I may have written reviews on A New Hope, Return of the Jedi, and The Last Jedi, which I recommend reading before the rest of this post, but I’d like to dive a little deeper into my complex feelings on the most iconic franchise ever, sans its spinoffs.
Why I care about Star Wars, even when I don’t like the direction it goes in, is not only because I grew up immersed in the franchise but also because it’s one of the only major movie franchises that’s not adapted from a novel or a comic book; it started at the cinema, so it stings more when it falters in quality than when a series based on a comic I haven’t read does. And because it is purely cinematic, I look at it more critically than any other movie franchise and also other childhood movies like Lord of the Rings and The Wizard of Oz.
A New Hope (which I really want to call just Star Wars , but calling it its afterthought subtitle makes it easier to differentiate) and The Force Awakens (my new-found praise for which I surprise myself with considering my disparaging of it in my archive) are the most coherent, most swashbuckling, and downright funnest entries of the saga, though The Force Awakens has a cliffhanger ending that relies on the rest of its trilogy to resolve, and it does essentially retell the same story as A New Hope but with a few twists, one of which is that its hero and villain actually meet face-to-face, resulting in a lightsaber duel, which is still the coolest type of duel, even if it is contradictory to the Jedi way. I mean, why should the audience root for the Guardians of Peace to avoid battle when they carry the coolest fictional weapons ever? As a catholic, I admire that the series has a spiritual dimension to it, yet I also have problems with a lot of concepts about the Force.
One fundamental way I think the Original Trilogy leaves room for improvement is in its acting, even in The Empire Strikes Back, which is one of the better ones, yet I see campier elements in it that clash with its more serious tone. The reason why the hokier acting in A New Hope works for me is because the material doesn’t call for the dramatic heft of Empire, and Return of the Jedi oddly switches the Trilogy’s acting quality by making Harrison Ford and Carries Fisher the weak links and Mark Hamill the strong point. As such, while the Sequels do feature some typical campiness, I find their leads the most natural of any Star Wars movies.
Although much disappoints me about Return of the Jedi, it does give a powerful meaning to the whole saga up to that point: that the way to defeat evil is not with a weapon but with self-sacrificial love. Alas, the Sequels undermine this by establishing that Luke Skywalker had tried to train a new generation of Jedi in the traditional way and arguing towards the Jedis’ reformation due to Luke’s failure; Return of the Jedi is where the argument for reforming the Jedi should have begun. Luke was perhaps training these Jedi to battle Snoke, but, as established in Return of the Jedi, Luke could have found another way to end Snoke’s surgence.
I am able to accept the Sequel Trilogy more if I pretend that the Original Trilogy were episodes I, II, and III and that the Sequels were the first Star Wars trilogy made since then; the truth is that the Sequels wouldn’t be so derivative of the Originals and wouldn’t feature this still vaguely defined “Balance in the Force” idea if it weren’t for the laughable Prequel Trilogy, their “Balance in the Force” conceit of which, if it turns out Balance in the Force means something as relativistic as it could mean, is the thing I hate most about the Prequels.
At this point, I admire the story the Originals tell more than I enjoy how they tell it, so now, I don’t mind the Sequels retreading that same story in a different way. Though even if Episode IX makes up for the missteps of The Last Jedi, the Sequel Trilogy as a whole could replace neither A New Hope‘s place in my heart nor the memories I have growing up with the franchise. Plus, I was more forgiving towards Return of the Jedi‘s faults before the Sequels came out, especially The Last Jedi, so if Episode IX does stink, maybe Empire‘s and Return of the Jedi‘s magic will return for me. I wish I can still feel them the way many others still do.
(And since I didn’t review them, I’d give The Force Awakens and The Empire Strikes Back each a ★★★☆ and the Prequels as a whole a ★☆☆☆.)