Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace Review

Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace movie posterSynopsis
When the Trade Federation sets up a blockade around the planet Naboo, two Jedi Knights, Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), are sent to find a peaceful settlement. When the negotiations fail, the Jedi flee with Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman) to the Republic capital Coruscant. Their ship is damaged during the escape, forcing them to take shelter on the planet Tatooine. There, they meet Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), who Qui-Gon senses has a strong connection with the Force and accompanies them on their journey.

Review
After waiting 16 years since Star Wars: Return of the Jedi was released, George Lucas finally shows how the Star Wars Saga all begins. With the progress in special effects since Return of the Jedi comes a whole new visual style to the Star Wars universe. Although it has its bumps, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace tells the story it wants to, while throwing in some visual flare to really make it pop.

The Phantom Menace follows a similar formula to A New Hope. There is some exposition to learn about the characters, but for the most part it concentrates on the action. It hardly takes a break so it keeps moving along fairly quickly. However, there were times it felt like scenes were cut short to keep the movie moving forward, making transitions feel abrupt. This does not apply to action scenes, which receive their fair share of screen time.

Despite knowing several of the main characters and already aware of their fates (if you have already watched the original trilogy), there is still a sense of wonder and discovery throughout the film. One of the draws for me about the original Star Wars trilogy was the vast universe it built. This film takes that same feeling and builds on it. Sure, a good chunk of the movie is set on Tatooine, a planet seen several times before, but more time is spent amongst the city and ordinary folk and learning more about their way of life. There is a sense about how vast and strong the Jedi are. The Republic Senate, merely mentioned before, is shown, along with the galactic capital Coruscant. If this movie does one thing correctly, it’s expand the Star Wars mythos and universe.

Much like A New Hope, a lot of the core cast of this film were relatively unknown at its release. Liam Neeson and Ian McDiarmid were the only ones who had any major acting experience (again, referring to the main cast). Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman were just starting their acting careers and Jake Lloyd was just a young boy. It was easy to tell they were still somewhat new.  There didn’t feel like there was much emotions in their lines and it came of very flat most times.  But overall they all did well with their parts.

My biggest complaints about The Phantom Menace is the dialogue. Much of it was delivered as if the actors were on a stage play, making it come off as corny on screen. I know the actors can do better, I’ve seen most of them do better. Maybe it was because some of the actors were still fairly inexperienced, but they just seemed awkward in their deliveries.

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace gives Star Wars fans what they have been waiting for almost two decades: a glimpse at how everything began. The film’s pace is quick, concentrating a lot on the action. Although I know the fates of the main characters, it is still entertaining to see their origins, as well as expanding the Star Wars universe. It is a very similar sense of wonder during Star Wars: A New Hope. Because of the movie quick pace, several transitions feel abrupt. Most of the cast were fairly inexperienced at the time and it was obvious but the parts were well cast. The Phantom Menace isn’t as good as its predecessors, but it does well to expand on fan-favorite characters from the original trilogy.

Rating
4/5

Trailer

Cast & Crew
George Lucas – Director / Writer
John Williams – Composer

Liam Neeson – Qui-Gon Jinn
Ewan McGregor – Obi-Wan Kenobi
Natalie Portman – Queen Amidala / Padme
Jake Lloyd – Anakin Skywalker
Ahmed Best – Jar Jar Binks (voice)
Ian McDiarmid – Senator Palpatine
Pernilla August – Shmi Skywalker
Oliver Ford Davies – Sio Bibble
Hugh Quarshie – Captain Panaka
Anthony Daniels – C-3PO (voice)
Kenny Baker – R2-D2
Frank Oz – Yoda (voice)
Samuel L. Jackson – Mace Windu
Terence Stamp – Chancellor Valorum
Brian Blessed – Boss Nass (voice)
Andy Secombe – Watto (voice)
Ray Park – Darth Maul
Peter Serafinowicz – Darth Maul (voice)
Lewis Macleod – Sebulba (voice)

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Star Wars: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi Review

Star Wars: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi movie posterSynopsis
The Rebel Alliance learns about the construction of a second Death Star. Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) lead a strike force to destroy the Death Star’s shield generator. Meanwhile, Darth Vader (David Prowse / James Earl Jones (voice)) takes Luke to confront the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) and attempt to turn him to the Dark Side.

Review
Star Wars: Return of the Jedi concludes everything the original Star Wars trilogy (and really the entire saga) has been building towards. I think this is a fairly unpopular opinion, but this is my favorite film of the franchise. It has everything that makes the previous Star Wars films great: lightsaber duels, space battles, character growth, and of course Darth Vader, but better. Star Wars: A New Hope and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back were both great, but Return of the Jedi steps it up a notch and concludes the saga on its strongest note.

I commonly find my self losing track of time while I’m watching this movie. It has a very quick pace, so it’s never sitting still for too long. I can’t help but get pulled into the story, mainly I think because I followed Luke throughout his journey from moisture farmer to a full fledged Jedi Knight and I am invested in finishing his quest along side him. Although it moves quick, every character gets their fair share of screen time. Other than some minor characters, like the Rebel leaders, I didn’t think, “I wish I saw more of them.” It was a good balance.

There isn’t as much character development as The Empire Strikes Back, but it is easy to see how the characters have changed since A New Hope. Han is no longer the “scruffy looking nerf herder” Luke met on Tatooine, Leia is a much more capable leader than when she was rescued on the Death Star, and Luke is fully inducted into the ways of the Force. After being with these characters for three movies, it is very satisfying to have watched them grow and develop.

Every Star Wars movie has its own lightsaber duel, but the duel between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader is the best one yet (until the Obi-Wan / Anakin duel in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, but more on that when the time comes). It was much more energetic than the previous duels, keeping me on the edge of my seat. Towards the end of the fight, Luke fights with such a ferocity that it appears he may turn towards the Dark Side and become the Emperor’s new apprentice. Like the evolution of the characters, I like that the lightsaber duels grew and became better and better, too.

What makes this the best in the series for me, though, is the three simultaneous battles that occur at the end: one in space above the moon, one ground battle on the moon, and one lightsaber duel on the Death Star II. The movie bounces between these different fights perfectly and seamlessly. As soon as one begins to slow down, another picks up, so the viewer is always in the middle of some action or another. Kudos to the editing team.

I can’t say enough how much I enjoy Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. The action is the best of the series, and even during the non-action scenes the movie is always moving, never becoming dull or slow. Three different battle that define the Star Wars Saga (space fights, lightsaber duels, and large-scale ground battles) occur simultaneously , blending together smoothly. The character development may not be as strong as the previous film but it is gratifying to see how the characters have grown across three movies. Return of the Jedi may not have been as influential as Star Wars: A New Hope, but it proves that with the right care, a franchise can get better with each entry.

Rating
5/5

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Richard Marquand – Director
George Lucas – Story / Screenplay
Lawrence Kasdan – Screenplay
John Williams – Composer

Mark Hamill – Luke Skywalker
Harrison Ford – Han Solo
Carrie Fisher – Princess Leia
Billy Dee Williams – Lando Calrissian
Peter Mayhew – Chewbacca
Anthony Daniels – C-3PO
Kenny Baker – R2-D2
David Prowse – Darth Vader
James Earl Jones – Darth Vader (voice)
Alec Guinness – Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi
Ian McDiarmid – The Emperor
Frank Oz – Yoda
Denis Lawson – Wedge
Warwick Davis – Wicket

Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back Review

Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back movie posterSynopsis
After Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) destroyed the Death Star, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), and the rest of the Rebel Alliance go on the run from the Galactic Empire. When Darth Vader (David Prowse, James Earl Jones (voice)) discovers the Rebel base to the planet Hoth, he sends his forces to destroy the base and the Rebels inside.

Review
Take everything great about Star Wars: A New Hope and improve on it and you have Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. The relationship between Luke, Han and Leia is greatly developed and is actually the main focus of the movie. Whereas A New Hope introduced the characters and presented a lot of action, The Empire Strikes Back concerns itself more with character development. That’s not to say there still isn’t plenty of action. It opens with the Empire attacking the new Rebel base and there is a lightsaber duel between Luke and Darth Vader that is much better and more exciting than the Obi-Wan / Vader duel of the previous movie. This film’s score, once again written by John Williams, is my all-time favorite movie soundtrack. The only knock I have against this movie is that it left too much open to be picked up in the following movie, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. This is a personal preference, but I don’t like when movies aren’t self-contained, which is common among middle entries of a trilogy (see The Matrix Reloaded or The Hunger Games: Catching Fire). Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back is a demonstration on how to correctly make a sequel, upping the stakes, expanding the characters, and building the universe established previously. If it had a more definitive conclusion, it would have been a perfect movie.

Rating
4.5/5

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Irvin Kershner – Director
George Lucas – Story
Leigh Brackett – Screenplay
Lawrence Kasdan – Screenplay
John Williams – Composer

Mark Hamill – Luke Skywalker
Harrison Ford – Han Solo
Carrie Fisher – Princess Leia Organa
David Prowse – Darth Vader
James Earl Jones – Darth Vader (voice)
Anthony Daniels – C-3PO
Kenny Baker – R2-D2
Peter Mayhew – Chewbacca
Billy Dee Williams – Lando Calrissian
Alec Guinness – Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi
Frank Oz – Yoda (voice)
Jeremy Bulloch – Boba Fett
John Hollis – Lando’s Aid
Kenneth Colley – Admiral Piett
Julian Glover – General Veers

Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope Review

Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope movie posterSynopsis
Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) leaves his home planet of Tatooine, along with his Jedi mentor Ben Kenobi (Alec Guinness) and the smugglers Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), to rescue Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) from Darth Vader (David Prowse, James Earl Jones (voice)). Together, they hope to stop the Empire and destroy the world-destroying Death Star, commanded by Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing).

Review
Star Wars is one of those things that has always been there for me. I couldn’t tell you the first time I saw Star Wars: A New Hope, I was too young to remember, but it has stuck with me all these years. When I was younger, I liked to watch it for the action and fantasy, but much like Jurassic Park, I have come to appreciate it for the story and for what it has done for the movie industry. It is also a rare film that manages to hold up today, over thirty-five years later.

Darth Vader has the best entrance of any villain on screen. Like, ever. The guy just waltzes in after a gun fight, then picks up someone a foot or two into the air like it is nothing and chokes him out. Then later, he is willing to kill one of his officers, simply because he was talking back (normal bad guy behavior, I know, but still). If that’s not bad-ass, I don’t know what is. Vader’s appeal for me is that you don’t know what’s under his mask; He show’s no expressions. You have no idea what he is thinking or planning until he does it. And his suit simply screams ‘menacing villain,’ just so there is no confusion who he is.

A New Hope introduces one of the best movie duos in cinema: C-3PO and R2-D2. R2 (Kenny Baker) can’t speak, so it is up to 3PO (Anthony Daniels) to help decipher what he said. However, most of the time he doesn’t directly translate. Instead he reacts to it, leaving the audience to infer what was said themselves. It makes for some great moments. Although the pair is used mostly for comedic relief, they never become too much or over the top. They strike the right balance between humor and seriousness.

At the time, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and (to a lesser extent) Harrison Ford were relatively unknown actors. It was a great casting call because it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the parts. Hamill captured the boyish wonder of Luke’s character spot-on. Fisher’s Princess Leia was snarky yet confident and strong. No one could have fit Han’s roguish charm and charisma like Ford. They were all perfect. And I haven’t even mentioned James Earl Jones’ awesome voicing as Darth Vader. That dude seriously has one of the best voices in film.

One thing I would have liked to see more is Biggs (Garrick Hagon) fleshed out more. Luke mentioned him several times in the beginning as his best friend. Then their reunion before their attack on the Death Star was one of old friends seeing each other again after a long time away (which it was). But that is all the exposure he gets. If he and Luke were as good of friends as he suggests, his character should have been explored more.

There is no questioning the influence Star Wars has had in cinema. Special effects, and what a movie was visually capable of, were revolutionized. It was one of the first films to incorporate computer generated images, kick-starting the larger-than-life effects seen on screen today. Star Wars and George Lucas are also indirectly responsible for creating computer animated movies, such as Toy Story and How to Train Your Dragon (Pixar started as a branch of Lucasfilm). Not to mention the cultural significance it has had. It is hard to come up with a movie that has impacted so many facets of film and culture the way Star Wars has.

Star Wars: A New Hope is great for so many reasons. It gave cinema one of its best villains in Darth Vader, as well as its best duo in C-3PO and R2-D2. Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford, mostly nameless actors at the time, were excellently cast and perfectly fit their parts. There were a few flaws with the film, but those are easy to overlook given what the rest of the film does well. The cultural and film impact of A New Hope is undeniable and I will never lose the wonder and awe I felt as a little boy, wishing I could be a Jedi in a galaxy far, far away.

Rating
4.5/5

Trailer

Cast & Crew
George Lucas – Director / Writer
John Williams – Composer

Mark Hamill – Luke Skywalker
Harrison Ford – Han Solo
Carrie Fisher – Princess Leia Organa
Alec Guinness – Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi
David Prowse – Darth Vader
James Earl Jones – Darth Vader (voice)
Peter Cushing – Grand Moff Tarkin
Anthony Daniels – C-3PO
Kenny Baker – R2-D2
Peter Mayhew – Chewbacca
Phil Brown – Uncle Owen
Shelagh Fraser – Aunt Beru
Denis Lawson – Red Two (Wedge)
Garrick Hagon – Red Three (Biggs)