Reviewing the Star Wars Series

PhantomStar Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
Release Date: May 16, 1999
Director: George Lucas
Studio: Lucasfilm/20th Century Fox
After decades of adoration for the original Star Wars films in the late ’70s and early ’80s (an effort that physically and mentally exhausted George Lucas) Star Wars returns with George Lucas at the helm to direct the “prequels” 20 years later. The reboot was Lucas’s first directorial effort since the first Star Wars film in 1977. Phantom tells the early story of the fall of the Galactic Republic. We meet a young and innocent Anakin Skywalker, a capable apprentice in Obi-Wan Kenobi, and the impending rise of the Galactic Empire. If forced to choose Phantom is my favorite of the prequel films, but it is still a mostly terrible movie rife with overly indulgent CGI effects, distracting and unnecessary subplots, the unfortunate introduction of the Gungans, especially Jar-Jar Binx, and a bizarre substance known as “midichlorians” that is never explained nor discussed again in the Star Wars series.

Star_Wars_-_Episode_II_Attack_of_the_Clones_(movie_poster)Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)
Release Date: May 12, 2002
Director: George Lucas
Studio: Lucasfilm/20th Century Fox
Attack of the Clones is the second installment of George Lucas’s “prequel” films in the Skywalker saga. It is a painfully awful film filled with countless plot loopholes, terrible acting, and a mostly boring narrative that is desperately mired in a hollow romance between Anakin Skywalker and the former Queen Amidala, now known as Padme. There is no romantic tension throughout the film and the audience is quickly disoriented when we find that Anakin has grown into a disappointing brat (nothing like the fearsome and confident Darth Vader from the original trilogy). In addition, the bureaucratic haggling in the Galactic Senate is a complete bore, but at least there is a somewhat confusing side plot about a secretly produced clone army, I suppose.

Star_Wars_Episode_III_Revenge_of_the_Sith_posterStar Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
Release Date: May 15, 2005
Director: George Lucas
Studio: Lucasfilm/20th Century Fox
Revenge of the Sith is the third and painfully final installment of the “prequels” to the Skywalker Star Wars saga. It is a rushed conclusion to this awful Star Wars trilogy. Very little happens in the film until the last half hour which attempts to button up the series in order to fit into the original Star Wars saga. Anakin continues his whiney quest toward the dark side of the force -a choice he makes for love in order to save Padme’s life. Meanwhile, she is pregnant with twins, and Anakin becomes swayed by Senator Palpatine (soon to become Emperor Palpatine). Anakin betrays the Jedi Council (even stooping to slaughtering defenseless children) and, in the end, Anakin is confronted and left for dead by Obi-Wan Kenobi. His mangled carcass is rescued by Palpatine and rebuilt as Darth Vader (‘more machine now than man’). The last half hour or so of the film contains the most interesting parts, otherwise it is fairly obvious that Lucas is attempting to squeeze a conclusion out of this pitiful story-line so that it can somehow be cobbled together to appear continuous with the original series.

Film poster showing Luke Skywalker triumphantly holding a lightsaber in the air, Princess Leia kneeling beside him, and R2-D2 and C-3PO behind them. A figure of the head of Darth Vader and the Death Star with several starfighters heading towards it are shown in the background. Atop the image is the text "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..." On the bottom right is the film's logo, and the credits and the production details below that.Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)
Release Date: May 25, 1977
Director: George Lucas
Studio: Lucasfilm/20th Century Fox
Star Wars is the great science-fiction epic of our time. It is a wonderful Arthurian space opera that weaves together a variety of genres, including elements of American Westerns, as well as Samurai movies. Star Wars tells the story of a listless young man named Luke Skywalker who is suddenly caught up in a struggle between an alliance of rebels fighting the totalizing power of the galactic empire. Each one of the original three (out of a total of nine) films is excellent, and sadly the same cannot be said for other more recent Star Wars films.

empireStar Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Release Date: May 17, 1980
Director: Irvin Kershner
Studio: Lucasfilm/20th Century Fox
Surely, Empire is one of the greatest sequels ever created, on par with The Godfather, Part II. It is a brilliantly dark sequel in which Luke Skywalker begins his training with the reclusive Master Yoda, but he grows impatient, believing himself sufficiently powerful to save his friends and face his nemesis, Darth Vader, only to prove that his powers are not yet ready. Meanwhile, Han Solo and his compatriots fly to the cloud city at Bespin to discover betrayal as they fall into the hands of the empire. The film ends with a disturbing revelation: Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father, and the Rebel Alliance is on the verge of total destruction. Luke is nearly defeated but he manages to escape with his friends, while Han Solo is frozen in carbonite, leaving his budding romance with Princess Leia in question. All hope seems lost at the end.

ReturnOfTheJediPoster1983Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983)
Release Date: May 25, 1983
Director: Richard Marquand
Studio: Lucasfilm/20th Century Fox
Return of the Jedi is the third and final installment of the original Star Wars trilogy. The Empire is rebuilding its massive Death Star weapon that was destroyed in A New Hope. Luke Skywalker returns as a more confident Jedi trained by Master Yoda. He and his friends hatch a plan to rescue Han Solo from the clutches of Jabba the Hut, Luke chooses to face his father without succumbing to the allure of the dark side of the force, and just when all hope is lost, Darth Vader saves his son by destroying the Emperor, his master, thus helping the Rebel Alliance achieve peace. It is a story of good triumphing over evil. The brilliant conclusion of the original Star Wars saga takes us from the desert planet of Tatooine, to the swamps of Dagobah, and finally to the forests of Endor.

Star Wars TrailerStar Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015)
Release Date: December 14, 2015
Director: J.J. Abrams
Studio: Lucasfilm/Disney
The Force Awakens is the first Star Wars movie to be created without George Lucas involved, after the controversial acquisition of LucasFilm by Disney. The Force Awakens is an entertaining film, certainly better than the dreary “prequel” films like Attack of the Clones. However, it follows a familiar pattern -a new powerful force has arisen from the ashes of the Galactic Empire called the First Order, which battles a lowly band of rebels called the “Resistance” while constructing a new weapon called “StarKiller Base.” The most interesting new character is Kylo Ren -the child of Leia Organa and Han Solo. The other intriguing character is Finn, a disillusioned stormtrooper who inadvertently joins the Resistance. The plot essentially recreates the story of A New Hope, but it is still an enjoyable film, at least, despite an over-reliance on digital effects and action sequences to the detriment of pacing and character development.

Star_Wars_The_Last_JediStar Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017)
Release Date: December 9, 2017
Director: Rian Johnson
Studio: Lucasfilm/Disney
The Last Jedi is riddled with errors and plot holes that are obvious even to the most novice of audiences. Almost everything from the previous film, The Force Awakens, is wholly discarded in The Last Jedi. Director Rian Johnson introduces all manner of silly moments: Leia flying through space while on the verge of death, Luke behaving like a jaded and disappointing loser who can apparently hologram himself to other parts of the galaxy, awful characters like Admiral Holdo, a frivolous side-plot to a Las Vegas-esque planet, ridiculous slapstick jokes, ships suddenly hyperdriving into other ships, new secret Jedi books are introduced and then promptly destroyed, the great mystery of Rey’s background is destroyed as irrelevent, the central villain is suddenly killed off with no explanation of his background, and on and on. Apparently, Johnson was merely hoping to “subvert expectations” with this film. The Last Jedi is a film to be resoundingly disregarded as one of the worst sequels of all time. The only redeeming parts of the film are the visually stunning effects and shooting locations. Instead, we should focus our cinematic appreciation on the far superior original Star Wars trilogy –The Empire Strikes Back being one of the greatest sequels of all time.

Star_Wars_The_Rise_of_Skywalker_posterStar Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)
Release Date: December 16, 2019
Director: J.J. Abrams
Studio: Lucasfilm/Disney
After inheriting a mess from Rian Johnson with The Last Jedi, J.J. Abrams was able to cobble together a halfway decent conclusion to this train wreck of a Star Wars series. The plot: a voice recording of the Emperor is echoing throughout the galaxy which leads to a race between the First Order and the rebels to find a secret planet where the Emperor reveals himself to be covertly conducting the First Order, now renamed the Final Order. How the Emperor has managed to survive remains a mystery. Kylo Ren faces a choice between good and evil -to save his future in the First Order or save the Resistance. The Rise of Skywalker is a mildly entertaining film that seems decent in contrast to its terrible predecessor.

Non-Canonical Star Wars Movies

Rogue_One,_A_Star_Wars_Story_posterRogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
Release Date: December 10, 2016
Director: Gareth Edwards
Studio: Lucasfilm/Disney
Rogue One is Disney’s first foray into a side-story that takes place in the Star Wars universe but does not follow the Skywalker saga. It is easily the best of the recent Disney Star Wars movies. It tells the story of the Rebel Alliance in the original series acquiring the plans for the newly constructed Death Star. Rogue One is a fun and surprisingly entertaining movie.

I also watched Solo: A Star Wars Story but decided not to review it. It is pretty clear which direction Disney has chosen to take this once great franchise, and Solo is just another disappointing embarrassment. The only exception is Disney’s The Mandalorian series, which is exceptional.

Ranking My Favorite Star Wars Films

#1 The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

#2 A New Hope (1977)

#3 Return of the Jedi (1983)

#4 The Mandalorian Series

#5 Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

#6 The Force Awakens (2015)

#7 The Phantom Menace (1999)

#8 Revenge of the Sith (2005)

#9 The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

#10 Attack of the Clones (2002)

#11 Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

#12 The Last Jedi (2017)

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