Welcome back to the MOVIE LIST column, where we look at lists pertaining to the movies.
Up today, the STAR WARS franchise. Yep, with the latest STAR WARS film STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI (2017) set to hit theaters today, December 14, 2017, here’s a look at how the previous films in the series rank:
- THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980)
For my money, this first STAR WARS sequel is the best of the lot. Following upon the heels of the original, EMPIRE is darker, bolder, and more innovative and exciting than its predecessor. All three leads- Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher grew into their roles here, and much more is revealed about one of the screen’s greatest villains, Darth Vader (David Prowse, with James Earl Jones providing the voice). John Williams’ iconic Darth Vader theme, the Imperial March, is introduced here, making it hard to believe it didn’t exist in the first movie.
In a brilliant stroke, to keep things fresh, George Lucas stepped out of the director’s chair in favor of Irvin Kershner, something Lucas would stumble over in the second trilogy with his ill-fated decision to direct all three films. EMPIRE also has the best script in the series, written by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan. Before ROGUE ONE came along, EMPIRE had the darkest ending in the series, with its now infamous reveal about the relationship between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. Also the film that introduced Yoda.
2. STAR WARS (1977)
The movie that started it all. I still remember when this one first hit the theaters, back in the summer of 1977. When I saw this on the big screen that summer at the age of 13, I was blown away. Having grown up watching STAR TREK and LOST IN SPACE on TV, I had never seen such amazing special effects before.
Instantly drawn into the story of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo, I was along for the ride from the get-go, and I still haven’t forgotten the awe and wonder I felt entering the strange alien worlds and spaceship of this ultra imaginative movie. Also featured my all-time favorite actor, Peter Cushing, playing the villain, Grand Moff Tarkin, which gave me the second opportunity to see Cushing on the big screen, the first being the inferior Amicus adventure AT THE EARTH’S CORE (1976).
Rousing iconic score by John Williams, and brilliant directing by George Lucas make this one a classic for the ages. It’s now called STAR WARS: EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE to fit in with the entire trilogy, but back in the day when it first came out, it was just STAR WARS, and rightly so.
3. STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015)
After a sub par and inferior second trilogy, STAR WARS returned to the top with this energetic and exciting new entry by writer/director J.J. Abrams, who earlier achieved similar success with his excellent STAR TREK reboots. The spirit of STAR WARS seemed to be missing in the previous trilogy, but it’s back and stronger than ever here.
With the return of familiar characters like Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Princess Leia, and newcomers like Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega), this sequel which takes place thirty years after the events of RETURN OF THE JEDI, completely recaptures the magic of the original STAR WARS movies. My only gripe is that Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) doesn’t appear until the very end.
4. ROGUE ONE – A STAR WARS STORY (2016)
The first stand-alone STAR WARS movie was a mixed bag for me the first time around. I thought the film did a poor job with character development which was a major deal here since the film contains nearly all new characters. But I liked this one much better upon a second viewing. Its story, the tale of how the rebels stole the Death Star plans used by Luke Skywalker and the rebels in the original STAR WARS film, is a good one, and it even addresses the long-standing joke of how inept the Empire must have been to have built the Death Star with a glaring weakness that the rebels could expose so easily. ROGUE ONE makes it clear that this supposed weakness was not by accident.
Excellent storytelling gets better as the movie goes along as it moves towards its powerhouse finale, the darkest by far in the entire series. Also notable for its sometimes impressive CGI re-creation of Peter Cushing playing Grand Moff Tarkin. On the big screen, I thought he looked cartoonish, but at home on my TV screen he looked a bit more genuine.
5. STAR WARS: EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH (2005)
I am really not a fan of this second series, but I do like the third and final film in which we learn how Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader. Part of the problem with this series is it’s a prequel. Another part is that it simply takes too long to tell its story. The three movie arc was unnecessary. Had REVENGE OF THE SITH been a standalone film, it would have been better received.
Other problems with this series: a lack of imagination and fun. They are about as cold and lifeless as one can get in a supposed adventurous science fiction fantasy tale. They also feature a stoic unimaginative actor in the lead as young Anakin, Hayden Christensen.
But I do like this third film, mostly because it succeeds in convincingly telling its tale of just why Anakin Skywalker chose the Dark Side in the first place. In short, the Jedi were jerks to him, while the Emperor filled his head with flattery. Most of the film is uneven, but the final reel is the best part and well worth the wait.
6. STAR WARS: EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES (2002)
Completely unnecessary movie in the STAR WARS canon, notable mostly for Christopher Lee’s presence as Count Dooku, and Natalie Portman’s portrayal of the increasingly tragic Padme.
7. RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983)
I know, a lot of people love this one, but I’ve disliked it since I first saw it at the theater. Following the masterful EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, JEDI is clunky in its story telling, struggles with pacing, and doesn’t come close to capturing the awe and magic of the first two movies. When the film should have been reaching new heights in its tale of light vs. dark, it instead reverts to cutesiness, introducing us to huggable Ewoks, who do nothing but take away valuable screen time from Luke and Darth Vader.
Darth Maul, one of the few good things about THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999).
8. STAR WARS: EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999)
My least favorite of the series. Did we really need an entire movie about Anakin Skywalker’s life as a little boy? In a word, no.
Notable for Liam Neeson’s presence as Qui-Gon Jinn, and the very cool villain Darth Maul. Yep, Qui-Gon and Darth Maul are by far the two best characters in this movie, and they are both promptly killed off. Shows you how good this movie is.
And there you have it. A quick take on the STAR WARS movies. I’ll be sure to update this list shortly to include the latest movie, STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI (2017).
Until then, thanks for reading!