May the Grimm be with you
Our movie guy re-watched all six Star Wars movies and lived to tell the tale
As Star Wars: The Force Awakens hits theaters, many of you have been doing Star Wars marathons in preparation. Many of you have also been pleasuring yourselves to pictures of a bearded Mark Hamill shrouded in brown robes.
I’m going to say this now and hurt my Jedi Geek credibility: The prequels aren’t that bad. In fact, Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith is really good. Yes, The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones haven’t stood the test of time, but they are still OK pieces of entertainment.
I recently did a Star Wars marathon. I watched them I-VI, starting with Menace and ending with Jedi, and I held my Darth Vader Deluxe Sixth Scale Figure the whole time. The list below ranks them from best to worst. I’ve included my ratings for the films when I first saw them, and how I feel about them after the recent marathon viewing.
The older films are rated based on original cuts and not the sometimes-clumsy Special Editions. Mind you, I don’t hate everything about Lucas’s tinkering with the originals, but some of the changes are god-awful.
1 Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back
Yes, the cliffhanger ending traumatized me as a kid, but given that I have Return of the Jedi now, I can watch comfortably as an adult, knowing that the next chapter is just a button push away. I submit that this is the greatest sequel in movie history (yes, better than The Godfather: Part 2 and Jaws: The Revenge). It’s a film that’s better than the original, and the original is a colossal masterpiece, so that makes this something otherworldly.
This is the rare case where a Special Edition might’ve bettered the movie a bit. I like that snow monster, and the flying scene tune-ups are pretty nice.
Original rating: 5/5
2015 rating: 5/5
2Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope
While it is the second best film in the franchise structurally, technically and performance-wise, it remains my sentimental favorite. It's a timeless creation that performed major film miracles on a meager budget. The Special Edition, something I originally had an OK time with, is now quite awful to watch. (That sound Obi-Wan makes when he scares off the Sand People is ridiculous!) This rating is for the original cut, the one where Greedo shoots first, which I have on DVD. I have all of the original cuts on DVD, for I am a loser.
Original rating: 5/5
2015 rating: 5/5 (Remove half a point for the Special Edition.)
3Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith
George Lucas deserves a lot of credit for this one. It's a solid movie in the classic range of the original trilogy, and it's a nice link up to Episode IV. Watching Sith into A New Hope is actually a nice, clean transition, impressive for a film produced 30 years after the original. Sure, it’s weird that Obi-Wan doesn’t know who R2-D2 is, but we’ll chalk that up to his getting on in years.
The climactic confrontation between Obi-Wan and Anakin is the best lightsaber battle, choreography wise, in the series. Hayden Christensen did a good job progressing from mopey teen in Clones into pissed-off adult, even if that progression was a bit too fast and melodramatic. Hey, Darth Vader is born in this movie. That makes it quite the big deal, even if he does do that stupid “Nooooooo!” scream after the Emperor punks him with the whole “You killed Padme!” thing.
It has its flaws, but so does every movie listed below. Ultimately, this one had a better ending than the movie listed next, which gave it a slight edge and got it into the top three. Of the prequel trilogy, this is the only one that stands tall among the originals.
Original rating: 4.75/5
2015 rating: 4.25/5
4Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi
It's still a little soul-crushing that the original Star Wars saga ended with Ewoks defeating Stormtroopers with big rocks. Each time I watch it as an adult, it loses some of its luster. Still, it’s an often breathtaking entertainment, and that final showdown with the Emperor is a franchise highlight.
There was an overall goofiness to this one, but it’s admittedly funny when it tries (Salacious Crumb, the droid torture chamber, the rancor keeper crying). The musical number added for the Special Edition is a discordant, grating touch in retrospect. Also, the Ewoks have not aged well at all. Their mostly immobile faces are a dead giveaway for “man in suit.”
One of the greater aspects of the Force Awakens is knowing that the Ewok battle will no longer be the end of the saga. The story continues, and hopefully sans Warwick Davis in a furry suit throwing spears at All Terrain Scout Transports.
Original rating: 4.75/5
2015 Rating 4/5 (Remove half a point for the Special Edition.)
5Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace
There's no getting around it—Jar Jar Binks is one of the very worst things about the Star Wars universe. He's worse than Greedo shooting first, worse than midi-chlorians, worse than the Ewoks.
From his very first appearance, Jar Jar was the menace in this movie’s title. Seeing that character recently made my blood boil. He takes the movie down a few pegs every second he is on screen, and always will.
Watching this today, I do like that look McGregor shoots Liam Neeson when they get Jar Jar freed and hired as their navigator. It says, “What the flying hell are you doing? We were seconds away from leaving this annoying bastard behind!”
Even so, he still isn’t the worst thing in the Star Wars films. I’ll point that out in a later paragraph.
Jar Jar sucks, but I still get a fun kick out of this movie. It’s a little too glossy for my taste on the effects side, but Ewan McGregor is a great Obi-Wan, and I dug seeing Darth Vader as a little “Yippee!” kid who couldn’t act. The Darth Maul fight remains one of the best in the series, and the pod races—minus the stand-up comedian two-headed announcer—are exciting.
The movie has gotten a bad rap over the years, but it’s not the unforgivable misstep many fans have called it. It’s just somewhat less than great, which is a major sin to Star Wars buffs. Mind you, the 3-D release a few years back was so terrible it derailed plans to do the same for the rest of the films.
One more weird observation from recent viewing: When Anakin says to Padme, “When the storm is over, I’ll show you my racer!” it kind of sounds like he’s referencing his dick.
Original rating: 4/5
2015 rating: 2.75/5
6Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones
While not a total embarrassment, this one has a strong, solid standing as the worst in the series. The Hayden Christensen-Natalie Portman love scenes are painful, painful, Satanic stuff. Christensen's “You aren't like sand … you are everything soft and smooth” speech, along with that levitating pear, are cringe-worthy. They are easily the worst moments in this series. Yes, worse than Jar Jar.
Still, the movie does contain that great moment where Yoda goes all crazy samurai, and that coliseum scene still stands as a decent sequence. I like the movie, but I hate things about it.
Original rating: 4/5
2015 rating: 2.5/5
My 2015 rating is my lowest passing grade for a film. Again, I was a little too enthusiastic with my original prequel ratings. It must’ve been the psychedelic mushroom and bourbon cocktails I took before the showings.