FUN FRIDAY: Stuart’s –now updated– guide to Star Wars films

Editor’s note: The article below originally ran in 2015. We’ve had two more Star Wars films since then and we’re just weeks away from another one. I thought it would be fun to resurrect it with some new commentary at the end about the last two films.

Yes I am totally geeking out considering that we’re only a couple months from the actual end to Star Wars’ “Skywalker Saga.” (That’s the retronym that’s being applied to Episodes I-IX, because Disney hopes that this won’t be the last Star Wars movie.)

This is the movie series that inspired me to make a lightsaber out of a branch, the movie series that I debated and quoted endlessly in my younger days, the movie series that (to date) I have bought in three different formats – in fact having bought three of the films three times and the other three only twice. Be cavalier about whatever else you’re doing this winter, but seriously, dudes, Star Wars.

So it’s Friday and part of my job is to write this blog and sometimes I get to go horrendously off topic. This is one of those times. Honestly, what are you doing at your desk today that’s so productive? Reading this blog? Thought so. That said, here’s my mini-review of all six films to help you prepare for the seventh.

The Phantom Menace

The most useless of all six films, it was still a massive hit when released in 1999 because there hadn’t been a Star Wars movie in sixteen long years. That’s long enough to make a whole Justin Bieber. I’m just saying. This movie was fun because you got to see young Obi-Wan and an inexplicably kind-hearted Anakin, but let’s just put this out there… Jar Jar. And way too much CGI because they could, and this being 1999 it seemed pretty good but wasn’t really. You got to see Samuel L. Jackson, then at the height of his bad-dude-ness, say one line. So that’s something. But really the good parts could have been a 15 minute flashback and the bad parts could have been totally torpedoed. That said, a bad Star Wars movie is like bad pizza. It’s still better than most anything else.

Attack of the Clones

Groan. The second worst, I’ll admit, even though it really has a lot of good stuff in it. You get to see Tattooine again and it looks exactly like you remembered it when you were a kid. There’s a lot of fun stuff and honestly I liked the arena battle at the end. Star Wars has always been about calling back to old movies and this was a Coliseum battle with lightsabers. That and a gigantic lizard kitty. It’s almost enough to make you forgive the whiny teenage Anakin. I liked it and have watched it enough times that I know when to fast-forward.

Revenge of the Sith

Now purists will complain, but I think that this film is actually tied for the second-best Star Wars film. It has a lot of heavy lifting to do and it does all of it while mostly not boring you. (I’m thinking the opera house scene was probably the worst part of it and it was still not so bad.) It brings a lot of pop culture to the party, not the least of which is the original Frankenstein. And you know, a lot of people get killed and it’s really sad and parts of it look like The Wizard of Oz but you really get to see what the Jedi were about and as a bonus, it does an incredibly awesome job of tying in to the next film. Seriously, watch the last 20 minutes of this one and the first 20 minutes of the next one and you’ll realize how well they fit together.

A New Hope

The one that started it all is tied for second place among the six films for me. Sure, it’s the best story with the best pacing and that’s because Lucas didn’t know if there would be another one. So he actually came up with a real plot that starts and stops. But then you also have to realize that Luke is a real whiny baby for about half of it and no matter which version you watch (I think there are three, or maybe four including re-edits) it suffers from some clunky storytelling and bad pacing. And I still don’t understand how a stormtrooper picks up a metal ring and says “Look sir, droids.” Is that ring droid poop? Seriously I want to know.

The Empire Strikes Back

Conventional wisdom will tell you that this is the best of the six films because Lucas didn’t write it or direct it. I think that’s really unfair but on the other hand it’s not really also totally incorrect. Doesn’t matter why, though, this is the dramatic pin around which the entire series spins. The villain and the hero are father and son. The two reunite in a meaningful way but there’s betrayal and cutting off hands and stuff like that. The dialogue is snappy and even though you have to wonder why the Empire would use giant elephant robots instead of ships, the effects are really pretty good even for today. This film looks beautiful, it sounds beautiful, and it’s clearly the highlight of the series which unfortunately leads to…

Return of the Jedi

Again, conventional wisdom says that by 1982, Lucas was addicted to making money so he created a whole movie so he could sell toys. Along the way he forgot to add a coherent plot or a really new device (what? They had a spare Death Star and no one knew that?) And Ewoks. Seriously, Ewoks. But that’s a harsh criticism of a film whose real fault lies in the relatively sappy way that it solves pretty much every problem in the Star Wars universe in under two hours. Everyone is happy and the Emperor is dead and Vader is a good guy now and everyone gets to see Ghost Yoda which is much better than regular Yoda because he doesn’t talk.

(and now onto the new stuff)

The Force Awakens

The Force Awakens ended up being a modern-day remake of A New Hope, so much so that they actually had to have a character explaining how the current spherical doomsday weapon wasn’t a Death Star. Yeah, right. Still, the film ages well because it feels like a Star Wars film. It felt like director JJ Abrams had done to Wars what he did to Trek nearly a decade earlier. He played a bunch of familiar tropes with better special effects and made it all feel fresh again. That’s not a bad thing. I’ve seen it half a dozen times since and it still holds up.

The Last Jedi

This is hands down the most controversial of the Star Wars films. It’s also the only one to be reviewed on this blog, if you care to read it. I argued that this film wasn’t made for the OG fans. It was made for millennials, and whether or not you think millennials deserve their own Star Wars film, they got one. A lot of people complained that this movie spat on a lot of the legacy of the other movies, but that’s what young people do. They put their own spin on things.

The real question is, is it a good movie. I have only watched it twice since it became available on streaming. (It is also the first and only movie in the “Skywalker Saga” that I didn’t buy on physical media. The world has changed.) In the end result, it isn’t as good of a movie as some of the others. I’d put it above Return of the Jedi and Attack of the Clones at the low end of the middle of the pack. It’s hard to feel really invested in the characters and it’s missing some of the fun that characterizes the really good chapters in the series.

Coming Soon: The Rise of Skywalker

Of course we don’t really know what the title even means yet. Will Luke Skywalker rise to become some godlike figure? Will “Skywalker” become a generic term like “Jedi” to describe a new group of force-wielding warriors? Is Rey a Skywalker all along? The movie promises to answer all these questions in a much more digestible and enjoyable way. Disney brought back JJ Abrams to helm this version, and he is sure to leave some of the depressing parts of The Last Jedi behind. Whether or not this film is capable of bringing a truly fitting end to such a long movie franchise is debatable. What isn’t debatable is that it will make enough money to fill a Jawa Trawler full of credits.

Yes, I’ll watch it. I may even review it here. But my gut tells me that in the end it will seem anticlimactic and within a few years we’ll all be saying that the movie series should have stopped with three films. I don’t expect this film to really expand our understanding of the shared universe, or introduce any new insights. Why should it? The last two films didn’t, and the three before it did so, fairly poorly.

Of course it doesn’t matter. I’ll see it opening day. Of course I will.