Over the past 10 weeks I’ve been rewatching all of the theatrically released Star Wars films (with the exception of The Clone Wars) in canonical / chronological order, bringing us up to the release of The Rise Of Skywalker this week. I made some notes after each film. I’ve collated them all into one post, which you can find below.
Week 1: The Phantom Menace
Some might approach The Phantom Menace in a rewatch of the Skywalker Saga with dread. I’m pleased to say that isn’t the case for me. I was 11 when this film came out, making me the target age for the return of Star Wars. I’d also only recently seen the original trilogy with the release of the special editions in 1997 so I went into the prequels with a lot less baggage. Over time I think the general consensus of disapproval probably clouded my judgement of The Phantom Menace. I give this new era of canon full credit for restoring my affection for the film. There’s lots of good stuff to be found here, let go of your cynicism and you’ll find it.
Week 2: Attack Of The Clones
This film starts off pretty good for me then tails off into being unwatchable at points. I like the opening scenes on Coruscant, the assassination attempt, the chase after Zam Wesell and Obi Wan’s investigation is all great stuff. I don’t even mind some of the scenes between Anakin and Padmé (although I’ve always felt the development of their relationship throughout the film is pretty clunky). Where Attack Of The Clones loses me is Geonosis. Again there’s stuff I like in the final third, but the scene in the droid factory plays way too much like a computer game level for me and I can’t bear Threepio caught up in the middle of it all either. In 2002 I chose to overlook what I didn’t like about the film and quietly continue with my enjoyment of the franchise. In the words of Tobias Beckett “there’s a lesson to be learnt here..”.
Week 3: Revenge Of The Sith
Revenge Of The Sith seems to be widely accepted as the best of the prequel trilogy. To put it simply I think George found his groove by the time of this film. The storytelling feels less distracted by world building and the CGI is used to better effect than in Attack Of The Clones. Where it struggles for me is that it has a lot of story to tell in a short time and I don’t feel that enough time is given to bear the weight of certain plot points. That said, the pace does make for an enjoyable rewatch and some of the scenes are amongst the most iconic of the whole Skywalker Saga. Ian McDiarmid gets the recognition he deserves for his performance in these films and perhaps it goes without saying, but his Darth Plagueis monologue really is fantastic. Some of my favourite stuff in this film comes in the final third, which in hindsight sets up some one of my favourite periods of Star Wars storytelling in canon, the years between ROTS and A New Hope.
Week 4: Solo – A Star Wars Story
There’s been many points in the past five years that I’ve said, and heard others say “it’s a great time to be a Star Wars fan”, May 2018 was a weird time to be a fan. The hype just wasn’t there for Solo. Buried by the cultural weight of Avengers: Infinity War and the hangover from The Last Jedi less than six month earlier, is the best film you never saw. This was probably my third rewatch since first seeing it and I enjoyed lots more about it this time around. I feel like I could really appreciate just how good Alden Ehrenreich is in the role as Han. I’ll admit it isn’t easy to look past the recasting of one of the most iconic characters in cinema history, yet it’s the character that’s worth focusing on, not how much or how little Alden resembles Harrison Ford. The rest of the cast are equally fantastic, particularly Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra and Paul Bettany as Dryden Vos. At times I think the plot feels like it’s just a vehicle for character development and some of the best storytelling is what’s teased in future instalments. A sequel film is unlikely given the box office under performance, but it would be criminal if it doesn’t continue somewhere in canon material.
Week 5: Rogue One – A Star Wars Story
The release of Rogue One came at the peak of me becoming a fully fledged Star Wars fan for the second time in my life. Before The Force Awakens I was intrigued to see how things might play out, but it wasn’t until I saw that film that I was back onboard. Between then and the midnight screening of Rogue One I’d caught up on all the comics and animated shows I’d missed to date. I also attended my first Star Wars Celebration (Europe 2016) which had a heavy Rogue One focus and read Catalyst, the prequel novel and my entry point for the canon books. I loved Rogue One from my first screening and all of the subsequent tie in material has only made appreciate it more. I understand the criticism that it is a relatively short time in which we have to get to know a whole new cast, in order to the end to have any weight to it, but the additional stories do exist and I’d highly recommend Rebel Rising by Beth Revis which provides further insight into Jyn Erso’s time with Saw Gerrera’s team after he rescues her as a child. The Guardians of The Whills book about Baze and Chirut is also a good read. Watching Rogue One again as part of the marathon, not only did I realise how much I like each of the main characters (and the performances) but this may also have been my favourite film so far. How many films finish out their third act then raise the stakes as high as the final few minutes of Rogue One does?
Week 6: A New Hope
Last week was a big one for Star Wars with the debut of the first live action TV show and the first full story led game of the Disney era. All of that on top of Star Wars Resistance season 2 rolling on, plus new comics and books each week. Somewhere in the middle we reached the halfway point of our Star Wars Marathon, which quite poignantly was A New Hope, the beginning of it all. Watching it now every scene is loaded with so much additional meaning from elsewhere in canon. The unique beauty of this film that will never be taken away from it, no matter how many Mclunkey additions it receives, is that it is the only piece of Star Wars that will ever have been made with no awareness of it’s cultural weight. It gives the film an additional layer of innocence and it will forever stand-alone in a way none of the other material ever could. On the other hand it works surprisingly well at providing the exact opposite for a 2019 audience. Whether it was the sheer acting finesse of Alec Guinness or George Lucas’ style of writing, the film has wrinkles that allow you to believe that the cast of characters really did know everything that would later come before it.
Week 7: The Empire Strikes Back
Once The Rise of Skywalker closes out the trilogy of trilogies later this year, The Empire Strikes Back will be centrefold of the Skywalker saga. Prior to 1999 it had nineteen years of experience in this position, if you follow what I’m saying here. Back then it only had to carry one film either side, in a month from now it’ll have four that precede it and four that follow. I had this in mind when rewatching the film this week as part of our ongoing Star Wars Marathon and deliberately looked for the key scenes and themes that strengthen the role it plays as the middle of it all. For me, I think these lynchpin moments are the thesis statements Yoda provides on the Force, the revelation of who Vader is and perhaps the most important, that continues to ripple throughout the saga, the realisation of a connection between the Skywalker twins. I LOVE the shot of Leia sat in the pilot seat of the Falcon above Bespin, looking out and saying quietly to herself “Luke..”
Week 8: Return Of The Jedi
When you look back at how dramatic Revenge Of The Sith was and forward at how epic The Rise Of Skywalker promises to be, Return Of The Jedi, as the closer of its trilogy, does a remarkably swift job of getting things done. It even finds time for what feels like a whole separate movie in the rescue of Han from Jabba’s palace. Yet it’s still got an emotional depth in the story that much of the new canon is built on. Only in the second half of the final film of the original trilogy do we find out that Luke and Leia are brother and sister. As I wrote in my thoughts on rewatching TESB, this is something that now defines ‘The Skywalker Saga’. Anakin’s redemption at the end of the film (and the eventual appearance of Palpatine) is what warranted there even being a prequel trilogy to unpack exactly how there could have been such a turn around. When the Victory Celebration starts playing (sorry Yub Nub) and Wedge and the Ewoks start dancing, I’m brought to tears everytime. It was a bittersweet ending in 1983, made even more so by the prequel trilogy in the 2000’s and again in 2015 by the events that have followed in the sequel trilogy.
Week 9: The Force Awakens
You’ll never change my opinion that Lucasfilm (and Disney) knocked it out of the park with The Force Awakens. I’m still open to other views, but mine is that as a film and release in general they achieved the impossible. Watching it again this week I was reminded of just how much the film incorporates what we might deem “fan service”, yet handles it in such a way that it makes complete sense to the greater story whilst still being so visually satisfying to a Star Wars fan. The first act has to be one of my all time favourites, I was invested in all the new characters as soon as they were introduced on screen and seeing it again is such a fun reminder of how much of a pleasant surprise this was, sat anxiously in a cinema seat in December 2015. I also like the amount of story that is kept from us throughout the film, it’s far more interesting not knowing the back story of every new character or how the galaxy arrived at its current state of play. I spent days wondering about it after first seeing the film, I’ve spent the last 4 years watching and reading everything for the possibility of answers.
Week 10: The Last Jedi
I love this film more and more with each rewatch. I came out of the cinema having seen it for the first time absolutely bewildered. It took me a few days to come around to a lot of the story decisions. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the film, I was just so surprised at it that I didn’t know how to feel. I’m still not sure about some of it. There’s so much depth to the the story that I can totally understand why it wouldn’t necessary work as a popcorn flick, particularly on a surface level. I find myself mesmerised by scenes, still pouring over the detail two years later. For me, it was the perfect film to follow The Force Awakens. JJ nailed the familiar, Rian fearlessly ventured into new territory. Going into The Rise Of Skywalker this week, my hope is that we get a balance of the two.
Thanks for reading, enjoy The Rise Of Skywalker this week. I’ll share my thoughts soon.