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‘Star Wars’ Revisited, Part 7: ‘The Force Awakens’

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Copyright Disney/Lucasfilm

Pre-viewing thoughts: My pithy, two-word review of “The Force Awakens” after seeing it in theaters was “Good enough.”  I can see why “The Force Awakens” was such a big hit; the things it does right, it does very well, including introducing us to a group of compelling characters and giving us a number of exciting moments in cool locations. But it is also one of the weaker Star Wars movies, in my view, because for all its technical wizardry and thrills in the moment, the screenplay is severely lacking, leaving us with half-baked mysteries and incomplete characters papered over with reference and nostalgia. The plot is an almost beat-for-beat retread of “A New Hope” (orphan on a desert planet has to get a droid containing the plans for a super weapon to a group of rebels), and the details about our characters and the groups they belong to are so vague in the name of “mystery” as to be essentially meaningless. We get the destruction of an entire planetary system and the death of Han Solo, but no reason to care about much of any of it, leaving us with a sugar high of echoes from Star Wars history. However, there’s enough good stuff to leave room for optimism regarding future installments, so all hope is not lost. Let’s enter the post-Lucas Star Wars galaxy.

Movie diary:

  • 00:00- Especially after watching episodes I-VI in rapid succession, it’s weird to not have the 20th Century Fox fanfare before the Lucasfilm logo and the opening crawl.
  • 00:05- Still have John Williams as our anchor.
  • 00:10- “Luke Skywalker has vanished.” OK, there’s a good hook right off the bat.
  • 1:00- OK, so the First Order is the remnants of the Empire, and they want to kill Luke, so we kind of get what they want. But why would the Republic not go after the First Order directly if the Republic is the new, legitimate government in the galaxy? What separates the Resistance from the old Rebel Alliance or just the modern Republic? This is important stuff to know so we understand the scope and nature of the broader conflict, but we never get answers to any of it. This is why J.J. Abrams and his “mystery box” obsession drive me nuts.
  • 1:20- Leia sends Poe Dameron to find an “old ally” who has a clue to Luke’s whereabouts, but I’m fairly certain we don’t get the name of that ally (he’s played by Max Von Sydow), nor do we know how exactly he got the information on Luke. Again, this is important stuff to know so we can better understand the stakes of what’s happening, but we don’t get it. Story structure matters, and it’s an area where Lucas rarely struggled but Abrams frequently does.
  • 4:00- The opening Imperial raid on Jakku is pretty well staged, and it certainly reacquaint us with the Empire/First Order’s brutality. Abrams makes pretty much every individual scene sing, it’s how they’re put together and the connective tissue that’s lacking.
  • 5:45- The moment when the Stormtrooper leaves the bloody handprint on Finn’s helmet is really well done. Finn’s arc is, like that of most of our main characters, only about half-realized, but the idea of a Stormtrooper growing a conscience and deciding to fight back against his former superiors is something we haven’t seen before in Star Wars, and John Boyega is a blast to watch in the part.
  • 6:45- Kylo Ren gets a suitably intimidating entrance and musical cue. Ren is easily the best part of “The Force Awakens”; he’s got a great look, he’s the only one of the new characters who gives us a full look into their psyche, and Adam Driver makes him into a fascinating creature of unchecked anger and self-doubt.
  • 7:00- Kylo Ren and the old man clearly have history, and the old man gives us a hint that Ren is a fallen Jedi when he mentions that the First Order “rose from the dark side. You (Ren) did not.” We still don’t get a name for the man before Ren cuts him down.
  • 7:45- Ren stopping the blaster bolt in mid air is admittedly really cool.
  • 8:05- Oscar Isaac is great as Poe Dameron, giving us a variation on the Han Solo type with some new wrinkles. Abrams’ incredible gift for casting helps make up for his missteps; all of the new actors are so good in their roles that it’s easy to overlook the movie’s flaws at the script level.
  • 10:30- Captain Phasma is suspicious of Finn after his apparent refusal to kill the villagers on Ren’s orders. Boyega conveys Finn’s struggle to contain his growing fear and doubts in admirable fashion.
  • 11:00- Rey scavenging through the old Star Destroyer contains a number of memorable images, including the first shot of her opening up the panel in the dark, and some great moments of her dwarfed by the fallen ship. Small moments like that help sell the idea that the struggles of the past movies belong to an older generation. It’s too bad we don’t get more time with and a better story involving the new heroes instead of simply an update of “A New Hope.”
  • 14:00- Daisy Ridley does the best she can with Rey. The performance is solid throughout, it’s the script that fails her; Rey’s entire backstory being essentially put on hold for this movie hurts her character more than anyone else.
  • 16:00- BB-8 is admittedly adorable. His little noises are especially cute. Very nicely done by the live-action and CGI teams who brought him to life.
  • 17:45- Ren’s Force interrogation of Poe Dameron is a good scene for both of them; it gives Driver another chance to show off Ren’s anger and power, and Isaac gets to show off his charisma as Poe endures Ren’s wrath.
  • 20:00- Finn’s rushed, improvised escape is a good scene, and his friendship with Poe is another highlight of the movie. All the ingredients are here for a great Star Wars story; they’re just not very well utilized.
  • 20:15- Finn talking to himself as he nervously walks Poe through the hangar is fun. Abrams definitely has a knack for humor Lucas does not. The funny moments in “The Force Awakens” are unforced in a way they rarely were when Lucas was at the helm.
  • 22:00- Poe gives Finn his new name, which is a nice touch. And the two of them working together to escape Ren’s ship is a nice twist on Han and Luke fighting off the TIE Fighters in “A New Hope.”
  • 24:15- Finn crashes on Jakku and finds Poe’s jacket, with no sign of Poe, and yet Poe miraculously turns up to save Finn and the others later on with nary an explanation. It’s another really sloppy subplot in the script. It’s a bit of a personal thing, I’ll admit, but stuff like that drives me crazy.
  • 26:30- Domhnall Gleeson is a lot of fun to watch as Hux. And he had worked with Oscar Isaac in “Ex Machina” earlier in 2015. Hux and Ren’s jockeying for power is a fun subplot, in part because they’re both kind of petty.
  • 32:00- The Millennium Falcon escape sequence is pretty well done, even if the narrative justification is slim at best.
  • 34:00- BB-8 rolling around the Falcon as the ship twists and turns is fun to watch.
  • 35:30- Rey with a pretty sweet move to set up Finn’s final shot.
  • 37:20- Ren going ballistic on the ship console with his lightsaber is a good moment; it helps differentiate him from Vader, the Emperor and the other villains. His emotions are much closer to the surface than Vader’s, so it would make sense that he’s much more of a raw nerve.
  • 40:30- Han and Chewie appearing on the Falcon is an impossible moment to resist. It’s undeniably great to have them back on their beloved ship, even if again the narrative justification is really slim.
  • 42:30- Enough time has passed that Han, Luke and Leia are more legends than actual historical figures. Gotta figure news may sometimes be hard to come by when you’re talking about an entire galaxy of star systems.
  • 44:00- Harrison Ford didn’t lose a step between 1983 and 2015. Han is right back where we left him, trying and failing to talk his way out of a dangerous situation.
  • 48:30- The Rathtar escape sequence is pretty lackluster. Not exactly sure why; the creatures have a cool design, but somehow the scene just doesn’t really pop. It might be in part because the bad guys are mercenaries we don’t care about instead of being affiliated with the First Order. It takes away from the main conflict that’s been set up to this point.
  • 49:45- First appearance of Supreme Leader Snoke, our new Emperor to Kylo Ren as our new Vader. It’s a fine bit of motion-capture work from Andy Serkis, but his motivations and goals are also frustratingly vague.
  • 50:15- Snoke approves Hux’s plan, and Hux gets one over on Ren. Again, their rivalry is fun to watch, but it’d be nice to know a bit more about what their overall goals all.
  • 50:30- Snoke says “There has been an awakening,” giving us the title of our movie. It’s not exactly clear what Snoke is referring to, though presumably he means Rey; her broader significance in the Jedi-Sith conflict will most likely become more clear in Episode VIII.
  • 50:45- Snoke also spills the beans about Ren’s identity: Ren is Han’s (and Leia’s) son. So many strained parental relationships in this series.
  • 51:00- Ren is the “master of the Knights of Ren,” whoever they are. He’s the only Sith we see in the movie outside of Snoke, but I suppose there could be more of them elsewhere.
  • 53:00- BB-8 showing us the map as Han gives us Ren’s backstory is a good scene. For all the ambivalence Ford has had with his fame as Han, he does a great job giving the movie some real stakes.
  • 54:30- Rey’s surprise at seeing so much green after growing up on a desert planet is a nice moment for her.
  • 55:15- “Women always figure out the truth.” Han, with some good advice for Finn. And really, his secret about being a former Stormtrooper is just a source of potential manufactured tension. The First Order is clearly after him, so why not just dispense with the secrecy?
  • 57:45- The hideout where Han brings Finn, Rey and BB-8 is another in the long line of great Star Wars locales.
  • 58:45- Starkiller Base looks cool, I’ll give it that.
  • 59:16- Ren talking to Vader’s burned helmet as he discusses feeling the pull of the light side is a great moment for his character.
  • 1:01:30- Finn’s desire to run from the First Order has never really scared with me. He started acting against them by breaking out one of their prisoners, and now he just wants to run? Something is lost in translation along the way with his character out.
  • 1:04:15- Rey’s hallucination leading into her discovery of Luke’s lightsaber is “The Force Awakens” at its best and worst: It’s incredibly well staged, with the eerie sound design as Rey moves deeper into the building and we hear the echoes of a little girl’s cries (presumably Rey earlier in life). And then we get Luke’s lightsaber, but the only explanation is Maz saying “A good question for another time.” Rey is our Luke analogue in this story, and by this point we knew a lot more about Luke and had seen him start to change, which is more than we can really say for Rey.
  • 1:09:00- Hux’s speech before the First Order blows up the Republic capital is straight out of Nazi Germany, making the parallels unmistakable. Anyone who says Star Wars isn’t political is lying or misguided; the entire series is about standing up against the forces of tyranny and oppression.
  • 1:10:00- The Republic capital being destroyed is clearly meant to echo and even surpass the destruction of Alderaan, but because we have no knowledge of what that system is or why it matters to any of our characters, the moment rings hollow. We cared about Alderaan because we knew it was Leia’s home planet, and that they weren’t even directly involved in the Rebellion. Alderaan makes for a much more vivid demonstration of the Empire’s cruelty, even if more people die in “The Force Awakens.”
  • 1:13:15- Ren knows Rey is significant for some reason beyond the fact that she’s protecting BB-8; it’d be nice to know what that reason is.
  • 1:14:20- Finn shouldn’t be the first person to wield Luke’s lightsaber; Rey’s our Jedi-to-be. It’s cool to see Finn use it, but think about what a payoff it would’ve been for Rey to activate the lightsaber we once saw Luke use for the first time.
  • 1:16:15- Poe shows up to rescue Finn, Han and Leia, with absolutely no explanation of how he found them, where he’s been or how he managed to survive crashing on Jakku and escape the planet. Sloppy, sloppy writing.
  • 1:18:30- Ren shows classic Sith overconfidence and just takes Rey, assuming he can get the map from her, instead of continuing to look for BB-8.
  • 1:19:45- Leia just looks C-3PO off when he gets in the way of her reunion with Han. Carrie Fisher could do a lot with just a look. Rest in peace, princess.
  • 1:21:45- Poe and Finn bro out when they reunite. They’re a good pair.
  • 1:23:45- BB-8 finds R2-D2 sitting in a corner, waiting for the movie to end so R2 can get us ready for Episode VIII.
  • 1:25:30- Leia tries to convince Han to go after Ren because she thinks Han can find the good still hidden in their son. It makes sense, given the events of the previous movie, though in the end Han proves unable to get through to his son. Han’s death is still a pretty lackluster moment compared with what it should be, but it is tragic that he couldn’t reach his son in the way Luke was able to redeem Vader.
  • 1:28:00- Ren’s interrogation of Rey is a pretty good scene, even if we get some Lucas-worthy lines where they both explain each other’s flaws. Driver is especially good with showing how hard Ren is trying to hide his fear and appear intimidating.
  • 1:31:00- Rey is suddenly able to use the Jedi mind trick because…she just can?
  • 1:31:45- The Stormtroopers just turning around and walking away to avoid Ren’s freak-out is another good moment. Clearly the First Order has learned to just sort of accommodate these occasional tantrums from Ren.
  • 1:33:00- A bunch of technobabble as the Resistance explains their plan to blow up Starkiller Base, but basically we’re in “Jedi” territory again: Somebody has to blow up a shield generator before the pilots can go up the big weapon.
  • 1:35:00- Han and Leia’s final moments together are very heartfelt.
  • 1:35:45- There’s no way Han and Chewie could pull off their landing on Starkiller Base, but it’s a cool moment and Abrams makes it look plausible enough.
  • 1:37:00- “That’s not how the Force works!” Han, for the win.
  • 1:38:00- Captain Phasma and Finn clearly have history; it’d be nice for her to have more than do than look cool, say some exposition and get tossed in the trash compactor after being forced to help Finn and Han. It’s also just a waste of Gwendoline Christie.
  • 1:40:00- Abrams has a better knack for hand-to-hand combat and ground battles than Lucas, at least in general, but Lucas was better with the aerial dogfights and space battles. The Resistance attack on Starkiller Base has nowhere near the tension or excitement as Luke’s trench run in “A New Hope.”
  • 1:43:00- I have to admit that having the sky grow darker as Starkiller Base charges and the tension rises is a nice visual touch.
  • 1:45:30- Most of “The Force Awakens” is a riff on “A New Hope,” but Han’s confrontation with Ren is straight out of “Empire,” complete with a platform over a dizzying height. It’s cinematic reappropriation straight out of the Tarantino playbook, except Tarantino is a lot better at how he repurposes his influences.
  • 1:49:00- Han’s death should hit a lot harder. It just should. The fact that it doesn’t is one of the more significant flaws in the movie. And it’s because we don’t have enough reason to care about Han and Ren’s relationship.
  • 1:52:30- Finn should not be fighting Ren with Luke’s lightsaber. I’m sorry, it just diminishes Rey and her role in the movie. And Ren, as a powerful Sith Lord, should not struggle against a non-Force user at all. That said, Rey’s moment where she takes the lightsaber for herself is very well done.
  • 1:54:30- Poe gets his trench run and blows up Starkiller Base. It’s no Han saving Luke’s bacon in “A New Hope,” but it’s pretty well done.
  • 1:58:00- Rey’s fight with Ren is pretty good from a choreography perspective, but dramatically it’s a little flat because we don’t get to see her change in any real way. All of a sudden she can just use the Force in ways she couldn’t before. She even looks pretty angry when she gets the upper hand on Ren, which doesn’t fit with the general Jedi cosmology we’ve seen to this point in the series. Luke’s growing Force abilities reflected his long arc across the prequel trilogy, but with Rey there’s no method to how she becomes strong in the Force.
  • 2:00:30- It’s been said elsewhere, but it’s absolutely right that Leia should hug Chewie when Rey and the gang get back from Starkiller Base. Leia and Chewie were the ones who were closest to Han, so they would be the most upset at his death and want to comfort each other.
  • 2:01:30- R2 comes back to life for no reason to give us the missing information on Luke and wrap things up.
  • 2:03:15- Why wouldn’t Leia go with Rey to find Luke? Luke and Leia are siblings, after all.
  • 2:04:30- Rey finds Luke on a planet with an endless ocean, which Ren mentioned when he talked about Rey’s dreams. So I guess Rey has prophetic dreams like Anakin did?
  • 2:06:00- The final scene where Rey finds Luke is pretty good. Mark Hamill got lots of money for this one scene; nice work when you can get it.

Wrap-up: “The Force Awakens” is probably the one Star Wars movie where what went wrong is a failure of ideas, not of execution. The movie looks great, has a lot of fun characters brought to life by a good cast and contains some exciting moments of action, but the end product fizzles because not enough care went into the story itself. It all works in the moment, but as soon as it’s over you find yourself trying to remember anything that really stood out. Episode VIII has a lot of potential to build on what “The Force Awakens” started, but I’d be more excited if we’d gotten a better beginning to the next phase of the Star Wars saga.

And that brings “Star Wars” Revisited to an end. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this project, and I hope all of you who have been reading have enjoyed it as well. I’ve definitely learned a few things and had some of my ideas about Star Wars challenged, and with any luck you’ve had some new insights as well. We’ll be leaving the galaxy far, far away behind for now, but Star Wars will be with us forever, certainly if Disney has anything to say about it.

‘Star Wars’ Revisited, Part 3: ‘Return of the Jedi’

rotj-poster
Copyright Lucasfilm

Pre-viewing thoughts: As I’ve mentioned a couple times already in this series, “Return of the Jedi” was my favorite Star Wars movie as a kid. It’s the climactic entry of the series, for one, and it has a number of great set pieces, including the opening rescue sequence on Tatooine and the ground/space/Death Star battle at the end. More recent viewings have dampened my enthusiasm for “Jedi” a little, but it still has a lot going for it; in my mind, it’s only somewhat significant flaw is a poorly paced second act, but once Luke goes to confront Vader, the movie finishes strong. It’s time to wrap up the first arc of Star Wars and the first trilogy in this series.

Movie diary:

  • 00:00- Imagine going to see this movie in 1983 knowing that it was the last Star Wars movie for at least the near future, if not forever.
  • 2:00- “Jedi” has what is probably the most low-key opening of the series. We’re given a glimpse of the second Death Star, a brief moment with Vader, the tease of the Emperor’s arrival and little else. But the music and staging definitely give the proceedings an air of impending doom. We see Vader before we see any of the main heroes, and the music is especially gloomy. It tells that this story, at least for 32 years, is our endpoint.
  • 4:30- The look of terror on the Death Star commander’s face when Vader tells him the Emperor is coming is wonderful and does a lot to sell us on how terrible he must be. Especially when Vader says shortly thereafter “The Emperor is not as forgiving as I am,” and we’ve seen that Vader possesses little in the way of forgiveness.
  • 6:30- Jabba’s palace, like the Mos Eisley cantina, is one of those locations that contains a world of untold stories. The sheer variety of aliens on display is a huge credit to the technicians who helped bring the Star Wars universe to life.
  • 8:30- Jabba is a fantastic minor villain. He’s a literal slug, but he clearly wields great power and puts Luke, Han, Leia and the rest through quite an ordeal. Plus his treatment of Leia later on is flat-out disgusting. He earns that eventual death at Leia’s hands.
  • 10:15- Han hanging in Jabba’s throne room as a trophy is a great visual and tells you a lot about Jabba’s nature.
  • 12:00- I like Jabba’s band. The Special Edition makes their musical moment way too long and overblown, but in the theatrical release it’s a fun little diversion and glimpse into life at Jabba’s palace. Plus the sudden death of one of the dancers when she’s dropped into a pit sets up the fantastic fight between Luke and the rancor later on.
  • 15:30- Jabba laughing at the bounty hunter (eventually revealed to be Leia) after the bounty hunter pulls out the thermal detonator is also a nice touch. Jabba’s clearly been accustomed to power so long that he has little sense of his own mortality and underestimates his opponents, which proves to be his undoing.
  • 16:40- Lando revealing himself as one of Jabba’s guards clues us in that maybe things aren’t quite as bad as they appear for the good guys and that there may be more going on than we realize.
  • 17:30- The scene where the bounty hunter sneaks into Jabba’s throne room, frees Han and reveals herself to be Leia is very well done. Lots of good use of shadow, the little moments where she checks to see if she’s been seen, her gentle care of Han, the music…all good stuff.
  • 19:30- We get a short clip of Han and Leia’s love theme for the reveal, giving us a moment of hope, and then Jabba shows himself. No breaks for our heroes, at least not yet.
  • 20:45- The way Jabba licks his lips at Leia is just gross, and Carrie Fisher’s reaction fits accordingly.
  • 21:30- Han and Chewie’s reunion is a nice moment. Han is overwhelmed, but Chewie is just so glad to have his friend back, and Han eventually just gives up and tells Chewie he’s OK.
  • 22:30- The metal bikini is unnecessary. The chain is plenty, as was Jabba’s licking his lips. You could easily put her in an outfit that’s flattering without going way over the line of gratuitous titillation with that bikini. Yes it fits with Jabba’s nature, but it’s a disservice to Leia’s character.
  • 25:00- The rancor is a fantastic creature design, and the fight between it and Luke is very well done. Luke shows himself to be a capable, resourceful fighter even without his lightsaber or any other weapon. He gets out of this scrape with his wits, some rocks and a leftover bone.
  • 27:30- It’s an odd, throwaway moment, but I’ve always liked the little bit where the human (presumably the rancor’s trainer?) weeps for the monster after Luke kills it. Again, Jabba’s palace contains worlds’ worth of stories that go untold. Great way to build out the broader universe in small pieces.
  • 30:30- The Sarlaac is a nasty piece of work. “Jedi” is filled with great creature/alien designs.
  • 31:15- Luke does offer Jabba a chance to live. The gradual build until R2 shoots Luke’s lightsaber into the air and Luke grabs it is very well staged, too.
  • 33:00- Down goes Boba Fett, in ignominy. Sure it’s more or less by accident on Han’s part, but Han’s blind and still gets accidental payback on the guy who made him a trophy for Jabba.
  • 33:45- Leia gets her payback, too, and Fisher sells every bit of Leia’s anger. You go princess.
  • 36:30- “I owe you one.” Han thanking Luke is a good moment. All of the actors have grown really comfortable with each other by this point.
  • 37:30- The Emperor’s arrival on the Death Star is very well done. The contrast between the tall, imposing Vader and the seemingly frail Emperor makes him appear weak, but the trappings of power around him (I’ve always thought the blood-red Imperial Guards were cool) and Ian McDiarmid’s performance tell us this is not a man to be trifled with.
  • 40:00- Yoda gives Luke a lesson on mortality before he passes. With knowledge of the prequels and Anakin’s fruitless quest to conquer death, this is especially poignant. “Jedi” may actually be the movie that gains the most from the prequels; the parallels between the Emperor’s corruption of Anakin/Vader and his failed attempt at bringing Luke to the dark side are notable and help create a sense of finality.
  • 41:30- Yoda confirms Vader’s revelation from “Empire,” and Williams gives us a minor key variation on Luke’s theme. It’s a powerful moment.
  • 42:00- “Unfortunate that I know the truth?” “Unfortunate that you rushed to face him.” Yoda makes sure Luke knows that his unchecked emotions are his weakness.
  • 43:45- “There is another Skywalker.” Yoda gives Luke a bit of hope for the future even as he passes. And his fade from view, recalling Obi-Wan’s earlier death, is a heartfelt moment.
  • 45:00- Obi-Wan appears, and he’s got some explaining to do. Luke is justifiably angry.
  • 45:15- “A certain point of view?” This, in many ways, is the key lesson Luke has to learn. He has good instincts, but he needs to balance his urge to act with deliberation.
  • 46:10- “I was wrong.” There’s a lot unsaid in Alec Guiness’ delivery when he speaks of his failure with Anakin. Acting is about big and small moments alike, and this small moment of admitting his greatest failure tells us a lot about Obi-Wan.
  • 46:30- “I can’t kill my own father.” Luke finds his own path in the end. It’s clear from Obi-Wan, at least, and to a lesser extent Yoda, that he’s expected to kill Vader, but Luke knows he has to try to redeem him instead.
  • 47:15- The reveal that Leia and Luke are twins is a bit odd, especially since we saw them kiss in “Empire,” but I think it works. They’ve never really had the raw chemistry clearly obvious between Leia and Han (especially with the knowledge of Fisher and Ford’s affair), but they care for each other. And it makes for a great moment later on when Vader says he’ll try to turn her instead of Luke, which propels Luke to finally lash out in anger.
  • 49:00- “Jedi” gets flack for reprising the Death Star bit from “A New Hope,” but aside from the Death Star itself, the plots and themes are very different.
  • 52:45- I’ve always thought the partially finished Death Star looks cooler than the complete one from “A New Hope.” Don’t really know why. Maybe because it looks a bit a more otherworldly.
  • 53:15- The first throne room scene on the second Death Star gives us a glimpse into the Emperior-Vader dynamic: Vader is the muscle, the Emperor is the brains, as seen by his setting the trap for the Rebel fleet and his knowledge that the reports of a Rebel attack elsewhere are a ruse. They make a formidable pair.
  • 55:00- “I’m endangering the mission, I shouldn’t have come.” Luke’s probably right here, but plot necessities dictate he be there. Plus we’ve seen Vader and the Emperor lay traps before, so it’s not totally out of Vader’s character to let the group land, thinking he can catch them later.
  • 57:30- Like I said before, “Jedi’s” biggest weakness is its meandering second act, but the outlier is the incredible hover bike chase through the forest. The sense of speed and danger is palpable, the sound design is top notch, and Luke jumping from one bike to the other is a great stunt, as is Luke chopping off the front of one of the bikes with his lightsaber. And it’s pre-CGI, so kudos to the stunt team.
  • 1:02:00- The Ewoks are fine. Star Wars is not just for adults, and one of the themes of the series is the Rebellion finding allies in unexpected places and making the most of them, especially since the Empire is implicitly (later explicitly) a human-first regime. It makes sense for the locals to help the Rebels take down the Empire when the Empire comes to their planet and starts messing up the place. If you hate the later Star Wars movies because of the Ewoks or Jar Jar, you need to get your priorities straight. Everything does not need to be grim and gritty all the time.
  • 1:06:00- Luke is the one who pushes Vader back to the light side, but the second throne room scene with Vader and the Emperor gives us a glimpse into the doubts Vader is beginning to have. The Emperor asks Vader if his feelings are clear, and Vader says they are, but the delivery from James Earl Jones has a feeling of “The lady doth protest too much.”
  • 1:09:00- The scene where Luke, Han, Chewie and 3PO get caught in the trap and then captured by the Ewoks isn’t great. It drags too long, and while it’s nice that the good guys don’t just immediately kill the Ewoks (because they most likely could), I’m not sure it makes sense that they’d more or less let themselves get caught and taken to the village.
  • 1:11:00- Now, that all said, the Ewok village is a marvel of production design. It looks completely believable.
  • 1:13:00- While it’s a nice demonstration of Luke’s Force abilities to lift 3PO into the air, it would make more sense dramatically if Leia was the one who convinced the Ewoks to help them by virtue of her having helped one of their own earlier. It would make the Ewoks and Rebels allies against mutual adversaries instead of having the Ewoks being somewhat tricked into giving them Rebels a chance. 3PO’s recapping of the story so far around the fire (also a great moment, and a callback to his line from “A New Hope” where he says he’s not very good at telling stories) mitigates this somewhat.
  • 1:17:00- “Short help’s better than no help.” Han points out the obvious: When you’re fighting against an evil empire with a weapon that can destroy planets, you take whatever help you can get.
  • 1:17:00- The final scene with Luke and Leia before Luke goes to find Vader is very touching, even if Leia shouldn’t really have any memory of her mother because her mother died shortly after Leia was born, as we see in “Revenge of the Sith.”
  • 1:19:30- Leia takes the news that Luke is her brother pretty well, all things considered.
  • 1:21:30- “Hold me.” A sweet, tender moment with Han and Leia.
  • 1:23:00- “That name no longer has any meaning for me.” Again, Vader doth protest too much. Luke is already starting to get under his skin. After the second act wheel-spinning, “Jedi” finds its narrative footing here and builds to a hell of a climax.
  • 1:23:15- When Vader activates Luke’s new lightsaber, it looks for a second like he’s going to use it on Luke, reminding us that we’re still dealing with the man who cut off Luke’s hand.
  • 1:24:15- “I will not turn, and you’ll be forced to kill me.” “If that is your destiny.” A rather droll reply from Vader, but the casual air with which he says it makes it believable. As we’ve seen repeatedly, Vader has no qualms about casual murder.
  • 1:25:30- Vader pauses for a moment after handing Luke over to be taken to the Emperor. The doubts build.
  • 1:28:00- The Ewoks prove their worth quickly, leading the Rebels to the back door of the shield generator and then creating a distraction to get most of the guards away.
  • 1:30:00- “Welcome, young Skywalker. I have been expecting you.” Ian McDiarmid is absolutely fantastic as the Emperor. The makeup helps a lot, but his voice is laced with evil, and his performance is a master class in coiled menace. John Williams also gives him a great music cue.
  • 1:33:15- The Rebel fleet arrives, Luke is in the clutches of the Emperor and Vader, and Han and Leia have been ambushed. The stage is set for our big finale.
  • 1:34:00- Lando realizes the shield is still up, and all hell breaks loose.
  • 1:34:15- “It’s a trap!” I watched this movie at a Star Wars convention in Florida a few years ago, and the entire room was waiting for this line. When Admiral Ackbar get his moment, there was cheering and a huge burst of applause. It may be the most fun I’ve had watching a Star Wars movie.
  • 1:35:30- Both Yoda and the Emperor tell Luke what his destiny is, but they’re both wrong. Luke doesn’t fall to the dark side, but he doesn’t kill Vader or the Emperor. George Lucas gets grief in some quarters as a hack who simply followed Joseph Campbell’s “Hero With a Thousand Faces” template, but Luke’s arc over the course of the original trilogy is much more complicated than that.
  • 1:40:00- It’s a little odd that we don’t really get a big fleet vs. fleet battle until “Jedi,” considering the name of this series is Star Wars. But when that battle finally arrives, it’s a good one.
  • 1:41:00- The reveal that the Death Star is actually functional is a nicely done twist. It further stacks the odds in the Empire’s favor, making their eventual defeat even more satisfying.
  • 1:42:00- R2 getting shot, followed shortly by Leia being injured, are both good moments of showing how dire things are.
  • 1:45:30- Chewie gets his big moment when he takes over one of the Imperial scout walkers to turn the tide on the ground. About time he gets something to do.
  • 1:46:45- The Ewoks get pretty inventive when it comes to taking down the scout walkers. My personal favorite: Releasing a bunch of loose logs and seeing the walker go all wobbly before collapsing.
  • 1:47:15- “I love you.” “I know.” Lines are reversed, and Leia gets to save Han (again).
  • 1:48:00- Luke is fighting in a noticeably more aggressive style here. The Emperor’s getting to him, even if it’s Vader who gets him closest to the edge when he starts talking about Leia.
  • 1:50:45- Han’s little shrug when he traps the troops coming out of the shield bunker is priceless.
  • 1:51:45- Luke’s cry of rage before he goes berserk on Vader is a genuine shock; we’ve never seen him like this. The music as he batters Vader and nearly kills him is perfect, too; it gives me chills every time. This is the emotional crux of the whole series, as Luke gets as close as we ever see him to falling to the dark side before coming up just short.
  • 1:52:45- Luke cuts off Vader’s right hand, just as Vader cut off his. Luke sees this and realizes he’s becoming just like his father, as was shown to him in the cave on Dagobah. And thus he rejects the Emperor and, as he puts it…
  • 1:53:30- “…I am a Jedi, like my father before me.” Luke’s journey is complete, but there are a couple loose ends left.
  • 1:54:15- The Emperor’s lightning blasts are another great surprise. It makes sense that he attacks more directly with the Force instead of with a lightsaber like Vader.
  • 1:55:10- “Father, please!” Luke’s mercy and love for Vader is what turns him. He’s seen that he doesn’t have to embrace his worst emotions; he can save himself.
  • 1:56:15- The Emperor falling to his death before exploding in a burst of energy is a great visual.
  • 1:56:45- Vader and Luke have a nice moment together before we cut back to the space battle and Lando attempting to destroy the Death Star.
  • 1:57:40- Having Lando and Wedge attempt to blow up the Death Star from the inside is a nice way to up the trench run sequence from “A New Hope.”
  • 1:59:00- You could imagine having Vader die immediately after having killed the Emperor, but giving him one last moment with Luke where Vader can look at Luke without the mask is a nice touch.
  • 2:00:15- “I’ve got to save you.” “You already have, Luke.” And Vader gets one last, minimal reprise of the Imperial March as he dies. Rest in peace, Anakin Skywalker.
  • 2:01:15- One last plot thread to resolve. Wedge and Lando blow up the Death Star’s reactor, Luke makes his escape, and it’s time to party.
  • 2:03:22- Han’s face when Leia tells him she and Luke are siblings is a joy to beold, and probably appropriate given that in the last movie he saw her make out with Luke.
  • 2:04:00- Luke burning his father’s body on the funeral pyre is a nice image and a great way to cap off both of their arcs.
  • 2:05:00- The Ewoks’ party looks like a lot of fun. My favorite bit: The Ewoks playing drums on the Stormtroopers’ helmets.
  • 2:06:00- Just to make sure it’s clear, we get Anakin’s Force ghost along with Yoda and Obi-Wan. Luke has truly become a Jedi and redeemed his father. Happy ending.

Wrap-up: Like with “A New Hope,” my feelings toward “Jedi” haven’t really changed much after this viewing. “Jedi” has its strengths (a number of great action set pieces, some very well executed dramatic payoffs), but it also has its flaws, namely an unfocused second act. But as the end of the Star Wars saga in 1983 and the end of the first arc of movies once the prequels and “The Force Awakens” were released, “Jedi” succeeds admirably in tying up the loose ends in a satisfying matter. And once again, if the Ewoks bother you that much, loosen up.

‘Star Wars’ Revisited, Part 2: ‘The Empire Strikes Back’

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Copyright Lucasfilm

Pre-viewing thoughts: Of all of the Star Wars movies, “The Empire Strikes Back” is the one I’m approaching with the most trepidation as part of this series, because it’s the movie where my opinion is the most out of sync with the general consensus. “Empire” is most frequently cited by Star Wars fans and general movie buffs alike as the best of the series, with the first movie coming in second. I’ve never really agreed with that notion. Don’t get me wrong; I like “Empire” a lot, and there’s a lot to recommend it, but it’s never been my favorite of the original trilogy. When I was younger “Return of the Jedi” was the one I watched the most, and as I’ve gotten older I’ve grown to appreciate the original “Star Wars” more, but “Empire” has never connected with me in the same way. I don’t really know why that is, and it’s something I’d like to try to figure out, so hopefully rewatching it now will give me some insight. Here we go.

Movie diary:

  • 00:00- I’m going to likely be taking fewer notes with this one, because “Empire” is one I really want to see how and if my assessment of the movie has changed at all in recent years.
  • 1:00- The value of the title crawl as a device for exposition is really pretty strong; it fits with the pulp adventure feel George Lucas was aiming for, and it’s a good way to knock out some of the early setup business and jump right into the action.
  • 2:00- Right away, John Williams lets us know we’re in for a different ride. The ominous, subdued score is a far cry from the rousing battle music that “A New Hope” opened with.
  • 4:00- The wampa attack on Luke and his tauntaun is a pretty good jump scare, though it’s a subplot I’ve never really been a fan of. “Empire” has a bit of an odd structure, which may be part of my hesitancy to name it the best of the series.
  • 6:45- “I’d just as soon kiss a Wookiee.” Once again, you’ll be missed, Carrie Fisher.
  • 8:15- Han’s decision to go out after Luke even after saying he had to leave the Rebellion to get the price off his head is a nice bit of character work. It shows that he, Luke and Leia have remained close after the events of “The New Hope” and that he’s more willing to risk his own life now.
  • 9:30- I will say this for the wampa subplot: Luke using the force to pull his lightsaber to him and free himself is a great moment, and it shows that he’s growing stronger in the Force, leading to his vision of Obi-Wan and eventual training with Yoda.
  • 12:15- The look on Carrie Fisher’s face as the base doors are closed, sealing Han and Luke outside in the cold, is a great bit of non-verbal acting. She clearly cares for both of them.
  • 14:30- “I thought they smelled bad on the outside.” Even as he’s in danger of freezing to death along with his friend, Han always has a one-liner ready.
  • 17:30- Han seems genuinely wounded when Leia calls him “scruffy looking,” and Ford has great timing with the line. Lucas neither wrote nor directed “Empire,” and the dialogue is all-around less clunky and more natural (though to deny his role in the movie when he served as producer and received a “story by” credit would be a disservice to him).
  • 18:00- The smug look on Luke’s face when Leia kisses him is great.
  • 19:30- It’s hard to not gush constantly about how good John Williams is, but seriously: The first appearance of “The Imperial March” as Vader’s giant ship literally overshadows the rest of his fleet is perfect. “Empire” is the movie that really cements Vader as the villain of the original trilogy, and he gets a fantastic piece of music to give him that extra touch of menace.
  • 23:30-“You have failed me for the last time, admiral.” Vader does not suffer fools lightly.
  • 24:30- The whole Hoth battle sequence is stunning, far and away the best large-scale ground battle of the series. It’s also a much larger battle than anything in “A New Hope” at this same point in the movie. “Empire” definitely ups the scale with the “war” part of “Star Wars.”
  • 31:30- Han returns to the command center to make sure Leia’s OK, even when she questions why he’s still there and after he’s repeatedly said he doesn’t really love her. It’s a classic “can’t you two see how much you two like each other?” moment.
  • 32:45- Luke takes down an AT-AT himself even as things fall apart around him. Our farm boy has become quite a soldier.
  • 38:30- The asteroid chase is another great set piece coming hard on the heels of the big battle. Like I said, “Empire” ups the scale quickly. And Williams is masterful as ever with the music.
  • 41:00- “Empire” also gives us a bigger variety of locations than “A New Hope.” Whereas before we had a desert planet, a space station and a forest planet, in “Empire” we get an ice planet, a swamp planet, an extended sequence in an asteroid field and a floating city hovering above a gas giant. Lots of imagination on display from the production designers.
  • 44:00- Mark Hamill has never really gotten the praise he deserves as Luke, I think, in part because it’s a less showy role than Han, Leia or Vader. Especially in “Empire” he has a number of scenes where he’s acting opposite a droid and a puppet, not exactly the easiest thing to do, and he’s got a complicated arc as Luke learns to become a Jedi, faces Vader and then has his world blown apart from underneath him. Hamill excels throughout.
  • 47:15- Frank Oz is the best as Yoda, and he did it all with just his voice and talent for puppeteering. Frank Oz is the man.
  • 47:30- “Wars not make one great.” Yoda’s first lesson for Luke, and Luke doesn’t even know it.
  • 50:00- In hindsight it’s obvious there’s more to Yoda than meets the eye, but Oz does a great job making him unassuming, especially since we (and Luke) assume a Jedi master would be an imposing warrior figure closer to Obi-Wan.
  • 53:40- “He will join us or die, master.” The knowledge that Luke is Vader’s son makes this line even more chilling. Vader is so ruthless that he will sacrifice his own son if Luke won’t join him in his quest for power.
  • 54:45- Yoda practically spells it out for Luke that he’s the Jedi master Luke is looking for when he talks about Luke’s father, which makes Luke’s impatience and stubbornness all the more obvious and shows how deeply he failed Yoda’s test of him. Luke has found purpose, but he has much to learn about the ways of the Jedi beyond being able to wield a lightsaber.
  • 56:00- Yoda sums up Luke’s personality quickly and with brutal honesty: “All his life has he looked away to the future…never his mind on where he was.” If Obi-Wan gives Luke the weapon of the Jedi and helps him learn the basics of the Force, Yoda is the one who teaches him the Jedi philosophy and mindset, which is what ultimately separates Luke from Vader.
  • 59:50- “I am not a committee.” Leia refuses to let Han belittle her, even as they’re trying to escape a giant killer space slug in an asteroid.
  • 1:03:00- Luke repeatedly fails all of the tests he’s given in the movie, and it’s always for the same reason: Impatience and overconfidence. He can’t see Yoda is the master he’s looking for; he brings his weapons into the cave (ignoring Yoda’s admonishment) and ends up killing a vision of himself, thinking it’s Vader; he can’t bring his X-Wing out of the swamp; and he ultimately loses to Vader in their final encounter. Only in “Return of the Jedi” does he learn to rein in his emotions, though not before almost failing in the worst possible way.
  • 1:13:45- Han hiding the Falcon by attaching the ship to one of the Star Destroyers is a nice move, and it fits with his nature as a former smuggler.
  • 1:18:30- Cloud City is a genuinely inspired location. And the first shot of it ahead of the setting sun as the Falcon flies in is a great visual.
  • 1:20:00- Billy Dee Williams is great as Lando. With knowledge of what comes later, it’s clear his charm is a smokescreen meant to disarm Han and Leia, but Williams still pulls it off with aplomb.
  • 1:21:00- 3PO getting blown to pieces by an unknown assailant is an immediate clue that Cloud City is not as hospitable as it appears.
  • 1:22:00- “I feel the Force.” “But you cannot control it.” Obi-Wan spells out Luke’s arc in the movie here, but it’s still a good moment.
  • 1:24:30- “That boy is our last hope.” “No; there is another.” You can argue about whether it was a good move to eventually reveal that Luke and Leia are siblings, but it’s set up here, even if it isn’t revealed until “Jedi.”
  • 1:27:15- It’s been foreshadowed, but Vader just sitting at the table waiting for Han, Leia and Chewie before shrugging off Han’s blaster shots is a great power move.
  • 1:30:00- Lando does try to help Leia and the others as best he can, given the circumstances. He’s one of the few characters in the series who operates (at least for a while) in shades of grey, especially since Han is now firmly on the side of the good guys.
  • 1:34:00- Han is the calm one even as he’s being led to the carbon freezing chamber. It’s a good moment for him.
  • 1:34:55- “I love you.” “I know.” One of the great unscripted moments in movie history, perfectly delivered.
  • 1:37:00- “I am altering the deal; pray I don’t alter it any further.” Only one person gets to tell Vader what to do, and it’s not Lando.
  • 1:40:00- The lightsaber fights definitely get better as the series goes. The duel between Obi-Wan and Vader in “A New Hope” was great from a dramatic standpoint, but the fight choreography is somewhat lacking, whereas the Luke/Vader fight in “Empire” is both convincingly staged and has a big dramatic payoff.
  • 1:44:00- Luke gets a couple good moments in his fight against Vader, but the scene where Vader just starts throwing stuff at him with the Force and beating him up shows how out of his depth Luke really is. Vader is essentially toying with Luke.
  • 1:50:10- “No; I am your father.” I don’t think I was old enough to appreciate the big reveal when I first saw “Empire.” Finding out your father is a monster who’s slaughtered countless people at the behest of an oppressive regime just doesn’t quite register when you’re 10 or 11. I understand it better from a dramatic perspective now, and it’s an important moment for Luke in his growth as a character, but it just doesn’t have the same emotional heft it should. That’s not the movie’s fault, but it’s an undeniable factor in how I feel about it, if that makes sense.
  • 1:56:30- “Ben, why didn’t you tell me?” Luke is shattered by his experience on Cloud City, so he reaches out to the one person he counts on most for answers, even after finding out Obi-Wan hid the truth from him.
  • 1:59:30- We’re definitely at a low point for our heroes, but the shot of them looking out as Lando and Chewie set out to find Han tells us that there’s still hope.

Wrap-up: I definitely think I have a greater appreciation for “Empire” after this viewing. It’s still not my favorite of the original trilogy, but I feel like going back and really looking at what the movie was trying to accomplish gives me a better understanding of it. “The Empire Strikes Back” does what all good sequels should try to do, which is add new depth to the characters while expanding the world in interesting ways. I don’t think it’s necessary that every middle entry in a trilogy be the “dark” or downer one, as has often been the case post-“Empire,” but if you’re going to take that approach, this movie shows you how to do it right.

‘Star Wars’ Revisited, Part 1: ‘Star Wars’/’A New Hope’

a-new-hope-poster
Copyright Lucasfilm

Pre-viewing thoughts: It’s hard to put into perspective just how massive a movie “Star Wars” (later titled “A New Hope”) is and how much change it wrought upon the film landscape. While “Citizen Kane” is the movie that most cinephiles would cite as the “greatest” movie of all time based on technical acumen (though many of those same cinephiles ignore how great a story “Citizen Kane” tells), “Star Wars” is unquestionably the most influential movie in terms of how the industry works today. For better or worse, you can thank George Lucas and his crazy idea (big-budget, science fiction blockbusters like this were nowhere near the norm in 1977 when the movie was released) for our franchise-driven, superhero- and science fiction laden movie landscape today. But “Star Wars” still stands the test of time; in fact I’d argue it’s the best standalone movie of the franchise, in part because Lucas didn’t know if there would be a franchise when he made it. All of the other “Star Wars” movies are made with the knowledge of future installments; for this first entry, Lucas put everything he had into this one shot at greatness. And he delivered. Let’s get this party started.

Movie diary (I’ll be noting the run time of the movie as I jot down my notes):

  • 00:00- God, that John Williams score. You could argue Williams’ work on “Close Encounters of the Third Kid,” which came out the same year as “Star Wars,” is the better score in terms of pure craftsmanship, but there is no more iconic theme in all of movie history than the “Star Wars” title music.
  • 2:30- The model work in “Star Wars” still holds up more than 40 years later. The iconic shot of Princess Leia’s ship being chased by the massive Star Destroyer instantly sets up the Empire as an imposing force.
  • 4:30- Vader’s first entrance is a great moment. The change in score from the frantic battle music to the more subdued, ominous theme is a great touch, and his respirator noise is chilling. An unforgettable entrance for an unforgettable villain.
  • 6:00- Holy smoke, I can’t keep going at this rate. I’ll try to slow down.
  • 6:15- I lied. Given her passing, it’d be cruel to ignore Carrie Fisher’s first appearance as Princess Leia. Leia definitely gets more depth as the series goes, but she’s headstrong, forceful and capable from the get-go. Leia’s theme is also a nice change of pace from the bombast in much of the rest of the movie.
  • 10:30- C-3PO and R2-D2’s misadventures on Tattooine is a great bit. The droids are very much our point-of-view characters in “Star Wars,” in that they’re bit players caught up in bigger events unfolding around them, and their contentious friendship rounds them both out. Props to Tony Daniels (3PO) and Kenny Baker (R2)
  • 15:00- The contrast between the tiny Jawas and their giant Sandcrawler is a fun visual gag, and I’ve always liked the massive industrial design of the Sandcrawlers.
  • 17:00- Luke gets the first recurrence of the title music when we see him. Here’s our hero, about to set out on his journey.
  • 18:00- “You can waste time with your friends when your chores are done.” Even in galaxies far, far away, adolescents still have chores and parental figures to chafe against. The relationship between Luke and his aunt and uncle is sketched out quickly and efficiently. He clearly cares for them, but like all adolescents he yearns to escape his familiar surroundings and find himself. We’ve got a pretty good grasp of his psychology within just a couple minutes of meeting him.
  • 20:47- “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.” Great little mystery to tease the audience after the hectic battle scene and the Jawas sequence. And the hologram is a nice bit of special effects, especially for 1977.
  • 23:15- The look between Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru tells us there’s more to Obi-Wan Kenobi than they let on. Nice way to build mystery without derailing the main narrative thread.
  • 25:20- Lucas doesn’t get much credit as a visual stylist, but the shot of Luke watching the setting suns as he gazes out in longing says a lot with no words at all. It helps that Williams is crushing it with the music, but it’s a gorgeous shot.
  • 29:50- The late, great Sir Alec Guinness was never really comfortable with the fame he got for playing Obi-Wan Kenobi, but he’s really good in the part. He’s got the gravitas necessary to convincingly play an aged warrior monk, with plenty of wit (“He’s not dead; not yet”) and pathos as well. You can trace a line from Guinness in “Star Wars” to Ian McKellen in “Lord of the Rings” and all of the great British actors in the likes of “Harry Potter” and other big franchises.
  • 33:00- The first activation of Luke’s lightsaber makes it so damn cool. Everyone who saw this movie instantly wanted one. Hell, I still want one.
  • 38:20- “I find your lack of faith disturbing.” James Earl Jones, for the win.
  • 40:00- Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru’s deaths still sting. It’s a credit to how the scene is staged and how well the actors did to create a convincing relationship with Luke, even with limited screen time. It’s much more tragic than, say, Rey’s backstory in “The Force Awakens” (another desert orphan) because we’ve actually seen what Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru mean to Luke. Lucas gets a lot of flak for being a bad writer, and he definitely struggles with dialogue, but he’s always excelled with pure story structure, which counts for a lot (and is something J.J. Abrams could use more of).
  • 44:00- The Mos Eisley cantina. It’s a whole galaxy in and of itself. An absolutely fantastic bit of world building from Lucas and his team.
  • 46:00- The way Obi-Wan just nonchalantly deals with the guy harassing Luke in the cantina is a great touch. There’s clearly more to him than meets the eye, and the way he looks off the crowd and they go back to their business is a nice bit of humor.
  • 47:00- I want to someday be one quarter as cool as Harrison Ford is at first viewing in “Star Wars.” The man is unquestionably a born movie star.
  • 50:00- Han definitely shot first. He’s a smuggler who doesn’t care about honor; he cares about survival. His arc in the movie is learning to care about something other than himself, which makes him shooting Greedo without warning a good demonstration of his…let’s call it comfort with playing dirty.
  • 54:00- “Traveling through hyperspace ain’t like dusting crops, boy.” Harrison Ford famously told Lucas “You can write this stuff, George, but you can’t say it,” but Ford sells even clunky lines like this. That’s what great actors do.
  • 56:00- Vader is definitely the main villain of the original trilogy, but the late Peter Cushing (resurrected digitally for “Rogue One”) makes Grand Moff Tarkin into a great secondary antagonist. His moment with Leia before Alderaan is destroyed is very well done.
  • 58:00- Luke’s exercises with the training droid as Obi-Wan looks on is a great way to visually illustrate how the Force works, along with Luke’s growing affinity for it. And Han’s skepticism fits perfectly with his character and his arc; even the smuggler who’s been all around the galaxy has things to learn.
  • 1:01:00- Technically sound doesn’t carry in space (no movie except maybe “2001: A Space Odyssey” has gotten that right), but the sound of the TIE fighters is great. Little details like that go a long way, and it’s a credit to the technical team on the movie.
  • 1:09:00- Once again, Han is motivated by a material reward to do the right thing when it comes to rescuing Leia (“I don’t know, I can imagine quite a bit”). He clearly wants no involvement in the broader political conflict raging around him; he wants his ship and his paycheck. It makes his eventual turn to altruism all the more heroic.
  • 1:11:45- A bit of George Lucas trivia: Luke tells the detention center guards that Chewie is a transfer from cell block 1138, a reference to Lucas’ prior sci-fi movie “THX 1138,” the namesake of the THX sound company.
  • 1:13:30- “Aren’t you a little short for a Stormtrooper?” You’ll be missed, Carrie Fisher.
  • 1:15:00- All of the blaster shots in the various firefights were added in postproduction, which must have made shooting those scenes a little awkward for the actors. Even bit players like whoever played the Stormtroopers have to trust that the technicians will make what they’re doing look credible, because the actors are just pointing their prop weapons at their intended targets.
  • 1:17:30- The dianoga (the monster that grabs Luke in the trash compactor) continues to creep me out. It’s a great monster design, and a genuinely scary moment, especially coming after the more visceral gunfight just a minute or two prior.
  • 1:20:30- Being crushed to death is way up there on my list of ways not to die, and the cross-cutting between Luke and the gang in the compactor and 3P0 and R2 elsewhere in the Death Star is really well done. And as always, Williams’ score gives it the extra boost of tension.
  • 1:26:00- First instance of the infamous Wilhelm scream during Luke and Leia’s fight with the Stormtroopers as they try to cross the chasm.
  • 1:28:15- “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” One of Obi-Wan’s many instances where what he says isn’t meant to be taken literally; if Vader kills him, he’s dead, but Obi-Wan’s death is part of what spurs Luke to become a Jedi and eventually defeat/redeem Vader.
  • 1:30:00- Obi-Wan’s death is also very well done. Luke’s scream clearly conveys the anguish he’s feeling, especially so soon after losing his uncle and aunt. It takes Obi-Wan’s ghostly voice to get Luke to leave the Death Star and not die in a blaze of glory taking down the Stormtroopers.
  • 1:32:00- The whole sequence where Luke and Han have to take out the TIE fighters is absolutely phenomenal. That is all.
  • 1:39:00- Luke and Han’s final confrontation before the battle against the Death Star is perfect; we see that Luke has found a purpose outside of farm life, and Han continues to resist, even if we see the façade crack at the end with “May the Force be with you” and “I know what I’m doing.”
  • 1:42:00- This final battle sequence is still unbelievably impressive, especially given the effects available at the time. Perfectly shot, perfectly scored, perfectly edited, great dramatic payoffs. All blockbusters should strive for this level of excellence.
  • 1:43:00- “Look at the size of that thing.” That’s what she said.
  • 1:52:00- Obviously the bulk of Luke’s Jedi training comes later, but it’s a great moment when Obi-Wan tells him to use the Force instead of his targeting computer as he nears the end of his Death Star trench run.
  • 1:53:00- Han saving the day is how you perfectly cap off a character’s dramatic arc. His cheer as he swoops in is so good, and then Luke takes the shot.
  • 1:55:00- The medal ceremony is a bit odd looking back, but again, Lucas had no idea if he was going to get a sequel when he made this movie, so it’s a good way to wrap things up while still leaving room for additional stories.

Wrap-up: As I said up top, it’s difficult to overstate what a profound change “Star Wars” wrought in the world of movies, and looking back even now it’s easy to see why. Beyond the then-revolutionary special effects, well-executed action scenes and incredible world building, this is a movie with a great story told through memorable, fun characters. Its foundation is a rock solid screenplay, and Lucas and his team brought it to life in incredible fashion. “Star Wars” was and remains the model for blockbuster storytelling.