In light of the fact that George Lucas turned 71 on Thursday, May 14, we here at Dork Side of the Force are going to discuss our favorite Star Wars movie. Now, some of us may choose the same one…and that’s okay, because even if we like the same one, there will be different reasons as to why. So, happy birthday to the Maker himself, and let the discussion begin!
Kyle Warnke: A few years ago, Joss Whedon stunned Star Wars fans everywhere when he revealed that he had a huge issue with The Empire Strikes Back. According to the wunderkind director, who’s rumored to be a frontrunner to helm Episode IX, the 1980 film doesn’t have an actual ending, and to him, that’s a “cardinal sin” of storytelling.
To me, that’s an understandable but misguided criticism. Empire is my favorite Star Wars movie partly because it’s so good at telling its story and it knows exactly how to end. It may not have tied up the larger story strands of the trilogy, but if you look closer, the filmmakers did an exceptional job of conveying the arcs of the smaller stories within the one episode.
Luke’s frustration with the Force culminates with his choice to refuse Vader’s offer of joining him and turning to the Dark Side. Leia and Han’s tumultuous interactions finally reach a turning point when they both admit their love for each other, albeit in their own ways. Even Lando, who’s only in the final third of the film, runs the entire gamut from backstabbing scoundrel to loyal friend.
While George Lucas deserves credit for no doubt guiding the story to hit these particular beats, perhaps his greatest contribution to Empire, the only Star Wars film without his name on the screenplay, is to step back and let others play in his universe. The film benefits as much from his presence as his absence.
Joe Prescott: This one just about tops Episode IV for me, not just because of it’s massive relation revelations or glossier appearance but the pacing and the intertwining fates of all the characters. It just feels like a complete film to me, even if the very end is a bit anti-climactic there’s still a real sense of putting as much as they could into it, and the development of the characters is exponential. Han and Leia get together after much bickering, only to be separated by Carbonite; Luke meets Yoda and begins his official Jedi training; Vader is always agitated and obsessed with finding Luke to deliver some rather important news. But it’s also the other characters that fascinate me, the way they are introduced and how they operate. The backstabbing ways of Captain/Admiral Piett really give a sense of the kind of person the Empire hires to be high ranking officers, sneaky self-centred weasels, and General Veers is a proud and unwavering presence with his ground forces and isn’t afraid to fully intimidate the Rebels by deploying AT-ATs on Hoth.
We also have new characters added in to give a sense of continuing story progression. Jedi Master Yoda is revealed, and he is a very diminutive Jedi indeed. But judge him on his size you must not, for he is powerful and wise and fully capable of being the Master that Luke needs. Admittedly the Dagobah training scenes are a bit slow, but Yoda’s idiosyncratic dialect and a rather beautiful score from John Williams helps these scenes perform under ambulatory plot-lines. Plus it’s the first time we see Boba Fett on screen along with the other bounty hunters, and of course any friend of Han’s is bound to be a scoundrel so Lando Calrissian doesn’t disappoint there!
The humour of this movie stands out for me, the constant hyperdrive troubles of the Falcon and Han’s irritation with Chewie’s repairs, the stern and devious glances of hatred that the Imperial Officers give each other, the use of 3PO as a fall guy this time really works without being too ridiculous *cough Jar Jar cough*, plus it’s hard not to raise a smile when hearing Yoda’s giggling (Why was he so stern in the Prequels? Has isolation sent him a bit loopy?). The music is another huge part of the movie as we get to hear the iconic Imperial March for the first time. Standout pieces for me are the Asteroid Field, the Battle of Hoth and Yoda & the Force, the latter of which was recently used at the end of the second Force Awakens trailer.
George Lucas had written the draft with Lawrence Kasdan after working together for “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and asked one of his film school lecturers, Irvin Kershner, to direct the sequel. Initially Kershner declined the role as he felt a sequel wouldn’t succeed on the level of Episode IV, but his agent demanded that he do it. His direction helped deliver fantastic pacing for the darker storyline and the constant struggles and separation of the characters created a sense of urgency and desperation for the heroes as the Empire Struck Back at them. As previously stated, the end was a bit LOTR-esque with it’s vague and seemingly knowing “Tune in next time folks” feeling, but it’s worth watching to the end regardless.
Elaine Tveit: For my favorite Star Wars film, I decided to highlight The Phantom Menace (though, really, how can you have just one favorite?). For many fans, this may be the worst of the Star Wars saga films, maybe a close second to Attack of the Clones. There is undoubtedly a lot of criticism surrounding the acting, the CGI, the politics, and of course, Jar Jar Binks. But for me, none of these deficiencies amount to turning me away from the film as a whole. In fact, in my opinion, The Phantom Menace is the best film of the prequels, and one of the best Episodes in the saga.
One reason why I feel this way is how well all of the elements of this movie work together to create a movie that FEELS like Star Wars. For me, the acting is spot on in most cases, particularly on the parts of Liam Neeson (Qui Gon Jinn) Pernilla August (Shmi Skywalker), and Ewan McGregor (Obi Wan Kenobi), and when it’s not, I think the problem is not with the actors, necessarily, but with the characters’ dialogue (which George Lucas has admitted to not being good at writing). The music in The Phantom Menace is some of John Williams’s best (who could forget the haunting Duel of the Fates track? Whose heart didn’t swell with the Force theme when Anakin was leaving his mother?). The special effects, both practical and CG, are at best magnificent and at worst decent. Lastly, the story is well-rounded, sets up the next two Episodes as well as Palpatine’s rise to power, and delivers on creating a deeply layered world by incorporating politics and touching on the workings of the Force.
If you think about it, the world-building in The Phantom Menace is extremely well executed. Not only does it introduce new planets and characters, but it also presents an entirely new aesthetic; the shiny look of a republic more resplendent with decadence than it is prepared for war. It achieves this through the look and texture of the ships, architecture, and clothing, and also the politics that help us to understand what situation the republic is in at this time in the saga.
In addition, the Jedi are revealed in this movie in a whole new light. The moment Qui Gon and Obi Wan appear on the scene, we instinctively know that these Jedi are different from the old men and their trainee that we saw in the original trilogy. And when they take out their lightsabers and begin to use the Force, that difference becomes even more stark. Not only that, but we learn more about the way the Force works. The term “midichlorians” was used for the first time in The Phantom Menace, and adds yet another layer of depth to the mythology of the Force, and ultimately that of the saga.
To wrap this up, I feel I must say one word in defense of Jar Jar: Yes, he’s silly. Yes, he’s annoying. But, he does serve two purposes: 1) He represents the innocence of the galaxy, the innocence that Palpatine is trying to exploit and destroy, and 2) when I was a kid, I fell off the couch laughing at Jar Jar. That’s what he’s really for, is making kids laugh. And since Star Wars is also for kids, I have no problem with a little ridiculous humor, especially when it’s bolstered by an overall great film.
David (Razor): All great decisions, my apprentices, but if I was forced to pick a favorite Star Wars film (And here I agree with Elaine, because it’s nearly impossible to choose just one), it would be Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith. To me, the very essence of the Sith is explored, and as a self-professed Sith Lord myself, I greatly enjoyed the Rule of Two relationship which was secretly being developed by Emperor Palpatine/Darth Sidious with then Jedi, Anakin Skywalker.
The biggest gripe with most Star Wars fans who watched Revenge of the Sith, and the entire prequel trilogy as a whole, is that Anakin is portrayed as a whiny and entitled brat who demands to be made a Jedi Master and be given a seat on the Jedi Council, based on his own merits and the fact that he believes he is the Chosen One…a fact that is laid upon him when he is a youngling by Qui-Gon Jinn.
You see, I don’t blame Hayden Christensen for the bad perception of Anakin Skywalker. No, I blame the writing and direction of his character. And while I know that it sounds like I am blaming the birthday boy himself, George Lucas, I find that, by the time RoS came out, Lucas seemed to have Star Wars fatigue. If you can remember, by the time Revenge of the Sith hit theaters in 2005, the prequel trilogy had been going since 1999 with the premiere of The Phantom Menace.
The real negativity for Christensen began with Attack of the Clones, where many fans felt that his and Padme’s love story was forced and contrived. By the time Revenge of the Sith hit theaters, many Star Wars fans had begun to have their fill of that particular story-arc; I for one was not in that camp. Without the love story of Anakin and Padme, there would never had been a need for Anakin to turn to the Dark Side, in order to save Padme from the terrible Force-induced nightmares of her death, that he had been suffering from.
I also thoroughly enjoyed Anakin’s slow transformation from a happy young Jedi, to that of a Dark Jedi…a Jedi who still believes in the basic tenets of the Light Side of the Force, but does not always follow the strict and unwavering rules of the Jedi. Anakin’s turn as a Dark Jedi began in Episode II, when he slaughtered the village of Tusken Raiders. “I…I killed them. I killed them all. They’re dead, every single one of them. And not just the men, but the women and the children too.”
Once Anakin made the decision to allow his hate and rage to take consume him, his journey toward the Dark Side began…and I was as happy as a Gamorrean in mud. Anakin’s next step to the Dark Side of the Force, was when he killed Count Dooku at the behest of Emperor Palpatine, in the opening sequence of Revenge of the Sith. In fact, RoS rightly focused on Anakin’s ascension (and yes I totally believe that becoming a Sith is an ascension), to the role of Darth Vader.
I like my movies dark and gritty, and Revenge of the Sith is nothing, if not that. Finally the shine and polish of Episode’s I and II were over, and the Dark Side of the Force could be felt throughout the entire movie. It was like an infection, a slow, deliberate, and hostile takeover of everything the happy people of the galaxy held dear. Many people believe that Anakin became a Sith after he allowed Mace Windu to be thrown from the Emperor’s window, after chopping off his hand. However, I hold to a different perspective.
There was a moment in Revenge of the Sith, when a troubled Anakin sits with Emperor Palpatine at an Opera performance, and using the words and experiences of Darth Sidious, he tells Anakin the story of Darth Plagueis the Wise:
"Palpatine: Did you ever hear the Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise?Anakin: No.Palpatine: I thought not. It’s not a story the Jedi would tell you. It’s a Sith legend. Darth Plagueis was a Dark Lord of the Sith so powerful and so wise, he could use the Force to influence the midi-chlorians to create…life. He had such a knowledge of the Dark Side, he could even keep the ones he cared about…from dying.Anakin: He could actually…save people from death?Palpatine: The dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural.Anakin: What happened to him?Palpatine: He became so powerful, the only thing he was afraid of was losing his power…which, eventually of course, he did. Unfortunately, he taught his apprentice everything he knew. Then his apprentice killed him in his sleep. Ironic. He could save others from death…but not himself.Anakin: Is it possible to learn this power?Palpatine: Not from a Jedi."
I believe it was at that moment that Anakin decided to turn to the Dark Side. He perceived his nightmares of not being able to save Padme from death as Force visions that usually come true, and he was willing to do anything to save the woman he loved…including turning to the Dark Side of the Force. And that is why I love Revenge of the Sith so much, and why it is my favorite movie in the Star Wars franchise. Episode III was a masters class in story-telling. Not only was I invested in Anakin’s progression, but the fight between he and Obi-Wan has got to be one the best, if not the best sequences in the franchise.
Regardless of which movie we love, and why, one thing we can all agree on is our love of the Star Wars saga. George Lucas masterfully crafted a story that has expanded through 6 movies, thus far, and no matter the year or the advancement in technology, Star Wars will always stand the test of time.