Star Wars – The Re-Review – Episode 8

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.

Here’s a quick refresher on where I scored the other films so far: 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)Return of the Jedi (4/5), and The Force Awakens (4.5/5). You might notice, I’ve skipped Solo, but I will come back to it at a later date. I just got busy making an audio drama, a podcast, and writing a holiday story for y’all.

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.  

Fuck yeah, Yoda commits arson, what else did you expect?

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.

Now this… isn’t podracing, but it’s still pretty great

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.

I mean, this is pretty savage…

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.

Star Wars – The Re-Review – Return of the Jedi

Finally, after making my way through the ‘extended flashback’ that was the prequels, it’s back to the mainline trilogy. As a quick check-in, that means I have three films left to review in the fourteen days until Episode 9 releases. I’ll do my best to get a review for Episode 7 soon and Solo/8 following shortly after. Meanwhile, 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), and Revenge of the Sith (3/5).

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.

At least we got this line

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.

One of the best exchanges

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.

RIP little buddy

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.

Luke gets electrocuted for a while in this film…

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.

But, we got the original Thicc Boi

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…

Star Wars – The Re-Review – Revenge of the Sith

The light at the end of the tunnel is near as I have reached the end of the much-maligned prequel trilogy. Coming hot off the heels of Attack of the Clones which was a wholly painful experience, Revenge of the Sith felt like a breath of fresh air. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t touch the originally trilogy as far as quality, but as far as the prequels go, it feels like the most Star Wars of them all. Links to past reviews:  Rogue One (3.5/5)A New Hope (4.5/5) The Empire Strikes Back(5/5), The Phantom Menace(2/5)  and Attack of the Clones(.5/5).

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.

Remember this great, little character moment?

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.  

This makes Vader hard to sympathize with in Return of the Jedi…

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.

Fuck this noise

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.

Brought to you by Microsoft Excel and some googling

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.

Star Wars – The Re-Review – Attack of the Clones

Hello and welcome back to my re-review series for the wonderful Star Wars Skywalker Saga, and a few spin-off movies along the way. So far, I’ve reviewed Rogue One (3.5/5)A New Hope (4.5/5) , The Empire Strikes Back(5/5) and The Phantom Menace(2/5) which unfortunately means it’s time for… Attack of the God Damned Clones. I’ll be honest, going into this movie, I knew that I was going to have some strong opinions, but I tried my best to keep an open mind. There must be a reason it’s rated 13% higher than Phantom Menace on Rotten Tomatoes, right? Wrong, dead wrong, good lord, this movie is hot, and I mean burning to death on Mustafar level hot, trash.

Much like Menace, Clones has a lackluster opening mired in political intrigue. There’s a short scene telegraphing that Padme is in danger by blowing up a hand maiden no one really cared about (sorry Corde), and then we’re immediately brought to the political theater. There’s even a line in the immediate aftermath of the attack where Captain Panaka tells Padme: “This vote is too important, your highness.” Where the original trilogy always opened on some intriguing predicament for our heroes, the prequels instead tend to dive headfirst into exposition. If I had a say in it, I’d throw the assassination attempt in the opening crawl and start the movie with Obi Wan and Anakin’s chase through Coruscant looking for the assassin. It’s one of the better scenes in the movie and gives the audience an interesting look at a planet that is otherwise just a backdrop for political machinations.

More of this, please

Luckily, Lucas did start to take the hint with Clones and moves the politics into the background for the most part. Unfortunately, the new focus of the movie is somehow worse, a love story between Anakin and Padme. Setting aside the age difference, how they met, and the creepy, stalker vibes Anakin gives off… Never mind, can’t set it aside, this plotline completely wrecks the movie. Attack of the Clones has plenty of interesting directions to go, but the bulk of it is spent watching Anakin’s transformation from obsessed teen, to creepier, murder-happy obsessed teen. The worst part is, it works on Padme, and we’re forced to watch some of the most painful romantic interactions I’ve ever seen on screen.

It’s shit like this that makes for great memes, but kills a film

Focusing on Anakin was a given based on how Menace was made, but unfortunately, the script does nothing to move him forward as a person. Instead, Lucas rests on the fact that we know he’s going to become Darth Vader to justify a landslide of increasingly bad decisions with literally no character motivation to drive them. Maybe it could have been helped if Hayden Christensen had a bit more experience at the time, but the dialogue isn’t doing him any favors either. It’s easy to put the blame on Mannequin Skywalker, but the fact of the matter is, Hamill wasn’t that great in his first movie either.

What made Hamill’s lackluster performance bearable in A New Hope was the support from an amazing cast of characters and a very clearly defined character vision. Anakin has a pre-set story from the beginning, but none of the actions that lead him there feel earned. Instead we have: I hate sand, my mom is dying, better go slaughter an entire village of Tusken Raiders. It doesn’t help that he’s not given anything to play off with other characters either, because in the prequel universe, everything revolves around Anakin. It’s hard for a character to show growth when literally every conversation is about them and nothing else.

My feeling about any scene with teen Anakin

When the Jedi council meets, they’re talking about the Sith, but also Anakin. Padme isn’t given more than five lines that aren’t about Anakin. In fact, the only person that does seem to care about something else is Anakin’s alleged teacher, Obi Wan who fucks off to the other side of the galaxy for most of the film. So, rather than an engaging teacher-student relationship where we can watch Anakin transform, he’s sent to a boring planet with the object of his lust. And I do mean object, because this movie straight takes a machete to Padme’s character, removing everything that made her interesting and hog-tying her plot to Anakin. It makes me viscerally angry. At the beginning of the movie, Padme is a bit of a badass, working as a politician, sure, but still a strong character. She’s refuting Anakin’s advances, which good, because the age difference is weird as hell and he’s a creep, but she’s also got some good one-liners.

Somehow, over the course of a thirty-minute flower-field romp with bulbous ass-cows on Naboo, she falls helplessly in love with her stalker and forsakes everything that gave her character purpose. The love story that Attack of the Clones is firmly about never really has time to breath, feels rushed, and isn’t believable in the slightest. As far as I can tell, Anakin wins over one of the smarter characters in the prequels using cheesy pickup lines and by leering at her even after she’s asked him to stop. It’s especially unfortunate given that Natalie Portman could have supported Hayden Christensen with her acting had she actually been given something to do.

Now, while the love story in Clones is by far my biggest issue with the film, it’s also not the only one. The B-plot belongs to General Kenobi’s adventure to Kamino and Geonosis. The Kamino plot in particular is very problematic and confusing. Even as an adult, I found myself heading over to Wookiepedia afterward to try and understand just who the hell Jedi Master Sifo Dias was and why they had ordered a clone army. Dooku gets into a bit on Geonosis, but honestly, it’s needlessly complicated. It would have been just as easy to create a plot where Dooku orders the clones when he’s still part of the Jedi Order and say that’s why he had a falling out. There’s another freebie for you Lucas.

Put your helmet back on and go do some cool jet pack tricks

Kamino also does a disservice to a fan favorite from the original films, Boba Fett. Clones establishes that Boba is in fact an exact replica of his father, Jango, a bounty hunter that has similar Mandalorian armor to what Boba Fett wears in Empire/Jedi, but with a different color scheme. The problem here is, we see Jango without his helmet for most of the movie, and that’s a big sticking point for Mandalorians; they’re never supposed to do that. Just watch the first episode of The Mandalorian and they’ll tell you, once you put that helmet on, it never comes off. This pokes a few holes in Boba’s later plot lines, and also, feels completely unnecessary. The clones didn’t need to be modeled after a fan favorite character, and much like Boba Fett later in the films, Jango is done dirty and killed quick with less than ten minutes of total screen time. At least this time we got a few good fights out of him.

Which finally leads me to the only truly enjoyable part of Obi Wan’s arc, and that’s Geonosis. Aside from the stupid I love you line between Anakin and Padme, the twenty minutes the film spends on Geonosis are its best.  We get to see a droid creation facility, Padme spends most of her time trapped in a bucket, and we get some cool lightsaber battles. Before I get to that final climactic battle, I want to talk briefly about another side character that is just given some weird motivation in this film, R2D2.

I really enjoy the droid factory scene, it’s fun, it’s got some decent CGI and Padmanakin don’t have time to make doll eyes at each other. However, there’s a big problem for me in the way it starts. R2D2 and C-3P0 are supposed to be friends, but R2 straight pushes C-3P0 to what should have been his death. It’s a bizarre choice for C-3P0 to come along period, because, well, he’s not exactly the most mobile of characters, but even weirder to have R2 try to kill him. Even if it’s supposed to be tongue and cheek, that should have been a lethal fall, just saying. C-3P0 then gets his head swapped with a battle droid and somehow retains a weirdly inconsistent set of functions… In the final battle, both bodies are still shooting at the Jedi, and it just doesn’t make any sense to me. But, major gripe, R2 is a murdering sonofabitch, moving along.

At least 3-P0 gets some good puns and R2 brings his head back…

Alright, the last bit of this review, because it’s getting long and I could go on for days about how much I truly, deeply dislike this film, is going to be about the battle on Geonosis. This battle kicks ass, gave way to a bunch of great video game levels, and is generally fun to watch. It’s the one time in the series where we get to see an army of lightsaber-wielding Jedis go into battle and fuck shit up. Sure, they’re losing until the clones show up, but it’s an awesome sequence to watch. Mace Windu gets to bust out his purple lightsaber and decapitates Jango in front of his son, it’s a fun time for all. Even the lead-in with Padme, Anakin, and Obi Wan fighting a trio of CGI monsters is great and feels like a callback to the Rancor in Jedi.

When the clones show up, the battle retains its cinematic quality, albeit interspersed with some terrible dialogue again, and keeps the tension up. It leads us to the climax of the film where Obi Wan, Anakin, and eventually Yoda fight Count Dooku, and hell, that lightsaber fight is incredible. I still got chills when Yoda ignited his lightsaber for the first time and watching him flip around that room like a deadly pinball is awesome. Also, Anakin loses an arm, so, full circle for the Skywalkers.

This almost makes the film worth it… almost

Overall, Attack of the Clones is a hot mess. It focuses on the wrong parts of the storyline and the wrong characters for the most part. The film is at its best when it’s shadowing Obi Wan and not getting too bogged down in the convoluted evil plot working in the background. The dialogue and character growth are by far the worst in the series, spearheaded by the Anakin-Padme plot which is almost unwatchable. I think in future re-watches, I might skip this one. Attack of the Clones is the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull of this franchise, and critics should be ashamed for rating it higher than Phantom Menace.

Got a different opinion? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter/Facebook.

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.