Star Wars: The Good, the Bad and the Kevin

Happy New Year everyone! My apologies for not producing more content recently. I don’t want to call it a New Years Resolution, but let’s see if I can’t crank out some more stuff for you guys this month, alright? Let’s begin by ranking the movies in a franchise that I’m sure all fans would agree with and that will cause no divided opinions whatsoever: Star Wars!

I recently rewatched every tale from a galaxy far, far away in order to prepare for The Rise of Skywalker. Most of it was fun, parts of it were excruciating and it was an important reminder that sometimes when it comes to the things you love, you have to take the good with the bad. With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to do a post where I rank each film, talk about what I both liked and didn’t like for each one and then have Kevin chime in with some of his thoughts. I’m still sorting out how I feel about the conclusion to the Skywalker Saga, so we won’t get into that here. Maybe a future Let’s Talk About post, eh Kevin?

Without further adieu, here are my rankings. Should probably mention we’ll be getting into spoilers, but some of these movies are near or over 20 years old. What are you waiting for?

11 – Attack of the Clones

The Good: If you’re a diehard Phantom Menace fan, don’t get too excited from seeing its successor at the bottom of my rankings. They are pretty interchangeable to me and I flip flop constantly on which one is worse. That’s right, they both suck and neither is really any better than the other.

Oh wait, I’m supposed to be discussing the good. The Obi-Wan/Jango fight is pretty cool and probably one of the reasons we have The Mandalorian now. Bounty hunters throwing down is usually a good time, and this scene paved the way to give us more of that. You can also throw in Anakin’s vengeful slaughter of the Sand People who killed his mother, the only trace of anything remotely bad ass you get from Anakin in this movie.

The Bad: Which brings us to the bad: why aren’t there more cool moments for Anakin in a story centered around the guy who will bring balance to the force? If this is the man who eventually becomes Darth Vader, and we’ve been led to believe that he was a great and powerful Jedi prior to that, why don’t we get to see any of that in action? The only “Chosen One” moniker he deserves is, “Yes officer, that’s the guy who was making creepy stalker faces at me. You can take him away now.”

The Kevin: Full confession, I don’t remember seeing this movie at all. I know I have seen it, I swear, but it made absolutely zero impression on me. I would agree with ranking it at the bottom because if I were to rank these movies I would have probably left this one off on accident.

10 – The Phantom Menace

The Good: Who doesn’t love Darth Maul? That double-bladed lightsaber wielding psycho took on two Jedi, nearly slayed them both and we were so downtrodden that he got killed off that they wound up reviving him in The Clone Wars animated series. Say what you want about Star Wars fans, but when they latch on to a character they REALLY latch on.

The Bad: Is it a cop out just to say everything else? There are numerous complaints I could list out in explicit detail here, but you’ve probably heard most of those before. All I care to say is that this movie really drags in the middle and is largely driven by dialogue. If it involved good dialogue, that wouldn’t be much of a problem, but there isn’t so… yeah. Suffice to say that the lightsaber fight at the end with Duel of the Fates playing over it is all that saves this film for me.

The Kevin: I have a soft spot for The Phantom Menace. I’m sure a lot of people do because it was the first Star Wars movie of a generation. I remember how excited I was to see this in the theater at 9-years-old and I remember loving it. It was fun and silly and I will even admit I liked Jar Jar Binks. Upon reflection I will admit this movie is flawed and disappointing but as a child I found myself lost in the universe and it’s always been a positive memory.

9 – Solo

The Good: One of the biggest points of contention in my relationship with my fiance is whether or not Lando Calrissian ever truly redeems himself for stabbing Han Solo in the back. I maintain that he does and she is not as convinced, and on and on we go. Obviously, things are going pretty well with us if that’s one of our most heated arguments, but I digress. My point is that Lando is one of my favorite characters and I was thrilled to see how Donald Glover portrayed a younger version of him. Disney+ needs to lock him down for a Lando TV series like, yesterday. You can also throw in Maul’s cameo at the end as one of the highlights, but if this never gets a sequel (doubtful at this point) then that’s just mere fan service for fans of the Clone Wars series.

The Bad: That being said, I’ve never really been able to identify a good reason for why this movie exists. Maybe Kevin can help me out with that, but otherwise all I see is an attempt by Disney to cash in on one of its most popular characters. I know, I know, I shouldn’t be surprised by that and I actually don’t have any problems with Alden Ehrenreich’s spin on a younger Han. In my opinion, he did the best he could under the circumstances. I just don’t feel that the story fleshes out that character at all or even provides a compelling reason for why we should know what Han was up to before A New Hope. What’s wrong with keeping things simple? He’s the captain of the Millennium Falcon, his co-pilot is a wookie named Chewbacca and he has a scoundrel of a best friend. That was good enough for me.

The Kevin: I can answer for why this movie exists, because it’s fun. I’m a firm believer that Star Wars is at it’s best when it’s fun, which probably explains why I defend The Last Jedi. I do understand the criticism though. Did we really need a ham-fisted explanation for how Han got his last name? Of course not. But we did need Donald Glover, my long time favorite celebrity, as Lando and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, my current favorite celebrity, as a snarky droid. It definitely could have been cut down but I am happy this movie exists.

8 – Revenge of the Sith

The Good: For a very long time, the finale of Lucas’ prequel trilogy was one of my favorite Star Wars movies. That’s not surprising considering how much I admire Ewan McGregor’s performance as Obi-Wan, and how hard he works here to drive home Anakin’s devastating fall to the dark side. It’s also the superior entry of the prequel trilogy. Maybe that’s not saying very much, but give credit where credit is due. This movie does an admirable job of providing the heart and soul that was missing from its predecessors.

The Bad: So how do I feel about it now? Well, unfortunately a lot of the same issues that plague the other prequels hold Revenge back from being as good as it could be. It also heavily relies on Anakin’s relationships with Padme, Palpatine and Obi-Wan, none of which were well-established beforehand. And while my nostalgia for this film will probably always cast it in a favorable light for me, I just can’t give it a pass for having some of the same flaws that I criticized the other prequels for. Revenge can be the best prequel while also not living up to its full potential. Those two things aren’t mutually exclusive.

The Kevin: I agree with Jesse here. I remember being blown away by this movie at the time but it has since shifted to, “not bad” status. The best of the weakest era of Star Wars.

7 – Rogue One

The Good: One of the biggest mistakes that George Lucas made with his prequel trilogy (I promise we’ll stop railing on the prequels… at some point) was that they just didn’t feel like they took place in the same galaxy as the originals. Sure, there are still Jedi, Sith, bizarre creatures and Skywalkers running amok, but the technology seemed more advanced despite the fact that it supposedly existed before A New Hope. Does that make any sense to you? Me either.

And that’s where Rogue One really pulls through in spectacular fashion. Everything about this film, from the sets to the costumes to the tech and everything in between, feels like it was taken right out of the original trilogy. It’s all so meticulously crafted that jumping straight from Rogue One to A New Hope actually enhances the viewing experience of the latter, and in the end that’s the whole point of these films that predate the Empire and the Rebel Alliance, right? We want them to flesh out what we already know about these characters and events.

The Bad: The first half of the film is a mixed bag for me. Between the rapid jumps between planets, Forrest Whitaker’s overacting and what appears to be tentacle porn as his character’s chosen method of interrogation (hey, it’s not for everybody), I have a hard time getting invested in what’s going on until about the midway point. What really bothers me about Rogue One though is the digital recreation of Grand Moff Tarkin, or rather the likeness of Peter Cushing, the deceased actor who played him in A New Hope. It felt wrong to me when I first saw it and it hasn’t improved at all in subsequent viewings, and in my opinion it sets a dangerous precedent. Was it really that hard to find someone who looked like Cushing to play that role?

The Kevin: Much like Solo, I could understand questioning the need for this movie. But unlike Solo, this movie has been accepted by the fanbase for the most part. Why? Because, as Jesse says, it feels like Star Wars and it does serve a purpose. A tiny purpose of closing some plotholes but a purpose nonetheless! Plus everyone dies at the end which is rare in Disney movies. I gotta say, I don’t recall any tentacle porn so maybe it’s time for a rewatch…

6 – Return of the Jedi

The Good: I hear a lot of people say that Jedi is their favorite Star Wars movie. I myself remember watching this one more than any of the others when I was a kid. On the one hand, people can’t help but love the Ewoks. On the other, pretty much everything goes right for our heroes during the 136 minute run time. Audiences love to see the good guys prevail against all odds. Throw in some real-life teddy bears and it’s no wonder that people have such an affinity for this movie.

To be fair, the Luke/Vader/Emperor dynamic is riveting stuff. What begins as an attempt to lure Luke to the dark side transforms into a battle for his father’s soul, and it’s truly great filmmaking to watch how conflicted Vader becomes as the story goes on. That’s even more impressive considering the dude wears a mask and you can’t see any of his facial expressions, yet he still emotes with his body language and how he turns to glance from Luke to the Emperor. Call it an in-depth tutorial on how to connect your characters to the audience without them revealing their thoughts through dialogue.

The Bad: Personally, I’m not a huge fan of the Ewoks and their role in this film (another point of contention between me and my fiance, because we only argue about Star Wars). What really perplexes me though is that Han and Lando are instantly good friends again when they meet up after the escape from Jabba’s Palace. Sure, Han is a smuggler and he knows a thing or two about self-preservation, but he really doesn’t have a bone to pick with his friend for selling him out to Vader and Boba Fett? It just seems out of character when you look at how pissed Han was at Lando towards the end of Empire. Based on how cordial those two are with each other, it’s almost as if their reconciliation was filmed and then removed from the movie.

The Kevin: I told Jesse I haven’t watched Return of the Jedi in 20 some years and I think he wanted to end our friendship. Which is valid. Since our friendship is over let me just rub some salt in the wound, your fiance is right about Lando and Han. If Han is willing to forgive and forget then Lando has redeemed himself. Relationships are complex things and sometimes people just want to move on.

5 – The Force Awakens

The Good: Disney’s run as the masters of the Star Wars universe has been controversial, to say the least. Much of that ire is direct at The Last Jedi, but it all started with The Force Awakens. Not everyone was happy with getting an updated rehash of A New Hope. While I respect that opinion, I think it was important for this film to go back to basics in order to remind people of why they liked the originals so much in the first place. Throw in some intriguing new characters and the return of a few old favorites and botta bing, you have yourself a fun Star Wars movie.

The reason why this one gets the nod over Return of the Jedi for me is that I think it’s a better paced film, and this was a great sendoff for Han Solo. I love how well he plays off of Rey and Finn, but it’s that scene with Kylo Ren that stole the show. Harrison Ford and Adam Driver should be thanked for reminding us that yes, you can still have great acting in a Star Wars movie.

The Bad: J.J. Abrams loves to cloak his films in ambiguity. He also can’t resist structuring his narratives similarly to the movies that inspired him, so you can usually assume where the story is going when he’s behind the camera. That’s why it’s frustrating that he leaves so many cliffhangers for us when he wasn’t originally planning on helming a second film in this trilogy. It almost pigeonholes whomever directs the sequel into giving us a very safe and familiar follow-up, and if they don’t… well, that’s where your continuity begins to fall apart.

The Kevin: I’m fine with this placement however I am not fine with you snubbing Daisy Ridley when you referenced great acting in a Star Wars movie. I think she’s a powerful presence and carries a lot of the pressure to create a beloved central character in such an important franchise.

I will also agree to what you alluded to in the bad section. How does a company as huge as Disney go into a new Star Wars trilogy without a cohesive plan? I think it’s turned out well, don’t get me wrong, but I would have expected a smoother road after the success of the MCU.

4 – The Last Jedi

The Good: This is a dangerous movie to talk about on the internet. Regardless of your position or how you felt about Rian Johnson’s highly divisive follow-up to The Force Awakens, people won’t hesitate to tell you how wrong you are and that you basically suck as a Star Wars fan. It’s a great example of the downside of social media and how toxic it can be. With that in mind, try to refrain from lighting up your torches and grabbing your pitchforks when I say that The Last Jedi is the best live-action Star Wars film since 1980.

Personally, I love what they did with Luke Skywalker. Abrams didn’t give us much context as to what made Luke disappear prior to The Force Awakens, so there needed to be a strong explanation for why he left the fight and abandoned the Resistance, which in and of itself was a drastic shift in character from the hero who helped bring down the Empire. I commend Johnson for having the balls to make Luke’s self-imposed exile about more than just his own personal guilt, and that his philosophical view is that the Jedi are at the root of all evil in the galaxy and need to fade away into history. To those who condemn Johnson for that decision, I pose the following question: have you never seen a protagonist that experienced an extremely traumatic event and then viewed the world in a different light afterward?

This is also Mark Hamil’s best performance in the role that made him famous. Luke is grumpy and jaded, but also vulnerable. He suffered a serious blow to his own self-worth, but ultimately still wants to be there for his friends. When he finally does come around and return to the fold one last time, it makes it all the more rewarding and relatable. I love the bold direction of The Last Jedi, and hopefully someday we’ll see another Star Wars movie take this kind of chance.

The Bad: Canto Bight is a blight, if you will, on an otherwise rock solid story. I understand that Johnson wanted to get Finn away from Rey for awhile and put him on his own journey of self-discovery, but everything that happened on that planet just felt like a waste of time. It really throws off the momentum that was building and the film doesn’t recover until Canto Bight is out of the picture, literally.

The Kevin: I think Jesse gave a fair overview and is doing the smart thing by only dipping his toe in controversial waters. I, on the other hand, enjoy the risk of pissing off Star Wars fans and thus I am comfortable saying The Last Jedi is my favorite Star Wars movie. I didn’t say best, although mostly because I need to revisit the franchise to give the other movies a fair shot. For my money it was the most fun I had sitting down to watch a Star Wars film. I loved the weird decisions Rian Johnson made. I loved Mark Hamil’s portrayal of an aged and jaded jedi. And I loved Rey’s and Kylo’s forced connection. If I was going to jump into a random Star Wars movie at anytime, I would pick this one.

3 – Clone Wars

The Good: Is Genndy Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars still part of the Star Wars cannon? Nope. Do I care? Hell no. These animated shorts combined into a feature-length film are some of the best material to ever come out of a galaxy far, far away. It develops the story and the characters in all of the ways that the prequels did not, and gives us our best look at just how powerful these Jedi were. No one benefits more from this treatment than Anakin. While still a tad bit whiny, he puts his strength and abilities on full display here, besting the delightfully evil Asajj Ventress in one of my favorite lightsaber duels. It’s the little moments that blew me away: steam hissing from Anakin’s lightsaber as raindrops make contact with it, Anakin embracing his anger so that he can defeat Ventress and the silhouettes of Qui-Gon, Yoda and Obi-Wan looking on in shock and horror as their prized pupil moves closer to his tragic destiny.

The Bad: It’s an absolute crime that Disney basically tossed this movie aside in favor of The Clone Wars animated series. Don’t get me wrong, that show has moments of greatness as well, but it’s a shame that more people won’t discover this absolute gem. If you’ve never seen it, I can’t recommend it enough.

The Kevin: I have never watched The Clone Wars but now that I stole my friend’s Disney + password maybe I will jump to it.

2 – A New Hope (or just Star Wars)

The Good: The one that started it all. Would there be such a thing as a Marvel Cinematic Universe without Star Wars? Would fantasy and science fiction be as prevalent in our pop culture and cinema if this baby hadn’t kicked the door wide open in 1977? Maybe, maybe not, but you can’t look to blockbuster films today without knowing that Star Wars paved the road for all of them. And for me, it holds up about as well as it possibly could.

It can be hard to objectively critique a movie that you grew up with and see through the nostalgia. While Star Wars has become dated in certain ways, it continues to resonate due to its timeless story and perfectly executed premise. “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope,” will continue to be uttered on living room TV’s for years to come.

The Bad: A lot of people would point to the revision of the “Han shot first” scene as the biggest crime in the remastered version. I think Han’s following scene with Jabba the Hutt is even worse. Not only do you lose all of the suspense regarding Jabba as an off-screen presence in the first two films, but Han actually repeats dialogue to Jabba that he already said to Greedo. To top it all off, the CGI here is terrible. I hate that scene more than Anakin hates sand.

The Kevin: I had a lot to say about this movie but you distracted me with your claim that the MCU wouldn’t exist without Star Wars and now I’m ready to jump into an argument discussion with you. Maybe this should be our next “Let’s Talk About…” because I have a lot to say.

1 – The Empire Strikes Back

The Good: What else can I say that hasn’t already been said about the best Star Wars film in the saga? Let’s do something a little different. The best part about Empire is that it wasn’t universally beloved when it was released. Critics were perplexed by the weird, ponderous story. Audiences expecting another surprising, uplifting adventure like its predecessor were surprised by the drastic shift in tone, and yet Empire slowly saw its reputation improve over time. There were no social media battles or endless online debates about its merit. I’m not saying that it wouldn’t have been well-received today, but it likely wouldn’t have had as much time to marinate if it was constantly under the microscope. I’m glad that certain movies were made before we had the internet. This is one of them.

The Bad: George Lucas just had to take a perfect movie and make an unnecessary change. Adding Ian McDiarmid’s Emperor during Vader’s brief conversation with his master was a logical update. Changing the dialogue was not. If you watch this scene, it implies that Vader is not yet aware that his son Luke is the young Rebel that blew up the Death Star. However, the opening crawl says that Vader is, “obsessed with finding young Skywalker” and he also mentions him by name when the Empire is discussing the Rebel base on Hoth. It doesn’t make any sense and just makes Vader look foolish later on. Why does Lucas love making his characters look dumb?!

The Kevin: You think The Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars movie or all time?! Well sit down buddy while I put on my contrarian hat to dissuade you from such a ridiculous claim!

Wait, no you’re right…Damn I hate it when that happens.

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