All things must end they say. It seems like May 4th is the appropriate day for me to put out my review of the final film in the “Skywalker Saga”. While I saw the film twice in theaters, December and January passed before I started playing catch up…and then I decided to wait for the 4K release of the film so I could get one more watch. And I finally committed to a third watch.
The film opens with a quick update crawl telling us the Emperor is back. And the story picks up with Supreme Leader Kylo Ren trying to locate the Emperor so he can defeat him. But quickly, we learn the Emperor has plans and wants Kylo to help, in exchange for an army that the Emperor and his Sith Cultists have been building for thirty years.
We then get reintroduced to Finn, Chewie and Poe, who are gathering data from someone who reveals there is a spy within the First Order. Rey is busy training to be a Jedi under the watchful eye of General Leia Organa. Once they find out the Emperor is definitely back, they determine they must take the fight to the Emperor, but the problem is that Exogol, the home planet of the Sith, is not on any map. They need a special Sith device that will lead them to the planet. So Ray, Finn, Poe and Chewie go off on a series of adventures.
So, the core question, if you are reading this, I suspect is “Did I Like It?”
I…guess? I mean, I did not hate it? But I did not love it?
Some Spoilers ahead…
It was great to see the characters return. It was nice to finally see Lando back. I like the way they used Hux in this film. I feel like John Williams did a solid job with the soundtrack. The action sequences were great. I was not super bothered by the return of the Emperor, since the old Extended Universe used the idea that the Emperor had been using cloning technology to extend his life. I also am never bothered by “new” Jedi powers being revealed in the films. The power to move objects was introduced in Empire, as were actual Force ghosts. And the powers exhibited in this film really build on stuff we have already seen.
Babu Frick is awesome.
At the same time?
A large chunk of the film feels like course correction. It feels like J.J. Abrams and writer Chris Terrio are trying to respect that Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi Happened, but also trying too soft reboot. When Kylo Ren told Rey her parents were nobodies, he was not lying…he did not know the dark truth that her father was the clone son of Emperor Palpatine. And they were really good people trying to protect her from the Emperor. It is weird to think that Rey has had almost no interaction with Poe, but somehow they are besties in this film.
We have heard about the Knights of Ren for several years now and we meet them in this film. Kind of. I have no idea if they have names, but the movie shows them walking around. We have a Storm Trooper say they are scary. That is pretty much it. There is one fight with them towards the end and they are quickly dispatched. Otherwise we just see them walk around.
The way they tried to retro fit previously unused Carrie Fisher footage in the film never feels organic. At no point does it feel like anyone is interacting with her. Which leads me to this frustration… Abrams and Terrio sidelined Rose Tico in the saddest way possible. They make her a sidekick to a digital restoration of Carrie Fisher. Why was she not part of the action on the Millenium Falcon in the early part of the film? Why was THIS guy there instead???
The film has multiple points where it raises the stakes dramatically, only to reveal that there was nothing to worry about. Major story impacting incidents are reversed so that we lose nothing as fans. There is not anything that engages our emotions for the story. And that is where I lean towards feeling disappointed with how the Skywalker Saga comes to a close. It is fun, but not as satisfying as I had hoped it might be. It has some good ideas, such as Storm Troopers who rebelled against the First Order. But then instead of the obvious plot point of Finn having inspired Storm Troopers to refuse their orders, it is just never something that is connected.
So… I did not hate the film. There is stuff I really enjoy and stuff that annoys me. It kind of evens itself out.
If you have ever wondered why the Millennium Falcon looks like tuning fork or how Han Solo got the name Han Solo? Solo a Star Wars Story will leave you giddy.
Han Solo is a young man enslaved by a brutal crime lord and in love with fellow slave Qi’ra. When their escape attempt goes awry, and they are separated, Han joins the Empire. Not to good at it, sees an opportunity with Beckett and his crew. They find themselves forced to pull off a dangerous heist to get back in the graces of the crime syndicate Crimson Dawn.
It probably sounds at this point like I really disliked Solo. But actually, I had a lot of fun. When the film focuses on the *story* (in other words, the heists) it is a whole lot of fun. But when it starts doing the whole “gotta show this thing the original trilogy referenced” it tends to feel forced into the story. And yeah, if you are making a Han Solo movie, you need Chewbacca.
The performances are largely quite good. I mean, Bettany’s Voss actually kind of made me curious about his background. Woody Harrelson gives a dependable performance as a weary smuggler, hoping to retire. Of course, Glover is a standout. He manages to channel the swagger of Billy Dee Williams without merely imitating him. The droid L3-37 is highly entertaining as a snarky co-pilot for Lando and a droids rights activist (When Lando asks if L3-37 needs anything, she responds “Equal rights?”).
Alden Ehrenreich is not bad in the role…but he does not quite have the self assured cockiness of Ford’s portrayal. The film plays Han as more of a “good guy optimist” who is on the path to the self centered cynic of a New Hope.
And while the film features many double and triple crosses, very little of these come as a surprise. The film tries to make you think you should be surprised…but stuff is telegraphed from afar.
I would say this is my least favorite of the New Star Wars films, but I still had a good time with it overall.
I will be be honest. Walking out of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I had no idea just how controversial this film would be. I wrote my first review and then rewrote it due to a spoiler claim. I watched as the film seemed to rise with critics and fall with some fans.
So I went to see the film a second time in the hopes of determining my feelings on the film. Do I think it sucks on a second viewing? Did I see those glaring flaws?
And so here we go…let us dive into the Last Jedi…
Spoilers, spoilers and and in the words of Artoo, “Bleepin’ Spoilers To Follow”!
The Last Jedi opens in the middle of an evacuation by the Resistance. Due to their actions in the Force Awakens the Resistance is no longer underground, and they have no cover from the New Republic as, well, the First Order obliterated them. While the Starkiller Base was destroyed, that does not mean the First Order is no longer a threat. They have located the Resistance Homebase and arrive in the middle of the evacuation. They bring in a super ship called a Dreadnought.
They are startled as a lone fighter appears to face the ship. It is Poe Dameron and BB8. Dameron is patched through and messes a bit with Admiral Hux. This is, for me, anyways a good little bit. It also worked for both audiences I saw it with. Poe starts firing on the ship, leaving the Hux confounded, but the Dreadnought Captain realizes what is happening. He calls for tie fighters to be scrambled, As Poe takes out the last of the cannons, Leia calls for him to abort the attack.
Dameron rejects the command, noting that taking out a Dreadnought is a big deal. He has the fleet launch their bombers. But as they near the Dreadnought? the Tie Fighters start taking the bombers out. The last bomber is in position and Poe is calling for them to drop the bombs. But the bomber’s, uh, bomb guy is out called. Gunner Paige tries to grab the trigger, but gets nocked down, in a last minute move, she gets the trigger and drops the bombs, sacrificing herself. We see her holding a medallion, which seems important.
Poe and the remaining fleet return, the ships jump to hyper space. There, Leia demotes Poe for his refusal to follow orders. He points out the gamble was a success, but Leia notes that the cost was to high. They lost all their bombers. They lost countless pilots. At the same time, Finn wakes up from his injuries received in the Force Awakens. He meets up with Poe and asks where Rey is…
Rey gives Luke the lightsaber…he looks at it and…tosses it aside?! Luke is not happy to see Rey at all. In fact, he walks off bitterly. Rey is perplexed. She tells him the Resistance…his sister…needs him. And Luke responds with derision. He mocks the notion of the legend returning with his laser sword and sending the First Order packing.
Rey follows Luke around a bit, but his day to day is kind..bizarre yet mundane. Luke went to find a place to hide and die. Rey suddenly feels a pull and finds an old tree…inside is a collection of books. Luke asks Rey why she is there.
Rey notes there has always been something inside, and now it seems to be growing. Rey wants to understand it. But Luke is convinced the Jedi should end.
Meanwhile, not long after having dropped out of hyperspace, the First Order shows up right behind them. The Resistance realizes they were able to track them through hyperspace. They put it together that the ships only have enough fuel for one last jump through hyperspace. The First Order launches their ship.
As Tie Fighters attack, the pilots race for their X-Wings. But along comes Kylo Ren. He and Leia seem to sense each other, he flies into the Resistance ship’s hanger.
All the X-Wings are destroyed. Ren and two other tie fighters approach the bridge of the ship, Kylo hesitates, but the other ships fire, blowing the ship bridge wide open. Leia appears dead, but then her eyes open and she flies to the bridge where medical officers retrieve her.
The Resistance opts to get out of the range of the main First Order ships, forcing the Tie Fighters to fall back and also allowing the shields to hold up under the First Order Barrage. It is announced that Leia’s command is passing onto Commander Holdo. Instantly there is friction between her and Poe. Poe clearly thought he should be leading, and he demands to know the plan. The only answer he gets is… “Be a good soldier.”
Finn tries to escape, hoping to find Rey, but runs into Rose. Rose is introduced in tears, looking at a familiar medallion. We find out her sister was the bomber gunner from the beginning of the movie. She recognizes Finn and starts gushing about what a hero he is. He is embarrassed, but then Rose realizes he was trying to take an escape pod. She stuns Finn and as she is hauling him to the brig, he mentions that the First Order can track them through hyperspace. They start to contemplate this and formulate a possible plan.
All the while, Rey has found herself psychically connected to Kylo Ren. They are conversing at times, Ren making his pitch on how terrible Luke is. Luke merely tells Rey that Kylo attacked him. But Kylo states Luke tried to kill him, claiming it was self defense to attack Luke. After confronting him, Rey finds Luke did indeed have a moment of fear, when he considered killing Kylo Ren, but he realized it was wrong. Unfortunately, Ren awoke to just see Luke standing over him and freaked out.
Luke starts to train Rey in a rather…unique fashion. He at first mocks her…he has her close her eyes and says to reach out. She literally reaches her hand out. He starts to tap her hand with a weed. Rey starts to get excited until she opens her eyes to realize what Luke was doing…but her second attempt starts to yield results. Luke explains that the Force is not a magic rock moving power. It is more like the tension between things.
Poe finds out from Holdo that they plan to have everyone take the emergency transports to reach a nearby planet. Poe thinks the idea is terrible. He works on a plan with Finn and Rose. They reach out to Maz to try and figure out a way onto Snoke’s ship. She tells them to go to find the Master Codebreaker. He will be at a Las Vegas type of place. Rose and Finn go to find him. In the meantime, Dameron leads a mutiny against Holdo, believing her plan will get everyone killed.
Finn and Rose arrive at their location, and in a humorous reference to the New Hope, Rose tells Finn what a terrible place they are visiting (not unlike Mos Eisley) and then it is a beautiful location. One the surface. They see the Master Codebreaker, only to be promptly arrested for a parking violation.
They end up in a cell with a guy who claims he can get them in. At first they reject him, but he ends up helping them escape. They may work their way back toward’s Snoke’s ship.
Rey and Chewbacca leave Luke behind, as Rey believes that since Luke won’t return, Kylo is their only hope. Rey arrives on Snoke’s ship and is brought before Snoke. He reveals that she and Kylo were connected by him. He had thought that Luke Skywalker was the Force Equal for light to Kylo’s darkness. But he now realizes it was Rey.
Holdo and Leia end the insurgency, stunning Poe. They start to send out their transports. But Holdo stays behind.
In an unexpected moment, Kylo uses the force to slice Snoke in two. This results in a battle between Snoke’s guards, Rey and Kylo. Rey believes the tide has turned. But Kylo reveals that he wants Rey to help him reshape the galaxy.
Poe Dameron wakes up to find that he is on a transport ship to reach the planet. And the danger increases when Rose, Finn and the Codebreaker are caught. The Codebreaker betrays them and tells the First Order about the escape plan. The First Order starts firing on the transports. But Holdo takes the main ship and then jumps to light speed, splitting Snoke’s ship in half.
Finn, Rose and BB8 escape the ship, as does Rey. They arrive at Chait (a planet that initially looks like Hoth). Kylo claims that Rey killed Snoke and basically takes up the mantle of Supreme Leader. They arrive on the planet surface, planning to destroy the Resistance. Finn and Poe take junk ships to try and destroy a giant battering ram laser thing.
The planet surface, instead of snow, is covered in salt, and just below that is red. It creates this really cool visual. They end up failing to stop it…but when all hope seems lost…in walks Luke Skywalker. He takes a moment with Leia to apologize. He then marches out and stands before the First Order Walkers. They fire on him (at the order of Kylo Ren). When the smoke clears, Luke is still standing.
Kylo steps down and confronts Luke in person. They start to fight, but Kylo seems unable to lay a blow on Luke. Meanwhile, Poe realizes Luke is giving them time, and they look for a way out. They follow some animals to find an exit…blocked by boulders.
It is revealed that Luke is projecting himself across the Galaxy. Then Luke fades away. Rey moves the boulders so the last of the Resistance can escape. They all climb aboard the Millennium Falcon and fly off.
As noted, the film has been…controversial. While critics has mostly loved it, the audience reaction seems largely split with a leaning towards negative. Some of these reasons are, well…okay… flawed.
One of the first negative articles I saw included the phrase “There is no gravity in space”. STOP SAYING THIS PEOPLE. There is gravity in space. But it functions a bit differently. But more importantly? Star Wars is not a hard science series. X-Wings would not fly like they do in any of the films. The Star Wars films disobey science all the time. The Empire Strikes back has space ships dropping bombs in space. Yes, yes, light speed would work differently than it does in the film. Stop arguing science against Star Wars films you do not like. Because the films everyone agrees are good are every bit as guilty.
Hologram Luke. Really, it is more like Astral Projection. We have not seen this in prior films. However, both Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi introduced new Force powers. And certainly, the Star Wars world was in it’s infancy then. But at the same time, maybe the Astral Projection was a lost or forgotten thing. It is presented as immensely taxing. Snoke merely tied Rey and Kylo Ren together psychically, and he noted that would have torn either of them apart. So, it stands to reason it would not be something Jedi used a lot, if at all. Plus, it is certainly an extension of the concept of the Force Ghost. I actually liked this. I like how there are a few queues (that I missed on my first viewing) that something is off. Luke’s beard and hair lack any gray, and he does not effect the ground around him. Seriously, if you can accept Force Ghosts, but not Astral Projection? You probably need to be a fan of something else.
Related to that was “Space Leia”. After being pulled into space by an explosion, Leia opens her eyes and flies back to the ship. While I think the way it was shot is a little goofy, the concept itself is fine. Leia is Force sensitive, and in a life or death situation, using the Force to save her life is plenty believable. If the force can pull a lightsaber across a room to a Jedi, certainly a person can use the Force to pull themselves towards an object.
A couple things that I found a little disappointing. The class issues of the Las Vegas resort is lacking room to breathe and explore it. It all feels rushed. They need to find the Codebreaker and take off.
Then there is the fight with Captain Phasma. Phasma has a cool look with the Metallic Storm Trooper armor. She was set up as something big, even though she was disposed of quickly in The Force Awakens. Here, they have a decent fight and then she falls into a pit of fire.
The fight is to quick, so Phasma becomes kind of like Darth Maul…gone to quickly. However, I loved the exchange with Finn in which she tells him he will always be scum. Finn looks at her and says, “Rebel scum.” It is a great moment for Finn. I would also note that I have seen people constantly refer to Finn as a janitor, suggesting he should not be a good fighter based on this. But the problem with that logic is…he was raised and trained as a Storm Trooper. He has combat training, regardless of his assignment as a janitor.
I also found it frustrating that as Finn was about to sacrifice himself to destroy the laser battering ram, Rose blows through and stops him. Now, mind you, I like Finn, and did not want to see him die. But I also felt it would be a dramatic and heroic moment. I found myself admiring Finn as he was flying into the mouth of the cannon.
Now, some have made a big deal that the Last Jedi is an attack on Mansplaining. I am not convinced that it is this extreme. I think it is a bit simpler than that.
One of the things I really enjoyed was how the film thwarted my expectations. As a movie going culture, we have been heavily trained to be sympathetic to guys like Poe Dameron. Poe is kind of the John McLane character here. In any other film, Poe would be the guy who knows more than his leadership. When they announce that Leia is in a coma and they have chosen her successor, Poe clearly thinks it will be him. But instead it is Holdo. Oscar Isaac has a pretty hilarious reaction, as you see him practically ready to stand up and thank everyone…only to be deflated. In the case of Dameron, I think he would have reacted to command the same from a man as he does women. Poe does not think he is smarter than them because he is a man. He thinks he knows more than everyone else.
And in almost any other film, he would be proven right. Poe, Rose and Finn would have succeeded and been hailed as heroes. But the Last Jedi takes a huge risk. Many are using the rule of the “Idiot Plot” to condemn this particular story point. The Idiot Plot is a story point dependent on people not knowing vital information. Specifically, everything would be solved if somebody just told another character simple information.
This is a common plot device in sit coms and romantic comedies. And yes, as tropes go, it can often be very frustrating in those types of movies. And sometimes films and shows will have elaborate reasons why two characters cannot show such information. But it is not always applicable just because you can look and say “Gee, if so-and-so only knew this…” Context matters. Here, Poe is a soldier. A demoted soldier no less. And he was demoted for his reckless decision making which results countless deaths. People keep saying that Holdo could have averted the problem by simply telling Poe everything. But it is Poe that decided he is smarter than everyone else. It is Poe that decides to not tell Holdo of the plan he sets up, mocking her for keeping him in the dark.
Holdo and Leia are not incompetent leaders. Instead, it is Dameron’s single minded arrogance that causes the problem. His unwillingness to trust his boss. We have an endless supply of films about rebellious cops and soldiers who buck the system. And here we see that play out…and it backfires spectacularly. This may seem like the idiot plot on the surface, but looking below that surface makes plenty of sense as to why they told Dameron to just trust them.
It was quite interesting to see a story played out so differently than the conventional tropes.
Kylo’s story is interesting to me. Early in the film, Snoke berates him for getting beat by Rey and mocks his wearing of his mask. Ren leaves and angrily smashes the mask. Much of his journey in this film seems to be from that of wanting to be Darth Vader to accepting a different path. His interactions with Rey certainly give us a look at his continuing conflict, and it is understandable why Rey thinks he could be won over.
In spite of Snoke’s death at Ren’s hands, I feel the story is not over and need to withhold judgement for this unexpected move seeming premature.
The reveal that Luke is living alone, bitter and unwilling to help rubbed a lot of people, including Mark Hamill, the wrong way. But I think it was an interesting choice that made a lot of sense. Luke ran from both his failures and his legend. I suppose the Force Awakens could have opened with Luke having successfully rebooted the Jedi Order. But this is far more interesting. We find Luke resentful of not being left alone. He believes that the Jedi is a concept unworthy of continuing. And in some ways, this feels true.
The prequels established that the Jedi were a flawed bureaucracy, not cool Intergalactic Knights. The original trilogy showed Ben Kenobi to be a guy more than willing to stretch the truth.
And to this, we find Luke to be a pretty terrible teacher. And why wouldn’t he be? Even when he agrees to train Rey, it is with the attitude that all the rules of the Jedi are garbage. The Force is not for special people. The Force is not about your family line. The Force is available to all, if they are open to it.
And there is the Rub. Luke has closed himself off to the Force. In doing so, he has cut himself off from life. He cannot sense the activities of his loved ones. He did not feel it when Han Solo was killed by Kylo Ren. And Luke is fearful of the power he sees in Rey.
It is only when he realizes his failures should not define him that he sheds his fears. In opening himself back up to the Force, he is able to tap into power that even he had not experienced in the past. And upon completing his mission to help Rey and Leia? He finds Peace within the Force. He tells Kylo Ren, “Be seeing you.” It sounds like there is more to come with Luke. By the end of the film, Luke is reconnected with the Force and in unity with it.
The film’s biggest reveal is that of Rey’s parents. The Abram’s film showed us that Rey’s parents had left her with Unkar Plutt. Fan speculation was all over the map. Is she a Kenobi? A Skywalker? The Last Jedi loudly declares they were nobody. They were junkies who sold her to get money for a fix. They are buried in paupers graves on Jaaku. The Force Awakens hinted that Rey’s parents were not that important, despite claims otherwise. Maz tells Rey they both know her parents are never coming back.
This works for me. It of course, also works for the themes of the Film. Snoke believed that it was the Skywalker line that would stand in his way. It is why he converted Ben Solo. The fact that Rey is some random Force Sensitive person? That she is not some part of a prophesied blood line? I find this a very satisfying answer.
Are there things that I think could have been done better? As noted, yes. But are these failings greater than the things the film does well? Not by a longshot. Johnson has given us an unpredictable, interesting film that still reflects it’s predecessors. The Last Jedi is a strong Star Wars film that has me interested in seeing the next chapter of this story.
The Force Awakens, in spite of conflicting reviews had made Disney enough money to feel confident in going forward with their game plan. Disney had set a goal of a Star Wars movie every Christmas.
Since films of the blockbuster nature often can take at least two years of time to assemble, the answer Disney had was to alternate our visits. Star Wars Episodes Seven, Eight and Nine would continue the adventures of the rebels. In the alternating years would be a stand alone story within the Star Wars Universe.
Many ideas were bandied about, from Han Solo to Ben Kenobi to Boba Fett. I suspect that, in part, this is one of the reasons the Extended Universe was declared not canon. They wanted that freedom to play around without any of the constraints of the extended universe material.
The first film announced was Rogue One, the story of how the rebels got the plans for the Death Star that allowed them to destroy it in A New Hope. And so let us take a look…a spoiler filled look…like, do not go any farther if you have not seen the movie and don’t want to have it spoiled.
The film opens on a remote planet as a farmer watches the arrival of Empire ships. He hurries his family away, wanting his wife and daughter to flee. We soon find that the farmer is Galen Erso, an ex-imperial architect to left their employ when he realized what he was building. But he is needed to finish the work, and his former boss is insistent that he and his family return with them. Young Jade Erso witnesses her mother being killed from a distance, She runs to a hidden safe zone. Hours later, left all alone, Jade is found by Saw Gerrera, a friend of her father’s and a well known leader in the growing rebellion.
The film then jumps ahead to a now grown Jade who appears to a regular trouble maker, currently in the custody of the Empire. She is being transported when the transport vehicle is attacked. She is grabbed by a large robot called K 2SO. A droll reprogrammed droid, he is working with Cassian Andor. They are on a covert mission, trying to reach a an imperial pilot named Bodhi who is in the hands of Gerrera. Believing Jade is their ticket to getting Bodhi, they have broken her out.
They arrive on the planet where Gerrera is holed up. Cassian and Jade find themselves in a fire fight between dissidents and Storm Troopers. They are joined by a blind monk Chirrut Îmwe and his protector/companion Baze Malbus. The monk is not a Jedi, but enters fights chanting “The Force is with me and I am with the Force”. Baze on the other hand puts more trust in guns. They are taken to Gerrera by the dissidents.
Gerrera provides information to Jade and allows everyone to leave. They rush from the planet s the Death Star fires on the planet. They have learned where to find Galen, but unbeknownst to Jade, the plan is simply to kill him. Jade learns the truth and unsuccessfully tries to save her father, though he does at the hands of the Empire, rather than Cassian.
Things are looking bleak, but Erso is determined to see that her father’s death is not in vein. While the leadership of the rebellion refuses to back an attack on the planet with the Death Star, Jade convinces Cassian, Chirrut, Baze, Bodhi and several pilots it is a needed mission.
While fighters take to the air, Cassian and Jade lead a team with the goal of stealing the Death Star plans that reveal the flaw her father built directly into the Death Star. We know, of course, that they succeed, because A New Hope already told us that they did.
The first thing one notices in the film is that, unlike previous Star Wars entries, there is no opening scrawl. And the film is simply titled Rogue One on screen, no “A Star Wars Story”. This seems to be an intentional signal regarding a way for the non-episodic stories to be set further apart.
Of course, they do not take a real risk of going to far afield, afterall, Rogue One takes place literally moments right before A New Hope. And truth be told? This was the part that kind of annoyed me. I did not need the film to end at that spot. It was purely the silliest of fan services.
The biggest controversy I heard on this one was how much of a problem people had with the digital Tarkin. I mean, it is an actor playing the role, but like Gollum, there is a digital actor laid over that actor. And, there is a certain…hard to pin unnaturalness to how he looks.
Yet, for my money, the one that just creeped me out was only on screen for a few seconds. Far more awkward to my eyes was the wax museum look of…
I do not get how people were excited by this sequence rather than unnerved by it. There are other little annoying bits of fan service, for instance, Jade and Cassian bump into the aliens that threatened in Luke Episode four in Mos Eisley. It just feels kind of silly, especially when you consider the planet is about to be blasted by the Death Star.
Speaking of which, I notice they do pay a close enough attention to detail to have both times the Death Star is used in the film in a fashion where the planets are devastated, but not obliterated. I note this because Alderaan certainly seems to be implied as the first full on destruction from the Death Star. Though I could be wrong.
For the most part, though, I really do enjoy the film. I mean, they basically decided to make a heist sci-fi film, and it is a pretty tight one. The cast of characters are pretty interesting, though admittedly the standouts are Donnie Yen and Chirrut and Wen Jiang as Baze, along with Alan Tudyk’s K-2SO. Chirrut and Baze have one of those solid movie friendships where they seem somewhat adversarial, but you know there is something stronger and deeper below the surface.
Baze blow’s off Chirrut’s mysticism, crediting himself as the true protector of Chirrut, not the Force (the film features no Jedi or hardcore Force Users). Chirrut is also quite funny in his own right. As the group is captured by Gerrera’s people, bags are being put over their heads and Chirrut incredulously states “Really? I’m BLIND.”
And then there is the droid. K-2SO is kind of an anti- C-3PO. Sarcastic and cynical he lacks 3PO’s refinement, but shares his tendency to appealing to the negative odds. When Cassian gives Jade a gun, he starts to ask if Cassian knows the odds she will not use the gun against the,. “Not very good” he says dryly.
Yet, just as pretty much everyone in Rogue Squadron, K2 gets his moment of glory. But I definitely felt a twinge of disappointment that some of these characters would never make a return. I could totally sit through, say, a TV series about Chirrut and Baze on adventures.
If Rogue One is a sing of things to come for the Star Wars stories, I remain hopeful for that Young Han Solo film.
After the prequels, Star Wars appeared to be…well, complete. Lucas was no longer talking about a third trilogy. All had gone quiet on that front. Instead, Star Wars thrived in animated fare like the Cone Wars cartoon and in comic books through Dark Horse. Dark Horse had even started a Canon series that took place between a New Hope and Empire Strikes Back.
But then, in 2012, came a very unexpected announcement. Disney had purchased Lucasfilm and all it’s properties. And with this announcement came the news that they were working on a new trilogy. And on top of that, Disney would also be making Star Wars films set outside the main storyline.
This came with some controversy, as Disney declared that the extended universe of Novels and comics were, in no way, canon. Only the Six movies counted. This was partially to allow new novels and comic books to start building the universe anew. Dark Horse lost the rights and Marvel took up telling all new stories within the Star Wars universe.
J.J. Abrams was brought in fresh from rebooting Star Trek (ironically enough, he was often criticized for bring a Star Wars attitude to the franchise) to create the new story that would continue the adventures. Of course, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill were all brought in to reprise their roles (some more limited than others). So let us go forward, back to that galaxy far, far away…and be ready for spoilers!
Opening up about thirty years after Return of the Jedi, we are greeted by a star destroyer. It appears that while the Republic was restored, the remnants of the Empire formed as the First Order. The First Order is getting bolder and are trying to wipe out the Resistance, led by General Leia Organa. She has sent a top Resistance Pilot named Poe Dameron to the planet Jakku in an effort to get information that could lead them to Luke Skywalker.
First Order ships arrive on the scene, and Poe tries to escape, but his ship is damaged. He puts the top secret info into his astro droid BB-8. The droid goes on the run and Poe is captured by the mysterious Kylo Ren. It is quickly revealed that this is the son of Leia and Han Solo.
In the middle of this, one of the Stormtroopers seems out of step with the others. When they return from Jakku, he removes his helmet to reveal a young man who is not a clone (later in the film, it is explained the First Order takes young children from their families and trains them to be unquestioning soldiers rather than clones). The Storm Trooper helps Poe escape. In the middle of their escape, Dameron asks what his name is, and the Trooper responds with FN2187. Poe determines that he will just call him Finn, and the newly christened Finn declares he likes it. They crash back on Jakku. Finn cannot find anything but Poe’s leather jacket. He wanders the desert planet, tossing aside his Storm Trooper armor.
Meanwhile, BB-8 has been found by the young scavenger Rey. She helped BB get away from a junk collector and offers to help the droid get to the city. They arrive and Rey finds herself being followed. BB-8 sees Finn in Poe’s jacket and Rey attacks. Finn claims to be a member of the resistance, and that he can help. Finn hears a familiar sound and they realize they are under attack from the First Order.
They rush to find a spaceship. Finn points to a ship offscreen and Rey mocks it as being garbage, but the ship she wants blows up…resulting in her yelling out “The garbage it is”…but it turns out to be a very famous hunk of junk. It is the Millennium Falcon. Rey pilots while Finn mans the guns. This leads to a very exciting chase through the air forcing the two to rely on their best wits. At one point, Rey flies the ship through the carcass of a crashed Star Destroyer.
Once they reach space, they start to try and figure out how to get BB-8 and Finn back to the Resistance. Finn, of course, has no knowledge of the Resistance, but manages to convince BB-8 to play along. They are overtaken by a larger ship, and it turns out to be Han Solo and Chewbacca.
Things take a turn for the worse as two factions Han has double crossed show up. After a narrow escape, the newly formed crew head to meet up with someone Han knows can help. Their mission is now to get BB-8 to the Resistance, especially after they find that BB-8 holds coordinates to finding Luke Skywalker. They reach a lush planet and Han brings them to the temple of Maz.
Maz is a small alien who is even older than Yoda. She apparently has a crush on Chewbacca (she refers to him as her boyfriend, and it is unclear if this is playful or serious).
Finn confesses that he was a Stormtrooper and he is terrified. He only wants to run as far from the First Order as possible. Maz points him out to a couple of guys he could run with. Rey gets distracted, believing she hears a child calling for help. She goes to the basement of Maz’s temple where she finds a trunk with a familar item. Luke’s lightsaber, last seen in the Empire Strikes Back. As soon as she touches it, she faces a barrage of visions and sounds, voices and images of the past and future.
Rey runs from the Temple in terror. Unbeknownst to Maz, Han or the others, spies for both the Resistance and the First Order have sent out alerts, as the First Order and Resistance are both on the hunt for BB-8.
The first order has a new weapon they call Starkiller Base (this is a reference to the original scripts for Star Wars, when Luke was named Luke Starkiller). It is basically a variation on the Deathstar, except they used an actual planet to create it.
Having seen Rey run off, Finn starts to run for her, but everyone is stopped by a sight in the sky. The Starkiller Base has fired on the Republic’s central planets. The First Order knows that the Republic has been helping the Resistance, and without them, the Resistance loses key support. Everyone on the ground near Maz’s temple can see the lasers burning through space towards their targets.
Then, the First Order shows up, firing on the temple and it’s fleeing occupants. Rey and BB-8 are running through the forest while Stormtroopers are in pursuit. Han, Chewbacca and Finn fight Stormtroopers trying to get to Rey, but end up overwhelmed. Meanwhile, Kylo Ren has found Rey.
Ren discovers that Rey has seen the map and dismisses the need for BB-8, instead taking Rey with him. In the meantime, the Resistance shows up with X-Wings to chase off the First Order troops, saving Han, Finn and Chewbacca.
They are greeted by General Leia Organa, who embraces Han. Now, instead of running from the First Order, Finn argues for a direct assault on Starkiller base so they can save Rey. It is also revealed that Poe survived the crash landing, just as Finn had.
Rey is being interrogated by Kylo Ren, though, he seems to have deeper motives. He sees that Rey seems to have a natural gift for the Force, much like his grandfather.
After Ren leaves, Rey feels emboldened and tries a “force” trick by getting a guard to unlock her restraints. The seen is quite entertaining, and more played for the humor than the drama. But the scene works pretty well, showing Rey both a quick learner and more than willing to accept things on faith.
Back at the Resistance base, they prepare for their attack. They plan for Han, Finn and Chewbacca to take out the shields that will allow the Resistance fighters, led by Poe to take out the base before it can fire. The Starkiller Base’s primary weapon actually requires the energy of a star, so they have until the star being used for power is snuffed out.
Arriving in the Millennium Falcon, the heroes go in to find both Rey and set up the destruction of the base. As they search for Rey, Han realizes she has already escaped. They meet up with Rey and start planting explosives. Han sees Kylo and calls out to him. Han and Kylo meet on a bridge. Han reaches out, and Kylo speaks hesitantly, wanting his fathers help. Solo promises to help him, in this moment, Han’s facade of cocky hero drops to reveal a father who lost his son, and sees an opportunity to heal the relationship.
Instead, Kylo impales him with his lightsaber. Han, in a touching moment, touches the face of his son before falling from the bridge. Angrily, Chewbacca fires and hits Kylo Ren. The horrified trio of Rey, Finn and Chewbacca race out of the structure, setting off the bombs. This allows the X-Wings to start strafing the surface. Chewbacca heads for the Falcon, while Finn and Rey run into another obstacle…
Finn turns on the lightsaber and engages Ren, but it is a short fight. He starts to use the Force to grab the lightsaber the unconscious Finn dropped, but instead, it find’s Rey’s hands. This is a really nice dramatic and exciting moment, scored just tight by John Williams.
Rey and Kylo have a furious lightsaber duel, only to have the planet starting to break up around them. Ren tells Rey he could train her, she may be a strong raw user of the Force, but he can teach her better control. They are split apart by the turmoil around them. Chewbacca appears with the Falcon and they get Finn, leaving before the Starkiller Base is fully destroyed.
Returning to the base, Rey meets Leia (an they embrace, which Abrams admits was probably a mistake, there is no reason for the attachment, as Leia and Rey have never met). Using the information from BB-8, they have the missing puzzle piece. Earlier in the film, it is revealed R2-D2 has been in powersave mode, he wakes up and provides the rest of the map. Rey and Chewbacca fly off to the remote planet that Luke is staying on. Rey walks up and stands before Luke reaching out with his old lightsaber and the film ends…
Probably the two biggest knocks against the film were the fact that it mirrors A New Hope far to much and Rey is a Mary Sue.
The film does follow the beats of a New Hope quite closely. A young desert planet nobody is drawn into a larger battle of intergalactic forces and learns to use the force…while helping to destroy a planet sized planet destroyer. But I do not find this overall a problem. The repetition is certainly a valid storytelling device. I confess, I wish the big plot device did not hinge on a planet killer all over again, but I do like the visual design of Starkiller Base.
But the whole “Rey is a Mary Sue” thing. This is often leveled as a criticism along with folks upset by the film having “diversity”. Finn is played by a black man, Rey is, of course, a girl and Poe is played by a man of Cuban and Guatemalan heritage.
Before then, the casts were largely white. Lando and Mace Windu were exceptions. And I think Mace was mainly “Wouldn’t it be bad ass if Samuel L. Jackson was a Jedi???” There is a silly contingent of people out there that are certain having non-white male actors in roles is a problem. It somehow ruins the stories to have a variety of actors. They claim, of course, not that their problem is the diversity, but forced diversity. But John Boyega’s presence did not force some magical change on the story. Opening up considerations for actors in the Star Wars universe is hardly a problem. Especially when you consider how baked in the cake it is with Star Trek. And it sure seems to work okay there.
But back to Rey. So, Mary Sue is a term that is a part of fan fiction. If you are not aware, Fan Fiction communities are folks who love to write stories continuing the adventures of shows, movies, comics, etc that they love. Sometimes they work within the cannon of the franchise, but often, this is their way of saying “what should have happened.” Some writers are specifically focused on relationships they want to see that the official works clearly won’t be doing (*cough, cough* Finn and Poe *cough, cough*). But the most derided thing in fan fiction is the dreaded “Mary Sue”. A Mary sue is a character that is created by the author that is simply better and smarter than everyone else. There is nothing they cannot do. They always save the day and fix everything. It is generally believed that a Mary Sue is a way for the author to insert themselves into the story.
In the film we see Rey fly the Millennium Falcon, fix the Millennium Falcon, use the Force and have a lightsaber duel with a trained Sith Lord. Does this make her an all powerful Mary Sue?
There, that was not so hard.
Not satisfied? Okay…then we are going to break this all down.
Rey just happens to be a pilot who can just happen to fly and fix the Millennium Falcon. She even seems to understand it better than Han Solo. But let us look at Rey’s history. As a child, she is left with junk dealer Unkar Plutt. Her whole life has been as a scavenger. She plunders the ruins of the crashed ships that litter the surface of Jakku. This means she has some basic technical understanding of how ships function.
We know Rey is familiar with the Millennium Falcon, because when she is running with Finn, he calls out the Falcon and she says they are not going to take it because it is garbage. Unkar Plutt owns the Falcon at the beginning of the film. We know this in part because as Rey fires it up, he yells out about his ship. Later Rey tells Han about modifications that Plutt made that she disagreed with. So, she has been in the Falcon probably many times. So, between being a scavenger and working for Plutt? It stands to reason fixing ships would be a skill she might have.
She also points out how she has flown ships before, though never in space. And even with this, the film portrays her as a pilot who gets farther on luck than actual skill. When she first tries flying the Falcon, she nearly crashes it. This is not Mary Sue Territory.
Rey uses the force pretty well with no training. So?
Okay, okay. First off, the films have clearly established that those who are Force Sensitive may find themselves using it without even realizing it. You do not have to have training to use it, training simply helps you better control it it. Rey does a bit more than we see Luke do in the first film, which does not mean anything. Luke has nobody to duel Lightsabers with, that falls to Obi Wan in the first film. Luke has no more training than Rey in the beginning of Empire when he uses the Force to retrieve his lightsaber from the snow. There is no in movie argument that he could not have done that in a New Hope. So, this notion that a person who is Force Sensitive cannot do Jedi mind tricks and the like is not based in anything other than “It was not done by Luke in a New Hope”, which is, frankly, not much of a point at all. Still not Mary Sue territory.
Rey fights a trained Sith in a lightsaber duel. This often is argued that she wins. But that is absolutely false. Nobody won the fight. It was a draw. And you might think this still favors the Mary Sue Argument. But, no, it does not. Early on in the film, we see Rey protects herself with a staff. As a scavenger, a weapon is probably a necessity. And she uses a staff. It is pretty clear she uses the lightsaber in a similar fashion. But still, how could she fight Kylo Ren to a standstill? Well, right before this confrontation, Ren has killed his father and Chewbacca shot him with his bow. They spend the entire film establishing just how powerful that bow is. In the fight, Ren is clearly in pain, and he constantly pauses to punch himself in the side, apparently trying to blunt his pain. He also has been wounded by Finn in their brief lightsaber duel. Rey is fighting a wounded man who still manages to nearly best her, only the destruction of the Starkiller Base ends their fight.
So, in closing, the Mary Sue accusation does not hold up under scrutiny. In addition, unless you are condemning the original trilogy, the arguments for Rey as Mary Sue apply every bit to Luke Skywalker. If you think Luke is not a Mary Sue (or, Gary Sue, because people seem uncomfortable applying a feminine descriptor to a male character) than Rey cannot be either.
A few things that were bothersome…
Captain Phasma played by Game of Throne’s Gwendolyn Christie. While I liked the character’s visual look (and loved that they were comfortable always keeping the Helmet on, leaving for mystery), I felt like the character never got to show off, so to speak. They hired Christie, who is a commanding physical presence and she never really gets her moment.
Supreme Leader Snoke is only seen in in the form of a giant hologram. Who he is gets played up as a big mystery, but I do not find him particularly threatening here.
I was not sure how I felt about Luke being this legend and enigma in this film, the Last Jedi has given me perspective I will address in that piece.
But, for me, the positives vastly outweigh the negatives. I enjoyed returning to the universe and the characters. Seeing Han Solo and Chewie and General Leia were all welcome.
Driver gives a fascinating performance. His Kylo Ren worships his grandfather Darth Vader. He seeks to be like him, but he is a young fanboy desperate for approval from Snoke, but struggling with a part of him that still desires the love of his parents. The first six films all focused on the allure and deceit of the Dark Side. The Dark Side is an almost romantic threat that can overpower good. The Force Awakens is the first time we see the idea that the Light Side of the force has it’s own pull. And I like this.
I really like Rey and Finn. Both are in struggles that sometimes cause them to be overtaken by fear. Finn has only known the First Order, and the concept of friends like Rey and Poe quickly start to give him a new kind of hope. Rey has never had the courage of Jakku believing that some day her parents will return. When Maz points out that Rey knows this is not true, but she has the potential of a new family, Rey is terrified to face this and runs. Poe Dameron is one of those fun swashbucklers, who makes things work by kind of flying by the seat of his pants and hoping it all pays off.
When I saw the Force Awakens in 2015, I enjoyed it a lot. I have revisited the film a few times in the past few years, and my feelings have not changed.
And finally…we see how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader!
Spoilers are about to slice through here like a lightsaber through butter!
Opening in the tail end of the Clone Wars, we begin in the middle of a heated space Battle. The Jedi and the Clone Army are trying to rescue Supreme Chancellor Palpatine from the Separatist leadership of Count Dooku and General Grievous. Anakin and Obi Wan end up in Grievous’ ship. The fight Dooku, who again knocks Obi Wan out quickly (Obi Wan is looking pretty incompetent here). This time, Anakin gets the upper hand, and at the encouragement of Palpatine, beheads Dooku.
Remember my complaint about how they killed Darth Maul in the first film? Revenge of the Sith does sort of do my suggestion. Christopher Lee has a great expression of fear on his face as he realizes Sidious (Palpatine) is wanting him to be killed by Anakin. Except, it occurs at the beginning of the film, making it not a special line being crossed. Sure, it indicates Palpatine’s growing influence, but it is not that last step before accepting the role of Darth Vader. And Dooku has not been a character really built up. We barely got to know him. I believe he appeared a bit in the Clone Wars cartoon on the Cartoon Network, but in the movies, he never gets to be a major heavy. Like Mace Windu, he is primarily earning credibility via the face in the role.
General Grievous, a character introduced in the Clone Wars cartoon, escapes in a lifeboat, while sending his warship plummeting down towards Corsucant’s surface. Anakin and Obi Wan manage an amazing crash landing.
Padme reveals that she is pregnant. Though worried about people discovering their secret relationship, Anakin is overjoyed by the news. However, he is soon beset by nightmares of Padme dying while giving birth.
Anakin is asked to spy on Chancellor Palpatine for the Jedi Council while Obi Wan checks on a lead for General Grievous. Anakin is uncomfortable with this, as Palpatine has taken on a mentoring role and even a father figure for him. Palpatine starts to drop hints about the power of the Dark Side, especially the power to save and even resurrect life.
Obi Wan finds and confronts Grievous. Grievous is actually kind of a neat character. A bit of a proto-Darth Vader, he is an alien cyborg. Like Obi Wan said of Vader, Grievous is more machine than man. He collects lightsabers of fallen Jedi, and his arms split from two to four. This creates a pretty cool visual where he spins his arms while holding four lightsabers.
Obi Wan manages to send Grievous packing into the great galaxy beyond. Meanwhile, Anakin is troubled by the realization that Palpatine is a Sith Lord. Palpatine has control of the Republic and is secretly leading the Separatists.
After learning of the news from Anakin, Mace brings several Jedi to take Palpatine into custody. He surprises them and manages to kill all the Jedi except Mace. Mace proves far stronger, and has Palpatine’s back (literally) against the wall.
While trying to use his force lightning against Mace, Anakin arrives. Palpatine begs Anakin for mercy. Windu is ready to kill Palpatine, stating there is no other option, but Anakin states he should face trial, not merely executed on Mace’s whim. Mace refuses and as he goes to strike, Anakin chops off Mace’s hand. Sidious takes this opportunity to fire another Force Lightning blast and launch Mace out a window to his death.
Now, I always assumed that the Emperor’s appearance was him being old (there was also once a version that he was constantly cloning himself, and the clone bodies were breaking down, but this is no longer canon).
Apparently, however, it is a result of expending ridiculous amounts of energy. He anoints Anakin as Darth Vader. He sends out the secret Order 66, which commands the clone soldiers to kill any Jedi they are with.
Now, Ben Kenobi told Luke how Darth Vader hunted down and slaughtered the Jedi. But it turns out he was not the frontline for this. Instead, he is sent to the temple looking all tough and scary…
To kill a bunch of little kids.
And while that is monstrous, it also makes Vader seem like less of a threat in general. He kills the easy prey, while the Clones are killing fully trained Jedi. Darth Vader is then sent to the Mustafar system, on a volcanic planet to remove the separatists. Obi Wan and Yoda survive the attempts on their life. Obi Wan and a very pregnant Amidala go to find Anakin.
Yoda takes on Darth Sidious in a powerful battle, leaping around and dodging Sidious’ attacks.
Yoda ultimately slips away and meets with Senator Bail Organa. Both Sidious and Vader proclaim the Jedi have attempted a coup, forcing Organa and Yoda to flee. When Obi Wan and Amidala reach the volcanic planet, they try and talk Anakin down, so to speak. But he believes they are betraying him, and starts to force choke Amidala. This results in a dramatic life and death lightsaber duel in the middle of flowing rivers of lava.
Obi Wan delivers one of the dumbest lines of the entire franchise. “Only Sith deal in Absolutes”. It makes a certain amount of sense regarding Obi Wan’s attitudes towards facts in the original trilogy. But it is just a dumb line, as we saw Jedi dealing in absolutes just…heck…twenty minutes earlier. As the fight concludes, Obi Wan cuts off Anakin’s arms and legs. There is a lot of dramatic but weird dialog. Obi Wan laments that Anakin was his friend, he was supposed to bring balance to the force, yadda yadda yadda.
And then he leaves Anakin to slowly burn to death.
The Emperor pops over and picks up Anakin. Then we get scenes of Amidala giving birth, while Darth Vader is encased in his new suit. Amidala dies as she looks upon her twins. They give Leia to Organa and take Luke to Anakin’s half brother Owen Lars. Because if you want to hide a kid from his dad, his family is probably the best place. And you know, don’t give him the last name of Owen or anything. And seriously, Amidala died why? Other than she had to as a plot contrivance? They seriously don’t have the technology to save her? She appears to have died of a broken heart. Really?
And speaking of Amidala? She is practically set dressing in the film. Poor Natalie Portman is sidelined the majority of the film to be Anakin’s plot device.
I really found the prequel film rules about the things like the Rule of Two, which states there are only two Sith Lords at a time. A master and an apprentice. This makes no real sense, and the original films had no such implication. The idea that there would only be two Sith in comparison to endless Jedi seems bizarre. Within the legends (books and comics, mostly), this is also challenged by Darth Plagueis, who was the master to Palpatine. But the rule makes no real sense, because it is not a notion that there is like a single Sith Emperor over all other Sith…It is literally that there are two Sith at a time.
Nobody has any real chemistry in this film. It just feels like everyone is delivering their dialog so they can be done with it.
In spite of this, Revenge of the Sith (a title meant to recall the original working title of Return of the Jedi) is far from the worst of the prequels. The first twenty minutes are terrific. The various action sequences that follow are quite good, especially the Mustafar battle.
I also like how the technology of the world feels fresh and shiny, like this is everything at it’s heights. Contrasting that with episodes four through six where everything seems old and broken, like the rule of the Empire has crushed any sense of beauty and design and left only the most industrial sense of design.
But unfortunately, the entire prequel series was obsessed with answering questions nobody had. And this one is no different, making a mad rush to pack in stuff we don’t really need. The film takes place twenty years before a New Hope. And we get a shot of Gran Moff Tarkin and Darth Vader watching the beginning of the Death Star. Now, is the idea it could take twenty years to build the Death Star is not implausible. But they built a second Death Star with totally different specs in a couple years. Infant Leia sees Amidala, while infant Luke’s eyes are closed. Why? Because in Return of the Jedi? Leia tells Luke that she remembers her mother’s smile. Luke cannot remember anything about her. It is like Lucas sat down and watched the original films making a list of things he thinks have to be in the new films.
However, the three prequels just never meet the goal of being a great new trilogy, because they are bogged down in weird choices of storytelling and fan service.
The Star Wars machine keeps plugging on. Episode one had a rather mixed reception, but it made money. It would have taken a catastrophic return to derail new trilogy.
The film would make a jump and start to try and “right the ship” so to speak. As much as Lucas tried to defend Jar Jar Binks, his role gets diminished greatly in both this and the next film.
And let us go back on our spoilerific journey!!!! Send in the clooooooones!
Picking up around ten years after the Phantom Menace, Amidala is now a Senator. This is, funny enough how they move Jar Jar out of the picture…he is a representative for Naboo. But anyways, after an attack on her ship as she arrives on Corsucant, the Jedi Council sends Obi Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker to protect the Senator.
Anakin apparently still has his crush on Amidala, who is shocked to see Ani went from nine year old boy to a good looking teenager. They plan to stand guard in her apartment as they also try and determine how best to investigate the attempt on her life.
The investigation gets a boost though when a second attempt is made by letting to poisonous bugs into her bedroom. Artoo derails the attempt by alerting the Jedi. They pursue the shadowy killer through the skies of Corsucant (the skies are full with levels of traffic).
This leads to an exciting chase sequence with Anakin being incredibly reckless.
Really, it is a pretty enjoyable scene. It ends with them crash landing in a seedy part of town. They follow their target into a bar. It turns out she is a shape shifting bounty hunter. She starts to confess, only to be shot with a poison dart, dying almost instantly.
The Jedi Council formulate a new plan. Anakin will accompany Amidala undercover to a remote part of Naboo, while Obi Wan will focus on the investigation. Obi Wan starts by focusing on the dart. But he really cannot connect it to anything. He visits a friend who runs a dive restaurant who tells him that the dart belongs to the Cloners of Kamino.
This starts a new mystery, as Kamino does not appear in any star maps he can find. With Yoda’s help, he locates his destination. When he arrives, he is surprised to find that they were expecting a visit. Not from Obi Wan, but another Jedi Master who Kenobi reveals died several years before.
He discovers that the previous Jedi master had hired the Kimino people to create an army of Clones. He is introduced to Jango Fett, a bounty hunter who is the basis of the clone army. Jango had one requirement, and that was a clone untouched by the Cloner’s programming to raise as a son (can you see where this is going?). Lucas actually added actor Temuera Morrison’s voice as Stormtroopers and Boba Fett in the original trilogy.
There is a fight and Jango escapes with Boba, but Obi Wan follows them to the planet Geonosis. There, Obi Wan discovers the Separatist army, led by Count Dooku. Dooku is an ex-Jedi (and gets cool points because it is Christopher Lee).
Meanwhile, Anakin confesses feelings for Amidala. At first she pushes back due to her career and the Jedi rules against love and marriage. Anakin argues they can love, and follows the Jedi tradition of loopholes. But he becomes distracted by nightmares of his mother in trouble. He returns to Tatooine. He discovers that his mother was sold to the Lars family. However, rather than keep her as a slave she has married the farmer. She was kidnapped by Sandmen. Anakin locates the Sandmen village and discovers his dying mother. In a fit of rage, he slaughters all of the folks in the village.
As they ready to depart, they get a message from Obi Wan. Anakin and Amidala head off to Geonosis (taking C-3PO, who was with the Lars family, with them). When they arrive, they are instructed to wait, but Anakin gets impulsive and they enter a factory making a droid army. Elsewhere, the Galactic Senate gives approval to the Clone army.
Obi Wan has already been caught, but Anakin and Amidala are fighting their way through the factory, dodging the automated machines building droids. Instead of saving Obi Wan, they end up captured as well.
After getting caught, the three are brought into an arena to fight to their deaths against three very unique monsters. In the midst of this battle Amidala gets a totally implausible rip to her uniform…like, comically implausible. Just as it looks like the Separatists will when, the other Jedi arrive along with the Clone Army.
There is a big fight in the arena between the separatists and the Jedi and Count Dooku runs off. Everybody takes chase after he and the retreating droid separatists. Anakin and Obi Wan reach Dooku’s lair. Dooku manages to incapacitate Kenobi, but Anakin puts up more of a fight. Dooku manages to sever Anakin’s hand and get the high ground so to speak. Suddenly, before he can dispatch the two Jedi, Yoda walks in and they have the fight nobody knew they wanted.
Once Dooku realizes he probably won’t win this fight, he retreats to his ship and escapes to fight another day. The Clone Wars have begun. Anakin gets his robot hand and secretly marries Amidala.
The film ends one this note, with a rather weak cliffhanger. The Empire Strikes back ended on the note of the big reveal. Here there is no big reveal really. “Luke, I am your father” drives discussion and anticipation for the nextr installment. Here it is just…”Well, there is one more!”
So…about the whole romance. Amidala was about fourteen when she met Anakin. And generally I would not balk at a five year age difference. But as they are tied together by her time where he was just a cute kid…it seems like the intended romance might have been able to spring more organically had they started out more like a year or two apart (her sixteen and him fifteen or something). Christiensen and and Portman also lack any chemistry to sell the fast moving relationship. The relationship just feels so rushed it is hard to buy it ever happens. And again, had they been much closer in age in the Phantom Menace, the seeds could have been laid much more organically.
This film is really the first to make a big show about the Jedi rules forbidding marriage and attachments. Frankly, it is a dumb and terrible rule that calls into question the concept of the Jedi as an organization. How is not having attachments going to make you a better protector? But then, we have seen that the Jedi are pretty sketchy.
To a certain extent, I don’t see this concept as bad. The original films gave us only Obi Wan’s portrayal of the Jedi as noble Knights who fought oppression and stood for Justice in the galaxy. That the prequel films are revealing a far more political organization is not a problem…but how it pulls it off is leaving a lot to be desired. It is kind of dull, and in spite of their ineptness, it is pretty obvious we are supposed to be rooting for the Jedi.
The whole subplot with Boba Fett is really pointless. It is, in fact, one of the most pointless fan service moments of the franchise. Jango is killed, beheaded by Mace Windu in front of Boba. We see young Boba holding his father’s helmet to his face. And, this might have been a powerful image had Boba Fett been a major player who we saw a lot of in the original trilogy. But he has, like, three lines including a scream before he dies Between Empire and Return of the Jedi. This gives us no insight, and frankly, undermines part of what made him popular. He was mysterious. Things in Star Wars that needed no backstory? C-3PO and Boba Fett.
One thing that stands out is how lazy the world building is. In the original trilogy, things that paralleled our world still felt unique. When Obi Wan is offered an illicit substance, he refers to it as “Death Sticks”. I know there have been cigarette brands with ironic names like that…but really? Obi Wan’s friend with the diner? The diner looks just like a fifties diner. And they have drinks like “Jawa Juice”. It just feels like there was no effort put into this world.
In spite of my complaints, this is a step up from the Phantom Menace. We get some cool lightsaber duels, for one. Seeing Yoda in action turns out to be surprisingly fun.
Lastly, remember how I said Amidala gets an implausible rip in her outfit? A cat monster things takes a swipe at here…this is the result:
As previously noted, people were pretty resigned to Star Wars remaining a trilogy of parts four through six. Then it was announced, Lucas had decided episodes one through three could finally be made. He stated that the technology had reached a point that he could truly make the stories he desired to tell.
The geek net was still in it’s infancy in a lot of ways, but it was set ablaze with rumors and claims of leaked scripts and insider knowledge.
A lot of those rumors turned out to be false…but in May of 1999 we got the long hoped for return to a galaxy far, far away…
And now, the standard warning of the spoilers…endless spoilers!
Opening in space (of course) we meet two Jedi Knights on an exciting diplomatic mission with a trade…federation…aw crap. Our Jedi are Qui-Gon Jin and a young Obi Wan Kenobi. Kenobi is a padawan, a Jedi-in-Training. As they wait for Trade Federation diplomats to enter, they are instead greeted with poison gas. They fight their way through droids to try and get to the bridge to confront the Trade Federation, but are forced to run. They hitch a ride on troop transports down to the planet of Naboo.
Knowing they must warn the government of Naboo, they try and find a way to the main city population. They run into a local, a giant amphibious creature who speaks with a weird variation of an Jamaican Accent (The Trade Federation is run by a guys with distinctly Asian Accents…this ends up being a recurring issue of accents that seem connected to negative traits) named Jar Jar Binks.
Jar Jar takes the Jedi to an underwater city with more of his race. There they find out Jar Jar was banished for being clumsy. Really. Qui-Gon convinces the Gungan leader Boss Nass (who looks suspiciously like Boss Hogg from the Dukes of Hazzard) to give them a ship and Jar Jar. The ship gets them to the capital, where they save Queen Amidala and a small band of her guards .
As they escape the planet the ship is damaged. They land on the planet Tatooine. While there, Qui-Gon, Padme (an attendant to the queen) and Jar Jar happen across a junk dealer and his boy slave, Anakin. Anakin makes an impression on Qui-Gon who he senses is strong in the force. Due to an impending sand storm, Anakin offers them shelter with he and his mother. The boy of about nine gets a crush on Padme while Qui-Gon questions his mother about their lineage. She notes that there was no father, but rather it was a spontaneous pregnancy. You know, like Jesus.
Meanwhile, on the Planet Corsucant, the Senate is debating how best to deal with the Naboo situation. Unknown to everyone, Senator Palpatine is pushing for a vote of no confidence in Chancellor Velorum. He is manipulating people to nominate him as replacement. His motives are shrouded in darkness, but we know he is a Sith Lord and he has an agent, his apprentice Darth Maul.
Darth Maul is on the hunt for the missing Princess and Jedi. Qui-Gon makes a bet with the owner of Anakin for the parts needed to fix their ship. He also makes a side bet for Anakin’s freedom. The bet revolves around one of the film’s best sequences. Anakin is a pod racer and if he wins, Qui-Gon can take both the ship parts and Anakin with him.
The Pod race is a pretty thrilling sequence and plays like “space NASCAR”. The primary story purpose of this scene is to establish his piloting skills. This relates back to a New Hope when Ben explains that when he first met Anakin, he was an accomplished pilot. Phantom Menace kind of creates a problem, in that Anakin is a nine year old kid. There is not really any doubt when listening to the dialog in a New Hope Anakin would likely have been very late teens or even early twenties. But Lucas wanted to make a statement on meeting Vader as a boy.
Anakin wins his freedom and joins Qui-Gon and Padme on their ship. As they are leaving, Darth Maul appears and Qui-Gon has a lightsaber duel. Qui-Gon jumps onto the ship and leaves Maul behind. They arrive at Corsucant, where Qui-Gon warns of Maul and presents young Anakin, who he believes could be the fulfillment of a prophecy about the Force, to the Jedi Council. The Council is far more hesitant, believing that Anakin has lived to long without proper Jedi training.
This actually makes no sense when we look to what the series had presented us with. Beings gifted in the use of the Force have access to it regardless, would not trainig, no matter their age be good?
Admittedly, the Jedi Council seems to be a rather ineffective group. They often seem to want to take a hands off approach, showing that, maybe, the legend of the Jedi as magical and wise space knights may be…a bit fictitious.
Qui-Gon states he will take on Anakin’s training himself, in spite of already having a padawan. They take the Princess back to Naboo in a plan to fight back against the Trade Federation. They recruit the Gungan’s for the fight. They need to take out the space station of the Federation, which will render their battle droids useless. It is revealed that Padme is actually Princess Amidala and the girl we thought was the Princess was actually a decoy.
The Naboo pilots take back some ships and head out to destroy the main Trade Federation ship, while Anakin is told to stay put hiding in a ship. The ship conveniently goes to autopilot and takes him straight into battle.
Qui-Gon and Obi Wan are confronted by Darth Maul. During their fight, Maul impales Qui-Gon. Angrily, Kenobi charges in and manages to slice Maul in half. Meanwhile, R2 (who is co-piloting the ship Anakin is in) turns off auto-pilot. Anakin tries to get turned around, and in doing so, manages to blow up the command ship, disabling the droid on the planet surface.
Kenobi promises to train Anakin in accordance with Qui-Gon’s wishes. Then, there is an awards ceremony in a reflection of the end of Episode Four.
Honestly, of all the Star Wars films, I probably find this one the most frustrating. It introduces something call midichlorians. They are the microscopic sentient life forms in all bodies that indicate how perceptive one is to the force. This allowed there to be a scientific test. Qui-Gon explains that Anakin is “off the charts”. But truthfully, the original trilogy stayed firmly in the world of the Force being a form of mysticism. It seems weirder to have a scientific explanation, even as just an indicator. In spite of this film being the first mention, they do apparently date back to about 1977 in stuff Lucas wrote up for the expanded universe material.
Add to that, Lucas still uses mysticism like Prophecy. Ben never mentions any prophecy in the original films, though the extended universe was apparently full of them.
Anakin is made out to be a boy genius. Both C-3PO and R2-D2 are in the film, with R2 being introduced as a service droid on Amidala’s space ship. But 3PO is used to show how mechanically inclined Anakin is by revealing that 3PO was built by Anakin. This is one of those rather silly additions that does not have the intended effect.
Having Anakin blow up the Trade Federation ship purely by dumb luck is not a good choice, either. As noted earlier, Ben certainly suggests to Luke that Anakin was a gifted pilot. It diminishes Anakin to have him stumble into success as a kid. The idea, I suspect, was to sell just how powerfully Force Sensitive he was. It just makes him seem lucky. And this is really a simple solution. Had they cast Anakin as a young man, he parallels Luke. The idea that he is skilled as a pilot does not need as much proof. Anakin never needed to be a child prodigy.
The choice to kill Darth Maul is another stumble. Darth Maul, for one thing, has a terrific design. He is automatically imposing with his red skin and facial tattoos. He has a cool double lightsaber.
It would have been a much better plot device to play him up as the Darth Vader of the series. He is the big bad guy who makes it until the end…as Darth Sidious begins grooming Anakin he subtly plays them against each other. Finally, in the third film, Anakin and Maul are in a pitch battle. Anakin has him against the ropes and then, in a dramatic moment, Sidious startles Maul by commanding Anakin to kill him. In that moment, Maul realizes Anakin is going to replace him.
Another thing the film establishes is the Jedi Gear. In Return of the Jedi, Luke wears that slick black outfit. According to Lucas, this was proper Jedi attire. Ben wore the robes not because that was a Jedi outfit. He was hiding out as a desert hermit. The Phantom Menace, instead, establishes that he was just wearing his Jedi robes.
Frustratingly, with the Phantom Menace, there is not a ton that I find enjoyable. The Pod Racing scene is terrific stuff. It is an exciting roller coaster ride. And the lightsaber duel with Qui-Gon, Obi Wan and Darth Maul is great stuff as well. But the rest of the film feels like it was bogged down in fan service that never actually serves the story.