Rey and Kylo Ren face off in “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.”
For 38 years, I avoided all nine movies in the main “Star Wars” saga.
I’d heard the references — “I am your father” and “Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.” I know they’re the most commercially successful entertainment franchise of all time, grossing more than $10 billion from box office receipts alone, not to mention billions more from toys, action figures, T-shirts, amusement park rides and every other imaginable commercial tie-in.
But at some point I decided I’d just be a guy who would vaguely nod and smile when someone referenced the movies without really understanding what they were talking about. If anything, avoiding them completely became my personal badge of honor. When I’d tell most people I’d never seen any of the movies, the reaction typically ranged from shock to contempt.
Then the quarantine, two young boys and a brand new baby that needed night feedings presented me with an opportunity: I could zip through all nine movies. All of them — The Skywalker Saga — are available for on-demand streaming with my $6.99-per-month Disney+ subscription. “Watch them with your kids,” people would tell me. “Your kids will love them! And you will too!”
So, I decided I would. My editor, Matt Rosoff, came up with an idea: review each movie as you go.
Before I begin, some caveats: I am not a professional movie critic. I’ve never read any reviews of “Star Wars.” I am going in to this about as blind as can be while also functioning in society for nearly four decades.
Also, obviously, I’m not naturally drawn to sci-fi action movies. If these types of movies were my thing, I would have watched them already. I know many people reading this may be super fans. I don’t want death threats. I’ve also heard “Rogue One” and “Solo” are different in tone and worth watching. But that’s for another time.
Finally, several of my colleagues told me the order in which I watched the movies was important. I opted to watch the movies in the order they were made. Having done that, I’d like to rewatch the movies in the storytelling order, starting with “Episode I” and going to “Episode IX.”
Then again, there are lots of things I’d like to do in life. And I’d like to do most of them more than watch these movies again.
(**SPOILER ALERTS AHEAD** Just warning you. I don’t want to ruin any surprises from 43 years ago.)
“Episode IV – A New Hope” (1977)
To quote “Arrested Development,” I’ve made a huge mistake. “Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic empire.” Lasers! Over-acted deaths! I’m too old for this.
There he is! Darth Vader! “This is CNN!” “Simba, I’m very disappointed in you!”
I’m impressed with the special effects, especially for 1977. [Editor’s note: The current version on Disney+ includes many significant updates that were added for the theatrical re-release in 1997 and DVD release in 2004, including dramatically improved special effects.]
But there’s too much airplane fighting and not enough character development. I’m not sure why I’m supposed to care about any of these people…or whatever you call them. Are they called people? When are they going to delve into how the characters learn all the languages? Do the multilingual aliens scoff at the English-only ones like how Europeans mock Americans?
My six-year-old is complaining, “THIS IS BORING.” I had really hyped this experiment up to him — that we’d watch all the movies together. He lost interest after 15 minutes.
Who are these people on the ship with Darth Vader? Wait, Darth Vader isn’t even the most evil guy in this movie? He’s a No. 2 to the Emperor?
Did the Death Star just casually blow up Earth half way into the movie? Oh, wait, Princess Leia isn’t from Earth — this takes place “in a galaxy far, far away.” Man, Leia is taking the destruction of her planet well.
So, all of these people in the movie live on other planets? Do all of the people with the British accents live on the same planet? Or are all the humanoids dispersed and somehow have the same British accent?
I’m confused by the ending. No one is upset all those people on the fighter jets died? Star Wars: we don’t mourn death!
“Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back” (1980)
How on earth is the Luke/Darth Vader plot twist thought to be one of the greatest in cinematic history? We barely even know Darth Vader! Is he even in the first hour of the movie? If I’d watched Episodes 1, 2 and 3 first, maybe I’d care — but this twist supposedly left generations of people stunned without those movies in existence. Really? There’s no character development at all! Someone get George Lucas a Martin Scorsese movie. You have to make the audience care! You’ve got to explain backstory!
Darth Vader: “I…am your father!”
Alex, watching: “OK.”
Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford on the set of “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back.”
Sunset Boulevard | Corbis | Getty Images
Lucas hit a home run casting Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher, obviously. Their dialogue is still delightful, done in that breaking the fourth wall, we’re in on the joke, campy kind of way that’s refreshing and desperately needed amid all the special effects.
Why did no one tell me Yoda was just altered Grover?! I kept waiting for him to say: “NEAR….FAR!” I guess I’m not the first to the make Luke/Yoda training comparison with “Rocky,” but those scenes felt like I was watching a different parallel movie.
This film is supposed to be the highlight of the series? Oh lord.
“Episode VI: Return of the Jedi” (1983)
Now we’re talking! The first 30 minutes of this movie is outstanding — the Jabba The Hutt scene where the gang tries to rescue Han Solo. The idea to set up an elaborate debauchery scene as the setting for a what’s in effect a well-paced heist is **chef’s kiss.** I was riveted. Very cool way to start a movie.
I wish the movie stopped after that scene. C-3PO’s Debbie Downer act is too much. The green screen usage is too much. And the plot is way too thin. This movie is a slow-motion Brooklyn G train to the Luke vs. Vader/Emperor battle, which is foreshadowed five times but doesn’t actually (predictably) happen until the movie’s end.
Vader turns his back on the Dark Side! Callooh! Callay!
Vader isn’t the worst guy in these movies, and then he becomes a good guy in the end, and the American Film Institute ranks him as the third greatest villain in movie history. He isn’t even particularly scary — many of his lines are compliments!
“You have controlled your fear.”
“Impressive. Most impressive. Obi-Wan has taught you well.”
“Luke, you do not yet realize your importance. You have only begun to discover your power.”
Thanks, Tony Robbins! I’ll check out your Ted Talk.
I guess we’re just celebrating the redeemed Anakin now that he turns to the light? Obi-Wan, Yoda and Anakin! The three heroes! We’re just going to ignore all the people he savagely murdered? Cool.
“Episode I: The Phantom Menace” (1999)
I’ve been staring at the screen for 10 minutes trying to come up with the most appropriate analogy for Jar Jar Binks in this movie. I remember people complaining about him at the time that this came out. If you’ve never seen him, here he is. I suppose it’s important for generations to know that characters like this were still being made in 1999. So that’s one good thing.
Structurally, this is not a terrible movie! I know it’s universally panned. But unlike the first three, it has a richer, coherent narrative. I enjoyed the back story of Anakin, even with the terrible acting from Natalie Portman and Jake Lloyd.
But there is so much Jar Jar Binks in the movie that it’s unwatchable for long stretches. Literally unwatchable for me — I had to fast forward.
The best analogy for Jar Jar I can think of is waking up and immediately stepping in a bucket of vomit you didn’t know was there. No matter what else happens after that, you can’t help but think about the vomit bucket. Why was it there? Who put it there? Tweet @sherman4949 if you have an even better analogy for Jar Jar Binks — something so outrageous, so mystifying in its existence, so vile, and so annoying that it ruins the whole, no matter what else is there.
Jar Jar Binks is the phantom menace of the rest of my life.
“Episode II: Attack of the Clones” (2002)
Awwww, it’s a love story!
Why is the dialogue so stiff? Like, every character! (Hmmm, maybe Jar Jar Binks wasn’t so bad! At least he had inflection in his voice!)
Is Hayden Christensen trying to sound like Christopher Walken? Someone really should have reminded Lucas that the original dialogue between Luke/Princess Leia/Han Solo was light and snappy. This movie could have used that.
A quick aside on C-3PO: He was comic relief in Episode IV, and somehow the writing for him lost its way. We get it, he’s a robot worrywart. I’ve come to despise him.
“Attack of the Clones” is saved by Lucas realizing Binks is an atrocity and making him a bit player. So, I didn’t have to fast-forward through large chunks of the movie. I appreciated the dance-like choreography of the light saber scenes. Those brought my four-year-old back into the fold, who has been consistently complaining about this assignment because he wants to watch “Octonauts” on Netflix, and I’m taking up the TV. But he grabbed his toy light saber while Anakin and Obi-Wan Kenobi fought Count Dooku. And we both cheered when Yoda showed up — a truly pleasant surprise that must have elicited applause in the theaters when the movie debuted.
(Another aside here: my four-year-old enjoyed the light saber scene with Obi-Wan and Qui Gon fighting Darth Maul in “Phantom Menace” too. “DOUBLE LIGHT SABER,” he yelled. For the next two weeks, he harassed me to buy him a light saber that shot light out of both ends because the normal light saber I bought him wasn’t good enough. This is why Disney bought Lucasfilm.).
Anyway, “Attack of the Clones” drags and is shockingly low on action scenes…isn’t that why these movies are made?
“Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” (2005)
I liked this movie! I really did. It was definitely my favorite of the middle three. It was so good, in fact, that I briefly considered going back and watching boring Episode IV again just so that I better understood who Darth Vader was.
Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi in “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith.”
I mean, let’s not go nuts. The movie opens with another extended “Top Gun”-like scene that is interminable and seems like a way to burn time while saying “see? This is a Star Wars movie.” (NOTE: I guess “Top Gun” was actually just a rip off of the first “Star Wars,” but that didn’t dawn on me until now.)
After that, we get right into Anakin’s descent into the dark side, prodded by some mildly believable acting by Ian McDiarmid‘s Empire Palpatine. And the scene where Anakin wipes out the younglings — powerful! I was moved. What is this salty discharge?
The plot is a bit heavy handed to make sure all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed to set up for Episode IV. As a side note: Obi-Wan is pretty damned nonplussed to see Luke when he first discovers him in Episode IV, seeing that he was the first person to hold him after he was born, and given that Luke’s father was the seminal figure in his life.
The final scene is intense — though befuddling. Why does Obi-Wan just leave Anakin to die? He’s the most powerful Jedi ever … but, eh. Let’s roll the dice and see what happens! What could go wrong?
“Episode VII: The Force Awakens” (2015)
I was ready for a new cast of characters, but just like with Episode I and Episode IV, I found it difficult to connect emotionally with any of these people. (Is there air on all these planets? More American vs. British accents! In the far away galaxy, do the British people live on a planet where the steering wheels are on the other side of their vehicles?)
I thoroughly enjoyed the opening scene — the blood-marked storm trooper having an existential crisis was immediately gripping. But I found … wait, what is that guy’s name? I watched this entire movie, and I still don’t know this guy’s name because he was that unappealing to me. Hold on, I’ve got to Google it.
Poe Dameron?? Are you serious?? That was his name? I wasn’t even close!
Anyway, I found “Poe Dameron” totally uninteresting.
They’re setting up the defector Storm Trooper — Finn — to fall in love with Rey, who appears to be cast as the next Luke Skywalker….but that entire plotline kinda disappears when Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher return, which is great from a fan standpoint but not great from a “movie structure” standpoint.
Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren is supposed to be … an exact replica of Darth Vader? Same voice, same No. 2 bad guy who will clearly turn good in the end, same father-son struggle? Man, they didn’t want to stray too far from what worked the first time.
Ren killing Han Solo was affecting if just to hear Chewy’s anguished scream. But the following light saber fight between Ren and Rey falls a little flat because … well … I’ve seen too many light saber scenes in too short of an amount of time. I’d better tolerate these if many years passed between movies and I was watching these on a big screen. Perhaps these movies aren’t made for bingeing. (Narrator: They are not made for bingeing).
Then again, cool ending! I don’t want to wait years to see old Luke Skywalker, and now I don’t have to!
“Episode VIII: The Last Jedi” (2015)
This one was fine! Even good! Let’s say good.
Director Rian Johnson deserves credit for getting at the necessary generational shift theme by linking the new characters to Solo, Leia and Skywalker in a reasonable way, allowing the audience to slowly shift their allegiances from the old guard to the new guard. But the parallels of Snoke/Ren to Emperor Palpatine/Vader are a bit childish to me — a thinly veiled attempt at replicating the same dynamic for a new, younger generation, but with less poignancy or weight because we’ve already seen this.
Obviously, it’s miserable for many reasons that Fisher passed away. She’s criminally underutilized in this movie, even though apparently she’d ended production by the time she died. Carrie Fisher is funny! Let her be funny! You’ve got Michael Jordan, why do you keep making him pass?!
For some reason, they abandoned the Finn-Rey romance thread and moved on to Rey-Ren instead. I feel like that needed to be explained. That was definitely being teased in the last movie. And now, Finn has a new love interest in Rose? Or not? Why do we care about Rose? This all feels very forced and weirdly scripted, like studio executives got involved and altered the original script.
Were we supposed to be surprised that Ren turned on Snoke? Sometimes I think maybe I’m judging these movies too harshly — they’re obviously for kids…or very immature adults.
Still, there’s a pleasant old vs. new theme that runs through the entire movie, giving us Yoda-Luke scenes and Rey-Ren battles that feel connected. And the last 30 minutes of the movie is excellent, featuring the ultimate old vs. new Luke-Ren faceoff with a gorgeous backdrop on the salt fields of Crait — and a twist ending, revealing Skywalker was never there to begin with. I liked it!
“Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker” (2019)
Maybe this movie was good? I don’t know. My overwhelming feeling was relief this project ended. I’m ready to start watching “Ozark.” I heard my six-year-old say to his friend on a Zoom call, “My dad is watching Star Wars!” (at 2 p.m. on a Saturday) and his friend said “AGAIN?!” Her parents are going to think I’m a great dad!
Oh goody, more flying scenes! I wonder if our heroes will get away, even though it’s just 10 minutes into the movie and they’ll obviously be fine.
Palpatine’s back, and he says to Ren, “Kill the girl, destroy the Jedi and become what Vader could not!” … But if the Emperor is still alive and can apparently cheat death, why does he need someone to do this at all? Can’t he just do it? This is likely explained somewhere earlier in the series. I could probably Google it. I will not.
So, Rey has become the next Luke Skywalker as the future face of the Jedi, obviously symbolizing the galaxies will be in good hands for “the happily ever” after crew that buys hundreds of millions of theater tickets. And it’s pretty clear she’ll turn Kylo Ren to the light (the light side? Is that what you say?), and then Ren will kill the emperor, and then he’ll be celebrated, because who cares how we live life as long as we repent in the end? I’ve got 90 more minutes to go!
For the final movie in a nine-part epic series, there is A LOT of fluff in the first half of this movie.
Whoa, Rey is Palpatine’s granddaughter! I CAN’T BELIEVE IT. This changes everything.
Oh good, Harrison Ford came back for this one! That’s something. “I know what I have to do, but I don’t know if I have the strength to do it.” Oooh, an homage to the first two movies! The Coen Brothers would be proud of the dialogue repetition.
Did they just write Rose out of this movie? Oh, there she is.
God, this movie is so somber for the finale of the series. Most of the movie is dark blue and black.
OK, so Rey killed the emperor, not Ren. But first, they fell in love. I WAS WRONG. Sort of.
Chewbacca, Poe Dameron, Finn and Rey pilot the Millenium Falcon in “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.”
Disney | Lucasfilm
Rey, Finn and what’s his name hug in the end. I’m overwhelmed with emotion. Wait, is emotion the right word? The word I’m looking for means “absolute nothingness.”
In the end, I’m glad I watched these movies. But I don’t think they are worthy of the mass cultural sensation they are. If you’re going to watch a series of PG/PG-13 fantasy films, I think the “Harry Potter” movies are much better. But now I’ll understand everyone’s references for the rest of my life. Or, at least, until I forget what happened in each of these movies.
And guess what?
I already have.