Okay, so, I know no one asked for this, but with it being the doldrums of movie season, I’ve decided to go through every Star Wars film in order of release, and give my succinct thoughts on each movie. We’ll call them ‘pocket thoughts’.
Anyway, on to the first film…
Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)
I wonder how much we’d remember this film if, by some twist of fate, it never had a sequel. It’s the most charming of all the films, and this charm is imbued by all the little rough edges, like the cheap Stormtrooper armor practically falling off the actors, and my personal favorite, the interrogation droid, with its comically huge syringe.
Despite its few shortcomings, it’s still probably the best pure, campy, space adventure in the entire series, and I appreciate its no-frills, standard storytelling, and wish the modern Star Wars films would adopt a more simple standard.
If you’re the type that insists on a rating I give a New Hope.
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
This is easily the most epic of all the Star Wars films to date, long before our current idiosyncratic views of the Star Wars universe, when sweeping human emotion and peril painted a newly expanded universe. This is why it’s most people’s favorite Star Wars film, it’s bigger than the rest, and the best pure sci-fi film in the series.
Return of The Jedi (1983)
This was my favorite Star Wars film when I was a kid, and it still has that adventurous charm I loved so much, however, this movie is very uneven, for every good moment (the battle at the sarlac pit) there is an insufferably dull moment, like the long, unnecessary, exposition dump on Dagoba.
It always seems like George Lucas and company had no idea how to create a kinetic film leading up to our favorite characters winning the day so they just mashed a bunch of half thought out ideas together in the hopes we wouldn’t notice. That might work on 6-year-old James, but adult James, clinging to these movies in a desperate grasp of childhood nostalgia, isn’t fooled.
The Phantom Menace (1999)
The opening crawl for this film should have started with “Oh boy, here we go…”
What does it say about a movie while watching it you can’t help but think of the all the ways it could have been better? The Phantom Menace is exactly what you get when an innovator, but a mediocre filmmaker, like George Lucas, goes completely unchecked. You get a script that feels like a first draft and a lot of odd head-scratching decisions.
The Phantom Menace isn’t completely without merit, it pushed CG effects into the future, and the pod race is a highlight, but there really wasn’t a sound decision made in the entire process of this movie.
Attack of The Clones (2002)
The lowest of the lows are in Attack of The Clones. It’s amazing how inept this movie is at portraying romance and courtship between Anikan and Padme. It’s so stilted, awkward, and just plain dumb, it’s as if a child wrote it by simply guessing what passes for romance. This wouldn’t be much of a problem if the entire trilogy didn’t hinge on these characters falling in love. And did I mention how incredibly stupid the Jedi are, not just in the story, but as a concept? But, we’ll get more into that in the next film.
This isn’t all bad, though. I like the idea of Obi-Wan in a detective story trying to track down an assassin, and for about 20 minutes this movie embraces that as best it could, and even the action scene on Geonosis is okay until the tsunami of lightsabers shows up (this movie makes me hate lightsabers).
Revenge of The Sith (2005)
This is probably the most interesting of the three prequels, in that you can sense Lucas trying to course correct the mistakes he made in the previous films. The plot, though still confusing as hell, is stripped down enough to let the clumsy narrative of Anakin’s conflict to be more at the forefront. However, I feel like this lays bare a lot of the issues in form these movies have.
By stripping away some of the ancillary elements we are more forced to endure the back and forth of obnoxious, nonsensical CGI laden action, to dull, uninteresting, scenes of characters literally sitting around spouting broad platitudes in front of a blue screen, as if they are providing gravity for the next bad action scene. If I had to sit through one more scene in that tragically boring Jedi Council room I was going to Jedi chop my fist through my TV.
The Force Awakens (2015)
I have a weird relationship with this movie. On one hand, I very much enjoy it. I think it manages to capture the mood of the original trilogy, while also integrating new ideas and interesting characters, it’s a pretty fun movie.
However, so much of this movie feels…incomplete, as if it was being put off until later movies. That’s frustrating, and it often feels like the movie is actively avoiding getting too involved with the characters, or even embracing the world around it. There are so many seeds of epic storytelling here the movie deals in half measures as if there is a fear that if they give us a satisfying story in this film there’ll be nothing left in the next film. And don’t get me started on Starkiller base, that’s the laziest piece of screenwriting I’ve ever seen out of a Star Wars movie, and I just came from the prequels.
In a lot of ways this movie is like me; good looking and fun, but terrified of commitment.
Rogue One (2016)
Anyone who has been close to me in the last couple of years knows how I feel about this movie. I really don’t like it, but since I was a little harsh on a movie that I actually enjoy (The Force Awakens) I’m going to try to be more positive about this one.
This is possibly the best looking Star Wars film to date. I hate using this word, but it has a nice, gritty, lived-in feel, reminiscent of A New Hope and Empire. It also has some really incredible shots of space, I know, it’s pretty wild that a Star Wars movie actually took the time to wow the audience with space itself, but I loved all the shots looking down on different planets, it gave it a little bit of a 2001 feel.
My major issue with this movie is that nothing is cohesive or even coherent. Scenes just happen, and our characters inhabit those scenes, but none of it is in service of a story or arc. Characters make decisions because of movie, people die because of movie, people fight because of movie. There is never a motivating factor for any of it, at least not anything they show us. This makes for a really hollow, empty experience, that once you’re over the visuals it gets pretty boring and confusing.
This is a film based solely on fan service, which is fine if you’re into that, but I’d rather not waste my time in a theater watching something that would be better broken up into Star Wars shorts on YouTube.
The Last Jedi (2017)
Before The Last Jedi was released I correctly predicted it would be the most divisive Star Wars film ever. It seems as though you either have to be on the side that believes it’s the best Star Wars film of all-time or a side that believes it is so vile an act it should be stricken from the cinematic record. I fall somewhere in the middle.
It’s a mediocre film that feels rushed and is painfully overcompensating for the criticism A Force Awakens received. Because of this, it seems to pat itself on the back for simply subverting our expectations.
“Oh, you thought we were just going to rehash The Empire Strikes Back? Well, guess what, we’re doing everything the opposite of Empire…sort of.”
I think it’s pretty great that they explored different avenues of storytelling for this film in an attempt to break free from the staleness of Star Wars. This is a big universe with infinite possibilities, why not expand our view of it rather than keep it cramped in a pretty rigid view born from the devotion of the original trilogy, and even the prequels? However, as great it is that Rian Johnson and Disney want to explore other possibilities, they forgot to make a good movie.
I have very little experience writing screenplays, but I write a lot of short stories, and when I come up with a good idea while in the middle of a draft, rather than go back and start rewriting it from the beginning, I just wedge that idea into the existing draft and write it in smoothly with the next. All of The Last Jedi feels as though Rian Johnson filmed a script he never had time to go back and finish, so there are a lot of interesting ideas and narrative choices that are clunky and half baked.
I didn’t have nearly as much fun watching Solo this time as I did seeing it in the theater, but nonetheless, I still find this terrible movie to be a breath of fresh air. Disney and Lucasfilm gave us a completely superfluous movie that no one asked for and it’s really bad, and finally, we get to celebrate a universally recognized bad Star Wars movie. There’s no one claiming it to be a misunderstood work of genius, or that it ruined their childhood. We’re free to enjoy it in all its inept glory.
That’s not to say it’s all bad, I still like the train heist scene, and there are some pretty good performances, notably Donald Glover doing a spot-on impression of Billy D. Williams, but this movie feels every bit as unnecessary as it is, maybe if they had just let the original directors do the Solo comedy they wanted it would have been great, who knows? But, I would have liked to have seen it.
The two most glaring problems I have with this film is just how terrible it looks and the character of L3. This is easily the worst looking film I’ve seen all year, the whole thing looks like it was filmed through soup, so much so that it’s hard to even make out character’s faces at times. L3 might be the laziest, most poorly thought out character in the history of the franchise. I am embarrassed that I actually liked the character the first time I saw this. Shame on me.