Star Wars I-VI

In the lead-up to this year’s Hugo awards, since the most recent of the Star Wars series was nominated for a Hugo and we’d recently subscribed to Disney+ for a limited period, I decided to revisit this series of films in sequence, filling in the gaps with the movies I’d never gotten around to viewing. I was a fan of the original trilogy as a child, although I’d read the Alan Dean Foster novelisation of Star Wars (1977) before I actually saw it, which caused some confusion when I remembered scenes which never made the final cut. I saw the following two films in the cinema and, like many fans of the time, thought The Empire Strikes Back (1980) was the best. I saw the infamous Christmas special on TV when I was too young to recognise how bad it was; I owned some of the action figures; I even saw Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure (1984) in the cinema.

In the interim between the original trilogy and the prequels, I rewatched the originals with friends many times, but I never bothered reading any of the spinoff novels which started to appear (Doctor Who was my native SF mythology). I went to see the release of the 20th anniversary remastered version of Star Wars, but was put off by the rewriting of history which George Lucas began to manifest here as he massaged the plot and reinserted scenes which had been cut for a good reason, so I didn’t bother with the other remastered re-releases. Despite this, when the opportunity arose to attend a free midnight screening of the first prequel movie with a bunch of friends, I leapt at the chance… only to be bitterly disappointed. I avoided the next two films entirely, despite the presence of Christopher Lee, and had little further contact with the franchise, apart from reading an occasional tie-in comic book from the local library.

Having set the scene, what follows are my real-time reactions as I revisited the Star Wars franchise and filled in the gaps. I didn’t write anything about the first two films, but after discovering the changes made to the third…

Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983, revised 1997, revised 2004)

I know I’m really late to the party on this, but… they replaced the Ewok song in the remastered version of Return of the Jedi! And they replaced it with some really bad Hans Zimmer-lite. I already knew George Lucas’ incessant tinkering was a bad thing, but that’s a pretty impressive way to strip away the triumphal ending that resonated with anybody who saw it as a child and replace it with a reminder of the hollow travesty that was the prequel trilogy.

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)

Apparently I hate myself, because I just rewatched The Phantom Menace for the first time in 20 years and it’s still terrible. It clearly shows that George Lucas was creatively spent, slavishly imitating the structure (and even some of the shot sequences) of the original Star Wars, inserting pointless fan service such as Young Darth Vader building C-3PO, and the notorious rewriting of the Force as genetically-based Chosen One bullshit. Despite the greater diversity in casting, the two major new alien races introduced are both characterised via ethnic stereotypes. Several of the central cast members are completely wasted thanks to Lucas’ delusion that he had a better idea of how his dialogue should be read than an experienced actor. And building a children’s movie around the manipulation of trade treaties in order to orchestrate a change in the leadership of the senate still boggles the mind.

Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)

First time seeing Attack of the Clones. Oh boy. On the plus side, Ewan McGregor & Natalie Portman are allowed more leeway to make their dialogue sound like it’s spoken by a human, plus this movie has Christopher Lee (although it takes 76 min for him to show up), who gets to have a lightsabre duel with Yoda. On the minus side, there’s Hayden Christensen. He’s as wooden as a sequoia, has zero charisma, is completely insufferable and impossible to sympathise with. And Natalie Portman has the doomed task of attempting to make their relationship believable while speaking the most incredible tripe. Slightly better than the previous movie, despite the plotting, because Christopher Lee.

The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)

I’ve been wallowing in the terrible, so why not the Star Wars Holiday Special? I actually watched and enjoyed this as a kid who was interested in any new science fiction, but while there are many kids’ shows I watched at the time which stand up to repeat viewing as an adult, I knew this wouldn’t be one of them. It’s truly breathtaking as an example of awful 70s US TV, bringing back all of the main cast in small variety show segments framed around Chewbacca’s family waiting for him to come home. It includes jawdropping moments such as Chewie’s dad Itchy watching virtual reality porn; Chewie’s wife Malla watching a home cooking show parody of Julia Childs played by a man in blackface drag with four arms; Bea Arthur of the Golden Girls as creature cantina bartender in an Imperial propaganda segment leading into her singing Weimar-era cabaret; and Carrie Fisher singing an appalling song about Life Day backed by the Star Wars theme. And I honestly can’t tell you whether this is worse than the Star Wars prequels. To quote the AV Club review: “I’m not convinced the special wasn’t ultimately written and directed by a sentient bag of cocaine.”

Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Surprisingly, Revenge of the Sith was OK. Hayden Christensen was still terrible, but he was at least slightly less terrible. The dialogue wasn’t great but the plot did what it needed to, and Ewan McGregor was clearly enjoying himself. Most of my remaining complaints are about internal consistency. Why does R2-D2 have rockets and weaponry here but not in “Star Wars”? Why does using force lightning age the emperor in one scene, when it doesn’t affect him or anybody else that way in any other scene before or after? And why can’t Lucas maintain any consistency in Yoda’s language patterns? (And on a separate matter, why must someone cry out “NOOOOOOO!!!!!!!” in every movie?)

TO BE CONTINUED WITH THE DISNEY YEARS…

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