Every Star Wars movie, reviewed

In celebration of May the fourth, WSS reviews the Star Wars movies in the Skywalker saga.

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Edward Keen '20 reviews all nine films in Star Wars' epic Skywalker saga.

It’s that time of year again: May the fourth. This pseudo-holiday made up by Star Wars fans referring to the iconic line “May the force be with you” has become an annual occasion to celebrate the long-renowned epic saga. In celebration of the instance, here are reviews for all nine Star Wars movies in the Skywalker saga (not including the anthologies.) 

 

Episode 1: “The Phantom Menace”

George Lucas’s first prequel movie is mediocre, plodding through what amounts to disappointing returns to the saga. Whenever a character speaks, they seem plastic and rigid having to spout out Lucas’s awfully written lines and no amount of acting from the cast is able to make the writing better. That’s not to say the acting is good, either. Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor do their best, but they are hindered by the questionable decision to hire Jake Lloyd to play Anakin and a number of ridiculously badly-acted side characters like Nute Gunray or Sio Bibble. The movie also makes a point to introduce politics and the state of the Jedi order, and surprisingly those are the better parts of the film but don’t get focused on for long enough to add much. At its best, “The Phantom Menace” is a fun movie clearly intended for families that can be watched as mindless entertainment. At its worst, it falls on its face and doesn’t come close to capturing the magic of the originals. Grade: C-

 

Episode 2: “Attack of the Clones”

The big question that comes up when watching “Attack of the Clones” is: did George Lucas listen to the criticism of the previous prequel and try to capture the fans’ interest more? The answer is a little bit. He tones down some of the glaring problems of the first: there’s less Jar-Jar Binks, a closer interest in the main characters, and more inquiry into the unrest of the Republic. The problem is,  despite Jonathan Hales lending an extra hand with the writing, the dialogue is once again a massive misfire. During the romance scenes with Anakin and Padme Amidala, it’s hard not to cringe whenever a character opens their mouth. The worst part is that this romance is pushed as the main plotline and takes up far too much of the two hour run-time. The movie also pushes a few new characters like Jango Fett (Boba Fett’s father) who somehow manages to do even less than Boba did in the original trilogies. The best of “Attack of the Clones” occurs by the end of the movie when it hinges on full-scale war and sets up Count Dooku as a formidable opponent. The second episode is better than the previous, but only by a margin. Grade: C

 

Episode 3: “Revenge of the Sith”

After two run-of-the-mill previous movies, George Lucas finally manages to rebound in the third and last entry in the divisive prequel trilogy. The writing still has its share of problems and the narrative still suffers in small ways due to the other prequel films, but as a whole “Revenge of the Sith” is an engaging, tragic telling of how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader and how the Empire was born in the ashes of the Republic. Like “Attack of the Clones” one of the better overall aspects was the action sequences, clearly defining the grittiness of the intergalactic war that has been imposed, with quality that is without a doubt better than “The Phantom Menace” before it. While we already knew how the story was going to end and that Anakin would have no chance of staying as a hero by the film’s close, it is still arresting to unravel Anakin’s path to the dark side through Palpatine’s influence and his abiding fear of losing Padme. Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi is as chivalrous as ever even if Hayden Christensen doesn’t manage to emulate the character of Anakin as effectively at times. Though it has its share of undeniable faults, “Revenge of the Sith” makes up for its misses with a lean, emotional, and engrossing finale. Grade: B+

 

Episode 4: “A New Hope”

It may be over 40 years old, but “A New Hope” stands still as a modern science fiction classic. The simple, easy-to-follow story combines trademark characters with greater than its time action, all set up in a wildly exuberant galaxy far, far away. Its emphasis on fighting for what you believe in and that even a nobody from a desolate place can become a hero remains as powerful as it did back when it was released. “A New Hope” sees each of its title characters developed accordingly; from the novice Tatooine-native Jedi Luke Skywalker, charmingly smug but caring Han Solo, archetype strong female protagonist Princess Leia and, of course, the infamous fear-mongering Darth Vader. As the movie gets to its explosive climax between the Rebels and the Empire over the Death Star, it keeps you always on edge and in anticipation of more in the next installment. This quintessential story is one of the most rewatchable Star Wars movies. Grade: A

 

Episode 5: “The Empire Strikes Back”

The classic battle of good versus evil and right versus wrong set against a galaxy ordained by the iron-clad rule of the Empire continues in what many people consider to be one of the greatest movies of all time. I personally did not have such extremely warm feelings as many of the critics acclaiming it did, but there is not a doubt that “The Empire Strikes Back” is as good, if not better, than “A New Hope” and adds a considerable amount of intrigue to the saga; where most direct sequels slump from sophomore fatigue, this is a unique exception.  As it slowly builds to a genius third act in which Darth Vader iconically tells Luke that he is his father, it focuses its attention in all the right areas. The Rebellion, starting to lose hope, is being chased by the Empire across the galaxy; Han and Leia develop feelings towards each other while finding refuge in the cloud city of Bespin; Luke looks into the legend of the Jedi and is trained by previous Jedi Master Yoda while confronting the fear that he may become the next Vader. Star Wars at its finest. Grade: A

 

Episode 6: “Return of the Jedi”

Watching “Return of the Jedi” is like watching a pendulum. It has moments of undeniable greatness, before sinking and losing its steam, and then it repeats its cycle through those ups and downs. The high points are all the budding moments between Vader and Luke Skywalker. Mark Hamill is better than ever as Luke and does a phenomenal job establishing Luke’s dilemma over Vader being his father and his attempts to redeem Vader and bring balance to the force, effectively fulfilling the prophecy of Anakin being the chosen one. Another swing of greatness comes in a satisfying sequence where the truth of Leia being Luke’s sister is laid out in an early twist after the death of Yoda. However, “Return of the Jedi” stagnates with the introduction of Ewoks, who should have just been there for comic relief but instead play a ridiculous critical role in the final battle. Still, the movie ends up being a more-than-satisfying end to the Empire’s reign, Anakin being Darth Vader, and the main trio’s plights. Grade: B

 

Episode 7: “The Force Awakens”

I’ll admit that when I first watched “The Force Awakens,” I had zero prior viewing experience with the other Star Wars movies. Hence why this review is going to end up being a little different than my initial reaction to the movie, where I completely loved it. Watching it now, I’ve come to realize that much of the success garnered from “The Force Awakens” was deeply rooted in the plot of “A New Hope,” so much to the point that it is almost a complete rehash in specific scenes. Yet, there is an indisputable sense of pure childlike joy watching this movie that none of the prequels managed to create. Carefully balancing the new with the old in terms of the storyline, director J.J. Abrams is able to expertly blend the villains and heroes for a new generation while looking back at how “Return of the Jedi” ended and adding on to that. Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher are better than ever, and at the time newcomer actress Daisy Ridley gives her all in the character of Rey. Though it could have been more original in its layout and addressed how the New Republic was functioning in addition to the Resistance, “The Force Awakens” is how Star Wars for a new generation should be done. Grade: B+ 

 

Episode 8: “The Last Jedi”

“The Last Jedi” may well be the most controversial Star Wars movie ever. Since it was released in 2017, fans have warred endlessly on the internet over the movie, some sticking with the critics and calling it a near-masterpiece and some saying that director Rian Johnson did a poor job at making a Star Wars movie. I didn’t line up with either of those camps, instead believing that “The Last Jedi” was simply right in the middle of the spectrum. I ended up agreeing with only a couple of Johnson’s controversial decisions in the film, like making Luke Skywalker a hermit who wants to separate himself from the Force. Making Luke the way he did was a brilliant decision tinged with more realistic character elements than the idealized hero that some fans still wanted him to be. Rey also has a nice arc in “The Last Jedi” with her back-and-forth with Luke and increasing desire to understand the motivations that bind Kylo Ren (born Ben Solo) to his spot in the First Order. However, everything else is sadly subpar. The Resistance storyline crawls at the pace of a snail and is nothing more than a prolonged game of chase between them and the First Order fleet. Finn is especially wasted as Johnson sets him on a wholly unnecessary side mission with the equally unnecessary Rose Tico. A mixed bag of a Star Wars movie. Grade: C+

 

Episode 9: “The Rise of Skywalker”

Just last December, the finale to the entire Skywalker saga finally arrived. Directed once again by J.J. Abrams, it seeks to end the First Order conflict and tie up both loose ends left by the sequel trilogy and the previous trilogies. The resulting product is a reflection of how badly some of the characters that were introduced in “The Force Awakens” were wrangled in “The Last Jedi,” combined with an ending that plays it too safe and fails to tie things up in a neat fashion. It begins with a bang, revealing that “Palpatine is somehow alive” (a real quote spoken by Poe Dameron in the film.) How he’s alive is left to the viewers to determine, because Abrams had no intention of explaining it himself. After this, Rey, Finn and Poe go on an adventure to locate a ‘sith wayfinder’ (an obvious McGuffin) that will lead them and the Resistance to Palpatine’s location. The pacing is wild, jumping from place to place with little cohesion, and the main trio barely develop as a result. Abrams tries to give Poe a backstory and Finn a fellow ex-stormtrooper to relate to, but it becomes far too late for any of those to mean anything. Meanwhile Adam Driver does his best as Kylo but simply does not have much of anything to do. In the end, “The Rise of Skywalker” is convoluted, composed of twists that make little sense on their own, and while it is as joyous and engaging as ever it is simply not the best way this epic saga could’ve finished. Grade: C