfect sense.
The film opens with shadows of what's to come, as Imperial weapons developer, Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) approaches research scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) to get him to finish his work on the Death Star - at this point, the Empire's secret, planet-killing weapon, of which little is known. During a confrontation, Erso is taken, but his young daughter, Jyn (Beau Gadsdon/Felicity Jones) escapes into hiding, eventually found by Rebel extremist, Saw Gerrera (Forrest Whitaker). We do, however, learn very quickly that their ways part over the years of Jyn growing up.
Fast-forward 15 years, where we meet ex-Empire cargo pilot, Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), taking a message recorded by Galen to Gerrera. Within the holographic message, later revealed, it tells us what we already know - that the Death Star has a weak point. This is the first example of one of the "Star Wars Stories" that finally settles the story on why the Empire had a known weakness in their planet-killing space station.
In the meantime, Rebel Alliance officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his reprogrammed Imperial droid, K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) learn of the Death Star, and free Jyn from and imperial labor camp in hopes that she'll stand with the alliance, and find and rescue her father, so as to learn more about the Death Star. On Jyn, Cassian and K-2SO's journey to learn more about the deadly space station, they come across a blind warrior of spirit, Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and his mercenary friend, the heavy-hitting Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang) who aid them on their quest.
Meanwhile still, we also get a brief history of how Grand Moff Tarken (a CG-rendered Peter Kushing voiced by Guy Henry) takes control of the Death Star project, and ends up playing second banana to Vader in 'New Hope'. And speaking of Vader (James Earl Jones), he shows up in this too, occupying two scenes. One where Vader shows how intimidating he can be, as he speaks to Krennic, and one where he shows his skills with the force and a lightsaber, and it's an awesome sequence. He's not in it much, but when he is, he really occupies the screen.
I spoke of incredible visuals earlier, and I stick by that. Despite the fact that some of the character rendering was pretty rough, I would say its completely made up for by the action sequences in general. Things happen here and there throughout the first while, but the film completely takes off once you hear Jyn say the words "may the force be with us". It's all followed by on-ground assault, and soe of the most epic-looking space battle sequences in the 'Star Wars' library - and I'm dead serious. Some of the camera angles they get for a lot of the flying is incredible, rivaled only perhaps by 'Revenge of the Sith's opening sequence or the end of 'Return of the Jedi'. But honestly, I think I'd dub this my favorite 'Star Wars' film for space battles.
Some complaints about the film I thought actually helped it. The lack of an opening crawl was fine by me, as this was just a side story. It's even more forgiving when you realize that the end of this bridges into 'New Hope', which has its own opening crawl that basically tells a very quick version of this entire movie. Lack of lightsabers was another weird complaint; as if it couldn't be 'Star Wars' without them. But I was always of the mind that this was something that finally steered us away from all of that, and we got to see some of the more common folk be heroes for a change. This was really the first time we got something like that, and 'Solo' and 'The Mandalorian' would thankfully follow suit.
Another thing I always kinda wondered about people's criticisms have to do with the diversity of the cast. The 'Fast & Furious' franchise became so widely known to have its diverse characters act as a family, and it was one of the best selling points of the film. I don't find a lot of people speaking of the massive diversity here. Jyn (English), Cassian (Mexican), Chirrut Îmwe and Baze Malbus (Chinese), Bodie (Pakistani), the list goes on. I remember it seeming like a big deal at the time, but it was soon kinda tossed aside. It was still a 'Star Wars' film, and 'Star Wars' fans are rabid enough to overlook such things if other things don't go their way... like a stupid CG face.
In the grand scheme of 'Star Wars' films, this one's a personal favorite. It's a bold story about wartime struggles, and the idea of making the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good. It really does get tense around the last half hour or so of the film, and it'll leave an impression on you as long as you can see it for the story it is, and not just its technical errors. Honestly, I know I bring it up a lot, but people went way too overboard on the CG faces of Tarken and *cameo that may be a spoiler but not really*. They didn't look the best, but so much of the rest of the movie is so well done that it was actually incredibly easy for me to overlook it. It was pretty much everything I wanted to see and more, and I'd still recommend it to any 'Star Wars' noobs to check out before getting into the original trilogy.
Well, here we are. We made it. This is the final review of the 'Skywalker Saga'. And may I say, I never thought I'd see the day when a 'Star Wars' film would disappoint me more than 'Phantom Menace'. Up until this point, I basically made 'Star Wars' that one thing that I couldn't possibly dislike, as even the bad slowly became fun, and it was all just part of it. But the reasons this is bad, in comparison to 'Phantom Menace', are very different.
The blame for such a film goes to two people, in my humble opinion. Kathleen Kennedy comes first and foremost, as unlike Marvel's Kevin Feige, she had no real plans going into this whole thing (to my knowledge). Next, 'Last Jedi' writer/director, Rian Johnson, wrote JJ Abrams into a bit of a corner with his new ideas, probably completely derailing anything Abrams actually would have originally done. What should have been a brilliant wrap-up ended up being a bit of a wreck, full of plot holes (some obvious, some not so much), lack of care put into any characters while introducing new ones for some reason, and a pace that's just hard to keep up with. It may be somewhat forgivable for a 'Star Wars' movie if it wasn't supposed to be the 'Star Wars' movie to end all 'Star Wars' movies. Put simply, it should have been better.
The basic wrap-up story is simple enough. As the First Order continues to spread their dark shadow across the galaxy, Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) conveniently returns from the dead, who Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) sees as a threat to his rise to power. Using a Sith wayfinder (basically a Sith GPS), Ren tracks down Palpatine on the uncharted planet of Exegol. Here we learn that Palpatine has been a puppet master this whole time, creating and controling Snoke to lure Ren to the Dark Side. He the unveils the "Last Order"; a fleet of planet-killing Star Destroyers. He'll be able to take over the Galaxy, if only Ren kills Rey (Daisy Ridley), and ends the Jedi once and for all.
Rey, in the meantime, continues her extremely rapid training (seriously, it's about a year's time between all three Sequel films) under Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher). But when Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) deliver intelligence from a spy about Palpatine's whereabouts, the trio, along with C-3PO (Anthony Daniels - making him the only original actor to appear in all 9 films) and BB-8 (Dave Chapman/Brian Herring) set out to find their own Sith wayfinder; the only thing that can lead them to the uncharted planet of Exegol. Here, Rey will not only face Kylo Ren one more time, but will also discover a dark secret to her origin, which could determine the fate of one big, final sith/jedi battle.
Believe me though, the whole film is a lot worse than I make it sound. Rey's deep dark secret was a huge let-down to fans all over the place, it all feels very rushed and messy, it's doing a lot of what fans dreaded and repeating a lot of of 'Return of the Jedi' beats, and there's a lot you wanna see for a final film that just never happens. For me, it was R2-D2 - a droid that has been with us the whole time but does nothing here while 3PO and BB-8 take the spotlight along with a whole new droid named D-O. I've always considered R2 to be symbolic of 'Star Wars', and perhaps my favorite character aside from Yoda, and this whole trilogy just does him wrong. The trilogy has him come to life and show Luke's location, then say hi to Luke, then say bye to 3-PO. That's all he ever does in this series and it sincerely bothers me, especially at the expense of introducing the most unnecessary droid ever - and people LIKE that droid! RIP, R-2. You've still got my love.
That does, however, bring me to my next point. WHY the hell does this movie have any need to introduce new characters who have almost no bearing on the plot? Not only to we get D-O (there to be a new cutesy character), but we get Jannah (Naomi Ackie), some random, faceless character from Poe's past who's basically there to bring us "space horses" for the final battle. We also get a little droid hacking expert named Babu Frik (Shirley Henderson), who I actually do enjoy. He does help push the plot forward a little bit, but admittedly, he's another new cutesy character - just way more enjoyable than D-O, that R2-scene stealing hack.
Then we have some of the new and out of nowhere concepts they introduce here, such as hyperspace jumping; an idea clearly ripped off 'Guardians of the Galaxy' (actually, so was Leia's whole Super-Leia scene in the previous film). Basically they jump from planet to planet while TIE fighters chase them. How they are chasing them through something like that, who knows? This film is all show, no explanation, and any explanation given for anything sounds either stupid or far-fetched. At times it's just too much, and even I, a pretty big 'Star Wars' fan, was rolling my eyes all over the place. There's even a kiss that takes place here between two characters, bringing back something I despise in film and TV, the nonsensical romance. Just because fans wanna see it doesn't mean it needs to happen. Hell, I bet you can guess just by reading this who the two characters are.
Or how about the running gag where Finn tells Rey that he has something important to tell her, and it's brought up again, and again, but never resolved! It's almost like they had to cut something for time, cut the conclusion of whatever Finn had to say, but accidentally left the rest of it in. Does he secretly love her? Did he know something about her past she doesn't, being an ex-stormtrooper? God, I've never been able to pick apart a 'Star Wars' movie so much. I could keep going, but it's about time I mentioned some positives, because for as much as I'm complaining, the film isn't 100% terrible.
Some of the positive takeaway from this, at least speaking for myself, have to do with how the film looks. Visually, there's some pretty stunning stuff here, and the sound design is fantastic. I enjoyed most of what happens between Kylo and Rey... most... and their whole dynamic of middle-ground Sith/Jedi was always pretty cool to me; it wasn't so black and white. There are a few touching moments, most of the time getting ruined by one of the film's negative aspects, but they're there. And, if I'm honest with myself, I actually do like the final scene of the film, which explains the film's namesake, and feels a lot like closure. If nothing else, this was released the same time 'The Mandalorian' came to Disney +; a series which may bring us full circle in being 'Star Wars' "New Hope".
Has there ever been a movie you wanted to like so much, you made yourself find a way around the silly things that made it bad? This is probably the primary example of such a thing, for myself. There's quite a bit here that I now take as unnecessary, and/or could be shown a different way. However, for the most part, I still like it. There's still a lot I can wrap my head around that others can't, but there's also a lot that I take for the crap it is. This is my "love/hate" 'Star Wars' movie.
The story picks up where the last one left off. With the help of R2-D2, the Resistance locates Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who currently resides in exile on a hidden island planet of Ahch-To, home to the last Jedi Temple. Rey (Daisy Ridley) closes off the previous film by finding Luke, and handing him his old lightsaber, which has been found since it fell in 'Empire'. Fans would eventually theorize two things. Either Luke was coming back and fight with the Resistance, or more probable, Luke was gonna train Rey in the ways of the Jedi. It ended up leaning more towards the latter, but Luke was made to be a crotchety old hermit after failing his Padawan, Ben Solo (Kylo Ren [Adam Driver]). It just didn't make much sense for Luke's character as we all knew him. He's essentially a coward here, when he really should be some bled of Obi-Wan and Yoda.
Meanwhile, the First Order locates a hidden Resistance base, and an assault is launched to try to snuff them out. The attempt by General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson, who is a bit of a rival to Kylo Ren for Supreme Leader Snoke's favor) is thwarted, however, by Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) in a risky maneuver. The Resistance, now on its last legs, nearly escapes, but are tracked through light speed by Hux. They must now rely on Finn (John Boyega) and newcomer, Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) to infiltrate Snoke's (Andy Serkis) ship, and with the help of a master code breaker named DJ (Benicio Del Toro), destroy their tracker so they can escape with what little they have left.
Now, the Resistance is but a handful of people, and the First Order is very slowly picking the remainders off. Like, very slowly. If Rey can get Luke back into the fight, he might just be able to save them, but she starts struggling with her own journey, and feeling the pull towards the dark side. On the other hand, Kylo Ren may just be feeling the pull towards the light. It's here that the film starts trying out some new things with the Force, as Rey and Ren end up able to communicate via some psychic link. Neither knows how it's happening, but it is eventually revealed. I've always given the film kudos for trying new things with the Force... but then there's the "Super Leia" scene. I won't go into detail, but anyone reading this who has seen it knows how ridiculous it looked.
With that, allow me to divulge some heavily realized criticisms with the movie. I've mentioned Luke, but how about that "thala-siren" milking scene? (you know what the hell those things are now). It could be taken out of the film completely, or since the scene is about showing him finding sustenance, there's a few more ways it could be done. It doesn't need to be odd and nasty. Hell, the fishing scene is actually pretty badass. Show me more Jedi hunting skills! I've also mentioned Leia's big scene, but for most of the movie she's unconscious after that scene. I wish they could have done more with her, as in her wake, Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) takes things over, and I really don't like that character much.
Continuing on, we have Rose, who some have dubbed the Sequel Trilogy's Jar Jar. I wouldn't take it that far, because at least Rose didn't actually irritate me. The thing is, her character is basically there to send messages of love, care and hope. In the middle of everything, the film just kinda stops to crowbar in a cruelty to animals message on top of an anti-war message. She's basically a hippie. I don't dislike her quite as much as others, but I will admit that the character is altogether unnecessary. Think of all of those scenes with just Finn and BB-8 instead; you could really have Finn coming into his own, and it probably would have made for a better, more straightforward part of the story.
So, what about the things I did like? Well, I was one of the few people who commended the movie for trying out new things, particularly with the force. The whole communication thing between Rey and Ren was something I thought was pretty cool. Some interesting things are picked up along Rey's personal journey as well. The mirror scene was something I thought was cool, taking is as a metaphor for an infinite amount of possibilities, as well as her coming to terms with quite possibly being alone. It's a little cryptic and weird though, and very reminiscent of 'Empire's tree scene, which is a little more obvious to take as Luke's potential to become a new Vader.
Further to that, I like seeing both sides struggle, being pulled in their opposite direction. My prediction after this was that Rey and Ren would eventually join sides as the first Grey Jedi (altogether good, but will break rules if necessary). That possibility was pushed with Yoda's cameo in this (still played by the great Frank Oz) in which me pretty much tells Luke that it's time to end the old ways. By the way, the Sacred Jedi Texts were apparently brought on board the Falcon when Rey leaves, explaining why they're still alive and well. Remember that just because we don't see it happen, doesn't mean it doesn't. That was just one of many criticisms other people threw at this movie that I was able to wrap my head around.
I could honestly be here all day picking apart and analyzing this movie, but I have to wrap things up at some point. As far as personal taste goes, this comes almost level with 'Attack of the Clones', but I like 'Clones' slightly better. I would, however, still place it above 'Phantom Menace', which puts it third from the bottom of my 'Star Wars' favorites. As far as what's at the very bottom? Well, that's coming up in the next review - the 'Star Wars' movie that may or may not have finally broken me.
Late November, 2014 was when the first teaser for a new 'Star Wars' Saga movie, following the episodic pattern, and continuing the story. I was excited, but when the next trailer dropped, featuring an aged Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) saying "we're home", it gave me goosebumps, and I was 100% sold. The trailers did a good job of leaving things to your imagination, and from the first teaser, we had a full year to think about it.
By this time, I had watched all six 'Star Wars' films enough times that I never felt like I needed any sort of refresher going into this. I had officially confirmes that 'Star Wars' was basically something where, in all cases, I'd be able to find some sort of enjoyment out of it. Even 'Phantom Menace' and 'Attack of the Clones' had become guilty pleasures. Basically, there was no way I'd be disappointed.
I'm pleased to say that 'Force Awakens' actually fully delivered, at least speaking for myself. This is one of those movies where its weakness of being a full repeat of 'New Hope' also became its greatest strength. Most fans I know were disappointed with the Prequel Trilogy as a whole, and one of the big deals was that a lot of it didn't feel like genuine 'Star Wars' anymore. To this day, I really think Abrams made that repeat move on purpose, as part of the fan service that this film is absolutely littered with. It didn't work for everyone, but it definitely worked on me.
Taking place 30 years after the events of 'Jedi', Luke Skywalker has disappeared which causes the First Order to rise from the ashes of the Empire, led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Ren, and an army of Stormtroopers head to the desert planet of Jakku to intercept a map that would lead to Skywalker, which has been hidden in a droid named BB-8 (Bill Hader- voice) by ace Resistance pilot, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). While BB-8 escapes with the map, Poe isn't so lucky. He is captured, and dragged on board Ren's ship for torturing purposes.
In the midst of everything, a First Order Trooper, FN-2187, later known as Finn (John Boyega) has a traumatic experience, and has second thoughts about remaining in the First Order. Eventually, his path crosses with Poe's, and the pair escape, crash-landing on Jakku. While Poe disappears, Finn finds himself heading on a new path when his crosses with Rey (Daisy Ridley), a lonely scavenger who has alternately crossed paths with BB-8, who the First Order knows has the map. Soon enough, the trio find themselves on the run, hijacking one of 'Star Wars' best known characters, The Millennium Falcon.
As the film unfolds, we learn a bit more about our characters and their various relationships, particularly the relationship between Han Solo and Kylo Ren. All the while, it's punctuated by nostalgic fan service that some may find oversaturating. Between the Falcon, Han, Chewy and the fact that it's essentially a 'New Hope' remake, other characters pop up as well; namely Leia (Carrie Fisher), and the two must-have droids, C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2, who is no longer portrayed by anyone, let alone Kenny Baker. On a quick personal note, R2 was always a personal favorite next to Yoda, but this Sequel Trilogy really gives him the shaft. For this one, he's more or less shut down due to Luke's disappearance, but thankfully he plays a role of importance in the end.
This one also came along when the idea of Easter eggs really took off, so there's actually plenty of stuff to look out for. For example, hardcore fans might recognize the number FN-2187 (Finn) matching Leia's cell block 2187 in 'New Hope'. For the less hardcore, Obi-Wan's and Yoda's voices can faintly be heard during the "Rey's vision" scene. For geeks of other sorts; Simon Pegg who also appears in Abrams' 'Star Trek' films plays junk dealer, Unkar Plutt; Greg Grunberg of 'Heroes' fame plays Resistance Pilot, Snap Wexley; singer Billie Lourd plays Resistance Lieutenant Connix; James Bond, himself, Daniel Craig plays a mind-tricked Stormtrooper, the list goes on.
Perhaps most notably among the new cast of mains include Gwendoline Christie of 'Game of Thrones' fame as Captain Phasma - a strict Stormtrooper leader, and Andy Serkis of 'Lord of the Rings' fame as Supreme Leader Snoke - a powerful Sith lord who trains Kylo Ren in the ways of the dark side, and pretty much runs the First Order. Yeah, he's the new Emperor... but more on that later. I also mustn't forget a character who I really enjoyed in this, Maz Kanata played by Lupita Nyong'o, now of 'Black Panther' fame, but was best known at the time for '12 Years a Slave'. She's kinda like this wise, fun grandmother type. Almost a new Yoda, but not quite on par with the Green Master.
Quite honestly, I liked it then and I like it now. Of the Sequel Trilogy, it's easily the best of them. Having re-watched it for the first time in a few years, it still had a similar effect on me. But this time around I found myself wishing that we could hit rewind on everything that followed, and redo it. The following reviews on 'Last Jedi' and 'Rise of Skywalker' are bound to be interesting ones, because I have a real love hate relationship with 'Last Jedi', and 'Rise of Skywalker' actually kinda broke me... but those are coming soon. The ending of this one would still give me goosebumps, if it weren't for an extremely bold move the next one pulls.
Going back to my memories of this one, it gets pretty interesting. After 'Phantom' and, to a lesser extent, 'Clones' disappointed 'Star Wars' fans of all sorts, it occurred to me that the movie that would (at the time) bridge the gap between the Prequel Trilogy and Original Trilogy was doomed to fail if George Lucas didn't get his shit together. While I at least had a fondness for 'Clones', it wasn't like I didn't recognize that those movies weren't quite on-par with the 'Star Wars' films I grew up with.
Perhaps most interesting about this one is that it still stands to this day as the only 'Star Wars' movie I saw on a date. Oddly enough, it is also the only 'Star Wars' movie to show a loving relationship fall to pieces, which ours also did very shortly afterwards. But luckily, this movie isn't bookmarked in time as a bad experience. On the contrary, all romantic notions aside, this was easily the best of the Prequel Trilogy, and I found it to be perfectly on par with the movies I grew up with, completely obliterating the theory I went into the film with. In fact, I even debate in my head on whether I like 'Jedi' or 'Sith' more, which is saying a lot.
About three years have passed since the events of 'Clones', and the Clone Wars have been raging on between the Galactic Republic and the Separatists, lead by Count Dooku (Christopher Lee). The films really hits the ground running, as it opens on an epic space battle in which Obi-Wan (Ewan McGragor) and Anakin (Hayden Christensen) going after Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), who has been caputred by Separatist Droid, General Grievous (Matthew Wood). In the process, Grievous escapes the Jedi, but Anakin ends up being the hero of the hour. It gets to his head enough that he feels ready to be promoted to Jedi Master, but the council remains hesitant, strongly due to his friendship with Palpatine.
When Masters Yoda (Frank Oz) and Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) sense a disturbance in the Force, Anakin is soon appointed to be a Jedi spy for the council, in case Palpatine is up to something. What they don't realize, however, is that pushing them closer together will ultimately lead to a partnership, and Anakin second-guessing the ways of the Jedi. The driving force is a now pregnant Padme (Natalie Portman), who Anakin dreams dies in childbirth. When Palpatine tells him of a Master Sith who had the power to stop death, his passion overcomes him, and we get our fist real look of the up and coming Darth Vader.
It is through this movie that we see most of what leads to the Galactic Empire, including Anakin's fall to the dark side, Palpatine becoming the Emperor, and "Order 66" - the order Palpatine gives as Supreme Chancellor to the Clones which causes the near-extinction of all Jedi. We witness Luke and Leia come into the world as Anakin leaves it, only to become Darth Vader; the biggest, baddest Sith of the Galaxy. By the end of it, it was everything I wanted to see and more. It gave me the epic fall to the dark side story I wanted to see, it got super dark, super emotional, and was all punctuated with... that... "noooo" scene. Okay, so that bit was awful, but everything else around it is pretty damn great.
I think people still see Anakin as that whiner here, because his character is so stuck in their heads from 'Clones'. He is impatient, and he does say the odd spoiled brat thing, but he's not as bad as before, and once he starts going down that dark path, he gets much more Vader-esque. He's honestly a tragic character who makes the wrong decision, and part of his torment may very well be the realization that he has headed down that path. The whole idea that "there's still good in him" is mentioned here, just as it's mentioned in 'Jedi' allows the audience to believe he knows what he's into is wrong, but he goes with it out of anger, loss, and the idea that he's got nothing left to lose.
The entirety of the climax is just breathtaking. Let the record show that this IS my favorite overall lightsaber battle sequence of all time, where we see nothing but legends on the screen. Obi-Wan has to confront Anakin in a very fast-moving duel, making their duel in 'New Hope' look like they're swatting flies, while in the meantime, Yoda is fighting Palpatine - both of which are pretty much the best at what they do. The chours plays, the lightsabers swish and clash, and I'm watching it like a moth to the flame. The film really knows how to keep your attention with these awesome battle scenes throughout, while telling us a good story. Not without its flaws; again some of that CG is really dated, but dammit, this one is still so much fun to sit through.
The whole thing ends with Luke and Leia, as babies, being delivered to their respective home planets. It would be 19 years until the twins would be seen again; Luke, growing up as a Moisture Farmer on the desolate planet of Tattooine, under the care of his Uncle Owen (Joel Edgerton) and Aunt Baru (Bonnie Piesse); Leia living it up as a princess under the care of Senator Organa (Jimmy Smits) and the Queen (Rebecca Jackson Mendoza) on Alderaan. I never really thought about it before, but Luke really gets the shaft here. At the very least, he has Obi-Wan looking over him as he grows up, which we all know leads to him wanting Luke to train as a Jedi almost as soon as they "meet".
I personally find that the story wraps up very neat and tidy, and it ends on just the right amount of dark. Anakin turns into Vader, but we all know what his fate will eventually be, after seeing 'Jedi' already. Obi-Wan and Yoda go into exile, but we know they'll be back. And of course, we know Luke and Leia will eventually cross paths again, as a new hope for a peaceful galaxy that will have the force balanced once again. It's very bittersweet in that it ends on such a massive cliffhanger, much like 'Empire' does, but unlike 'Empire', everyone watching this knows how everything will go. In all honesty, everything could have ended here, and I'd have been happy with my life. But soon enough, life would pull its own 'Phantom Menace' on us, as rumors of a Sequel Trilogy started almost right away, and would take a full 10 years to come to fruition... and maybe even make critics and audiences second-guess their opinions on these prequels, joining me in saying "hey, these aren't as bad as all that"... except maybe 'Phantom'.
It's funny to think back to a time when it felt like 'Star Wars' was slowly fading away. After all the hype of 'Phantom' led largely to fan let-down, I seem to recall feeling like no one cared as much to check out 'Clones'. On top of that, the story seemed to be the same from everyone uninterested; it was gonna be a mushy love story, and if it was anything like 'Phantom', it was gonna be terrible.
For my money, however, I've always considered this one vastly underrated, as far as the prequels go. I get that there's a lot of bad to it, but it's well-balanced with good. The love story is a part of it, sure, but I didn't feel it shoved down my throat. It's also a key factor to Anakin's character development... even if he is a whiny brat through the whole thing.
Ten years have passed since the events of 'Phantom'. Due to an assassination attempt on Senator Padmé (Natalie Portman), Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) and a now grown-up Anakin (Hayden Christenson) find themselves back in her service, acting as personal guards. During one attempt on Padmé's life, the two Jedi track a Bounty Hunter, Zam Wesell (Leeanna Walsman), which eventually leads Obi-Wan to the hidden water planet of Kamino, where he finds a Clone Army being constructed for the Republic, under the noses of the Jedi Council.
In the meantime, Anakin heads away with Padmé back to her home planet of Naboo, as her personal bodyguard. It is this side of the story that people dreaded, and to be fair, things do get pretty corny and melodramatic with it. I suppose it never truly bothered me though, as it was to be expected. It does get sidetracked with Anakin having terrible nightmares about her mother, which ends up giving us our first glimpses of his turn to the dark side. Padmé even eventually comes into her own as a tough, rebellious fighter when she goes against her orders for a rescue mission.
Said rescue mission eventually leads to the climax of the film, which, despite so much dated CG, is probably the coolest part of the movie. It's really the first taste we all got of a group of Jedi, battling an army of Battle Droids alongside a Clone Army. It has since become commonplace in animated series' such as 'Clone Wars', but when I first saw that on the big screen, I don't mind telling you I was a little mind-blown. Then there was the reveal of Yoda's fighting skills, which a lot of people tend to criticize, but it always sat perfectly well for me to finally get to see my favorite 'Star Wars' character's skills with a lightsaber.
This was always the 'Star Wars' film I met completely in the middle with my opinions on it. I would often use it as an example when someone asked me if 'Last Jedi' was any good. I'd say "worse than 'Episode II', better than 'Episode I'". That's probably gonna end up being an unpopular opinion of sorts, but I stick by it. I've always deemed this one perfectly passable for what it's doing, remembering that a lot of the charm of 'Star Wars' comes from how cheesy it can get. On top of that, there's just a lot of cool ideas in this one. For example, we get to see a water planet, it's interesting to me who the original clone host is, and the idea that Jar Jar (Ahmed Best) gets pushed to the background.
Perhaps what's strangest about this one, based on personal opinion, is that it may very well be the only 'Star Wars' film of the first 6 that holds no nostalgic ties of any kind. When I think back to standing in line for it, I remember it almost feeling like nothing. I wasn't super hyped, and it kinda felt like Christmas begins to feel as you come into adulthood. I was still a fan, and looking forward to it, but that excitement 'Star Wars' usually makes me feel was lost. The movie came and went, it was okay, and didn't really tend to be on anyone's radar until people wanted to catch up again before the release of 'Revenge of the Sith'.
By 2002, I was out of high school, working, and trying to figure out what to do next. Perhaps that has something to do with my lack of nostalgia on this one, but that's also not a bad thing. I do remember seeing it with a good group of friends, having a good time, and personally wondering why it wasn't getting a lot of attention. It was still very successful, but it is one of the weaker performing 'Star Wars' films for Box Office numbers, with six 'Star Wars' movies ahead of it by a significant chunk.
As far as how I see it now, honestly, I feel pretty much the same. The really big difference I caught this time around was CG that almost matches the CG in some of the animated series'. But even then, I've reached this point of acceptance in my mind where CG, much like the overall cheesiness of it all, is just part of the charm. Before CG came along, I would have said the same think about the Muppets in 'Empire' and 'Jedi' - which I DO find much more entertaining, but still. A lot of bad from these films become a part of the experience, in my mind, and as long as you leave happy, not much more matters. Nothing here was truly disappointing to me, except perhaps Anakin's attitude, but that will vastly improve in the next film!
It's pretty interesting going back to this movie now and being able to say that it's not the worst 'Star Wars' movie of all time anymore. The whole purpose of these reviews was to see if anything had changed since the release of 'Rise of Skywalker'. For me, 'Rise' replaced this as the worst in such a harsh manner that a part of me is looking at this now in a completely different light.
At the time of 'Phantom's release, it was an incredibly mixed bag. 'Star Wars' fans were still talking about the 'Special Edition' after a couple of years, and fandom was cranked to eleven when this was about to premier. It was to be the cinematic event of a generation, bringing in 'Star Wars' for a new crop of fans while still working to impress the old school fans. It completely dropped the ball, because it ended up being the strangest mixture of a kid's movie and a political thriller.
We open the film with two Jedi knights; Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and our first familiar character, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor); here, a young Padawan under the wing of Qui-Gon, with the name-drop of Yoda. They board a Trade Federation ship, where Nute Gunray (Silas Carson) plans to take the peaceful planet of Naboo after a negotiation failed. With things not quite going as planned, the Jedi escape and head to the planet's surface where they run into Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best); perhaps the single worst character in 'Star Wars' history, pretty well meant to be noisy, clumsy, and appealing to the little kids watching - the problem being that the character is almost insulting to a kid's mind.
Anyway, they eventually get to Naboo Palace in an attempt to warn Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman) of the incoming attack. However as droids have already started the takeover, they are made to escape with the Queen on board a ship that is carrying another familiar face, R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) who shows his heroics by saving the ship from getting too damaged. Soon, the two Jedi, the Queen and some of her subjects land on the desert planet Tatooine to continue the repairs on the damaged ship.
Through pure chance, they come across and befriend a young boy named Anakin (Jake Lloyd), who is being held as a working slave along with his mother, Shmi (Pernilla August). Something about the boy has Qui-Gon curious, as he reveals things like being able to Pod Race - an extremely dangerous activity where he's the only human who can do it. This is where the dreaded midichlorians come into play, ruining the lore of the Force. What was once another way to say "God" or "The power of the Universe" was officially brought down to a scientific "count" within the bloodstream - much like a white cell count. Anyway, his is super high, even higher than Yoda's, therefore Qui-Gon eventually frees him, but has to sadly leave the mother behind.
While the group looks for a way to get to Coruscant in order to resolve the ongoing trade dispute, the film's namesake comes into play. Somewhere out there, a hooded figure begins pulling the strings for the Trade Federation, and offers up the idea that the Sith may not be extinct as once thought. Meanwhile, Senator Palpatine appears to be on the side of the people of Naboo, but may very well just be eyes and ears and... oh hell, we all know Palpatine IS the hooded figure. Thus the film is essentially about how Anakin got found, and the first glimpses of the Emperor coming to power, but he has a long way to go here.
Now, to talk about viewing this in a different light. Allow me to be the first to admit that when I came out of this movie after seeing it for the first time, I didn't think it was bad. It was convoluted, had some bad acting, and didn't exactly feel right. But I was able to shrug it off fairly easily, considering there were two more films coming that would bridge the gap. It still had some cool stuff to it, like cool action sequences, a broader look at the Jedi order when they still existed, a solid, new musical score, and even some really good casting; namely Ewan McGregor as a young Obi-Wan was very easy to buy. Anakin, maybe not so much, but that character is NOT Jake Lloyd's fault. And then there's Darth Maul (Ray Park) the most surprisingly bad ass character throughout the whole film providing my senses with what I consider one of, if not the best lightsaber dual of all time.
What separates me from others, as well, is that as far as 'Star Wars' movies go, I have extreme nostalgic ties with this one, almost more than I have with the original trilogy. Not going by the movie itself, but this was the first time I skipped school (sorry Mom), and it was with a group of friends who loved 'Star Wars' - my friends I had gone to the 'Special Editions' with, along with a whole new group we were hanging out with at the time. A bunch of us bought lightsabers to mess around with at parties (mine eventually broke), and I even had the collection of Pepsi cans, promoting 'Episode I' (they were all empty, so eventually they just got recycled).
It's wild to think about, but I now see this with a heavy does of nostalgia. it reminds me of some of the best moments of my teenage years, despite the movie not even being that good. This was the film to make me claim "if you stick a 'Star Wars' logo on it, I'll find a way to enjoy it" - a claim that went right up to 'Rise of Skywalker', then fell apart completely. But more on that when it's time. The truth of the matter is, with this movie, while it's one of the worst, it still gave me some of my best memories off-screen. To this day, I still meet it in the middle, completely. It's laughable throughout most of it, and odd decisions were made. However, I can't deny that there's still a charm to it, reminding me of a simpler time, just over 20 years ago.
Imagine, if you will, being somewhere between the ages of 3 and 7. You've been exposed to a delightfully colorful cartoon about adventure and magic, featuring little teddy bear-like characters called 'Ewoks', and you're really quite taken. Soon, your parents inform you that there's a movie with these guys in it, and before you know t, you have your first exposure to the 'Star Wars' universe. And with that, allow me to get out of the way the fact that I NEVER minded the Ewoks, as they were quite literally what lead me to this franchise.
It's dark times for the Rebel Alliance. Han Solo (Harrison Ford) has been frozen and taken to the vile gangster Jabba the Hutt (a giant slug Muppet) by Boba Fett (Jeremy Bulloch). The film starts with a drawn out rescue mission, where Luke (Mark Hamill), Leia (Carrie Fisher), Chewy (Peter Mayhew), the droids (Anthony Daniels/Kenny Baker) and even Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) team up to outsmart, and outwit Jabba. Being as that's within the first 35 minutes of the film, it's probably safe to assume everyone knows they escape with their lives. The whole think is pretty equal to the Battle of Hoth in 'Empire', right down to the fact everyone splits up when they're done.
Luke returns with R2 to Dagobah, but he finds a sick and dying Yoda. Among his last words are a heap of information, including confirmation on Vader being Luke's father, his death will make Luke the last of the Jedi (this is why I never had a problem with 'Episode VIII's title), and that there is another Skywalker (revealed very quickly to be Leia). He's also told that his Jedi training will be complete when he confronts Vader, who wants to turn him to the dark side and partner up to rule the galaxy side by side, as father and son.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Rebel Alliance obtain schematics of a new Death Star, which is being protected by a shield generator on the close by forest moon of Endor. Luke (who since returned from Dagobah), Leia, Han, Chewy, R-2 and 3PO lead a team to Endor to find the shield generator. With the generator down, Lando and the rest of the rebels, lead by Admiral "It's a Trap" Ackbar (Tim Rose) can attack the Death Star head on. It all provides the senses with some great special effects and music, setting the mood for this epic battle perfectly. While all this is going on, Luke finds himself on board the Death Star, facing his father and the Emperor as well as his own internal struggle with balancing the force.
For as deep and darkly awesome as 'Empire' is, and for as much as it's my favorite, this one has much more of a nostalgic tie to it. It was my first 'Star Wars' movie, and as a kid that young, I think I appreciated all of the creatures more than anything else going on in the movie. Everyone in Jabba's palace was creepy and interesting, and Yoda... actually kinda scared me at first with his death, looking like a frog getting strangled. With that, allow me to semi-correct the fact that this was my real introduction to Yoda. It just didn't mean anything. I had to eventually watch 'Empire' and 'Jedi' in order to really get it. So I still give 'Empire' credit for really introducing me to the character. He was like a face you knew in the hall, but never talked to until you met through someone.
I already mentioned how the Ewoks never bothered me, and truth be told, they still don't. I'm not entirely sure what it is, but they add to that side of charm with these movies where sometimes the cheesiness was some of the best stuff. And by the way, I never gave them any credit for overthrowing the Empire like everyone else seems to. I have a particular order on what really did it, and several characters are involved, but nowhere have I ever thought Ewoks did it; they just helped, really. Not to spoil too much, but I give most of the credit to Vader on this one.
I know I didn't cover much 'Special Edition' stuff in my 'Empire' review, but that's just because there wasn't much to cover. I think of all of '97's 'Special Editions', 'Empire' did it the best, where the changes were mostly subtle. However 'Jedi: Special Edition' does have my most hated change in any of the three films, and it's weird that it upsets me so much more than others. The scene I speak of is Sy Snootles (Annie Arbogast) singing at Jabba's palace. To put it simply, the original song from '83 was way better, catchier, and even had that little edge of dark oddity to it. Here's a link. Really, it could have just been cleaned up a bit. For me, that song was a big part of it. For anyone else, it would be like scrapping the Cantina Band song from 'New Hope'.
With that aside though, any changes made, I pretty much accepted. But I do have to ask why George Lucas felt it necessary to crowbar in a "NOOO!" from Vader, very similar to the only truly horrible part of 'Revenge of the Sith' (I actually otherwise LOVE that movie) for the blu-ray editions, which is now just how it is. If there's one thing I can match most 'Star Wars' fans on, it's the fact that it REALLY sucks that we can't just have parallel editions to these films. The original trilogy is now incredibly hard to find in its original cut, as they've been done over at least twice now (probably more, but I'm counting the '97 Special Editions and the 2011 Blu-rays). If there's one thing we deserve as die hard fans, it's the original cuts made available to us.
On that note, that wraps up my thoughts on the original trilogy and what these films mean to me on a bit of a deeper level. This trilogy still represents a good chunk of my youth. 'Jedi' introduced me to 'Star Wars', 'Empire' made me feel pretty deeply about something fictional for the first time, and 'New Hope' eventually lead to my true fandom of the franchise. To watch these movies now is to take me back to a time when this fandom wasn't so toxic. In those pre-internet days, people didn't get so up in arms if things didn't go their way. It was just a simpler time when movies were still movies and not some over-analyzed concept. I'm happy to know that I was around to see those times, and that my introduction to the 'Star Wars' universe was done right... just in the opposite viewing order.
For as awesome as 'New Hope' is, when we think about some of the best lines and moments of 'Star Wars', I'd have to say 'Empire' takes the cake. It's loaded with great dialogue and character development that leads to some epic storytelling, combining it with some great action sequences, drama, and the introduction of some of the most popular characters in 'Star Wars' history.
The saga continues, hitting the ground running, as the Empire has located a rebel base on the frozen ice planet of Hoth. Meanwhile, on the planet, Luke (Mark Hamill) gets a vision of Obi-Wan (Alec Guinness), who was killed by Vader (James Earl Jones/David Prowse) in 'New Hope'. He tells Luke he must go to Degobah to seek out Yoda in order to continue his training.
Going back to the Empire, they launch their assault on the rebel base, providing my eyes and ears with what I still, to this day, consider my favorite 'Star Wars' action sequence. A handful of rebels escape, including Luke, who heads to Degobah with R2 (Kenny Baker). There, he meets the small creature, Yoda (Frank Oz) and continues his training. Meanwhile, Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Leia (Carrie Fisher), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), and 3PO (Anthony Daniels) end up leading a chase that leads them to Cloud City on Bespin, where we meet Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams); a man from Han's past who may or may not be trustworthy.
If you were to ask me what my favorite 'Star Wars' movie is, the answer would go to 'Empire', quite enthusiastically. I have no inner debates between it and 'New Hope', or it and 'Jedi'. As mentioned in my 'New Hope' review, I first saw this, if memory serves me correctly, as a VHS recording from TV. I'm fairly certain I saw 'Jedi' first, for reasons coming in the next review, but this was pretty much neck and neck. I almost feel like it was a back-to-back recording of those two. 'Jedi' may have been my first, but 'Empire' is where all the amazing memories are.
Starting with some of the new characters, Yoda was instantly my favorite. As a kid, I still remember having some fun with the character when he's first introduced; a typical Muppet, just goofing off, saying funny things and making me laugh. Then out of nowhere, he puts on his serious face and turns into the wise old Jedi master. It's unforgettable how much that got to me in an instant, as if the film was telling me "silly and stupid can also be wise and worldly". I still claim him as my favorite character, but I do tend to refer to this particular movie when doing so. He's never been as good a character as he is here.
For others, the bounty hunter Boba Fett worked much better. However, to this day, I don't really get it. Personally, I've always considered him to be overrated. Meanwhile, my love for Yoda is often questioned in comparison, and I can't fathom why. It's just one of those rare things about this movie that separates me from other fans. One thing most of us can agree on is the fact that Lando is kind of an asshole. Without spoiling too much, this is a character who has to redeem himself, largely taking place in the next film.
And speaking of spoilers, that brings me to the next point of appreciation. However, I can't possibly imagine Darth Vader's role as Luke's father a spoiler at this point. We're officially 40 years old here! Plus it's shown up everywhere in pop culture, and the line "No, I am your father!" (that's the real line, look it up) has gone down in cinematic history as one of the greatest movie lines of all time. Why? Well, it's a bit of a cliche at this point, but back then, it was an insane reveal. Imagine comparing it nowadays to Thanos telling Captain America he's his father. It's a big deal, and it added this whole shadow to everything, leaving the audience with that information for about three years.
There's the other reveal about Luke's twin sister, who ends up being... actually I'm not even gonna say, because she's literally the only female character from this trilogy aside from some very tertiary ones. I don't think that one ever had the same impact, especially seeing as they were already on the same side. The father reveal is something of a tragedy. Then there's the cliffhanger involving Han Solo, who gets taken away by Boba Fett, headed to Jabba the Hutt's palace to collect some bounty. Maybe that's what makes him so cool... but he still didn't do much without Vader's help. But I digress.
I recently learned something about myself, involving every twist and turn this movie has, along with the rest of the Orig Trig. My answer to "where would you time travel to?" would be to go back to see each of the films premier, and be there with everyone seeing it for the first time ever. I get the feeling that the impact of 'Empire' was pretty intense for its time. It still was when I watched it as a kid, but with that, I do give it credit for probably being the first movie to make me really feel something. Whether that's accurate or not, I'm not entirely sure, but I do give it the credit, even after 'Jedi', which I was still enjoying as just a bunch of Muppets back then, and we will take a look at next!