Star Wars virgin – watching the saga for the first time

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Picture from ‘Star Wars Force’

Letting hype get the better of him, Getintothis’ Star Wars novice Shaun Ponsonby watches Episodes I-VI without nostalgic eyes to see if they hold up.

I don’t usually care about what’s going on in the outside world. I’ve been so out of sync with what is popular with idiots for so long that I no longer care (yeah, that’s right…I called you an “idiot”…what are you gonna do about it? EH?)

However, for once, hype has really gotten to me. I once again feel isolated from some level of excitement that everybody else is experiencing with the new Star Wars film.

In the interest of full disclosure, the title is a bit misleading. I saw the original trilogy once when I was about eight or nine – it was when they were re-released in the 90s. I remember watching A New Hope a few more times when I was even younger than that, though I recall close to nothing about it. I have seen The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi once each before I was out of primary school, so almost two decades ago, and the only prequel I saw was The Phantom Menace (again once on release). I don’t feel like I have seen them. I didn’t “grow up” with them and I have no nostalgic ties to them. I couldn’t even tell you anything about them outside of the stuff that has entered popular culture. Ultimately, this would be how I would describe Star Wars;

People have been moaning at me to watch them again for a while, and since I do have an abiding interest in pop culture phenomena even when I’m not a part of it, I took this current hysteria as an opportunity to watch them again, for what might as well be the first time. What I really wondered was whether these films hold up without that sense of nostalgia, and whether the infamously negative reaction to the prequels could be improved without that die-hard love of the originals.

I had been posting my thoughts over Christmas on social media, when our editor said I should put it up for plebs I don’t know to read or he’d kick me in the shin. I’m disproportionately fond of my shin, so I decided to go for it, and rate the films on how well I thought it was made, along with my personal enjoyment, because obviously everyone gives a shit about my thoughts on the matter.

So, in the spirit of that, Getintothis is ambivalent to present a novice’s thoughts on Star Wars

N.B. If you think the originals are brilliant and flawless, and that the prequels “ruined your childhood” (they didn’t) and get pissy and defensive when anyone says otherwise, you’d do well to go to click “back” immediately. 

 Original Trilogy

A New Hope

A New Hope (1977)

Filmmaking: 3.5/5

Enjoyment: 4.5/5

I loved this. If there’s one thing that gets up my nose, it’s when a film that is nothing more than a big, dumb action flick gets all pretentious (*cough*Christopher Nolan*cough*). Just be honest about what you are.

A New Hope is fully aware that it is just big, dumb action-adventure and proud of it, damnit!

It is riddled with problems though. Probably more than the devout would dare admit.

Although Harrison Ford bloody well owns it, the acting from most of the cast is alarmingly wooden. Even bona fide legend Sir Alec Guinness. Of course, that could be down to the fucking horrible dialogue they had to read. George Lucas’ standard writing style appears to be exposition.

Character development isn’t that great either, and I don’t just mean there a lot of one-dimensionals (Han Solo is awesome, but that’s about it).

For example, the death of Luke’s guardians doesn’t seem to affect him at all. These people raised him, but he gets over their death alarmingly quickly. Sure, he had disagreements with them, but he doesn’t even mention them again. And I don’t buy the argument of “it convinces him to leave”, because it was clearly set up for him to leave anyway. For him to basically just shrug it off would be like me shrugging off the death of my Nan because she made me eat No Frills chicken soup. If it doesn’t affect the characters, there’s no point in it being there.

If you are aware of the anti-masterpiece The Room, there is a scene where the main character’s mother-in-law announces she has cancer, and they quickly change the subject and no-one ever mentions it again. It’s held up as a reason the movie is dreadful, as such a massive storyline is buried immediately making the fact that it was even brought up utterly pointless. I would argue the same about the death of Luke’s guardians.

Incidentally, this is in contrast to the fact that he is haunted by the ghost of Obi Wan Kenobi, a man he had only really known for about seven hours, and even comes out with the phrase “I can’t believe he’s gone” (it was suggested to me that he had known Kenobi his whole life, but it’s made clear that he only knew of him in passing).

With the originals being famously unavailable, I was watching the Special Edition with added scenes. There was a scene with Jabba The Hutt which literally repeated dialogue from earlier in the script. A hunch tells me this was added later for reasons nobody cares about.

The big question I have is whether it is really sci-fi? I’m hardly a sci-fi buff, but I’m not sure if any of the fundamental elements of the story count as science fiction. Most of it feels like a fairytale in space (which I believe was The Pogues‘ initial concept for a Christmas song) – rescue the Princess from the clutches of evil etc. The actual setting is largely inconsequential. Like how Alien wasn’t sci-fi, just a horror that happened to be set in space. I’m not even sure you can call it a space opera, because the fact that it’s set in space is totally circumstantial.

But I get it, and actually had fun watching it. I’m glad I saw it.

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The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Filmmaking: 4/5

Enjoyment: 3.5/5

I know that this is everyone’s favourite, but I’m going in here with a critical eye. My favourite thing about A New Hope was that it wasn’t full of itself, it knew it was dumb and just didn’t care. The hokiness totally worked in its favour.

I was surprised to find George Lucas didn’t actually direct this one. Looking further into it, I found out that he didn’t direct a single movie between 1977 and 1999’s The Phantom Menace, which would explain a lot (we’ll get there later!). What that means is that there is an improvement with dialogue, characterisation, acting and all-round direction.

But, at the same time, it moves in a darker direction, and loses some of the fun factor as a result, though the sense of humour is not totally eroded. Sometimes unintentionally – Luke shouting “Ben, Ben” in the snow is hilarious (speaking of, it felt like all that snow was basically there because of all the sand in the first one. Like they said “we need something that is like sand, but isn’t”).

You pretty much knew Han Solo and Princess Leia were going to get together within the first five minutes. There were some particular shots of Leia (who is now a military expert for reasons I’m not sure I understand) giving Han the eye that made it stereotypically clear. Ergo, I didn’t really feel the intended sexual tension as it was bleeding obvious from the get go. I almost yelled out “just hurry up and fuck him, will you?” And, while we are on the subject, being a twat to someone you’re trying to pull never works, no matter how often Hollywood likes to pretend it does. It’s that classic chauvinist bollocks that should have been left with James Bond.

As for the villains, Darth Vader really comes into his own. If Harrison Ford stole A New Hope, Darth Vader stole Empire. His presence looms so large. Obviously, the “I am your father” twist is so embedded into popular culture that it was impossible to be surprised by it, but that didn’t take away from Vader’s overall badassness.

This is a bit of an odd one really. Although this is probably the superior film – and I fully understand why it’s considered the favourite – A New Hope was more fun to watch, so I’d probably go for that one over this despite having more “problems”. As I say, it’s more aware that it’s a big, dumb popcorn movie, whereas Empire is just as clichéd, but tries to go for deeper mythology.

This is the first one that actually seems like part of a continuing saga, so feels unfinished. How good I actually consider it to be will probably lie with how much I like the follow-up…

Read our review of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

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Return of the Jedi (1983)

Filmmaking: 3/5

Enjoyment: 3/5

…which means Empire loses points.

I looked at my watch so often in the middle of Return of the Jedi. I really just wanted it to get on with it. The middle of this film was pointless. I can’t imagine who would give a fuck.

As much as people complain about the prequels (which, admittedly, I am yet to see while writing this), many of the regular criticisms I read in definitely well-informed and balanced YouTube comments are just as prevalent in the originals. They’re not the only criticisms, and I’m sure there are many others that are valid. However, you can’t hold something up as a reason the prequels suck and defend them in the originals.

For example, the aesthetics of the series is so ubiquitous now that it’s easy to overlook the fact that the whole series was extremely toyetic from the beginning. Literally everything in this universe has quite clearly been designed to look like a toy. I read that Lucas got a special merchandising deal from Fox, who happily gave it to him because they didn’t make much on merchandise in those days (incidentally, they did the exact same thing for Matt Groening when he brought them The Simpsons). So, it’s no wonder that everything looks like a toy; the Millennium Falcon, Chewbacca, C-3PO, R2D2, Leia’s hair, Darth Vader, the Stormtroopers, the Lightsabers – toys, toys, toys…all of them.

I was told going into Jedi that this is really the start of that. But I assure you it isn’t. The reason the Ewoks bother people is that they look like cuddly toys and not action figures.

Another complaint about the prequels is that they’re full of plot holes and don’t make sense. Again, this is something that runs through the entire series, and nothing summarises this more than the idea that Luke and Leia are twins – something that I would absolutely put as one of the dumbest plot twists in movie history.

Some have desperately interpreted this as a clever oedipal-type relationship. Frankly, I see it as a last minute shoehorn. Like they needed to write themselves out of a love triangle, but wanted to do it with something explosive. Hell, it would be less dumb to have her willingly sleep with Jabba The Hutt and have Luke catch them, throwing up as he stumbles out shielding his eyes, despite possibly counting as bestiality and not a pleasant mental image.

There is literally nothing leading up to it in the previous films, and Vader‘s lack of knowledge that Leia was his daughter supports this. Lest we forget, she spent the vast majority of the first film in his presence. Vader is supposed to be pretty bloody in tune with The Force, so…what? Did it just fail him while she was his prisoner, and when he spoke to her face-to-face several times? And when Luke was clearly lusting after her, why didn’t Obi Wan give a quick “aye up, son”? Load of bollocks.

However, after the misogyny of Han and Leia’s courtship, I was afraid that we wouldn’t get any coded sexism, but luckily old Hollywood came through again when Luke told his twin sister; “You can learn to use the powers too.” Yeah, THE MAN masters it first because he’s THE MAN. You got that, you silly FEMALE?

Like much of the franchise so far, there are a lot of dumb moments in this film and attempts to look deep and artistic end up falling flat. The jibber-jabber sounds impressive, but if you think about it for two seconds, you realise it isn’t. They keep banging on about Luke’s destiny, but there seems to be some confusion about what that actually is. And destroying the Death Star again was a real re-hash.

It remains completely clunky with its character development, particularly when it comes to the previously one dimensional Han Solo, and the only reason for Vader to die was convenience so as they didn’t have to write a scene where Luke tries to explain why they should accept him. I don’t even remember whether they bothered to include a cause of death, so I assume they didn’t. Actually, when Anakin (as opposed to Vader) took his helmet off and spoke to Luke it was decidedly less emotional than the time Will‘s dad returned in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

I would say that this is a satisfactory ending to the trilogy, but – unlike the previous – not a particularly good film, mainly due to the pointless middle.

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Original Trilogy: Final Thoughts

My enjoyment of these films declined in quality as they started to take the mythology in the universe more seriously, as I think it is often at odds with what they present. However, I would be lying if I said I hadn’t enjoyed the experience as a whole.

As I specified when talking about Jedi, some of the major problems people have with the prequels are definitely present in the originals too. Although these films are much better made on the whole from what I can gather, it’s inconsistent to hold them up as reasons the prequels suck. Seems people are letting nostalgia cloud their judgement.

There’s dumb throughout too. Not just in gaping plot holes and under-carpet brushing, but in simple things. I don’t quite get how the interpretation between languages work in this universe. Like, Han talks to Chewbacca in his own language, but can understand everything Chewbacca says? Let’s be honest, in the prequels things like that are seized upon.

There’s no way this was planned as a trilogy until after the first one. Obviously, they weren’t going to say “OK, rookie director, here’s the money for an entire trilogy“, but even with all the tampering it’s the only one that works as a standalone film, and there’s very little that carries on from it.

After each one I went to bed and dosed off whilst watching Red Dwarf. Which means I’d probably rather watch Red Dwarf. But it was an enjoyable experience on the whole.

Original Trilogy filmmaking: 3.5/5

Original Trilogy enjoyment: 3.5/5

Prequel Trilogy

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The Phantom Menace (1999)

Filmmaking: 2/5

Enjoyment: 2/5

I was expecting the worst here. The reputation of The Phantom Menace precedes it. But, honestly, I’m not sure it’s quite worthy of that reputation.

There are a lot of silly things just within the first few minutes (the sexy, female C-3PO at the beginning, the Jedi surviving the gassing, an apparent impression of the Beano’s Billy Whizz character that is inconsistent with events later in the film), and one of the guards looked like M. Bison from Street Fighter had blacked-up. Seemed a bit racist.

Speaking of racism…Jar Jar Binks.  I am fully aware of the hatred of this character. He is pointed to everything that is wrong with the prequels. Granted, he is a racial stereotype and squarely aimed at kids, but isn’t this entire franchise more or less aimed at kids? I fail to see how people refuse to accept this fact, and then say one of the reasons they love Star Wars so much is that they grew up with it.

However, before I get murdered by Star Wars fans, I think the real problem here is that this movie has far too much jibber-jabber and exposition to really satisfy kids, and so Jar Jar feels wholly out of place. There is also way too much of his hi-jinx and it does get annoying (fart jokes? Really?). There is a more specific argument to the one I usually hear, and the other characters seem to find him as irritating as the audience so that was probably his intent.

Actually, Jar Jar would be better if he was Donkey from Shrek. Admit it, it would be awesome if he just belted out I’m a Believer at the end.

The other big gripe Star Wars fans have with this is the Midichlorians, which are chemicals that make The Force possible. But as a skeptic, this doesn’t bother me. In fact I welcome it in a way. Besides in the unlikely event that we not only discover there is a God and what He is exactly, would that ruin what God is to you? Obviously, my answer of “non-existent” would change, but we’re not talking about me. I don’t think it ruins the mythical element of The Force too much.

We know the acting throughout the series isn’t up to scratch (all things considered, Liam Neeson is pretty good and Darth Maul is badass). I mean, whoever is playing the Queen’s decoy is delivering her lines like someone learning to speak for the first time ever.

But I feel bad for the kid playing young Anakin. He’s clearly trying his best, and if the adults can’t fare well with the material, it’s unreasonable to expect a kid to. Just let him have his bloody Turbo Man and be done with it. Although his delivery did mean I half-expected him to say “motherfucker” at the end of every sentence. Think about it; “now this is pod racing, motherfucker!”, “I get to go on a starship, motherfucker!” You’ll be surprised how much enjoyment you can get out of yelling “motherfucker” at random intervals in this movie. It’s a better catchphrase than Jar Jar‘s “how rude!

So…is it a good film? No.

I don’t know why anyone would expect it to be. This is the first film Lucas had directed in 22 years, so it’s the film that I would expect someone who had spent two decades developing special effects to make. I had low expectations, so probably didn’t hate it as much as everyone else.

Its cardinal sin is that it’s boring. There’s no sense of wonderment, and it goes down a very self-indulgent path. But it’s nowhere near as bad as I’d been led to believe. In fact, it’s quite a typical late-90s blockbuster.

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Attack of the Clones (2002)

Filmmaking: 1/5

Enjoyment: 0.5/5

I was warned. Heavily. By everyone. “Don’t watch Attack of the Clones”, they bellowed in my face, with fear in their eyes and accidentally spitting on me a bit. Surely that’s an overreaction, right?

Wrong.

Let’s start with the Wookie in the room; George Lucas could have hired literally anyone to play Anakin. I mean, literally every actor in the world would have wanted the part. How the fuck did he land on Hayden Christiensen? I swear – and I don’t know if everyone noticed this – there were at least three scenes where he was replaced by a squeaky gate. And I can guarantee that this is the first review to ever pick up on that. Even Keanu Reeves has never been this bad. You know when Star Wars first came out, and everyone was wondering if Darth Vader was a robot? I think Christiesen took that idea a little too far by playing Anakin as such. Being completely devoid of emotion, literally every line is painful to hear.

Although, I highly doubt anyone could have made this drivel sound good. As bad as the dialogue in the entire history of this franchise has been, this is definitely the worst. I’m guessing Lucas was aiming for Shakespeare with the line “I am haunted by the kiss that you should never have given me“, but it’s much closer to Ed Wood. There’s something specifically off about Yoda’s dialogue in particular. Technically, it’s all there, but it’s weird this time around. I can’t decide if it’s the delivery or just half arsed.

Still, it’s nice to know that legendary supervillain Darth Vader is such a whiny bitch, isn’t it? And that nostalgic 50s diners exist in a universe where the 50s didn’t. And that Queens are elected now (quick, someone tell Charles…it’s the break he’s been waiting for).  And that Jimmy Smits is still employable.

What I can appreciate is that the courtship of Anakin and Padme is significantly less misogynist than Han and Leia‘s. Han’s “arrogantly treat someone like shit until they fall in love with you” schtick gets up my nose, and has gotten people laid exactly never. It just goes to show how white, heterosexual men have ruled Hollywood.

Having said that, I am now convinced that Edward and Bella in Twilight is based on Anakin and Padme. There’s too many parallels; no chemistry, bad acting, horrible dialogue. It’s awkward, forced, stalky, and there’s a lame scene in some grass where they’re supposed to be bonding but they’re clearly fucking not.

I only have a vague idea what’s going on, and I don’t particularly care. Why did it take 2 1/2 hours to tell this story? There’s no characters. They are mere props used for exposition. The character development was clunky and full of plot holes in the originals but it was at least there, and they were at least relatable.

There’s a lot of what I can only refer to as “post-foreshadowing”, in that it’s trying to cleverly foreshadow things that, being a prequel, we already know for certain are going to happen. And they even made that boring, despite what the intense soundtrack tries to convey at the wrong moments.

This seems to be a contractual obligation that was tossed off because they needed to make the numbers up. A more accurate title would have been Star Wars Episode II: Revenge of the Trilogy. This isn’t a saga, it’s a bunch of stuff that happens.

This is the only Star Wars film so far that fully deserves its reception, be that positive or negative.

So far, my enjoyment of each film has been less than the preceding one. I bloody hope the final-but-middle chapter turns things around.

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Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Filmmaking: 2.5/5

Enjoyment: 3/5

So after learning exactly nothing from The Phantom Menace, does George Lucas finally learn some lessons from Attack of the Clones? Well…yes and no.

There are still a lot of problems that you can’t ignore, and even sometimes grate. The dialogue is still horrible – there’s something very un-Star Wars about a line like “I can fix up the baby’s room”. And why do directors seem to insist that overusing CGI makes everything look more realistic? It doesn’t. It makes it look less realistic.

I think the effects in the first Jurassic Park are still unmatched because there wasn’t a reliance on CGI. Speilberg used CGI to fill in the gaps; he also used models, puppetry and animation. Between the mixture of them all, he managed to make something that still mainly holds up today. Had he only used CGI this wouldn’t have been the case, because the dinosaurs wouldn’t have felt like they were actually there (like in the sequels).

Revenge of the Sith is hindered, not helped, by CGI. At times it felt like it was trying to compete with the then-recent Lord of The Rings trilogy, which is ironic given Christopher Lee was in it.

Thank Lemmy there is a slight improvement with the acting, and I do mean only “slight”. But then it couldn’t have gotten worse than Attack of the Clones. Hayden Christiensen is at least showing some emotions here.

The Emperor is the real star, though. He knows exactly how ridiculous the whole affair is and is revelling in the role. He is having the time of his life and it’s infectious. He’s a joy to watch, and shows what the other prequels have been missing; a sense of fun. There’s something a bit Dracula about him too, which is ironic given Christopher Lee was in it (he gets around, it seems). But, his reveal was hardly the surprise the film thought it was. “Wait! The guy who looked exactly like the Emperor and kept giving the camera evil looks was…THE EMPEROR? WOW! Didn’t see that one coming!

Some of it doesn’t quite add up. We’re constantly told about Anakin’s abilities, and yet he is so bloody gullible. His change was pretty sudden. I can’t tell if that is Christiensen’s portrayal or the infamously bad writing/direction of the prequel trilogy. R2D2’s abilities are inconsistent and the transformation into Darth Vader was disappointing (but, realistically I don’t think anything could have lived up to 30 years of anticipation).

George Lucas’ writing skills can be summed up by the last scene, where Padme gives birth to those weirdly unnatural babies. She says “Luke, Leia” in what is quite possibly the single most pointless line of exposition dialogue ever written. Apparently we were too stupid to figure that one out for ourselves. Incidentally, the plot to take the babies “somewhere the Sith won’t find them” kind of failed, didn’t it? One of their primary enemies took Leia and Luke went “with his family”. Thought you fuckers were supposed to be wise?

This is definitely the best of the prequels. It actually feels like there’s something at stake, which can’t really be said about the others. I don’t think it’s boring or that the problems are that much worse than the originals either, as I maintain that the cardinal sin of the prequels is that they’re dull and many of the other issues (toyetic, dialogue, plot holes, WTF moments etc) are just as prevalent in the originals. At the risk of incurring the wrath of fanboys/girls who watched it as a kid, I’d put this at around the level of Return of the Jedi.

Final point: “Noooooooooooooooo!” was unintentionally hilarious.

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Prequel Trilogy – Final Thoughts

The big question is this – is George Lucas a great director who lost his way or a bad director who got lucky once?

I’m going with the latter.

Here’s my theory: when he made A New Hope he was just some rookie kid, people would have no problem challenging him if his ideas were crap. By the time the prequels came along, he was George Lucas, a powerful figure and a hero to many trying to break into the industry. It’s easier for a script supervisor to tell some rookie kid his script stinks, but not George Lucas, creator of Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Howard The Duck (!). He didn’t direct a single film in the interim between A New Hope and Phantom Menace, and what made A New Hope a good film was the collective work of everyone, not the singular vision of one man.

But for all the negatives and as much as I don’t like how into themselves these films were, I still feel the need to stick up for the prequels a tiny bit. I actually like that they don’t have the same feel as the originals, and at least commend them for not being re-hashes. Even if it didn’t work, I respect Lucas for actively trying to make them completely different. And there are things that happen in one film that pay off in a later one (well, “pay off” is probably not the correct term, but you know what I mean).

I don’t think The Phantom Menace and Revenge of the Sith quite deserve their reputation as total stinkers (even though Phantom in particular definitely isn’t good), which might be the result of me not having strong nostalgic ties to the originals, hence why I think some of the complaints are hypocritical – and sometimes a little contradictory. People told me that the prequels are a) too talkie and b) overuse the standard action tropes. But if there isn’t enough action, how can there be an overusage of the standard Star Wars action tropes? There really isn’t. It’s more likely the way they’re just inserted more awkwardly that is the problem.

There’s a reigning idea that things are shoved in the prequels to appease children, but that has been a big part of this franchise from the beginning. This isn’t a criticism, far from it, it gives (the originals) a sense of wonder. But when I said I would be watching them as an adult, I got a response of “it might be something you needed to grow up with” from several people, which is another contradiction as it means you are acknowledging that they were made with kids in mind, or I wouldn’t have had to grow up with them and they could stand up as a work of art in their own right.

I’m probably never going to watch the prequels again, and if I did I might find more wrong with them. As a Simpsons aficionado, I kind of see it like latter day episodes; not always as bad as everyone says, but not particularly good either.

But, truth be told, A New Hope is likely the only film in the entire franchise I’ll ever bother to return to.

Prequel filmmaking: 2/5

Prequel enjoyment: 2/5

Now…do I watch the Star Wars Holiday Special?

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