Happy May the 4th! May the 4th be with you!
At the risk of sounding corny, on May the 4th, we should celebrate everything we love about this franchise. There’s constant debate about which movies are good, which movies aren’t, what’s canon and what’s not. And to a certain extent, I think you can say that none of the movies are great, or all of them are, in their own, unique way.
I did a personal ranking of the Star Wars movies, and highlighted my favorite scene in each movie. And though I’ve been more critical of some of the movies than others, they each bring something to the table that the others don’t. Hopefully, these articles never gave the sense that anyone’s opinions are any less valid than anyone else’s, as long as you’re respectful of other people.
There’s a great deal of tribalism in the different factions of the Star Wars fandom, to the point where there can hardly be a consensus on any part of the franchise. It’s really a mess, and in the spirit of this totally arbitrary “holiday” I just wanted to highlight various things I love about this franchise.
The Prequel Trilogy
To start with the Prequels: these, for a long time, were the most detested of the films, are now are far more appreciated. There’s a lot to enjoy here.
Revenge of the Sith is a fitting conclusion to this trilogy, bringing to a tragic end the stories of Anakin and Obi-Wan. Their confrontation on Mustafar is not only tightly-choreographed action, but also carried by two performances full of emotion and pathos: Hayden Christensen (who always got more flack than he deserved) and Ewan McGregor. Hayden Christensen had the impossible task of bridging the gap between young Anakin from The Phantom Menace and one of the most iconic villains in film history; that fans were only as disappointed as they were is a minor miracle. Ewan McGregor, on the other hand, still enjoys acclaim for his performance as Obi-Wan to this day. Rightfully so, we got to watch as he perfectly channeled Alec Guinness while bringing Obi-Wan from Qui-Gonn’s hot headed padawan to the Jedi Knight we know well.
Ewan McGregor’s performance is so subtle but works perfectly in the context of the prequel movies. We watch as his mentorship of Anakin moves him from the bolder part of a Master/Padawan team, and he becomes the master. He perfectly channels the dynamic of both a father and a brother to Anakin. His lines as Anakin burns provides one of the best performance moments in the entire series.
Earlier this year, I wrote a post for the blog Starloggers, ranking every planet in the Star Wars films. What I found was that overwhelmingly, the prequels had the best planets. These movies gave the best sense of a broad, galactic, setting. Sure, a significant portion of the prequels is spent further fleshing out Tatooine, but for all the time it spends there, we get more time getting acquainted with new planets; Coruscant, Kamino, Mustafar, Geonosis, and my personal favorite, Naboo. All of the planets in this trilogy somehow manage to feel more alive and lived-in than those in the other two trilogies.
I’m still working my way through The Clone Wars series, but it’s a real delight, so far. I can see why people love this series and Ahsoka Tano, in particular.
The Original Trilogy
Relative to film, speaking about the original Star Wars trilogy is like speaking about The Beatles; it’s such a pivotal cornerstone to the point that imagining modern pop culture mediums without them is difficult to the point of being impossible. I don’t want to spend too long singing the praises of Original Trilogy, because everyone already knows how great those movies are. But I want to highlight a few things that work so exceedingly well.
A common problem for sequels in general to have is that often they will retread similar beats as their predecessor did, thus feeling essentially the same. The Empire Strikes Back certainly did not have this issue, changing up the standard formula we saw in A New Hope. Instead of having a battle which the rebels miraculously win at the conclusion of the film, the battle takes place at the beginning, and the rebels lose. What’s more, our heroes spend much of the movie running away, which is interesting from a storytelling perspective, because we see them at their most desperate. It makes for a fun and compelling space adventure.
It’s – in theory – a similar plotline to the way the Resistance flees the First Order in Last Jedi, but here it feels like it’s done much better, and it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why. It’s weird because if you gave me the option of watching a story that focuses on a single ship trying to evade an imperial fleet while having all of these little episodic encounters, or watching a group of ships try to escape an imperial fleet as the commander needs to make a crucial decision to save her friends while also fighting off a mutiny, I think the latter sounds more interesting, but they’re equally good in my estimation.
But in terms of individual storylines in certain episodes, Return of the Jedi has my favorite plot sequence in perhaps the entire series. Luke, Vader, and the Emperor, in the Death Star’s throne room. When I was picking my favorite scenes in each movie, I really gravitated to these scenes as being my favorite in Return of the Jedi. If Luke kills the Emperor, he will turn to the dark side, Vader will become the new emperor, and Luke will become the new Vader. If Luke kills Vader, he will turn to the dark side, and he will become the new Vader. But if he does nothing, he will allow Vader and the Emperor to kill him. He picks this third option, knowing that dying a hero is better than becoming a villain. He is saved by Darth Vader, which is the ultimate payoff of this film, as well as being the great payoff of the prequel and original trilogies. Without this plotline, Return likely would have been an almost entirely different movie.
The Sequel Trilogy
The Sequel Trilogy is disputed in many ways, but only the most closed-minded would dispute that they are visual delights. The battle on Crait, the arrival of the fleet above Exegol, and the firing of the cannon on Starkiller Base are a few sequences and shots that are so beautiful that I find them sticking around in my mind. But more than all of those, the Holdo Maneuver is such an impressive use of sight and sound that makes me so glad that I was able to see it in theaters.
On the subject of impressive visuals: The Last Jedi introduced the force conversations between Rey and Kylo Ren, which made for an interesting visual motif. This was used very well in Rise of Skywalker, when the characters pass objects and duel with each other while not being in the same location. But the best moment comes when Luke sees Kylo Ren and Rey speaking, and uses the force to destroy the hut that they are in. This was made using an impressive practical effect which pulls all the rocks of the hut – what a great shot.
Speaking of Luke, that was perhaps this trilogy’s boldest gambit. Coming less than a year after Wolverine saw a similar treatment with Logan, The Last Jedi’s Luke was an older, disenchanted, and bitter old man who was still reckoning with some of the mistakes he had made in his past. While this was incongruous to the view certain fans had of Luke, I think it drew perfectly on the previous movies. Luke’s attack and loss of Kylo Ren – which was called “out of character” by angry fans – makes sense when looking back at the scene in Return of the Jedi where Luke is very close to killing his father. Luke’s call for the Jedi to end makes sense when you recognize the prequels as a tragedy.
And people hated bitter Luke but they’re forgetting – he gets over it. His self-sacrifice? His confrontation which allows the Resistance to escape? That’s one of Star Wars’ most triumphant moments. It’s mentioned frequently by Yoda that Jedi need to strive to resolve situations in nonviolent ways, and this felt rather true to that.
Not quite linked directly to the sequels, but still germane, we have Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, sections of Disneyland and Disney World which takes you into the world of an outer rim planet and into the conflict between the First Order and the Resistance. It’s a great and immersive experience. There are currently two rides at these locations – Smuggler’s Run, in which you pilot the Millenium Falcon, and Rise of the Resistance, in which you escape from First Order captivity. Rise of the Resistance is difficult to get passes for because it’s such a new and in-demand attraction, but watching videos of people riding it, the ride seems absolutely amazing. I love the Disney Parks, and late last year I got to visit Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge in Disney World, and it’s really quite something.
I think it’s hilarious that “May the Fourth be with You” which seemingly started off as a joke, and now it’s become this worldwide appreciation of the world’s biggest fandom. So let me ask you, what’s something you love about the Star Wars franchise?