Before the Awakening… It’s true. All of it. Hayden Christensen. Jar-Jar. The Special Editions. But we love them anyway, and here’s my thoughts on episodes 1-6.
Starring Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman.
Don’t expect an entirely serious review here, its more a collection of my thoughts and some mild raging at certain fans. I love these films, even though they’re all flawed (yes even the originals – can you honestly tell me the dialogue is any better in those? And the bad guys can’t hit anything in any of them!). This is somewhat of a defence of the prequels (especially Episode 3) but don’t worry, I’ll happily admit 4,5 and 6 are better than 1 and 2. Just not as much as all the original purists make out. To get it out of the way, I’ll start with Phantom Menace…
The Phantom Menace
We all know this is the weakest one. A few argue that Attack of the Clones is worse but its hard to agree with that. But is it a bad film? Admittedly it helps if you watch it first rather than after the originals – low expectations help! It has several redeeming features – the pod race section, Darth Maul, Qui-Gon (Liam Neeson) but for every cool moment there’s a uncomfortably racist alien portrayal, awful Jar-Jar ‘comedy’ moment or dull council meeting. Darth Maul is underused and Jake Lloyd is far from the best child actor, but Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor give good performances and the action sequences are mostly engaging. It’s a game of two halves – thus while its not terrible its definitely ‘average’.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Attack of the Clones
Attack of the Clones fixes a lot of Phantom Menace’s problems. There’s far more action to balance out the dull scenes and the final battle as a whole works better (even if the lightsaber fight doesn’t match Maul vs. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan). Lucas focuses less on set-up and more on getting things moving, which helps immeasurably. We finally see an action set-piece involving lots of Jedi, and a lightsaber fight with Yoda, two things we’d waited 5 films to see. It still has some major flaws though (truly terrible dialogue between Anakin and Padme, an underused villain again in Count Dooku) the young actor playing Boba Fett is awful and then there’s Hayden Christensen. To be fair, given Jake Lloyd’s performance in 1, Christensen keeps it consistent, but is far too whiny and obnoxious. He isn’t bad in the action scenes or when interacting with Obi-Wan, but when requiring emotional responses to Padme or his Mother his performance falls off a cliff. I blame Lucas 75% though, he writes Anakin so poorly, with such bad dialogue, any actor would struggle with him. The rest of the film, however, hangs together quite well. I really liked it as a kid and I still do now, so I’ll be generous and give it…
Rating: 4 out of 5
Revenge of the Sith
Its normally considered the best of the prequels. The fanbase seems pretty divided on whether it lives up to the original trilogy but personally i’d argue it does. The stakes are higher, the plot is more streamlined and Hayden Christensen’s performance isn’t anywhere near as bad as last time (though it wobbles a few times – but I’d be tempted to blame some of the abysmal dialogue he’s given in places). John Williams also delivers what is arguably his best score for the series (just listen to ‘Battle of the Heroes’, ‘Enter Lord Vader’ or ‘Anakin’s Betrayal’ – its a brilliant soundtrack). The first half is good, but from Order 66 onwards the film kicks up a gear and doesn’t falter from that point on. I could go on but sod it, yes its flawed, it isn’t clever and the dialogue is weak in places but its damn entertaining. I bloody love it and i’m giving it a 5/5 regardless of what any original trilogy purists might say (STFU and just enjoy the movie guys!).
Rating: 5 out of 5!
A New Hope
Iconic. Epic. The two words most commonly used to describe this film. And it’s really, really good. But there are some flaws. The first half hour is pretty dull (C3PO can be very annoying) and Mark Hamill’s performance isn’t great in the early sections (he can be almost as whiny as Hayden Christensen for the first hour!) but he gets much better as the film progresses. Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford give assured performances, while Alec Guinness (Obi-Wan) and James Earl Jones (Darth Vader) give superb supporting action (if a pretty crap lightsaber duel). The final attack on the Death Star has a strong case for best scene in any of the films.
If only George Lucas hadn’t messed with it – the special edition throws in a load of ‘unwanted, poorly rendered, pointless CGI animals filling up EVERY INCH OF THE DAMN SCREEN!!!!’ But despite Lucas’ best efforts, this is still a classic. And btw, Han shot first.
Rating: 5 out of 5! (Special Edition Rating 4.5/5. F**k you Lucas).
The Empire Strikes Back
Some call this the best one. I can see why. It focuses on character, the acting is hard to fault and the sections on Hoth and Bespin are pretty damn good. Plus we get a good lightsaber fight between Luke and Vader, as well as the reveal that shakes up the original trilogy. But its not my favourite, mainly because the Yoda scenes on Dagobah are too drawn out (yes I know its necessary and there are some great lines of dialogue in those scenes, but it really kills the film’s momentum – did Yoda really have to hide his identity for 15 mins?). That aside, it is a very, very good film that gives Darth Vader some welcome extra screen time and introduces Boba Fett and the Emperor. Hell, even the special edition doesn’t particularly damage it (normalising the emperors appearance is a genuine improvement).
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 (both Normal and Special Editions)
Return of the Jedi
To think there was a time when this was considered the worst Star Wars film (suffering from disappointing Part 3 syndrome). It is hardly Phantom Menace level, but its easy to see why a lot of critics say 3, 4 and 5 are better. Its story is very drawn out (Family Guy re-told it in about 40 mins and the plot still hung together) and the Ewoks defeating the stormtroopers isn’t exactly believable. However the Ewoks aren’t Jar-Jar and the Gungans level of annoying, which helps immensely. Repeating the Death Star idea twice in three films could have been disastrous, but it works well enough here. A satisfying finale (until now) to the saga, but not a great one.
I’m more forgiving of special edition changes in this one, inserting Naboo and Corusant into the Victory celebration montage makes sense, while replacing Sebastian Shaw with Hayden Christensen doesn’t annoy me.
Rating: 4 out of 5 for both Normal and Special Editions. (It’s better than Attack of the Clones, but I like both about the same amount hence the same rating.)
There you have it. Where will Force Awakens fit in? Well, early reviews seem promising so fingers crossed, I’ll probably have one up by next week (I’m seeing it on Monday). May The Force Be With You.