It’s around two months before a certain Star Wars film comes out and personally I can’t wait. To celebrate, I’m looking back at and re-reviewing all eight saga films so far. Check them out:
The Phantom Menace:
Despite having something of a slow pace (although one could argue that’s part of the point given how this goes right back to the beginning of a main story), it certainly has plenty of visual imagination and delves into new worlds, gives us incredible action… So what might I say then irked me?
Well for one, although I understand by setting the scene you thus definitely don’t need to have a Michael Bay-esque pace 😉, the film feels unnaturally slow. Worse, the acting subsequently suffers in enough quarters like with an elephant in the room – Jar Jar (Ahmed Best). Although I don’t fault the actor at all (and how much can you, given how he was disguised under so much motion-capture CGI and was just one cog as part of the performance!), JJ as comic relief just sticks out too much tonally.
Additionally, consider Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd). Given how pivotal he is to the drama, he’s unfortunately written and directed poorly. It doesn’t help either that him and Padme (Natalie Portman) are far apart enough from each other age-wise that implying a potential romance between the two can’t help but feel somewhat awkward.
On the plus side, Ian McDiarmid as the shadowy big bad Palpatine+Darth Sidious comes off brilliantly, which is a big bonus given his ensuing prominence throughout the Prequel Trilogy.
And having mentioned the visual imagination earlier, this is where George Lucas feels at his best as a filmmaker. Whether it’s executing a breathtaking and intense podrace sequence or an amazing and operatic-feeling lightsaber duel between Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) versus Darth Maul (Ray Park), he sure delivers and therefore any flaws almost might be forgiven?
Nonetheless it sucks that despite the fact this setting up the whole story means it can’t be too full-on anyway, that the internal conflict doesn’t ever precisely hit the spot is a shame. Still, TPM achieves enough overall so if I was to rate it, I’d for sure give this a three out of five 😀 .
Attack Of The Clones:
Compared to the above, this is an awkward middle film and not in a good way. E.g despite imagery and world-building once again sucking you in, my main gripe is truly how the love relationship between Anakin (Hayden Christensen) and Padme plays out. It’s because although I think Lucas was going for much more of a “traditional” style, ultimately thanks to the writing and directing greetings cards have a lot more expression by comparison 😅.
What saves it though isn’t just what I inferred above, but also McDiarmid’s performance continuing to spellbind you as does Christopher Lee as Count Dooku. So there’s definitely enough going for it all the same. Plus, I can’t not give a shout out to a real standout duel between Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz) and Dooku towards the end. This is stuff digital filmmaking can infinitely take advantage of. So although not exactly a perfect film, I’d give this a three out of five.
Revenge Of The Sith:
This has regularly been cited as the best of the prequel trilogy, and probably for very good reason. For one thing, compared to TPM‘s and AOTC‘s pacing, events open full throttle and it doesn’t let up from there even despite “slow drama scenes”. So you can tell there’s a lot more of a comfortable tone.
I can’t be entirely complimentary though. Take as a specific example a sequence where clones (soldiers to the Republic), are ordered by Palpatine/Sidious to kill the Jedi. They obey without question and while undoubtedly part of an elaborate scheme and very powerful (operatic too thanks to John Williams’s score), because it doesn’t feel built up enough, it jars. Furthermore, Anakin and Padme’s relationship continues having less emotional expression built in than a greeting card 😜. However, because it really feels like a more confident film, you can arguably “forgive enough”. Too, stuff like a really powerful+culminating duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan helps, which is a true highlight of the trilogy. So in the end, this absolutely deserves a four out of five in spite of misgivings I have.
A New Hope:
Where to start with the movie that started it all eh? I mean, it expressed the peak of a Blockbuster Renaissance during the 1970s in a huge way, also setting up the sheer potential of a film franchise/synergy. Should I therefore treat this review with a certain reverence, or like any other? We’ll see.
Firstly, what I loved and I still do about ANH is the classical purity it has throughout, truly committing to a vision. Part of that’s how it mixes up its influences (including the monomyth, which means drilling down similarities among cultural mythologies throughout the world and old film+television serials) into a organically fresh whole. However, it’s definitely cheesy too, like when it comes down to how Luke Skywalker initially turns out (E.g if you thought the prequel trilogy had corny dialogue, take “But I was going into Tosche Station to pick up some power converters!” 😂).
Regardless he pays off well, as does Carrie Fisher as the archetypal and iconic Princess Leia, with real honour in Fisher’s acting given how she might have turned out.
And as a bit of important information, George Lucas’s interest in film exploded with the avant-garde side, which might help indicate how he was able to mix his various influences into an organic whole, because it arguably expresses how as a filmmaker he’s then not afraid to “explore”.
All in all, a fully deserved four and a half out of five.
The Empire Strikes Back:
Okay, so re-reviewing one of the best sequels of all time now. No pressure…
For starters, like the previous one it has quite a classical purity yet isn’t afraid to move the world-building and character forward despite akin to ANH being deliberately paced. This especially pays off with the likes of the well-known Darth Vader twist, Yoda naturally imparting comic relief and wisdom, obvious Carl Jung influences when you think about it etc.
Ultimately then I don’t have lots more to say to be honest, probably because I don’t have much to criticise 😉. Although if I could criticise anything, it would be C3P0 (Anthony Daniels). He also supplies comic relief but for my tastes distracts tonally at times. But it’s not enough at all to stop me from giving TESB a five out of five!
Return Of The Jedi:
Time to review ROTJ. What did I think and most importantly, how does it compare to the ridiculously high standards set by its prequels and pay off as the final in a trilogy? I’m a little mixed but to be fair, it’s worth noting say world-building (and how character fits within) really continues to stun, even despite all the deliberate pacing.
However, the film can’t help but have an anti-climax feel, which is problematic given it’s meant to finish a trilogy, after all. And on a related side note, Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan (both scriptwriters here in this case) argued over how to execute a powerful and complete finale, with the back-and-forth ultimately showing in terms of tone as the film builds.
Part of the problem might even be Han Solo (Harrison Ford). He never truly feels like he has a natural purpose, even with a love relationship going on between him and Leia. Notably Ford fought for him to be killed off in order to “serve the story” , which kind of tells you something. What I also dislike are central creatures to one of the main points of action, the Ewoks. Although cute and funny to some, they personally irritated me. Still, at least they didn’t grate enough to actually take me out of the movie.
Lest I sound too harsh, you absolutely have a great time throughout despite what I might have said. Plus emotion definitively hits where it counts, especially during an exciting and emotionally raw lightsaber duel between Luke and Darth Vader, so there’s enough pluses for sure.
Summing up then, although “anti-climatic” and therefore a bit underwhelming, it certainly delivers. A four out of five from me!
The Force Awakens:
Notably “this will begin to make things right” is the opening line. This might serve as a signal of intent to really unite the fanbase given division for example over the prequel trilogy. But this also represents true pressure to satisfy, so does it do enough?
You can definitely say it does enough. However, a bunch of people, including me to some extent, feel it’s too samey (bit weird on the surface to complain given how much Star Wars draws on familiar story elements but never mind, still implies a promising future by the end). So while it reveres the Original Trilogy, there’s enough exciting going on visually and tonally and crucially, makes you curious about the new characters. Indeed, whether it be Daisy Ridley as Rey, John Boyega as Finn, Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron, or as the true standout, Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, it hits on this account where it should.
So in the end, while TFA doesn’t appear as fresh as it could have been, in the best and ultimately most realistic circumstances Disney justify investing $4 billion investment in Lucasfilm 😛, and JJ Abrams as the director steers the ship well. Rating-wise then, a four out of five!
The Last Jedi:
Here we are, my final Star Wars review before The Rise Of Skywalker comes out in – as of writing – just under two months! What do I have to say about TLJ?
Firstly, Rian Johnson in replacing Abrams as director appears to leave a distinctive mark, pushing things visually, character-wise and regarding implications for the overall storytelling. A crucial portion of all this seems to be via deconstruction, not so much like e.g Batman V Superman, because you have a great time and are reminded of what helps make Star Wars work, but regardless it incorporates some poststructuralism to help push the whole towards the finishing line, in theory for the better.
On this note, one of the more polarising elements has been Luke Skywalker’s portrayal (Mark Hamill certainly felt back-and-forth about the ideas), where Rey finding him as a broken down and moody old man wouldn’t exactly line up fantastically with the innocent farm boy we all knew. I personally didn’t have a problem with this portrayal though because for one, it’s sometimes necessary to provoke and push forward, so I admire what they tried and Hamill’s commitment in the end.
What I had more of a problem with though is the film’s ambition overwhelming itself to one degree or another, symbolised by the running time (two and a half hours), as the movie can feel excessive at times especially as events move along (actually me and a friend who I saw it joked about how we both thought “it ends here, ah no wait it ends here, ah no it definitely ends here ” 😆). TESB therefore may be a better model of how to be questioning when concerning the whole yet still massage your feet with what you loved before, although to be fair it’s hard to beat that film’s classical purity!
But when it comes to it, despite an ambition that can overwhelm itself, TLJ matters and sure entertains, leaving me very excited to see how JJ Abrams and the rest wrap it all and more up. Deserves a four out of five.