The Thrawn series might have stumbled with its second book, but #3 fixes most of those mistakes and makes for an exciting entry. Eli Vanto is back and Anakin/Vader is relegated to mere mentions, which is a blessing, because I’m not sure I could read more of that storyline. While direct interaction between Vanto and Thrawn is minimal, it’s great to see the team back together again. The interactions between characters feel believable and enjoyable, driving what might have otherwise been a dull story.
Much like the prequel films, Thrawn 3 revolves around politics, but unlike the former, it’s actually interesting. Examining The Empire from the perspective of those that are not necessarily faithful to The Emperor’s zealous vision for the galaxy is refreshing. It creates a wide diversity among the characters and makes each chapter exciting, even when much of the conflict is simply political machinations.
I’ll be honest, these books are not literary masterpieces, but they are fun and provide some interesting new Star Wars stories that make me want to keep reading. If you’re a Star Wars fan and/or love the Heir to the Empire trilogy, this one is worth a read. I also highly recommend the audiobook which has excellent voice acting, SFX and soundtrack.
Here we are, at the end of the Skywalker Saga, almost ready for Episode 9. It’s been a long process with good movies, bad movies, and some that floundered in between. Today, I’m taking another look at Episode 8 – The Last Jedi, arguably the most controversial film in the Star Wars series. Critics lavished it with praise, and yet audience scores told a completely different story. I remember loving Last Jedi when I first saw it in theatres, and it definitely holds up on the re-watch. So, let’s get into it, feel free to fight me in the comments or on Twitter if you disagree, I’ll be waiting.
Last Jedi’s opening is incredible. It’s got humor, tension, great space fighting, and feels like it carries some real weight. For the first time in the series, we’re shown the consequences of running in, guns blazing, and staying until every last fighter is gone. The Resistance is nearly broken at the beginning of the film with only a handful of ships left to stand against the ever-increasing presence of the First Order. Despite all that, Poe is still joking with General Hux while he’s stalling for time in their master plan, and I love it.
Poe’s character is delightfully flawed in all the ways you’d expect from a hot shot pilot. Take him out of space and he would fit in easily with Tom Cruise’s Maverick from Top Gun. The only problem is, historically, Star Wars has never shown any consequences for that kind of behavior. In all the previous films, being a good pilot was enough to get you through three movies without losing anyone all that important along the way (unless you turned to the Sith). That’s why it feels so important to watch Poe fail in this movie and fail repeatedly.
About halfway through the film, Yoda says to Luke: Failure the best teacher is. This movie could not encompass that lesson more. From Luke’s failings as a Jedi Master, to Poe’s misguided hatred of Commander Holdo, or the half-baked plan on the Casino Planet, Canto Bight, it’s all about the main characters failing. A lot of people raged against that, and I don’t understand why. Part of me believes they were uncomfortable with so many of the lessons being handed down by women in positions of power, but that’s a rant for another time.
The main complaint I hear about Last Jedi is that it doesn’t feel Star Wars enough, and I frankly don’t see it. The thirty minutes on Canto Bight are exactly the kind of side plot shenanigans we’d expect, complete with a sweeping shot of a sweet alien Casino and prison breakouts with loveable rogues. The only missed opportunity there was having horse racing instead of pod racing… I mean come on, when I saw the casino rumble, I was excited and then immediately disappointed. Sure, the b-team spending their time releasing a bunch of alien horses was a bit cliched, but Canto Bight on the whole was such a cool creation, that I’m willing to forgive it a bit.
Luke’s entire training of Rey is exactly like what Yoda did for him on Dagobah, just extended and adapted for a modern audience. Rey also faces the dark side in a way that’s more real than any character we’ve seen before. That’s right, I mean you, Anakin. Her struggle is palpable and only underscored by her constant, mysterious connection with Kylo Ren. Together, they’re learning more about each other and themselves, and their final meeting led to one of the most epic saber fights I can remember. Is it disappointing to see Snoke go out so quick? Yes. Do I believe he’s gone entirely, no, because as Luke says: No one’s ever really gone.
A quick aside, my money is on Snoke being some kind of avatar for the nearly-dead Emperor and that we’ll watch that play out in Episode 9. Luckily, if I’m wrong, you can tell me real soon.
Getting back to my thread, if Luke’s training and Canto Bight weren’t Star Wars, the final ground assault on Crait absolutely is. This last stand against an army of armored AT-ATs and a miniaturized Death Star cannon is excellent and well shot. Watching the speeders kick up trails of red dust as they fly toward their inevitable doom was one of the cooler shots in the film. The resolution of the battle in the form of Luke’s last stand is powerful, badass, and exactly how I wanted him to go out. He’s cheeky to the very end, and still has one last lesson to teach his padawan. IF THAT’S NOT STAR WARS, I DON’T KNOW WHAT IS.
Ranting aside, watching the main characters learn from their own failures and the failures of others sets up the end of the movie perfectly. As The Resistance is starting to rise from the ashes and recover, so too are our beloved heroes. Poe finally gets his command, but he’s learned a valuable lesson, and will make a better leader because of it. Finn’s suicide mission is aborted by the very person who stopped him from running away in the first place. The list goes on, and I love the way Rian Johnson tied all these lessons together.
Overall, The Last Jedi was a very enjoyable breath of fresh air for the series. It would have been very easy to pump out another cookie-cutter Star Wars film, but instead, Johnson gave us something we had never seen before. Once Episode 9 comes out and ties up the story, I think we’ll find more people revisiting Episode 8 and truly appreciating what it set up. It might be rough around the edges, but Last Jedi still holds a spot near the top for me.
For as long as I can remember, Return of the Jedi has been my favorite film in the Star Wars franchise, and while there are a few scenes that warrant that, I’ve found more issues on my rewatch than I expected. Coming hot off the heels of the prequel trilogy in this watch order, it’s easy to see Return as a masterpiece, but comparing it to Hope and Empire, it’s got some real problems. First and foremost, the idea of re-hashing the conflict from Hope. It’s no secret, George Lucas didn’t think he was going to get a full trilogy when he made Hope, so he moved the trilogy’s climax to the first film. Years later, we get to Return of the Jedi and rather than trying something new, we just get a second, more vulnerable Death Star.
Aside from that, Return’s plot does host some high points for the series. Ian McDiarmid made his debut as The Emperor, and his performance is fantastic. Sure, his character does quite a bit of monologuing, but it’s hard not to be captivated by his sarcastic, confident demeanor. The Emperor is a wonderful villain, and it’s through the lens of his expert manipulation that the audience is finally able to feel some sympathy for Vader. Now, that sympathy doesn’t go a long way once you’ve seen Anakin murder children in Sith, but looking at the original trilogy on its own, it works.
It’s also fantastic to see the trio of Han, Luke and Leia back together after they spent so much of Empire apart. The three of them had amazing screen chemistry, and it’s really a shame that this is the last film we get to see them all together in. Hamill continues to build on Luke’s character, leaning into the calm, collected, deadly nature of a Jedi. This change is apparent from the first moment he comes on screen, strolling into Jabba’s palace like he owns the place. His farm boy and willful apprentice aesthetics are gone, and in their place is a true hero. Through these character developments, Hamill manages to steal most of the scenes he’s in and for the first time, doesn’t feel like he needs to be propped up by side characters.
In fact, that’s a theme felt through the entire cast. Every character in Jedi feels like they could stand on their own and carry the film. It makes their interactions even more of a joy to watch, especially in the first half of the movie where they’re given plot to work with. The 20-30 minutes where the team is rescuing Han is easily one of my favorite moments in Star Wars. Jabba’s palace is an incredible set piece with unique aliens around every turn and all sorts of crazy shit (see dancing twileks and carnivorous beasts in the floor) that feels right at home. My only complaint about the first half of Jedi is Boba Fett going out like a punk. There was a lot of potential in that character, and he’s gotten life in the expanded universe of books/comics, but I would have loved to see more of it on screen.
Now, that’s the good half of the movie, the back half has some serious issues, and a lot of them stem from George Lucas getting a little merchandise happy. The entire sequence on Endor, while fun, does seem like it’s just him being determined to get teddy bears in the film, so he can sell more toys. The whole battle on Endor ends up feeling silly compared to the dark tone of the rest of the film, especially when it’s being directly contrasted with Luke’s struggle against the emperor. That’s a real shame, because for a lot of the movie, Return boasts one of the darker plots of the franchise (second to Rogue One and the last 20 minutes of Sith).
Watching the film’s protagonist struggle with the very force that overthrew his father is fascinating and makes the film feel like it’s got real stakes. That’s even more apparent watching it on the heels of Sith, because it’s clear how quickly a Jedi can turn. The final saber fight between Luke and Vader is methodical, but more importantly telegraphs a bigger struggle behind the scenes. There are some flashy flips and a couple of saber twirls, but for the most part, they’re hitting with powerful, targeted strikes. When Luke finally lets the anger out and cuts off Vader’s hand, he’s on the razor’s edge, and for a moment, there is genuine uncertainty that he will remain good.
Meanwhile, ignoring that heavy plot, the movie is content to ping-pong back and forth to the murderous little Ewoks thrashing the Empire. It puts the film off balance for me, and creates tonal inconsistency, which as I’ve said in other reviews, is a serious pet peeve of mine. This only got worse in the nineties remaster with the addition of crazy bug musical numbers, beaked sarlaacs, and more. Don’t get me wrong, that musical number in Jabba’s palace is weird and wonderful, but it doesn’t feel like it belongs with the rest of the movie. It’s like Lucas had two very conflicting ideas of how the movie was supposed to go and rather than reconciling them, smashed them together and called it good.
Of course, it’s the original trilogy and there had to be a popcorn ending, but it could have felt more earned if the film had maintained a darker tone until the end. Really, almost every part of the film aside from Endor maintains that aesthetic and it’s sad to see it cheapened. Still, through it all, the final battle and Vader’s sacrifice are an emotionally satisfying conclusion to the saga. Personally, I would have been fine seeing the franchise end at Jedi, even with some of the excellent films we got after. It wraps things up nicely and still left plenty of openings for fan fiction and the expanded universe to fill gaps. But, as Yoda said, there is another…
Revenge works as well as it does, because Lucas finally learned his lesson and started playing to his strengths. Rather than beginning the film with lengthy exposition or political intrigue outright, Revenge opens on a space battle, and a pretty good one at that. The visuals still look good to this day and it’s the first time we’re shown space warfare on a massive scale. Previous films focused on small squadrons of recognizable pilots, but Revenge shows us huge capital ships exchanging cannon-fire (yes, old-timey, naval cannon-fire). Pilots are ripped from their spaceships after they explode, floating into the cold, void of space, and from the outset, it’s clear the film is going for a darker tone.
My biggest issue with the film’s opening is the wooden banter between Obi Wan and Anakin. What I think Lucas was trying to do was demonstrate how calm a Jedi is, even in battle, but it makes the whole scene feel a bit stilted. A little emotion in these lines could have made the banter more playful, but instead, it’s stale. There’s a point in the opening where Obi Wan is on death’s door, and neither Jedi seem particularly disturbed by it. If this was consistent throughout the film, I might mind it less, but feeling too much for family who’s dying is kind of Anakin’s whole thing.
Character inconsistency, ironically, seems to be Anakin’s most enduring trait. Throughout the film, he ping pongs between extremes, playing the part of good Jedi padawan and murderous psychopath without much room in between. Like Clones, none of Anakin’s character decisions feel earned. At the beginning of the film he is conflicted, but on a good path, yet in the course of a fifteen minute interaction with Palpatine, he’s suddenly game to murder younglings and forsake the order that literally freed him from slavery and gave him a home. In my opinion, it would have helped to spread this darkness out across the movies more, which I think Lucas attempted (see Tusken Raider murders in Clones). Unfortunately, there’s no weight to it until suddenly there is, and that makes Anakin’s transformation almost laughable.
The problem is that Sith is so pre-occupied with tying up all the loose ends leading into A New Hope that it doesn’t give any of the plot points time to breathe. The entire back half of the film seems like it’s just there to create plot consistency (and a few holes). If anything, it feels like we could have used another movie to help stretch some of the choices out. In the last thirty minutes, we see the fall of the Jedi almost in their entirety, Anakin’s complete reversal from Jedi to murdering Sith, Padme’s death, Luke and Leia being hidden, Obi Wan and Yoda raiding the temple, the list goes on. I could have used one more movie to dive deeper into Anakin’s turn and watch how the mechanics of that played out, but sadly, I’m sure it would have turned out poorly.
Luckily, Anakin is finally paired with some decent supporting characters, and with their help, his journey is a lot more watchable this time around. Ewan McGregor hits his stride as Obi Wan in Revenge and it’s a joy to watch his take on the character. Likewise, Ian McDiarmid’s return as The Emperor is fantastic and I can’t wait for him to reprise the role in Episode 9. With Obi Wan as the protagonist and The Emperor acting as the antagonist, Anakin is almost relegated to a side character, caught between titans, and that works so much better. If the rest of the films could have focused in the same way, I think we would be left with a different, far better trilogy.
Unfortunately, one character in particular is once again shortchanged and misused. Padme is reduced to crying, pregnant, lady with nothing to do other than weep over Anakin and die. It’s astonishing to me that Lucas created a character arc for her that is so cataclysmically bad. Padme had a ton of interesting directions to go, but it’s like all her traits from Menace were forgotten in favor of servicing Anakin’s dark broodiness. It’s one of the greatest shames of the prequel trilogy, and the creators should truly be ashamed of it. Even worse, Padme’s death at the end of Sith creates a plot hole, because Leia says she remembers her real mother in Return of the Jedi. Having Padme run off to hide the children from Anakin would have been a stronger character decision and might have made her feel just a little bit more valuable in the grand story arc.
Characters aside, the plot of Sith is also marginally better than either of its prequel predecessors. The arc of the film feels focused, and substantially darker than any of the films that came before it. There are more hands chopped off in this film than the rest of the prequel and OG trilogy combined. Don’t believe me? Here’s a chart of hands lost per film. Go ahead, take a look, I’ll wait.
Sith houses some of the darkest scenes in the entire Star Wars franchise. In the two- and half-hour runtime, we get decapitation of beloved villains, mass child murder, and watch Anakin burn alive after Obi Wan cuts both his legs and one of his arms off. Obi Wan straight up stands there and watches Anakin burn to death rather than putting him out of his damn misery. Overall, I think this was the right tone to end the prequels with even if it wasn’t executed right. With a little more thought into why the character decisions had to be so god damned dark, this could have been one of the best films of the lot.
Overall, I like Sith the best out of the prequel trilogy by a mile. For the most part, its supporting cast is excellent, it finally gets its focus right, and Lucas leaned into the things Star Wars does best: saber and space battles. Where the film really stumbles is how it treats Anakin and how rushed his story feels. At the end of the day, the prequels were set up to be Anakin’s story, and as the credits roll, that story is complete, but doesn’t feel satisfying. While I can see the steps Lucas took to make Anakin’s turn to the dark side seem more gradual, it wasn’t enough and the ending still feels sudden. It hurts, because the prequels have so much potential, but they’re just not up to snuff for the rest of the franchise.
As a bonus round, Sith produced some of the best damned memes in the entire franchise, so, head over to r/prequelmemes and treat yourself. It helps get that Attack of the Clones taste out of your mouth.
Well, with The Mandalorian coming out tomorrow, it’s time I get back to my reviews, and here we are, the prequel trilogy. You will never find a more wretched hive of bad dialogue and poor plot decisions… Or at least that’s what some people say. The prequel trilogy has provided the internet with fantastic meme fodder, and I’ve still got pleasant memories of watching Phantom Menace as a kid (I was 9), but let’s see how it holds up on a re-watch 20 years later. As a quick reminder, here’s where I am in the order, and here are links to my reviews for Rogue One (3.5/5), A New Hope (4.5/5), and The Empire Strikes Back(5/5).
Unlike most of the other Star Wars films, Phantom Menace does not open on its best note, in fact, it opens clumsy. The better part of the movie’s first half is slow, with exposition-heavy dialogue and little to no character development beyond the basics (e.g. Jar Jar is a bumbling idiot that can jump real good, Obi Wan has a rat tail, and Qui Gon Jin is dour). Sure, the audience is introduced to a host of new and exciting planets, but the story is bogged down by the one thing no Star Wars fan ever wanted more of, politics. Re-watching the struggles of the Naboo and the Galactic Senate is a painful reminder of just how slow and inefficient governments can be. It’s interesting in the lore that it creates, but it should have been a footnote, not the plot of the whole damn movie.
The story is especially damaging to one character in
particular, Obi Wan. Going back to watch the prequels, I was particularly
excited for Obi Wan given his relatively short presence in the original
trilogy. Sadly, in the Phantom Menace, he’s not given much to work with
and is practically reduced to a side character. Aside from the film’s opening,
Obi Wan sits on the sidelines for the majority of the film until the final,
climactic battle. One can only imagine the better decisions that might have
been made on Tatooine had they brought him along for the ride. There are glimmers
of Obi’s dry charm and humor, but ultimately, this story isn’t about him.
Unfortunately, rather than an interesting character, this story is about Anakin, a walking pile of terrible dialogue and awkward child-teenager romance. The one thing I can say is Jake Lloyd surpasses Hayden Christensen in the role, but that’s only because adult Anakin is just so god damned creepy (more on that in the next film). Anakin’s plot on Tatooine is boring, formulaic, and hosts one of my least favorite scenes in the entire saga, his first meeting with Padme. All I had to hear were the words “Are you an angel?” and immediately my headed exploded Scanners style.
Luckily, there’s a glimmer of greatness at the end of Phantom’s stay on the miserable desert planet, and that’s pod racing. The Boonta Eve sequence is one of the coolest in the franchise, and arguably better street racing than the Fast and the Furious series (come at me Vin Diesel). There’s a memorable cast of racers, amazing effects, and to this day, it’s still exciting. As a bonus point, it also spawned one of the better Star Wars video game incarnations and should be brought back as a modern game immediately.
Now, the pod racing scene was amazing, but in the words of Yoda, there is another. The fight between Qui Gon, Obi Wan, and Darth Maul at the end of the film is the best saber fight in the entire series, hands down. Once more, I encourage you to fight me if you disagree. With one of John Williams’s finest scores, Duel of the Fates, pumping in the background and some excellent fight choreography, the scene holds up and is still incredible to watch. However, and there’s a big however, this scene also kills of the film’s two most interesting characters.
Darth Maul is set up as an amazing baddie that could have
easily carried over to menace Obi Wan through the rest of the prequel series,
but sadly, he’s the one Star Wars character that can’t recover from dismemberment.
Of course, Darth Maul had a big presence
in the expanded universe of books, television, and even in Solo, but he
could have really helped the prequel trilogy along. By killing him, Obi Wan
completes what could have otherwise been an exciting emotional journey.
Struggling with the need for revenge and a pull toward the dark side could have
given him better character beats moving forward, but these films aren’t about
characters, they’re about CGI.
And boy, a lot of the CGI does not hold up well here. As a kid, I remember thinking the battle of Naboo was one of the more memorable in the series, but as an adult, it’s hot trash. Not only do we have Jar Jar as a clumsy, but somehow lethal general, the CGI battle with the droids feels like a miss and lacks some of the weight of the other fights in the series. Especially coming hot off watching the Battle of Hoth in Empire, this one is hard to stomach. The accompanying space battle is great, but the ground game could have used some more up close scenes with practical effects.
In the end, Phantom Menace felt like Lucas really
wanted to flex his newfound CGI muscles, who didn’t it was the late 90s, but in
the process, he lost the realness of the original trilogy. Even going back to
watch those older films forty years later, they still hold up better than the
20-year-old Phantom Menace. That’s the problem with CGI, it advanced so
rapidly, that even more recent films start to look old faster. It doesn’t help
that the computer-generated characters were also tropes with little personality
beyond being various racist stereotypes (Looking at you trade federation).
Overall, Phantom Menace is just bad. It can be fun to watch at times and has some of the coolest scenes in the series, but action scenes knit together by politicians providing exposition does not make a film. While the original trilogy was heavy on tropes and didn’t offer an original overarching story, we knew why the characters did what they did, and their actions were consistent. Phantom Menace shortchanges its best characters in exchange for cheap, walking piles of CGI garbage that are forgotten almost as soon as they’re off screen (except you, Jar Jar, Lord of the Sith). Together, all this makes for my lowest ranking in my rewatch so far.