Happy (belated) Star Wars Day!
Here is one short post to celebrate my love for the franchise. Nothing incendiary or provocative, just sharing my thoughts and feelings for this series, to bring some closure to the Skywalker era.
One short note on fandom and love: this is not written as a “fan”. I am not a SW fan. Fan is short for “fanatic” and I don’t consider myself one. Not anymore. I am a Star Wars lover. Fans (apparently) consider themselves guardians of a Temple: their duty to forever argue, dissect and critique everything. On the other hand, a lover appreciates what’s there to love and forgives the rest. Love is not blind: it is generous and forgiving. Star Wars movies are not to be put under the magnifying glass of script analysis. I love to do that: but not now. These are space opera flicks with princesses, magic swords, wizards and starships that make “pew! pew!” in space.
The currency they trade in is made of emotions, not rationality. This series has a special place in my heart since I was a little kid, and it always will: it taught me to expand my imagination beyond every limit, to fight for what is right, and to dream about the stars.
Also, I will only discuss movies. Not Rebels, The Clone Wars, or The Mandalorian (although my “Mandalorian” opinion is here).
Do you agree with my ranking? Do you disagree?
Let me know, but let’s be civil and remember that it’s really OK to have different opinions about movies. It doesn’t mean we are bad people.
11. The Phantom Menace (1999)
It’s not difficult to choose where to start. After years of playing Star Wars stories in every medium we could find, from videogames to RPGs, and loyally watching and rewatching the trilogy in VHS, I remember how feverish the anticipation was for a new movie. Then finally there we were! We went to the theater… only to find ourselves bewildered and vaguely disappointed. What did we just watch?
This really is a hot mess of a movie. Even after re-watching it with a very generous 40-plus-years-old loving eye. The writing is uninspired, characters are out of tune, and the pacing is all over the place. It was really hard to get emotionally attached to a bizarre story about galactic trade, tariffs and stuff. And what’s with Jar Jar Binks and all the Gungans, for the Force’s sake!
Just a few positive notes lighten it up, the pod race sequence (a pleasant homage to Ben Hur‘s chariot race); Liam Neeson’s Qui-Gon Jinn (one of the most interesting Jedis of all); a great lightsaber fight with one of the coolest villains ever – Darth Maul – such a pity he is so poorly valorized by the story.
10. Attack of the Clones (2002)
Now we are talking Star Wars, finally. Episode II started to get closer to what we all wanted to see. Massive armies, beautiful and mysterious locations, big battles, a high-speed chase, big bad guys, lots of lightsabers. The noir police investigation parts are interesting, as well as the scenes in the streets of Coruscant. Internal politics (and Jar Jar) are cut to a minimum. And we get to witness the origins of one of the most beloved characters of all, Boba Fett. The arena scene and the final battle are alone worth a rewatch.
However, the whole second act still feels like a drag; I don’t care as much as I should about Anakin’s predictable corruption and fall from grace; and the love story between Anakin and Padme is so terrible it almost destroyed Natalie Portman’s career.
9. Solo (2018)
Let’s be clear. This is a good movie. It could easily be higher up in any ranking. The point is, it’s also a completely unnecessary movie that can be forgotten too easily.
The good: it’s well made, generally well acted (with Woody Harrelson deserving a special mention), it counts on a solid story. Some great locations. The train heist is a gem. It’s fun to watch and unambitious.
The bad: it’s unambitious. A troubled production history means it’s hard to identify its theme (does it even have one?). The main actor (Alden Ehrenreich) does a good job all considered but he just doesn’t compare with Harrison Ford and his legendary charisma (on the other hand, Donald Glover does an impressive job as the young Lando, possibly casting a shadow over Billy Dee Williams).
In the end, I was left with the impression of a really big budget, fun, not entirely necessary, popcorn movie. If you want to read more, you can have a look at my detailed review here.
8. The Last Jedi (2017)
Ok, this is when things take a turn. There are endless articles on the most controversial Star Wars movie ever made (including my hot take, here), so I will not go deep into the analysis.
But to summarize: make no mistake, under many points of view, this is a great piece of cinematic art. It’s visually stunning, politically and thematically heavy. The problem is, it handles some of the most delicate elements and characters of the saga like a drunk wookie in a kyber shop.
This is largely due to Rian Johnson’s
too very ambitious vision, unfortunately coupled with a script that – in my opinion – doesn’t deliver on a few key points. So, the movie’s strongest elements are also its weakest spots. Take the throne room lightsaber battle with Kylo and Rey: impressive, but why is everybody fighting, exactly? Or Admiral Holdo’s spectacular sacrifice: wow, heroic gesture… but wait, was it really necessary? And what’s the point of the space chase? And of the whole Canto Bight casino side story? And many more why and what.
I appreciate the attempt to explore moral complexity and ambiguities, in a trilogy (after all) centered on duality. But some of Ep. VIII’s boldest ideas seem provocative for provocation’s sake, not grounded in character or plot development. Why would Luke throw away his own, long-lost lightsaber? Why dismiss Snoke so quickly, and THEN depict Kylo as some sort of stupid teenager with anger management issues?
Anyway, all discussions aside, hubris is a capital sin for a storyteller, and here I found Johnson guilty. I respect his work and his choices, but this creation was delivered together with a bag of very mixed goods: some are excellent, some smell real bad. The story’s key message is offered by Kylo: “let the past die, kill it if you have to”. Alright, but the feeling is that Episode VIII murdered an entire trilogy. It didn’t even try to fit smoothly with the previous chapter, and left a mess behind that Episode IX was only partially able to clean up.
7. Revenge of the Sith (2005)
The closing chapter of the prequel trilogy is also (easily) the best of the three. Things finally get where they were supposed to get from the beginning, and we witness the final corruption of Anakin to the dark side, and Darth Vader’s first, memorable, mechanical breath.
The veteran actors deliver excellent performances: Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine-Darth Sidious, Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu, Christopher Lee as Count Dooku really elevate the film’s general value and our enjoyment as an audience.
Ewan McGregor is now comfortable donning Obi-Wan’s robes and shines of his typical charisma; unfortunately, the love story between Anakin and Padme never really takes off and when it gets to its tragic ending it feels almost as a relief.
The grand opening battle over Coruscant, the Order 66 shocking reveal, the massacre at the Jedi Temple, and the final epic showdown between Obi-Wan and Anakin on Mustafar are truly memorable sequences and contribute to making this movie definitely worth of a lazy Sunday afternoon rewatch.
6. The Rise of Skywalker (2019)
As the classic pilot quote goes, “if you can walk away from a landing, it’s a good landing”. I think this applies perfectly to this movie by J. J. Abrams, who had the Herculean task to close the already flawed trilogy, working under enormous pressures from the most belligerent fandom in the galaxy, and with a shorter production deadline.
As a conclusion, is it perfect? Far from it. But – is it entertaining? Hell yes. Does it bring balance to the Force? Maybe. At least, I think so.
Episode IX does the best it can to re-connect with “The Force Awakens”, focus on its main characters and bring at least a degree of closure to its main narrative arcs. In doing so, it openly ignores some of the big questions raised by “The Last Jedi”, takes a couple of shortcuts and chooses a very linear “A to B to C” plot.
To better enjoy this movie, kick back, relax and maybe open a beer (or two). Please note that Ep. IX doesn’t take itself too seriously, and neither should you. It’s a swashbuckler story set in space. It’s a beautiful thing to watch from the beginning to the end, fast-paced and entertaining, it tries to speak directly to the old fans and to newer audiences. The acting performances are convincing – you get zombie Palpatine and Lando is back at the helm of the Falcon – the bad guys are terrifying, the heroes suffer, sweat and win. Embodied by the Oscar-level Adam Driver, Kylo Ren gets to rise and shine as probably the best character of the new trilogy.
5. Return of the Jedi (1983)
I know this may feel unfair to some, but hey, I have to make some decisions here.
“Return of the Jedi” does its job right. And… that’s about it, I guess? It’s a technically solid story with a very strong structure and almost no-nonsense in it. Well, except for everything with Ewoks (which means half of the movie), but I am not a hater.
All the beloved characters are back together and they do their favorite things; tragedy, check; comedy, check; the plot plays it safe with an ultra-familiar formula (“oh look, there is an even bigger Death Star, we have to destroy it!”). The good guys struggle and win, the bad guys get what they deserve. Darth Vader is redeemed because he loves his son, after all. Big catharsis. Big final party. Perfect. Safe. A bit boring, even.
Now that I think of it, I should probably move “Return” back in this ranking. But then, considering that number 6 is “Rise of Skywalker” and 7 is “Revenge”, I can’t. So it stays here.
4. The Force Awakens (2015)
J. J. Abrams is a “love him or hate him” director, and I love him. So that’s for full disclosure on my bias.
“The Force Awakens” was anticipated by a huge, frantic, knee-shaking hype. I mean, just look at all these people completely losing it after watching the teaser. I remember I did all I could to secure a seat on the midnight screening, on the release date. And what a joy it was! I watched it three times in theaters, and many more times at home.
The main flaws one can find in this movie are that the plot is – again – too predictable (and that’s nothing new under the Star Wars sky); and that there is too much “fan service” – whatever that means in a movie that has “Episode Seven” literally in the title.
In my opinion, this means it’s a pretty good movie. The old, beloved heroes are all there and a new bunch of fresh and interesting characters is introduced. The atmospheres! The world building! This movie opened so many plotlines and was so full of promise! (and in retrospective, this was a problem, as the following chapters failed or refused to deliver). The “Chewie, we are home” moment brings tears to my eyes even now – coupled with the death of Han Solo by the hand of his son, a scene so dramatic and intense that for me is worth the full ticket price.
It looked jaw-dropping gorgeous, it was exciting, it was full of gravitas and mystery, it was thematically relevant. As an opening of a new Star Wars era, one couldn’t ask for more.
3. The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Considered by many the best of the franchise, the legendary Episode Five greatly expanded the Star Wars universe and brought a new, more grown-up dimension to it.
Here, the bad guys win and the heroes get their ass kicked multiple times. We see Luke rush through his Jedi training in order to help his friends, then lose a duel – and a hand – because he refuses to join his newly-found daddy. We see Han Solo frozen in carbonite (and at the time, nobody knew if the character would be back in the saga). The world had its memorable “I am your father” moment – even though in retrospect, it was so easy to anticipate: his name is literally Vader (father, in German)!
It’s upsetting and frustrating, but it’s the necessary “dark cave” moment that the original trilogy badly needed. A slap in the audience’s face that many hated, back then, but all considered it solidified the saga and made it so memorable and epic.
All good, then. So why is it not number 1 on my list? Read below to find out!
2. A New Hope (1977)
This was “Star Wars”, back when episodes were not numbered. I watched the original chapter more times than I can count, on an old and worn-out VHS tape. It was the comforting warm blanket I would choose to ease the boredom of my afternoon school homework.
I knew every line by heart. It stretched the boundaries of my imagination, by giving me a galaxy full of wonderful and incredible stories. It was my first full exposure to the “Hero’s Journey” and probably the reason why this myth is still so important for me.
It’s perfect. Exciting, fresh, irreverent. A masterpiece of pacing (Oscar for editing, in fact) and a story that goes full circle, at the same time opening so much more. Let’s not forget the soundtrack by John Williams, the legendary creator of worlds.
“A New Hope” is, in essence, the story of a bunch of kids who barely knew what they were doing, challenged an Empire, and ended up changing the world forever. And this applies not only to the characters on screen, but also to the people who were telling their story. A capital inspiration for me, certainly, and for anybody who decides to embrace any sort of creative work.
It’s a classic now. When I watch it with my 2020 eyes, I can’t help but smile sometimes: movies were different back then. This is the only reason why it doesn’t get to the top of my list.
Still – I wanted to watch it with my baby daughter when she was just a few months old. I am not sure how much she got from it (she seemed to like the whistles of RD2D, for sure) but I wanted it to be part of our story, as soon as possible. Because this stuff matters. A lot.
1. Rogue One (2016)
Surprised? “Rogue One” impressed me a lot at first, and kept growing on me. I can now comfortably say it’s my favorite Star Wars movie.
Why? Because it brought tears to my 39-years-old eyes back then, and it still does, now. It’s a perfect bridge between old and new, it makes great use of state of the art technology and introduces modern ideas, while keeping perfectly in line with the aesthetics and the spirit of the classics. In short, it accomplishes in just one movie what the new trilogy wasn’t able to achieve in three. There, I said it.
It’s 100% Star Wars thematically: a bunch of desperate rebels, badly put together, who face incredible odds against an overpowering enemy and are willing to sacrifice everything for the greater good. Its protagonists make shady, desperate choices because they live in a desperate world torn by war. It’s a story with a gritty, adult tone that respects its audience. It’s set in a galaxy far, far away but it’s not shy to hint at our world, down here. It exists in a narrow space, but it uses it superlatively.
It’s superbly acted, Director Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) and Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) being my top picks among the many new characters. It has a great soundtrack, able to stand alone with its glorious predecessors while bringing something new and personal.
Each scene is wonderfully realized and looks incredible. The third act is epic, satisfying, does an incredible job in reconnecting with the original story, and the final sequence – Darth Vader single-handedly attacking the rebel ship and unleashing his full destructive power – is 2 minutes of the best adventure cinema ever made. Just watch it again. NOW.
Here was my list! Agree? Disagree? Don’t care? Let’s talk about it. But remember to be civil about it.
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