Star Wars – The Re-Review – The Force Awakens

Ten years passed between the release of Revenge of the Sith and The Force Awakens. Walking into the theater, the anticipation for the film was palpable, and I don’t think I’ve ever been in a more nervous/excited crowd for a film. Where the prequels stumbled and blundered their way through a wonderful universe, Force Awakens brought back what the series was known best for. With standout side characters, an intriguing new set of villains, and plenty of space/saber battles, it felt like coming home. Before we dive in, here’s a quick update on where the rest of the movies ranked: Rogue One (3.5/5)A New Hope (4.5/5) The Empire Strikes Back(5/5)The Phantom Menace(2/5)Attack of the Clones(.5/5), Revenge of the Sith (3/5), andReturn of the Jedi (4/5).

Force Awakens sets itself apart from the other films in the first fifteen seconds by taking time to focus on a group of people the series has basically ignored, storm troopers. Attack of the Clones showed us the creation of the original troopers, but clones only last so long. Force Awakens gives us one of the best characters by exposing what exactly it’s like to become a storm trooper and how people might get into that life in the first place. Finn is a wonderful new addition to the universe and brings a new level of understanding to the previously bland and seemingly endless opposition, all within the first twenty minutes of the movie.

The opening also does a perfect job of balancing moments of humor with darkness. Poe’s banter with Kylo Ren is appreciated comic relief, but also underscored by the fact that there’s a buzzing bolt of laser that Kylo straight up stopped with the force. Not only is Kylo powerful, but also ruthless. He skips the pre-amble of general villainy and gets right to the murdering. In the first ten minutes, he orders the destruction of an entire village of innocent people, setting the stage for Finn’s choice to desert and showing us what this new villain is all about.

And what he’s about, is tantrums

Kylo is moody, broody, and dangerous. While that might sound familiar from the prequels, Adam Driver is able to pull it off where Christiansen failed. Kylo feels like a realistic villain and his impulsive nature justifies the decisions he makes throughout the film. He is the dark side incarnate, living on emotion and filled to the brim with fear. What’s interesting is where that fear comes from. We’ve seen the light side struggle with the dark, but never vice versa. Kylo Ren is the first Sith we see genuinely wrestling with a pull to the light and trying to prove at all costs that he has what it takes to master the dark. It’s a beautiful, tragic motivator for the character and gives him life.

But, the villain would be nothing without a plucky new light-side user to oppose them, and Rey provides that in spades. Ridley’s character mirror’s Ren in so many ways and sets up the conflict between them perfectly. Like Ren, Rey is afraid that she has been left behind forever and feels alone in the universe. Her journey from scrapper on Jakku to eventual padawan parallels Luke’s in a way but feels different enough to not seem like a direct copy.

Love this ‘stop holding my hand’ scene. Also, apparently, this gif brought to you by #FallonTonight?

Which, brings me to one of the main criticisms I see of this film, it’s parallels to A New Hope. Many think it steps over the line of homage to straight mimicry, but on this watch through, I don’t see it.  There are some character similarities, but there are also some brand-new additions we’ve never seen in the franchise. Now, that doesn’t mean the film is without errors, and one of them is also its most blatant copy, Starkiller Base. I really hate that the climax of this film is once again about destroying a planet-size weapon that destroys other planets. It’s been played out twice, it didn’t go well for The Empire either time, and frankly I’m bored of it.

The final assault on Starkiller Base is a fun sequence with an amazing aerial dogfight and one of the best saber battles, but it’s worn ground. Now, I do feel that Kylo’s idolization of Darth Vader and The Empire means a direct copy of their old plans makes sense. He’s always trying to finish what Vader started, and one can only assume the shadowy Snoke shares the same basic agenda. All the same, watching another massive super weapon destroyed in less than ten minutes of screen time felt like things were too easy. If they really needed to do a planet-destroyer again, they could have let it survive the resistance’s initial assault, but alas, no cigar. If they bring back another planet destroyer in Episode 9, I’m going to be pissed.

But I’ll admit, this was cool

Speaking of the parallels to Hope, it’s nice to see the original cast back, even if Luke is only there for fifteen seconds. I would have liked to see the trio of Han, Leia and Luke reunite one, final time. Fortunately, I actually think it’s better this way. Harrison Ford brings the same life to Han that he always had, and somehow, Carrie Fisher only got better with age. Leia in Force Awakens is by far my favorite incarnation. Her whip-smart humor has been honed, she’s sarcastic as ever, and the fear she inspires in Han is wonderful and great comedically. Their reunion on Takodana at Maz’s castle is one of the most impactful scenes in the movie and carried strong emotional weight.

Overall, I absolutely love Force Awakens. I was going to try and pick it apart, but there’s not that much wrong with it. Starkiller Base is a misstep in my opinion, but it also doesn’t hurt the film that much. The new generation of characters we’re introduced to have some of the best emotional depth in the series and prove they’re worthy to catch the torch from the old guard. I can see some similarities to A New Hope, but honestly, I think there’s a lot of people who are just going to be angry at new Star Wars because it’s not the original trilogy. Personally, I think the modernization is a good thing, and leads to some needed innovation in character and plot. Which is all to say, I’m sure we’re going to get in some real spicy fights over Episode 8.

Star Wars – The Re-Review – The Empire Strikes Back

Just a quick reminder for those who are new, below is my watch order for the Star Wars films, and the goal is to re-review them all before Episode 9 releases in December! Links to reviews of Rogue One (3.5/5) and A New Hope (4.5/5)

For being the movie that most hail as the best in the series, I think Empire might be the one I’ve watched the least from the original trilogy. As a kid, it didn’t hold the same allure as Return of the Jedi or A New Hope, likely because of it had a darker tone than both of those films. Rewatching it as an adult, I was genuinely surprised with how well most of it held up, and how many pieces I missed as a child. As a narrative, Empire might be sandwiched between Hope and Jedi, but as a film, it stands alone.

The first thirty minutes of Empire are what I remember most from when I was a kid. There are so many memorable moments, from Han slicing open the tan tan, to the imperial walkers bearing down on the rebel base across the snowy plains. It’s those high-action scenes that stuck with me as a child, but as an adult, it’s the character moments in between them that truly make Empire great. Han had plenty of great one-liners in A New Hope, but he gets more character development in five minutes of Empire than the entirety of the previous film.

Even Luke and Leia who were a bit bland and predictable in Hope gain some much needed depth in this film, mostly through separation. The splitting of the main characters after the battle of Hoth allows the movie to cover a lot of narrative ground while also keeping the film snappy and interesting. There wasn’t a single point in Empire where I started to feel bored, which again, heavily contrasts my childhood opinions. Hamill still feels green through the whole thing, especially with his horrible “Noooo” scream, but he’s still miles better than in A New Hope.

Truly painful to watch

Acting wasn’t the only thing to improve either. The effects in Empire feel more polished, and hold up well, despite the fact that over thirty years has passed. There are some notable exceptions, like blue halos around pilots when they look out their cockpit window because of the blue screen, but for the most part it’s unnoticeable. For once, I can say George Lucas’s tinkering actually helped this film out too. There are a few memorable moments that were added after the fact, and they help the film shine. Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Wampa Work – In the 1997 re-releases of the film, more shots of the Wampa were added with a person in a more realistic suit. This helped us get the shot of the creature with its arm off, and generally made the scene more cohesive. Bonus fact that I love about this scene, it is rumored to have been added to explain the scars Mark Hamill got from a car crash in between filiming Hope and Empire. Either way, great scene, and potentially great save from the film crew.
Can’t a wampa enjoy a tan tan drumstick in peace?
  • Battle of Hoth – This battle was generally cleaned up a bit as some of the previous shots still had weird outlines on the speeders from blue screens, and the cockpits of the snow speeders were made transparent so we could see the battle beyond. In addition, there were a few extra CGI shots of the snow speeders added in throughout the first third of the movie. All of this served to enhance and didn’t negatively impact the film in my opinion
  • Bespin – Another great addition was the CGI makeover Bespin was given. This makes the city look vibrant and generally more interesting. There are a few extra shots of ships flying in next to the falcon, and the exterior aesthetic looks far superior to the original.
  • Boba Fett Voice – In the bluray re-releases of the films, Boba Fett’s voice was changed to match the Australian accent of the prequels. I really don’t have an opinion about this change, as I didn’t feel it served any purpose other than continuity in the films.  

With all those changes in mind, the battles in Empire are memorable, and that’s great, because relatively speaking, there are less of them. Really, the film has three big action sequences: The battle for Hoth, The Falcon escaping through the asteroid field, and the final faceoff at Cloud City. Each of these scenes are remarkably unique, with none of the action feeling stale or too similar to another scene. The Hoth battle is quick paced with scores of rebels dying, plenty of explosions, and some great tow cable work. It’s one of the best in the series, and I’ll even put it above Scarif from Rogue One.

Never forget, Dak Ralter, the true hero of Hoth

As a counter-point to Hoth, the chase scene through the asteroid field is almost more subdued, focusing more on the character reactions to the situation, rather than the action taking place around them. Hiding the Falcon inside the asteroid worm (I’m sorry for not looking up the creature’s name, is it Fred?) serves as another opportunity for dedicated character interaction and growth (see kissy kissy in the Falcon’s maintenance area). It’s an amazing set of scenes and still gets my blood pumping to this day.

Just another poor beast boi trying to get a snacc

Finally, the final battle between Luke and Vader is slow and methodical, just like Obi Wan on the Death Star. We get the opportunity to see how much Luke has learned, but also get the first introduction to the seductive powers of the dark side. This scene is really Vader’s first big emotional beat as a character. Before the Cloud City fight, he’s more of a generalized opposition, menacing and choking people (he chokes a lot of people in this movie), but not really showing any character traits beyond angry and disappointed. His conversations throughout the fight with Luke lay the groundwork for Vader’s eventual fall, but also raise the stakes for Luke, showing just how close to turning he could be. 

Opening crawl to end credits, Empire Strikes Back is a masterpiece. The only real knocks I have on it are a few corny one-liners and some mediocre acting, but those are part of the charm of Star Wars in the first place. With a darker tone than most of the other mainline films in the series, Empire stands out from the pack and brings something different to the table. It also sets up the characters better than any of the other films, giving them good moments to interact with each other. In addition, it introduces some wonderful new side characters of its own and expands the already wondrous universe.

Star Wars – The Re-Review – A New Hope

It’s hard to review A New Hope without some aspect of nostalgia filtering into my opinion. This is a movie I’ve seen easily twenty times, if not more, throughout my life, and that makes it difficult to look at it through an objective lens. For a quick refresher, below is my watch order for the films, and if you haven’t already, check out my review of Rogue One which some think is a spicy take…

This is the watch order, deal with it

A New Hope is a wonderful start to a traditional Campbellian journey where a plucky, young, moisture farmer discovers a hidden talent and goes off to fight evil. Right from the start, this film leaves no room for interpretation in its black and white painting of a galaxy in crisis. The bad guys look an awful lot like Nazis, only in space, their leader dresses all in black and Princess Leia wears white. The pace at the beginning of the film is quick and manages to maintain its tension, even to this day after I’ve watched it far too many times. I still get a kick out of C-3P0’s pithy sarcasm, and Vader still cuts an imposing figure when he first comes through the smoke-shrouded doorway. It says a lot when a film that was made in the 70s can still successfully evoke emotions and immerse the viewer some forty-odd years later.

Most of what makes this possible in my opinion is the film’s emphasis on practical sets, as well as an unforgettable soundtrack. The music in A New Hope is easily one of its best features and a highlight for the series (Duel of the Fates aside). Binary Sea is one of the most iconic scores in film and still conjures up images of the twin suns setting over Tatooine. The music is constantly complimenting the film and is one of the main reasons it’s so memorable. I could keep naming tracks all day, but then I’d likely just wake up drunk in front of John Williams’s house again, so it’s best to move on.

The special effects in A New Hope were ground-breaking at the time but can feel distracting in the modern era. It might be easier to ignore them if George Lucas hadn’t spliced a healthy dose of 90s CGI here and there to try and give the movie a punch up. While most of these reworked scenes are unnecessary and serve as an opportunity to throw weird lizards in unused set space, there are a few I’d like to call out as exceptional. First, the trench run rework really adds something to the film, and actually makes the iconic battle better. Second, the little touches like removing the orange haze from beneath Luke’s speeder help the film age a little better.

Sure, it’s a bit video gamey, but it still looks cool

Unfortunately, Lucas wasn’t content to just mess with the effects, he had to add a few scenes too. I could talk about these all day, but I’m going to practice some restraint and do a few quick bullets:

  • Han shot first, and it should have stayed that way. It was a great moment for his character and gave him some much-needed darkness to contrast Luke’s goody-two-shoes routine.
  • The scene with Han circling Jabba does give some interesting context for Return of the Jedi, but it’s also awkward as hell when Han ‘steps on Jabba’s tail’ (gif below).
  • Adding Biggs into the final scene before the trench run is interesting, but thematically confusing as the only bit we’ve heard about him is that he ran off to join the Imperial Academy. There’s lots of great fiction about what happened to him, but we get none of that context, and it leaves me with a ton of questions.

Now, back to the original film. The scenes that hold up the best are character focused, with the practical sets and iconic costumes carrying the movie. Even with the corny lightsaber effects, the battle between Obi Wan and Darth on the Death Star carries weight and is entertaining to watch. It’s a far cry from the flashier sabre battles of the prequel and sequel trilogies, but the methodical samurai-like combat has a menace of its own that is engaging and beautiful to watch.

Name a more iconic Star Wars couple, I’ll wait

The actors themselves are a mixed bag, and I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that. Mark Hamill did what he could with some pretty lackluster lines, but in the end, Luke is whiny and not all that interesting (in this movie). Luckily, like Rogue One, the protagonist is once again saved by an interesting cast of supporting characters. Harrison Ford’s Han is iconic and carries every scene he’s in. Han’s constant bickering and poking at Luke provides the relief the audience desperately needs from what is otherwise a traditional hero story. Obi Wan serves to ground the action and give Han at least a little push back while Luke is taking a verbal ass-whooping for the first half of the film. Despite starting out as just some guy living in the desert, Alec Guiness made Obi Wan into one of the most memorable characters, even with a relatively short screen time.

One of my favorite Han lines

The detailed supporting cast of A New Hope unfortunately serve to highlight Luke’s lack of character. Throughout the film, he’s going through a lot of changes, and the reasoning behind them can seem ham-handed. When we first meet Luke, he’s daydreaming about joining The Academy, and spoilers, there’s only one of those, it’s the Imperial Academy. If Luke hadn’t been lucky enough to be duped by a runaway R2D2, he might have been heading off to be an Imperial pilot, fighting The Rebellion. It takes ten minutes for Luke to completely change his mind on the subject after a meeting with an old wizard in the desert who he barely knows. Shortly after, his family is killed, allegedly by imperials, but he never sees that and ends up taking the old man’s word on faith… Soon, he’s gung-ho about joining The Rebellion, and somehow all of his friends are there (thanks 90s Lucas)… Yes, the same friends that joined the Imperial Academy. It would have been great to see a small character beat between Luke and Biggs where they at least talk about what happened, but instead, it’s left hoping that we’d have forgotten.

There are a lot of little character inconsistencies like this riddled throughout A New Hope, but the main story distracts us from them with its glory. Look, no one is going to say that this is one of the greatest tales ever told; it’s generic, a bit overdone, and unoriginal, but it’s the world it all takes place in that makes it shine. Watching Luke and Obi Wan walk into a bar in Mos Eisley and listening to the iconic cantina band is an adventure in itself. The details scattered throughout the world make it impossible to escape its magnetic pull (almost like a tractor beam). Every character in the cantina scene feels like they could have some wild backstory, but the film leaves it up to the viewer’s imagination.

Still waiting on their new album to drop…

It’s the side interactions with these characters too that serve as some of the most memorable moments in the film. Luke’s confrontation with Butt Face (I refuse to call him anything else) and his partner in crime is one of the best scenes in the saga. It shows us Luke really doesn’t know what he’s doing, Obi Wan is a lean, mean slicing machine who is not to be fucked with, and that the denizens of the Mos Eisley Cantina see way too many people murdered. That’s a lot of story, setting, and character communication, and it takes all  of about thirty seconds. I only wish the rest of the film had that sort of concise storytelling, but hey, it’s still got a lot to offer.

Finally, before I run out of words here, a quick word about the opposition, the evil Galactic Empire. For the most part, they are characterized by incompetence in this film, and without Rogue One’s addition of the Death Star being sabotaged, they’d look like complete idiots.  Storm Troopers are supposed to be precise, and yet, Han Solo literally runs into a wall of them, shoots one in the head and gets away unscathed. They might be good at murdering farmers and Jawas, but anytime it comes to a real fight, they shit the bed.

Now, the Empire’s leadership? Full of petty infighting and scrambling for power. That is a believable story that somehow still mirrors the corporate world, and that’s a little bit scary. Peter Cushing’s Tarkin is a great, stereotypical villain with some incredible one-liners that serve to hold him in memory even after he’s blown up aboard his technological terror. Vader likewise isn’t given a ton of screen time, but when he’s there, he’s memorable, mostly due to the iconic James Earl Jones voiceover. My one gripe: Vader is allegedly the best pilot in the galaxy, and yet he still manages to miss the hulking form of the Millennium Falcon coming up behind him in the final battle? Maybe he should have tried spinning, I heard that’s a good trick.

In the end, I still love A New Hope despite its flaws. The world building is amazing and set us up for decades of fan fiction, lackluster prequels, and great sequels. While the story is very predictable and doesn’t do much new, it does it in a galaxy that no one had ever seen before, and that alone was enough to captivate people. Adjusted for nostalgic inflation, I still think this movie holds up and will continue to delight new audiences, especially with all the new Star Wars media coming out.

As always, if you disagree, I encourage you to fight me on Twitter/Facebook, it really drives the viewcount up on these pieces 😊

Star Wars – The Re-Review – Rogue One

We have ten weeks until Star Wars – Episode 9 – The Rise of Skywalker releases, and conveniently, there are ten films in the series that come before it (yes, I’m counting the spinoffs). To view Episode 9 with the proper perspective, and gain shameless views for my site, I’m going back to watch all ten movies and review them with fresh eyes. Now, before I get into the first movie, a couple of notes.

First off, I love Star Wars, always have, always will, but on this run through I’m going to be looking at them a bit more critically. So, know that while these reviews might harp on the films, they are still some of my favorites.

Second, my watching order. I’ve thought about this for a while and am going with a modified version of the Ernest Rister order. I may have lost some of you already but let me break it down with a picture to explain who the heck an Ernest Rister is and why I’m following him.

Now we have that out of the way, let’s talk about the first film.

Rogue One – The First Star Wars Story

From the moment the movie starts Rogue One tries to carve a unique space for itself in the Star Wars universe. There’s no opening crawl, and instead we’re thrust straight into the action, a first for the Star Wars series, and a good indicator that this sits outside the mainline films. Unfortunately, in an effort to set a new tone and quickly introduce us to all its characters, Rogue One’s first hour feels very disjointed in both tone and filming style. In the first thirty minutes we’re introduced to a myriad of new planets never seen on the screen, and each is barely given enough room to breathe before the film cuts somewhere else. This is understandable given the film’s already two-hour run time, but it can definitely be confusing, even for a fan of the series.

Putting aside the jumpy first half, Rogue One does introduce some memorable characters with the standouts in some of the more minor roles. Personally, K-2S0, yet another sassy robot, and the pair of Baze and Chirrut are some of the most interesting characters, despite not being the leads. K-2SO’s one-liners help break up the film’s darker tone with some comic relief, Chirrut gives us some insight into what happened with the Jedi temples after Order 66, and Baze carries a damned big gun. Saw, played by Forest Whitaker is another standout side character, but he’s given so little screen time, that its hard to really enjoy his performance.  

A blind jedi boi and a thick gunner make eyes at each other on the beach
Name a Star Wars couple you’d ship more, I’ll wait.

Getting to the leads, their characters aren’t bad either, but Cassian Andor, Rogue One’s captain, swaps between cold-blooded assassin and suddenly hopeful rebel at the drop of a hat. While I like the idea of showcasing a more problematic character in Star Wars rather than another cookie-cutter hero, Cassian wasn’t that. Instead, he came off like a half-baked Han Solo with more dramatic flare and it just didn’t work.

Jyn Erso on the other hand is a bit more interesting. Born the daughter of the Death Star’s architect, she’s got plenty of reasons to be confused by the way the factions of the world work, and her character works best when she’s all the powers at be. Unfortunately, the story of Rogue One ends up being pretty cut and dry, leaving a simple black and white position for her character to take. When it comes to siding with the plucky rebels, or The Empire, hell bent on destroying whole planets with their shiny new Death Star, there’s not much of a choice. There wasn’t anything the writers could have done to ameliorate this as the plot was set from the get-go, but it does shortchange an otherwise memorable character.

If only this line had been given a sarcastic delivery

There’s also a few returning characters that are a heavily mixed bag. Through the magic of ridiculously expensive CGI, a not-so-believable Grand Moff Tarkin returned, and to be honest, he felt unnecessary. The scenes with him were distracting just because of the uncanny nature of his animation and didn’t do much to further the plot. Vader on the other hand is a true badass, aside from possibly one of the worst lines in Star Wars history…

Darth vader has a terrible fucking one liner
Just… SO bad. Who thought this was a good line? Was Lucas involved?!

Yeah, oof, and this is in a series that had the lines “I hate sand” and “She died of a broken heart”. Even with those in mind, this is by far the worst line in the entire saga. On the bright side, the rest of his screen time is memorable and sets up his entrance in the next film beautifully. Come to think of it, that’s what Rogue One is best at overall: setting up A New Hope.

At its core, Rogue One is a film about filling one of the series’s biggest plot holes and making it seem like a stroke of narrative genius. As a quick refresher, and another spoiler, Episode 4 ends with the rebels blowing up the immaculately constructed Death Star by having a farmer shoot 2 torpedoes into an exposed vent on the station’s surface. This causes a chain reaction that blows the whole damned thing up. Originally, fans were left to believe this was a terrible design flaw on the Empire’s part, but Rogue One has a better answer: sabotage.

Rogue One’s narrative of an engineer at odds with the Empire’s goals of creating a planet-destroying weapon works, and creates a believable reason for the Death Star to be more vulnerable. It’s aspects like this, bridging the gap between movies where Rogue One really shines, and most of them happen in the film’s back half. The last forty-five minutes of Rogue One are arguably some of the best in the Star Wars franchise. The battle for Scariff is memorable, has a point, and unlike many of the other films, does a fantastic job of demonstrating the human cost of such an effort. It gives more weight to A New Hope and shows the audience exactly what the cost was to set up Luke’s miraculous trench run.

Overall, despite these misgivings, I still really enjoy watching Rogue One. It’s a fun film that gives us something different from the mainline saga. The battles are intense and easily some of the best in the series, most of the characters are memorable, and we are introduced to some cool new worlds, albeit briefly. The script’s tone and some of the more gratuitous fan service (looking at you CGI Tarkin) were definitely not necessary, but they don’t take the film down as a whole.

Final verdict: 3.5/10 – Absolutely worth watching if you’re a fan, and gives great context that somehow makes A New Hope even better.