What Have I Done?

The Bridge on the River Kwai is an epic war film best remembered for 2 reasons. One is for featuring one of the riskiest practical effects in movie history. The other is for featuring the famous war march whistle. A whistle people would sooner think originated from The Breakfast Club. I hadn’t seen many Best Picture winners from the 50’s, but I knew I needed to see it for these reasons alone. The film is based on a book of a similar name, which in turn was loosely based on actually events.

The Bridge on the River Kwai is set in World War II. British POWs are tasked by the Japanese to build a bridge over the Kwai river. After decades of only knowing Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan, I finally saw his Best Actor winning performance as Colonel Nicholson. A stubborn and duty bound British officer who refuses to allow his officers to work. It puts him at odds with the Japanese Colonel Saito. Although it was the only Oscar they didn’t win, Sessue Hayakawa is just as engrossing in a way that makes you see things from both sides.

When an agreement is made, Nicholson seems to lose sight of which side he’s on. Taking pride in the bridge his men built. Meanwhile, William Holden’s Major Shears is the only serviceman to escape. Except he’s brought back on a mission he doesn’t believe in, to blow up the bridge. With the help of local women, charges are set, and the once in a lifetime blast goes off. The tension is great and the explosion is well worth nearly 3 hours. With so many grey areas, The Bridge on the River Kwai makes it clear that war is simply madness.

Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins in Bridge on the River Kwai (1)

The bridge on the river Kwai

A Thousand Generations Live in You Now

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker or as it’s officially designated, Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker is the messy conclusion to what is now known as the Skywalker saga. Ending the sequel trilogy and hopefully ending Disney’s barrage of constant Star Wars movies for a long time. After The Last Jedi let me down and Solo left me unenthusiastic, I just didn’t know if I could still feel excitement for the final “Episode” anymore. Then the trailer dropped along with the title reveal and I was a screaming fan again. Promotional material leaned heavily into nostalgia with familiar music and unexpected character reveals. There was also the promise of The Rise of Skywalker being an epic conclusion.

What audiences hoped would be a thrilling Star Wars opus, ending up being the most objectively bad Star Wars movie ever made. Why is it I was more excited for the season finale of The Mandalorian then the finale of the movies that made it possible? The sequel trilogy was doomed the moment George Lucas sold its rights to Disney. They didn’t see a beloved personal franchise, they saw a corporate money making assignment. The primary focus of The Rise of Skywalker was to make everyone happy. So already respected director of The Force Awakens J. J. Abrams came back to essentially retcon past mistakes and give fans all the fanservice they wanted. Resulting in a disjointed trilogy with an unclear identity that almost single handedly ruins the entire saga. SPOILER ALERT! (you’re gonna need it)…

32. The Rise of Skywalker

Rey vs. Kylo Ren

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…, Lucasfilm Ltd., Star Wars, John Williams’ theme, Episode roman numeral, subtitle, and space opening crawl are all shown for the final time. At least until Episode X, XI, & XII come out. Before Disney does that, I had to savor the in theater experience. You can tell The Rise of Skywalker is gonna be rough from the very first sentence. With the extremely vague “The dead speak,” Emperor Palpatine is back with no build up whatsoever. General Leia sends Resistance fighters to investigate the broadcast from beyond the grave while Rey continues her Jedi training. We open on the newly dubbed Supreme Leader Kylo Ren slaughtering random aliens on an unknown planet in an attempt to find Palpatine’s location. He finds the ridiculously named Sith wayfinder which leads him to the spooky Sith planet Exegol. Emperor Palpatine has always been the true villain of Star Wars, but The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi had zero indication he’d appear. But his dark presence still gives me chills. Palpatine directly quotes Revenge of the Sith by saying the Dark side is unnatural and it’s all the explanation we get.

Snoke was just his puppet and Darth Vader’s voice is what lead Ben to the Dark side. His “genius” plan is a Final Order of superlaser equipped Star Destroyers hidden beneath the planet. Complete with red Sith Troopers. Remember that Palpatine wants Rey dead as well. Rey is now ridiculously overpowered and being trained by Leia. Who finally gets a chance to show off her knowledge of the Force. By having Rey run an obstacle course. Meanwhile in space, Poe Dameron and Finn take the Millenium Falcon to receive intel from an unknown spy about Palpatine’s whereabouts. They evade an armada of TIE fighters by performing a move that’s never been done before. Lightspeed skipping through a bunch of random planets. Once the Resistance reconvene, Rey learns about the Sith wayfinder from a convenient journal page Luke left behind. After 2 whole movies, Rey, Finn, and Poe finally become the sequel trilogies main trio. A trio that constantly bickers and has no reason to be together. C-3PO, Chewbacca, and BB-8 accompany them as well. Leaving R2-D2, Maz Kanata, Leia, Rose, and the rest of the Resistance behind.

The Rise of Skywalker then becomes a rushed scavenger hunt to planets we barely get to known. They first arrive on Pasaana (the 6th freakin’ desert planet). During a festival, Rey longs for a last name. Meanwhile, Kylo Ren rebuilds his helmet and brings in the Knights of Ren. Another one of those Force bonds reveals Rey’s whereabouts. A masked stranger intervenes, revealing himself to be none other than Lando Calrissian. Now the circle of familiar faces is complete. He points them in the direction of a Sith dagger that they find while evading Stormtroopers that fly now. Then they sink in a convenient patch of quicksand. Finn tries to tell Rey something, but it’s never brought up again. They end up underground where a giant snake lives. Except it’s a poor injured creature that Rey just so happens to know how to Force heal, because who cares at this point. 3PO finally gets something to do by reading the Sith dagger, but his inability to read the forbidden language means visiting a whole other planet. But not before Rey confronts Kylo by cutting through his ship. Chewie is taken on a First Order transport that Rey stops mid-takeoff with Kylo holding on as well. Until Rey destroys it with Force lightning in a shocking twist of events. I gasped, but I was counting the minutes before Chewie turned up alive.

With the Falcon stolen, they take one belonging to the dead Jedi hunter. BB-8 is even given his own bland sidekick D-0. 3PO’s translation is handled in the snowy mountain city of Kijimi. It’s there we meet a brand new character named Zorii Bliss. A masked warrior and Poe’s old flame who reveals he used to be a spice runner. Not that any of that matters. A cute little merchandising opportunity named Babu Frik reveals 3PO’s Sith translation will wipe his memory. It should be a poignant moment, but these characters are the furthest thing from 3PO’s friends. The wayfinders coordinates are revealed and Rey senses Chewie’s survival. They mount a rescue that takes out a ton of Stormtroopers on Kylo’s Star Destroyer. Finn & Poe are captured, but General Hux reveals himself to be the spy. Before that has time to sink in, he’s immediately killed and replaced by the more threatening Allegiant General Pryde. Even in separate locations, Rey and Kylo manage to have a lightsaber duel. Vader’s helmet gives away her location as Kylo intends to reveal the rest of Rey’s story. It turns out Rey is so overpowered because she’s the granddaughter of Emperor Palpatine. An unexpectedly expected twist that reinterprets Rey’s parents being nobodies and leaves too many questions unanswered.

In the most convoluted way possible, the Sith dagger has to line up with the wreckage of the second Death Star on the ocean moon Kef Bir. Thus revealing the location of the wayfinder. But not before we meet another character we have no time to care about. Jannah is a former Stormtrooper like Finn who might be Lando’s daughter I guess. Rey goes in alone where she’s confronted by an out of nowhere vision of herself as a Sith. Complete with highly impractical hinged double-edge lightsaber. Kylo destroys the only reason we’ve been going on this quest and the 2 engage in a lightsaber duel. I didn’t think it was possible, but their moderately paced back and forth duel is boring. It eventually ends when Leia reaches out to her son and very unceremoniously dies because of it. When Kylo is fatally stabbed, Rey heals him. I can’t say I was expecting Han Solo to appear, but his heart to heart talk is what brings back Ben Solo. A distraught Rey exiles herself on Anch-To, intending to destroy everything. That’s when a much softer Luke appears as a Force ghost to catch his lightsaber. He recounts Leia’s Jedi training, gives Rey her lightsaber, and lifts his X-Wing out of the ocean.

The climax (that liberally borrows from Endgame) is split between the Resistance making a final stand against the Final Order fleet and Rey confronting her grandfather. The ship battle consists of space horses and a last minute army of Rebels across the galaxy. Palpatine does a complete 180 by saying he wants Rey to strike him down so that he can live again. A blaster wielding Ben comes to her rescue and Rey gives him Luke’s lightsaber with (you guessed it) another random Force power. Ben kills the Knights of Ren like they never mattered and he stands with Rey against the Emperor. Only to reveal another bit of Force nonsense about them being something called a dyad. Their energy rejuvenates Palpatine long enough to electrify the Resistance. That’s when Rey hears the familiar voices of past Jedi giving her encouragement. The combined power of 2 lightsabers destroys Palpatine with his own lightning. Rey dies, but Ben returns the favor by healing her. They also share a random kiss before he suddenly dies himself. Everyone across the galaxy celebrates and Rey buries Luke & Leia’s lightsabers on Tatooine. Rey reveals her own yellow lightsaber and decides to adopt the name Rey Skywalker. Despite having absolutely no connection to the name. Then the Skywalker saga ends where it started. Gazing at a binary sunset…

31. The Rise of Skywalker

Rey and Chewie prepare to take off

The Rise of Skywalker is a lot like Return of the Jedi in terms of story structure. And a lot like every other Star Wars movie, because nostalgia is all they have left. There’s more emphasis on the Emperor, a Jedi confronting the Dark Side, a desperate final battle, and even Ewoks make a brief cameo. Like most directors hired by Disney, original director Colin Trevorrow quit sighting creative differences. Proving how flawed their different director each movie scheme was. Instead of finding someone new, J. J. Abrams returned. Since Rian Johnson threw away everything The Force Awakens set up, it’s no wonder Abrams practically ignores The Last Jedi. I didn’t like its total disregard for things fans love about Star Wars, but even I can admit the trilogy suffers because of it. I can’t imagine Trevorrow being any better. The Rise of Skywalker makes its fanservice clear in its title alone. Making Star Wars about the Skywalker family after all. As well as pandering to fans by giving them everything they want. Chewie gets a medal, Leia uses a lightsaber in a flashback, and prequels are acknowledged.

Like the previous films, Carrie Fisher was supposed to have a central role. Sadly, Fisher’s passing made it impossible for Leia to fully explore her potential as a Jedi. Instead of omitting her entirely, they made the unnatural decision to work around her past deleted scenes. You never believe she’s really there and her death is so abrupt that I still felt nothing. Mark Hamill shows up just to apologize for his out of character behavior and fulfill Luke Skywalker’s goal to lift an X-Wing. Harrison Ford brings his best to Han Solo, but it’s obvious he’s stopped caring. Billy Dee Williams was last to inevitably return as Lando. Williams has notably continued voicing Lando throughout the years, but his 36 year live-action reprisal is the longest in movie history. Of course Denis Lawson makes a cameo as Wedge Antilles too. No matter the era, Ian McDiarmid has always been menacing as Palpatine. I just wish his villainous plan, cheesy dialogue, or reason for living made some kind of sense. A clone of the Emperor was an idea in the comics, but the nauseating idea of Palpatine having children was not. Honestly the reveal feels more like fan fiction.

Although it does sort of save Rey for me if I know she’s related to an existing character. I never liked the idea of her being a random overpowered nobody to begin with. Unfortunately, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac aren’t a compelling trio and we still barely know any of their respective characters. Chewie has more emotion in his Wookie growls then they do when Leia dies. Rey essentially ruins the ending of Return of the Jedi by stealing Anakin’s professed redemption. What’s the point of Episode IVI if Rey just comes in and kills the Emperor all over again. Finn only exists now to scream “Rey!!!” and possibly be Force sensitive. Except any answer to that is never addressed. Poe is still just discount Han Solo without the authority. The only consistent character with a logical arc is Kylo Ren. Adam Driver is both ruthless and heroic. I expected him to redeem himself, but fighting with his father’s blaster and uncle’s lightsaber was an added bonus. I just wish his abrupt death didn’t make audiences laugh. I know Rey & Ben’s kiss had no build up, but after Finn & Rose, I’ll accept any romance they cobble together.

I’m glad Rose got reduced screen time à la Jar Jar Binks. Even though Kelly Marie Tran deserved better. Since The Last Jedi uneventfully killed characters with potential, Abrams barely acknowledges any of Johnson’s creations. For example, “Holdo maneuver” is now impossible. Unfortunately it also meant the creation of too many new last minute characters. Keri Russell hides her face as Zorii, newcomer Naomi Ackie’s Jannah was likely added for diversity, and do we seriously need another droid. Did rolling hair dryer D-0 serve any purpose? At least the only consistent presence across all 9 Episodes is C-3PO & R2-D2. Anthony Daniels never fails to be bring 3PO to life. Considering the decade, I expected some kind of LGBT moment. But the blink & you’ll miss it (easily edited) kiss between nameless lesbian extras was totally pointless. With the exception of Babu Frik, alien extras continue to be unmemorable. While the new planets go by so fast that none of them stand out.

The overall fan disappointment of The Rise of Skywalker (and the entire sequel trilogy), was enough to give the prequel trilogy a renewed appreciation. George Lucas was misguided in a lot of areas, but at least he delivered on a different, but familiar trilogy with a singular vision. The excitement of hearing familiar Jedi voices would have been 10 times better if they appeared physically. But hearing Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, Mace Windu, Yoda, Qui-Gon Jinn, Expanded Universe Jedi Ahsoka Tano, Kanan Jarrus, Aayla Secura, Luminara Unduli, and Adi Gallia was just as satisfying. Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker isn’t unwatchable, but it crams in more than any Star Wars movie should. I’ll just stick with the Star Wars saga that put an epic galaxy full of adventure and possibility before anything else. “May the Force be with you.”

Star_Wars_Rise_of_Skywalker_Reviews1

Rey and Kylo Ren destroy Darth Vader’s helmet

Preceded by: Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi

It’s Time for the Jedi to End

Star Wars: The Last Jedi or as it’s officially designated, Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi is the most unwatchable Star Wars movie I’ve ever seen. I’ve been dreading this review for so long due to its divisive nature. I’m very much on the dislike side, but I have no problem with people who found enjoyment where I couldn’t. Of course that wasn’t the case before the sequel came out. After Rogue One, all eyes were on the next “Episode.” The Force Awakens was safe and familiar, but it was time to see how the sequel trilogy could differentiate itself from what came before. The trailer was exciting and the title felt like a perfect fit. Critics were calling The Last Jedi a game changing nearly 3 hour epic journey.

I sat in the theater filled with anticipation until I slowly started to realize I didn’t like it. Officially ending my trust of professional movie critics. Many fans consider the prequels to be the thing that hurt Star Wars, but The Last Jedi is physically painful for me to watch more than once. At least I can still have fun with the prequels. With so many people involved in a blockbuster like this, you can lay the blame on anyone. I point the finger at producer Kathleen Kennedy, director Rian Johnson, and Disney. Kennedy for favoring an agenda over logical storytelling, Johnson for dumping on everything fans love about Star Wars, and Disney for clearly not having a plan mapped out. SPOILER ALERT! (and rant alert)…

25. The Last Jedi

Rey and Kylo Ren fight praetorian guards

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… following the Lucasfilm Ltd. logo and preceding the opening crawl are the only genuinely good parts of The Last Jedi. Okay it’s not that bad, but this was before I started to get mad. I could still maintain my excitement while listening to John Williams’ score. The rest of the soundtrack is once again by the numbers. The crawl is really just a recap of The Force Awakens. Since there’s no major time skip thanks to the ending. The Resistance’s next move is to evacuate their base when the First Order catches up to them. General Leia Organa sends a fleet of X-Wings and bombers to attack their Dreadnaught. They’re like Star Destroyers only less memorable. Poe Dameron & BB-8 are the first to make contact with First Order General Hux. The Last Jedi lost me the second it opened with a “Yo mama” joke. After rolling my eyes, the Resistance face the loss of their ships. Except for one bomber captained by a random female pilot who sacrifices herself by vertically dropping the remaining bombs. Yeah that’s not how gravity works. As the Resistance retreats, Finn wakes up from a ridiculous stasis pod asking about Rey.

The 2 year cliffhanger is finally addressed on Ahch-To. An ocean planet with a single island on it. The island is populated by both alien caretakers and Porgs. Bird penguin creatures that are obvious toy friendly marketing tools. Although everyone thought Porgs would be the worst part of the movie, they’re actually not bad. Rey hands Luke his lightsaber and I’ll never forgive what comes next. Luke callously tosses his father’s lightsaber over his shoulder as a cheap joke. The biggest insult for longtime fans such as myself. The greatest hero of the galaxy is reduced to an angry hermit who ran away from conflict. His X-Wing is submerged underwater, he goes fishing, and drinks blue alien breast milk in the cringiest way possible. It takes Chewbacca breaking down his door, visiting the Millennium Falcon, and R2-D2 replaying Princess Leia’s message (yes, I too have seen A New Hope) to encourage Luke to train Rey. Meanwhile in space, Kylo Ren physically speaks with Supreme Leader Snoke. Without a hologram obstructing his appearance, Snoke is revealed to be a large deformed humanoid dressed in a bizarrely flashy gold robe. After insulting Kylo, he has a tantrum that results in his pointless helmet being destroyed.

Back on the Resistance ship, Leia demotes Poe for being too reckless I guess. Then it’s revealed that the First Order were somehow able to track them in lightspeed. Something that’s never been established in Star Wars before. Kylo leads the charge and toys with the decision to kill his own mother. Until someone else does it for him. Resulting in the unceremonious death of Admiral Ackbar and presumed end of Leia. Only then do we finally get to see Leia use the Force. Which they had to ruin with her flying through space like Mary Poppins. Leia is then put out of commission for practically the entire movie. Leaving purple haired lady Vice Admiral Holdo in charge. For no reason whatsoever, she withholds information and talks down to Poe because he’s a flyboy. The Resistance slowly loses fuel (because that’s a thing now) and Holdo’s lack of a plan eventually leads to a mutiny. But not before a fleeing Finn meets the worst new character since Jar Jar Binks. Rose Tico is a maintenance worker who’s sisters with the deceased bomber. She’s enamored with Finn, but stuns him before finding a way to insert herself in the action. Poe, Finn, and Rose learn from Maz Kanata (who has a random action scene) that a codebreaker on Canto Bight can deactivate the First Order’s tracking device. Oh yeah, C-3PO is present as well.

In the most pointless series of events in The Last Jedi, Finn, Rose, and BB-8 travel to the out of place casino planet where we’re forced to hear about mistreated space horses and how horrible rich people are. They end up in a prison that happens to have another codebreaker named DJ. The entire trip amounts to abused stable children helping Finn & Rose free the poor space horses and destroying the casino in the process. Meanwhile, an overly cynical Luke gives Rey 3 lessons about the Force and how everything is the Jedi’s fault. Rey continues to be overpowered with barely any training. Yet another never before seen Force ability is introduced that connects Rey with Kylo. They learn they’re not so different and he’s also shown shirtless for no good reason. Rey is then drawn to a cave of endless mirrors revealing her parents to be… nobody. Later Rey learns the dark truth behind Ben’s past. That Luke thought about killing him when he swayed towards the Dark Side. Something Luke Skywalker would never do! It results in a staff duel followed by Rey’s departure.

Luke tries to burn down the Jedi Temple and Yoda’s Force ghost shows up for a lesson. It’s pleasing to see Yoda again, but why is he acting like crazy Yoda and since when is a Jedi able to control lightning. The action is still split 3 ways with DJ breaking the First Order’s code for Finn & Rose, Kylo taking Rey to Snoke’s throne room, and Leia waking up long enough to subdue Poe so that Holdo can finally reveal her plan. To take out the First Order fleet using lightspeed. Which is definitely not how lightspeed works. DJ turns out to be a traitor and Captain Phasma is revealed to still be alive. The former Stormtrooper duels with his former superior in a fight that once again ends with her disposal. Snoke Forces Rey into submission long enough for Kylo to turn against him. Snoke is ultimately wasted, but I can’t deny the impact of the moment. It leads to the only lightsaber related duel in the movie. Rey and Kylo teaming up to fight red kyber equipped praetorian guards. Only Kylo continues to push Rey to the Dark side. Her refusal splits Luke’s lightsaber in half.

After all of that, we still have a whole other battle to get to. On the snow, I mean salt planet of Crait. Where mock Walkers corner the Resistance and a Starkiller laser can fire at any moment. The only hope is to use old skimmer ships to attack. Finn attempts to fulfill his destiny through sacrifice, but Rose steals his moment and kisses him out of nowhere. It all seems hopeless until a freshly shaved Luke returns with a final farewell for his sister. Luke confronts Kylo in a lightsaber duel, but sike! Yet another random Force ability reveals Luke projected himself from Anch-To. Then Luke dies and I honestly felt nothing. The final payoff is nothing more than Rey moving rocks and the Resistance escaping. Hoping to restart the Rebellion. It all ends with a tacked on pre-credits scene revealing a stable boy to be Force sensitive…

26. The Last Jedi

Rey finds Luke Skywalker

The Last Jedi is a lot like The Empire Strikes Back in terms of story structure. Expect it’s inferior in every way. There’s villains striking back, ship troubles, a Jedi master training the hero on a remote planet, a prophetic vision, a desperate battle on a white planet with Walkers, and Master Yoda. Parts of Return of the Jedi occur with a Dark lord pitting the hero and villain against each other in a throne room. Despite the obvious similarities, The Last Jedi doesn’t understand what makes Star Wars special. Disney clearly didn’t think this trilogy through. They were so desperate to recapture the original trilogy that they thought different directors meant better movies. J. J. Abrams had ideas for the sequel, but Rian Johnson threw it all out to do his own thing. Kinda like what happened with George Lucas. Johnson has said multiple times that he prefers divisive filmmaking. That should have been a major redflag.

The Star Wars saga revels in tradition. So the lack of wilhelm screams, barely any screen wipes, a flashback, and no one saying “I have a bad feeling about this” is infuriating. As are the lack of answers for anything. Snoke is nobody, Rey’s parents are nobody, nothing matters. Subverting expectations isn’t clever, it’s lazy. Then there are other problems that Disney continues to make. I like a good space battle and blaster fight as much as the next fan, but it’s the only thing The Last Jedi seems to care about. I wanna see a lightsaber duel. Instead it’s just Rey and Kylo Ren fighting a group of disposable Royal guard knock offs. I’m so sick of weapons that aren’t lightsabers using kyber technology. Not to mention Luke and Rey fighting with sticks and Finn using a shocking weapon on Phasma. Other battles range from visually appealing, but average to completely illogical. People gasped when lightspeed was used as a weapon, but even if that did make sense, why has no one tried it before?

Johnson seems to think the Force is just magic. Communicating across distances and astral projection were only created for story purposes. The whole movie is one big car chase in space that lasts 2 hours & 32 minutes. Why did it need to be that long?  Far too much is packed in that leads nowhere. Since the codebreaker was a traitor, the entire Canto Bight sidequest was meaningless. No wonder it wasn’t featured in promotional material. Don’t get me started on the aliens and casino that’s barely different from our own. Plus the CGI is prequel quality. Practical effects were still a priority, but it’s once again questionable. I’m not surprised Yoda is a puppet, but it couldn’t look less believable. New planets are slightly more memorable. Except that Craite is an obvious stand in for Hoth. A soldier had to taste the ground just to confirm its salt. The red dust is a striking image, but The Last Jedi goes overboard with red.

Just like it goes overboard with humor. Star Wars is not Marvel for crying out loud. Quit undercutting every dramatic moment with jokes. So many bizarre moments were turned into memes. Luke drinking a space cow’s milk, Leia floating through space, and shirtless Kylo Ren don’t belong in Star Wars. Just like a forced agenda doesn’t belong. Remember when Star Wars used to be a timeless tale of good vs. evil. I don’t want to think about identity politics, why war profiteering is bad, or see Chewie refusing to eat meat because Porgs make sad faces. I just want a fun escape from the real world. Nearly every character suffers due to more effort being put into that. Even Mark Hamill agrees Luke Skywalker would never give up and become a cynical coward. I should have cried when Luke died gazing at a binary sunset, but I just couldn’t feel for this version of Luke. I couldn’t stop crying the moment I discovered Carrie Fisher passed away. So it’s a real shame she was sidelined and unable to complete her journey as Leia. At least I’ll always treasure her moment with Hamill.

Daisy Ridley continues to give Rey no defining personality and barely any reason to care about someone as powerful as her. Oscar Isaac has more to do as Poe, but he’s continually pushed around. The same happens to Domhnall Gleeson. Turning Hux into a sniveling joke. John Boyega is robbed of any chance to do something meaningful with Finn. Without Phasma and without sacrifice, his arc is over. Andy Serkis is equally robbed with Snoke’s casual death. Anthony Daniels has nothing to do as 3PO, R2 is sidelined, and BB-8 is an action droid. All the new characters feel wrong. DJ is lame and I don’t get Benicio del Toro’s weird stutter. I couldn’t care less about Laura Dern as Vice Admiral purple hair. And I truly feel sorry for Kelly Marie Tran being connected to a pointless character like Rose. Adam Driver is the only one who manages to keep Kylo Ren interesting, but even he tries to kill the past. I don’t think I’ll ever understand why The Last Jedi was scored so high or why it made so much money. Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi felt like an insult to a franchise I’ve loved since I was a child. “May the Force be with you.”

27. The Last Jedi

Chewie flies with a Porg

Preceded by: Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens & Followed by: Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker

Chewie, We’re Home

Star Wars: The Force Awakens or as it’s officially designated, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens is the safe reintroduction to the Star Wars saga. With 10 years between Revenge of the Sith and a 32 year chronological gap between Return of the Jedi, I honestly never thought I’d see more Star Wars movies. I was perfectly happy with Star Wars: The Clone Wars, video games, comics, toys, LEGO, and anything else that was still being made at the time. All the hardcore Star Wars fans know George Lucas envisioned Stars Wars as a 9 Episode saga. The original trilogy first, the prequel trilogy second, and the sequel trilogy third. Lucas’ advancing age and unwillingness to get things started lead to his fateful decision to sell his creation to the corporate overlords at Disney.

I was stunned by the decision, but I can’t deny my overwhelming excitement. I didn’t even question the choice of director J. J. Abrams too much. The Force Awakens title felt like Star Wars, the trailer filled me with nostalgia, yet offered something new, and every tiny bit of information was worth analysis. Although we considered going with our parents, Star Wars was always something my brother and I were more dedicated to. Seeing Star Wars on the big screen again, surrounded by like minded fans, was indescribable. I was so overwhelmed by nostalgia and possibility that I didn’t let the full impact of the movie sink in until way later. As the least controversial installment in the sequel trilogy, The Force Awakens is technically the best. SPOILER ALERT! (now might be the time)…

20. The Force Awakens

Rey and Finn flee

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… continues to give me chills everytime I read it. Lack of the 20th Century Fox theme is disappointing, but no one wants to see the Disney logo before Star Wars. Now it’s just an anti-climactic silent Lucasfilm Ltd. logo. I couldn’t resist humming along to John Williams’ nostalgic theme, although none of his new stuff stands out. The opening crawl makes it clear that Luke Skywalker won’t be around for most of the movie. With only unanswered questions left about why he’s the last Jedi. 32 years after Return of the Jedi, the Galactic Empire and Rebel Alliance have been replaced by knock off versions calling themselves the First Order and Resistance. The Republic has been rebuilt, but the First Order seeks to destroy it. Since she’s now older than a Princess, General Leia Organa leads the Resistance in a search for her brother.

The Force Awakens opens on the desert planet Jakku. It’s like Tatooine, but different somehow. Ace Resistance pilot Poe Dameron is there to receive a clue about Luke’s whereabouts. Unfortunately, the First Order is not far behind. Stormtroopers are once again the army that’s used. They just have sleeker armor and are slightly better shots. Their commander and Dark side Force user is Kylo Ren. The most intriguing new character made for Star Wars at the time. His black helmet and modulated voice gave off Darth Vader vibes and his three-pronged lightsaber (however impractical) was awesome to see. Although I couldn’t help but question his new Force abilities. Specifically stopping blaster fire midair, unlocking someone’s mind with the Force, and making someone faint with it. Before Poe’s capture, he gives the map to BB-8. Basically a droid shaped like an orange beach ball. All the devastation left on Jakku becomes too much for one Stormtrooper in particular. FN-2187 is sent away by chrome armored female Stormtrooper Captain Phasma. Another interesting new character. Only FN-2187 escapes with Poe in exchange for safe passage out of the First Order. The resulting TIE fighter chase earns him the name Finn.

Finn is mostly just the comic relief, but his rejection of the First Order at least gives him more of a personal journey. He essentially joins the Resistance the moment Poe is presumed dead. We’re then introduced to Rey. A lowly staff wielding scavenger who earns food trading parts she finds from decaying Star Destroyers. We learn everything we need to know about her in her silent introduction. She’s a dreamer longing for a way off her planet. Rey’s life changes the second she saves BB-8. Even more when she bumps into Finn. Leading the First Order directly to them. Take one guess which ship they end up escaping on. That’s right, an abandoned Millennium Falcon. Rey is apparently an expert pilot who gets them out of a ground level encounter with TIE fighters. While making repairs to the ship, Finn entrusts BB-8 with his secret and the Falcon is boarded by none other than Han Solo and Chewbacca. It’s like Han and Chewie never left. Han is grumpier, but time has opened his eyes to bigger things in the galaxy. He essentially takes on the role of Ben Kenobi by becoming a mentor figure. Trying his best to explain the Force and how Luke exiled himself after failing to train a new generation of Jedi.

Everything comes to a sudden halt when Han negotiates with rival gangs and monstrous Rathtars attack. After that pointless detour, Han takes everyone to meet a Resistance ally on Takodana (a forest planet I guess). Meanwhile, Kylo Ren learns of Solo’s involvement by speaking with Supreme Leader Snoke. A villainous Dark lord with limitless possibilities who reveals Kylo to be the son of Han & Leia. On Takodana, Han, Rey, Finn, and BB-8 go to see Maz Kanata in her castle cantina. Maz is an ancient alien with a mysterious connection to the Force. Rey discovers that she somehow found Luke’s lightsaber after it fell in The Empire Strikes Back. It gives Rey a vision that leaves open so many unanswered questions about her past and Force sensitivity. Before anything is answered, the First Order strikes back at the New Republic by taking out 4 planets at once. The blast came from Starkiller Base. Basically the Death Star if it was attached to planet Hoth. Kylo Ren and an army of Stormtroopers arrive on Takodana and in the confusion, Rey is captured, Finn uses the lightsaber, and Poe & the Resistance fly in to help.

That’s when Leia and Han finally reunite after spending time apart. Of course they’re interrupted by C-3PO. Meanwhile at their base on D’Qar, R2-D2 is powered down in Luke’s absence. You know the drill, the Resistance discuss a plan to destroy Starkiller Base. The plan consists of Han, Chewie, and Finn avoiding detection with lightspeed and planting explosives directly on the Base. Finn is more interested in saving Rey who manages to easily escape on her own. After resisting an unmasked Kylo Ren and casually using a Jedi mind trick on a suave Stormtrooper. Everyone reunites, but Han attempts to reason with his son. Revealing his name to be Ben Solo. Despite the lack of personal connection Han or Leia had with Obi-Wan. In their heart stopping exchange, Ben chooses the Dark side. The death of a famous character is emotional, but I saw it coming from a mile away. So I didn’t manage to cry, but you can feel the pain in Chewie’s growls.

Finn and Rey escape as X-Wing pilots take out more of Starkiller Base. While running through the snow, Kylo Ren stands between them. Finn’s lack of Force sensitivity cuts their lightsaber duel short. Although I didn’t know what it meant at the time, I found Rey dramatically summoning Luke’s lightsaber to be very cheerworthy. Their duel is intense and just fast enough to feel exciting. It ends when Ren is scarred and the crumbling planet separates them before exploding into a sun. Back at the Base, Han is mourned, Finn is unconscious, R2 wakes up in time to complete Luke’s map, and Leia sends Rey, R2, and Chewie off on the Falcon to find him. Rey finds Luke on Ahch-To where she presents him with his father’s lightsaber. Ending with the first ever Star Wars cliffhanger…

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Han Solo and Chewbacca return to the Millennium Falcon

The Force Awakens is a lot like A New Hope in terms of story structure. And by “a lot like,” I mean it’s practically a remake. There’s a longing orphan living on a desert planet, a dictatorial regime of Stormtroopers lead by a helmet wearing villain cloaked in black, a McGuffin hidden in a droid sought after by resisting heroes, a cantina, a planet destroying super weapon, the death of a mentor (followed by a big “No!”), and so much more. Among other things, lack of originality is really the biggest problem with The Force Awakens. But it was practically a studio requirement. Even when fans criticized his decisions, George Lucas remained passionate about Star Wars. I won’t act like all his ideas for the sequel trilogy sounded great, but Disney throwing them out completely was a low blow. Plus there were perfectly good extended universe stories that could have been used. Disney and newly appointed Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy essentially hijacked Lucas’ franchise to make it however they wanted. Which meant playing it safe with a throwback that would please fans. As well as releasing it around the toy friendly Christmas season instead of the traditional May.

I was never a huge Trekkie, but I have to admit J. J. Abrams leaving Star Trek for Star Wars felt like a betrayal. But I didn’t question Abrams too much because I knew he was in a difficult position. How to awaken a dormant franchise, please fans, do something new, and not repeat the mistakes of the prequels? I’d say he did well enough to earn the biggest box-office gross of the saga. So The Force Awakens refers to both the Force and Star Wars. Several decisions were made to recapture the feel of the original trilogy. The Force Awakens was shot on film, practical effects were a priority, and CGI was minimized. I understand the decision, but not every practical effect looks convincing. Why does something from the 80’s look better than something created now? You can see all the hard work that was put into the aliens and droids, but some just feel off. I’m not crazy about the lack of familiar Star Wars aliens. Outside of key characters like Chewie, Admiral Ackbar, or Nien Nunb. Easily the best practical effect is BB-8. I’m still trying to figure out how his sphere technology works.

CGI mostly went to fighter battles, lightsabers, and sparse motion capture characters. Notably Supreme Leader Snoke and Maz Kanata. Planets were almost entirely shot on location. Sure it’s not artificial, but some settings feel less memorable because of it. Outside of Jakku, how many other new planets can you name off the top of your head? Another franchise tradition was the use of newcomers and A-listers. Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford were all in vastly different places before agreeing to return. Hamill preferred voice acting, Fisher limited herself mostly to cameos, and Ford continued making blockbusters. Hamil and Fisher had to lose weight, but Ford was still in perfect shape. Out of the 3, Han Solo has the biggest role and it’s like he never left the Millennium Falcon. I know Fisher grew more snarky over the years, but she brings a weary optimism to an older Leia. I’ll always treasure the brief moments she spends with Ford. Of course the sheer lack of Luke Skywalker in promotional material was suspicious. It only gave more anticipation to Hamill’s eventual appearance. I can’t say I was expecting long hair & a Jedi beard.

Although they were relegated to minor roles, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, and Kenny Baker were welcomed legacy actors too. C-3PO & R2-D2 are the heart of Star Wars afterall. New faces included British actors Daisy Ridley and John Boyega. Both of whom appeared in small independent work beforehand. Their casting was meant to add more diversity, but the idea of a black Stormtrooper or one carrying a lightsaber wasn’t exactly new. Boyega is fine as Finn, but his over reliance of semi-comedic banter doesn’t feel natural. Neither does his friendship with Rey or Poe. In fact, most character interactions feel artificial. Plus the humor feels forced at times. Ridley does an admirable job as Rey, but it’s difficult to judge her personality when she’s perfect at everything. At least her hairstyle & staff wielding gave her potential as an icon. Poe Dameron is basically a Han Solo clone, except he could have been killed off before they realized Oscar Isaac had more potential. It’s ironic that the roles are reversed with his Ex_Machina co-star Domhnall Gleeson. General Hux is a ruthless Nazi-esque Commander, but the Stormtrooper salute is a bit on the nose.

Adam Driver is the best new actor playing the best new character. It’s obvious from his name that Kylo Ren isn’t a Sith, but his idealization of Darth Vader is clear. In fact most of The Force Awakens is characters appreciating the original trilogy. The Knights of Ren, a brand new crossguard lightsaber, his fun to imitate voice, and moral complexity were all key to making Kylo Ren an intriguing new character. Gwendoline Christie had just as much potential as Captain Phasma, but she’s thrown out just like Boba Fett. The biggest new A-listers were Andy Serkis and Lupita Nyong’o. Serkis maintains his motion capture credibility as the unusually mysterious deformed villain Snoke. While Nyong’o is practically unrecognizable as Maz Kanata. Since Star Wars was a big deal for everyone, a multitude of big name actors make cameos. Abrams favorites Simon Pegg and Dominic Monaghan, 007 himself Daniel Craig as a Stormtrooper, and even Carrie Fisher’s daughter Billie Lourd. The Force Awakens continued to favor a PG-13 rating. Only it feels more forced when characters randomly swear and blood is shown indiscriminately. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens succeeds with nostalgia, but that’ll only get Disney so far. “May the Force be with you.”

22. The Force Awakens

Kylo Ren confronts Rey and Finn

Preceded by: Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi & Followed by: Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi

Unlimited Power!

Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith is the best Star Wars movie of the prequel trilogy by default. But that doesn’t mean Revenge of the Sith didn’t do a much better job than The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. There were a bit less fan complaints about Attack of the Clones, but it was still the first Star Wars movie that didn’t gross #1 in its year. Revenge of the Sith was meant to finally bridge the gap between prequels and the original trilogy. So there was no way fans would miss out no matter how many times they were let down. 2005 came around and despite minor persistent flaws, it was the first prequel to be genuinely good. I completed the Star Wars saga before I turned 10 years old.

At 9 years old, I was finally at an age where I was just nerdy enough to have my own theories. It seemed like the third installment would never come, but my anticipation grew the moment I saw the trailer. Of course major reveals couldn’t be hidden forever and the fate of key characters were already in the open. My dad took my brother and I to see Revenge of the Sith and it was everything us hardcore Star Wars fans could ask for. The story is something that George Lucas had envisioned since before Star Wars was even released. Hints of the plot could be found in all 3 original trilogy films, but it was only refined after the first 2 prequels. All of Lucas’ passion for the franchise ended up making this the last movie he ever directed. SPOILER ALERT! (despite the obvious outcome)…

16. Revenge of the Sith

Anakin Skywalker vs. Obi-Wan Kenobi

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… is shown for the final time under the 20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm Ltd. banners. We had to savor it, since we all thought this was the last time we’d ever see it. The opening crawl makes it clear from the first word that war is the true driving force this time around. Except that practically the entire Clone War is left to the imagination. As Revenge of the Sith takes place when the Clone Wars are nearing the end. Count Dooku has been head of the Separatist movement the entire time. Along with a never before seen droid leader called General Grievous. An intimidating cybernetically enhanced alien war general complete with cape, a collection of stolen Jedi lightsabers, and a rather nasty cough. Grievous is yet another uniquely memorable antagonist in the prequels. He’s responsible for kidnapping high ranking Supreme Chancellor Palpatine. Who’s too important not to finally be given a bigger role.

Thanks to a tie-in video game, I already knew what the opening shot would be. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker take their fighters to rescue Palpatine. Obi-Wan is now a Jedi Master and Anakin is now a Jedi Knight. They’ve now grown to see themselves as brothers. An extremely chaotic space battle above Coruscant ensues where the Jedi and Clones shoot through numerous droid enemies. Including the new ship tampering Buzz droids. R4 isn’t so lucky, but R2-D2 takes care of them. Obi-Wan and Anakin end up inside Grievous’ ship and cut through all the Battle droids, Destroyer droids, and Super Battle droids in their way. R2 even gets his own unexpected action scene where he manages to destroy 2 squeaky voiced Super Battle droids. Palpatine is reached, but Count Dooku initiates a much needed rematch. Obi-Wan and Anakin manage to hold their own this time, but Obi-Wan is still taken out of the battle. In a violent twist of fate, Anakin cuts off Dooku’s hands and makes another push towards the Dark side by decapitating him. It was at the urgency of Palpatine. Who’s been like a mentor to Anakin since he was a youngling.

Several over-the-top occurrences take place before everyone comes face to face with Grievous. After escaping once more, the Jedi are left to fight his Magnaguards and crash land the massive ship on their own. Apart from Dooku’s demise, the first act is mostly insignificant, but it is a fun mission before the heavier stuff starts. That’s when Anakin’s secret wife Padmé reveals that she’s pregnant. Something that puts her out of commission for most of the movie. While joyful at first, it soon becomes a nightmare when visions of Padmé’s death start to occur. It’s at that time Palpatine makes a calculated decision to appoint Anakin to the Jedi Council. Only their refusal to make him master causes a rift in Anakin’s trust of the Jedi. More so when he’s chosen to spy on the suspiciously powerful Senate leader. The final straw is Yoda telling Anakin to let go of attachment and Palpatine alluding to a chance to save Padmé. By telling a poignant legend about powerful Sith lord Darth Plagueis. Meanwhile, Obi-Wan is tasked with ending the Clone Wars after they find Grievous hiding on Utapau and Yoda is tasked with assisting the Wookies on Kashyyyk.

Utapau is basically a giant hole in a planet where Clones fight off the remaining droid armies. Obi-Wan stands alone in true hero fashion. That’s when General Grievous pulls out a grand total of four blue & green lightsabers. Their duel is brief, but it doesn’t end there. They take their separate modes of transportation and Obi-Wan finally has him cornered. In a clever bit of irony, it’s a clumsy random blaster that ends Grievous for good. When Palpatine reveals the obvious truth to Anakin, Mace Windu, Kit Fisto, and 2 other Jedi try to take him by force. Palpatine ignites his gold lightsaber and goes full Sith lord, managing to kill 3 Jedi with ease. All except the highly skilled Windu, who gains an upper hand in the duel. Anakin pleads for his life and Palpatine unleashes the full power of his Force lightning. Resulting in an explanation for his deformed appearance. I can’t begin to describe the initial shock of Anakin cutting off Windu’s arm, Palpatine striking him with lightning, and Windu falling to his death. It all happens so fast that you’re unable to process what comes next.

Darth Sidious is now unstoppable and Anakin swears himself over to the Dark side. Finally giving birth to Darth Vader. That’s when Palpatine executes Order 66. A massive purge of the Jedi. Ki-Adi-Mundi, Aayla Secura, Plo Koon (and the audience) are all taken off guard when every Clone Trooper turns on them. Vader leads a charge against the Jedi Temple where he commits his most unforgivable act. The off-screen annihilation of all the Jedi younglings. Easily the darkest moment in Star Wars history. Vader is then sent to the volcanic planet Mustafar to end the Separatists as well. The only Jedi to come out unscathed are Obi-Wan and Yoda. Obi-Wan survives a blast from Clone Commander Cody and Yoda escapes Kashyyyk with General Tarfful and Chewbacca’s help. Very important Senator Bail Organa survives as well. The three of them team up and Obi-Wan and Yoda discover the dark truth on Coruscant. As Palpatine declares a new Galactic Empire, Padmé is left in the dark. Until Obi-Wan reveals everything. That sends her, a gold plated C-3PO, and a stowed away Obi-Wan off to Mustafar.

Padmé’s reunion with Anakin ends in a heartbreaking tragedy when her refusal to rule with him results in her being Force choked. Leading to the most monumental lightsaber duel of all time. Brothers turned enemies, Obi-Wan and Anakin fight in an extended duel consisting of Force pushes, even strikes, and lava destroying everything around them. All the while Yoda faces Darth Sidious in a power filled duel that literally topples the Senate. At the end of their duel, Anakin makes a grave mistake that costs him his arm & legs. As Obi-Wan makes an impassioned speech about his fallen apprentice, Anakin is burned alive. Every piece of the A New Hope puzzle is put into place. Obi-Wan picks up Anakin’s lightsaber, Padmé dies giving birth to Luke & Leia, Darth Vader dons a black breathing suit, Yoda exiles himself, R2 & 3PO join a new Rebellian, the Death Star is under construction, Leia is raised by Bail Organa on Alderaan, and Obi-Wan takes Luke to be raised by his Uncle Owen & Aunt Beru on Tatooine…

17. Revenge of the Sith

Obi-Wan Kenobi vs. General Grievous

Revenge of the Sith is a lot like Return of the Jedi in terms of story structure. There’s a disconnected first act, a greater emphasis on Palpatine, and Darth Vader losing a limb against someone close to him. Plus the title Revenge of the Sith directly references the alternate Revenge of the Jedi title. Only here it makes more sense since the Sith definitely seek revenge. The biggest difference between third installments is the tone shift. Return of the Jedi was lighter than what came before and Revenge of the Sith is darker than what came before. It was so intense that it earned Star Wars its first ever PG-13 rating. Despite seeing many PG-13 movies before I was 9, I was still shocked by some of it. Hundreds of Jedi die brutal deaths and Anakin’s body is engulfed in flames. I thought it would be as simple as falling in a volcano, but I wasn’t prepared for how graphic it ended up being. George Lucas had been eluding to Darth Vader’s transformation since 1977. That’s why Obi-Wan’s monologue is used in the teaser trailer. Just to show how closely it matches up. We experience the Clone Wars, the friendship of Obi-Wan and Anakin, Anakin as a clever star pilot, and how Vader was seduced by the Dark side of the Force. Remember that the details are all from a certain point of view.

Revenge of the Sith is easily the most excessive Star Wars movie. Appropriate since Lucas had many questions to answer and likely wanted to go out with a bang. There are 5 separate lightsaber duels, at least 9 different planets, several distinct lightsabers, and 2 CGI armies. Not to mention the most CGI usage in the saga. Mustafa alone was one big time consuming special effect. Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen trained extensively to bring the duel to life. Fast paced, well choreographed lightsaber duels are the one thing that everyone agrees are better in the prequels. All the flips and Force movement makes the original trilogy look slower by comparison. Not to say the duel doesn’t go on a long time. It’s still difficult for Christensen not to come across as whiny, but he’s perfectly terrifying anytime he doesn’t speak. Anakin Skywalker now has longer hair & a scar. Moments when he’s cloaked as Vader with yellow eyes are genuinely threatening. McGregor has now fully transformed into Alec Guinness. From his voice to his short hair & beard. Obi-Wan Kenobi is the true hero of the prequels who’s always been a highlight.

Regrettably, Natalie Portman doesn’t have much to do as Padmé, but it’s understandable. Giving birth to Luke & Leia and her somber funeral are key moments. Although it brings up questions about how Leia was able to remember her as an infant. Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker manage to become the only actors to appear in all 6 movies. R2-D2 is given lots of action, but C-3PO mostly sits things out. Samuel L. Jackson once again gives Mace Windu a badass lightsaber moment and it’s enough before his death. Same with Christopher Lee’s brief appearance as Count Dooku. General Grievous was sort of meant as a precursor to Darth Vader. Matthew Wood’s modulated voice, Grievous’ mysterious scorpion-like droid body, and ability to split his arms into 4 make him a notably excessive threat. Although Temuera Morrison doesn’t give the Clones much personality, their transition into Stormtroopers is still very unfortunate.

After his forgettable appearance in Attack of the Clones, Jimmy Smits is given a chance to shine as Bail Organa. Yet we still could have gotten more in a deleted scene that features Bail and Mon Mothma negotiating a Rebel Alliance. Other original trilogy characters were tossed around, but we ended up with Peter Mayhew returning as Chewie because why not. There was also a deleted scene of Yoda landing on Dagobah, but Lucas wisely kept the focus on the Skywalker family. Not that Yoda isn’t given several chances to demonstrate his power. Ranging from less jumpy lightsaber duels and an even match with the Dark lord of the Sith. I like how the less emphasis on politics can be summed up in the Senate being used as a battlefield. The only real problem with Revenge of the Sith is the melodramatic dialogue. Ewan McGregor brings emotion to Obi-Wan’s heartbreaking speech, but even he can’t say the word “younglings” with a straight face. Plus Frank Oz’ backwards Yoda talk has never been perfect in the prequels. Anakin and Padmé’s sweet nothings are still off and Anakin’s descent is loaded with artificial Shakespearean declarations. Anakin turning on Padmé is still upsetting though.

You can always count on John Williams to infuse a pivotal duel like this with an epic theme. “Battle of the Heroes” is on par with “Duel of the Fate.” The true scene stealer in Revenge of the Sith is Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine. He’s having the time of his life hamming it up as the Sith lord. Laughing maniacally, unleashing “UNLIMITED POWER!,” and all his deliciously evil actions are just so much fun to watch. Of course I get chills the moment Anakin officially becomes Darth Vader by taking his first breath. Hayden Christensen fits the suit well and James Earl Jones is a welcomed voice. It’s a dramatic moment ruined by Vader’s loud “Noooooo!” Once you have a complete saga, the prequels end up forming a coherent whole. Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith proves George Lucas may have dropped the ball in the past, but Jar Jar is reduced, the action is focused, and a binary sunset is the perfect conclusion. “May the Force be with you.”

18. Revenge of the Sith

Darth Vader is born

Preceded by: Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones & Followed by: Star Wars: Episode VI – A New Hope

I Don’t Like Sand

Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones is often considered the weakest installment in the saga. Even more than The Phantom Menace sometimes. Although most people usually flip-flop between the 2. Despite the massive success of The Phantom Menace at the box office, fans weren’t sure how to accept a lesser Star Wars movie. Attack of the Clones was sort of a chance to see if things could get back on track. The ominous breathing in a teaser trailer seemed encouraging. Then 2002 came around and fans were once again left with mixed emotions. Maybe not to the same mass hysteria degree, but I was just as obsessed with Attack of the Clones at the time. At 6 years old, I remember my anticipation for the sequel very clearly.

We bought more toys, played a video game made for the movie, and I dressed like a Jedi. My dad took my brother and I to see Attack of the Clones only once, but I’ll never forget the crowd’s reaction. George Lucas did listen to the criticism of The Phantom Menace. Although it may not seem like it, he worked hard to address the biggest fan complaints. Lucas stayed in the director’s chair, but this is the only prequel that he didn’t write alone. He co-wrote the script with Young Indiana Jones writer Jonathan Hales. Some problems were fixed, but CGI clearly remained a top priority. To the point nearly every scene in Attack of the Clones contains some kind of CGI. SPOILER ALERT! (is once again in order)…

13. Attack of the Clones

The Clone army

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… is shown for the first time in digital. Along with the 20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm ltd. logos. Attack of the Clones is the very first major studio film shot entirely on digital camera. The Phantom Menace was for a long time the last Star Wars movie shot on film. Although just like before, the overabundance of politics are still very apparent. The opening crawl once again leans heavily into how the Senate of the Republic affects the Jedi Order. Only this time a more villainous movement of Separatists are established in the wake of every planet choosing to leave the Republic. Still very confusing, but it’ll all make sense in the end. The important thing to know is that former Queen of Naboo Padmé Amidala is in danger. Although leaving the life of a queen to become a senator seems like a downgrade, it’s the very reason several attempts are made on her life. So the Jedi Council and Chancellor Palpatine decide that 2 familiar Jedi will protect her.

Since 10 years have passed, Obi-Wan is now a wiser Jedi Knight complete with the long hair and beard of his former master. Now a Padawan learner, Anakin Skywalker has grown up dramatically. Obi-Wan and Anakin’s mentor-mentee relationship is a lot like father & son. Obi-Wan does his best to teach the ways of the Force and importance of a lightsaber, but Anakin is arrogant and a little whiny. One thing that hasn’t changed is his love for Padmé. His role may have thankfully been reduced, but Jar Jar Binks is still around. Only now we’re seriously expected to believe he was made a representative in the Galactic Senate. Let’s just say he’s responsible for Palpatine’s ultimate rise to power. When reunited, Anakin tries to impress Padmé, but an important detail about the Jedi is revealed in the process. Like monks, Jedi are forbidden from making attachments. Padmé is attacked a second time and it leads to a speeder chase above Coruscant. Obi-Wan jumps out a window to catch the assassin and Anakin catches him in a yellow airspeeder. The assassin is a shapeshifter named Zam Wesell. Their chase ends in a seedy nightclub where they apprehend her long enough to get a clue. The clue being a poison dart shot by a mysterious Bounty Hunter.

Obi-Wan goes on a very lengthy investigation to trace the whereabouts of the dart. Visiting his four armed 50’s diner friend Dexter, checking the Jedi archives, talking to Yoda, and finally finding the outer rim planet Kamino. A watery planet with constant rain that houses a shocking secret. That a Jedi commissioned the assembly of an aptly named Clone army. Finally answering the question of who the Clones were. Their genetic makeup comes from Jango Fett. Like his unaged son Boba Fett, Jango is just as cool. Since we’re now able to see what a Bounty Hunter with this many weapons is capable of. It’s lightsaber against blasters in a fight that ends with Jango fleeing on Slave I. Obi-Wan and his droid R4 chase the ship through an asteroid field. The silent detonator explosions are always very satisfying to hear. Obi-Wan is lead to the red desert planet Geonosis, populated by bug-like aliens. Obi-Wan is ambushed after discovering who’s truly behind the Separatist movement.

Count Dooku is the elderly former master of Qui-Gon Jinn. He left the Jedi Order and turned to the Dark Side where he became Darth Tyranus. The new apprentice of Darth Sidious. Dooku is highly refined, but a genuine threat due to his wisdom of both sides of the Force. Meanwhile, Anakin and R2-D2 are tasked with protecting Padmé. Apart from Obi-Wan and Captain Typho, the Jedi don’t seem to see a problem with sending the pair off to one of the most romantic planets in the galaxy. A huge chunk of time is dedicated to their blossoming romance. And by romance, I mean dinner with the Force, political discussions in flower fields, conversations about sand, and a creepy Shakespearean declaration of love. Yet Star Wars wouldn’t exist without these 2 getting together somehow. A nightmare about his mother forces Anakin to return to his home on Tatooine. Watto leads him to a young Owen Lars and his girlfriend Beru. Shmi’s new husband Cliegg Lars freed her, but she was taken by Tusken Raiders. An emotionally distraught Anakin tries to save her, only to have her die in his arms. It’s enough to push Anakin over the edge. Leading to a murder spree that brings Anakin closer to his destiny on the Dark side.

After throwing a tantrum, Anakin, Padmé, and R2 leave to save Obi-Wan. A newly grey plated C-3PO comes along too. While on Geonosis, they discover Battle droids are now being built in a factory. It’s there they narrowly avoid the assembly line before being captured. Except for 3PO, who ends up in a wacky predicament where his head is replaced with a Battle droid head. Count Dooku, Jango Fett, Nute Gunray, and the rest of the Separatists sacrifice Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Padmé to 3 vicious beasts. When it backfires, Battle droids, Destroyer droids, and the new and improved Super Battle droids do the job instead. That’s when Mace Windu makes the most badass entrance imaginable. I can’t begin to explain the excitement of Mace Windu revealing his purple lightsaber and finally seeing a bunch of Jedi ignite their lightsabers all at once. The best moments are all in the final battle on Geonosis. Jedi cut through Battle droids, Anakin & Padmé fight together, Obi-Wan defeats the final beast, R2 repairs 3PO, and Windu decapitates Jango.

Just when all hope seems lost, Yoda arrives with the Clone army. Finally evening the odds after emergency powers were given to the Chancellor. Gun ships take out enemy forces and Dooku makes an escape with some very interesting plans on him. Obi-Wan and Anakin corner the Sith lord, but Anakin’s emotions get him electrocuted. Dooku ignites his elegant curved-hilt lightsaber and their duel commences. The duel is a losing battle as Obi-Wan is injured and Anakin’s arm is cut off after fighting with 2 lightsabers. I’ll never forget how my theater erupted in applause the moment Master Yoda walks through the door. I never thought I’d see Yoda duel with a lightsaber, but it’s just as silly as it is awesome. Unfortunately, Dooku escapes and growing threats signal the beginning of the fabled Clone War. This also begins the secret wedding of Anakin and Padmé with C-3PO & R2-D2 as the sole witnesses…

14. Attack of the Clones

Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi give chase

Attack of the Clones is a lot like The Empire Strikes Back in terms of story structure. There’s a Fett Bounty Hunter working for a Sith lord, a primary space battle involving asteroids, Yoda demonstrating his Force abilities, and a losing battle where a Sith lord severs a Skywalker’s limb. Yet it’s still different enough to not end up the strongest installment of its respective trilogy. Just like with The Phantom Menace, I still find Attack of the Clones to be a fun watch and difficult to genuinely dislike. The one problem I understand the most is the runtime. At 2 hours & 22 minutes, Attack of the Clones was the longest Star Wars movie released at the time. So many questions were answered all at once. It doesn’t help that boring political matters take a very long time to sort through. This is really the only Star Wars movie that doesn’t have a sense of urgency until the end. The Phantom Menace already wrapped up its conflict in one movie. A lot of time is spent on every casual detail of Obi-Wan’s investigation and all the slow moments involving Anakin and Padmé’s romance. However, the increased action is worth the price of admission.

As for the rating, this is the last live-action Star Wars movie rated PG. Despite a severed limb and brief decapitation. Sure enough, George Lucas listened to fans by decreasing Jar Jar’s role and omitting Midichlorians, but clunky dialogue has somehow gotten worse. It doesn’t help that Hayden Christensen is unable to sell it. I’ll admit that I was seriously confused the second I saw Anakin Skywalker. I couldn’t figure out how a blonde kid suddenly became a brown haired young man. I was only 6, but although his 10 year age gap matches Jake Lloyd, he’s still older than Natalie Portman. Christensen comes across as more of a whiny punk (and his Padawan braid doesn’t help). Is this really how you imagined the future Sith lord in his youth? Although they could have gone with a much bigger star like Leonardo DiCaprio, I’ll at least credit Christensen with bringing out Anakin’s heroic side and appearing menacing when he loses it. So his Anakin isn’t completely off.

Senator Padmé gets a lot of action for a politician. Giving Portman a chance to wear just as many diverse outfits and hairstyles. Since she’s just as beautiful as her future daughter, Padmé dons a sexy midriff outfit as well. The clunky dialogue is mostly found in the love story. I just don’t think Lucas understands how to write romance. A short monologue about hating sand and a tormented soul aren’t the best pickup lines. It’s not entirely natural, but I can’t deny their chemistry too much. Apart from my questioning why Padmé would fall for someone who just admitted to slaughtering an entire village of Sand People. Really it’s Ewan McGregor who steals the show. Turning Obi-Wan Kenobi into a sarcastic action hero that you want to see more of. Chancellor Palpatine’s power increases, but Ian McDiarmid is still left in the shadows. Anthony Daniels is back in the C-3PO suit and Kenny Baker has more to do as R2-D2. Expect 3PO’s subplot is a bit silly and R2 is now packed with even more never before seen gadgets.

The biggest strength of Attack of the Clones is the greater role given to the Jedi. Samuel L. Jackson is finally given a chance to flesh out Mace Windu. Giving him more personality than Lucas intended. It was Jackson’s idea to have a unique purple lightsaber and it suits him well. Apart from the easily killed Jedi, the rest are so varied that you want to learn more about them. Temuera Morrison brings a lot of intrigue to both Jango Fett and all of the Clones. The Clones turning out to be a precursor to the Stormtroopers makes some kind of sense. The misguided handling of fan favorite character Boba Fett meant his father Jango Fett is given plenty of awesome fight scenes. A jetpack, flamethrower, wrist cable, and twin blasters are too cool not to see in action. Boba is just there as a kid, but holding his father’s helmet is a powerful image. Count Dooku is an excellent new villain for the Jedi. Really you can’t go wrong with respected villainous actor Christopher Lee as a Sith lord. Although he logically didn’t perform most of the lightsaber duel himself, Lee still brings a commanding caped menace to Dooku. It’s no double-edged lightsaber, but his curved-hilt lightsaber does stand out just as much as his use of Force lightning.

Since CGI improved even more in the early 2000’s, Lucas practically went mad with blue screen and CGI characters. Now nearly every background alien or droid is CGI with the main exception of primary Jedi. New worlds like Kamino or Geonosis are almost all CGI too. Of course the biggest change is replacing the famous Yoda puppet with a CGI version. Now Frank Oz only needed to supply his voice. It was an understandable decision considering the more active role that Yoda plays in the Clone Wars. I was also too young to tell the difference at first, but I agree that The Phantom Menace puppet wasn’t as good as the one used in The Empire Strikes Back. Yoda jumping around with a lightsaber is just crazy enough to work. So Attack of the Clones makes just as many good decisions as it does bad decisions. The titular Attacking Clones works, but cheesy writing holds back the romance. John Williams’ love theme is the main thing that elevates it. Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones is an acceptable way to begin the pivotal Clone Wars. “May the Force be with You.”

15. Attack of the Clones

Master Yoda vs. Count Dooku

Preceded by: Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace & Followed by: Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith

Mesa Called Jar Jar Binks

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace was meant to be the true beginning of the Star Wars saga. Yet it ended up being the beginning of it’s unfortunate downfall. In the 16 year gap between Return of the Jedi, Star Wars retained a large and very dedicated fanbase. Thanks to the books, comics, and spin-offs that were still being made at the time. So you can understand the excitement that The Phantom Menace received the second it was announced. Fans finally had something new to look forward to. They even bought tickets to another movie, just to see the trailer. Then 1999 came around and fans were in denial for a long time. Unlike the original trilogy, I was right in the middle of this Star Wars craze. Buying the merchandise, building the LEGO, and getting the fast food toys.

At 4 years old, I was obsessed with The Phantom Menace. It’s the first Star Wars movie I saw in theaters. My dad took my brother and I to see it the first time and we dragged our mom to see it the second time. The origin of the prequels can be traced as far back as the original film. George Lucas knew the universe he created was too rich to be limited to one movie. That lead to a trilogy then The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi lead to the possibility of exploring everyone’s backstory. The final push was the advancement in CGI. For better or worse, Lucas was determined to do whatever he wanted. So he ended up directing and writing for the first time since A New Hope. But it was his full creative control that spelled trouble for The Phantom Menace. SPOILER ALERT! (just in case)…

10. The Phantom Menace

Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi vs. Darth Maul

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… must have been so great to see after 16 years. Same with the 20th Century Fox and new & improved Lucasfilm Ltd. logos. In keeping with tradition, John Williams’ iconic theme plays in all its glory. I imagine several fans ignited their toy lightsabers the moment Star Wars appears. Then skepticism sets in the second you read the opening crawl. I’ve seen The Phantom Menace so many times, yet I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand the overly complex political overtones. But I’ll do my best. 32 years ago, the Galactic Republic was the Star Wars equivalent of a nation’s government. When the shady Trade Federation sets up a blockade of war ships around Naboo, the Supreme Chancellor of the Republic sends 2 Jedi Knights to negotiate. Opening with the traditionally used quote “I have a bad feeling about this” is great fanservice, but it should have been a clue about the movie itself.

Except it’s awesome to finally see Jedi in their prime. Qui-Gon Jinn is the stern Master of his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi. Who at this point, is depicted as a young Padawan learner. Which is what his braid is supposed to indicate. You’d think such a key figure would be the primary focus, but really it’s Qui-Gon who’s the closest thing to a main character in this cluttered ensemble. The Trade Federation’s Neimoidian Viceroy Nute Gunray is the primary antagonist that they face. Although it’s future Emperor and current dark lord of the Sith, Darth Sidious who’s really the one pulling the strings. He orders an end to the Jedi and it’s just satisfying to see them ignite their lightsabers. Green for Qui-Gon, blue for Obi-Wan. The slender and very disposable Battle droids are the army that they face. They cut through them easily, but the more advanced shield equipped Destroyer droids (or Droideka) are a trickier threat.

So they escape on a droid transport that lands on Naboo. A green planet with large regal cities and underwater inhabitants. The worst among them being the biggest insult to Star Wars at the time. Overly clumsy, frustratingly bothersome, walking punchline Jar Jar Binks. Who Qui-Gon foolishly rescues and we’re stuck with the entire movie. Jar Jar takes the Jedi to the underwater city he was banished from. It’s a feuding race of Gungans lead by the slobbery Boss Nass. They refuse to help, but a Jedi mind trick at least gives them passage to Theed. After evading hungry fish. The capital of Naboo is lead by the very young Queen Amidala. A soon to be key figure in Star Wars history. Queen Amidala, her handmaidens, and security officer Captain Panaka are rescued from invading Battle droids and taken off the planet in a Royal Naboo ship. The blockade attacks and it’s none other than R2-D2 who fixes the ship long enough for them to escape. Only the hyperdrive is damaged and Tatooine happens to be the nearest planet. Supplies are scarce as it’s a desert planet in the outer rim, but Qui-Gon, R2, Jar Jar, and handmaiden Padmé take their chances.

As if by destiny, future Sith lord Anakin Skywalker is revealed to be just a little kid. Albeit a crafty aspiring pilot slave who works for Watto. A greedy Toydarian who only agrees to sell a hyperdrive (and free Anakin) in exchange for his victory in a Podrace. Back at home, Anakin’s loving mother Shmi reluctantly agrees to the terms. We’re also given the bizarre information that Anakin built C-3PO and Anakin develops a crush on Padmé. The Podrace is a high speed thrill ride that Anakin races against his rival Sebulba. There are many twists and turns, but Anakin comes out on top. Thanks to Anakin being unusually strong with the Force and dubbed “the chosen one.” Except the Force is forever ruined when it’s referred to as Midichlorians. Anakin says a sad goodbye to his mother and that’s when the Sith reveal themselves. Sith apprentice Darth Maul is a mysterious demonic looking threat who first duels with Qui-Gon before they escape. They finally reach the giant city planet known as Coruscant. A key location that houses both the Galactic Senate and Jedi Temple. The Senate is an enormous interplanetary congress made up of every alien in the galaxy. While the Jedi Council are peacekeepers who aid in their affairs.

Every Jedi Master introduced has their own extensive backstory, but the primary standouts are Mace Windu and Yoda himself. Sensing fear in the young Skywalker, the Council forbids his training as a Jedi. Until Qui-Gon shows disagreement towards the Jedi. Long story short, after endless political discussions, Chancellor Valorum chooses to elect a new Chancellor. That’s where the scheming Senator Palpatine comes in. As he plays both sides as both Senator and dark lord. Queen Amidala and the rest return to Naboo to handle matters themselves. Except Padmé reveals herself to have been the Queen the entire time. So the Gungans agree to help. That’s when the action is split into 4 tonally different sections. First with the Gungans lead by Captain Tarpals (and Jar Jar for some reason) fighting off the Trade Federation’s ground troop of Battle droids. Then with Padmé and her officers blasting their way through the palace in order to find the Viceroy.

Then with Anakin and R2 accidentally ending up in a Naboo starfighter on its way to the droid control station in space, and finally with the battle we’ve all been waiting for. A lightsaber duel between Darth Maul, Qui-Gon, and Obi-Wan that was finally the fast paced, high energy duel we deserved. Everything about the duel is exciting. I get chills everytime Maul ignites his never before seen double-edged lightsaber. When every conflict reaches a stand still, Qui-Gon is killed. A vengeful Obi-Wan uses the Force to retrieve his master’s lightsaber and cut Maul in half (never to be seen again?). Anakin blows up the droid control station, the Battle droids are broken, Padmé arrests Gunray, and Obi-Wan agrees to train Anakin in Qui-Gon’s place. When cremated, the only question left unanswered is whether Maul was the master or the apprentice. Yoda grants Obi-Wan the rank of Jedi Knight and all of Naboo celebrates peace in their system…

11. The Phantom Menace

Queen Amidala reigns

The Phantom Menace is a lot like A New Hope in terms of story structure. There’s a young Skywalker living on Tatooine, a lightsaber duel that ends in a master’s death (followed by a big “No!”), a space station that the Skywalker blows up, and a big celebration at the end. According to George Lucas, it’s supposed to be like poetry. Only The Phantom Menace ended up a mixed bag. One that I can’t bring myself to dislike. It’s part of my childhood and there’s still a lot I genuinely enjoy about it. As well as stuff I agree is bad, but enjoy mocking just as much. The biggest example being Jar Jar Binks. Never before has a major fandom had a character that was this hated. Jokes and parodies were inescapable. Just don’t blame it on Ahmed Best. I was too young to realize Lucas was just trying to appeal to little kids by inserting an overly comedic character in the movie. Which must explain how it managed to retain a PG rating. Despite PG-13 long being established in the late 90’s. There is an overabundance of poop and fart jokes that don’t belong in a Star Wars movie. So apart from being stabbed or cut in half with a lightsaber, the violence is just as tame as before.

Since he was back in the writer’s & director’s chair, George Lucas saw this as an opportunity to make Star Wars the way he’d always envisioned. That meant loading it with more CGI than any other major Hollywood movie at the time. This was the first movie to make extensive use of CGI background characters and sets. It was finally a way for Lucas to make each planet as big and intricate as he envisioned. His intention with the special editions. Theed is a beautiful royal city and the Senate is a clever design. Look out for the Wookie and E.T. cameos. The only problem with the CGI is that it can make some moments feel stale. Especially when it’s a main character like Jar Jar or a CGI army like the Battle droids. Then there’s the cast that’s just like the original where it’s both newcomers and A-listers. Liam Neeson has just the right commanding presence to bring a mostly one note Jedi like Qui-Gon Jinn to life. Independent actor Ewan McGregor was pitch perfect casting as a younger Obi-Wan Kenobi. Although he’s set aside during most of it, you do sense a young Alec Guinness in his performance.

She may have made a name for herself earlier in her career, but Star Wars is really where Natalie Portman became a star. Making Padmé a worthy new female lead. Apart from the strange robot voice she has. Really it’s her numerous outfit changes that take center stage. Her most iconic being her red Theed dress. Most of the costumes were inspired by larger than life Queens of the past. This was the first Star Wars movie made with fans requesting a role. I’ll bet you forgot Keira Knightley plays Padmé’s decoy or that Sofia Coppola is a handmaiden. Being cast in a Star Wars movie should have been a dream, but Lucas should never have had a child actor play such an important character. Jake Lloyd’s Anakin Skywalker is too childish and often difficult to take seriously. Except for when he’s Podracing. Say what you will about the prequels, but at least they tried something new. Inspired by chariot races, the Podrace is a well crafted sporting event in the Star Wars universe. Look out for Jabba’s cameo. Other high profile actors include Terence Stamp and Samuel L. Jackson. Mace Windu doesn’t have much to do, but Jackson was a fan who wanted to be a Jedi.

The only returning actors are Ian McDiarmid, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, and Frank Oz. Palpatine doesn’t quite make an impression. Yoda is an ancient Jedi master, but he sits things out as well. Droids however, can be powered for decades. R2-D2 looks the same, but C-3PO is just a prototype without parts. So they use an animatronic instead of Daniels. The cast is big, but the racial stereotypes are an unusually glaring problem. Jar Jar’s “mesa’s” and “yousa’s” are obvious Rastafarian stereotypes. The industrious Neimoidians are Asian stereotypes. Money hungry Watto is a Jewish stereotype and don’t get me started on all their alien features. Despite his obvious devil design, Darth Maul is the only consistently menacing force in the movie. It’s a weird title, but The Phantom Menace refers to both Maul and the returning Sith. Expert martial arts performer Ray Park was terrific casting. It’s what makes the lightsaber duel the best part of the movie. The choreography is thrilling and it made everyone want a double-edged lightsaber. Of course the scene is incomplete without John Williams’ top-notch score. “Duel of the Fates” is one of the best compositions of his career. Making epic use of a grand religious choir.

Although partial Christian influence is another problem that Lucas introduced. The idea of Anakin being immaculately conceived by the Force is just offensive. Then it’s made more baffling when Midichlorians are introduced. I’m sorry, but I refuse to believe the mysterious nature of the Force is just space bacteria. So as many epic moments as there are in The Phantom Menace, there are just as many ill advised additions. But I can ignore the politics and numerous Razzie nominations. The Phantom Menace is still just as quotable. Even the terrible Anakin or Jar Jar lines I quote ironically. Looking back on it 2 decades later, I can find an appreciation in what George Lucas was trying do. Although his CGI tampering did persist with Yoda. Expect I understand replacing the awkward looking puppet with CGI. Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace is all over the place, but at least it made an impression. “May the Force be with you.”

12. The Phantom Menace

Podracing

Followed by: Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones

I am a Jedi, Like My Father Before Me

Return of the Jedi or as it’s now known, Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi brings this epic trilogy to its best possible conclusion. Even if that conclusion is a lot lighter than The Empire Strikes Back. Nevertheless, Return of the Jedi was a general crowd pleaser at the time of its release in 1983. I’m still not sure if I saw the Star Wars original trilogy out of order, but if I did, it’s likely Return of the Jedi was the first Star Wars movie I saw. That might explain why it’s the one I enjoyed watching the most as a kid. Looking back on it now, I better understand why Return of the Jedi is weaker compared to A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. It’s the first thing about the immediate franchise that can be blamed on George Lucas.

Like before, Lucas chose not to direct the final installment. But he still wanted to make sure his story was being handled properly. Both Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan wrote the screenplay and Lucas was on set a lot more. Of course it was also his decision to make Return of the Jedi more toy friendly. Although names as big as Steven Spielberg, David Lynch, and David Cronenberg were an option, Lucas ultimately went with unknown director Richard Marquand. Production went off without a hitch and the only problem was the title. Return of the Jedi was changed to the much harsher Revenge of the Jedi, then back again after it was obvious the title change didn’t make sense. SPOILER ALERT! (that I’m sure is still unnecessary)…

7. Return of the Jedi

The Emperor observes Darth Vader vs. Luke Skywalker

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… is shown for the final time in Star Wars as most audiences likely assumed at the time. After the traditional use of the 20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm Ltd. logos. Just like with most third installments, Return of the Jedi indicates in its opening crawl that everything will come full circle. Luke faced a devastating defeat at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, but now he’s returned as a fully formed Jedi to where this all started. That’s why Return of the Jedi is a much better title for Luke. Since a Jedi doesn’t seek revenge. Another full circle inclusion is the reuse of the Death Star. Call it lazy, but a larger partially constructed Death Star is just as threatening an ultimate weapon as before. The new Death Star’s construction is enough to bring the all powerful, ultimate evil of the Dark side, Sith lord, and Darth Vader’s previously hinted at master. The Emperor finally takes his rightful place as the true antagonist of the Star Wars saga.

The entire first act is insignificant to the rest of the story, but it still offers the most entertaining and memorable moments. The ongoing storyline of the bounty Jabba the Hutt holds over Han Solo is finally resolved after 2 movies worth of build up. Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Lando Calrissian, Chewbacca, C-3PO, and R2-D2 all hatch a convoluted plan to free Han from his carbonite freeze. We return to Tatooine where 3PO & R2 are together just like in the first Star Wars. They’re the first to enter Jabba’s palace where they reluctantly become droid servants in a trade deal. After years of wondering, Jabba the Hutt is finally revealed to be a disgusting slug crime boss surrounded by servants, slaves, and live entertainment. Including his aide Bib Fortuna, Gamorrean guards, erotic Twi’lek slave girl, and Max Rebo band. And let’s not forget the cackling monkey-lizard Salacious Crumb. The next part of the plan includes a mysterious bounty hunter collecting a bounty for Chewie in exchange for not setting off a thermal detonator. It’s revealed to be Leia who promptly unfreezes Han. Except a suspecting Jabba catches them and makes Leia his new bikini-clad slave. So it’s now up to Luke to Force himself in. Luke is then dropped into a Rancor pit, but the beast is no match for a Jedi Knight.

So the action is taken to the outskirts of Tatooine on Jabba’s mobile Sail Barge. Luke, Han, and Chewie are to be sacrificed to a mouth in the sand known as the Sarlacc pit. The tension builds as Luke makes his way to the diving board. In epic cheer worthy fashion, R2 ejects Luke’s new lightsaber revealing it to be green. A chaotic fight ensues where Luke swings his lightsaber, Chewie attacks, a disguised Lando helps out, and a visually impaired Han accidentally kills the badass Boba Fett in the most cartoonishly over-the-top way imaginable. Back on the Barge, Leia overpowers her capture Jabba by strangling him to death. R2 rescues 3PO and everyone returns to the Rebel Alliance. Luke just needs to make a very important stop back on Dagobah. Where a dying Yoda confirms that Darth Vader is indeed Luke’s father. It’s mostly for the benefit of younger audience members. Then the ancient Jedi master at last becomes one with the Force. Really it’s the Force ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi who delivers another major bombshell. That Leia was Luke’s sister the entire time. Making the romantic kiss they shared retroactively awkward.

After receiving some more off-screen information about the Empire’s Death Star, Rebel leader Mon Mothma reveals that the key this time is to destroy a shield generator on the forest moon of Endor. Once destroyed, the Death Star will be vulnerable and ready for assault. So 2 separate teams are established. Lando takes the Millennium Falcon along with co-pilot Nien Nunb. Joining their Rebel assault is everyone’s favorite fish faced Mon Calamari Admiral Ackbar. Meanwhile, Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, R2, and 3PO take a stolen Imperial ship to Endor. Hoping Vader doesn’t sense his son’s presence. While on Endor, Luke and Leia engage in a fast paced Speeder Bike chase against Scout Troopers. Narrowly avoiding rocks and trees. That’s when we’re introduced to the very first franchise ruining characters. I’m of course talking about the Ewoks. The little kid friendly teddy bears that took on a life of their own and dominate the rest of Return of the Jedi. Wicket is the first to introduce Leia to their primitive tribal home in the trees. The rest are captured and only freed when the Ewoks assume 3PO is a god (with a little help from the Force). Only Luke leaves to confront his father after telling Leia the truth. As well as hinting at the possibility of her being Force sensitive too.

Now the action is split 3 ways. With Luke attempting to bring Vader back to the Light side, the strike team attempting to take out the generator, and the Rebel ships attempting to take out the Death Star. Luke comes face to face with the unarmed, but still intimidating Emperor. Who attempts to sway the young Skywalker to the Dark side. By encouraging his anger when his friends are placed in immediate danger. The Empire sets a trap for the Rebels that reveals the incomplete Death Star to be fully operational. Along with a fleet of Star Destroyers and TIE fighters that overwhelm the heroes. Back on Endor, Stormtroopers and AT-ST’s (or Chicken Walkers) have everyone surrounded at the generator station. As ridiculous as Ewoks defeating Imperial forces using sticks & stones is, it is what overpowers the Stormtroopers. That’s when the shield is destroyed.

The final lightsaber duel begins when the Emperor allows Luke to strike him down. It’s an emotional battle between father and son. When Vader threatens to turn his twin sister to the Dark side, it’s enough to push Luke over the edge. Luke cuts off Vader’s hand, but he refuses to end up like his father. An enraged Emperor unleashes his Dark side exclusive Force lightning on Luke. I always cheer the moment Darth Vader chooses to save his son and kill the Emperor for good. Luke attempts to rescue his dying father, but it’s too late for him. So we finally see the unmasked heavily scarred Anakin Skywalker for the very first time. Luke escapes just in time for Lando and the rest to blow up the exposed Death Star. Ending the Galactic Civil War once and for all. Han and Leia declare their love for one another and Luke cremates his fallen father. In the end, Luke, Han, Leia, Chewie, 3PO, R2, Lando, and very lucky pilot Wedge Antilles celebrate with the Ewoks. The Force Ghosts of Obi-Wan, Yoda, and fully redeemed Anakin join them as well. Closing with a heroic shot that will never be forgotten…

8. Return of the Jedi

Jabba the Hutt keeps Leia prisoner

Return of the Jedi was a bit of a tonal compromise for the Star Wars original trilogy. Recapturing the innocent adventure of A New Hope without abandoning the darker ideas of The Empire Strikes Back. Before confirming his return, Harrison Ford was positive Han Solo should die for the cause he now believed in. It would have been shocking, but really Han doesn’t do much outside of being rescued and helping the Rebels defeat the Empire. Well George Lucas was more concerned with toy sales, so he shot down the idea and anything else that made the conclusion less kid friendly. That’s why Ewoks are given so much attention. I don’t hate the Ewoks, I just don’t get why they felt the need to give them 2 TV movies and an animated series. I don’t think anyone thought native teddy bears would become such a big part of Star Wars. Well as it turns out, Wookies were originally meant to bring an end to the Empire. But trying to find actors as big as Peter Mayhew was probably difficult. Instead beloved little person Warwick Davis began his career by playing Wicket.

Although a lot more obscure in terms of the rest of his career, Richard Marquand is another important player in Star Wars history. Lucas was won over by the war themed suspense of his previous work. Marquand’s only hurdles were the special effects. Which are now a lot more polished this time around. Pretty much every trick was utilized. From stop-motion and blue screen to make up and puppetry. Frank Oz briefly returns as Yoda, but it’s really the Jabba puppet that’s the most impressive. Luckily they didn’t go with the hairy guy that appeared in the A New Hope deleted scene. Instead Jabba’s final repulsive design was performed by three puppeteers and he only speaks Huttese. Many more unusual looking aliens and droids were created as well. The Rancor ended up being a puppet that doubled in size thanks to blue screen. New terrain meant more outfit changes. Outfits are either sand planet or forrest moon appropriate.

Mark Hamill is much more sure of himself playing Luke Skywalker as a Jedi Knight. Luke’s choice of all black is meant to parallel his choice between the Light and Dark side. His new lightsaber is only green due to the blue sky in Tatooine. Since Han is helping his friends, Billy Dee Williams gives Lando Calrissian more Solo qualities. Specifically wearing his vest and using his ship. Despite not wearing clothes, Chewie’s fur does become more unruly. They may not have liked each other, but Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker are great comic foils as C-3PO & R2-D2. 3PO even gets a chance to recap the previous movies. Really the biggest outfit changes come from Princess Leia. Ranging from a modest Endor poncho and Ewok dress to her stunning slave Leia bikini. I understand Carrie Fisher’s discomfort, but she’s a beautiful woman who pulls it off perfectly. Star Wars nerds like myself had our first fictional crush and dozens of fan girls have been cosplaying in the outfit ever since. Plus it makes sense in the context of the story and Leia is still strong enough to kill her capture in the end.

Although George Lucas claims to have mapped out Star Wars far in advance, Luke and Leia being brother and sister begs the differ. Outside of that kiss, they had too many other hints of mutual attraction. Yet the reveal does make sense since Leia was already in love with Han and it gives more hope to the galaxy. Just as it made sense for Darth Vader not to be the ultimate evil in the galaxy. Setting up the all too important dynamic of a Sith Master and apprentice. From his voice to his threatening cloaked presence, Ian McDiarmid was born to play the Emperor. All it took was one movie to show that he’s the one who needed to be defeated this entire time. Making Vader’s redemption all the more poignant. I’m honestly overwhelmed with emotion anytime I see the scene. More interactions with his son meant a greater range of character for James Earl Jones. He can be intimidating one moment and fatherly the next.

Of course the man behind the helmet needed to be someone new. Sebastian Shaw is unexpected, but just the right fit for an aged Anakin. Although I admit I was confused when he appeared without makeup as a Force ghost. John Williams’ varying themes help to balance the mixed tone. And really tone is the only minor flaw with Return of the Jedi. It’s George Lucas’ extremely extensive special edition cut that’s truly at fault. Big changes were made to Jabba’s palace. The ethereal song sung by a puppet Sy Snootles is replaced by a high energy number with obnoxiously bad CGI. The beak and tentacles added to the Sarlacc pit made sense however. But Anakin’s actor replacement and addition of new planets during the celebration are a bit much. And I’ll never forgive the addition of “No” in Vader’s perfectly silent redemption. Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi is a perfectly serviceable end to a perfect trilogy. “May the Force be with you.”

9. Return of the Jedi

Everyone celebrates

Preceded by: Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back & Followed by: Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens

I am Your Father

The Empire Strikes Back or as it’s now known, Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back is one of the greatest sequels of all time. If not one of the greatest movies ever made. Not too many sequels are able to surpass the original, but The Empire Strikes Back has always been a major example of this. It’s now the example used anytime a follow up wants to be either darker or take big chances. I definitely wish I was alive in 1980. By that time, Star Wars was a monumental success that no one saw coming for some reason. I can only imagine what reactions were like during some of the biggest twists. 3 years old was too young to explicitly remember my earliest reaction. The possibility of having seen it out of order might have been a problem too.

Since Star Wars wasn’t a disaster, a terrible sounding low budget sequel based on a book titled Splinter of the Mind’s Eye was tossed out. Giving George Lucas more time to flesh out the universe that he had already developed. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it), the traumatic strain of directing Star Wars was too much for Lucas. The story and characters will always be his, but the directing reigns were instead given to his former professor Irvin Kershner. The role of writer was then filled by the late Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan. Several on set accidents and an inflated budget weren’t enough to keep The Empire Strikes Back from becoming the most universally loved Episode in the Star Wars saga. SPOILER ALERT! (but the title speaks for itself)…

4. The Empire Strikes Back

Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… has now become the traditional way to start a Star Wars movie. Preceded by the 20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm Ltd. logos of course. Although The Empire Strikes Back was marketed as such, the Star Wars logo still needs to appear. Followed by something I’m sure confused a bunch of people at the time of its release. Calling the movie Episode V even though this was only the second film. This was the first use of “Episode” in the franchise. Which was meant to establish an even bigger universe of ideas that hadn’t been explored yet. The opening crawl recounts the events of A New Hope. It turns out the destruction of the Death Star was only the beginning for the Empire. As their Imperial fleet of Star Destroyers are more than ready to strike back against the Rebellion. That’s what The Empire Strikes Back refers to.

The Empire’s first calculated maneuver is done in the opening. Darth Vader is very much alive and ready to steal every scene as the primary antagonist. His goal is to find the hidden Rebel base and Luke Skywalker using a series of probe droids scattered across the galaxy. The Rebels are eventually found on the ice planet Hoth. One of the most memorable planets in Star Wars due to its harsh snowy environment. The Empire Strikes Back is basically everything that could go wrong, going wrong left and right. The first incident occurs when Luke is captured by a beastly Wampa. It turns out to be a pivotal moment for the Jedi in training as Luke successfully uses the Force to grab his lightsaber and escape. Only his situation grows more desperate when temperatures start to drop. That’s when we’re introduced to the idea of a Force ghost. As Obi-Wan Kenobi appears to Luke instructing him to find Jedi Master Yoda on Dagobah. Back at the Rebel base, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, C-3PO, and R2-D2 are all important members in the fight against the Empire. Except Han is ready to head out again, but not before saving Luke. Han rescues Luke by keeping him warm inside the belly of his fallen Tauntaun.

A medical droid fixes Luke up and he celebrates among friends. Only increased bickering between Han and Leia makes it apparent they have feelings for each other. So Leia kisses Luke in a way that’s forever ruined by yet to be disclosed information. The Empire attacks the Rebel base in what is probably the best, most iconic non-space battle in Star Wars. As the incredibly slow AT-AT’s (or Imperial Walkers) begin their assault on the Rebels. So Luke and lucky pilot Wedge Antilles board Airspeeders in an attempt to take them down. They use tow cables to wrap up the AT-AT’s and Luke even uses his lightsaber to set a detonator. Alas, it’s not enough to keep the Empire from making a serious dent in the Rebellion. This splits the action into 2 separate perfectly balanced storylines. Luke and R2 take an X-Wing to Dagobah and Han, Leia, Chewie, and 3PO evacuate in the Millenium Falcon.

Dagobah is the swappy planet that Luke hopes to find the all powerful Jedi master on. Instead they’re greeted by a small green pointy eared possibly crazy alien Muppet hermit. Well don’t judge a book by its cover, because this is the great Master Yoda. Easily the best new addition to Star Wars. With Obi-Wan’s spirit not far behind, Yoda reluctantly agrees to train the reckless young Jedi. Their training in the ways of the Force offer greater insight into its power along with lessons that we can learn a lot from. Yoda’s finest moment is lifting Luke’s X-Wing out of the swamps, but it’s the vision Luke has of facing Vader that really messes with his mind. Meanwhile, Darth Vader becomes even more menacing when his officers fail him and he’s forced to Force choke them to death. Although Vader is briefly seen in a vulnerable state when his helmet is removed. But as threatening as Vader is, he does answer to an even greater evil. The mysterious Emperor who reveals Luke to be the son of Anakin Skywalker.

Out in space, Han & company deal with their own set of problems. Namely their malfunctioned hyperdrive. Leading to a thrilling chase with TIE fighters that only ends when they find an asteroid to hide on. Then an unstable cave that turns out to be a space slug. So vader enlists the help of several instantly iconic Bounty Hunters. A very important piece of the Star Wars mythos. Chief among them is the Mandalorian Boba Fett. Never has a character with so little screen time had such a big impact on pop culture. Although this wasn’t exactly his first appearance. Han is his same old scoundrel self, but Leia warms up to him and they share an interrupted kiss. Chewie is mostly there to fix up the ship and make repairs. Really it’s C-3PO who gets a significant character increase. As the droid becomes a funnier comic relief and constantly annoys everyone on the ship. They decide to hide out on the aptly named Cloud City of Bespin. Where Han meets up with his smooth talking friend and former owner of the Millenium Falcon Lando Calrissian. Lando helps them out, but 3PO ends up in a wacky predicament that leaves him in pieces. It turns out they’ve been lead to a trap hosted by Darth Vader himself. In a shocking series of events, Han is sold to Jabba the Hutt and frozen in carbonite, but not before sharing a moment with Leia. Boba Fett takes Han on Slave I and that’s the last we see of him.

Sensing danger, Luke rashly abandons his training in order to save them. To say this is the best lightsaber duel in the trilogy would be an understatement. It took 2 whole movies for Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader to come face to face. Their duel starts slow, but becomes increasingly more crafty. Vader toys with Luke, Force throws objects at him, and Luke manages to outwit him. All the while Lando escapes with Leia, Chewie, and the finally reunited 3PO & R2. Luke and Vader’s fight only grows more intense when they end up at the top of an air shaft. Imagine everyone’s shock when Vader cuts off Luke’s hand. Setting up one of the greatest twists in movie history. When Darth Vader is revealed to be Luke’s father. Before that has time to sink in, Luke throws himself off the bridge and somehow ends up at the bottom of the city. Where Luke uses the Force to communicate with Leia. R2 fixes the hyperdrive and 3PO, Lando & Chewie set out to find Han, and Luke (complete with robotic hand), Leia, and the Rebellion have an uncertain future ahead of them…

5. The Empire Strikes Back

AT-AT’s march forward

The Empire Strikes Back made the wise decision to go deeper rather than bigger. You can’t get any bigger than the Death Star. So it made more sense to keep the focus on character development and new ideas that were only hinted at before. The Empire Strikes Back took the fairy tale happily ever after ending of A New Hope and decided to bring everyone into reality. The Rebels lose, Han is tortured, Luke loses a hand, and the Empire basically wins. With a few notable exceptions, I just can’t think of any other sequel that takes so many story risks. While still maintaining the heart of its predecessor and not losing its fanbase. He may have been an independent filmmaker at the time, but character driven movies were what director Irvin Kershner excelled at. So his importance in Star Wars history will never be forgotten.

Especially since George Lucas didn’t really have a big hand in the filmmaking process. He just sort of dropped off the story then stuck to financing and heading Industrial Light & Magic. Although he did start a small controversy by once again keeping all the credits at the end. The beginning of the 80’s came a greater advancement in special effects. So any problem that Star Wars faced was now easier to work with. Space battles were no problem, but shooting on an ice planet and in a floating city was a new challenge. The AT-AT’s were achieved with the most impressive use of stop motion animation. Before alien creatures were all done with makeup, but there was no way anyone could be small enough to play Yoda. It only made sense to make Yoda a puppet and none other than Miss Piggy himself Frank Oz brought him to life. The Yoda puppet is so life like that it holds up surprisingly well today. Frank Oz’ voice and backwards talk only helped to increase Yoda’s appeal. Very good he is. It’s also clever to have the oldest, most powerful Jedi be someone you’d least suspect.

Mark Hamill deserves plenty of admiration for working with fewer actors this time around. Luke now makes mistakes, because he’s still learning to be a better Jedi. The possibility of his turn to the Dark side just makes him more relatable. While Luke’s attire is a cross between Rebel and Jedi. So he carries both a blaster and his father’s lightsaber. The scars that Mark Hamill got in a car accident were explained via Wampa attack. Harrison Ford was on board, but confidant that Han should die in order to serve the story. Carbonite was the best alternative due to its ambiguous nature. Han and Leia’s unexpected romance is the best in the saga. Thanks to Ford’s chemistry with Carrie Fisher, opposites attract. Their relationship is best represented by Ford’s totally improvised, completely in character line “I know” after Leia declares her love for him. Of course Peter Mayhew brings just as much emotion even with Chewie’s Wookie growls. Anthony Daniels is a comedic highlight in all of C-3PO’s misgivings. Same with Kenny Baker, because RD-D2 is beat up a lot too. Appearing as a blue semi-translucent Force ghost was probably easier on Alec Guinness. It meant less action and more encouraging words. Obi-Wan and Yoda even hint at the possibility of another.

It’s a big galaxy, so it only makes sense to wonder where all the black people were in A New Hope. Well it doesn’t get any better than Billy Dee Williams. He plays Lando with a sauve yet shady magnetism that makes him a fine addition to the universe. Boba Fett’s mysterious helmet, jet pack, and blaster made him too cool of a character not to become an instant favorite. The rest of the clothing in the movie is either winter themed for Hoth or longue appropriate for Leia on Bespin. Stormtroopers are now seen as Snowtroopers, but Darth Vader needs no alterations. James Earl Jones is even more intimidating now and he finally gets a screen credit. John Williams’ best new piece is definitely the ominous “Imperial March.” Only increasing the threat of the Empire. That’s what makes those 4 game changing words “I am your father” so shocking. It turns a straightforward villain into a complex one. Showing that this battle of good vs. evil wasn’t so black & white.

So apart from Lando mispronouncing Han or that regretful kiss, The Empire Strikes Back is nearly perfect. How it wasn’t nominated for Best Picture I’ll never know. That’s why George Lucas barely touched The Empire Strikes Back when doing special edition work on it. The much more visible Wampa and the CGI used to expand Cloud City is actually welcome. While later changes, such as the redubbing of Boba Fett or actor replacement of the Emperor hologram make sense too. The latter especially, since the original Emperor has a strange monkey face and average menacing voice. Everything else in The Empire Strikes Back remained unaltered. From iconic shots to unforgettable lines of dialogue. Remember it’s “No, I am your father,” not “Luke, I am your father.” Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back delivered something no one could have seen coming, making it the peak of Star Wars storytelling. “May the Force be with you.”

6. The Empire Strikes Back

Master Yoda trains Luke Skywalker

Preceded by: Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope & Followed by: Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi

May the Force Be With You

Star Wars or as it’s now known, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope is the movie that launched one of the single most successful franchises of all time. Which in turn made Star Wars one of the most influential films in the history of cinema. So to review such a massive hit that sparked an even more massive saga is daunting to say the least. But like most people, Star Wars has always been a big part of my life. So I’m confident that I’ll be able to do the films justice. I am a huge fan of Star Wars! Ever since I was 3 years old. I distinctly remember getting the Star Wars original trilogy special edition box set at a garage sale. Although I might have seen them out of order, I became an instant fan nonetheless. Making it my very first fandom.

The history of Star Wars is something I know quite well. George Lucas failed to secure the rights to Flash Gordon and chose to develop his own original space opera instead. After THX 1138 failed, it was his next film American Graffiti that put him on the map. The only problem was the fact that science fiction wasn’t exactly a hugely popular genre at the time. All major studios expect 20th Century Fox turned them down. The risk more than payed off and Star Wars became the highest grossing film of all time. Leading to Books, a Marvel comic, an empty box of toys, and later video games, TV shows, cartoons, merchandise of all kinds, LEGO, and more parodies and homages than I can count. Unlike my parents, I wasn’t part of the initial Star Wars craze, but I’ll never tire of seeing the original Star Wars that started it all. SPOILER ALERT! (if that’s even necessary)…

1. A New Hope

Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo escape the Death Star

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… is the sci-fi equivalent of Once Upon a Time. All sorts of fantasy conventions can be found in Star Wars. The 20th Century Fox theme perfectly blends into the Lucasfilm Ltd. logo. Then those famous words “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” appear. Followed by complete silence. Only to be filled with the greatest theme famed composer John Williams has ever written. Along with a logo that’s too flawless to ever change. According to my mom, the entire crowd erupted into applause the second its iconic opening crawl began to scroll through space. We learn all about this classic story of good vs. evil. The Rebel Alliance and Galactic Empire are locked in a perpetual Civil War that the Rebels have just had a small victory in.

Star Wars opens with a brilliant piece of symbolism. As the small Blockade Runner is pursued by the massive Star Destroyer. It’s almost poetic that the first characters we’re ever introduced to are C-3PO and R2-D2. Rather than robots, Star Wars has droids. C-3PO (affectionately nicknamed Threepio), is a worrisome golden protocol droid fluent in 6 million languages. R2-D2 (affectionately nicknamed Artoo), is his snarky blue & white astromech companion who communicates through a series of beeps. They’re a beloved duo that offer plenty of comic relief. As the Star Destroyer boards, we get our first look at Stormtroopers as they blast several Rebel soldiers. Their all white armor made them instantly recognizable, but they’re notoriously bad shots. In Star Wars, blasters are the weapon of choice.

We’re then given the most epic villain introduction of all time. A dark menacing figure known as Darth Vader. Who’s presence looms even with 12 minutes of screentime. R2 is given the plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon by Princess Leia Organa. A badass princess who started the iconic bun hairdo. R2 and 3PO escape to the planet (or system) of Tatooine. A desert planet where the droids are separately captured by Jawas. Meanwhile, Darth Vader shows his menace when strangling Captain Antilles and taking Leia prisoner. The droids are sold to moisture farmers Owen and Beru Lars. Their nephew is farm boy Luke Skywalker. Luke longs for greater things in a scene that beautifully captures the “call to adventure” of a great hero’s journey. With Luke watching a binary sunset. Luke finds Leia’s message in R2 as she asks Obi-Wan Kenobi for help. Blue holograms are the primary source of communication in Star Wars. Luke takes his Landspeeder to find R2, but runs into savage Tusken Raiders (or Sand People).

That’s when we meet the mysterious Ben Kenobi. Who turns out to be just the wizard Luke is looking for. Obi-Wan opens his eyes to an even greater universe. We learn all about his past as a Jedi and use of the force. There’s nothing cooler in Star Wars than a Jedi Knight. The force is the great unifying power that grants Jedi a variety of abilities such as levitation. It’s an important monologue that touches on a Clone War and the death of Luke’s father. Obi-Wan then gives Luke his father’s lightsaber. An awesome indestructible sword of pure energy that’s come to define both the franchise and science fiction in general. When Luke’s Aunt and Uncle perish, he agrees to learn the ways of the force and join the Rebellion. That brings us to the wretched hive of scum and villainy known as Mos Eisley spaceport. It’s there Obi-Wan uses a Jedi mind trick on a weak minded Sandtrooper.

They arrive at a Cantina full of upbeat music and all sorts of strange alien creatures. Including some that don’t like Luke and end up as the first on-screen lightsaber victims. That’s when Han Solo comes in. An ace pilot scoundrel that always flies with everyone’s favorite Wookiee Chewbacca (affectionately nicknamed Chewie). They agree to a passage to Alderaan, but not before Han confirms his roguish nature by shooting bounty hunter Greedo first. They fly on the all too iconic Millennium Falcon and make a jump to lightspeed. Another cheer worthy moment. The Empire’s ultimate weapon is the Death Star. A terrifying planet destroying moon sized space station. It’s there Vader casually force chokes one of his men, interrogates Leia, and blows up Alderaan with the help of the more primarily antagonistic Grand Moff Tarkin. Luke’s training is cut short when a tractor beam brings them aboard.

All of the best moments happen aboard the Death Star. Han and Luke disguised as Stormtroopers taking Chewie prisoner, Luke rescuing Leia and making a daring escape with a kiss for luck, Leia saving the group with a blaster, narrowly escaping a trash compactor and the creature within, Han rushing into action, and finally the first ever lightsaber duel. A slow, but poignant duel between former master and apprentice Obi-Wan and Darth Vader. Obi-Wan becomes one with the force and the rest flee to the hidden Rebel base on Yavin 4 after a dogfight with TIE fighters. The Death Star can be easily destroyed in a trench run that will take out the entire base from a precise torpedo blast at its exhaust port. Luke, Wedge Antilles, and his friend Biggs Darklighter join the fight, but Han chooses to leave with his credits. The final battle is a tense struggle of X-Wings against TIE fighters. Many are killed and R2 is badly damaged. Vader leads a small charge that nearly takes out Skywalker, but Solo saves the day in a heroic fashion that sends Vader spiraling out of control. Luke trusts in the Force and the Death Star is blown up. Then Luke and Han receive a medal in a celebration that symbolizes good triumphing over evil…

2. A New Hope

Luke Skywalker sees a binary sunset

Star Wars won everyone over with its much more unique take on science fiction. Even though George Lucas took inspiration from all sorts of existing work. From space serials, war films, and Kurosawa samurai flicks to fairy tales, westerns, and the Third Reich. All of which effectively come to together to create something new. Specifically Lucas introducing the idea of an aged, lived in futuristic society that was neither sleek nor polished. The technology on Tatooine is just as dusty as you’d think it would be. While the clothing is much more relaxed. Instead of colorful plastic looking armor or spandex. Luke’s primary outfit is his white tunic. Leia’s main outfit is a white robe, but she does wear a more regal dress by the end. All Han needs is a vest & holster and Obi-Wan wears a traditional Jedi robe. The only overtly futuristic appearance is Darth Vader’s perfect all black cape and samurai inspired helmet.

As iconic as everything became, Lucas’ original ideas were much different. Star Wars was once a complex collection of ideas called Journal of the Whills. Then it became a similar, but still vastly different script titled The Star Wars. That’s where the name Starkiller comes from. I eventually read a comic based on that version and I’m so glad that wasn’t what we ended up with. Although he might have done it himself if he could have, George Lucas employed the best crew in Hollywood to help bring Star Wars to life. By using state of the art Industrial Light & Magic special effects unlike anything 1977 audiences have seen before. It still baffles me that effects this spectacular were achieved through so many practical means. Of course no one knew how to market the movie. So they ended up with that iconic, if very inaccurate poster of a ripped heroic Luke posing with a busty Princess Leia and Darth Vader looming in the background. The original trailer is just as misrepresented. With unfinished effects and a fantasy feel. When finished, the lightsabers became the trademark blue for Jedi and red for Sith that we all know today.

Just as important as the visuals are the sounds. John Williams didn’t just compose a triumphant opening theme, every theme is a work of art. From the silly Cantina theme to the cheer worthy celebration theme. And let’s not forget the awe inspiring binary sunset theme. Even sound effects like blaster fire, lightsaber ignition, or R2 beeps are memorable. Of course Star Wars would be nothing without the actors that helped bring it to life. Lucas went with a variety of A-listers and unknowns. The then unknown Mark Hamill plays Luke Skywalker with complete sincerity. Carrie Fisher (known only as Debbie Reynolds daughter) has all the beauty and wit that has come to define Princess Leia. Harrison Ford had a low profile too, but previously working on American Graffiti won him the role of the morally ambiguous Han Solo among serious competition. All their chemistry feels real and occasional off the cuff remarks are just as believable. The 7ft. tall Peter Mayhew brings Chewie to life with the best creature effects in the movie. For which Lucas drew inspiration from his dog Indiana. Along with a Wookie growl that’s fun to imitate.

C-3PO, R2-D2, and every other droid was achieved through a variety of mechanical effects. Although the very thin Anthony Daniels was a perfect fit for 3PO and so was his British accent. Kenny Baker was short enough to fit inside R2, but I’m still not sure how much he did. Nevertheless, who hasn’t wanted their own personal R2-D2. The biggest talent in Star Wars has always been Alec Guinness. He brings a certain wise gravitas to Obi-Wan Kenobi, but we all know he wasn’t a big fan of the project. On the Dark side is respected horror actor Peter Cushing as the often overlooked Grand Moff Tarkin. Then there’s the 2 actors who helped bring Darth Vader to life. Bodybuilder David Prowse for his intimidating size, but not his unintimidating accent. For that James Earl Jones’ wonderfully deep voice was used along with the now iconic sound of intermittent breathing.

Although everyone did their job well, George Lucas was a wreck while filming. It got so bad that his directing career was completely derailed. Star Wars was pushed back from its Christmas 1976 release to May 1977 to great box-office success. Thanks to the first ever use of merchandise counting towards a films performance. There were even 11 Academy Award nominations and 7 wins. Mostly technical categories, but Guinness did receive an acting nomination. Star Wars was even a rare sci-fi film nominated for Best Picture. For all its merits, it’s hard to say there’s anything wrong with it, but there are a few things. Although the story is strong, Star Wars does have a slower pace than some people are used to. The universe is still in its infancy, so the word robot is used once. Most aliens look good, but others look store bought. The occasional swearing feels a bit off too. Thankfully it’s nothing compared to the American Graffiti style deleted scenes loaded with useless political talk.

All these issues don’t matter much in the end (even a Stormtrooper banging his head isn’t a problem). It’s what Lucas did later on. The movie was renamed Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope when special editions were released. I have no problem with the subtitle or episodic nature of these adventures. A New Hope refers to Luke joining the Rebellion. I grew up watching the special edition, so it was a long time before I saw the original. In retrospect the most egregious changes are all too obvious. Like CGI alien and droid slapstick, Han awkwardly shooting second, or a hideously rendered Jabba the Hutt. I understand wanting to increase the scale to fit your intended vision, but leave your masterpiece alone. Star Wars was always a fine achievement. Everything about it became a fixture of pop culture. It’s easily the most quotable with most of the best lines belonging to Obi-Wan and Darth Vader. The best quote among them speaks for itself. Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope gave us an epic galaxy full of adventure and possibility. “May the Force be with you.”

3. A New Hope

Obi-Wan Kenobi vs. Darth Vader

Preceded by: Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith & Followed by: Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back