Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
Director: George Lucas. After decades of adoration for the original Star Wars films in the late ’70s and early ’80s -a series that really wore down George Lucas mentally and physically in the process- Lucas returned to direct the “prequels” 20 years later in the late ’90s and early ’00s. It 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, a young Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and the rise of the Galactic Empire. It is my favorite of the prequel films, but only when forced to choose one because the excessive CGI effects are a complete distraction and the introduction of the Gungans, especially Jar-Jar Binx, is an unfortunate eye-roll.
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)
Director: George Lucas. 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 plot loopholes, terrible acting, and a mostly boring narrative that is 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 (2005)
Director: George Lucas. Revenge of the Sith is the third and painfully final installment of the “prequels” to the Skywalker Star Wars saga. The film is a rushed conclusion to this awful Star Wars trilogy. Very little happens in the film until the last half hour which attempts to neatly wrap up the series in order to fit into the original Star Wars saga of the 1970s and 1980s. 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 is easily swayed by the dark side of 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 the conclusion of this story-line into the narrative of the original trilogy.
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)
Director: George Lucas. Star Wars is the great science-fiction epic of our time, 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.
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Director: Irvin Kershner. 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 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 only to find 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.
Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983)
Director: Richard Marquand. 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 compatriots 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 the forests of Endor.
Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015)
Director: J.J. Abrams. 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, but a close follow-up for most 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.
Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017)
Director: Rian Johnson. 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 disregarded in The Last Jedi, and Director Rian Johnson introduces all manner of silly moments: such as Leia flying through space while on the verge of death, Luke being a jaded and disappointing loser who can apparently hologram himself to other parts of the galaxy, awful characters like Admiral Holdo are introduced for seemingly no reason, a massive side-plot to a Las Vegas-esque planet is included but it ultimately yields nothing, ridiculous slapstick jokes abound, ships can suddenly hyperdrive into other ships, new secret Jedi books are introduced and then promptly destroyed, the great mystery of Rey’s background is brushed off as nothing, the central villain is suddenly killed off with no explanation of his background, and so 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 attention on the far superior original Star Wars trilogy –The Empire Strikes Back being one of the greatest sequels of all time.
Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)
Director: J.J. Abrams. 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. Kylo Ren faces a choice between good and evil -to save his future in the First Order or save the Resistance. It is a mildly entertaining film that only seems decent in contrast to its terrible predecessor.
Non-Canonical Star Wars Movies
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
Director: Gareth Edwards. 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 how the Rebel Alliance in the original series acquired 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.