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Star Wars 40th Anniversary Review: Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Contributor: Rick McGimpsey

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Since episodes I through VI are universally known by the fans who read these reviews I thought it best to avoid reviewing their respective stories and instead discuss my feelings on the films in general and my overall impressions of them. However, since The Force Awakens is more recent I am going to review it in a more traditional manner by going over the plot in more detail. Obviously this means there are going to be spoilers in this review and if you haven’t seen the film yet (which I kinda doubt by this point) it may be best to turn away.

For the rest of you who have seen the film or at the very least those of you who don’t give a womp rat’s butt about spoilers here goes:

The Force Awakens is set 30 years after Return of the Jedi in a galaxy so far away that there are no Yuuzhan Vong around, Chewbacca is still alive, and the Solo family only had one child. And there is not a sign of any Mara Jades, Kyp Durrons, or Jaxxon the Green Rodents to be found. If Disney’s axing Jaxxon from the canon infuriates you then avert your eyes from The Force Awakens.

The story opens with the opening crawl declaring that Luke Skywalker is missing and General Leia, who is leading a Resistance against an evil organisation called The First Order, has dispatched her best pilot Poe Dameron to find him.

On the desert planet, Jakku, Poe Dameron (played by Oscar Isaac) receives from an old man named Lor San Tekka (Max von Sydow of Ingmar Bergman fame) a star map which will reveal the location of Luke Skywalker when combined with additional maps. The other maps are thankfully all stored in R2-D2’s memory banks so the Resistance doesn’t need to go looking for them, but getting this final piece to R2 may be harder than it sounds.
Their meeting is interrupted by a sudden attack of First Order Stormtroopers led by a Dark Side user (he’s not a Sith, remember that) named Kylo Ren (played by Adam Driver). With Kylo is a chrome plated stormtrooper named Captain Phasma (played by Brienne of Tarth herself, Gwendoline Christie).
To prevent the First Order from getting the star map to Skywalker Poe gives the it to BB-8, his ball-shaped astromech side kick. He tells the droid to get as far away as possible and find a way to get the map to the Leia.
Lor San Tekka is soon killed and Poe Dameron is captured and taken to Kylo’s Star Destroyer. Kylo Ren orders Captain Phasma to have all the villagers from where Lor San Tekka resided to be executed, but one of the Stormtroopers named FN-2187 (played by John Boyega) is too horrified by the carnage to take action and watches in silence.
Meanwhile, BB-8 wanders the desert when he is nearly captured by a junk dealing alien named Teedo before he is rescued by a young woman named Rey (played by Daisy Ridley). She, who can understand astromech language, reluctantly lets the droid follow her, but resists at first only giving in when the little robot tugs at her heart strings by making wimpering sounds. Why she didn’t want BB-8 following her in the first place is beyond me since the droid took up little space and it wasn’t like she needed to feed it.
Rey lives by herself in an abandoned ruin that was once an AT-AT and she makes a living scavenging parts which she sells to a dealer named Unkar Plutt who gives her meager payment which she spends on food. She has lived on Jakku since she was a little girl and she hopes some day that her family will come back for her. Spoiler: They don’t.

Elsewhere, Poe Dameron is being interrogated and tortured by Kylo Ren until he is forced to reveal the location of the map. When he finds out that the map is located in a BB unit he informs his colleague and rival, General Hux (played by Domhnall Gleeson). While preparations are made to return to Jakku, FN-2187 finds Poe Dameron and busts him out of his cell. FN, whom Poe nicknames Finn, decides he wants nothing to do with the First Order and he defects. But, lacking the training to pilot a TIE Fighter being an obstacle he recruits Poe Dameron to help him.
How a low ranking stormtrooper whose specialty is sanitation knows the high-profile prisoner aboard is a pilot for the Resistance is beyond me. Either the First Order is fairly open with their intel or some water cooler gossipers are overdue for a good Force choking.

They steal an X-Wing, but they are almost instantaneously shot down and crash on Jakku. Finn survives, but Poe Dameron is nowhere to be found and Finn assumes his new friend is dead. He treads through the desert until he reaches Niima Outpost where BB-8 and Rey happen to be at the time. BB-8 spots Finn and recognises the jacket he is wearing which he scavenged from the crash. BB-8 tells Rey that this is Poe’s jacket and she charges at Finn with her big stick and knocks him over. She demands to know where he got the jacket and he tells her that he is with the Resistance and the jacket belonged to Poe Dameron who gave it to him.

Before any introductions can be made they get attacked by low flying TIE Fighters hellbent on retrieving BB-8 and the map.
Rey, Finn, and the droid escape inside the Millennium Falcon which happened to be in the possession of Unkar Plutt and take off. Just moments after going into hyperspace they get caught and are tractor-beamed into a large cargo freighter. The Falcon is boarded by none other than Han and Chewie themselves who are pleased to have their old ship back. Apparently in the past several years the ship had passed hands from thief to thief and having tracked it down, Han is intent on claiming it back. When Han sees that Rey, Finn, and BB-8 are not hostile he decides not to lock them in the brig. When he learns that the droid is carrying a partial map to Luke Skywalker he tells Rey that years ago Luke had tried to start a Jedi academy, but a young student rebelled, turned to the Dark Side, and destroyed it all. Luke felt responsible and he fled in search of the first Jedi temple. Kylo Ren, the boy who rebelled, who we learn is and Han and Leia’s son had venerated Darth Vader and sought to mimic him. He joined a Dark Side cult called the Knights of Ren and changed his name from Ben Solo to Kylo Ren. Han became devastated over his son’s betrayal and left Leia to return to a life of smuggling. Leia continued leading the Resistance against the First Order which is being led by an evil being called Supreme Leader Snoke (voiced by Andy Serkis of Gollum fame). The origins of Snoke, the First Order, and the Knights of Ren are not elaborated on in this movie and barring reading the new canon material I feel that most of the information that is missing is going to be expanded upon in The Last Jedi.

After Han discusses the state of the Galaxy they are suddenly boarded by pirates who are bent on collecting a bounty on Solo’s head. This goes poorly for the pirates, however, when Rey accidentally opens all the cell doors containing Han’s cargo. The cargo happens to be giant man-eating rathtars which are basically huge tentacled monstrosities that make the dianoga in the trash compactor in A New Hope look like a kitten. While the unfortunate pirates are getting devoured by the rathtars our heroes escape in the Falcon and leave the cargo ship behind.
They head to Takodana to meet a thousand-year old alien woman named Maz Kanata who runs a bar that hosts a variety of unsavoury patrons, but is a good and friendly source for information. Like Lor San Tekka she venerates the Force while not being a Force-sensitive herself. When the main characters arrive she detects Han’s presence almost immediately and shouts his name across the bar.
Because that is what friends do. They loudly and obnoxiously declare the presence of their friends with bounties on their heads in a seedy bar. This goes exactly as expected and while Maz and Han converse several patrons secretly dispatch messages to the First Order notifying them that BB-8 and by extension the map to Luke are here.
Maz tells Rey that she has the power of the Force within her and that she can use it to fight the First Order. Rey refuses as she still believes her family will come for her on Jakku. She storms off but starts to hear a child crying in the bar’s cellar. She goes down to investigate and finds that the sound is emanating from a wooden trunk in a closet. She opens the trunk and finds inside an old lightsaber. When she grabs it she is suddenly plunged into a Force vision in which she sees her younger self dropped off on Jakku crying for those who abandoned her to come back. This is followed by images of Luke sitting by R2, Kylo killing students at the Jedi academy, and visions of locations such as Bespin. When the vision ends she is accosted by Maz Kanata who tells her to take the lightsaber which once belonged to Anakin and later Luke Skywalker. But Rey refuses despite Maz’s pleas that Rey’s future is ahead and not back on Jakku waiting for someone who isn’t gonna come back. I am not sure why Rey is so upset. I would have been relieved. If I was in a seedy backwater bar and heard a child crying in the cellar my first assumption would not be Force vision.

Rey runs off into the woods and around this time the First Order arrives and attacks Takodana. But before doing so they demonstrate the full power of their new super-weapon, Starkiller Base. This weapon is a moon whose core has been converted into a device that can annihilate several planets at once. With this weapon the entire Hosnian Prime system (It’s not Coruscant so you can stop saying that!) which is the current seat of the New Republic is wiped out.
Han, Chewie, and Finn manage to get out of Maz’s bar and the old woman gives Finn the lightsaber Rey wouldn’t take. Finn who is trained in melee as well as blaster combat proves effective with the blade and takes out several stormtroopers with it (TRAITOR!).
However, in the end Han, Finn, and Chewie are captured by the overwhelming forces and Rey is abducted in the woods by Kylo Ren who takes her to his Star Destroyer; though Han and his gang are soon rescued by the Resistance who fly in with a squadron of TIE Fighters led by Poe Dameron who is alive and well. After the First Order flee a Resistance shuttle lands and out comes General Leia and C-3PO who is sporting a red arm. Don’t ask; the canon explanation is really quite stupid.
After a brief bonding moment Han tells Leia he saw their son carrying Rey away. The heroes all head to the Resistance base on D’Qar and discuss plans to destroy Starkiller Base. Finn who has fessed up to being a former Stormtrooper by now claims that he knows the inner workings of the facility and can help them not only rescue Rey, but also destroy the base. The base is heavily shielded which protects it from attack, but Han and his friends devise a plan to infiltrate the base and plant explosives that would shut down the shielding system.
They take the Falcon to the base and get to the surface of the moon by taking advantage of the shield’s refresh rate. The Falcon has a rough landing but they all make it in one piece. Inside the base they find Rey who had already escaped by herself using a Jedi Mind Trick on one of the guards (fun fact: he’s played Daniel Craig in an uncredited cameo!). After Maz told her she could use the Force Rey apparently decided to try it by using her guard as a test subject.
After Han and Chewie plant the explosives Solo sees his son Ben walking along a catwalk. Han calls out to him and tries to convince him to come home and leave the First Order and the Knights of Ren. Kylo feigns remorse and offers to let his father take his lightsaber. Unfortunately, when Han make a grab for it Kylo Ren ignites it and the blade penetrates through Han Solo’s chest. The wounds are fatal and the last thing Han Solo does before he dies is take his hand and gently touches his son’s face before falling off the catwalk to his death. While I am not the biggest fan of how Han is killed off for reasons I will get into later, I do like this scene as it shows how Han feels about his son. Touching his son affectionately was his way of showing Ben that he forgave him and still loved him at the end. We see Han Solo grow in the Star Wars films from a cynical self-serving scoundrel to a loving father who firmly believed in the good of the Jedi and the Light Side of the Force.
Chewie roars in grief and immediately ignites the bombs effectively shutting down the shielding network for Starkiller Base. The Resistance then attacks and destroys crucial segments of the base causing it to begin to explode and fall apart. As the forests of the moon begin to quake and come apart Rey and Finn encounter Kylo Ren for one last time on their way to the Falcon. Finn tries to take him out in lightsaber combat but is easily overcome by Kylo’s superior skills and he is wounded and rendered unconscious. Rey draws upon the Force a second time and Force pulls the lightsaber to herself. She then fights Kylo Ren in a duel that is both raw and rough demonstrating both of their need for further training. Rey eventually gets the upper hand and slashes upward and strikes her enemy in the face. He survives but is badly injured and she and Chewbacca take Finn back to the Falcon to escape the base that is falling to pieces around them. As they leave Snoke tells General Hux to retrieve Kylo Ren so he can finish his training.

While Chewbacca is aboard the Falcon weeping for his lost friend Rey pilots the Millennium Falcon back to D’Qar. At the base R2 takes the map and adds it to a larger map revealing that Luke Skywalker is on a water planet consisting of small islands called Ahch-To. There Rey takes the Falcon with just herself and R2-D2 and finds the ruins of an old temple. She climbs the steps and after several hours she finds an old man in a Jedi robe standing looking over a cliff. He turns around and looks at her revealing himself to be the long lost Luke Skywalker. Rey opens her pack and takes out his lightsaber. The same lightsaber he lost on Bespin thirty years ago. She holds it out to him with a look that is almost pleading in its intensity and he looks at her with a quizzical and somewhat sad expression as she holds the weapon toward him. Before Luke utters a word the film ends cutting to credits leaving its audience two years to wait to to hear him say anything.

Now what did I think of The Force Awakens? Well, I liked it a lot. I think it is a step in the right direction for the Star Wars films which had hitherto degenerated into convoluted plots with little to no character development and an overabundance of CGI and green and blue screen photography. Episode VII uses more practical effects and actual sets, balancing state-of-the-art special effects with old methods that have withstood the test of time.
The story is very reminiscent of the original trilogy and the characters have colour and interesting characteristics unlike the Prequels which tended to ignore the characters in favour of expanding the backstory. Some have complained that The Force Awakens borrowed too heavily from A New Hope and while I can see what they are referring to I never saw it as an issue. The Phantom Menace does the same thing if you really think about and I think at this point it should be realised that Star Wars is like a musical composition or an epic narrative poem that repeats and rimes themes, motifs, and ideas to form a rhythmic symphony.
I do, however, have reservations about Starkiller base. It seems a bit cheap to add another super weapon to the mix. The Death Star II was an unoriginal and unimaginative bit of overkill itself and Starkiller Base is no better. The fact that it is bigger, can destroy more than one planet at a time, and is built inside of a moon is not a major difference to me. I only wish Ben Kenobi was there. I know what he would have said: “That’s no moon. It’s a space station….and also a moon.”

Speaking of Ben Kenobi I find it a bit odd that Han and Leia decided to name their son after him. Leia never knew the man and Han only met him briefly and Han spent the entire time mocking him. It was Luke who connected with the old man, not Han and Leia. I think the old EU made the smarter choice in having it be Luke who named a child Ben and not Han. They might as well have had Han name his son Owen or something. It makes no sense.
I also seriously dislike the way Han is killed off. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with Han Solo’s character dying. Done correctly it would have added a dimension to the story that would have been both meaningful and emotional for the viewers and the characters. But, this is not the case though. There is no sacrifice and Han seems to achieve no end that benefits his friends. He is simply tricked by a false redemption and killed for it. Han didn’t die saving anyone. He didn’t die doing something that benefited the heroes or the Resistance. He just died. And the revelation that he had not been with Leia at this time also negatively affects the impact this scene could have had. I am not sure why the writers even thought we wanted to see this. Why would they think we, the fans, wanted to find out the love story between Han and Leia fell apart? It would have been better if Han had remained with Leia and stayed with the Resistance. That would have added a stronger meaning to his death a deeper sense of loss. Han Solo’s death was a missed opportunity and I was disappointed.

For the most part, though, I have had no issues with the story and I found it a welcome addition to the Star Wars saga. I like the characters, new creatures, and space ships; and I like how Kylo Ren contrasts Luke in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. In those films Luke struggled with the temptation to turn to the Dark Side and resisted until he made a final resolution to be a Jedi by tossing his lightsaber aside. Here, Kylo does the opposite. Ben Solo is tempted to the Light Side of the Force and resists its pull. This is a concept we have never seen in Star Wars before and I find it a unique take on an individual’s relationship with the Force. And like Luke he makes a decision to demonstrate his final resolve. In this case, by slaying his own father.

There is another complaint that I have with this film that I also share with Attack of the Clones. The music.
John Williams is a master composer and all of his Star Wars soundtracks are masterpieces. However, some of them are less good than others and Episode II and Episode VII’s soundtracks are the black sheep of the bunch. The music in both of these films are not that memorable and only a few tracks stick out to me.
Also I am not sure if I am the only who noticed this, but the first note that plays when the words STAR WARS appear on the screen doesn’t sound the same as it does in the other six episodes. Listen and compare next time. It’s a little different.

Another thing I have noticed that few others did is relating to Kylo Ren’s name. When I first heard the announcement that his name was going to be Kylo Ren I was appalled. The reason for this was that I had watched some of the old 1980’s Droids cartoons when I was a kid and I distinctly remember there being a villain named Kybo Ren. He was a portly, mustache-twirling, midriff-showing pirate who always referred to himself in the third person. In a word, he was ridiculous! The fact that the villain in The Force Awakens is called Kylo Ren cannot be a coincidence and the decision baffles me. That would be like making a movie about a badass action hero and then naming him Dorrest Gump! It’s such an odd thing to do.

If The Force Awakens seems to lack something to the viewer; whether it be the lack of memorable music, unique planets, or a story that expands on the lore in a major way, I understand where you are coming from. I have similar gripes. Episode VII takes too few risks. The planets are mundane and are not much different than anything else we have seen before. The music sounds tame and standard. And the plot feels small and less epic than the last few Star Wars films we have seen. There is a certain characteristic dullness to The Force Awakens’s aesthetic and the more I watch the movie the more I become aware of it. It hasn’t led me to hate the movie or even put it on a par with the Prequels, but I do think it had some lacklustre aspects that did hurt it inevitably.
However, I am truly expecting more from The Last Jedi and I am excited to see where we are taken next in this galaxy far, far away. Despite its imperfections The Force Awakens is a refreshing revival of the Star Wars films and it is an awakening we have all felt. I believe Episode VII is only our first step into a larger world.

This review series and other Star Wars related blogs can be found at my own blog Star Wars EU Reviews.

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Star Wars 40th Anniversary Review: Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Contributor: Rick McGimpsey

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My last two reviews may have given off the impression, despite my insistent protestations to the contrary, that I really dislike the Prequels. I hope with this final review of the Prequel Trilogy that I can make clear how I feel about them as a whole since I can and do hold them in high regard while still criticising them.

Revenge of the Sith is the best of the Prequels and even fans who hate them agree this one had the least problems. The story, while still having its own flaws, proves to be an excellent culmination of the entire trilogy and a riveting climax to all the events that were built up in The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones.

As Episode III closes we can see the full extent of the subtle machinations of Palpatine as he rose to power. People complain how the Prequels had too much politics in them, but when you really think about it the integral theme and point of the Star Wars Prequels was to be a political commentary. While I agree the pacing of The Phantom Menace could have been improved by cutting some of the slower sequences, much of the Senate scenes and political dialogue are crucial plot points which enhance the story of how the Sith and the Dark Side ate at the Republic’s core, weakening it to the point that it was ripe for the taking. It had to be slower and less exciting, because having the Sith simply storm the Galactic Senate and conquer the Galaxy all at once would not have made sense. If certain things did not happen first the people would not have gone along with it and no Empire would have arisen. Slowly, but surely, we see Chancellor Palpatine create an environment within the Senate that isfriendly and open to reorganising the government into a Galactic Empire. When Senator Padme observed that “liberty dies…with thunderous applause” she knew she was in a room full of people who were scared. They endured a nearly three year long war with billions of losses across multiple worlds. The Jedi, who were supposedlyt keepers of the peace had been suddenly converted to generals and war leaders eventually causing them be not as popular as they had been. Much of this is why it was not difficult for Palpatine to turn others against the Jedi under the pretense that they were plotting to overthrow the senate. The senators and citizenry of the Republic felt threatened and they gave up their freedom for security. The “thunderous applause” was not for the death of liberty, but for a sense of safety after years of war, economic disasters, and massive loss of lives and resources.

Anakin was another victim of Palpatine’s machinations. The Sith for over a thousand years were plotting how to overthrow the Republic and the Jedi Order. The Rule of Two (that is there being only a single master and apprentice at any given time) helped keep the Sith hidden for centuries as they bided their time setting in motion the events that eventually led to Palpatine’s rise. Anakin had a natural desire for power and emotional insecurities and weaknesses that left him vulnerable to suggestion. When Anakin first met Palpatine he was a Senator from Naboo which was the same planet that Padme was from. He was also the only person who seemed to sympathise with Padme’s cause. In addition to Obi-Wan Palpatine became a second mentor who encouraged his feelings, pretended to empathise with them, and patted his ego. Palpatine would frequently tell him how he envisioned him becoming more powerful than even Master Yoda and that he did not need much guidance. This was followed by Palpatine’s continual interference with Jedi affairs such as recommending Anakin a seat on the Jedi Council and suggesting him to be the one to defeat General Grievous on Utapau. The Chancellor predicted that the Council would grant the request while withholding title of Master from Anakin which would naturally offend and anger him further contributing to his distrust and disillusionment with the Jedi Order. And if Palpatine had his way and got Skywalker on Utapau the defeat of Grievous would have left Anakin in the eyes of the people a war hero who effectively ended the Clone Wars. Anakin was one of the few Jedi popular with the Republic populace (no doubt encouraged by Palpatine) and this would have further ingratiated Anakin to the people prior to Palpatine becoming Emperor with Anakin at his side.
Unfortunately that side of Palpatine’s plan failed and the consequences may very well have contributed to the Emperor’s downfall in the end. As we know Anakin never defeated Grievous, but Obi-Wan did instead. And when Anakin and Obi-Wan fought on Mustafar Anakin was left so badly injured that he was required to wear the Darth Vader suit for the rest of his life. Anakin was thought by the people to have been killed during Order 66 and the emergent figure of Darth Vader was assumed to be a separate entity.
I believe that if Anakin was not injured on Mustafar and not subjected to the limiting and uncomfortable rigours of the suit he would have been more powerful than even Palpatine could have imagined. And the citizens of the Empire would still have had their war hero supporting the Empire making the Rebel Alliance less likely to gain any support.

Anakin’s growing distrust and disillusionment with the Jedi was not the only thing Palpatine preyed on. His fear of loss which was exacerbated by the death of his mother was probably Anakin Skywalker’s weakest point. Anakin’s attachment to Padme was such an important priority for him that his reverence for the Light Side and loyalty to the Republic were expendable. Yoda tried to warn him by saying that he needed to let go of what he feared to lose, however, Padme dominated Anakin’s thoughts and the advice was unheeded. So when Palpatine revealed to him that he was in fact Darth Sidious his following actions became confused and misguided. He attempted to do the right thing at first by informing Mace Windu of what he learned. Unfortunately, Anakin was too concerned with the possibility that Sidious might actually be able to teach him to save Padme from death which led him to interfering with the Chancellor’s arrest, causing Master Windu’s death, and ending with his conversion to the Dark Side of the Force.

Convinced the Jedi were the enemy Anakin proceeded to commit heinous acts of violence within the Jedi Temple including the murder of helpless children. Elsewhere Order 66 was executed and the majority of the Jedi throughout the Galaxy were extinguished. The Clone Army that was initially commissioned to fight tyranny became the military arm of the tyrant. It becomes evident very quickly that the Clone Wars and the formation of the Clone Army had been intentionally orchestrated by Palpatine and Count Dooku as a means to cripple the Republic, make it open to becoming an Empire, and providing a strong loyal military force to enforce the change in government.

In the end Anakin’s own motivations fail completely. His body is all but destroyed, Padme dies in childbirth, and all those he once called friends are either dead or left him. Anakin failed to learn the lesson he should have learned on Tatooine when his mother died. Anakin refused to acknowledge that death is a natural and inevitable thing and instead desired to find a way to stop it. At his mother’s grave he expresses self-loathing at his perceived failure to save her. Seeing power as the only solution to anything Anakin thinks every failure or every event that displeases him happens because of a lack of power. Wishing to avoid losing Padme he seeks more power and ironically it is that very power that kills her in the end. And once again in The Empire Strikes Back it is with power that he tries to seduce his son to the Dark Side. Craving power is a Sith trait and it is for that reason that I believe that Anakin was unconsciously partway converted to the Dark Side since Episode II already. His final initiation into the Sith Order and taking on of the Darth Vader mantle was achieved only when Anakin finally admitted that everything including the Light Side and his own conscience were expendable if Padme was saved. He only regretted Windu’s death for a moment before declaring “I will do whatever you ask…Just help me save Padme’s life. I can’t live without her.”
Yoda’s statement about fear (“Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering”) in The Phantom Menace was prophetic. Anakin feared losing Padme and the resultant anger caused him to hate the Jedi enough to cause the suffering of not only them but also of himself when Padme died and he was disfigured on Mustafar. All his hope was gone and he found himself wholly loyal to Darth Sidious the only friend he believed he had left.
Unlike seeking power, hope is not a Sith trait. But it is a Jedi one. And it was that hope that led Yoda and Obi-Wan to have Anakin’s twins, Luke and Leia, sequestered. Bail Organa took Leia and adopted her into his family. Eventually she became a senator like her mother and served the Rebellion in secret and later openly following the Battle of Yavin.
And Luke was the titular New Hope itself. On Tatooine living with his aunt and uncle Obi-Wan kept a close eye on Luke until he was ready to learn the ways of the Force, revive the Jedi Order, and defeat the Empire.

Now that is a fairly good story. But like the previous two films it had problems in its execution. While, I do appreciate how Palpatine subtly manipulated Anakin to join the Sith I do think there are some things that happened too quickly and are ergo less believable. Killing Younglings is such an evil, despicable thing to do that it bothers me that Anakin does it without any misgivings. His motivation isn’t supposed to be evil at this point. He is trying to save the woman he loves. While I do believe that if he was fully convinced that killing Younglings would somehow save her he would probably do so it would still stand to reason that he would do it with some reluctance and remorse afterwards. I also think he would question the decision initially since Younglings are hardly a fit scapegoat for his complaints against the Jedi. No one could reasonably accuse Younglings of trying to take over the Senate. And Younglings did not tell Anakin to spy on the Chancellor. And Younglings did not refuse to grant him the rank of master. Anakin isn’t a cruel brute like Darth Malak or someone trying to devote himself to the Dark Side by intentionally doing bad things like Kylo Ren. He is at this point a good guy trying to achieve a good thing by doing bad things. Killing Younglings should have bothered a man in his position.

I am also severely miffed at Padme’s treatment in this film. In the first two Prequels she was fierce, independent, and a strong leader who was setting the template for who her daughter would become in the future. But in Episode III she is none of that. She cries a lot, blindly defends Anakin to her friends, becomes an emotional train wreck, and dies of a broken heart.
They softened her up. Dying of a broken heart is such an undignified way to make her character go and I would rather have had George Lucas write that Anakin killed her accidentally in anger. That would have made more sense.

I also wish the film had done a bit more to emphasise that one of Anakin’s motivations for turning to the Dark Side was a lust for power. In the Original Trilogy Darth Vader dominated every scene he was in, showcasing his power of intimidation as well as his mastery of the Force. He was bad in a cool way.
In Revenge of the Sith a lot of this becomes lost and the story opts instead to make Anakin come across as naive and pathetic. He whines too much, gets choked up on dreams he is having, and becomes a Dark Lord of the Sith as a response more to heartbreak than power lust. Some viewers complained that this ruins the badass-ness of Darth Vader; and while I won’t go that far, I do see some fundamental flaws in how his character is portrayed in the film.

Some of the best points of Episode III are the soundtrack and special effects. John Williams creates another beautiful score for Revenge of the Sith with many of the vocal pieces being some of the best tracks he has ever composed for the Star Wars saga.
And of course the sound effects and sound design are top notch. It does suffer a bit from the same blue screen problems that Attack of the Clones had, but overall the effects and sound are great. The opening battle over Coruscant is really cool and some of my favourite shots are the city scenes at night. The exterior shot of the opera house looks absolutely amazing and there are many other shots that are just breathtaking.

The Star Wars Prequels are good movies. And, yes, I am saying that with a straight face. I legitimately think they are good movies. They have some severe problems and they are very much far from perfect, and I have harshly dealt all the criticism I can dole out in these past reviews. But leaving all of those criticisms on the table I must add that I like these movies. I even like Episode II.
Episodes I, II, and III tell a great story that is sums up to a crucial part of the Star Wars Saga. We see the Republic and Jedi at their prime. We see the rise of Emperor Palpatine and the fall of Anakin Skywalker. It’s an epic tale that continues to show that George Lucas is a national treasure and one of America’s greatest storytellers. And, again, I say all that with a straight face.
Problems like Jar Jar, the execution of some of the plot points, the awkward dialogue, and bad acting among other things were never enough to make me call these bad movies. If you wanna see something bad in Star Wars go watch The Holiday Special, one of the Ewok Saturday morning cartoons, or play Masters of the Teras Kasi. Believe me, the Prequels are no where close to the bottom of the barrel. I, for one, think they are pretty great.

Tune in tomorrow for a review of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens and may the Force be with you.

Star Wars 40th Anniversary Review: Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones

Contributor: Rick McGimpsey

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While I must insist on making it abundantly clear that I love all of the Star Wars films, including this one, I have to admit that Attack of the Clones is my least favourite out of all of them.

Episode II shares the same weaknesses as Episode I, but also has the added problem of lacking memorable dialogue and relying too heavily on CGI, blue screen, and digital filmmaking which all combine into making Attack of the Clones a very banal and bland piece. For instance, the new planets, Kamino and Geonosis, lack the invigorating sense of novelty that previous new planets had. Kamino is a colourless, sterile, and boring environment and Geonosis is virtually identical to Tatooine with the exception of having more rocks and having only one sun.
Much of the visual effects and action sequences are stale and lifeless and betray the fact that the actors were performing in front of a blue screen with little reference to add any reality to their acting abilities. One of the worst looking scenes is where Threepio gets tossed about the Geonosian droid factory as the heavy use of CGI has become extremely dated and is hideous to look at. And honestly I can say that about a dozen other scenes in the movie. Much of the visuals in this movie are either hideous or so banal and uninteresting that they are barely memorable.

But visual gripes aside Attack of the Clones’ biggest issue is its story and characters. Anakin and Padme have absolutely no chemistry whatsoever and everything they say and do in this film feels forced, phoned in, and fake. There is not a single realistic precedent for the two of them to ever fall in love. None.
She outclasses him in every way and is way out of his league. After ten years of separation in which the last time she saw him he was a 9 year old with a crush she is now an idealistic and ambitious senator while he is now little more than a monk serving the Jedi Order. When they become reacquainted she is a mature adult working her way upward in her political career and he is an immature, precocious, adolescent whiner. When Anakin is assigned to protect Padme on Naboo he is supposed to just do his job in accordance to his station as a Jedi Knight. Instead he whines to her about all his feelings about his master and how “unfairly” the Jedi treat him. It seems so inappropriate to me for Anakin to get so vocal with Padme about his personal problems when his lower station and their ten years of separation have left them with little common ground. It’s equivalent to walking into a restaurant and the waiter starts whining to you about how his dad talks to him at home. Padme has no real personal reason to care. The inappropriateness comes to a head when he suddenly tells his supposed protective charge that he needs to leave Naboo for Tatooine to find his mother. Who does he think he is anyway?
George Lucas tries so hard to convince us that there is some deep connection between the two of them, but there simply isn’t. The circumstances and environment they are in just isn’t right for such a connection to take place. The reason why Han and Leia’s romance worked so well is because they spent years together building it up with subtle flirtations, rebuffs, charm, and even fights. It’s a way more realistic look at a budding romance than having Anakin pop in virtually out of no where, behave like a spoiled child with temper tantrums and constant complaining, and say really stupid lines like “I’m in agony. The closer I get to you, the worse it gets. The thought of not being with you- I can’t breath. I’m haunted by the kiss that you should never have given me. My heart is beating… hoping that kiss will not become a scar. You are in my very soul, tormenting me…” Give me a freaking break! And don’t get me started on how Padme seems to think Anakin’s slaughtering Tusken women and children is OK. Most women would balk at that, but apparently Padme only thinks it makes Anakin a dark, mysterious, attractive bad boy. Attractive bad boys are supposed to wear black leather jackets, ride motorbikes, and say “ehhhhhh!!!” They don’t hack kids to death with a lightsaber! What is wrong with Padme???
And her confessing her love for him at the end equally comes out of nowhere and with no realistic precedent. The only people who could possibly buy this as a real romance are 8 year olds, the socially inept, and George Lucas.

What I can say positive about Episode II is that when it does get action scenes right it does a passable job. The fight between Jango Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi in the asteroid field is really cool and I love the use of sound effects when Jango launches the seismic charges. It is one of the few scenes in Star Wars where the music is momentarily put aside to emphasise the sound and it works effectively.
The music itself is passable, but I cannot claim it as one of John Williams’ best works. This and his score for The Force Awakens are probably the blandest soundtracks I have heard for Star Wars, but that is a purely comparative statement and when it comes to Williams his lesser work is still fantastic compared to the average compositions of other maestros.
There are some other improvements and good points to be made about some of the characters as well. Ian McDiarmid’s performance as Senator Palpatine is still as great as always and Ewan McGregor provides a much better performance as Obi-Wan than he did in The Phantom Menace. He is beginning to sound more like Alec Guinness: a trend that he takes further in Episode III. We also get much less Jar Jar Binks which is a plus.
And while I do not regard Count Dooku as the most interesting villain to come out of Star Wars I do have to give credit to the late Christopher Lee who puts his best in everything he does. You can’t get cooler than Christopher Lee and his presence alone is what turns Attack of the Clones from a mediocre movie to an OK one.

Aside from the issues with the love story most of the other things that bug me about Episode II are minor complaints. I can live with the film’s overall blandness, and I can forgive the bad Threepio puns in the arena, and I can even let go of the absolutely ridiculous and farcical Yoda vs Count Dooku fight which everyone seems to like except me. At the end of the day; and after all my complaints are spoken and my grievances heard, Episode II is still Star Wars. It has lightsabers, the Force, epic space battles, Jedi Knights, Ben Burtt’s sound design, and John Williams’ music. It may be the weakest Star Wars movie, but it is still a Star Wars movie. I may not think of it as highly as some do and my tone may seem to convince people that I hate the film at times, but I can honestly say I do like it. I have problems with it and no amount of mindless brand loyalty will convince me to ignore those problems. Despite my criticism I am actually one of the biggest Prequel defenders in my social circle. Attack of the Clones is like one of those brothers or cousins that few people outside of your family like and you admittedly know that they have good reasons to dislike them. But being family you defend them anyway and you accept their flaws. Attack of the Clones is as much as part of the Star Wars family as A New Hope or The Empire Strikes Back, black sheep or not. Besides, it’s not as bad as The Holiday Special. You have to admit that.

Check tomorrow for a review of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and may the Force be with you.

Star Wars 40th Anniversary Review: Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Contributor: Rick McGimpsey

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Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is no where near as bad as people claim it is, but it also isn’t the misunderstood masterpiece that its apologists say it is either. There is a fine line between defending a film that is maligned by the majority and refusing to acknowledge the very real flaws that it has.

What the film has in its favour is usage of practical effects such as puppetry and miniatures while not overusing CGI and blue screen photography. Episodes II and III suffer visually from this and Episode I is the last of the original six Star Wars films to contain an aesthetic somewhat similar to that of the originals.
It also contains many tropes familiar to Star Wars fans such as memorable dialogue, 1930’s styled b-movie acting, and new and unique worlds and wildlife. A New Hope had Tatooine, The Empire Strikes Back had Hoth and Dagobah, Return of the Jedi had Endor, and this film has Naboo and Coruscant. Afterward the Star Wars saga seemed to stop feeling special in the new worlds department. The planets in Attack of the Clones are bland and visually unappealing, the planets of Revenge of the Sith are so varied and all over the place that we barely get to see any of them, and The Force Awakens has a desert planet that is not Tatooine, a lush moderate planet that is not Naboo, and a snowy forested world that is neither Hoth nor Endor. The Phantom Menace is the last film to get any sizeable merit points for originality. I am hoping The Last Jedi will save us from the current trend of mundanity.

The Phantom Menace’s weakness lies mostly in its characters. The story is not the chief issue here even though that does have its flaws. Jar Jar Binks is excruciating and he has failed to grow on me in the 18 years since the film’s release. Jake Lloyd’s performance as Anakin Skywalker is nightmarishly bad and it bothers me that George Lucas and Rick McCallum had looked at thousands of young actors before selecting him for the part. Were they all that bad?
Liam Neeson is decent as Qui-Gon Jinn, but the character needed way more development and chemistry, and the lack thereof made his death less impactful than Lucas clearly wanted it to come across. Obi-Wan Kenobi is fairly bland in this movie too and, to be honest, it seems like the majority of the Jedi Council characters share this blandness. Yoda has that one great line about fear leading to anger and that is pretty much all that makes him stand out. Mace Windu’s only memorable characteristic is being arrogant; otherwise he is completely boring. I give kudos to George Lucas for making Samuel L. Jackson boring. That takes a significant level of writing talent to achieve that.
Padme and Senator Palpatine are really the only characters who are wholly interesting. The Phantom Menace is really more Padme’s story than it is Anakin’s or Obi-Wan’s. I am not saying they are not important, but Episode I feels like it is Padme and her quest to save her people that is the main focus of the story while Anakin’s future with the Jedi and Obi-Wan’s growth are only resultant effects of the plot. Palpatine is portrayed as an expert manipulator and Ian McDiarmid’s performance is amazing. He showcases how prior to his rise to Emperor, Palpatine was more than just a cackling over the top Dark Lord. He was once a seductive, smooth, manipulator and strategiser who used people around him to casually and almost unobservedly obtain greater and greater power within the Galactic government.

What The Phantom Menace does right is set things in motion. We see the seeds of Anakin’s eventual fall to the Dark Side planted, we see Obi-Wan mature into a man who will eventually become the old wizened mentor to Luke in the originals, and we get a taste of the subtle machinations that will inevitably birth a tyrannical empire. It’s all laid out here and for the most part it is done well. The real problem lies in their execution in the following films which I cannot fault The Phantom Menace for. Episode I’s chief issues lie in its annoying characters, wooden and banal performances, forgettable main cast, bad pacing, and some rather juvenile scenes. Jar Jar stepping in poop is not funny and Watto and Nute Gunray’s speech patterns come across as more racist than amusing.

All in all The Phantom Menace is more imbalanced rather than bad outright. It has many enjoyable scenes and visuals and it has one of the best soundtracks of the entire saga. Duel of the Fates is amazing and proves that John Williams can make any movie, even mediocre ones, great with his touch. The lightsaber fight with Darth Maul and Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon is well choreographed and exciting. Its only fatal flaw is the lack of emotional connection between the audience and the characters on screen which renders the drama in this scene and scenes throughout the movie somewhat inert. In fact, there are a ton of scenes like this in which I find action sequencess less interesting in connection to the story because they feature characters and plot points which are not properly invested in emotionally for the viewer. The podrace scene to me is more long and tedious than interesting and the battles in space and on Naboo make for a great visual feast for the first viewing, but lose any interest for me afterward. If the characters didn’t lack the colour of characters like Han, Luke, Leia, Lando, Chewie, etc. than these scenes would lose none of their charm with repeated viewings.

What makes The Phantom Menace less than great is not Jar Jar Binks; it’s not bad dialogue, and it is not midichlorians. Its problem is dullness. Pure, sterile, phoned in dullness. If George Lucas tried less hard at pioneering special effects development and spent more time writing a good script The Phantom Menace would have been just as good as any one of the Original Trilogy. Alas, what we got instead was a weak, but still underrated movie that could have been much more. It had a few enjoyable moments within a not so enjoyable film.

Check tomorrow for a review of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones and may the Force be with you.

Star Wars 40th Anniversary Review: Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

Contributor: Rick McGimpsey

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Return of the Jedi, while being the weakest film in the original trilogy, is still a masterpiece. Luke’s own Hero’s Journey reaches it’s culmination in this movie and it is beautifully and artfully done in such a way that is both moving and exciting.
People have tons of fun making fun of Luke for how much he whines, needs his friends to rescue him, and is brash to the point of being a liability. But, in all fairness close examination of this movie in comparison to the previous two reveals how admirable a man Luke Skywalker actually becomes.
Disillusionment with one’s ideals is not uncommon in the growth of any adult especially when we see those whom we admired and imitated show their own flaws and imperfections to us. Luke Skywalker was a young dreamer who wanted to become a Jedi Knight like his own father and never stopped to consider how hard a life that would be for him. One can only imagine the bitter blow it would be to discover that the man he admired and made a role model was not who he thought he was. We all discover eventually that our own parents are human and imperfect, but rarely do we discover that they are evil! I truly admire and give credit to Luke’s character because a lesser man would have become cynical at the revelation that his role model was nothing more than a lie. Luke, on the other hand, stuck to the principle of his ideals and reacted to the truth of his father’s identity by attempting to turn his father back to the ideals that he had rejected decades ago. And when failure seemed inevitable Luke stuck to his guns in the face of certain death. He stood there even to the point of tossing his weapon aside and declared himself “a Jedi like my father before me.” If Darth Vader had ignored his son’s pleas for help Luke would not have given up and turned to the Dark Side to survive. Death was an option. Turning to the Dark Side was not. After truly considering all that I dare anyone to seriously call Luke a pansy.

And Darth Vader’s conversion to the Light Side of the Force and his final moments with his son is my absolute favourite scene in the entire Star Wars franchise. It’s a beautiful, moving, and meaningful finale that puts George Lucas high up on the list of great storytellers.

Sadly this film is rife with imperfections and flaws in its other parts. The epic final showdown with the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire is disappointing and drags more than it excites. The chemistry between Han, Leia, Chewie, the droids, and other characters is no where near as good as it was in The Empire Strikes Back and much of it falls flat and is overshadowed by Luke and Vader’s story.

The second Death Star is a very lame mcguffin to threaten the Rebels with since we already seen one of those in A New Hope. The lack of originality is a gaping problem with Return of the Jedi and as fantastic as the space battle is it doesn’t make up for the utterly absurd manner in which the Empire is taken down. The Ewoks are clearly a marketing gimmick to sell toys and make the film appeal to very little children, but for the rest of us who wanted an epic and believable conclusion to the Rebellion against the Empire we are disappointed with seeing care bears with stone age spears and slingshots take out a battle-hardened, heavily armed, and thoroughly trained Imperial military. It’s stupid, pure and simple, and the only commendable thing to come of the Ewoks was Warwick Davis’s future career which I have enjoyed immensely.

I also feel that the first half hour of Return of the Jedi really drags. The Jabba’s Palace sequence feels like a failed attempt to recapture the novelty of the Cantina scene in A New Hope, but the music the band plays sucks in both the original version and the Special Edition (although the Special Edition is admittedly worse) and I find myself thinking the scene would have been better if Jabba had booked Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes rather than Sy Snootles and her crew. It also would have spared us the excruciating Special Edition scene in which Boba Fett flirts with some of the female singers. Boba Fett is such an overrated chump as it is we really don’t need to mess with him more by having him getting distracted by a pair of legs and flashing eyelashes at a dingy party.

And if I am jumping on the Boba Fett is overrated bandwagon it is only because I sincerely sit in that camp. He had Han Solo handed over to him by a Sith Lord in a frozen block of carbonite before he could be bothered to take him in and after Han woke up feverish and blind as a bat he still managed to overcome the heavily armed bounty hunter with a stick. I wouldn’t hire Boba Fett to win an Easter egg hunt!

Also what the hell is up with Leia at Jabba’s Palace? She was tortured, drugged, and imprisoned by a Dark Lord of the Sith and yet still remained the independent spitfire we all know and love. But, now she gets captured and put in a degrading slave outfit by a fat gangster who needs help moving to the bathroom and suddenly that shuts her up? Whatever happened to telling Grand Moffs they smell bad, accusing Darth Vader of being on a leash, and calling the coolest man in the Galaxy a laserbrain and a nerfherder? After enduring physical torture and seeing her homeworld annihilated you would think a perverted slug would be just another day at the office; but, no, she is now broken, tamed, and needs Luke and Han Solo to rescue her. I am calling bull!
And don’t get me wrong. I am not complaining about the slave outfit itself. That puberty-inducing getup suits the straight male in me just fine. I just don’t like seeing Leia rendered inert by it. Her strength should not have been sapped by humiliation and I wholeheartedly object to it.

It’s the Jabba’s Palace and Endor stuff that really keeps this film from being perfect. But, the epic conclusion of Luke Skywalker’s path to being a Jedi and Anakin Skywalker’s redemption more than makes up for those imperfections and combining that with the groundbreaking special effects, John Williams’s score, Ben Burtt’s sound design, and all the other talents who put their innovative mark on Return of the Jedi are what make this movie a masterpiece. Adding it to A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back and The Original Star Wars Trilogy is to this day one of the greatest screen epics ever made along side with Coppola’s Godfather films (which also had a weak third entry), Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, and cinematic treasures like Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, and Ben-Hur. If people ask me why I love Star Wars so much and need a short answer I won’t point to all the multi-media, comics, games, books, and fan conventions. I will point to these three films by themselves as a whole and let them know that these films are what make me love Star Wars.
I have seen some hardcore EU lovers who have admitted that if the EU had not existed they probably would not care for the Star Wars movies all that much and that seriously bothers me. I have even heard one guy comment that by themselves the Original Trilogy movies were merely quaint and it was the EU that truly made Star Wars meaningful to him. While far be it from me to dispute one’s right to a subjective opinion, I do wonder at how someone could look at these films and see something quaint or uninteresting.
The Original Star Wars trilogy is enough for me. As much as I love the EU, I could live with just A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. Boil it down to its purest essence and it is these three masterpieces that are what Star Wars truly is and I, for one, hold them in highest honour.

Check tomorrow for a review of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace and may the Force be with you.

Star Wars 40th Anniversary Review: Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Contributor: Rick McGimpsey

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The Empire Strikes Back is my favourite of the entire Star Wars saga and I think it is no surprise that so many other people feel the same way. Having the best pacing of all the films, a complex and engaging story, great writing and character development, a thorough exploration of the nature of the Force, some of the best music, and a darker and maturer tone are all ingredients that make a near perfect film.

The chemistry between Han Solo and Princess Leia is perfectly written and handled resulting in a romance somewhat reminiscent of Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh in Gone With the Wind which I believe is far superior to the cringe-inducing and unconvincing romance between Anakin and Padme in the Prequels. More on that in a later review.

The droids are at the top of their form in this one and the separation from each other throughout the majority of the movie allows both of their characters to shine brighter. Threepio is still hilarious as always and his frustration and confusion in dealing with the volatile and irritable Han Solo provides some of the best comedy in the film.
In fact, the entire sequence involving Leia, Han, Chewie, and Threepio is one of the best demonstrations of how character development and character interaction is properly done.

Luke’s training on Dagobah is still to this day the best exploration of the Force seen in the films. Even the highly Jedi-centric Prequels never gave us as much depth and thought-provoking material on the philosophy behind the Force than the scenes with Luke and Yoda on Dagobah.

In A New Hope the bad guys had much less screen time, but here we get almost as much of them as we do the good guys. Darth Vader is amazingly bad ass in The Empire Strikes Back compared to A New Hope and Return of the Jedi in which he is treated more as if he was on someone’s leash rather than the commanding Dark Lord of the Sith who in this movie absolutely rules every scene he is in. His looming figure, shiny helmet, and epic theme music that plays every time he enters a room is enough to terrify any Imperial officer and with good reason. He doesn’t accept apologies for failure and if your clumsiness is proportionally equal to your stupidity then you better be ready to get Force choked.

The Empire Strikes Back has such great dialogue that it is readily the most quotable Star Wars film ever made. Darth Vader’s “Apology accepted, Captain Needa” is just fantastic and “Take the professor back and plug him into the hyperdrive” is still my favourite Han Solo quip of all time.
And when we talk about dialogue we cannot forget the wisdom of Yoda. “Do or do not. There is no try” is so classic that seeing Star Wars is unnecessary to recognising it. And adding to the mix “Always in motion is the future”, “Wars don’t make one great”, and “Luminous beings are we; not this crude matter” it soon becomes apparent that alien muppets make the best spiritual gurus.

John Williams’ score for The Empire Strikes back has turned up some of the saga’s best pieces such as The Imperial March, The Battle in the Snow, Yoda and the Force, and The Asteroid Field which are iconic and prove that Williams will always be the master unlikely to be paralleled or rivaled. Kevin Kiner and Michael Giacchino are good, but they can only be padawans to the Jedi Maestro that is John Williams.

While I said earlier that the pacing in this film was the best of the saga I would mention that some people have griped about how badly synced up the timeline is with Luke’s training and the Falcon crew’s time in Cloud City. It’s said that the training that Luke went through must have taken a period of weeks (maybe even months) while the Falcon’s journey seems to only take maybe a few days at the most. However, I really do not think this is a big deal and even if it was we should consider that Luke had successfully used the Force on Hoth to retrieve his lightsaber and we already know that three years ago he used the Force to destroy the Death Star. Three years of practising using the Force unaided by a master is nothing to scoff at and it would not be surprising me if Luke’s training on Dagobah was only about a week long before he left for Bespin. He is naturally talented and one should bear in mind that Yoda told Luke he was not ready to face Vader yet which means we know he didn’t even complete his training before leaving. I think the timeline is just fine.

All in all what have packaged in The Empire Strikes Back is a near perfect film that continues to impress me every time I rewatch it.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s review of Return of the Jedi and may the Force be with you.

Star Wars 40th Anniversary Review: Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

Contributor: Rick McGimpsey

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Today is the 40th anniversary of the movie I am reviewing. This is a momentous occasion for the millions of fans; many of which who are going to celebrate in their own way. Some will go cosplaying, digging out and dusting off old Star Wars books, comics, and video games; others will talk about Star Wars with friends, and some like myself are going to spend the next few days marathoning the series.

In the 40 years since its inception Star Wars has been unrivaled in the impact it has had on popular culture. Special effects films were never the same again since its release when it shook Hollywood at the core and completely reshaped the trends of filmmaking at the time. With the popularity of Jaws, American Graffiti, and the Planet of the Apes franchise helping pave the way before it, Star Wars had suddenly given birth to the summer blockbuster. It is thanks to Star Wars that cinema has given us Indiana Jones, Alien, Terminator, Back to the Future, The Lord of the Rings films, and the immensely popular multitude of DC and Marvel movies that get released once or twice a year.

And not only was cinema affected. I could go on and on about how Star Wars changed the future of merchandising, created an unparalleled multimedia franchise involving books, games, comics, TV shows, etc.; engendered a fandom so massive that millions of people including celebrities turn up at conventions once a year; and I could even go on about people I have seen who made Star Wars a career. For example, there are Youtubers who work hard daily producing content on nothing but Star Wars. There are even people who make it a hobby and don’t even get paid for it. These are types of people who collect Star Wars toys, dress up as their favourite characters, and even spend a couple hours a day writing blogs and reviews about Star Wars. Get a life, right?

But seriously, as I said, I really could go on forever. But what I am here to do is review the movie that started it at all and changed everything for the next 40 years.

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope came out in theatres on 25 May 1977. The film, which at the time was only titled Star Wars, was a smash hit and before the year was over a sequel was being discussed, the main actors became instantaneous household names, and Hollywood producers were scrambling fast to cash in on and imitate its success. In the wake of Star Wars films like Alien and Star Trek: The Motion Picture were made which spawn blockbuster sequels of their own.

There are many people who remember first going to see Star Wars back in 1977 and will wax nostalgic about the entire 40 year ride of fandom since then. Alas, I am not one of them. Having been born in 1992 I was first introduced to Star Wars when the film was just old enough to get a drivers license. I was of the last generation to first see Star Wars prior to the 1997 Special Editions having had them on VHS when I was very young. I am half tempted to delve into anecdotes of my obsession with Star Wars when I was a 5 year old, but, as I write what is already becoming an overlong intro I realise that would address Star Wars as a whole and not this particular film that I am reviewing.
But, to be perfectly honest, do I really need to even bother? I mean it’s Star Wars! If you are the sort of person who needs to read a review of Star Wars then, frankly, you really have no reason following this blog.
And to be perfectly honest I am not even entirely sure what to say. I have went on about how it affected everything and changed the landscape of pop culture and fandom, but to me that is just trivia. That’s not personal. I wasn’t even alive when the original trilogy was released and I certainly wasn’t old enough to appreciate its affect on the future of cinema when I first saw them.

So what should a review of this subject consist of then? We already know the story. It would be insulting to the reader for me to review it the same I review the comics. We all know about the farm boy Luke Skywalker and his meeting with Threepio and Artoo which led him to Obi-Wan Kenobi. We know about Darth Vader and the Death Star. We know Senator Princess Leia of Alderaan is secretly a rebel leader. We know the secret base is on Yavin 4. We know how the Death Star solved Alderaan’s overpopulation problem. And we know how Luke blew up the Death Star after the rebellion ingeniously decided to give the controls of an expensive X-Wing over to an unknown 19 year old hillbilly from Tatooine who likes to turn their ships’ vital targeting systems off because the voices in his head tell him to. We know all that stuff. And we know it’s a great story. It has all the mythological and epic tropes of a classic fairy tale or fantasy. And it has all the fanciful space operatic worldbuilding found in great stories like Asimov’s Foundation or Dune. It has robots, wild western saloons with aliens for riffraff, space ships, princesses, smugglers, giant furry dogmen who hate losing chess, and weird old men waving shiny sticks around raving about invisible powers. In essence, it has everything we love.

Of all the seven currently released Star Wars movies A New Hope is the one that feels the most like a traditional fairy tell. It has all the colourful characters who tag along bit by bit, the evil sorcerers, the good sorcerers, the weird creatures, storming an enemy’s fortress, and it has a clear beginning and ending. It’s very much a classic yarn about a faraway place in a distant time that entertains both young and old. It’s a modern fairy tale in space.

While it is not my personal favourite of the Star Wars films it is arguably still its best. It does everything perfectly: telling a complete easy-to-follow story which loses none of its charm or rewatchability as the decades go by.

The only thing that can mitigate perhaps the film’s greatness is the fact that we may be too familiar with it. Knowing the story, the dialogue, the characters, and even the pacing of A New Hope so well it is hard to approach it any more without it starting to feel like white noise. Approaching it with new and fresh eyes becomes harder and harder and this makes it easier for us to miss any hidden gems the film has to offer that we had never noticed before. When a sight, layout, or image remains constant after awhile we stop really seeing it and it bothers me when I become conscious that this has happened to Star Wars. That is why tonight when I watch Star Wars in celebration of its 40th birthday I am going to cut out all distractions. The computer gets logged off and turned off, no fiddling with phones or tablets, no running back and forth from the kitchen for snacks, pure unadulterated attention, no heavy sluggishness-inducing foods like pizza to make me more docile, and no growth acceleration.
Basically, what I am trying to say is that I am going to watch Star Wars closely and soak it all in. See if I might just catch something new. I think the best birthday gift I can give A New Hope on it’s 40th anniversary is my full and complete attention. Just because we have had it for so long it doesn’t mean it needs to become white noise. All those years ago Star Wars was our first step into a larger world and however you choose to celebrate this special occasion we would be remiss to not pay our respects.

Before I go I would like to address the bantha in the room which are the 1997 Special Editions and the subsequent edits made since. Even though most fans seem to agree that the original theatrical editions were the superior versions the Special Editions have still succeeded in generating controversy. Many fans, myself included, feel that tampering with the movies was unnecessary and nigh to vandalism; and many have taken particular exception to certain changes that were made. Greedo shooting first is a notorious example, and there are also the extra content of Jabba the Hutt, adding obnoxious aliens to Mos Eisley, and other offences.
George Lucas’s reasoning for having Greedo shoot first makes no sense to me. He believes that having Han shoot Greedo in cold blood was too brutal for a future hero and he cites John Wayne as a proper frontier hero who displays unflinching honour and decorum during gunplay. Having seen The Searchers I know that to be utter nonsense. John Wayne has played absolutely despicable characters before and, besides, having Han Solo start off soft utterly lessens his transformation from a self-absorbed criminal to a sympathiser and patriot of the Rebellion. Character transformation is vital to good storytelling and the best stories make heavy use of it. Just watch Breaking Bad and you’ll know what I mean.
The Jabba the Hutt sequence was just unnecessary as most of his dialogue is just repeated from what Greedo was saying to Han in the cantina. The CGI in this scene is horrendous and subsequent attempts to fix it in later releases have only improved it marginally.
The only change that feels like a genuine improvement is the destruction of the Death Star which enhances what originally was nothing more than a glorified handful of sparks.
You know what would have been a good change? The lightsabers. You can’t sit there and tell me the lightsabers could not have been improved with CGI. The scene with Luke training against the remote aboard the Millennium Falcon still looks horrible. The blue blade is so washed out that it looks almost white. The lightsabers in this movie lack the vibrancy of colour that we will see in later films. Instead of fixing that George Lucas got too busy making Ewoks blink, adding aliens where they are not wanted, and reinserting scenes that were deleted for a reason.
I really hope one of these days Lucasfilm and Disney gets the right idea and releases the unaltered versions of the trilogy on Blu-ray. With the VHS, Laserdisc, and Betamax players no longer readily available there are no decent versions of the original trilogy to watch. There were Limited Edition DVD’s that contained them as a bonus discs, however those were direct transfers of the Laserdiscs and they look awful, sound awful, and are virtually unwatchable if you are using a large screen TV.
Oh well, no matter what stains and blemishes that may have been added to A New Hope it doesn’t cease to be a great movie and an immensely entertaining experience.

Check tomorrow for a review of The Empire Strikes Back and may the Force be with you.