Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Image result for star wars the force awakensFollowing the epic conclusion of the original series, Lucas retires from writing and making more Star Wars movies. The series takes a 10 year hiatus, but during this time, Disney decides to take over the series, planning a sequel series that takes place after the original trilogy. Hiring director J. J. Abrams and casting new characters, the Star Wars hype once again returned.

The sequel series attempts to follow the footsteps of the original series. We meet several new and intriguing characters played by new, largely unknown actors. These include the feisty and independent scavenger Rey, defecting storm trooper Finn, pilot Poe Dameron, and mysterious and powerful dark side user Kylo Ren. We soon learn that the Republic that was reestablished at the end of the original trilogy was weak and unorganized, and the remnants of the Empire, led by the powerful dark lord Supreme Leader Snoke, have reorganized into the First Order. Luke Skywalker had led a band of new Padawans in an attempt to restart the Jedi Order, but failed when one of his students, the son of Han Solo and Princess Leia, turned to the dark side and became known as the anger and hate filled Kylo Ren.

The various characters and their storylines is actually extremely intriguing. Right off the bat, Rey seems to display a strong connection to the Force, and we are therefore left to wonder who her ancestry is. The idea of Finn as a defector of the First Order is also a new idea that had never been explored. Kylo Ren, with Skywalker blood, is understandably powerful, and his raw power is shown in the opening scene when he stops a laser blast in midair with the Force.

However, the movie flops because it was riddled with huge plot holes and poor character development. John Boyega’s Finn essentially served as the ethnic diversity of the cast, as his character never flashed any real usefulness to the plot and frequently spoke cheesy and cliched lines. Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren is essentially a huge baby. It’s disappointing to see such a powerful Force user complain about everything and fail to make a real impact in the plot as well. The one new character I liked was Rey. Thankfully, as the main character, Rey drives the plot and garner’s the audience’s adoration with her bravery and humor. She reminds of us Luke in the original trilogy, resourceful, headstrong, and clearly strong with the Force. She continuously surprises Han, Leia, Finn, and Kylo with her feats, foreshadowing more and more about her true bloodline and lost parentage.

The bottom line is, however, The Force Awakens failed to come up with a creative plot. I could just see Image result for rey vs kylo renthe writers sitting in a conference room trying to come up with the grand scheme of the first order that the Resistance would have to stop. At some point, a guy goes “How about instead of a Death Star, we make and even bigger Death Star?” to the applause of the entire room. I mean seriously, could they not have come up with anything more creative than a larger Death Star? Additionally, I have so much trouble racking my brain around how in the world Rey was able to defeat Kylo Ren. It took Luke 3 whole movies to train and become strong enough to take on Darth Vader, but somehow Rey picks up a lightsaber for the very first time and is able to strike down a powerful dark lord. It simple makes no sense and is very unsatisfying to see such a major plot hole in such a drawn out and clearly thought out movie.

Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Image result for episode iii revenge of the sithThe prequel series reaches an epic conclusion with Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. This film takes a completely difference direction from the previous two. Instead of centering on various political workings, Lucas decides to structure his prequel series finale with series of battles and action sequences.

The story starts off with the rescue of Chancellor Palpatine, who, with dramatic irony, is pretty much known to the audience as the Sith Lord behind all the current chaos in the galaxy at the moment. Count Dooku is quickly vanquished single-handedly by Anakin, which is surprising given how powerful Count Dooku was played up to be, but serves to build and hype up the true, raw, untapped power within Anakin. Dooku overall seemed to be a poorly conceived character that was conceptualized last minute before being thrown into Episode II. There are even outlandish fan theories that Jar Jar Binks was actually supposed to be the main villain of Episode II, but due to pushback, Lucas had to come up with another villain and threw in Count Dooku to the script last minute.

As the plot progresses, Lucas seeks to tie up various previous plot points in order to allow for the development of the central conflict. I found General Grievous’ death to be very entertaining and actually quite fitting, as he wasn’t killed by the brute strength or skill of Obi-Wan, but rather by being shot by a pedestrian blaster. However, during all this conflict and action, we begin seeing Darth Sidious’s real plan come to fruition. His manipulation of the powerful Anakin culminates in Anakin’s betrayal of Mace Windu and full embrace of the dark side, becoming Darth Vader. His turn may have seemed sudden, but was actually due to years of frustration with the Jedi ways, his infatuation with pregnant girlfriend Padme, and subtle manipulation at the hands of the wiser Sith. Some criticized this aspect of the plot, feeling as if Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side was much too sudden and not well thought out. However, I felt as if Lucas expressed and foreshadowed this fittingly, and the problem with the storyline had more to do with Hayden Christensen’s horrendous acting rather than the concept itself.

The revenge of the Sith comes to life with Order 66, and all of the Republic’s clones turn on their Jedi Image result for yoda vs palpatinecommanders, opening fire and slaughtering all but Obi-Wan and Yoda. The long sequences of political manipulation finally come into play, and it is clear that Palpatine had been planning for this moment for a long time. However, Obi-Wan and Yoda stage the Jedi’s last gasp, and come close to ending the Sith once and for all. Frankly, I was quite disappointed with Yoda’s fight with Palpatine. I felt as if Yoda was hyped up so much as an amazingly powerful Jedi, but really ended up being overwhelmed fairly easily by the stronger Sith lord. Conversely, I felt that Obi-Wan was actually going to get completely destroyed by the stronger and angrier Darth Vader. However, Obi-Wan engages in a long and strategic lightsaber battle against his former apprentice, ultimately winning on an ill-advised lunge by Vader.

Padme gives birth to Luke and Leia, setting up the events for Episode IV, and Obi-Wan and Yoda go into exile, but Darth Vader lives, albeit with severe injuries. All in all, though lacking in a lot of plot and character development, Episode III made up for it with gripping action and solid special effects. It effectively established a backstory to the events of the original trilogy and opened up new avenues of though on the original trilogy and theories to consider.

Episode II: Attack of the Clones

Image result for episode II10 years have passed between the end of Episode I and the beginning of Episode II, and our main characters have changed significantly. Obi-Wan is now an experienced Jedi Master while his young apprentice Anakin has grown into a feisty and powerful Jedi knight. Former Jedi Master Count Dooku is the new villain, who has organized a separatist movement that threatens the safety and stability of the Galactic Republic.

A main plot point of Episode II is that it ends up splitting Anakin and Obi-Wan for much of the film, as each pursue their different interests. Obi-Wan investigates the production of a clone army and the mysterious bounty hunter Jango Fett while Anakin revisits his family and slaughters those who hurt them in a fit of rage. Anakin also develops a romantic relationship with Padme. This relationship leaves a bad taste in many viewers’ mouths because of the huge age difference between the teenager and the flowered senator. Hayden Christensen’s poor acting combined with the awkward dynamic between him and Natalie Portman result in a romantic relationship that is not very convincing.

Aside from this, Episode II focuses more on the other Jedi Masters in the Jedi council, including Image result for yoda vs dookupowerful Jedis Master Yoda and Mace Windu. After Obi-Wan is captured after discovering a separatist meeting led by Count Dooku, Yoda and Mace Windu along with the daring Anakin and Padme lead a clone army to rescue Obi-Wan and crush the separatists. Anakin and Obi-Wan intercept Dooku as he is trying to escape, leading to a short-lived lightsaber duel. Count Dooku easily dispatches Anakin with the first display of Force lightning, then injures Obi-Wan. Anakin reengages and is ultimately overwhelmed and gets his hand chopped off. It is disappointing to see Anakin and Obi-Wan, who have been training for so long, to get defeated so easily. However, it fits in, as Dooku was Yoda’s former apprentice and has clearly mastered the more powerful dark side of the Force. Just as our two heroes are about to be struck down, Yoda appears and engages Dooku. The two battle to a stalemate, and Dooku escapes. Yoda’s feeble appearance is quickly dashed, as he displays a remarkable show of athleticism and agility, utilizing jumps and flips to engage the bigger Dooku. For Star Wars fans, it is amazing to see Yoda in action after seeing him at the end of his life in the original trilogy. Previously, we were only aware of Yoda’s deep knowledge of the Jedi ways and how he trains Luke to become stronger physically and mentally, but his days as a warrior were long past during the time of the Empire. We were therefore left to only imagine his potential as a lightsaber dueler.

The escape of Dooku, however, seems like a major flaw in the movie. It reflects a certain ambivalence of director and writer George Lucas towards the character. The trend of the new series seems to be to introduce one Sith lord and have him be defeated by one of our Jedi heroes, but Lucas seems to have an affinity for Dooku for no reason at all. Dooku is not a very interesting character and could have easily been killed off by Yoda at the end, but they choose an underwhelming end to his character. What a disappointment.

Overall, Episode II continues the deeper dive in the politics of the Galactic Republic and sets the stage for a dramatic finish. However, I feel Lucas tends to get too cute with introducing complex characters and storylines that ultimately do not mesh well together. He has the opportunity to make things right, but ends up ruining much of it with unsatisfying conclusions.

Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Image result for star wars the phantom menaceThe original trilogy was so good, so engaging, that it left Star Wars fans wanting more. When making the original trilogy, Lucas had already conceptualized the prequels, and he begins the first leg with Episode I: The Phantom Menace. The prequels tells the backstory of Darth Vader and his days as Anakin Skywalker, a promising young Jedi Knight as well as Obi-Wan Kenobi’s rise to the ranks of a Jedi Master. Episode I focuses on Anakin as a young boy and Obi-Wan as an apprentice to a wise and legendary Jedi Master, Qui-Gonn Jinn.

The entire prequel is incredibly different, focusing much more on the traditions of the Jedi and the various politics and inner workings of the Galactic Republic. Its characters are less iconic, but are fresh and new. A young Obi-Wan Kenobi is played brilliantly by Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson provides and equally solid performance as the wise Qui-Gon. The apprentice-master dynamic between Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon is very profound and important to the movie. One notes that Obi-Wan, as an inexperienced apprentice, displays much of the same qualities Luke does: capriciousness, overconfidence, and rashness. Qui-Gon mirrors the old and wise Ben Kenobi of the original trilogy: knowledgeable, patient, and calculating. The main villain is a mysterious Sith lord and his apprentice, Darth Maul, who is probably the coolest character in any Star Wars movie. With a menacing, demonic appearance and wielding a double bladed lightsaber, Maul undoubtedly strikes fear into the average Image result for darth maulviewer.

However, the movie completely flops on other major characters. Jar-Jar Binks is hands down undeniably the worst character in all of Star Wars. His odd manner of speaking and clumsy demeanor is meant to be comic relief, but the entire thing comes off as simply childish, and completely unfunny. Another character that I believe was underwhelming was Padme. Padme was definitely not Natalie Portman’s best effort. Throughout the entire prequel series, she suffers from poor acting, cliche lines, and sub-par character development.

The plot of Episode I is much more complicated than the plots of either of the three movies from the original trilogy. This is due to the deeper exploration of trade conflicts within the Galactic Republic and the Sith’s role in corrupting an otherwise working government. Our Jedi heroes jump from planet to planet and environment to environment to investigate occurrences. It is quickly established that the Jedi are a sort of peacekeeping core designed to help the Republic carry out its policies and investigate evil. With all the power of the Jedi and their abilities with the Force, a plot hole quickly emerges. How is it that all of these Jedi are incredibly powerful with the Force, yet are unable to detect threats? The Force, which is not completely explained in the original trilogy, is largely inconsistent in the prequels, leading to various plot inconsistencies.

Several scenes stand out in this movie, first, Anakin’s talent as a driver and pilot is expressed indirectly in his freedom race. In this sequence of events, Qui-Gon shows his prescience by picking Anakin, the youngest racer in the field, to win the race and his freedom from the lifeless planet of Tatooine. The other vital scene to this movie is the climax fight between Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon against Darth Maul. The growth of Obi-Wan as a fighter is fully displayed, but the key part of this sequence is the anger Obi-Wan channels to defeat the much stronger Maul after he slays Qui-Gon. This is a recurring theme in Star Wars that the dark side and light side of the Force are not mutually exclusive, much like how a character may not be completely good or bad.

Overall, the movie suffers from an overly complex plot but benefits from invigorating action scenes and improved special effects. The characters are not a staple of the movie, but drive the plot effectively.

Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

Image result for return of the jediAs the epic conclusion to the original trilogy, Return of the Jedi seeks to wrap up the plot in an exciting and unpredictable way as well as settle the existing internal conflicts within the series’ main characters. The movie faces the daunting task of accomplishing a happy ending in a plausible sequence of events after Episode V leaves Han and the rest of the rebels in shambles.

Fittingly, the movie starts with the three core characters, Luke, Leia, and Han, achieving their daring escape from the hands of Jabba the Hut. In this sequence, we see that Luke has once again increased in his raw Jedi powers while also seemingly acting more under control, making calculated decisions rather than acting impulsively. Additionally, Carrie Fischer’s Princess Leia is epitomized by her scene strangling Jabba with her own chains while wearing her gold slave bikini. It symbolizes her, as a woman, breaking the chains of the oppressive patriarchy around her. It’s satisfying to see Leia be herself as the independent and wild woman she is.

Darth Vader still serves as the main antagonist of the film, but Lucas focuses more and more on the evil Emperor, giving him more dialogue with Vader and foreshadowing his future involvement with Luke himself. Now that Luke and the audience know that Vader is in fact his father, Vader now possesses and added complexity to his character, and it begins to feel that he may be losing his grip on the dark side of the Force. The audience wonders weather he has it in him to full embrace the dark side by destroying his son when the time comes.

Before this huge question is answered, however, the rebel alliance must face the threat of the construction of the second Death Star. They formulate a plan to scrap together the remaining rebel fleet, disable the shields on the planet Endor, then destroy the Empire and the still under construction Death Star in one final attack. However, Vader and the Emperor have used Luke, who is still mentally inferior to the stronger Force users, as a trap to lure the rebel fleet to its destruction, as the Death Star is in fact already fully operational.

Image result for luke torturedThe massive battle ensues but an even bigger individual battle occurs internally in Luke as he struggles to resist getting turned to the dark side by Vader and his Emperor. Luke realizes that this isn’t a physical battle, but rather a mental one. Physically, it is a lose-lose situation. The only way he would be able to overcome Darth Vader is to use the power of the dark side, but if he were to not give in, he would be destroyed by the Emperor. Script wise, this is a brilliant, as just a physical defeat of Vader and the Emperor would have been extremely problematic in terms of plot consistency, as Luke is clearly physically weaker than the two antagonists. Luke, while getting tortured by the Emperor, instead taps into a conflicted Darth Vader, pleading with his long lost father to return to the good. In this classic moment of Good vs. Evil, the former epitome of evil chooses to turn to the good at the power of fatherly love. Lucas proves that no power is stronger than love, and Vader sacrifices himself to kill the Emperor and save Luke.

The Emperor’s death turns the tide for the rebels fighting outside, exhibiting the parallel between the individual battle of Luke vs. Vader/Palpatine and the large scale actual war between a revolutionary rebel alliance and an oppressive empire. With such implicit parallels, the Lucas achieves a film that is pleasant to the eye and the mind.

Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Image result for empire strikes backA New Hope left viewers intrigued at the story of Star Wars. By introducing lovable heroes that everyone roots for and despised antagonists, moviegoers flocked to the theaters to see the next installment in the series, The Empire Strikes Back. Episode IV left off with exactly what the title suggests, a new sense of hope for the budding rebellion against a tyrannic galactic empire. Fittingly, Episode V sends new hardships towards our heroes, with many of them being overwhelmed and things taking a turn for the worse. The darker tone of The Empire Strikes Back allows it to explore darker and deeper themes, consequently allowing it to build upon and surpass the quality of A New Hope.

Released 3 years after A New Hope, the movie takes place 3 years after the events of the previous movie, with the Rebel Alliance on the run and having to retreat to a final stronghold on the ice planet of Hoth. Luke’s role in the rebels has clearly grown, as he goes on expeditions to investigate empire probes designed to search planets for rebel bases. Lucas brilliantly uses the beginning of the movie to bring us up to date with how the characters have developed since the previous movie. Luke’s capture by a wampa and his daring escape show that he has developed the confidence and poise necessary to control his Force powers, but his subsequent struggle in the icy cold shows that he hasn’t developed enough for true independence and requires Han to rescue him. Han’s daring rescue and Leia’s worry shows both Han’s bravery and disregard for his own safety and his and Leia’s budding romance.

Luke is really the central focus of this movie, whereas in the previous film it focused more on Han, Leia, and Obi-Wan. Guided by Obi-Wan’s spirit, he goes to the planet Dagobah to receive training from, though he doesn’t realize it at first, former legendary Jedi master, Yoda. It’s truly a shame that CGI hadn’t developed enough to make Yoda appear more genuine, as moviemakers had to settle for an ugly puppet instead. However, Yoda’s quirkiness and odd training methods are an amusing and important part of the film. Yoda doesn’t physically train Luke as much, and this is confusing to Luke at first. That is until he realizes that the power he is searching for is already in him, and that all he has to do is find it. Luke leaves Dagobah realizing his friends are in danger, but takes a false sense of confidence with him.Image result for luke vs vader first fight

The confrontation of Luke and Darth Vader is, without any argument, the most iconic scene in any Star Wars movie, and ranks among the best movie scenes of all-time. Luke recklessly believes his still limited training is enough for him to defeat the powerful Darth Vader, and he is immediately humbled by the much more experienced and stronger Force user. Losing a hand to Vader’s crimson blade, Luke retreats, and the most famous line in all of Star Wars is uttered. Vader tells Luke, “I am your father.” The realization that his most hated enemy is in fact his father is too much for Luke, sending him over the edge both physically and mentally. It also pushes him over the edge mentally because of the realization the Ben and Yoda probably knew this information but refused to share it with him.

Luckily, Luke is able to escape, but Han is left in suspended animation and Leia becomes the slave of the ugly creature, Jabba the Hut. Any hope that was gained in the previous movie is swiftly destroyed as the Empire in deeds strikes back with a force and fury never seen before.

Without Further Ado . . . Episode IV: A New Hope

Image result for a new hopeThe beginning of an epic adventure, A New Hope helps Star Wars burst onto the scene, offering moviegoers an introduction for, though they didn’t know yet, a multi-billion dollar film franchise, video game line, TV series, and pop culture staple for years to come. What I have always enjoyed about Star Wars movies is the opening scroll that tells the backstory to each movie or what happened in between movies. Lucas clearly doesn’t like beating around the bush and developing details bit by bit in the actual screenplay. Rather, he utilizes this opening scroll establish the setting and the current state of affairs. In A New Hope, it foreshadows the main plot conflict, the galactic empire’s ultimate weapon, the Death Star. This short scroll accompanied by the all too familiar Star Wars theme allows the movie to jump right into action.

A New Hope quickly establishes its main characters, rebel leader Princess Leia, young farmer Luke Skywalker, old Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi, Empire leader Darth Vader, and smuggler Han Solo. Lucas is efficient, as each character is distinct, likable, and serves a specific purpose in driving the plot forward. Leia and Luke are, though they don’t know it at first, twins, yet because of their respective upbringings, they are nothing alike. Leia has been shaped by her upbringing as a princess, diplomatic, resourceful, and smart. Luke on the other hand is rough around the edges, still discovering who he really is inside, as he has always felt that there was something inside of him that he hasn’t found yet. Obi-Wan, therefore, serves as the mentor Luke needs to discover this thing inside him, an ancient power known as the Force. Darth Vader, as the primary antagonist, is a character that clearly possesses extreme hate and anger and also powerful with the Force. He strikes fear into any viewer and is easy to root against. Finally, rounding out the cast of main characters is Han Solo, who as a rogue space pirate not only drives the plot forward by getting our heroes out of stick situations, but also serves as comic relief during the film’s most intense moments. Han’s character arc is rounded out by his maturation as a result of an attraction towards Princess Leia.Image result for darth vader vs obi wan

The plot of Episode IV hums along nicely. I love the way Lucas chooses to portray the Force. Rather than have long-winded explanations about what the Force is, Lucas leaves a lot of it unknown for a reason. He reveals the potential and power of the Force bit by bit through the actions of the movie’s force users such as Obi-Wan’s Jedi mind trick, Darth Vader’s use of the Force choke, and Luke’s training blocking lasers with a lightsaber. These all seem like small actions to the audience, and therefore it become feasible and believable that Luke is able to guide a rocket into an exhaust pipe and blow up the entire Death Star. Without the establishment of certain capabilities of using the Force, Luke’s final shot would have seemed like a complete shot in the dark instead of something that displays his true potential as a young Jedi.

Perhaps the most maligned part of Episode IV’s plot is the existence of the exhaust pipe in the first place. How could the Empire be so stupid as to build such a weakness into this supposedly indestructible space station? In fact, Family Guy’s Star Wars spoof hilariously lampoons this point. Star Wars eventually fixes this issue in Rogue One, but looking at the movie by itself, such a glaring plot hole is unacceptable, and adds a negative point to an otherwise brilliant movie.

A fitting beginning to an epic story, A New Hope hits many points of a great movie. It keeps the audience on edge and has everyone looking forward to the future films in the trilogy. However, as the first film, it appropriately leaves many unanswered questions and leaves room for speculation, just one of the many brilliant moves by Lucas in hooking the public to his latest new project.

A New Direction

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Last semester, I discussed how my passion for cooking arose and how it shaped me to this day. This semester, I have decided to take my passion blog in a new direction towards another one of my interests: movies, more specifically, the behemoth and powerhouse movie franchise, Star Wars.

Behind the genius of director and writer George Lucas, Star Wars took off with the first movie, Star Wars (later dubbed Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope) in 1977, followed by The Empire Strikes Back in 1980 and Return of the Jedi in 1983. Adored by critics and casual moviegoers alike, these three films formed what is known as “the original trilogy,” and Star Wars became embedded into everyday culture. Banking on the popularity of the franchise, Lucas wrote and directed the prequel trilogy, consisting of The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith.Image result for star wars fans

At this point, Lucas decided he was finished with the franchise, but Star Wars fans were far from satiated. So Walt Disney Studios bought the franchise and planned a sequel trilogy, starting with The Force Awakens, followed by the recently released The Last Jedi, and culminating with the final unnamed 9th episode. Sprinkled in between The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi was the standalone Rogue One, a completely separate “Star Wars story” focusing on a band of new characters and plot.

All in all, the Star Wars movie franchise encompasses 9 feature films. Inevitably, Star Wars fanatics all try to rank the films from best to worse, and this often becomes a topic of contention among moviegoers on which film is the best. Some prefer the classic inspiring storyline of the original trilogy while some prefer the spectacular action of the prequels. Others prefer the fresh take in the sequels while even a select few prefer the very different Rogue One. The universality of Star Wars, in which it resonates with the younger and older generations, makes it so unique in bridging the gap between age groups. I can remember countless times debating family members, friends, or strangers on which film or which characters we like the most.

With the recent release of The Last Jedi, the discussion of which Star Wars film is the best and which is the worst has reemerged. With 9 movies, in my next 9 posts, I plan to rewatch and go through each movie in order of date released, and give my take on each one. I will discuss the good things and bad things about each movie, then give an overall opinion. However, I won’t rank them, because I wish my analysis will only shed light on the issue, and I’m not here to sway people towards one side or another. I hope that each post will motivate the reader to formulate their own opinions on the movie. Hopefully I will be able to offer some new insights that haven’t been discussed in order to further the general debate.

I believe that in order for a movie to be good in my mind, it must be succeed in two several key elements. First and foremost is the plot. A movie must tell a moving story in order to garner my interest and attention. The plot has to make sense, as the accumulation of plot holes is perhaps the number one killer for an otherwise promising concept. Second are the characters. A movie’s characters must drive the plot forward, with decisions by the main characters serving as the main engine for pushing the story forward. Simplicity here is key. When a movie tries to overload the plot with a complex web of characters, it usually suffers. I plan to focus on these two elements in my analysis of the movies.

The prospect of rewatching some of my favorite films is exciting. I’m looking forward to sharing my thoughts through this next series of blogs.