Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Star Wars Retrospective

Because everyone is doing it.

Star Wars is, and I cannot stress this enough, the most popular movie franchise in existence. Oh sure, the MCU might have made the most money in the past seven years, but they pale in comparison to the goliath franchise that is Star Wars. It's been around for decades, made billions of dollars from the films, television shows, merchadising, video games, music, and nearly any other genre it touched. Star Wars is so popular that the existence of Star Wars Kinect sold people on the Kinect just so that they could be a Jedi with an actual light saber. Star Wars is a massive franchise and has defined, reshaped, then reshaped again the Hollywood landscape. 

So it comes as no surprise when I say I have never seen a single movie in the franchise. No joke, I have never seen one entry in my entire life. 

I've heard about them and I still know the plots inside out and backwards, but I never actually watched any entry until just this week actually. Again, I'm still familiar with the lore, the characters, the plots, and the setting, but all from second hand sources. So, I figured that in honor of The Force Awakens releasing next week, I should actually sit down and watch all of the movies at once and give me honest to God, real time reactions. I know the general perception of several movies, but because I'm weird, I'm prbably going to have some crazy opinions about them. Best be warned. I will of course rank eahc movie to my own personal preference, and I'm certain that you may not agree with each ranking, but there you have it. 

Now just to clear things up, here are the movies that I have watched and in what order I watched them. I was able to track down original, yes ORIGINAL, VHS copies of Episodes IV-VI, so I watched those version as they originally were. No Greedo shot first, no Anakin at the end of Episode VI, just the original cuts of the film. I'm also watching the normal, DVD editions of Episode I-III and not The Phantom Edit version of Episode I as some people do. I also watched the series in sequential order, so prequels first before the original trilogy. I also decided to watch the miniseries Star Wars: Clone Wars in 2003 after completing all of the movies, though it did not impact my opinion of Revenge of the Sith, it was just something that I watched to fill in the void between movies. Oh, and just for shits and giggles, I saw the Star Wars Holiday Special. Because I can. So, let's start this shindig!

Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
So I knew from experience that people outright hate this film and that it barely has anything to do with the overall plot of the series, making it he most hated entry in the franchise. Not the worst, but the most hated. Personally, while I do agree that it's a mediocre movie, it's not quite as bad as people make it out to be. 

The elements that don't work really don't work. From the beginning, I hated the over reliance on CGI that made characters stick out like sore thumbs and look completely unnatural in the world. Not once did I actually believe that those characters were actually there, which is a shame because when there are actual practical effects and costumes, they look fine. 

The plot is pretty inconsequential, and even though I might not make many allies with this, I thought that the characters introduced here, Darth Maul and Qui Gon Jinn, were boring as tar. Darth Maul was built up to be this baller badass force user, and he only showed up for about two or three scenes before getting killed. How he's so popular I will never know, and Qui Gon Jinn was even more boring, butt hat may just have to do with the other characters he had to interact with. 

No one was interesting at all, and the only people that I remember I remember for all of the wrong reasons. Anakin Skywalker is one of the worst things about this movie and his shrill voice, his constant yippees, and every time he opened his mouth made we want to violently turn off the movie. Really, this was Darth Vader as a kid? This was the "chosen one" that was supposed to bring balance to the force? Some stupid little kid that didn't know how to act? And of course, how could we forget to mention Jar Jar Binks, the personification of everything wrong with the prequel movies; over reliance on comedy, trying to appeal to children, terrible dialogue, and atrocious CGI. Hell, one of the most popular theories right now about Force Awakens is that Jar Jar was meant to be so bad to cover up how villainous and evil he actually is and it all was an act. If that's the case, then bravo. You must be so proud of yourself for making him so bad that we never would have suspected him. 

Honestly, after all of that though, I didn't have that many complains with the movie. I thought that pod-racing scene was fun, the sets were cool, the foreshadowing was excellent (if not a little too on the nose), and that fight scenes, when there actually were any, were pretty well done. I could understand why fans despise this movie, and even though I'm definitely not a fan of it, it's still an entry that, in a weaker franchise, would be a solid and decent way to reintrocude a franchise to a new audience. It doesn't excuse the bad moments, but it's still above average in my opinion. 

Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)
Now here was a real God awful movie. By the name of the franchise, you can excuse some elements of it for setting up the rest of the series and establishing some cool plot points, but Attack of the Clones is just the definition of disappointing. People might have been disappointed in Phantom Menace, but it at least had elements of the Star Wars franchise in it. Here, the only Star Wars-esque elements were the fact that people used lightsabers in the last twenty minutes of the movie. 

Everything about this movie is just so dull and lifeless. Things happen, but it's all done through exposition and really painful dialogue and not through action or acting. We're told about this great clone army, but we never see or care about them until the very end. It's all talk, talk, talk, talk. Even A New Hope, despite being the first film in the series and generally wasn't as action packed as the other entries had more bite to it than this movie does. Even when there are some action scenes, they're all so disappointing. When Jango Fett, this awesome bounty hunter, enters to fight, he gets his ass kicked six ways from Sunday. Twice. And then the fight scene is over after like a minute or two of action. 

I joked with everyone watching this film with me that this is Nicholas Sparks presents Star Wars. The dialogue is awful, and a majority of the film is dedicated to following Padme and Anakin around as they fall in love, both of whom are awful in this movie. Simply, utterly, awful. While I actually think Hayden Christenson was really good in Revenge of the Sith, you wouldn't be able to tell that from this performance. Do I need to talk about the romantic sand dialogue? Or how Padme has a scar on here heart? Or any of the scenes where they're just frolicking in a field and doing nothing? 

There's a difference though between being boring, incompetence, and just being a bad movie. Attack of the Clones is an incompetent movie, but it isn't boring because things actually happen. Things happen, but I just don't care enough about them because they're presented terribly. That's why this is a bad movie. It had so much potential to be good, and Lucas ruined it with sand and love. 

Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
It's universally agreed upon that this is the best movie in the prequel trilogy, and I would immediately agree with it. However, I'm going to go a step beyond and say that it's easily one of the best Star Wars movies, including the original trilogy. This movie, at east in my opinion, justified all of the crap that we got for the prequel trilogy. All of the cards were dealt, the pieces were in place, and nearly everything you could have hoped for happened here. People died, the Empire took over, Darth Vader was born, and it concluded the prequel trilogy exactly as how people expected it to be done. And it was glorious. 

This was everything I could have wanted out of the prequels, so they decided to shove every awesome bit inside of there and actually redeem several elements of the movie. Against popular beliefs, I thought that Hayden Christensen was actually great in this. He was able to give the emotional struggle of turning over to the dark side, and once he was officially dubbed Darth Vader, there was no holding back with making him into someone who would live up to the original trilogy. They finally removed most of the love scenes between Padme and Anakin, and what was left, while still sloppily written, had emotional weight to it as well. 

Obi Wan really came into his own as well and had several awesome fight scenes, either with Anakin or with General Grevious. After watching Clone Wars, I do wish they gave more screen time to the actual Clone Wars and to the characters introduced and developed there, like more time with Dooku and General Grevious in general, but beggars can't be choosers. Still seeing Grevious wield 4 light sabers at once was enough to satisfy me. 

You might be thinking from this that I thought that it was a visual spectacle alone, but you would be wrong. While the action scenes were cool, it was the interactions with Palpatine and Obi Wan with Anakin/Vader that sold me on the movie. We're able to see the full journey of how Anakin was seduced by the force and then see Obi Wan just verbally destroy him of Mustofar, showing the full shame and disappointment, as well as betrayal between Anakin and him. 

If I had one major gripe with the movie, it's that the ending just seems to kind of sloppily tie things together. Luke and Leia are born, and then Padme dies because... she lost the will to live? And then everyone just kind of forces themselves to where they were for the beginning of the trilogy, no matter how much it makes sense for the ending. Still, what a way to end the prequels!

Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)
So, I don't know is this is a popular opinion or not, and this may be because of the order in which I saw the movies, but the original Star Wars was good, but it didn't do anything that made me go "WOW!" As it was, it was a solid movie with some good elements in it, but it was just lacking something... intangible. Something that makes it hard to describe. 

I guess the best way to describe it was it didn't have enough Star Wars for my taste. A lot of the movie was dedicated to Luke on Tatooine, or seeing Luke travel with Han Solo before he softened up. The movie didn't become exciting for me until when they boarded the Death Star, and even then, the most exciting part was the assault on the Death Star. But there weren't many light sabers used int his movie. There was the fight between Vader and Obi Wan, and Luke training to use one, and that was about it. The Force was there in Luke's training both on and off Tatooine, when Vader was choking people, and during the climax, but it never came off as this mystical power of the universe. 

I will say though that the acting is simply phenomenal in this movie. Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fischer, Alec Guiness, and James Earl Jones all brought their A game and made he movie much more dynamic to watch. Plus I still fell in love with each character by the end of the movie. They were all charming in their own unique way and made each scene feel more important. 

In terms of establishing the universe, A New Hope was a great way to start off the franchise, and I admit my bias against it just comes from nearly every other movie and how they constantly upped the ante in some production way. Whether it was the added budget of Empire, the special effects in the prequels, or just the character culminations in Return. There was always something new being added in to each movie, while the original was just kind of... there. Still damned good, but it was ironically missing that Star Wars charm. 

Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Now this is an absolutely fantastic movie. When I first heard about Star Wars, I always assumed that A New Hope would be the best in the series, but after seeing this one, I finally understand why so many people are head over heels for Empire Strikes Back

This was the movie where it finally clicked for me why Star Wars became a phenomenon. It had everything. It had romance, action, twists and turns, character drama, long lasting ramifications, and set up the best cliffhanger I have ever seen in a movie. Even though this was the second to last movie and I already knew the general plot to Return of the Jedi, this still entranced me like no other Star Wars movie. 

I'm actually at a loss for how good I think this movie is. Nearly everything about it has been discussed and the entire fandom has concluded, rightfully so, that this is the best movie. And it is. The fight on Hoth is a classic, the lines are instantly quotable, Darth Vader's reveal was shocking and effective, Yoda training Luke was calming and had such a huge amount of impact to it.

If I had to nitpick, I would say that C-3PO got on my nerves several times in this movie way more than the previous movie. He just seemed to whine and panic over nearly everything, where as in the previous movies he was still comic relief, but he was toned down and more subtle. Here, he just seemed to talk non-stop to the point where it was less funny and more frustrating. Also, why is Boba Fett such a highly regarded character in the series? I mean, he really doesn't do much of anything here or in Return, the most he does is I think just take Han Solo to Jabba the Hut without any major conflict. Why was he such a popular character when all he did was just stand around and look like a pansy to Darth Vader?

Still, those are nitpicks of nitpicks if I had to choose. I know I may have made my Top 10 Favorite Movie List last year, but if I remade that lost now, you can guarantee that Empire Strikes Back would be on that list. 

Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
Return of the Jedi is a movie that comes so close to being great, but is held back by a few major gripes. As a conclusion to the original trilogy, you couldn't have asked for more. We saw the Emperor, Darth Vader vs. Luke, and following up on the major cliffhanger of Empire Strikes Back. The action was still solid, and there were major revelations a plenty. And yet, I feel like Lucas buckled under the weight of the franchise and put in several elements that just didn't belong.

First off, the Ewoks. I hate the Ewoks. I don't think they add anything to the last movie and instead detract from the actually interesting elements. I want to see the Rebels fight the Empire on Endor, not spend a half hour socializing and playing with the Ewoks. Also, how the hell were Ewoks able to beat the Empire? We had X-Wings and Jedis, but apparently those pale in comparison to just a couple of well placed rocks. 

Then we had the entire scene in the beginning with Jabba's Palace. I know we needed to rescue Han, but it felt a lot longer than it really needed to be. It was drawn out for a good long time and featured not one, but two giant monsters, three if you count Jabba, a party scene, and Boba Fett doing not much of anything here. 

This is all personal conjecture, and the good stuff is still really good. No matter what was gonna happen, it would have been nearly impossible to follow up the near perfection of Empire Strikes Back. It was still a good movie, but not as good as it probably could have been if there wasn't a large focus on merchandising. 


So, without a doubt, Attack of the Clones is the worst movie followed closely by Phantom Menace. They're universally regarded as being bad, and it's only a matter of deciding whether you're more offended by bad romance scenes or bad comic relief. Personally, the romance sections were too hard for me to stomach. The rest I would call good on many levels, but it just comes down to picking them apart. A New Hope would probably be next with Return of the Jedi being the third best movie. A New Hope is not bad by any stretch of the mark and came down to a personal preference, but Return just felt more Star Wars-y to me. So then we have Revenge of the Sith and Empire Strikes Back, both two amazing movies. No matter how you slice it though, Empire is just the best movie. It launched Star Wars into the powerhouse franchise it is today and cemented it with some fantastic twists and turns. Revenge of the Sith was a great action movie and it deserves all of the props I can muster, but I have to give the nod to the better movie here. 

V > III > VI > IV > I > II

So where will The Force Awakens land on this list? Tune in Friday to find out!

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