With The Rise of Skywalker hitting theaters and the conclusion of the nine-part Skywalker Saga that has gripped generations of filmgoers, we take a look back at the films that lead us here. Last week, I re-watched Episodes 1 and 2, this week we dive into Episodes 3-8. Make sure to check back next week for our review of The Rise of Skywalker.
Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith
The Phantom Menace is mediocre. Attack of the Clones stinks. Boy does Revenge of the Sith make up for it. So many fans write this off because of the bad taste from previous entries, but this is a great movie. Hayden Christensen gets guff for his acting here, but I don’t get it. He’s fine, and has several scenes that are very good in fact. Ian McDermott as Emperor Palpatine steals the show. Every scene he’s in is must watch. The sense of unease as the Clone Wars wind down and the Jedi begin to sense a plot to destroy them unfurling is palpable. I love the way so many scenes from Anakin’s fall in Revenge of the Sith mirror Luke’s journey to become a Jedi and redeem his father in Return of the Jedi.
More than any in the series, those entries are companion pieces. The opera scene between Anakin and Palpatine is a strong contender for my favorite in the entire series. The emotion is there, and while the dialog is lame at times, it’s no worse than the dialog in the Lucas-penned entires in the original trilogy. Anakin in particular has to have an odd way of speaking, both in dialog and in Christensen’s performance, because there has to be some sort of progression from talking like a normal person and talking the way Darth Vader does. Anyway, I love this movie and think it’s criminally underrated because of the stink of the other two prequel movies. Every time I watch it, I see something new.
Episode 4: A New Hope
Here we have it, the first Star Wars confusingly given the Episode 4 tag retroactively by Lucas. This is the movie that changed cinema forever, ironically by telling the oldest story ever told. Lucas drew heavily on Joseph Campbell’s studies of myths across societies, and Star Wars is the classic myth formula, in space, with a dash of Westerns and samurai films thrown in. As Harrison Ford once said, you can write this but you can’t say it. “Lucas Dialog” has always been a thing. Does it detract from the movie? Not really. In some ways, silly Star Wars dialog is part of the charm. It makes the movie so quotable.
When watching the original trilogy, I really tried to do so with fresh eyes as much as possible. One thing that really stands out is how whiny Luke is. When Star Wars fans complain about Ben Solo or Anakin Skywalker being whiny, they seem to forget what a brat the golden boy was in the original trilogy. I also can’t help but notice that Luke is awfully nonchalant about his aunt and uncle, the people who raised him as their son, being vaporized. He looked sad for like a split second, then shrugged his shoulders and went to space. When Obi Wan dies, a guy whom he literally just met and shared a flight with, he’s devastated. This is a classic of cinema, and for good reason. I love this movie so very much.
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Empire was considered a letdown at the time, but later generations have hailed it as a masterpiece. This has always been, and still remains, my favorite of the series. Each time I re-watch it, I glean something new. Darth Vader’s place as an iconic villain in cinema very well could have rested on A New Hope, but it was Empire that set it in stone. This movie added to the Vader mystique, made him even more menacing and sadistic, and gave us a twist for the ages.
Perhaps the strongest element is the romance between Han Solo and Princess Leia. Where the Anakin/Padme romance from Attack of the Clones suffered from blunt dialog and a lack of chemistry, this romance was more subtle and implied before becoming overt later. Harrison Ford and Carrie Fischer had a spark on screen, and their characters were just enough of a clash to be a match, if that makes any sense. The atmosphere in Empire is the strongest, with only Revenge of the Sith coming close. This is the dark middle chapter for all time. To this day, a sequel is often called the “Empire Strikes Back” of its respective franchise.
Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
I’m about to commit Star Wars heresy, but here it goes: Return is overrated. I still love it, don’t get me wrong, but every complaint that angry adults have about the sequel and prequel trilogy applies here. Derivative plot? That’s a Death Star-sized yes. Bad dialog? Yep (the Emperor excluded). Annoying comic relief designed to sell toys? You betcha. The Ewok silliness on Endor is a stretch for even a space opera with magic wizard samurai, and the entirety of Jabba’s palace stuff is filler. What this movie can hang its hat on, though, is an incredibly powerful set of scenes with Luke, Vader, and The Emperor and a really, really satisfying ending to the trilogy.
Episode VII: The Force Awakens
Is Force Awakens a carbon copy of A New Hope? Yes and no. It is very similar formulaically (a little too so for my taste), but this is a series that’s built on formula so it’s excusable. JJ Abrams as a director has certain quirks that irk me, and he tends to lean too heavily towards hollow fan service and wink/nod moments. Those habits were on full display here. What Abrams did bring on a positive note are likable new characters, an interesting villain in Kylo Ren, a visual flare, and a break-neck pace that moves quick enough to keep you entertained, even if this chapter is a little too safe and a little too much empty calories.
Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
I loved The Last Jedi. Did you hear that? It’s the sound of millions of angry nerds crying out at once. Seriously though, The Force Awakens took a ton of grief for not being different enough, while The Last Jedi took even more grief for being too different. Chalk this up in the “Star Wars fans will never be happy” category. Rian Johnson took some major chances, with unexpected twists and a take on an old characters that ruffled feathers, but I found to be a breath of fresh air. The acting is superb, and the visuals are excellent. This may also feature the best fight choreography of the entire series, matching the physical spectacle of the prequels with the raw intensity of the originals. This movie dared to ask big questions and challenge what Star Wars really is and, I, for one, appreciate that.