Friday, January 8, 2010

Going Old School: Ranking the Star Wars Movies

On the way back from a productive set of interviews in Ottawa, I listened to a Fresh Air podcast with George Lucas.  He was promoting his new book on Blockbusters.  And it sparked a family conversation this evening about the Star Wars movies.  I was regretting that the interviewer did not ask George about the lamented second trilogy, but apparently I should not have since he covered that when he was the Daily Show with Jon Stewart (no link here since Comedy Central's website does not operate from Canada--globalization is overrated).  Jon asked about the second trilogy, and Lucas reported that the kids of the time liked the new movies just fine, as do the new kids who like the Clone Wars animated show.  So, it got the usual argument started about which movies were best/worst and what damage did Lucas do in the second trilogy.

As it has been awhile since I have ranked Raiders and Harry Potter, I am due and I will try to use the same or similar categories as earlier rankings [and, yes, I refer to the first movie as Star Wars and not a New Hope]

  • Most Moving Story: The end of Empire--the good guys lose Han to a bounty hunter/freezing and Luke loses his arm and his innocence.  The emotional conflict that Anakin faces in the Revenge of the Sith could have topped this if it was well-executed.
  • Best Subplot: Palpatine's schemes in the second trilogy.  
    • He foments a war in Phantom Menace to discredit the existing Chancellor and puts him in a position to win that office.
    • He foments a Separatist Conflict (as a scholar of secession, I just loved that) to justify the creation of an Army and greater centralization of power in Attack of the Clones.
    • He continues the separatist conflict to isolate and kill off the Jedi in Revenge of the Sith.
    • Really, the second trilogy is about the rise of the Emperor, and the intricate political games (well, intricate compared to everything else) that rely on some keen knowledge of diversionary theories of war and other arcane IR work--really was fun to watch.  Too bad it was buried in schlock.
  • Best Subplot that is Icky now: the romantic rivalry between Han and Luke in Star Wars and Empire.  Once we know that Luke and Leia are siblings, well, ick.
  • Least Original/Unnecessary Plot Point: Midichlorians??  Really?  Given that the first trilogy has already established that Jedi can detect whether someone is especially strong in the force, why are midichlorians necessary?  Instead, it damages the canon. 
  • Best Action: Hmmn, this is tough, as we had heaps of good action throughout and technology facilitated ever more complex battles.  The light saber battles in the first trilogy were hamstrung in a variety of ways, including by technology.  But the badass-ness of Darth Maul and that battle in Menace might exceed the thrills from Luke's performance at the start of Return.  Yoda was fun in the last two movies of the trilogy as well, but hard to take seriously.  The end of Star Wars was the most gripping, of course.  The final battle between Anakin and Obi-Wan was fun, but was perhaps anti-climatic.  To be fair, nearly every movie had one or more terrific action sequences--even Menace with Darth Maul and the Qui Jon/Obi-Wan attack upon the ship at the beginning; Clones with the big battle at the end, with Sam Jackson kicking some Fett-ness and the rest of that sequence, and Sith with the opening space battle, the many duels, etc.  Perhaps Empire had the weakest action since the light saber battle was tame, the Hoth battle was a massacre, and the space battles involved the Millennium Falcon conking out. 
  • Best Humor:  Gotta be Empire. Laugh it up, Fuzzball.  Who you calling scruffy-looking?  I thought these smelled bad on the outside?  Luke's look and Chewie's laughing it up after Leia's kiss?  (well that last one loses its oomph)  Yoda making fun of Luke on Dagobah....  But the original one has some great stuff, too--the detention level, for example. 
  • Most Agonizingly Dumb Mistake: George Lucas writing and directing the second trilogy himself.  He didn't direct Empire or Return.
  • Most Agonizingly Dumb Mistake by a Character: Luke going to rescue his friends in Empire even though he was told it would probably not work and risk everything?  No, Anakin trusting Palpatine in Sith.  This could have been written better to make Anakin's turn more convincing (and better directed/acted).  The whole second trilogy really rests on this.  I don't even mind them killing off Padme (despite it directly contradicting what Leia said about her mother in Return [Mrs. Spew recoils]).  Anakin kills the kid Jedi so quickly after turning--which is kind of hard to buy as well.  I can see him doing that after Padme croaks, but not just after he betrayed Sam Jackson.
  • Best Kiss: Leia and Luke in the Death Star just before they leap?  No, yuck in retrospect.  Padme and Anakin.  Nope, just poorly acted.  Has to be Han and Leia after he gets defrosted in Return.
  • Best Villainy: Palpatine over Vader, Maul, etc.  In Return, his seduction fails, but you get a good idea of his nastiness including the traps set for the rebels.  And his machinations, mentioned above, in the second trilogy are really the best part.
  • Worst Stalling: Hmm, the years in between the trilogies, as the positive lessons from the first three seem forgotten by the time Lucas gets to the second three?
  • Best Death Scene: Vader in Return.  Burn, daddy, burn!?
  • Best Defense Against the Dark Arts Teacher Jedi instructor: Yoda on Dagobah.  Obi-Wan produced Anakin/Darth.  And Luke had little skill before meeting the little green dude.
  • Worst Teacher: Qui Jon.  He ignored all of the warnings, and put his chips on someone who was forseen to be unreliable.  Ooops.
  • Most Funky Plot Device: For Harry Potter, it was the property rights of wands in the last book.  For the Star Wars universe, it was probably Jar Jar Binks voting the end of democracy in Sith.  We hated him and he ended up doing something incredibly stupid and destructive.  Woo hoo!?
  • Most Fun: Star Wars.  It was the first, it had some great, great sequences, including the detention level stuff, the escape from the Death Star, the final battle.  Edge of your seat stuff. 
  • Best Setup: Star Wars.  It created an incredible universe that was rich with potential, some fun characters, and a great bar.
  • Least Unintentional Comedy: Probably Empire.  The second trilogy is entirely unintentionally funny. 
  • Hardest to Turn Away From/Most Re-watchable: Empire and Star Wars.  Just so many great sequences.  I was inspired to write this post in part because Empire was on over the holidays and I could not turn away.  I could surely turn away from any of the second trilogy and possible Return (although I think that movie is underrated).  
So, how does it add up?
  1. SW:  2.5 Jedi             =  +2.5
  2. Emp: 4.5 Jedi- .5 Sith = +4
  3. RoJ: 2.25 Jedi             = +2.25
  4. PM:  7/12 Jedi-2.33 Sith = -1.75 -5000 for too much Jar Jar
  5. AC: .33J + .25 J -. 33 S   =  .25 -10000 for horrible romance scenes that cause intense intestinal pain
  6. RoS:  1J + .33 J +.25 J - 1.33S  = .25
So, Empire > SW >  Return > Revenge > Menace > Clones.  That sounds about right.  Folks might hate Menace more than Clones  as Menace greatly disappointed after years and years of waiting, while Clones just re-confirmed the existing disappointment.  I think that works out just about right, as I did actually like much of Revenge, but it paled in comparison to the first three, whereas Menace and Clones had more pain than fun (although each still had some good stuff).  I think Lucas could have had a second trilogy that could have played to adult fans and new ones.  He should have gotten the Pixar folks to help him out playing to multiple audiences.


Anonymous said...

FYI, you can watch Daily Show clips online through CTV...

Steve Saideman said...

Yes, I know I can. But it requires more searching, viewing and work than the clips available in the US. So, I don't bother to post or seek. Today, I tried to view some Jimmy Kimmel and was defeated again. The idea of the internet and linking is to make it easy for people to find stuff. The Canadian barriers are just high enough to make it inconvenient for me.