Genuine question: how many thought of John Williams’s score upon seeing the title of this post?
Like many others, I grew up with a heavy dose of Star Wars in my life. Even before the release of Episode I back in 1999, I had spent the first six years of my life being exposed to all things Star Wars, as my father was a huge fan of it. (My mother, as well!) I don’t remember a lot from my experience with the original trilogy as a kid, but Star Wars as a whole shaped up to be one of the most engrossing and exciting film franchises of my lifetime. I remember individual scenes, such as Luke’s descent into Dagobah, The AT-AT attack, the Death Star trench run, and more, but never smoothed seemly into a complete package back then. I was more enamored with the cool action and special effects. Weren’t we all?
With a recent rewatch, my fondness for Star Wars began with a bit of a tumble. A New Hope was actually fairly average in most respects, though I enjoyed the intrigue of things to come and the subtle character quirks through interaction with others. It wasn’t until Empire Strikes Back that I was able to rekindle that passion for the franchise. The scenes held more weight, the characters had pizzazz, and it all felt like a bigger-than-life adventure. A truly captivating movie experience. While not quite as good, Return of the Jedi still had a lot of what made Empire so dazzling to watch. Though it also had a number of things that would foreshadow the state of the franchise for when George Lucas decided to develop the prequel trilogy. The Ewoks, in hindsight, were kind of a stupid plot device. Nothing more than glorified teddy bears.
Even after the rewatch, I still love all of these films. A New Hope somewhat leveled my expectations, which surprised me, as it’s typically more beloved than Return of the Jedi. There’s this sense of walking on eggshells in the first film that I don’t really like. It was definitely within those introductory stages that made everything feel little more than “Getting to the good part.” Not to mention, everything felt clumsily pieced together as if one were directing the scenes to occur one-by-one straight off of a storyboard. This may not have been such a problem had the characters been charismatic. Only few characters felt as though they shined in the spotlight, but given some props, they tried their best. The most disappointing character was Darth Vader, who played like a second dog to a mightier hound in the grand scheme of things. One could use the argument that he always has been a la Emperor Palpatine, but in A New Hope, he takes orders from a mere senior representative. Hardly the figure someone as destructive as Darth Vader should be taking orders from. This feels even more silly when in Empire Strikes Back, the first scene featuring him has him giving orders to troops in a triumphant tone and getting the plot moving. “He does so in A New Hope, as well,” you may say. My response would be to compare the tone and the mood of each scene and see how menacing Darth Vader seems in both of them.
Of course, these are purely the negatives. A New Hope gets a passing grade despite the flaws as a means of being entertaining with its sequence of events and characters. While not as free as they could, Luke, Han, and Leia all showcase their signature bravado whenever given the chance. With signature lines such as “Aren’t you a little short to be a Stormtrooper?” to “Use the force, Luke,” it paints a picture of who these people are and what they’ve been through, along with how their influence changes those around them—Luke particularly, as the young and rising Jedi. Young Skywalker has the least personality of the bunch, but in the role as observer and “fish out of water,” he doesn’t necessarily need to have much. His role, such as the entire film, is a symbol of things to come, leading to bigger and more grander events that will shape the galaxy. And this presence, with which the movie coats itself with with every change of setting, makes the movie not only devoid of dullness, but amorously foreboding.
This aura of bigger things pays off tremendously with The Empire Strikes Back. Things move along and the Rebel Alliance has set up a defensive against the Empire’s rebuttal. Immediately, the audience is shown something new—a distant planet full of danger. The scenes swap back and forth between good and evil, developing a story that provides insight on both sides, giving more emphasis on character than story, though the narrative progresses smoothly enough. The enthusiasm needed to care for the things happening to the characters, something that required work in the first film, is beautifully handled. Mixed with the now dark and serious transition of the story, showing the power the Empire is capable of, makes for an unpredictable outcome with every new scenario. It’s far more entertaining, far more insightful, and far more within the reach of its unreachable grasp. The only real problem? The scenes still feel a little clumsy, the characters a little one-dimensional, despite how nice it all feels at first glance.
It all accumulates into the final film in the trilogy, Return of the Jedi. Debatably, this is the most problem-filled film, with the entire Empire being defeated by a bunch of primitive teddy bears and Jabba’s Palace being… not that important at all, outside of saving Han Solo. Despite the questionable decisions, the last film harbors some of the most emotionally satisfying scenes in the entire franchise. Luke facing off against Darth Vader for the final time. Luke’s final visit with Yoda. Leia is told of her relation to Luke. Star Wars decided to let it all out, with fantastic results. I would describe the fight scene between Luke and Vader as my favorite scene in the entire trilogy. So fulfilling after building up from the very first movie, and the fulfilling of destinies described from the prior film makes every fan of prophecies incredibly satisfied. Characters still have their charm from Empire, if only they had a story to really develop upon more of it. Luke and Vader are the big subject here, with everyone else in the background. It retains that fun and fantasy epic that the series is known for, just at a lesser expense. With teddy bears.
It has the charm, the fantasy, and the heart to remain strong even now. The emphasis on story, character, and subtle development of both makes for a surprisingly emotional ride. I was quite surprised by how emotionally respondent I was to the film, as many would say that the series is more pragmatically satisfying than anything else. There’s a genuine spirit of adventure, and the bond between characters shows through without warning. One roots for these characters, and stay for the immersive plot developments. Despite its unnaturally futuristic setting and identity, Star Wars is a more human endeavor than anything else, showing that no matter how out-of-reality a movie can be, it’s the aspect of humanity that carries the legacy forward.
The rating for these titles and all others can be found on my IMDb account.