I have been getting more and more excited about today for the last couple of months. From the moment the first trailer for the Rise of Skywalker was released, I have been itching to see the conclusion of the concluding trilogy. And tonight, after months of waiting, I have finally seen it!
***SPOILER WARNING: while I have tried my best not to give away anything from the plot of Rise of Skywalker, if you have not seen the film yet it will probably be best to give this review a miss…***
I have loved Star Wars for as long as I can remember. The original trilogy had concluded four years before I was born, and if I am honest I am not actually sure when I first watched them. I do know I had seen them by 1999 when the first film of the prequel trilogy, A Phantom Menace, was released.
Not quite a teenager, I found the prequel films just as exciting as the original films, in someways even more so as I was growing up with them as they were released for the first time. I know this is not a popular opinion amongst a faction of Star Wars fans, but I am not ashamed to admit I really enjoyed the prequels, even with their flaws. I have lost count of the number of times I have watched the six George Lucas films, and I have loved them every time I rewatch them.
So, when I heard Disney had acquired Lucasfilm and was preparing to release not only a sequel trilogy but also a raft of spinoffs and tie-ins, it is no exaggeration to say I was ecstatic. Four years and five films later, I still feel that buzz.
Now I appreciate the Disney films have been just as controversial, if not more so, than the prequel movies. Like marmite they seemed to be either loved or hated with little space in between. I am not such a blind fanatic that I cannot admit some of the newer films have not quite hit the mark, but on the whole I have loved them.
And so, on the 20th December, I have seen (for the first but definitely not the last time) the final film of the Skywalker saga. Given the trilogy of trilogies has finally come to an end, I felt it would be a good time for me to reflect on the films and offer my own review of what has been in important part of my cultural life.
As with all of my reviews, it is important to know first what I am looking for in a good Star Wars film. This is a little challenging, as I am rating films based on criteria which come out of the films themselves, but I think I have distilled out some of what I am looking for when I watch Star Wars
- A fast paced plot, with just the occasional twist and turn
- Action, I suspect this might be obvious, both in space but also between people fighting hand to hand
- A believable hero, preferably with more than two dimensions
- An enthralling villain, both to draw out the hero’s strength but who can also standalone as an exciting character
- And finally a little bit of humour sprinkled in for good measure.
When I was deciding which order to review the films in, I was met with a dilemma many people have when it comes to watching them; do I review them in the order they were released, or the chronological order in the story? In the end, I settled on the order I prefer to watch the films, chronologically. There is something for me about order within a story which overcomes the problem of plot reveals when watching or reading prequels.
So, without further ado; A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
Episode I: The Phantom Menace
The first movie to be released after the original trilogy was always going to have difficult shoes to fill. While it does not quite fill them entirely, I do think it makes a good go at it. The film does spend a fair amount of time filling in backstory, but when you are starting a tale with a well known end point, it can take a little bit to get going. Where The Phantom Menace does shine for me is in the hero and villain, Padme Amidala played by Natalie Portman and Senator Palpatine played by Ian McDiarmid. They might not be the obvious choices for the main hero and villain, but I see them as the focus of the movie, even if Portman’s character has no idea she is the hero, and less idea McDiarmid’s is the villain.
While it struggles at points with excessive explanation of trivial points, on the whole I think The Phantom Menace is a success.
Jamie’s Jedi Rating: 3/5
Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Let’s begin with the positives first. Attack of the Clones has plenty of action, albeit it with more CGI than you could want in a lifetime. If you are looking for a film with sword fights and space battles, then Attack of the Clones is definitely one for you. Where the film struggles in particular is in the hero/villain, Anakin Skywalker played by Hayden Christensen. I am well aware of the extensive criticism he has received for his portrayal of Anakin, and I must admit he is probably my least favourite character across all eleven films. The change from innocent child to moody teen to homicidal maniac seems to happen far too quickly. Yes his mother is murdered, a horror for anyone to experience, but even so the transformation appears too jerky and disjointed.
To be fair to Christensen, he had what was probably an impossible task. In just two movies, he had to transform an innocent boy into a figure of pure evil. Unfortunately for me he failed, and it is a major negative against what otherwise is an OK film.
Jamie’s Jedi Rating: 2.5/5
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
It’s an unusual situation to be watching a film where the ending is known, at least in the broadest terms. I am sure it is a challenge for the film makers to get the story to where it needs to end, while at the same time keeping it interesting for the audience and throwing in a few surprises along the way. Revenge of the Sith just about manages to walk that tightrope. The surprises are small (hello Chewie) but enough to keep the film interesting. It also nicely links with the start of Episode IV.
For me, the biggest problem with Revenge of the Sith is the sudden reveal of the bad guy to the Jedi. It felt forced, as if they were struggling for time, and the Jedi seem to accept far too readily that the person they have thought to be somewhat of an ally is actually the evil mastermind behind everything wrong in the galaxy.
That being said, I am sure I am not alone in thinking Revenge of the Sith is the best of the prequel films.
Jamie’s Jedi Rating: 3.5/5
Special Mention – Solo: A Star Wars Story
So know we come to the first of the spin off films (chronologically) charting the early career of Han Solo. There was a lot of hype for this movie, although personally Han Solo was not high on my list of characters I wanted to see appear in a standalone movie.
In the end, I was neither impressed nor disappointed. Some of the characters were interesting, the casting was good, and who doesn’t love a droid fighting for their kind’s liberation. But where Solo fell short for me was in the villains, specifically who the villain was at any given moment. I don’t mind a twist where the good guy is revealed actually to be bad, but in Solo it seems characters change allegiance more than they change their outfits, and it just did not seem believable.
Solo is an enjoyable space romp, but a little forgettable at the same time
Jamie’s Jedi Rating: 2/5
Special Mention 2 – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Building an entire film around a minor part of an already existing story might seem a challenge, but Rogue One does just this in spectacular style. The first Star Wars film began with the Princess Leia snuggling stolen Death Star plans, and Rogue One tells the story of how they were stolen in the first place. Maybe it is the simple story, steal plans, or great casting, or both, but Rogue One comes close to being my favourite Star Wars film. There is action in buckets, a hero and villain who seem to genuinely despise each other, and enough humour to break up some of the more tense moments.
If I have any criticism, it is the appearance of Darth Vader in the film. It seems to be done purely because they could, and the whole film could have worked just as well with their own cast of characters.
This minor criticism aside, the film is brilliant and if you only have time to watch one film on this list, you can do worse than Rogue One.
Jamie’s Jedi Rating: 4.5/5
Episode IV: Star Wars, A New Hope
I would imagine this was the first film in the series I watched, and it is of course the quintessential Star Wars film. Introducing possible the best villain in cinema history in Darth Vader, the film manages to introduce what was an unknown story to an audience while keeping it fast paced and interesting. It also does something daring, giving you a likeable, albeit mysterious hero in Obi Wan Kenobi who is then unceremoniously killed off early in the film.
One area I think Episode IV is lacking is in humour, relying almost entirely on Han Solo to provide the comedy moments. This is rectified in the latter films, to the point it grates a little in Episode IV.
If you are wanting to get into Star Wars for the first time and have at least some idea of what is going on, A New Hope is going to be a good choice.
Jamie’s Jedi Rating: 3.5/5
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Take a poll of Star Wars fans’ favourite film, and The Empire Strikes Back is likely to come out on top, and it is easy to see why. It has action, it has humour, it has a great plot twist, and the heroes and villains are shown with both power and flaws in equal measure. And to finish a film with the heroes in such dire straights is a brave move, leaving the viewer desperate for more.
If I’m being honest, I don’t wax lyrical as much about Empire as many fans do, I find the scenes at the Bespin Cloud City tedious and infuriating, but the film also includes what is probably my favourite battle scene, the battle of Hoth.
As I write this review I am struggling to give a logical reason why Empire is not my runaway favourite, as it does seem to have everything. I guess when it comes down to it, no matter how robust your grading criteria, whether you love something or not can depend just as much on a gut feeling than anything else, and this is certainly the case for me and Empire.
Jamie’s Jedi Rating: 4/5
Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
I have to admit, I am a sucker for a story with an underdog coming from behind, winning an unlikely victory and ending with a happily ever after. After the perilous ending from Empire, Return of the Jedi perfectly plays on my sentimental side to see the heroes triumph and the erstwhile bad guy being redeemed. The action is dramatic, the humour perfectly timed, and who does not love themselves an Ewok. While this may be controversial, I think I prefer Return of the Jedi to the traditional fan favourite of Empire.
It has it’s flaws of course, the scene with Yoda seemed to have been included for no other reason than they could not think what to do with his character, but these problems are minor and so little to distract from what is otherwise a great film.
Jamie’s Jedi Rating: 4.5/5
Episode VII: The Force Awakens
Like many people, I was ecstatic at the prospect of a new Star Wars film. The trailers looked great, the new characters seemed to fit. I bought my tickets well in advance and when the music struck up I was once more thrown into a fantastical world of my youth.
I know this is not a popular opinion, but I really enjoyed Force Awakens. Yes the plot is very similar to the original trilogy, but there were enough differences to keep my entertained. In Kylo Ren we were given a bad guy who, while not quite meeting the high standards set by Darth Vader, is still believable and intriguing, and I love we are taken along the line of Finn being the undiscovered Jedi, only for it to be revealed at the crucial moment that it is in fact Rey.
And speaking of Rey, I think she is possibly my favourite character in the entire franchise. Despite being seemingly abandoned by her family and living a life little better than a slave, she still manages to maintain a genuine optimism which you cannot help but warm to. I think for me this is sealed when she sees a forest covered planet for the first time and remarks she did not think there was so much green in the universe. Rey is somehow innocent and yet head-sure and resourceful at the same time, and she really makes the three sequel movies for me.
Jamie’s Jedi Rating: 4/5
Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
Given the cliffhanger The Force Awaken’s ends on, I was excited to see what would happen with the story in the Last Jedi. I personally was not disappointed. I loved watching Rey and Luke Skywalker’s relationship develop, and it was great to see Luke show a little of his humorous side show through. And when it comes to space battles and action scenes, The Last Jedi has some incredible visual moments. Watching a space ship jump to hyperspace through Snoke’s ship was a particular highlight.
The biggest problem for me was the way Snoke was dealt with. Unlike some people, it was not necessarily that he was killed off before he had really been developed as a character, that had happened before to Obi Wan Kenobi after all. Rather, what bugs me about Snoke’s death is how easily he is fooled by Kylo Ren. He is supposed to be a powerful being, and yet a simple trick of the hand is his undoing.
Overall, despite the flaws I enjoyed The Last Jedi, and feel on the whole the positives outweigh the problems.
Jamie’s Jedi Rating: 3.5/5
Episode IV: The Rise of Skywalker
***SECOND SPOILER WARNING: I have tried my best to keep things vague, but if you haven’t seen the film yet I would really stop reading now***
I think it is fair to say I was buzzing when I finally sat down in K22 of the IMAX cinema to watch Rise of Skywalker. I had loved the new films, probably more so than most Star Wars fans, and the promise of having my questions answered about some of the biggest secrets and to see how the story ends only served to build my excitement.
Personally, I was not disappointed. I loved Rise of Skywalker. It answered my questions, saw Rey rise to the ultimate challenge and triumph with style, and give more than a few nods and Easter eggs to keep this fans mouth agog throughout (all I will say is Anthony Daniels).
The action was brilliant, the villains terrifying and complex. There are seemingly desperate lows, but also inspiring highs. The cast are brilliant, the humour perfectly timed, and my sentimental side is well and truly satiated in the end.
While I am of course sad to see the end of the Skywalker saga, if you are looking to go out with a bang, for me The Rise of Skywalker does that and more. Time to find myself time to go and see it again I think…
Jamie’s Jedi Rating: 4.5/5