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Review: Rogue One

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If I’m being completely honest here, after watching the trailer for this movie and hearing the raving reviews from some of my friends, I expected to be blown away by this film. I couldn’t wait to get an insight into the group that retrieved the Death Star’s plans, and I put in my Blu-Ray all amped up to learn more about the backstory of the Rebels. While Gareth Edward’s addition to the Star Wars franchise, Rogue One , certainly looks and sounds amazing it feels woefully inadequate in the character development department.

If you’ve seen A New Hope, you know that a group of rebels sacrificed themselves to retrieve the Death Star schematics. But that casualty never feels like it has any kind of weight to it. A nameless group of rebels and their struggles is hard to relate to. This film was an attempt at making the efforts of those rebels more discernible by chronicling their journey to find the plans. There are names and faces and I appreciated the struggle the rebels had to get to their eventual goal. The movie also answers some serious questions I’ve had since I watched the first movie and makes certain moments from the original trilogy feel more earned.

The film is also genuinely gorgeous when it comes to action. The CGI is jaw dropping and the space battles feel colossal and exciting. There’s a real sense of scale and scope with each explosion and battle that I haven’t felt as strongly before in the franchise. I could actually believe this was an intergalactic struggle because of the sheer explosiveness happening on the screen. AT-AT’s felt comical to me before, but I could feel the terror from them in this film because we get a beautiful shot demonstrating just how massive they are in comparison to ground forces. Explosions are finally given some real justice and I could feel their heat and size through the screen. There were also two amazing action sequences that I couldn’t keep my eyes off of. I won’t spoil them or who’s involved in them- but I do wish we got more of these scenes.

However, in spite of all the great action moments and beautiful set pieces, the movie feels incredibly hollow. This is because none of the characters are fleshed out and as a result there’s no real investment in any of them. I loved Felicity Jones in Like Crazy and The Theory of Everything, so when I learned she was playing the lead, Jyn Erso, I felt a lot more excited. I wanted to get into her story and learn how she eventually came to be the hero we’re told she is. Unfortunately, she never really has a chance because the script never gives any of the characters moments to really interact and flesh themselves out. We get a nice flashback at the beginning of the movie regarding Jyn’s backstory- but instead of developing her response to it and subsequent life , we flash forward 13 years later. There’s no attempt at showing what happened during that time- instead we’re just told of certain events that transpired in between. This problem is emblematic of the films approach to characters. We’re told a lot about them but not shown a lot to develop or verify those statements. It makes growth harder to evaluate and also makes everyone feel bland and out of place. Yes, there are some character building scenes. In particular, Diego Luna gives an impassioned speech as Cassian – but that’s the extent of his character. We never get a chance to delve deeper into the man underneath which means there’s no reason to care about his struggle. All the other characters feel like they get even less time to be explored- which is a shame because some of the characters really cool.

For example, I loved Donnie Yen as Chirrut and Alan Tudyk as K-2SO. The latter is hilarious without ever ruining the serious tone, while the former helps expand and make the Force feel more mystical and realistic at the same time. While their scenes were great, I couldn’t help but wonder how much better the film could have been if they were developed properly. There could have been some real emotional weight to the movie if it just focused on building up the characters and cementing their natures to the audience. This is the biggest problem with the movie and is the reason it felt empty to me by the end. We already know the ultimate fate of the rebels because of Episode IV. As such, death/suffering doesn’t really have an impact- it’s something we know will happen. Given this, the only way to add tension to the movie is to have us care about the characters who will eventually suffer. Because I didn’t, the movie didn’t move me or or make me feel anything about it. I just didn’t care.

Rating

TLDR: Rogue One is beautiful to watch and had some amazing action scenes. If you can get past the lack of character development, you’re in for a visual treat.

Final Rating: 8.3/10. I probably won’t watch this movie again in its entirety, but there are definitely two scenes I enjoyed and will put on repeat. The movie did make me want to pop in A New Hope afterwards, so I also have to applaud the way the final sequence plays out.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Star Wars:Episode VIII- The Last Jedi

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Wow. All I can say is wow. I was semi-excited for this movie because of how Episode VIII ended and set up respective story threads and character arcs. However, I was also kind of nervous. The last movie, even though I really enjoyed it, felt safe for a lot of the film and I was worried that this film would similarly pull a lot of punches and just be a rehash of Episode V. Thankfully, I was wrong. By the end of this movie, I was more than satisfied with the way previous plot threads were handled and forwarded. Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi innovates and changes the Star Wars formula in ways that I genuinely enjoyed while retaining the magic that has made me fall in love with the franchise.

The film immediately picks up after the end of the last one which I appreciated. One of my biggest issues with a lot of the Star Wars movies is the time gaps between them. I never have a great grasp of what has changed which makes power differences and character motivations feel unearned. It’s a problem I had with the transition between Episodes V- VI and Episodes II-III (yes I know the Clone Wars exist and I’ll be watching them but the problem is still there and noticeable). Because this film bypasses those issues, I wasn’t left asking why or what happened and could just focus on the subsequent plot and character development.

One glaring issue with the last film, is it’s portrayal of Luke Skywalker. He’s missing from a galactic conflict and unresponsive to the plight of the innocents being destroyed by the First Order. When I saw the opening crawl in Episode VII, I could hardly believe it. Luke was a beacon of optimism in the original trilogy and I genuinely enjoyed the way his character developed from a headstrong, passionate, ready to charge in hero to someone more calm and wise in his solutions to problems. In particular, what stood out to me the most was his hope and control of emotions. He gives in to his rage and fear in Episode VI, but manages to control those impulses in favor of the heroic and ethical approach. That stuck with me. So how could such a hero, who saved the galaxy purely through spirit and resilience be away from the situation at play? That’s the question I couldn’t stop asking during the run time of the last movie. Johnson’s answer and direction for Luke, answers those questions in spades, and genuinely surprised me. There’s a satisfying explanation for his motivations and his withdrawal from the conflict. More importantly, there’s a beautiful discussion about the dangers and merits to legends of heroism. Luke is forced to confront his legendary status and this isn’t something I’ve gotten to experience in heroic movies. Yes – legends are great in how they inspire- but looking at how they can debilitate their sources is something I’ve never really bothered to consider and I enjoyed the way the discourse is presented. Mark Hamill’s performance as Luke is breath-taking and I can’t stop thinking about how amazing he was. He’s grumpy, irritated, distraught, hopeful, lost, wise, and everything in between. He’s asked to do so much by this plot and never fails to deliver. I was completely enamored by his presence on the screen and I think that this movie would be an absolute failure if he couldn’t sell the gravitas of his decisions and subsequent character arc. He makes the movie and gives it the emotional weight necessary to elevate it from good to great. If someone had told me Luke still had a dynamic and emotionally resonant character arc left in him, I wouldn’t have believed them, but that’s what I got in this film.

Luke’s not the only character that gets some love in this movie. Finn, Poe, and Kylo all get development in this movie and I love how their character arcs progressed. Finn’s biggest issue in the last movie is how how much he wants to run away. He’s forced to confront that issue and decide his place in the conflict. His ultimate decision in the third act becomes more meaningful as such. Kylo is still emotionally distraught and watching his inner conflict is satisfying. It’s believable and makes his actions and decisions that much more interesting to follow. Poe’s changes are my favorite by far and I loved watching his journey from a guns-blazing hero to someone more tempered. It reminded me of Luke’s journey from Episode V to VI but felt more developed and earned.

The story also continues a lot of the thematic elements I loved from the prequel trilogy- namely the idea that the Sith is “evil” and the Jedi are “good.” Moral grayness is the name of the game and the film explores this through a variety of different character interactions and plot lines. I loved what I got and wish the film had gone further with its deconstruction of those ideas. The primary theme of the film is failure and how we can learn and develop from it. Characters literally come out and tell the audience as much. It’s not a novel lesson, but it’s not something that’s usually explored as much. I mean, no one really loves to focus on their losses. This movie forces the characters to confront their issues and learn or be eliminated. It’s powerful and the lessons some of the group learn are harsh.

This movie shines as a audio and visual treat. There are some gorgeous action scenes that feel larger than life because of the tension and themes that go behind them. The emotional intensity driving these moments kept me engaged and once the action started in the third act, I couldn’t stop staring at the screen in appreciation of the spectacle I was witnessing. John William’s score in this movie is similarly amazing. I paused more than once to find out the name of a track in the background. If you followed my review of Episode VII, this is one of the elements of the movie that I was somewhat disappointed by, so when I heard the riveting score in this film I was genuinely happy.

I know it seems like I’ve gushed a lot over this movie, but I did have a few issues with it. There’s a subplot in the movie that feels kind of out of place. If you’ve watched the movie and seen other reviews online, you know what plot I’m talking about. While I agree that the sub-plot was long and overdrawn, I don’t think it was useless. I enjoyed the way it played with and subverted our expectations while adding to the political commentary and ideas of a moral gray zone. I do think that the section could have been cut down and thought that it did mess up the pacing of the movie. Better editing could have reduced this effect and helped the scene feel less cumbersome to get through.

I lauded the character growth in this movie, especially in relation to failure and development in response. However, because each character is learning a different lesson, sometimes when those lessons are presented one after another it creates a jarring thematic experience. For example, a character learns about the value of patience and then another character immediately acts haphazardly as a martyr. It makes sense for both characters to do what they do (at least in my opinion), but because both arcs are presented with each other it comes off as a thematic whiplash. There’s also an attempt to shoe-horn another theme in the third act, that I thought felt out of place and less resonant.

Speaking of tonal inconsistency, the movie has a lot of humorous moments that follow serious moments. I didn’t mind this in some sections because the comedic moments never felt too serious. However, there are definitely sections that would have benefited greatly from the exclusion of any humorous moments to really drive home the gravity of what was going on.

Rating

TLDR: I loved The Last Jedi. It has some tonal and plot flaws that could have been solved with better editing, but is by and large entertaining and thought provoking. Characters old and new are forced to grow and adapt and I’m excited to see where they end up by the end of the story.

Final Rating: 9.4/10. This movie is a great follow up to Episode VII and I cannot wait to see Episode IX in a few weeks.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Star Wars:Episode VII- The Force Awakens

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After the way the original and prequel trilogy wrapped up the tragedy of Darth Vader, I was left wondering what kind of story was left to be told in this latest trilogy. How has the political climate changed since the ending of Episode VI? Are my favorite characters still okay? While J. J. Abrams directorial debut in the Star Wars universe draws a heavy amount of plot lines and inspiration from Episode IV, it also manages to inject enough flair, passion, and intrigue to capture the hearts of new fans while giving older fans a fun romp through some familiar ground.

Like I mentioned above , the story follows a lot of the same beats from Episode IV. There’s a rebel force fighting a big fascist authoritarian government. The odds are stacked against them. There’s even a hidden technological McGuffin like before. What makes the story different is how it changes these elements to further the political dialogue the previous trilogies started. The First Order reminded me a lot of a Russia post USSR- trying to achieve the strengths of the Empire it used to be. The rebel force is a proxy group – indirectly supported by a Republic that doesn’t want to get too involved. It’s incredibly fitting with the political climate we’re in right now, and as someone who reads the news a lot, I enjoyed the way the confrontation was handled. For those of you not that interested in the politics, rest assured, it’s not in your face and never impeded on the more entertaining elements of the movie.

Speaking of the entertaining elements – I loved the new characters and how much energy and fun they bring into the franchise. Daisy Ridley is great as Rey and I can’t wait to see how her arc continues. She can portray desperate and sullen just as well as independent and assertive and it all feels authentic. You can feel John Boyega’s energy seep through Finn’s actions and I hope he gets more to do in the next movie. His character introduces some much needed introspection into the horrors of actual war. We see bodies hitting the floor in other movies, but watching his emotional rejection of the violence and his decision to defect is great and I love his arc through the movie. However, my favorite new introduction is Kylo Ren. Adam Driver does a phenomenal job at showing the angst and emotional conflict at the heart of Kylo’s motivations and his actions in the movie definitely help drive those ideas home. The older characters, much to my surprise, don’t feel that prominent in the film. I wish they were more incorporated – but I genuinely enjoyed Harrison Ford’s return as Han. I didn’t really like the character in Episode VI and was really happy that he came off as his older self with some wear and tear. His scenes with Leia also tugged at my heartstrings and I really enjoyed the way their arcs were revealed.

Now let’s get to the less than optimal sections of the movie. While the film is shot beautifully , there’s a certain special quality that I felt was missing. Upon closer inspection, I realized that, though John William’s score is great, it never quite hit the mark in this film. In every other movie in the franchise, I felt something when the music played in the background. There was at least a few moments that I could hum along to and really enjoyed. This movie didn’t really have that- the music is good but not memorable. While that’s normally fine, it’s weird to have that feeling in a Star Wars movie.

I said the movie follows a lot of the same movie beats- and as someone who doesn’t hate the idea of soft reboots – this was fine for me. If you’re not a fan of them, this movie might still have something for you because of the editing. Familiar scenes get a different feeling because of their position in the movie. For example, the Mos Eisley cantina scene from Episode IV features near the beginning of its respective film but the callback to the scene happens more towards the middle of the film. The chronological placements make the scenes dynamic enough because they’re imbued with a different narrative tension and overall feeling. However, in spite of all of this, the movie still feels too safe a lot of the times. I was entertained but left wanting more experimentation with the formula. I understand wanting to get a new generation of fans but at the very least thought there should have been more in the film for older fans to get latched on to.

This brings me to my biggest problem with the movie- the lack of explanation of what happened between the end of Episode VI to the start of this story. Yes, this is a problem I’ve had for other movies, but it feels like a bigger issue in this one. We’re left with a feeling of peace and finality after the end of the original trilogy so the abrupt change back to the “status quo” is jarring. The intro sequence doesn’t do enough to make this transition less jarring, so fans of the older trilogies might feel like the past movies had no “impact” in a traditional sense. Watching the machination of the First Order or having some scenes with Leia and other members of the resistance would have done wonders in connecting the stories to make it feel like a cohesive piece. I know there are books that explain the gap, but I didn’t need books to get into the other movies, so I don’t think their existence absolves this film of its duty to at least present part of that information.

Rating

TLDR: While The Force Awakens doesn’t revolutionize the Star Wars movies, it’s a great introduction into the galaxy far far away and I think a lot of people can find a lot of fun moments in it. I wish there was more of an effort to explain the events that culminated into the political quagmire we witness, but I still had a blast in spite of that.

Final Rating: 9.2/10. This movie is a great soft-reboot that sets up a lot of interesting political and ethical threads that can be explored more in the future films. I’m excited to see what’s coming next.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Star Wars:Episode III – Revenge Of the Sith

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This movie is my favorite Star Wars movie out of the original trilogy and the prequels. Does it have its flaws? Yes. Is it a cinematic masterpiece in the same vein as Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back? No – there are some acting issues, strange lines, and wonky visuals. In spite of that, this is, in my opinion, the best movie. George Lucas’s brilliance and vision for the tragedy of Darth Vader comes to full fruition in this emotionally intense tragedy and it’s genuinely beautiful and devastating.

The plot picks up some time after the end of end of Episode II- Palpatine has been kidnapped by General Grievous and we jump into Anakin and Obi-Wan trying to rescue him. The moment the film starts the action kicks off. We go from a great chase scene, to a frantic air battle involving my favorite little droid, into an series of epic battles. This film redeems the disappointing battles of the last movie and then some. The action is on point and features some of the best moments from the entire franchise. There are FOUR amazing light saber/force fights that are really fun to watch ( even if some of them are shorter than I wanted). I couldn’t believe my mind that we got to see this many duels. Two of these fights are so spectacular that I literally had to pause and go re-watch scenes because of how amazing the choreography and intensity felt. Even R2-D2 gets to fight MULTIPLE TIMES in the film and it shows a real sense of creativity and fun.

Acting in this film is also leaps and bounds better than the previous two installments in the prequel trilogy. Ewan McGregor gives Obi-Wan Kenobi some much needed emotional weight and makes Anakin’s decisions feel that much more painful. Hayden Christensen still has some wonky expressions as Anakin but shines through when it comes at depicting his darker more broken side. Natalie Portman really stepped it up as Padme and gave the pivotal romance between her and Anakin a much needed sense of depth. I could believe in the feelings and intensity between them more so than before and it made the unfolding tragedy that much more meaningful. Ian McDiarmid steals the show everytime he’s on screen as Palpatine and is wonderful to watch. I love how evil he really is and his emotional manipulation skills are on full display here. It’s a masterclass in portraying pure evil and I absolutely adored him.

Presentation also feels a lot nicer in this film. The digital effects are a lot better and don’t feel as dated. There’s a closeup of Grievous that looks absolutely stunning and I kind of want it as a screensaver – the point being that some of the animation looks stunning. It makes the action feel more fluid and hits feel like they have more heft and weight behind them. Lighting, set design, and selection of color palette amplify the epic nature of scenes. The score and mixing also feel on point and help amplify the adrenaline and devastation. The third act and final battle is monumental and feels otherworldly because everything just melds together. There’s so much care put into this film and you can tell how important this climax is.

Anakin’s character arc is satisfyingly concluded and presented . It’s crazy to think about how much heavy lifting the film had to do given the lackluster job the latter two films had done at developing his descent into the dark side. Somehow the movie manages to take those threads, develop them, and be entertaining in its poetic tale. I love that Lucas decided to really embrace doing dark/twisted things in this film. There’s no holding back and when the dominoes start to feel the film feels like a doomsday scenario. There’s a real sense of tragedy and it serves as the emotional weight of the first six episodes. This movie is not only amazing in it’s own right – it retroactively makes the prequels more beautiful because the tragedy of Darth Vader is finally complete. It also makes the original trilogy more believable and emotionally charged because we understand Darth Vader. Certain lines from Episode VI already feel like they hit harder because of how this movie progresses. Somehow managing to make amazing movies even better – I think that’s a feat only a masterclass film can have.

This movie made me cry. There are gut wrenching scenes and the third act just hits you with a slew of them. The implication of certain moments tinges previous events with a feeling of melancholy and tragedy. But the ending is absolutely brilliant and rekindles a sense of hope – leading perfectly back into Episode IV.

Rating

TLDR: Revenge of the Sith was well worth it and proves that George Lucas is a visionary genius. The prequels might have started off rough and had a series of issues, but the end destination made everything worth it. Amazing action, great acting, and a poetic tragedy befitting one of the greatest characters of all time- this film was a home run.

Final Rating: Rating this movie was hard for me – I can recognize its flaws but it’s nothing like I’ve experienced more. So for the first time ever, I’m giving a movie two ratings – my personal rating on how the film felt to me and a rating that’s more “objective” and in line with the criteria I use to rank movies normally.

Actual: 8.8/10
Personal : 10/10.

There are glaring flaws with this movie and I’m aware of them. I just think the movie does so much in spite of that and contains so many phenomenal scenes, moments, and ideas that I can’t help but not mind the issues. For me this movie is everything I wanted and more. It’s a unicorn. If you want to experience the beautiful tale of a tragic anti-hero – you owe it to yourself to watch Star Wars Episodes I – VI. I’m stoked to watch the other movies and get into The Clone Wars.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Star Wars:Episode II – Attack of the Clones

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After the ending of The Phantom Menace, I was really curious to see how Anakin’s character arc and relationship with the Jedi order would develop. The way that the ending of Episode I positioned Anakin in relation to where he is at the start of Episode IV was staggering and I didn’t know how the movie would forward his corruption. While George Lucas’s sequel, Attack of the Clones, is flat and awkward , it’s poetic undertones and emotional contours are commendable and moving.

The movie picks up 10 years after the end of the last one and Anakin (Hayden Christensen) and Obi-Wan as they protect Padme (Natalie Portman) from some unknown assassins. The movie continues the discussion on politics from Episode I and kept me interested in how it developed. Some of the discussion might seem dry to others, but I enjoyed the way that concepts like emergency powers were discussed and introduced. In particular, Ian McDiarmid’s performance as Palpatine breathes life into these scenes and watching his political maneuvering was a joy. The twists in the second and third act keep the ploys interesting and I’m excited to see how he continues his machinations.

Outside of McDiarmid there are only a few other note-worthy performances. Ewan McGregor’s is great as Obi-Wan and he manages to bring some personality to otherwise drab scenes. Frank Oz’s performance as Yoda also helps lighten up the mood because he’s funny again. Episode I Yoda is too serious and boring, so I’m happy that he’s a better balance of serious and fun. Everyone else comes off fairly similar to one another. I don’t blame them. It’s probably hard to give a lot of emotion in your words when you’re surrounded by a blue/green screen instead of a real environment.

I had a love/hate relationship regarding the romance between Padme and Anakin . Personally, I love cheesy dorky romance and am a huge romantic at heart. Even the cringy dialogue and “interesting” delivery of said dialogue couldn’t stop me from smiling at the romance between the parties. Christensen’s creeper faces as he stares at Padme had me laughing, but I didn’t think they were that bad given how strange the dialogue is. I wish there was more of a noticeable chemistry between the two. Outside of a few choice scenes on Naboo everything feels so rigid. Plot wise, I think the entire relationship would have benefited from a better initial set up. Padme never feels interested at the beginning of the movie (in fact she actively seems against a romance) and the transition towards her change in feelings is never explained. I would have loved to see her slowly lowering her barriers or showing more interest in him in their initial encounter. Anakin’s obsession with her makes sense (to me at least because I gave The Phantom Menace a lot of credit with the ‘angel’ comments). I just wish it came off cuter and less creepy. It’s hard to get into it, when it feels like he’s a stalker. I do appreciate why the romance exists and know it’s going to gut punch me in the next movie. I can just feel it.

Speaking of emotional gut punches – wow. I didn’t expect to cry while watching this movie. There’s a scene that happens in the second act that really tugs at your heartstrings. The impact of the scene was so profound that no amount of odd acting could stop my heart breaking. I’m a softie in general, but this just got me hard. The scene also highlights one of the issues I had with the film- it’s rating. I wish it was rated PG-13, because I think that some of the scenes needed a darker and more violent tone to really drive in the impact of certain scenes. There’s one moment in particular where a dark event plays out, but before it starts getting really intense we just cut away from it. It feels like it does a huge disservice to a major character arc.

Now it’s time for the bad. The dialogue in this movie is nothing to write home about and illustrates one of Lucas’s biggest problems- emotional dialogue. A lot of moments that could be resounding or interesting come off as plain and drab because they’re described in the most cliched or bland ways. Add on the monotony in acting and I can see why the movie can feel boring to people.

Additionally, the green/blue screens in this movie feel rough. I could tell that characters felt imposed on their backgrounds and this hasn’t ever really been a big problem for me in other movies. It feels unpolished . In addition, the problematic CGI in this movie comes up a lot more often way sooner. The light saber fight (the first part) in the third act is probably my least favorite on screen fight. The camera doesn’t highlight the choreography of the fighters and isn’t satisfying in its resolution either. It’s disappointing after how great the Darth Maul fight from Episode I was.

Finally, there are certain plot elements that are just so bad that I couldn’t ignore them no matter how much I tried. There’s a key element that’s introduced early on – literally characters talk about how this is something important to discover- and then it’s completely dropped. The implication of it is HUGE and is pivotal to the events of the entire movie and it is literally never mentioned again. There’s another action encounter that also makes a scene from Episode VI a lot less meaningful and I was kind of in shock when it happened.

Rating

TLDR: Attack of the Clones isn’t perfect. The film is filled with acting flaws, graphics issues, and corny dialogue. In spite of that, i think there’s a lot of beauty in its more emotional moments and I enjoyed a handful of scenes.

Final Rating: 7.5/10. This movie isn’t for everybody but it has a lot of enjoyable and meaningful moments. People who like cliched romances or subtle political discussions can find a lot to have fun with here.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Star Wars:Episode I – The Phantom Menace

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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.

Rating

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.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Star Wars:Episode VI – Return of the Jedi

Theatrical Release Poster

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.

Rating

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.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!