Alright, I think I’ve held off long enough on reviewing these films, so let’s get to it. But it should be mentioned that I am not a major die-hard fan of the Star Wars franchise. I’ve only really watched the movies, I haven’t ever gotten into the spin-off comics, novels, or tv shows. So I don’t know hardly anything about the extended universe. I’m just going to be looking at these as one who has only watched the films, and hasn’t dug all that deeply into the lore beyond that, and that’s it. Also, the original trilogy is great, the special edition versions can lick my butt and suck on my balls.
Oh, and there will be spoilers.
Rated: 3 / 5
Contrary to what current versions say about the first Star Wars film being titled Episode IV: A New Hope, that is not how it started out. It started out with just the title Star Wars, no episode number, no sub-name, that was it. And it blew audiences away back in the day, more so than Jaws.
But past, mash. What are my thoughts on it today? It’s a decent film. I don’t hold this particular film as one of the greatest of all time, but I do admire its reputation and historical significance on film history, and the entire original trilogy is worth watching just for that reason alone. It has enough to it to keep me interested, but it comes off as an entertaining popcorn flick, just a B movie. The main portion of the film where it shined for me was during the finale, the Death Star battle. That entire last act is intense, and still holds up rather well to this day, despite a couple special effects that show their age (especially this brief moment where the size perspective of an X-Wing seems way off). This is a film that definitely saves the best part for last.
It’s also the film that has the worst lightsaber fight in the history of Star Wars films. The Kenobi vs. Vader fight, good God, is it bad. I mean, I know Kenobi is old and all, but I wish they put more effort into the choreography. Considering the whole lightsaber thing, and much of the jedi lore, is heavily inspired by the way of the samurai (because the Japanese are awesome), and also considering they can use the force, you would think that they could put up a better effort than this.
This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight. Not as clumsy or random as a blaster; an elegant weapon for a more civilized age. For over a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic. Before the dark times… before the Empire.
Everything else I thought was entertaining enough, albeit nothing too spectacular (again, I’m speaking regarding my views of today, not how many would’ve viewed it back then). The acting is so-so (except for Alec Guinness who played Obi-Wan Kenobi, who shined brightly in that role), special effects are good enough, the music is iconic (so much so that it would be utilized in virtually every other Star Wars film that follows), and the story is basic (but with a few brilliant subtle tidbits sprinkled in here and there that are easily missed). And seriously, George Lucas was heavily inspired not just by Buck Rogers stuff, but also by Akira Kurasawa films, particularly The Hidden Fortress. Sure there’s also the whole critique on totalitarian governments and stuff, which is very simplified but given a small amount of depth in a brief scene where Vader gets in a brief squabble with some individual in a high-command position. So while the whole film is simple, the simplicity is a tad bit deceptive. It’s no Dark Crystal by any stretch, but there’s enough to indicate hidden potential.
Regarding that tapped potential, Obi-Wan says this line: “The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.” This line will be repeated in an altered form in the next film, but with a more personal note to it, and dare I say with better delivery by a puppet.
There’s also a message of martyrdom: “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.” And of course, the message of rebelling against a corrupt/totalitarian empire, which I suppose could be reflective of either the United States or Vietnam or China or Russia during the time period (the Cold War and some of the stuff all nations were doing at the time made something as simple as this relevant, though this message has been done to death in the present age of film):
“Don’t be too proud of this technological terror you’ve constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.”
“Well, the Empire doesn’t consider a small one-man fighter to be any threat, or they’d have a tighter defense. An analysis of the plans provided by Princess Leia has demonstrated a weakness in the battle station. But the approach will not be easy.”
The message can be used in virtually any of the above Cold War conflicts, as anti-U.S. (in the case of Vietnam), pro-U.S. (against totalitarian regimes of Russia and China), and perhaps in similar situations of today. Funnily enough, even the prequel trilogy takes on this concept in the more present-day light (more on that in a future post).
The hidden potential would be ripped out of its hiding place and thrust into the spotlight in the next film, which would blast this soon-to-be franchise from entertaining popcorn/blockbuster status into legendary “biggest fan-base next to Star Trek of all time” status.
Rated: 5 / 5
As you can tell from the rating, this is one of my favorite films of all time. And this is the movie that made Star Wars the franchise it is today. Let me rephrase that, it made Star Wars the franchise it was until Disney got a hold of it (more on that later, in a future blog post). Everything that was in the previous film has been expanded in incredible ways, from the characters themselves to the lore with the force and the way of the jedi. This is the film that evolved the force and the jedi from a basic B-movie idea/concept into a religion (and by religion, I mean people in real-life follow it). And on top of that, the film and acting quality improved from the last film. It’s also the first film, despite what George Lucas rewriting history may want you to believe, to use episodic numbers. And rather than do an episode II, it went straight to episode V. I guess George Lucas did have some high ambition for these films. And from what I’ve gathered with behind the scenes stuff, though I can’t swear as to how solid of an idea this was at the time, Lucas did want to do a prequel trilogy and a sequel trilogy on top of this trilogy. More on those later (in a future post).
Anyway, so the high point of the last film was the assault on the Death Star. In my opinion, it was the best scene of the entire film, and the only other things that even approach that level of being memorable and noteworthy, the concept of lightsabers and the force aside, was the millennium falcon and going to lightspeed. This film starts out with it’s own high memorable moments pretty damn fast. First the abominable snowman shows up (I know that’s not what it’s actually called, for all you die hard Star Wars geeks who are super into this and can’t take a joke). But topping that, then comes the Battle of Hoth. The asteroid chase. The training on Dagoba. Being frozen in carbonite. Han and Leia’s developing relationship. The epic lightsaber duel between Luke and Vader. This whole film is filled to the brim with awesomeness.
Regarding the development of the jedi and the force, this is hinted at with Luke demonstrating that telekinesis is possible when he strains to reach his lightsaber. This develops from his ability to reflexively react to something just before it happens, and to listen to a jedi ghost (though it’s also implied that this is possible with Vader force-choking a guy in the last film, but even that is developed even more indicating he doesn’t even need to be in the same room as the guy he wants to force-choke, just within a vicinity of a couple miles). We begin to see more of the full potential of the force. This is developed much further in Dagobah, where Yoda teaches Luke the ways of the force, not only enhancing the telekinetic ability, but showcasing how the Force can enhance one’s strength and endurance, and can even enhance one’s ability to see into the future, going beyond enhanced reflexes (though Yoda is quick to mention that the future is always in-flux, always uncertain, that what one sees is only one possibility, something also utilized in Frank Herbert’s Dune). And the ways of the Force are about much more than just power, like how martial arts are more than just about self-defense.
Yes, a Jedi’s strength flows from the Force. But beware of the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan’s apprentice.
Vader… Is the dark side stronger?
No, no, no. Quicker, easier, more seductive.
But how am I to know the good side from the bad?
You will know… when you are calm, at peace, passive. A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, NEVER for attack.
A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind. This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away… to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph! Adventure. Heh! Excitement. Heh! A Jedi craves not these things. You are reckless!
All of this also building on the theme of the last film about how even the smallest powers, the most ancient of forces, a small rebellion, can make the biggest of differences against a giant empire, against a great foe, against the most notorious and darkest of forces. And despite the war against the Empire, despite the violence needed on the part of the rebellion, the film carefully and brilliantly inserts an anti-war message into it, not necessarily indicating that war is always unnecessary, but that that one must only enter into it with great care (which also subtly takes a jab at the U.S. for the Vietnam War):
Wars not make one great.
A lesson that you could say Luke doesn’t take to heart, as he rushes into battle against Darth Vader, despite the warnings given by Yoda and ghost Obi-Wan, with consequences that leave him permanently scarred. And yet, things also don’t turn out as disastrous as Yoda and Obi-Wan believed they would for Luke. He still manages to come back out alive (though not in one piece), he is still the best hope for taking down Vader and the Empire, and you could argue he has become humbled from the experience. Well, maybe not the latter, as we see with his character during most of the next film (more on that later). The point being, even a master can be wrong, though their words of wisdom and advice should still not be ignored, as they have lived longer and have more experience and have learned more than the pupil could.
Back to Luke and Vader. So in the first film, Luke is a simple boy who is ambitious, courageous, and seeks adventure. Vader was just a simple 2-dimensional villain. This film changed all that, in a good way. Aside from showcasing Luke’s flaws, how his ambition can also lead him to be over-ambitious, it also shows how Luke and Vader are more than they appear. Hints of this are given at various points in the film, including the very beginning, during the text crawl. It states that Vader is obsessed with finding Luke. So at first one would think, “Just how 2-dimensional is this villain? Is he that pissed about Luke blowing up the Death Star? Not exactly that interesting of a motivation.” But then the twist comes, and it’s revealed Vader was chasing Luke for different reasons entirely. Because he has come to learn that Luke is his long-lost son. This revelation blew people away back in the day, and it’s also a very effective moment that develops both of these characters dramatically. It raises the stakes, and raises a number of questions and theories, including the ulterior motives for Obi-Wan and Yoda with why they trained Luke, why they choose him as the one to bring balance to the force. It also brings insight into the backstory as to how the Empire came to be, how Vader came to be, and so on. There is a lot to take in from this twist, both on the surface and below the surface, which is ultimately what makes it one of the greatest twists/reveals of all time in film history. It gave an even greater amount of depth to the franchise.
Which brings me to the duel between Vader and Luke. This isn’t just a lightsaber fight that is happening here. Vader isn’t setting out just to beat Luke, he is also trying to train him in his own way, in a far different way than Yoda was training Luke. While Yoda utilized no violence on Luke, and discouraged violence and anger, and promoted the message of being at peace and being calm in all things, Vader is getting Luke to act out aggressively and letting his emotions rule him. Telling Luke to use his anger and hatred to his advantage to win his battles. The battle is fought in stages, with Luke clearly not as skilled as Vader, yet he is also tapping into his power and potential (not to mention his youth and not being hindered by scars of the past like Vader is) to continue going head-to-head with him. But he is ultimately not strong or experienced enough, and Vader utilizes both skill and strength to best Luke. The first stage of the fight shows that Luke, while not as good as Vader, is still capable of fighting him off, even if Vader is holding back on him; it ends with Luke knocking Vader off a platform. The second stage showcases Vader’s power, and makes it clear Luke is not on Vader’s level, and ends with Luke getting bashed by flying objects and blown out the window (thus a much more violent knockdown off a platform compared to what Luke did to Vader). The last stage of the fight has Vader continually backing Luke up more and more until he’s cornered with no place to go. A corner that Vader has backed Luke up into just as much as Luke’s decisions have put him into. And it ends with Luke’s literal fall.
This film has more layers in it than the first film. It is also the film that made Star Wars the iconic franchise with the large fan-base it has had for decades afterwords. So many iconic moments, complimented with continued iconic music (that matches the strength of the music scores used in the previous film), it would bee very difficult to go through them all in detail in a single review; which is why I’m not even going to try. If you haven’t seen any of the Star Wars films, you owe it to yourself to at least watch the first two. If you don’t enjoy them by then, you’ll likely not enjoy the franchise in general. Because The Empire Strikes Back is easily the high-point of the franchise. Unfortunately, it’s a point that the franchise wouldn’t be able to reach again to this day. But in all fairness, this is a very high bar that not many films have reached. And that doesn’t mean there isn’t entertainment to be had with the other films. Speaking of which…
Rated: 3 / 5
This is one of those films I’m conflicted with. A part of me wants to like it more than I do (currently, I do like it more than the first Star Wars film), but the critical part of me gets too irritated by the flaws and missed opportunities to ever allow me to enjoy it that much. But I’ve come to appreciate the film regardless of its flaws. Besides, it’s not as if it doesn’t have strengths.
The first act, for instance. Some people take issue with it for some reason because it doesn’t move the overall plot forward and is just one overlong rescue sequence. I say those people can take their opinions and shove them up their ass. The whole first act is probably the best part of the movie. No one cares about the middle act except for furries. And the last act, well, I’ll get to that in a minute, that deserves special attention.
Anyway, the first act. There’s a second reason for this existing besides getting Harrison Ford back into the franchise (and besides putting Leia in that famous slave costume). It’s also to highlight Luke Skywalker’s trained jedi abilities, and to showcase what a jedi is capable of. His mind control tricks, his telekinesis, his skills with a lightsaber, using the force to jump further than normal, etc. It highlights what the jedi were like before the dark times. At the same time, it also showcases that he’s not invincible, still capable of making mistakes, and still has the flaw of being overly ambitious. Him and his friends all planned for this rescue, but what would’ve happened if the whole thing backfired and they all got killed? Pretty sure the whole rebellion would be screwed at that point, because Luke, Leia, and Lando are all valuable members to the rebel alliance. In fact, I’m pretty sure the only reason they were able to do this rescue mission was because they were in high ranking positions within the alliance. Or maybe I’m reading too much into that. Either way, the whole rescue turned out to be a gamble, considering the few things that went wrong.
What’s more, it’s also a very dark atmosphere, and Luke himself is darkly clothed and acts rather deviously and over-confidently, indicating that he is falling to the dark side a bit despite Yoda’s teachings (one could guess that this is his father’s influence rubbing off on him). It gives the feel of our protagonists being deep within a dark seedy atmosphere, foreshadowing that they will be taking on the dark side, both Luke against Vader and the Emperor, and the others against the Empire (which I guess can be considered one and the same). And all that aside, the whole Jabba’s Palace and Rancor and Sarlac Pit thing is friggin’ awesome. I’m a sucker for that shit.
So with the first act out of the way, there is something I’ve noticed about this film compared to the first two. There’s a severe lack of great philosophical dialogue. The first film had some great lines that offered food for thought, such as, “Who’s the more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him?” The second film was filled to the brim with more of that, especially by Yoda. But in this film, Yoda only repeats stuff said in the last film, and no one else really says anything all that enlightening. George Lucas wrote the first film and this one (he stayed out of Empire Strikes Back for a bit), so either his quality dropped or he listened too much to someone else. Lawrence Kashdan also helped with the screenplay, but he’s done some good stuff too during that time period. So I’m not sure what the hell happened. I guess they just slacked off or got too depressed from getting divorced or something. The best the film has to offer in this regard is this line ghost Obi-Wan says to Luke:
So, what I told you was true… from a certain point of view.
A certain point of view?
Luke, you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.
So at least it offers the message of taking into account that one must learn to see things from multiple perspectives in order to gain a higher understanding of the universe. That being said, this message isn’t utilized well-enough in this film. That, and Obi-Wan comes off as a bit of an asshole with this line of reasoning. One of the several missed opportunities.
But then there’s a whole new level of cheesiness that none of the Star Wars films have reached until this moment. When the Emperor shows up. Holy Mother of Christ, this guy’s dialogue. Seriously, when’s the last time you’ve seen this movie and took a good listen to the Emperor? This is the type of dialogue that everyone and their mother associates with mustache-twirling villains of animated films of the 80s and earlier, and from the 50s and older, and all the old-school trashy sci-fi and fantasy films. I mean, just listen to this guy and the lines he spouts and the way he delivers these lines:
I was trying desperately not to laugh my ass off at this guy. This actor and the character he plays is pure gold. He is the most pure form of evil cartoony villainy in existence. But I’m positive that this was all intentional. Everyone knew what they were doing with this guy. I believe this goes back to the whole Buck Rogers influence, Lucas wanted a villain who acted this cheesy and this full of himself. Many will have very mixed opinions about this guy, as to whether he is great or terrible, and I could sympathize with either point of view. Either way, I found this character to be entertaining as hell; I’m just not sure if it’s for all the right reasons or all the wrong reasons.
Anyway, the other good stuff. The forest speed-chase, despite the outdated green-screen effects, still works to this day for one reason only. The lack of music and the focus on the sound effects. Those sound effects MAKE that scene. The echo of the speeder as it passes by the camera, the sounds it makes. It creates the tension a sequences like that needs. The sound effect crew needed a medal for that.
And then there’s the final fight between Luke and Vader. It’s so-so at first, not on the same level as the one from the previous film, but it still does a good job at telling a story, mainly that Luke has now surpassed Vader, but is conflicted with how to deal with him, struggling to find the best way to resolve all this. He knows he shouldn’t strike him down in hatred, but he doesn’t want to strike him down at all. And yet the hatred the Emperor instills in Luke is the only thing that makes him want to fight. Because the Emperor knows how to use his own emotions against him. Eventually, Vader figures out how to do that as well, but more effectively. And how could he not? He’s more personally involved with Luke after all. So Luke finally snaps and unleashes his hatred upon Vader, resulting in a more memorable lightsaber duel. The haunting music makes this sequence more powerful, further highlighting that Luke is on the wrong path, and may not be able to turn back from it. And as a result Luke bests Vader in combat, unleashing his anger and using his hatred to try and destroy him, as Vader indicated he should in the previous film. The one thing that stops Luke from going so far as to kill him and become more ruled by emotion and a slave to the Emperor as a result was seeing how his actions are a repeat of similar actions his father did in the past. Seeing that his father has a robotic arm, just like he does now, and being ruled by emotion will, ironically, make him more machine than man, losing more and more sense of humanity. Seeing this is ultimately what stops him. This also gives insight as to how Vader had turned down this path, ruled by his emotions, betrayed by his emotions, and having the dark side use his emotions against him, putting him down a path he believed there was no turning away from because of what he had done in his anger. And because, as Yoda indicated in Empire Strikes Back, he was focused more on the future than on the present.
The emotions are high in that fight sequence, but they reach an even higher point in the aftermath as Luke is trying to take Vader off the ship after Vader turns on the Emperor, and suffering fatal damage as a result (either to his body, or to the electronic breathing suit that helps keep him alive; same result). Seeing the emotion on Luke’s face when he sees his father’s true face for the first time (as does the audience), and what Vader says to him afterwards.
I’ll not leave you here. I’ve got to save you.
You already have, Luke.
Have to admit, I get a bit choked up each time I see this scene.
So that’s the final conflict with Luke and Vader getting resolved rather nicely. Then there’s the final way the trilogy shows the potential of the force. With Luke, we see mastery over telekinesis, using the lightsaber reflexively against lasers, and enhanced strength with jumping and kicking. But then there’s the Emperor himself, with the big reveal of the full power of the dark side being force-lightning. Now, as awesome as it looks, its impact is weakened considering how long it takes for him to try killing Luke with this power. The force-choke seems more effective than this. Another element in the film that could’ve been utilized more effectively, but wasn’t.
But anyway, all that aside, the downsides to the finale of this trilogy. First, the Ewoks. Yes, they’re cute and adorable and perfect for merchandising (which is why they went with them in the first place), but fuck these fucking furballs. They should’ve gone with the Wookies like they originally were going to do. At least those are menacing enough to take on stormtroopers more convincingly than furry midgets. You can’t convince me that these furry fucks can help take down an empire army, I don’t care how in-line that is with the theme of David taking down Goliath. I would like to see how they setup these log traps by themselves. I refuse to believe that an entire army of these things is capable of stacking a bunch of tree logs together, or lifting several of them up into a tree.
And like I said earlier, aside from the Emperor where this sort of thing works, the dialogue has gotten a downgrade. Hell, I think it’s worse than the first Star Wars movie. Though it does have one of the most memorable lines ever that is used as a meme and a comedy clip in every-other youtube video.
And then there’s the twist of Leia being Luke’s sister. Granted, they did put this to decent use by having Vader use this revelation as a weapon against Luke, but it comes off as shoehorned in. Like they were trying to keep up with the similar revelation in Empire Strikes Back. It just feels weak in hindsight. Nothing much really comes of this, and the new Star Wars trilogy doesn’t really build off of this in any significant way. They mine as well as have kept her unrelated to the family line in my opinion. But it does make one wonder, “If not Leia, then who is the other that Yoda spoke of in Empire Strikes Back?” I wouldn’t know. Maybe this twist could’ve worked if they did more with it. Maybe some spin-off books do more with it. As-is, it really doesn’t seem like anything special.
And lastly, there’s the ending itself. Now don’t get me wrong, the finale is fine for the most part, with an entertaining space battle, a decent action sequence in the forest (despite my gripes about the ewoks), and a good enough final confrontation between Luke, Vader, and the Emperor. But the last moments of the film is just everyone dancing and celebrating with the ewoks in the forest (now I’m going to gripe about them again, fuck’em). Nothing is shown to establish just how big of a victory this was for the rebellion to show the fall of the empire, at least not in the original theatrical edition. Now granted, the special editions do show this sort of impact by having a crowd of people topple over a statue of the emperor, but you would think the last moment of the film would end on a more epic note. And no, the ghosts of the past making an appearance isn’t good enough for a final screen moment before the credits roll, as effective as that may be as a stand-alone scene (and the special editions manage to fuck that up, negating the praise I had for the broader scope). It’s unfortunate that the trilogy closes in that way, considering how strong of a note the previous two films closed out on.
So The Last Jedi is a mixed bag, with as much awesome stuff as it has bad stuff. The awesome stuff is enough to make me enjoy it more than the first film, but the bad stuff threatens to change my mind, depending on my mood. But hey, at least it’s not Godfather III or Alien 3 or Spiderman 3, or whatever other end to a trilogy there is that sucks. While not ending on as strong of a note as some fans wanted, it’s still decent enough. The pros outweigh the cons. But it’s the most frustrating of all Star Wars movies simply because of lost potential.
Anyway, until the next Star Wars trilogy review…