Instead of just diving into a review of the new Star Wars flick, THE RISE OF SKYWALKER (2019), I thought I’d look back on the series as a whole first, since the franchise has been in existence for a large chunk of my life. I’ll share my thoughts about each installment, leading up to what is supposed to be the last entry in the Skywalker Saga.
WARNING: THIS ARTICLES CONTAINS LOTS OF SPOILERS
THE FIRST TRILOGY
STAR WARS (1977)
I was 14 when this movie came out. The perfect age to experience it. There was a huge wave of hype; this one was destined to be a humungous blockbuster before it even came out. It was described as a B-movie with an A-movie’s budget, and was considered cutting edge for its time. This is the one that introduced us to Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) and Darth Vader (David Prowse, the bodybuilder from A CLOCKWORK ORANGE was under the mask, with a voice by James Earl Jones). Also, Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), and the droids R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels). It was also cool to see Hammer Studios veteran Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin. In 1977, STAR WARS was something brand new, and exciting. It was a phenomenon right from the start. A huge movie.
I refuse to call it A NEW HOPE, since when I saw it in a theater it was just called STAR WARS.
THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980)
I saw this one in a theater in Pennsylvania, visiting friends. There was big anticipation for it. I remember liking it, but not as much as the first one. I remember this one most for introducing us to Yoda, which bummed me out because he was so obviously just a muppet. They didn’t even try to make him look realistic. He even had Fozzie Bear’s voice (Frank Oz). It kind of lessened the magic for me. We also get to hang out with Boba Fett (Jeremy Bulloch), who was never used as much as he should have been, and we met Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams). We found out that Vader was Luke’s father, which I guess was a really big reveal at the time. The bad guys win, which was a cool way to end it, but it’s also such an obvious cliffhanger ending that it never felt like a whole movie to me, just something to hold the place until the next installment. I liked it, but already I was getting a little disenchanted with the series.
RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983)
Emperor Palpatine has a bigger role (he was introduced in EMPIRE, but actor Ian McDiarmid was uncredited). This time he’s just credited as “The Emperor.” I really liked the storyline about Jabba the Hut. But then we visited the planet of the Ewoks, and it all fell apart for me, even if one of them is played by Warwick Davis, who would go on to star in WILLOW (1988) and the LEPRECHAUN movies (1993 – on). If I hated how Yoda was so obviously a muppet, I hated the Ewoks even more. Even though they were obviously inspired by H. Beam Piper’s novel “Little Fuzzy.” Obviously the Ewoks, those cute little living teddy bears, and Yoda, weren’t really meant for me; they were there to draw in the kids. But they made the story a lot less exciting, and a lot more…silly. This is when it started to go downhill for me.
THE SECOND TRILOGY (THE PREQUELS)
THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999)
This is when I first noticed the movies getting numbers in their titles. THE PHANTOM MENACE is Episode One, of course.
I remember there had been rumors of a new trilogy for years, and then people started to wonder if it was ever going to happen. Sixteen years later, George Lucas finally got off his butt and made a new one. You’d think the promise of a big payday would be enough to make him more productive. This was the most anticipated movie of 1999, when it finally came out. It also was the first time I saw a Star Wars movie get negative reviews. A lot of people didn’t like it, which astounded me. All that waiting, just to be disappointed. By the time this one came out, I was already far from being a Star Wars fan anymore. I just didn’t care. I didn’t even bother to see this in a theater. When I started to hear the negative buzz, I just avoided it. I didn’t actually see it until 2004.
This one introduces us to Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best), who is universally hated and only shows up in brief cameos after this movie. Frankly, the fact that he is so loathed makes me kind of like him. This one also starts the storyline about the origin of Darth Vader, here a kid named Anankin Skywalker, played pretty badly by Jake Lloyd. Vader as an annoying kid? I definitely was not the target audience for this one. We also get a young Obi-Wan Kenobi (now played by Ewan McGregor, the junkie from TRAINSPOTTING, 1996, a movie I enjoyed a lot more than this one), along with a new Jedi knight named Qui-Gon Jinn, played by Liam Neeson, and the young Queen Amidala, also called Padme (Natalie Portman, fresh off THE PROFESSIONAL, 1994). This one also has Samuel L. Jackson in it as Jedi Mace Windu (motherfucker!). Palpatine, younger here, but still played by Ian McDiarmid, is just a Senator, not yet having achieved the title of Emperor.
This movie also introduces us to Darth Maul (portrayed by Ray Park, with a voice by Peter Serafinowicz). Darth Maul looks very cool, like a devil, and and even has a double-bladed light saber. Everything about him visually is impressive. They promote him pretty heavily in the advertising, but when I finally see the movie I find out his big scene is pretty short, and he’s hardly used at all. A complete waste of probably the most exciting new character to the series.
ATTACK OF THE CLONES (2002)
After the fiasco that was PHANTOM MENACE (at least among Star Wars fans), I also avoided the next one, ATTACK OF THE CLONES. I did not see it in a theater. When I finally did see it, Vader, my favorite character from the series, has changed from being an annoying kid to becoming a boring adolescent played by Hayden Christensen. Everyone seems to hate Christensen, and I get to see why a few years later. We find out that the stormtroopers are clones and all look like Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison, who was in the much better ONCE WERE WARRIORS in 1994). Senator Palpatine has been promoted to Supreme Chancellor Palpatin. This time, the bad guy is Count Dooku (also known as Darth Tyranus, according to the credits), played by the great Hammer Studios actor Christopher Lee. Twenty-five years after Peter Cushing was in the first one, they finally get around to having Christopher Lee in one of these films. Lee being in this was a BIG deal, at least to me; too bad his character is so underwhelming (and Dooku, what a stupid name!).
2004 OR SO…
The hype machine goes into overdrive before the release of the next installment, which is promoted as being the movie where wimpy Hayden Christensen finally becomes Darth Vader. Since I’m still a bit of a Vader fan at heart, I go back and watch the previous two films – finally – on video after having avoided them for a few years. Neither film is as completely awful as I expected. Both have some good moments, and the story is interesting enough. But they don’t make me a fan again. I just want to play catch-up before the big transformation comes out and we finally see the origin of Darth Vader.
REVENGE OF THE SITH (2005)
I actually went to the theater for this one. There’s a big showdown with Count Dooku (at least Christopher Lee got to be in two movies!). In a scene that was a bit reminiscent of the classic FRANKENSTEIN (1931), an injured Anakin Skywalker is transformed into Darth Vader by the evil Supreme Chancellor Palpatine. Like the previous two, which I delayed seeing, I thought it was okay, but not spectacular. In fact, I remember feeling disappointed by the time I left the theater. The second trilogy isn’t as awful as everyone said it was. But it wasn’t all that amazing, either.
At this point, I haven’t been a fan of the series for awhile now, and the second trilogy does nothing to change that.
THE THIRD TRILOGY (THE SEQUELS)
THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015)
George Lucas takes his sweet time coming up with the next trilogy (right from the start he said this story would be made up of three trilogies). The fans start to get grumpy. Not only did they have to wait 16 years last time between Trilogy 1 and 2, but most seemed pretty disappointed with the second trilogy.
Disney decides to speed things up, buying the Star Wars franchise from Lucasfilms. George Lucas gets a monumental payday, yet he still grumbles a bit about losing control of the series. Disney hires director J.J. Abrams, who became a hot commodity on television, producing and co-creating shows like FELICITY, ALIAS, and the biggest of all, LOST. After he hits it big in movies, directing popular installments of the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE franchise, and bringing STAR TREK back to the big screen, he has enough Hollywood clout to get the nod from the Mouse.
This time, we meet a lot of new characters, including Rey (Daisy Ridley, since in MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, 2017, and OPHELIA, 2018), a girl from humble means who is destined to become the next big Jedi; a stormtrooper named Finn (John Boyega, previously in ATTACK THE BLOCK, 2011) who leaves the Empire to join the good guys (I guess not all stormtroopers are clones anymore); and Poe Dameron, a cocky fighter pilot played by Oscar Isaac (INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, 2013, EX MACHINA and A MOST VIOLENT YEAR, both 2014). The new bad guy is Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver (previously on the HBO series GIRLS, and currently in the Netflix drama MARRIAGE STORY), who works for Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis, from RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, 2011, and Gollum in Peter Jackson’s LORD OF THE RINGS movies, playing another creepy CGI character). Along for the ride are plenty of old characters from the very first trilogy, including Luke, Leia, Han Solo, and Chewy. While I’m a big fan of Adam Driver, his Kylo Ren never seems to be completely evil, or formidable like Darth Vader was. He just doesn’t have his heart in it. We find out that Kylo is really Ben, the son of Leia and Solo. Kylo even goes so far as to kill his own father (the Star Wars franchise sure has father issues)—which didn’t bother me in the slightest since the old timers here aren’t all that compelling this time around—but I’m still not convinced he’s a hardcore villain.
Some people accuse Abrams of pandering to the fans this time around, and there’s some truth to that. This movie, while well made, seems to be assembled just to make the fans who have been waiting 10 years for this movie happy. To the point where it seems way too safe. If Lucas’s movies were uneven, at least they weren’t completely predictable. You got a surprise once in awhile. There don’t seem to be too many surprises in THE FORCE AWAKENS. Of course, it goes on to make tons of cash anyway, so who cares.
THE LAST JEDI (2017)
Disney decides to make up for lost time, getting the next movie ready to come out just two years later. In the meantime, they even come out with some spin-offs: ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016) – which goes back in time to show us previously unknown characters who took out the Death Star from the original trilogy – I won’t go into any detail about this one, because I thought it was the most boring entry in the franchise – I didn’t care about the story or the characters. By the time SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (2018), about the adventures of a young Han Solo, came out, the money started to thin out, and word was that maybe Disney was pumping these movies out a little too quickly, oversaturating the market. I’m not sure if that was the case, but I didn’t bother to see SOLO.
Back to THE LAST JEDI.
This time the director is Rian Johnson, who previously directed some interesting smaller films like the high school noir flick BRICK (2005) and the imaginative sci-fi time travel flick LOOPER (2012). I thought Johnson was an interesting choice for a big franchise movie. He also refused to play it safe, not necessarily coloring within the lines when he got his chance to carry on the story from THE FORCE AWAKENS. This time, we get more of Rey, Finn and Poe. More of Luke and Leia. And some new characters like Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), and Benecio Del Toro as a dude named DJ. We get to see more of the tormented Kylo Ren, who still tries to be a badass, but always has this chunk of vulnerability that makes him seem uncommitted when it comes to being truly evil. He just never seems all that dangerous. We see more of a psychic rapport between Kylo and Rey, making them easily the two most interesting characters in the new trilogy. This one is memorable mostly because it has a lot more for Luke Skywalker to do (yay, Mark Hamill!), and there’s a character played by Laura Dern (Vice Admiral Holdo), who seems more dynamic when she’s onscreen than anyone else in the cast. In fact, she’s so charismatic, that of course they kill her off before the movie’s over.
Another so-so installment in the series. So far the new trilogy isn’t exactly wowing me.
And now, THE RISE OF SKYWALKER (2019).
Forty-two years after the first film, we finally get the conclusion to this mighty epic. Except it’s not all that mighty anymore. There was a lot of controversy about some of the things Rian Johnson did in THE LAST JEDI, so they bring J.J. Abrams back for the big finale. I went in thinking this one would be catering to fans (I think the word is pandering, actually) to the same degree that THE FORCE AWAKENS was, and while there is a bit of that, I thought RISE was a better movie, overall. Which isn’t saying a lot.
We finally get some closure involving the whole Rey/Kylo Ren dynamic. Poe and Finn help save the day. Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) is back! Richard E. Grant plays a suitably sinister General Pryde. Keri Russell pops up as mercenary from Poe’s past Zorii Bliss, except we never see her without her helmet, so how can we be sure it’s her? Turns out that Emperor Palpatine is pulling the strings, as he was from way back, and he’s got something called The Last Order that plans to put down all rebellion forces and reinstate the glory of the Empire. Luke comes back as an avenging ghost to help Rey. Kylo makes the ultimate sacrifice to prove he wasn’t completely evil afterall (but we already knew that). While I guess some things are technically surprises, they don’t ever feel very surprising.
I could go into more detail, but frankly, I don’t feel like it. By this time, I’m just so not a fan anymore that you could almost call me an anti-fan. It’s all just familiar faces and voices and great pronouncements, and to me, it’s a whole lot of noise signifying nothing.
Once again Rey and Kylo Ren are the only characters I find interesting at all, and when they’re not onscreen, the story lags. Poe Dameron is probably the most boring character in the final trilogy, with Finn not far behind (so much for the new breed). I went in expecting to hate it, and left thinking it was…okay. “Meh” might be the perfect description. Better than expected, but still no great epic. This series ran out of truly creative juice a long time ago, and now just seems to be retreading the past with different names.
And so we come to the end of the three trilogies. I’m sure that we haven’t seen the last of many of these characters. We already know there are going to be plenty of spin-offs, and one-shot “Star Wars Story” films, and there’s already a new trilogy in the works, involving different characters in another part of the galaxy. And STAR WARS, as a brand name, will probably go on forever.
But, for me, it’s done. The three trilogies that George Lucas originally envisioned are over. The story has come to a close. Whether it was satisfying or not, I’ve somehow endured the whole thing and reached a point of closure.
And that’s my complete STAR WARS experience in a nutshell. For most of my life, these movies have been playing in the background, continuing to keep the myths alive and the fans hungry for more. I stopped really caring awhile ago, and whatever spell these movies cast on me at age 14 has long worn off. But I stuck with it to the end. I’m not entirely sure why I stuck with it.
But it feels great to finally say that.
© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares