Almost a decade and a half later I’ve finally returned to the movie that turned me off of Star Wars through my adolescence. The infamous Phantom Menace. But this time, I came prepared. Armed with the knowledge of the original trilogy, I felt like even if the movie was as bad as I thought it was going to be, I could maybe immerse myself in the fun and ambiance of the movie. Thankfully, it didn’t have to come to that. Though George Lucas’s direction is messy and dry at times, there’s something beautiful being attempted here and a few great scenes fans of the series can get behind.
Because the movie assumes the viewer has already seen the original trilogy, all the story elements take on a new meaning. We know how a lot of things will end, so the only thing left to find out is how. This is a place where the movie ends up doing well. From the Jedi Council, to the Gungans underwater city, to the screeching pauses in the Senate – we get to see a world in disarray. Capital is the name of the game and experienced players are getting to ready to pounce.
The movie also does a great job exploring the way subjects approach politics. Machiavellian ideologies are contrasted with liberal politics premised on faith and good will. There’s a political leader who literally changes their entire domestic policy based on resolving an incorrect cultural perception. There’s a real sense of frustration in seeing violence happen and watching bureaucracy grind to a screeching halt. The idea that groups would literally sell out other planets for profit hits a chord a little too close to him. Yes, at times it feels boring. There’s a lot of dialogue and its delivery leaves a lot to be desired. Despite that, the criticism still feels resoundingly poignant and I’m excited to see how its explored in Episodes 2 and 3.
The movie looks and sounds great when it wants to. The overabundance of CGI can feel daunting and there were moments that felt like they had been ripped out of PS2 cutscenes. However, this only became really distracting for me in the third act. Outside of that, a lot of the renders and effects look dazzling. The practical effects take a backseat, which is a shame, because they were some of my favorite parts of the original trilogy. There’s still a lot of beautiful effects to be had, but I can’t help but feel that better presentation would have made the movie hit its themes a lot harder. The podracing scene is a ton of fun and the last few moments felt really intense when John Williams score started blasting adrenaline through my veins. I wish that the music had been playing earlier on in the scene, because the shot composition of the race feels similar the whole time. Music would have helped shake up the pacing and make the entire race more dynamic. Thankfully, the light saber fight at the end involving Darth Maul more than makes up for it. Duel of the fates plays loudly and prominently in the background. Combined with great fight choreography, that fight is one I’ll definitely be replaying in my head for years to come.
Now let’s talk about the less than stellar stuff. It’s something that’s been talked about a lot so I won’t get too into it, but the acting in this movie is less than stellar. Most of the performances feel the same and it’s hard to get a true feel for the characters inner thoughts. This is something the original trilogy did really well and is probably what I disliked the most. Ian McDiarmid’s performance as Palpatine was a bright spot in the movie and I loved how he played off his deceptive nature.
The only other performance I wanted to spend time talking about was Jake Lloyd’s as Anakin Skywalker. Yes, the performance isn’t amazing. It feels childish and out of place with the severity of the events at play. However, getting an older or a more experienced actor wouldn’t make the underlying issue with Anakin easier to portray. Anakin is supposed to be a prodigy. The events and proclamations from the original trilogy and this movie are indicative that he’s a child genius. However, underlying all of this talent is an innocent emotional core. Anakin is a child – that’s why his innocence and desire to help others feels more believable. These traits are necessary for Anakin to exist as a tragic villian figure. How could someone so pure and powerful fall so hard?
Casting a much older actor would take away the belief in the childlike innocence of Anakin. Teenagers are symbolically susceptible given that they’re on the precipice of adulthood. A teenage Anakin would’ve made certain story decisions less meaningful and believable. However, expecting a child to convincingly retain their innocence while portraying a inquisitive prodigy is hard. That’s why Anakin is so interesting as a character – it’s almost like diametrically opposed characteristics are being forced to align with each other. But while this makes the character more interesting, it also makes him that much harder to portray.
TLDR:The Phantom Menace is a messy but has rare moments of greatness that are engaging. Yes , there’s a lot to nitpick, but if you take the film for what it is and just give yourself to the experience, there’s a great time to be had.
Final Rating: 7.7/10. I get why the movie has a bad rap, but its aspirations are commendable and I know I’ll return to the movie after finishing all the major movies.
Finally, the end of the original trilogy. A New Hope was amazing. The Empire Strikes Back was an absolute gem. So it’s reasonable to say my expectations for the conclusion were sky high. Thankfully, Richard Marquand’s Return of the Jedi, serves as a satisfying conclusion to this amazing journey. It didn’t do everything I wanted and felt uneven at times, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t absolutely enjoy the ride and conclusion.
The film picks up sometime after the end of The Empire Strikes Back and follows Luke and the gang as they try and rescue Han from Jabba’s palace. Personally, I wish the movie started off immediately after the ending of the last movie or sometime close to it. The scene’s ambiguous chronological placement makes things like power scaling and character development harder to appreciate or understand. This causes weird discrepancies later on because it feels like there should be more tension between certain characters or a wider variety of emotional responses. Thankfully, the latter portions of the third act are so emotionally cathartic and symbolically powerful that I could get over these issues.
Now that we got over the beginning rant, let’s get into the more interesting and fun stuff. A lot of the visual effects are amazing. Jabba looks a living creature and oozes a creepy and disgusting feeling. I felt revolted every time I saw him on the screen. The Rancor is terrifying to look at and despite having watched the visual wonder of the past two movies, I couldn’t believe how fluid the creatures movements look. Space battles still look great and evoke a sense of grandeur. However, some of the effects felt like they missed the mark. In particular, there’s a racing scene in the third act that has great choreography but looks dated, which is strange given how great the previous two films looked.
This movie nails characters for the most part. In particular, I loved Ian McDiarmid’s portrayal of the Emperor. From his speaking pattern to the way he held himself as he moved, he constantly felt malicious and evil. Yes, he mentions the “Dark Side” a lot, but because he feels so dark it feels aesthetically cool in spite of how sparse some of his dialogue options are. James Earl Jones sells the emotional weight of Darth Vader’s lines which serve as the undercurrent of so much of the weight of the entire movie. His scenes with Mark Hamill were my favorite because of the way they played off each other. I won’t spoil anything, but certain lines hit me in my feels hard. Frank Oz is also great as Yoda and made me desperately want more of him than what I actually got. The only character that I didn’t really like was Han, which is surprising, because I loved him in the previous films. Before, he always felt like a cool adventurous badass, but he feels “grayer” in this film and it doesn’t feel like it stems from a believable character arc.
This movie was also philosophically beautiful and expanded a lot on my want’s from the previous movie. I enjoyed the way that good and evil and their relative malleability were challenged and the resulting discourse made me feel a sense of hope. Unfortunately, there are a lot of missed opportunities that would have elevated that discourse to something more cinematic. The starting point of the film means that a lot of the despair of the past movie is kind of glossed over. As a result, certain character conclusions and reactions feel less deserved and more artificial than I would have liked. There’s also a lot of exposition scenes that are used to explain these gaps or hammer in plot points , which compounds this effect. I wish some of the bloated sections of the second act were taken out, and that the exposition/backstory was shown instead of told. It would’ve helped make the themes more cohesively tied to the narrative.
TLDR:Return of the Jedi is a satisfying conclusion to the original Star Wars trilogy and I’m genuinely surprised at how cohesive the entire story feels. This movie has a few bumpy spots and feels rushed at certain points , but is by and large emotionally cathartic and satisfying.
Final Rating: 9.0/10. I already know I’m going to watch the original trilogy again. The only question is how soon. Give it a shot if you haven’t.
After watching this movie, I had to take a few moments to pick my jaw back up and compose myself long enough to write out just how much I loved each and every moment. Irvin Kershner’s sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, manages to improve and innovate on what its predecessor did in amazing ways. The story follows up with our motley crew of heroes as they’re on the run from the Galactic Empire. Except this time, things aren’t going to be nearly as easy.
Just like A New Hope, the practical and visual effects in this movie are off the charts. Spaceships look gorgeous and the chase scenes in this movie genuinely had me clamping down on my knuckles. I don’t know if it was just my love for what I was seeing or if there was an actual improvement, but the light sabers feel more “solid” in this movie which I appreciated a lot. It gave them the impact I thought they deserved. There’s also an pivotal character (I’ll avoid naming them for those rare people who have somehow avoided all spoilers) done exclusively through CGI/puppet work and the attention to detail with said character makes them feel almost even more well realized than some of the human characters. If that isn’t good special effects work I don’t know what is.
That isn’t a knock on any of the characters by the way. They all feel more realized and grounded in this movie. Whereas in the last movie, we had to watch our main group constantly stay on the run, this movie affords some time to help develop new interactions and milestones. It’s not that the arcs themselves are revolutionary. Rather, they’re just presented and executed so masterfully that I couldn’t stop getting giddy at watching them unfold- especially in regards to the Han and Leia scenes. The acting by our main cast is also stellar and makes these moments more engaging.
However, I’d be remiss if I failed to mention how much the Empire gets developed in the aptly titled Empire Strikes Back. Vader’s motivations and choices are interesting and paying attention to differentiation in his actions helped me infer quite a lot. I appreciate that he’s not a “big bad.” He’s brutal and cruel, yes, but there’s also an underlying nuance to him that makes him mesmerizing. I also enjoyed getting to explore more of the political side of the Empire and how communities respond to their presence in more direct ways. It makes the evil organization feel as grand as it really is and a far more menacing presence than the one that allowed a Death Star to blow up.
Despite knowing certain spoilers (most people would if they weren’t living under a rock the past 40 years), the impact of certain key moments are rewarding. There was a scene that made me tear up quite a lot and another where a character reaction made the movie feel more akin to horror than anything else. These aren’t feelings I felt in the previous film. Somehow, this movie managed to deliver these feelings in conjunction with the same sense of wonder and adventure from the past movie. The emotional resonance this movie creates is what makes it a true masterpiece.
TLDR:The Empire Strikes back might be one of the first times where I’ve thought a sequel was better than its predecessor. This film takes everything I loved about A New Hope and then decided to add more while fine tuning other elements.
Final Rating: 10/10. This movie is so good that you should watch A New Hope, just so you can experience what this film has in store. I can’t express how much more I loved this movie.
I’ll be honest and say that I wasn’t the most optimistic about watching all the Star Wars movies. My previous (AKA my first) experience with the franchise had been watching Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace , and it hadn’t left the best taste. Even after being told that the original trilogy was better than the prequels, I was left wondering by how much and entered the disc for A New Hope with anything but hope. Thankfully for me, George Lucas’s magical space tale filled me with a sense of adventure and awe I haven’t felt in years and had me grinning for most of the run time.
The story, as most of you know, follows Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) as he embarks on his journey to become a jedi and learn the ways of the mystical “force.” I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like every main character I saw. Mark starts off as a self-centered teen who lacks a more robust understanding of the world and watching his journey unfold was rewarding. Harrison Ford as Han Solo is the perfect blend of cocky and charming and despite my annoyance at some of his antics, I couldn’t help but appreciate how much I jived with him. C-3PO and R2-D2’s relationship was also surprisingly heart-warming. Despite being droids and having one of them not being able to speak in a normal sense, I was surprised at how much agency they had. I could go into how much I loved every character in a similar fashion, but then the review would go on too long so I digress – I loved most of them and can’t wait to see what they end up doing.
On the topic of characters, dialogue in the movie was hit-or-miss. I thought some lines felt strange? Characters would go from feeling real and personable, to feeling strange and wordy. However, this issue wasn’t that pervasive and most of the lines were cool and provocative.There’s definitely dialogue from this movie I won’t be able to stop saying.
Lucas nails aesthetic. This movie looks and feels immaculate most of the time. The practical effects really shine through and the moment I saw the huge ships in space, I was amazed. The fact that the movie can still stand up with current movies despite being released over forty years ago speaks to how spectacular the craftsmanship on display is. I can only guess how shocking everything must have seemed on the big screen back when the movie came out. Some of the digital effects seem a bit dated- lightsaber transitions, certain explosion shots, space lasers, etc, but the intensity of the action and the real feel of the universe around make those issues seem less important. From the two suns on Tatooine to the bar in Mos Eisley, the environment always feels like it’s filled with magical and other-wordy creatures. It feels real and as such, actions feel meaningful and incorporated.
The soundtrack and shot composition is also stunning. The main theme is something I couldn’t get out of my head despite never watching any of the movies, and I highly doubt that I’ll be able to get the song out after having experienced the magic myself. John Williams’s score sells the epic feeling the scenes necessitate and make every bit of action feel that much more special. The only thing I found tacky was some of the transitions felt out of place and elementary- almost like they were placed from the old school Windows Movie Maker.
The movie feels awkward in certain sections, particularly in the first act. Thankfully, like most elements of the movie, everything only gets better as the film progresses. Every time I felt even slightly irritated about something, another event would happen that would immediately knock the nit picked thought away and force me to just enjoy the experience that was going on.
TLDR:A New Hope certainly ignited a hope for me in this franchise, and I can say I’m eagerly looking forward to Episode V. If you can get over some minor annoyances, and resist the urge to nit-pick, you’ll find a world of wonder and adventure beyond your dreams.
Final Rating: 9.6/10. I get why people like Star Wars. If you, like me, have never given the movies a chance, at least spare a moment to watch this one. There’s something magical and relateable about the galaxy far far away.
Confession time. I’ve never really gotten into and watched the Stars Wars films. It was never that big among my friend group growing up so I never had a reason to watch any of the movies. When I finally decided to give it a go in middle school, I made the mistake of ordering Episode I from Netflix (this was back in the envelope days) because I assumed the series went chronologically. I remember feeling let down and confused and promptly returned the disc and never returned to the series.
Obviously I later learned that the (in)famous prequel sequels were not indicative of the moments fans (including a lot of my friends) fell in love with. Given that the last movie in the sequel trilogy is coming out in December, I decided to finally give in and catch up on all the movies to join in on the “conclusion” of the epic. After a lot of back and forth, I decided to watch the series in the original order. After that is Rogue One and Solo and then onto the newest movie itself.
The dates aren’t set in stone and are more like tentative mini deadlines for myself to help pace the exposure. I’ll try and stick to it for the most part. If I enjoy the series a lot and find myself having extra time I was told to watch the animated Clone Wars series from 2008. I don’t know if I’ll get to it, and if I do, I probably won’t get to watch all of it before Episode IX, but it’s something to keep in mind.
EDIT 11/24/19 : So if you can tell from the above, I’ve really been enjoying Star Wars. If I’m being honest, I’ve been loving the movies a lot and want to get more into the meat of the story. As such, I’ve decided to actually try and finish The Clone Wars and as many comics/books/etc that I’m interested in/have time to get to. Check below periodically for new additions. If you have any recommendations on what to check out feel free to comment!
Edit 12/26/19: This thread is done – once I’m done with the comics, Clone Wars, Rebels, etc I’ll make a bigger meta thread of my thoughts on everything. Until then, it’ll just be period reviews of the same.