Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (and the end of The Skywalker Saga) arrives in one month on December 20th, 2019. That’s Entertainment will be celebrating the next month, until the release of Episode 9. To kick things off, we’ve organized every review Garrett Smith has written (to date) on the Star Wars franchise. Depending on the length of review, films may be combined into one post.
Director: George Lucas
Writer: George Lucas
Starring: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford
Editors note: Garrett originally watched Star Wars Episodes 1-6 in numbered order before seeing The Force Awakens. Theses reviews have been posted in release order.
Having just finished watching the prequel trilogy, Star Wars has morphed from what used to simply be comforting nostalgia to refreshing energy. I’ve never watched the series in Episodic order before, and the charms of the original that started it all are that much more apparent when watched back-to-back with the staleness of the prequels. Everything from the dialogue to the sets is more real. This universe feels alive; like it could be traveled to if one had the means.
In the very first shot of the interior of the Corellian Cruiser that Star Wars opens on, we can see a hallway that is badly damaged from droid wheels and much walking to and from. I assume this is due to the materials the set is made out of and how many set ups that include smoke and sparks they had to do in that hallway. But it immediately gives this world a feeling that it is lived in and has existed for a long time. And that kind of set design exists across the board—the only thing that’s clean is the Death Star, and that makes sense. It’s brand new. It also makes its existence that much more exceptional; it is in stark contrast to the rest of this universe, which parallels its use as a plot device.
A LIVED IN UNIVERSE
This “lived in” feeling exists not just in the sets, but in the dialogue and performances as well. Instead of wrestling to make sure the big, odd words and bizarre phrasing comes out clear, all of the actors imbue their dialogue with a sense of over-casualness. This means when Han is talking parsecs, he’s tossing it off like the brag it’s supposed to be, rather than over-specifying it to make it clear he’s referring to units of distance rather than units of time. It means Leia is speed-talking through political jargon regarding Republics and Senates and necessary approvals of political action as if she herself is a well-versed politician, rather than delivering it as if it’s a history lesson for the audience to grasp. It means that when Luke is complaining to his Uncle about going to Toshi Station to pick up some power converters, it sounds like a teenager whining that he wanted to hang out with his friends, rather than a carefully constructed plot point that needs to be heard and understood. There’s an understanding, both in the writing and in the performances, that the jargon only exists to emphasize the otherworldly feel so the delivery needs to emphasize the relatable human experience that exists in these elseworlds.
Because at the end of the day, this is a particularly classic, childhood fantasy. An unassuming boy that dreams of greatness gets sucked into a plot to storm the castle and free the princess. It only works if we like and relate to our heroes. Add to that a dynamic of quick, witty rapport stemming from their distinctly different backgrounds, and you have a ragtag team of familiar, charismatic characters that are even fun to watch when they’re just shouting across cockpits about their aim. It’s so strange that Lucas misses almost all of this when he makes the Prequels (I think the idea is it’s pre-civil war, so everything should be nice and clean, and also that it’s a more civilized time and it’s about the Upper echelon of this universe, not the dregs at the center of Episodes IV-VI, but it just isn’t as interesting or fun).
What’s kind of fascinating about Star Wars is how loose it is. The first hour is a pretty tight “getting the team together” story, but the last hour kind of jumps from scene to scene to get you to the climactic trench run. But Lucas has put so much life into this Universe, through all those weird non-sequitur lines and background characters, that all the spaces between scenes seem to get filled up without you actually needing to see anything. The movie is just teeming with life and your brain absorbs it and fills in all the story on its own. It’s kind of remarkable. You can easily see why this was such a phenomenon and sparked so much imagination.
Now as I said before, this is my first run-through of the series in Episodic order. I was really curious to see how Episode IV played with the perspective and knowledge of the Prequels fresh in my mind. And it is pretty interesting in both good and bad ways. For one thing, I finally have my definitive answer to the question “What order would you recommend a new viewer watch the Star Wars movies in?” Order of release—definitively. Luke’s story and journey are less dramatic when you already know Darth Vader is his father and Leia is his sister. However, this knowledge does add some (perhaps unintentional) weight to other scenes; like when Vader tortures his own daughter for information.
There are also some connections that I found out of place and frustrating in Revenge of the Sith that actually play out nicely in A New Hope. For instance, the revelation in Episode III that Yoda and Chewbacca know each other by name just seemed like fan service to me. However, in Episode IV when Obi-Wan takes Luke to The Cantina, it’s Chewbacca that Obi-Wan sees and chats with at the bar. It suddenly makes sense that that’s who Obi-Wan would pick out in the bar, and why Chewbacca would trust the crazy old wizard and present him to his partner. Not that we needed that explanation, but it’s certainly interesting. I also enjoyed having more context for Old Ben saying “That’s funny, I don’t seem remember owning any droids.” Well of course, he didn’t technically own either of them, Anakin did. And more importantly, he’s an old man that’s lived a long life and his memory of the Wars and the period of peace before them is foggy. Despite how lackluster the prequel Trilogy is as a whole, it does really add something to the fabric of the Star Wars Universe, something that isn’t entirely clear until you watch them in full view of the original Trilogy.
Oh, and Princess Leia is fucking awesome. She’s a spy on a dangerous mission that doesn’t take shit from anybody and even when she does actually need help and she gets it, she immediately just starts bossing around the men that come to help her. The comedy of a schmoozing cowboy and an idealistic youngster trying to one up each other to win the affections of a woman that thinks they’re both pathetic is fantastic. She’s an incredible female hero with agency, ideals, and the chops to go toe to toe with the boys and make them seem entirely uncool. What a fantastic character, especially in the context of its time.
I love Star Wars—I grew up with it and it has a lot of nostalgic value for me. But as an adult, a lover of movies, and a critic of sorts, this works for me well beyond its nostalgic value and really holds up as a tremendous film that is endlessly fun, full of boundless imagination, and classically fulfilling. I truly think it’s my favorite of all six episodes, although I still have V and VI to watch before heading to theaters to see the new one, so I reserve judgement on that for now.
The above was originally written in 2015, during Garrett’s rewatch of the series leading up to the release of The Force Awakens. Below, is a quick review from another rewatch in 2017.
I got to introduce someone to Star Wars for their first time last night! And I ended up having to make an argument Lucas made years ago that people often quote to deride him—”the dialogue doesn’t matter, you’ll get the gist of it all from their actions and the way they deliver the nonsense dialogue.” And it worked; she went from being resistant to how confusing it immediately was to settling into its rhythm and loving it. She fell in love with the droids pretty quickly, and was laughing out loud through much of the finale. When the Death Star destroyed Alderaan, she gasped. Kenobi’s demise surprised and crushed her. It was a thrill to see this through someone else’s fresh eyes, and a testament to how timeless Star Wars is that 40 years later it’s still so thrilling and funny. She commented about how genuinely impressed she was with the world building—the sets and costumes really drew her in and helped with her investment in the world and its characters. I just fucking love Star Wars, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot in the lead up to Trump’s inauguration; I don’t want to wait for my family to be burned alive by Imperials to join the cause. The work begins now, today. I love you all and stand with you—may the force be with you.
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