Star Wars: Episode IX


Viewed – 23 December 2019 Cinema

The Rise Of Skywalker

(edited after second viewing)

If this wasn’t my most anticipated movie of the year, I don’t know what was. I struggled with the last entry, The Last Jedi a movie that with subsequent viewings has gone up in my appreciation but remains highly uneven. This final movie though, the conclusion of the Skywalker saga brings forth the return of a long suspected dead enemy … The Emperor! With a new threat to the galaxy, Rey and her friends intend to seek out and destroy him once and for all, whilst conflicted Kylo Ren intends to turn to him for guidance as the new supreme leader of the First Order.

I’ll admit this storyline comes out of nowhere and is a blatant attempt to steady the ship following some of Rian Johnson’s ill-conceived plot twists in Last Jedi … but the return of Ian McDiarmid‘s Emperor Palpetine was welcome and the ageing actor nails the necessary maniacal menace. The immediacy of the threat propelled the action from the off as we’re treated to some great battle sequences, mixed with solid character moments that showcase the chemistry this new cast still has. The psychic bond between Daisy Ridley‘s Rey and Adam Driver‘s Kylo-Ren turns out to be the big focus and is further explored and the movie used it in several creative ways. It proves the best aspect and is surrounded by many highly entertaining scenes including a plot thread involving C3P0 losing his memory and some (thankfully) well-timed humour as well as a perfect tone that took me right back to how it felt seeing Star Wars as a kid.

If I had to nitpick it would be the clearly forced Emperor plot, and there’s too much emphasis on nostalgia. And like all Star Wars movies it has some silly bits, and there’s a couple of jarring character moments (General Hux!?!). Yet in the grand scheme of things it’s so damn enjoyable, such gripes can be forgiven. As a story that has spanned over 40 years, this felt like a good conclusion and ticked many of my boxes. There was a lot riding on this final movie and the conclusion of such a long running saga. There’s not a great deal here that entirely makes this trilogy a story that had to be told other than to reintroduce Star Wars to a new generation and make up for the failings of the prequel trilogy. Yet with highly memorable characters, some great moments (and some questionable ones) I feel this has still been a worthwhile endeavour for the filmmakers and as a fan I am mostly satisfied with what they achieved.

Verdict: 4 /5

Star Wars: Episode VIII


Viewed – 20 December 2017  Cinema

The Last Jedi

After what I’d call the triumphant success of Episode VII: The Force Awakens for re-establishing a much loved franchise and resurrecting it from the ashes of George Lucas’ mostly misguided prequels – I awaited this follow up in the proposed trilogy with no small degree of anticipation.  What would Luke Skywalker say to Rey on top of that mountain?  What would Kylo Ren do in wake of what he did to his own father Han Solo?  I was about to find out…

Following the destruction of star-killer base, Kylo Ren and General Hux lead the First Order in an assault against the resistance to restore rule over the galaxy. Rian Johnson (Looper) takes over directing duties and has delivered what largely looks like a Star Wars movie, has the action and confrontations you’ll expect from a Star Wars movie, but offers up a decidedly different feel than expected following Force Awakens and Rogue One.  This is a much more lighter in tone movie with what appears to be a stronger focus on a somewhat child-friendly audience with as a result, a surprising lack of menace.  Almost every serious situation is sprinkled with humour, sometimes well judged, sometimes out of place.  When two of the main bad guys end up coming off like a squabbling comedy double act, something seemed a little off.

Kylo RenThankfully we do get what we came for, especially Rey (a more mature Daisy Ridley, settling into her role) finding herself getting reluctantly trained by a world-weary and cynical Luke (Mark Hamill), and discovering a telepathic link with Kylo Ren (a still slightly bratty yet complex Adam Driver).  This as expected turns out to be the movie’s beating heart, with the myriad of space battles and daring missions onto enemy starships proving less enthralling (especially that casino sequence).  Finn (John Boyega) again sits awkwardly between hero and bumbling buffoon, with Po (Oscar Isaac) taking a (much appreciated) larger role at the forefront of the dogfights and fancy X-Wing piloting.  However the late Carrie Fisher seems to get put on a pedestal (be it intentionally or following reshoots after the iconic star’s passing) and is bizarrely given a rather God-like stature with one scene in particular just coming out of nowhere, leaving me baffled. She’s great, but her character doesn’t seem to fit in with what we’ve previously known.

That’s ultimately where Episode VIII falls a part.  Characters that we’ve grown to know and love, are poorly handled (Luke included), add to this a Saturday morning cartoon vibe to action, performances and situations, and although I still gasped at certain moments and got the feels where it counted … I also didn’t get all that invested – and I really should have.  For it’s pluses and minuses, this is still a fun, visually spectacular and at times exciting sequel.  Yet as a long time Star Wars fan, it leans closer to those prequels than either the earlier movies or the recent ones … and that’s slightly worrying.

Verdict:  3 /5

Star Wars: Episode VII


Viewed – 22 December 2015  Cinema

The Force Awakens

So much will already have been said, written and tweeted regarding this much hyped and highly anticipated seventh episode in the once beloved saga, that my opinion will matter little … but hear me out because to say I have been looking forward to this movie all year, is an understatement.  It’s one of those movies that surely can’t meet the giddy expectations I and many others have bestowed upon it or recapture that wonder and magic I felt on seeing the classic trilogy as a child.  Or can it?

StarWarsTFA

The story follows primarily two characters, that of storm trooper Fin (John Boyega) who has a moment of uncertainty that causes him to flee the first order (the new evil villains in place of the empire), and that of scavenger farm girl Rey (Daisy Ridley – a fantastic find).  The two unwittingly get thrown together and stumble upon wonderfully cute and attitude-filled droid, bb-8 who has a map that could lead to an in-hiding Luke Skywalker’s location.  New bad guy Kylo Ren is searching for him to prevent any possibility of the Jedi’s turning up and wrecking his plans for galactic domination.  Along the way the two would-be heroes find help from two familiar faces, namely Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca.

StarWarsTFA2Now let it be said this movie plays heavy homage to the original three movies, especially the first 1977 classic, with clever in-jokes, subtle nods and a few plot similarities.  However it also manages to sprinkle the old with many fresh ideas of it’s own and with a script that has clearly been written with genuine care for it’s characters whilst ensuring it all feels like a Star Wars movie, I came away from this very impressed indeed.  New faces Fin & Rey do a perfect job of giving us someone new and interesting to invest our time in whilst leaving them mysterious enough to build on in later sequels.  Han Solo, Chewbacca and (formerly Princess now General) Leia (Carrie Fisher) all feel vital to the plot also, with Han especially helping drive the story alongside his younger co-stars.  Add to this a villain with real depth in the shape of Darth Vader-wannabe Kylo Ren and all the ingredients are in place.  Director J J Abrams has done a stellar job, capturing the correct feel and tone and also filling the movie with spectacular action, yet making sure there was all the depth and believable characterisation that had been (for the most part) missing from the prequels.

StarWarsTFA1

I’ll add a few nit picks that are simply that, as this is a movie that does nearly everything right and fixes many issues the prequels (and to an extent) even the original trilogy had – but Supreme Leader Snoke just wasn’t very scary or intimidating and just looked like an out-dated CGI effect (made all the more jarring considering the movie’s otherwise reliance on practical effects).  Also, considering the hype surrounding Kylo Ren’s bad-ass three-pronged light sabre in the trailers; this guy is wielding it every chance he gets (even during a couple of tantrums) and so the build up to him actually using it in a duel is watered down due to over-exposure.  Also the many nods to A New Hope are a bit too blatant at times (and did we really need another death star?).

But … like I said small things in what is easily the best movie in the franchise since The Empire Strikes Back.   The Force truly has awakened.

Verdict:  5 /5

Star Wars: Episode VI


Viewed – 25 October 2011  Blu-ray

Return Of The Jedi

Growing up, this was always my favourite of the original trilogy.  Looking back I wonder why.  Perhaps with less mature eyes I was taken by some of it’s more playful, childish stylings, and to be fair, it delivers where it counts.  Something about it is still very cool too.  But with a fresh perspective, and with the full knowledge of the entire saga behind it, just how well does the final curtain call for George Lucas’ famed fantasy really fair?

The rebels are planning an elaborate attack of an unfinished second Death Star, whilst Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Leia (Carrie Fisher), Chewbacca etc set forth to rescue their friend Han Solo (Harrison Ford) from the clutches of slimy gangster Jabba The Hut on Tatooine.  Yet Luke’s recent revelations about Vader pull him toward one final confrontation, and the dark side will prove its greatest temptation yet.

Continue reading

Star Wars: Episode V


Viewed  – 21 October 2011  Blu-ray

The Empire Strikes Back

When I was young, discovering these movies for the first time, ‘Empire was not my favourite.  I actually remember loving Return Of The Jedi most.  But I suppose with more mature eyes I have grown to appreciate just why this fifth instalment in the saga is regarded by so many as the best.  The rebels are hiding out on the ice planet of Hoth whilst evil lord Darth Vader is searching the galaxy for Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) following the destruction of the Death Star.  Luke is then told by the ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) that he must seek out Yoda in order to be trained to become a Jedi.

Almost from the start, this is a movie that flows brilliantly and is very exciting.  Battle sequences and locations burst with imagination and awe (the Imperial Walker assault especially), and unlike A New Hope at no time has George Lucas’ unnecessary tinkering made the movie anything less than it originally was.  The acting here is particularly strong and the chemistry between Carrie Fisher & Harrison Ford can not be questioned and lends the movie much of its emotional weight.  Add to this a sterling job from Mark Hamill especially during his confrontation with Vader, and this makes for a movie that is really hard to fault.

Story-wise it does suffer from that in-between feel of any trilogy, and as a plot point, just how Vader even knows about Luke Skywalker is not explained.  Also compared to A New Hope this feels a much more serious and straight forward sci-fi melodrama than that of a light and fluffy fantasy.   It’s perhaps the reason I didn’t take to it as a child.  Yet I can now see that it really does have everything … grand action, great acting, a gripping story and well placed moments of humour and emotion – a genuine masterpiece.

The Blu-ray is a revelation.  This is possibly the best looking Star Wars movie in the saga, and unquestionably ‘Empire has never looked this vibrant or detailed before … showcasing the excellent set design and gorgeous cinematography.  Watching this feels like you are watching it projected in a theatre for the very first time.  Yes, there’s moments of softness to the picture, but overall this is top notch.  The same can be said for the sound design, with the dialogue especially clear compared to A New Hope and effects and John WIlliams’ score are all delivered brilliantly.  Extras consist of deleted scenes, interviews and plenty of concept art, all on a seperate disk, whilst two commentaries, one by Lucas and co, the other compiled from archive interviews, make this a brilliant package.

Verdict:  5 /5