It is official: Star Wars is back! Disney buying out Lucasfilm was an event nobody saw coming—not industry wags or obsessive bloggers. The Mouse House has purchased Marvel and Pixar in recent times, but snapping up the Star Wars trademark and rights is a truly extraordinary happening.
With the promise of a new trilogy just on the horizon (“Star Wars Episode VII” will hit our screens in 2015), here’s the current sextet of films dissected and placed in order of merit.
Top: Darth Vader image © Lucasarts.
“Episode I” (1999) stars A-list actors Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman.
Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
The expectation and hype surrounding George Lucas’s 1999 return to film-making was pretty insane. Goosebumps collectively rose on the skins of the audience, as John Williams’ rousing score blasted from THX-approved sound systems, but things soon turned to grave disappointment and a general sense of what-the-f**kry? “The Phantom Menace” stinks. Here’s a film that opens with a title crawl about taxation. Yes, taxes. Further confounding things is the malignant and borderline racist creation Jar Jar Binks, a character “for the kids,” but whom adults wanted to throttle. Though Lucas has some dodgy racial form—inadvertently, of course—with Lando.
What just about rescues “The Phantom Menace” is a cool finale featuring two Jedi knights fighting against Sith baddie, Darth Maul. The film also included a slightly creepy romance between boy-genius/Jesus Christ clone Anakin Skywalker and teenage queen Amidala/Padme (Natalie Portman). Reverse genders, and you’d realise how unseemly it is. “The Phantom Menace” is everybody’s least favourite Star Wars movie.
“Episode III” (2005) includes Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiamid, Samuel L. Jackson, and others.
Star Wars: Episode III – The Revenge of the Sith
Common delusion among Star Wars fans is the prequels got better as they went along. We need to face certain facts. “The Revenge of the Sith” was certainly dramatic, with Anakin finally succumbing to the powers of the dark side of the Force and finally getting his Darth Vader on. Yet, Lucas continued to fudge the spectacle with his cack-handed approach to directing human beings. He seems utterly at home with computers and artificial figures. Not only that, “The Revenge of the Sith” features Darth Vader crying “No!” upon hearing of the death of his beloved Padme. It’s laughable. Darth Vader doesn’t cry or get upset—he’s an emotionless man-machine… with mystical powers.
“Episode II” (2002) stars once again Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, and Samuel L. Jackson.
Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
“Attack of the Clones” is a vast improvement on Lucas’ initial prequel, the arthritic and devoid of spirit flick that is known as “The Phantom Menace.” This was the last Star Wars picture to be shot on celluloid. The future would be digital. Sir Christopher Lee as Count Dooku is introduced as a new villain, and we follow Anakin’s rise and the beginnings of his fall. It might be dumb and robotic still, but Attack is a parsec ahead of Phantom.
“Episode VI” (1983) includes the original cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Bill Dee Williams, and others.
Star Wars: Episode VI – The Return of the Jedi
Two words: metal bikini! Nerds across the galaxy to this day have posters on their wall of Princess Leia dressed in her iconic desert wear. And the film itself? Regurgitates the Death Star scenario, uses a forest planet after Hoth and an opener on Tatooine. And features the Emperor Palpatine being evil before Darth Vader has his redemption and throws the old bastard down an air shaft. It’s a movie of two halves, though it does have its fans. In the late 1990s, Lucas went back and added special effects and new music to the trilogy, ridding the movies of crappy effects and alterations. The biggest crime was the removal of the Ewoks song! A cinematic act of vandalism. The replacement was utterly naff.
“Episode IV” (1977) stars Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Cushing, Alec Guiness, and others.
Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope
Riffing on Akira Kurosawa’s “The Hidden Fortress” (1958) and 1930s radio serials featuring Flash Gordon, Lucas’ Star Wars (retitled “Episode IV – A New Hope” for the 1981 re-release), not only earned hundreds of millions at the global box office, but heralded the age of the blockbuster movie. Lucas and Steven Spielberg were always the more commercially-minded of the 1970s movie brats, yet Georgie surprised everybody as he started off as an experimental filmmaker. It’s a remarkable volte-face. Star Wars became an overnight sensation, and allowed the director to build his own empire after keeping hold of rights to merchandising and toys. The film had everything: cool characters, an adventure story set beyond the stars, a startling vision of the future that looked used up and like a floating junkyard, and all wrapped around a classical narrative arc involving heroes and villains.
“Episode V” (1980) includes actors Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Bill Dee Williams, and more.
Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back
A sequel that is better than the original movie is a rare thing. Irvin Kerschner sat in the director’s chair, as a result of the first film production being stressful for George Lucas. Darker, leaner, and brave enough to feature a downbeat ending, “The Empire Strikes Back” is near to a classic as this series could possibly ever get. Audiences were treated to Han Solo’s seeming demise; a fantastic battle on the ice planet of Hoth; the introduction of Yoda; a Jedi knight rocked to his core by a certain revelation; and the duplicitous Lando Calrissian (a Judas figure supreme). Nobody really likes Lando, no matter how Lucas tried to make him cool in “The Return of the Jedi” (1983). His inclusion was a bit of Hollywood tokenism, always galling, especially when they deny it. That the only black actor in the film turns out to be a semi-villain just compounded suspicions. His sidekick, Nein Numb, however, is a dude.
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